We are less than two weeks away from the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, #NaNoWriMo. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. Just straight through writing. You can save the editing for later.
The first year I did NaNoWriMo, I wrote a mystery in Second Life, and made the goal of 50,000 words. Subsequent years, I've started off on story ideas that were not clearly thought out enough, were too close to home, or I just didn't have the time. I've tried various variations on NaNoWriMo and am preparing for this year's attempt.
I've been thinking of writing some sort of psychological political philosophical treatise pulling together thoughts on aesthetics, politics, the genome, the biome, great awakenings, transcendentalism, transhumanism, the apocalypse, the singularity, social constructs and social contracts, neural networks, group therapy, attachment therapy, filter bubbles and a bunch of other ideas.
The starting point I've settled on is a campaign for State Representative. I will draw from my experiences running for State Representative last year, as well as experiences with other political campaigns, but I need to remind everyone that what I'll be writing is fiction, trying to weave together a lot of different ideas. If you find that a character sounds a lot like you, attribute it to good writing and not being a commentary on you. If you have ideas you want to share, make them about ideas and not your thoughts about different people.
With that, here is the general idea: In a fictional district, based loosely on the area I am from, there is a long time incumbent State Rep. His twin brother is a mayor in one of the towns in the district. His father was a Congressman. No one wants to run against the incumbent, so a political philosopher decides to run, but a completely different kind of campaign. No lawn signs, door knocking, palm cards,, advertisements, or any of that sort of stuff. Just discussions. Discussions about anything and everything. Discussions aimed at bring people with different viewpoints together, modeled on Chicago dinners, and aimed at breaking filter bubbles.
One of the towns in the district is a suburb where many college professors live, so there are lots of chances to talk about the genome, the biome, social contracts and social constructs.
I have a lot more ideas built into this, but I'll save some of them for November. Now, here's my ask: what sort of things would you like to talk about at a filter breaking dinner discussion organized by a long shot candidate for state representative? What points would you like to see gotten across? What conflicts would you expect?
As you can see by my comments about transhumanism, singularity, and the apocalypse, this is wide open. Let me know your thoughts!
I continue to be overly busy so I am not getting as much writing done as I would like, but I've got a few moments, so I thought I'd reflect on the 'supermoon'.
What does it mean when the moon reaches perigee in Capricorn, the tenth house of the Zodiac, shortly after the summer solstice? There are many different ways to look at this, so I'll try a few different angles.
Larry Sessions, a writer for EarthSky, asks the question, Does a supermoon have a super effect on us?
A supermoon’s effects are imperceptible, far smaller than those encountered in other everyday situations, such as being near a mountain or even a large building.
He talks about this in terms of gravitational force, and finds the effect to be "about 110 milligrams, roughly equivalent to about 1/9th the mass of a paperclip." That's not much of an effect.
He did acknowledge that "the full moon can appear as much as 14% larger in the sky and 30% brighter to our eyes than at minimum size and brightness." This change of brightness to the moon is likely to be unnoticeable from one night to the next, but when someone mentions it, it can lead to observational bias. Mention to people things that happen during full moons, especially during supermoons, and people will look for the occurrence and when they observe it, generalize about it.
If enough people mention something, it can start trending on social media. It can become a fad, a meme, or a topic of the day. Enough people are talking about the 'supermoon' that it has become a top news story showing up in my Google Feed, including a link to Larry Sessions' article.
So, while the effect of a full moon at perigee may be minimal gravitationally, it can be profound psychologically. Some may think about this in terms of vampires, werewolves, and the zodiac. Yet I'm interested in other aspects. I find the moon beautiful. Anything that gets people to stop and think about beauty, to gaze on something beautiful, is, in my book, a good thing.
Tying this to science, anything that gets people to stop and consider the motions of the earth, the moon, planets, and stars, perhaps even ideas like gravity and inertia, is also a good thing.
What would it be like if everyone took a moment every day to reflect on something beautiful and to share it? What would it be like if everyone took a moment every day to think about the wonders of how the universe is created and how humans have used science to broaden their understanding of the universe?
Unfortunately, too many people have too much on their minds in terms of making money and gaining power. Perhaps, instead of focusing on the fabulous creatures, the zodiac, or even beauty and science, another reflection is called for.
There is an old Zen story entitled, The Moon Cannot Be Stolen
A Zen Master lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening, while he was away, a thief sneaked into the hut only to find there was nothing in it to steal. The Zen Master returned and found him. "You have come a long way to visit me," he told the prowler, "and you should not return empty handed. Please take my clothes as a gift." The thief was bewildered, but he took the clothes and ran away. The Master sat naked, watching the moon. "Poor fellow," he mused, " I wish I could give him this beautiful moon."
So, I give to you this different way of thinking about the supermoon. It cannot be stolen.
As I sit down to write this, I find that my Klout score is current 73, my score on PeerIndex is 65, and my stock is at 229 on Empire Avenue. Klout shows my top topics to be social media and social justice. PeerIndex has news, lifestyle and the arts as my top benchmark topics and on LinkedIn, the skills I've received the most endorsements in are Blogging, Social Media and Social Networking.
Yet I have to wonder, how much does this really mean? Are these the scores that matter? I remember one person describing HITS on a website as How Idiots Track Success. How influential am I really, what sort of impact am I really having? These are thoughts I think about as I struggle with setting my goals for 2013, especially as part of the CT Health Foundation's Health Leaders Fellowship Program.
In SuperBetter, you work on building up physical, mental, emotional and social resilience. It is a great concept and it made me wonder, what my SuperBetter Online Score would be. How often do I read a post that stops and makes me think (+1 mental resilience)? How often do I stumble across something mind numbing or brain dead (-1 mental resilience)? How often do I see something that warms my heart and causes me to want to do something good for the people around me (+1 emotional resilience)? How often do I see something that makes me want to just quit (-1 emotional resilience)? How often do I see something that makes me feel more connected to friends on line (+1 social resilience)? How often do I see something that makes me want to hide in a cave and not talk to anyone (-1 social resilience)? I have skipped over physical resilience; I'm not sure I get much for pluses or minus physically from my online activities.
Wouldn't it be great if someone came a long with a game, perhaps as a mashup of Klout, StumbleUpon and SuperBetter, where a post could be rated, and optionally shared using these scores? Instead of simply 'liking' a post on Facebook, I could say it gave me a +1 mental resilience. I could chose which posts to share based on this, and make an effort to only share those posts that are increasing resilience in whichever areas I'm most interested in at the time.
At times, I could go back and see which friends have posted things that have been most uplifting. I could thank them for it, tell others about how uplifting I find them. For people posting material generating negative resilience, I could decide if I really wanted to keep following them. Perhaps even a back propagating neural network could be added, but that's probably pushing the envelope beyond the scope of this blog post.
As Facebook, Amazon, Google and other sites continue to refine their searches and recommendations, perhaps I would start getting more uplifting content. Perhaps brands and news organizations could start promoting their material in a more uplifting manner.
I'm probably too busy to write something like this myself, but perhaps I'll find some open source tools I could tweak to get close to this. So, if someone wants to steal this idea and implement it great.
So, what sort of SuperBetter Online Score is this blog post worth?
It has been a rough few weeks, so I thought I'd unwind with something a little different last night, so I ended up watching the video embedded in the article Jacques Lacan Speaks. My French is rusty and my knowledge of psychoanalysis as well as of the sixties in France is limited, but it really got me thinking about things beyond what has been going on more immediately in my life.
My thoughts drifted to the Open Yale course, INTRODUCTION TO THEORY OF LITERATURE, as I thought about how I was understanding what Lacan was trying to say. My thoughts drifted to Geert Lovink's new book, Networks Without a Cause: A Critique of Social Media.
The article with the Lacan video has the line, "Lacan still has his fans, notably the 'Elvis of Philosophy,' Slavoj Zizek, who dominates YouTube the way his predecessor once did salons", and it made me wonder about the discourse Lacan would have had with the Internet.
I've always been interested in how groups interact online, back years ago when I worked with a management coach whose specialty was the psychoanalytic study of organizations. My thoughts wandered back to reading many articles from the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations as well as attending experiential group relationship conferences organized by the The A K Rice Institute and the William Alanson White Institute.
My mind returned to the old question, if groups have a persona and with it, an unconscious, what can we say about online groups, or, to put it another way, how would we understand Facebook as an analysand?
Now, most of us experience Facebook, not as something completely other. First and foremost, it is, very much, a social construct, coming out of a specific time in American history. That, in and of itself, is worth extensive study. Even more so, our experiences with Facebook are typically with a set of people whom we have designated as 'friends'. In many cases, this is a self selected group, of a similar size to a Group Relations, or perhaps Lacanian Large Group of around 150 people. In my own case, it is a much larger group, the size of a small town of over 2,500 people.
It is further complicated that the boundaries are much less clear. Everyone in my Facebook Large Group belongs to their own Facebook Large Groups which have different sets of members, and content from one group easily gets shared from one group to another. In addition, Facebook is 24x7. For many of us, there are now time boundaries on the group. Lacking these boundaries, the group does not have the same sense of safety that a normal group might. However, that sense of safety may be promoted by the disinhibition that often accompanies online interaction.
So, if my Facebook Large Group is an analysand, does that make me the analyst? Am I approaching this group like an analyst would? Where does transference and counter-transference fit in? What can I learn, about myself and about my society by looking at my Facebook Large Group through the lens of an analyst?
With this, I come back to Geert Lovink's new book. If Facebook a network without a cause? Is his question "at what point do we pause to grasp the consequences of our info-saturated lives", construed too narrowly to think only about the conscious information that is saturating our lives, or is there room for exploring the group unconscious information that we might be able to tap into via social media. For that matter, how different is the group unconscious of a Facebook Large Group from that of other very large groups? Yes, we can talk about persistence, searchability, reach and scope, both are they really a difference in magnitude or a difference in kind? Was not the information of early villages also persistent and searchable, through the town elders, historians, mystics and artists?
So now, I need to post these thoughts on my blog. They'll be shared on Facebook, and perhaps discussed a little there. How will it change my interaction with social networks? How will it change the interaction with social networks of others in my Facebook Large Group?
Maybe that will be a different blog post and Facebook discussion.
Here is another one of my longer blog posts thinking about what it means to run for office. It has also been submitted to the Bethwood Patch.
Recently, I wrote a blog post about being a participant observer in electoral politics. I'm running for State Representative in the 114th Assembly District in Connecticut, which includes all of Woodbridge, much of Orange, and the eastern side of Derby. Since that blog post, I've been very busy with tactical aspects of my campaign and haven't been writing as much as I would like.
This morning, I'm taking a few minutes to reflect on an aspect of running for elected office that I haven't found a lot written about, group dynamics.
I've had a long interest in group dynamics, especially as it relates to online communities and to group psychotherapy. It's a topic I've studied for over a decade and I'm a member of a mailing list of group psychotherapists.
So, let's try to look at this from a group perspective. I'm a member of a very large, non cohesive group. It is made up of about 15,000 members. It is the registered voters in the 114th assembly district. Like any large group, there are interesting subgroups to look at. There are the registered Democrats, the registered Republicans, the unaffiliated voters, and those that are registered with less known political parties.
There is the group of people who vote in primaries, the group of people who vote in municipal elections, the group of people who vote only in presidential elections, and the group of people who don't get out and vote at all.
I have chosen, perhaps because of some valence, to take up the role of candidate. For my friends with a group relations bent based, I am perhaps engaged in what Wilfred Bion would refer to as Basic Assumption - Pairing. My opponent and I are engaged in a discourse representing different views of how our community should move forward. The rest of the group watches, perhaps adding comments here or there, and hoping that the person whose views most closely match theirs prevails. We are seeing this dynamic intensify in U.S. politics as politics becomes more and more polarized.
The subgroup of those who are politically active and are hoping my views will prevail show a wide range of reactions. Some have contributed the maximum amount of money permissible to my campaign. With the Citizens Election Program in Connecticut, that is $100. They have spent time helping me get my message out. They express frustration that I have not been raising enough money, that I have not been contacting enough voters, or that I have not stayed closely enough to my message. They have high hopes for my campaign, and nothing will be enough to satisfy them until I get elected. Others, who are politically active and that I've hoped would be more involved in the campaign have resisted my requests for assistance and have expressed frustration at my repeated requests.
My job, assuming I get elected, will be to represent all of the people in the district. Not just those who share my views, or not just those that hold specific expectations of me.
At times, I hold the frustrations of my most ardent supporters, the weariness of my least enthused supporters, and I try to maintain the participant observer role in such a way that I might transform local politics.
How do we move away from basic assumption - pairing thinking, while at the same time holding fast to our hopes and dreams? How do we find common ground while seeking to differentiate ourselves from our opponents? How do we keep campaigning at peek performance without burning out?
These are the questions I struggle with as I campaign. Part of my stump speech is, don't vote for me because I have all the answers, parroted from party leaders or talking heads on cable television. Vote for me because I'll ask the tough questions. How do we understand the group dynamics of electoral politics and shift them to more of a working group behavior is just one of those difficult questions.