Regression to the Mean

by rthieme on October 16, 2008

starry-sidebarby Richard Thieme

October 16, 2008

Boy, I sure don’t want to sound moralistic, surveying the current wreckage and feeling the chill winds of anxiety and fear every time I turn on the TV, but I do want to affirm some basic truths I think I know.

Let’s assume, first of all, that however protracted the struggle, we will come out of this mess on the other side. Our challenge is to get up every morning, which has long been my definition of faith.

Faith is getting out of bed in the morning in the belief that the day is worth living.

Let’s acknowledge, too, that global economic structures have long mandated global political structures. I know, I know, we still talk about countries as if they matter most. That illusion has been encouraged by politicians taking advantage of genuine patriotic sentiment and reinforcing the false beliefs of the people they manipulate and exploit. Telling the simple truth in the civic arena has not been common for a long time, regardless of the party in power.

But as I have long suggested, the forms and structures of economic, political and social realities follow the systems of information and communication which shape the flow of our interactions and therefore how we relate. Those emerging structures long ago undermined the boundaries around all sorts of identities from individuals (with rights grounded in prior technologies) to intellectual property (with rights) to nations.

Collaborative global structures, interpenetrating one another in multiple ways but separate from our primary political identities, have become the forums for determining how the world works. What we called euphemistically the global free market was a creature of those collaborative structures. The relatively small number of men and women who lead them were in effect the vanguard of a new world order, call it what you like. They still are.

The bottom line is, there is no going back to a time when America, for example, was a single country bounded by two oceans. That time is over. The flow of information, capital, products, everything, obeys different laws and comes to different conclusions than a sentimental preference for a national identity might suggest. We are bound, as ML King Junior said, in a single garment of destiny. We can not act as if we are not.

What is emerging now is a global structure with nationalized financial institutions—what Republicans, even as they bring it about, ironically blast as “socialism” on the campaign trail. We are being seized by the indelible realization that no country, much less a person, is or ever will be an island again.

In America, this is an incredible opportunity. At last we can act on what we say we believe.

We have long gobbled up the piggy portion of the resources of the world to fuel lifestyles of unanticipated and even unsought affluence. We have grown accustomed to lives of indulgence powered by excessive debt and unrealistic dreams. Our cars have been too big, our houses have grown too big, and the stuff we amass, we know in our hearts, is not only more than we need, it works against us having the lives we say we want—lives of fulfillment and enrichment, mutuality, generosity, genuine benevolence.

It’s really that basic. Regression to the mean means we may have to act in accordance with the more spiritual values we have always said we held. We may have to own a lot less and stop bolstering our egos with so much unnecessary stuff. We may have to live more simply.

We don’t need most of that stuff. We know that, like bored children playing with one more toy on Christmas morning. It doesn’t help. When we buy more, we want to buy still more the next day and the next. It doesn’t work. It does not satisfy the real self that craves authenticity, integrity, the riches of relationships, the delight in learning and exploring, the joy of participation in the sorrows and the triumphs of the world.

The upward call is to see and say clearly what is real. To see and say clearly on the basis of our experience what works and what does not. To affirm in action as well as word the deeper truths we all really know.

Woody Allen said in one of his wisest films, We all know the same truths. Our lives consist of how we distort them.

This transitional time is an opportunity to lessen that distortion, to align our lives more clearly with the ultimate truths we know. We will never close the angle of distortion entirely, but we can certainly tighten it up. The Golden Mean is what we see over our shoulders as we tack back and forth across it, coming always, we hope, closer to the wind.

That life-giving wind that invigorates the journey is the source and destination of our journeys. It blows where it will. Our task is to notice it, feel it, turn to it, and then use it with energy and gusto to true ourselves up.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Roy Isaac March 2, 2010 at 4:46 PM

One quick question; As social animals, how do we learn to be more sociable an less animalistic? As lions that has gorged themselves on their prey, how do we learn to relinquish that which we do not want and certainly do not need to those who are hungry but less powerful?

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