Monthly Archives: July 2014

We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For in 10 minutes

This video from Frontiers of Democracy 2014 is my best effort to summarize my book We Are the Ones … in 9 minutes and 39 seconds. It presents the book as an effort to answer the problem that was most on my mind during the conference–how to achieve leverage over large systems while retaining the human relationships and sense of personal agency that are most evident when we work together in small voluntary groups.

mapping the youth vote in 2014

CIRCLE’s new interactive maps of states and congressional districts are getting a lot of attention. Our congressional district map lets you view any district by various measures of demographics, turnout, socioeconomic variables, the number of local colleges and universities, and two political factors (whether any state ballot measures might mobilize youth in 2014, and whether the district is competitive).

You can compare rates by district, look over time, and see all the districts ranked from highest to lowest. Using some of those tools, we have identified four districts–IA-3, AZ-1, AZ-9, and NY-23–as especially interesting to watch in 2014 if you care about the youth vote.

Previously, we had released a state map (pertinent to Senate races, among other purposes) that shows historical youth turnout rates and other data going back to the 1970s.

avoiding the labels of East and West

(Hartford, CT) Between the 320s and the 130s BCE, there were kingdoms in what is now Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan that had monarchs with Greek names who communicated in both Greek and Pali, who honored both Olympian gods and Buddha, and who had diplomatic relationships, marriages, and wars with both Mediterranean and South Asian neighbors. Here, for example, is a coin of king Strato I and his consort Agathokleia. They are named on one side in Greek. On the other side, in the Kharosthi script, it says, “King Strato, Savior and of the Dharma.” The figure is Athena, but other coins from the Greco-Bactrian kingdoms show the Buddhist wheel.

These kingdoms are fascinating because they may have influenced the ideas and art of Mahayana Buddhism, on one side, and Hellenistic philosophy and Judeo-Christian monasticism, on the other. Discussing them, however, can be politically sensitive. Ever since they were rediscovered, scholars–both Indian and European–have identified the Greek aspects of these communities with Europe, with colonialism, and with whiteness, and the Indian aspects of these communities with Asia, with independence, and with darker skin. Thus proponents of the British empire have accentuated the Greeks’ contribution to “Hellenistic India,” whereas anti-colonial scholars have either dismissed it or viewed it critically. This is a helpful overview of the historiography by Rachel Mairs.

I’m no expert, but I have a strong instinct that these categories are false and misleading. I happen to be white (of European extraction) and I studied some Greek. But the Greek cultural aspect of the Greco-Bactrian kingdoms is deeply alien to me. In their militarism, monarchism, paganism, misogyny, and peculiar metaphysics, the ancient Hellenes are far more remote than modern Indians are. If I had to choose between the ethics of a Greek circa 200 BC and a Buddhist of the same time, I would select the latter as both more persuasive and more familiar. The British imperialists who came to dominate South Asia in the late 1700s were not much more similar to ancient Greeks than I am, although they thought they belonged to the “classical tradition.”

The Greeks themselves distinguished between Europe and Asia and named “India” as that part of Asia that lay beyond the Indus River. But those are arbitrary distinctions, as my family and I recalled when we stood on either side of the Europe/Asia border in Turkey several times this summer. Ancient Indians tended to call the Greeks “Yona,” which refers to the Ionian Sea. It lies between Italy and Greece, but if Indians had called the Greeks “Aegeans” instead, that name would have encompassed both Asia and Europe (per the Greeks’ own distinction.)

Race is a hugely influential category today, but ancients did not divide people up that way. When the Greek emperor Seleukos and the Indian emperor Chandragupta sealed a peace treaty by arranging a marriage between their children, no one thought that a white person was marrying a person of color. Some Greeks may have thought that the marriage involved a barbarian, but that meant someone who couldn’t speak Greek. Barbarians were people who said “bar bar bar”: unintelligible foreign words. The important divisions involved language, not skin color.

If you can drop the association of Greeks with Europe and Mauryans with India, what really jumps out is the continuity of culture and history from North India to southern Italy in that era. The philosophical milieu of Siddhartha Gautama resembled that of Socrates. Both men lived in city-states that would be overrun in the late 4th century BCE by monarchical empires. In both cases, a polytheistic background culture allowed reflection on abstract fundamentals that yielded agnostic and atheist ideas. In both circumstances, the essential question was how to achieve equanimity despite the intrinsic cruelty of life. And both regions traded intensively with each other. Once we drop the division between East and West, we can learn to read Sextus Empiricus and Marcus Aurelius as guides to meditation and Nagarjuna as a systematic metaphysician much like Aristotle.

[See also when east and west were one; Jesus was a person of color, and strange lives (last paragraph)].

leverage as a moral issue

Newly out from Springer is Leveraging: A Political, Economic and Societal Framework, edited by my friend David M. Anderson. Anderson identifies bargaining leverage, resource leverage, and investment leverage as three distinct but related issues and then develops the idea of a “leverage mean,” which is the “mean between the extremes of too much leverage and too little leverage.” He and the other contributors examine cases from Wall Street meltdowns to parenting. Significant portions of the book are available online for free.

I’ve been thinking about leverage lately as well. We begin the Summer Institute of Civic Studies by examining forms of human interaction that are direct and human. In community organizing, deliberative democracy, and the management of common pool resources, the participants can explain what they believe and value to one another and can tangibly affect the outcomes with their own words and work.

But we don’t believe that we can stop at that scale, because the national and global economy and environment are crucial. Therefore, by the second week of the course, we are reading authors like James Madison and Bruce Ackerman who are interested in the design of nations and other large-scale systems. But then the deliberate, intentional, active citizen tends to recede from view. After all, most of us are not in the position to write a new constitution that will be ratified. As one of our participants acutely noted, “I had to miss a day, and when I returned, we were talking about Madison. Where is the civic in that?”

The problem is one of leverage. If we only do what is right, we leave most of the world unchanged. If we seek to change the world at large scale, we must get others to do what is right as well. That is leverage. For the most part, our leverage in the social world comes from creating, using, and changing institutions.

As the Archimedean metaphor suggests, to use leverage is to manipulate–to treat something as a means. In the social world, that something will have to be human: a person or a group. Leverage is necessary if you care for the world at any significant scale. But leverage is also risky and is ethically problematic because it can’t be fully reciprocal and relational. I think this is a fundamental problem, and Anderson and colleagues have opened an important line of inquiry.

job openings in civic renewal (6)

My lists of open positions seem popular, and I am able to post them with increasing frequency, because the market appears to be improving. That’s excellent news; it is really hard to create a movement without viable career paths.

The Democracy Fund “seeks to hire two Program Associates, each of whom will be focused on supporting one of our three initiatives and providing assistance to the other two. The three initiatives aim to create a more responsive political system, foster more informed participation, and improve the capacity of our political system to solve problems.”

The Mikva Challenge, an excellent civic education organization traditionally based in Chicago, is looking for “a great educator with an entrepreneurial spirit who can help Mikva replicate its Democracy in Action program to S. California cities and classroom (LA is the hub).”

The Department of Management at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business invites applications for the Rocereto Professorship in Leadership with appointment beginning in the academic year 2014-15.

Public Conversations Project seeks a Program Coordinator who will be “responsible for providing day-to-day coordination and support for Public Conversations Project’s Open Enrollment Training Program and Fieldwork (Customized Training, Facilitated Dialogue, Consulting/Coaching).  The Coordinator is also responsible for new business development.  The Coordinator will also assist with PCP training and facilitation.”

“Social Capital Inc. is looking for a part-time “Community Connector” to work on a new community web portal for the Healthy Chelsea Coalition. Please spread the word if you know of candidates in the #Boston area! Looking for someone fluent in Spanish as well as English.”

“Nonprofit VOTE, an independent, nonpartisan 501(c)(3)nonprofit organization currently located in Boston, MA, is seeking an inspired Executive Director to oversee, manage, and grow the organization. Nonprofit VOTE works nationally and in the states to harness the reach of nonprofits to increase voter participation and to close participation gaps, especially among populations underrepresented in the political process.”

The University of Michigan’s Rackham Graduate School is recruiting a new Academic Program Officer with responsibility for initiatives in public scholarship.  “The new Academic Program Officer will continue to be responsible for day-to-day oversight for Arts of Citizenship programs–the Institute for Social Change, the Summer Fellows program, and the Graduate Students Grants program–and will work with Mathew Countryman, Mark Kamimura-Jimenez, the Director of Graduate Student Success, and the incoming Associate Dean of Arts and Humanities to develop a number of new initiatives in public scholarship, including the Engaged Pedagogy Initiative that Arts of Citizenship has undertaken in conjunction with the Center for Engaged Academic Learning and the Residential College.”

The Coady International Institute rightly calls itself “a world-class leader in community-based, citizen-driven development education.” It is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia and has both a global reach and deep local roots. It is led by the distinguished scholar/activist John Gaventa. “The Institute is committed to reducing poverty and transforming societies by strengthening local economies, building resilient communities, and promoting accountable democracies.” The Institute seeks a Specialist in Citizen Engagement, Advocacy and Accountability (a program teaching staff position). They explain: “The Institute is in the process of strengthening its work on promoting accountable democracies. How citizens make their voices heard through innovative advocacy, accountability and peacebuilding strategies that influence governments and other institutions is a critical issue around the world. Citizen engagement, grounded in power analysis, is important in all of our programs.”