Do you feel like howling in protest at the electoral system's failure to meet the challenges of our times? Whether it's the behavior or philosophy of one candidate or the other, the limits of the two party duopoly, the corrupting influence of big money, the possibility that our votes won't be accurately counted, or some other aspect of this absurd circus, reasons for feeling frustrated, anxious, angry and fearful abound.

Join us for a conversation where we discharge our difficult emotions and then think together about what might be possible to create an electoral system that works, as well as ways to move from being passive "consumers" of political leadership to active citizens co-creating our future.

We are beginning our inquiry here on the forum, and then continuing with our regular Monday Cafe Call on October 29:

Register for our Monday Vital Conversation Series
8-10a PDT | 11a-1p EDT | 3-5p GMT

This theme will also inform our Tuesday "Connect2012" and Thursday "Occupy Heart" calls.

We can start with the following questions:

  • What is the story about this election that you hear yourself most often telling?  The one that you are wedded to and maybe even take your identity from?*
  • What are the payoffs you receive from holding onto this story?*

*Question framing from Peter Block's Community: The Structure of Belonging

Photo courtesy of the Group Works Deck

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Maybe we could organize a parade. Once the parade is underway, I'm happy to volunteer to collage a banner, C.A., if you will write something meaningful on it, in purple or blue.

Here's the announcement for and a link to the transcript of the talk I gave at the library yesterday:

Mark E. Smith Discusses 'Consent To Tyranny'

When Thursday, October 25, 2012, 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Where Central Public Library, San Diego
Age limit All ages
Categories Community, Lectures
Cost Free

Local author Mark E. Smith discusses two essays "The Counterrevolutionary Constitution" and "You've Got to Stop Voting” from his controversial work, "Consent to Tyranny: Voting in the USA."

Part of San Diego Public Library project: "Searching for Democracy: A Public Conversation about the Constitution."

Made possible with support from Cal Humanities. For more information, visit or call 858-573-1399

Location: Central Public Library, 820 E St. San Diego


George Lakoff, professor of cognitive science and linguistics at UC Berkeley, writes in The Political Mind:

"This book is devoted to the democratization of knowledge...those grand new discoveries about our own minds that are crucial in understanding how our politics works. What is at stake is the deepest form of freedom, the freedom to control our own minds. To do that, we must make the unconscious conscious."

Candace Pert, the biologist that discovered the opiate receptor and broke open new ground for contemporary understanding of emotional physiology, stated that your body is your unconscious mind. 

You only think you have a rational mind, when really your thoughts are controlled by unconscious impulses below your conscious awareness. 

One can only exercise reason to the degree that one has awareness and ability to integrate their inner emotional climate.  Otherwise, you have no freedom to respond outside of a narrow frame of knee jerk conditioning.  The loss of freedom comes because one can't see the fishbowl in which he or she is contained.

The resistance to understanding and mastering one's inner self is fascinating.  In ancient and indigenous cultures, it was a warrior's path to know himself within.  In marshal arts today, the highest level artists are the one's with the finest inner awareness.  There is no conscious choice or freedom without inner mastery. 

Inner emotional expression has little to do with integrative awareness.  Resistance to it though, will imprison one for life.

We certainly don't have rational minds, Jitendra, or at least we don't seem able to act rationally if we do.

Dr. Mercola recently told the story of a woman doctor at Johns Hopkins who had written a paper for JAMA over a decade ago. Using her study, Dr. Mercola began pointing out that doctors were the third leading cause of death in the United States. Recently there was a drug recall because the drug was found to have been causing brain hemorrhages. The doctor from Johns Hopkins, the woman who'd done the study about why we shouldn't trust doctors and pharmaceutical drugs, died of a brain hemorrhage because her cardiologist had been prescribing that drug for her. If anyone knew better, she did.

Most likely her cardiologist was a colleague and perhaps even a friend. So she ignored everything she'd known for over a decade.

For six years, from 2000 to 2006, even though I knew that our votes didn't have to be counted, weren't verifiable, and couldn't influence government policy, I continued to vote anyway. And I happily continued to think of myself as a rational being. Ha!

Something keeps about half the electorate in this country, most of whom claim to love democracy, voting in an undemocratic electoral system for an undemocratic form of government. It certainly can't be rational minds.

Obviously, we're not going to get anywhere if we can't stop ourselves from doing things when we know better.


The loss of freedom comes because one can't see the fishbowl in which he or she is contained.

Could you extend this particular statement? Seeing or not seeing the fishbowl shapes the set of one's illusions only - the fact of being contained is a given.

If I may refer to my answer on Collaboration thread: freedom should not be the sacred rune, IMHO limits of our individual and collective freedom should be subject of discussion leading to an agreement.

My story is that, in more stable times, Obama might be a President I could love, but that his moderate, technocratic, bipartisan proclivities feel completely out of step with the nature of the challenges we face.  Whether it's climate, the power of giant corporations, the folly of attempting global military dominance, the continued worshiping at the temple of exponential economic growth or the brutal crushing of serious dissent (e.g. the Homeland security-coordinated dismantling of the Occupy encampments), this government feels tragically out of step.

AND Romney and his Republican cohorts seem far, far worse to me, somehow managing to profess a completely fantasy-based perspective on what works and does not work in government, as well as what the Democrats are actually doing or not.  I WISH Obama really was the socialist/big spender/friend of the poor they want to paint him as, rather than the slightly right-of-center status quo supporting/modest reformer/capitalist tool I observe.

So... what's the payoff I get from this story?  Well, I get to be in the Democratic mainstream on the one hand by supporting the President and fearing disaster if Romney wins.  I get to join in the game of rooting for "my guy," checking Nate Silver's blog every few hours for updates on Obama's odds (he's back over 70% again this week--whew!).  And at the same time, I can share in the fear and horror of the thought of a Romney Presidency.  War with Iran? A Supreme Court that goes completely off the deep end and stays there for another 20 years?   I hear many friends and family members asking themselves "should we move out of the country if he's elected?"

Meanwhile, eating my cake too, I can identify with hard core Occupy anarchists who see the entire edifice as hopeless, corrupt and unlikely to even count their votes when they matter, thanks to paperless voting machines built by companies with ties to Romney and his far-right wing allies.  I can pull my hair out over Obama's support of NDAA's indefinite detention provisions, drone assassinations, fracking and drilling in the Arctic and the lack of prosecutions for Wall Street banksters or Bush Administration war criminals.

The question we didn't ask for this warm up to our live conversation on Monday is "what is the price you pay for holding onto this story?"  It's pretty clear to me that there is a cost.  I'm bathing in cynicism and disbelief at the state of our electoral affairs.  That probably keeps me both from being more proactive in supporting the good things this system actually still can accomplish and in thinking that it is even possible to bring about the kind of fundamental changes we need to make this system work.  In short, it makes it a lot easier to take the stand of a disappointed consumer without any good products to choose from (where's my cheap plug-in hybrid wagon or 100mpg hypercar?!) rather than an engaged citizen who looks outside the political box for ways to create change by recognizing how vast the common ground we stand on really is.  

Even many Tea Partiers, not to mention moderate Republicans and Libertarians (yes--they may not be running for office, but they do exist!) like the idea of federal funding of elections, reigning in corporate power and building local economies.  What might be possible if we stopped vilifying each other?  And what remains possible if we don't?  Oh jeez... now I sound like Obama!

Ben, those who didn't move out of the country when President Obama and the Democrats took us back to the Dark Ages of the 12th Century, before the Magna Carta, when a tyrant could imprison or kill anyone he wanted without due process (a right Romney might inherit but didn't initiate), wouldn't move out if Obama or Romney claimed the right to roast and eat their firstborn children. Some can't afford to, like those who were unable to leave New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, some think it will only happen to others, not to them, and some are just too apathetic to care--they have more immediate concerns, like which new model cell phone to buy.

Occupy Cafe is not a tyranny, so individuals, either as stewards or participants, can make a difference. The government of the United States (if you click on the link to my talk, I explain why this is true) is a tyranny, so it really makes no difference who is in office of who people vote for--the system does not allow people to make a difference. It is the distribution of power that makes the difference between a democratic form of government and a tyranny.

When Timothy Leary was in prison, it was said that he used astral travel to go outside his jail cell, but his body remained caged. Freeing your inner being when your body happens to live next to an aging Fukushima-style nuclear reactor, won't do much for your mortal shell if you have no power over the governmental bodies that can decide whether to keep that plant operating beyond its planned decommissioning date.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." Talking about candidates is discussing people.

Since my talk is lengthy and I know you don't have the time to read it, perhaps you'll look at this short essay by Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, who was Secretary of the Treasury under Ronald Reagan:

Roberts has credentials, credibility, and has had a lot of political, financial, and social success in his life. He doesn't explain why we're in this situation, as I do, because that takes a bit more time, but he does explain the situation clearly.

Oh, and yesterday I was interviewed by phone by a writer from who didn't seem to think I'm the nonentity I am. I'm pretty sure his intention was a sneering sidebar, and I'm also pretty sure that if he writes it, his editor won't approve it, so I did the interview, but I suggested that he also speak with Dr. Roberts if he wanted his editor to publish it. Is it possible that if I got the attention of a hip and savvy politically involved website like politico, I might have something worth spending a few moments of your time reading?

Is it possible that if I got the attention of a hip and savvy politically involved website like politico, I might have something worth spending a few moments of your time reading?

Geez, Mark!  I've spent LOTS of time over the past year reading things you've written.  And you'll get no argument from me about most of what you're upset about, such as NDAA, coltan from the Congo in our cell phones, drone attacks, and phony debates.

Yes, we do disagree about whether or not to vote, and about who might be worse for the country, Obama or Romney.  The point of THIS conversation is not to try to persuade one another of who is right, however.  By all means share you views, but please don't condescend to others when they do the same.  If we can't deal kindly with people who agree with us on 90% of what matters, what hope is there?  Meanwhile, how do we conjure up compassion and respect for those very large numbers of people who disagree with 90% of what we believe?  And can we imagine getting to the future we all want if that doesn't happen?

That's why the idea of considering our beliefs as stories, and looking at the payoffs and costs of holding onto them, starts to make sense to me.  We don't know the future.  We can say with some confidence however, that if we simply project the past forward, we are unlikely to be a part of creating something new.

Ben, what I'm saying is that we do not have a democratic form of government. We have, instead, a tyranny. That's why my new book is called, "Consent to Tyranny: Voting in the USA," and that is what my talk is about, not candidates or issues.

We can run around forever trying to put out brush fires like NDAA, resource wars, drone bombs, and phony debates, but if we don't understand our system of government, we will never understand that we have no power over government, government has power over us, so there will always be new and bigger brush fires to put out.

I have no position on who might be better or worse for the country--because we do not have a democratic form of government, my concern is that whoever it is, we have no power to influence their policy decisions. We can't hold their feet to the fire or hold them accountable because, whoever it is, they will not allow public opinion to influence their policy decisions. They don't have to.

Do you agree with voters that there's no problem having elected or unelected people in government with the Divine Right of Kings that our revolution from England was fought to free us from--that the only thing to be concerned about is who wields that power? Nothing wrong with a President being able to cage or kill people without due process, the only question is who might cage or kill fewer people?

Half the people in this country don't vote, so it isn't as if voters are a majority. Of those who vote, less than 10% approve of what our government is doing, even when their own party is in power, they've just been brainwashed into thinking that the other party would be even worse. The problem has nothing to do with political parties or candidates, the problem is that no political party or candidate can change a tyranny into a democratic form of government. They might take more or less advantage of having the power of tyrants, but their successor might do the opposite,.

The only way we can get to the future that we all want, Ben, is if we have a say in that future.

In a democratic form of government, where supreme power is vested in the hands of the people, not only would we have a say, we'd have the final say. Supreme means dominant, highest, and ultimate. No elected official or appointed government body would be able to defy or overrule the will of the people.

What power do we have over government if we don't even have the power to ensure that our votes are counted, or the power to hold federal elected officials accountable the first time they violate their oaths of office instead of having to allow them to do it again and again until their terms of office are up when we can try to elect somebody else we can't hold accountable? When 80% of a representative's constituents sign a petition asking him to represent them, and he refuses to do so? How can we exercise our will through our elected representatives when we can't even be certain that we elected them, they don't seem to really care whether we vote for them or not, and we have no power to compel them to represent us?

Elections are designed to give us the illusion of having choice and power, when it is merely an illusion.

If somebody is sitting in the living room watching the ball game and the house is on fire, and some of us are calling the fire department, turning on hoses and using fire extinguishers, and trying to get people out of the house, it may appear that we lack compassion for the person who only wants to watch the ball game, by not respecting them and by trying to take them away from their ball game and get them out of the house, but is that really the case?

Mark: I'm not going to debate you on these things.  It's not the conversation I'm interested in having here.  For one thing, you type way faster that me!

Your ball-game analogy seems to reinforce my sense of how stuck we might be.  What if we actually need to get the guy watching the game to help us put out the fire?  Will making him feel stupid or being angry with him do the trick? Personally, I'm tired of telling myself that kind of story and am looking for one where a way through this makes more sense to me.

Ben, if the guy watching the ball game refuses to listen when we tell him the house is on fire, we can't get him out of the house or enlist his help in putting out the fire. Even if we are patient, civil, respectful, and don't make him feel stupid, if he doesn't consider us worthy of his respect and will not listen to what we're saying, you are correct and there is no way to get through to him.

Exactly why I am looking for a different kind of story, Mark!

So... What do you say we pause, catch our breath, and make some space for others to join this thread as well?  Maybe hearing their versions of this will shake something loose, or at least deepen our understanding.


Weekly Cafe Calls

Regular Calls are no longer being held.  Below is the schedule that was maintained from the Fall of 2011 through Jan 10, 2013.

"Vital Conversations" 

8-10a PDT | 11a-1p EDT | 3-5p GMT 

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"Connect 2012"

1-3p PDT | 4-6p EDT | 8-10p GMT

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3-5p PDT | 6-8p EDT | 10p-12a GMT

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