Thursday, January 31, 2013

Fear and Creativity, the Pre-Arranged Dichotomy – by Lauren Campbell

‘Green’ has become the buzzword of the decade. The color green is the hottest color of the year, at least in the advertising business, and the image of Earth is on more billboards and commercial property then one could ever count.

Going green is everywhere. Or is it?

Even though we are bombarded with the positive aspect of people ‘going green’ daily, actual education on environmental issues and information on how to address them is hard to find; not to mention how difficult it has been to convince the broader public that those issues are really there.

The lack of Environmental Education (EE) in our culture is alarming, especially given that EE has been going through 40 years of evolution.[1] During the Nixon administration, when EE was still in its infancy, the Tbilisi Declaration defined the objective of EE as

“to prepare the individual for life through an understanding of the major problems of the contemporary world, and the provision of skills and attributes needed to play a productive role toward improving life and protecting the environment with due regard given to ethical values.”[2] 

The Tbilisi Declaration provides important guidelines for EE: fostering a holistic approach to environmental awareness, recognizing the interdependence of our communities and the environment, and understanding the need to create new behavioral patterns among groups and individuals.[3] However, even with a strong environmental education foundation and government support for such educational programs, pro-environmental behavior has not improved enough to make the positive impact needed on our environment.[4]

Some of this lack of pro-environmental behavior can be attributed to an insufficient understanding of human motivation during the early formation of EE. Early environmental behavioral models (1970’s) were based on linear progression: environmental knowledge leads to environmental awareness and concern, which in turn leads to people behaving pro-environmentally. It wasn’t until Fishbein and Ajzen announced their theory of planned behavior in 1980 that individual attitudes toward a behavior were introduced. Fishbein and Ajzen pointed out that attitudes are influenced and shaped by social norms, thus linking attitudes and social norms to the likelihood of a behavior. This idea was picked up in the late 80’s and introduced in many pro-environmental behavioral models, yet individual action still rarely initiated. It appeared that even with knowledge, a concerned attitude for the environment, and community (social) support, pro-environmental behavior was not establishing itself in our culture.

In 1992, the EPA, recognizing the need for a connection between knowledge and action, defined EE as: “Increasing public awareness and knowledge about environmental issues and providing the skills necessary to make informed environmental decisions and to take responsible actions.”[5] In accordance with this idea, Dr. Short reminds us that any educational endeavor that endures, “must ultimately serve the social function of transmitting knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors that provide long-term benefit to the individual and community.”[6] We all know that educating an entire generation of children and teaching them to be productive members of society cannot happen overnight. Environmental Education, which is to serve as creating productive environmental stewards, is no different; however, even after 40 years of development, EE has not rooted itself as an educational norm.

Dr. Short explains that “education ‘for’ the environment should, in no manner, imply coercing prescribed behaviors that are unduly influenced by individual teacher perspectives”[7] and “the pinnacle of many canned environmental programs in schools involves a cheering session to motivate students toward participation in pre-arranged sets of activities focused on consumer or ecosystem behaviors.”[8] This external push by the teachers disengages students, creating a dichotomy between ‘wanting’ to help and ‘being forced’ to help; the latter ending in an unmotivated student who has a lack of vested interest. He gives many examples of successful environmental initiatives created by students, whom given the ability to see the project through in its entirety, even as long as 18 months, would step up to the challenge. This process alone provides young adults and children with the experience to follow through and builds confidence. As this confidence grows, he states, “using a well-established curricular framework based on the Tbilisi principles would help the teacher’s influence fade as students gained more skills and confidence in their own investigations, conclusions, and actions.”[9] This process enhances student empowerment and motivation toward action, as well as builds self-confidence through critical thinking and creative application.

Young children are especially motivated to get involved when given creative freedom to address environmental issues; they are more motivated to pay attention to the topic, they delve deeper into research, and during the exercise, experience deeper cognitive processing which leads to better memory retention. In the video by the World Wildlife Fund, children are given three days to creatively research an environmental issue, present their findings, and develop how to raise awareness on the topic. Working collaboratively, children chose topics ranging from endangered animal habitats to carbon emissions. The three day creative experience ended with children retaining much of what they had learned and recognizing how animals, humans, and the environment are interconnected; a by-product of deep cognitive processing and demonstrating the importance of creativity, not only in our educational system as a whole, but to the development and implementation of Environmental Education.

Ken Robinson, a well-known author and public speaker on the topic of creativity in education, discusses creativity in children and the impact it can have on our future, emphasizing creativity as a vehicle for adapting to change; which is crucial when dealing with the environmental crisis we have today and the changes in weather, natural resources, and the impact it has on human health, that come with it. Robinson points out that creative children are not frightened of being wrong, and “if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with something original.” The innovative necessities of our future depend on originality and creative design. He also points out that the lack of fear causes more children to ‘give it a go” when they do not know the answer; motivating themselves to try even when facing the possibility of being wrong.

According to Dr. Slohova and colleagues, the creative process fosters the “capability to take risks, the readiness to overcome obstacles,” in addition to enhancing intrinsic motivation.[10] Ideas that push societies forward are creative ones, and people who are creative tend to have less fear of taking risks, this combined with the collaborative, diverse atmosphere that many EE programs provide students, one would think great environmental solutions would be readily available.

Steven Johnson, author of the book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, explains how patterns of innovation occur in the most biodiverse situations. We see it in nature in the rain forest, where species are the most biologically diverse than anywhere else in the world; we see it in space, where elements form in the most molecularly diverse areas of space; and we see it in humans, where the best ideas come from learning from one another and the ‘stitching’ together of individual ideas. Historically, ideas originated from urban areas and spread via word of mouth to rural areas. Now, because of technology, those ideas are able to spread across the globe in minutes, offering us the benefit of diversity without having to actually leave and go anywhere; making diversity easily accessible and just as critical as creativity to successful EE programs.

In an experiment performed by Professor Marc Stern and colleagues, 7,000 students were serviced at NorthBay Adventure Center in Maryland over a two year period. NorthBay offers week long student camps that combine diversity, environmental issues, and character building to promote pro-environmental behavior, while simultaneously finding common ground between the diverse students hoping to accomplish environmental issue resolution.[11] This is achieved by relating outdoor environmental issues to family, school, or other in home issues; providing an understanding that everyone in the group can relate to, thus helping students have a more rounded understanding of environmental issues in a culturally diverse context. This also helps develop collaboration and critical thinking skills to address our environmental problems, while constructing an underlying understanding that we are all are responsible for our environment.[12] The understanding that we are all responsible for our environment encourages students to work collaboratively to address these issues, sparking creativity, leadership, and critical thinking.

Learning to think critically about environmental issues is vital to fixing environmental problems. However, motivating the critical thinkers to act is where EE has had problems in the past. Breiting and Morgensen[13] agree and claim that EE needs to foster the development of critical thinkers who can participate in environmental issue resolution through personal choice of action; this combined with an emphasis on creativity and diverse collaboration, environmental educational programs may finally get the results they have been striving so hard to achieve.



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[1] Short, P.C. Responsible environmental action: Its role and status in environmental education and environmental quality 41 The Journal of Environmental Education 7-21, (2010).

[2] TBILISI INTERGOVERNMENTAL CONFERENCE ON ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION, p.13 (1978).

[3] Potter, G. Environmental education for the 21st century: Where do we go now? 41 The Journal of Environmental Education, 22-23 (2010) available at http://ulib.iupui.edu/cgi-bin/proxy.pl?url=/docview/746815969?accountid=7398.

[4] Id. See also Kollmuss, A., & Agyeman, J. Mind the gap: Why do people act environmentally and what are the barriers to pro-environmental behavior? 8 Environmental Education Research, 239-60 (2002) doi: 10.1080/1350462022014540 1.

[5] Potter, 2010.

[6] Short, 2010, at p. 8.

[7] Id.

[8] Id. at 12.

[9] Id. at 13.

[10] Slahova, A., Savvina, J., Cacka, M., & Volonte, I. Creative activity in conception of sustainable development education 8(2) International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 142-54, available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/14676370710726616.

[11] Stern, M. J., Powell, R. B., & Ardoin, N. M. Evaluating a constructivist and culturally responsive approach to environmental education for diverse audiences, 42 The Journal of Environmental Education 109-122 (2011) doi: 10.0180/00958961003796849.

[12] Id.

[13] Breiting, S., & Sorensen, F. Action competence and environmental education 29 Cambridge Journal of Education 349-53 (1999).

Monday, January 28, 2013

On Language and Games – the Wittgensteinian Fly From a Bottle.

A while ago the European Journal of Law Reform published my article on China and Sustainability. I was flattered but I had doubts that few will actually understand what it is that I tried to say. I had shared it before it went to print with many of my peers; the consensus feedback was that it lacked a certain precise thesis, or that it was trying to achieve too much with too little space and focus.

I politely acknowledged their comments and I never changed a thing. It wasn’t to be rude to their kindness nor was it pretentiousness on my part to think their advice illegitimate. Rather, it was because the preciseness of my article does not come from its linear thought provoking powers nor its deconstructive worth.

No, I resist the linear and deconstructive means of writing. To me, words are beyond their precise definitions and understanding takes something more than mere comprehension. There is a sense of uncaptured truth in Gödel’s incompleteness and in order to manifest an article to truly have transformative power, I write to express something beyond a mere thesis or meaning.

The article was thus not meant to be something precise or linear; it was meant to be a work of art, to be used; it is to be a whole more than its parts as interpreted by the reader, not the writer, and it is meant to be a composition of my sentiments for the critical transformative nature of China’s current position as apparent, and for the expenditure, to those who are living in such a transformative environments.

After all, you wouldn’t expect Beethoven to give a thesis of his Ninth Symphony nor would you ask Kandinsky what had intended precisely with his Composition IV? Would you? But to appreciate both and to fully know what they are intended for, you would have to have passion and an undeniably persistence in experiencing the human experience thus employing them to your own use, wouldn't you?

In essence, I write for you to interpret and understand the rules of a game we all play; and the end game scenario is when the fly is out of the bottle, completely free of its confinements arbitrarily defined. Yet by all of my narcissistic self-indulgence of such an act of creating an art for the world to see, I now come to realize that in order to properly express the intended use to the reader I must make one pre-qualifying point come to clarity—that there is something to be said for Wittgenstein and the games he played.

Wittgenstein is arguably the greatest philosopher of the 20th Century. His posthumously published book, Philosophical Investigation (PI), was a contrast to his old thoughts as appeared in Tractatus. What Wittgenstein reasoned in PI was a hope to expose fallacies in the traditional way of thinking about language, truth, thought, intentionality, and philosophy. It is, in effect, a work of therapeutic nature to cure the world of misunderstanding perspectives.

Traditionally, we take meaning of language as having something exterior to support the proposition. We take this “something” as generally the reality of our context, be it some object or some mental representation of things; but as Wittgenstein had pointed out, “if we had to name anything which is the life of the sign, we should have to say that it was its use” (the Blue Book).

To ascertain the use of a word or proposition, then we must look to how the words or propositions are put into place. I highlighted this in my article on how the Chinese people are able to create new language “master frames” to reincorporate words to different use and thus arriving at some tangible results for the betterment of their environmental activism. So my articles aimed to point to nothing that is a generalization, but specific, historical or otherwise, uses of Confucian’s traditions in practice of gift giving and the such. In understanding that the Chinese people have detached their use of Confucian propositions of rituals and formalities and replaced them with a modern sense of capitalism, we understand that a new perspective is necessary. Thus a revival of the transformative nature of Confucianism is necessary.

So this is the game we play—a language game, one which will be of immense power if properly used.

Wittgenstein sought to highlight the repudiation of generality in philosophy, replacing it with the more relational—family resemblance—of use as more suitable means of connecting particular uses of the same word. I encourage my readers to consider the family resemblance between relational metaphysical manifestations of Confucian ontology in its transformative nature grounded in the emphasis in education with a process type metaphysics that focuses on the relational of being from moment to moment. In this sense, China’s rule of law problem is no longer a final and essential definition of the game we play; rather, China’s language and ontological influences is what we find common to all of the activities we desperately wish to enforce with some legal regime.

Thus, rules that govern are not relativistic to the Chinese culture or the political reality. Rather, rulemaking is arbitrary and the only true force that matters is the force of creativity under a formative freedom so enforced. In this light, the substantive is left to the government and the relativistic international standards, but the Chinese people, its artists and scholars, will ultimately control its own destiny. The liberation of China thus does not involve elimination of any external or internal authority. Rather, the liberation comes from the limitation of those arbitrary rules limited to their equally arbitrary application; true liberation comes from each and every individual Chinese person.

“If everything can be made out to accord with the rule, then it can also be made out to conflict with it. And so there would be neither accord nor conflict.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Imaginative Re-Colonization



The world today is much too centralized and complicated. Individuals have been marginalized and stripped of their sense of responsibilities, democracy relegated to the most trivial of such an idea. In this modern world of ours, everything is institutionalized, industrialized, and imaginatively colonized by corporations, special interests, and big governments.

In the US, small and medium sized towns are declining; cities are growing and urban sprawls are destroying lands and concentrating man-made problems. The urban employment markets are over-saturated, the industrial sector over-mechanized. Yet, we seem to be more willing to build bigger and better machines than we are willing to build smarter and better communities.

In China, this problem is magnified by the sheer size of their population and the demand for social improvements at the cost of stabilization. The evils that followed China’s impressive industrialization and modern developments are numerous: overproduction, over-pollution, unemployment and growing wealth gap. As more and more Chinese migrate to cities in search of their marginalized hopes for better lives, the Chinese government is beginning to recognize that de-centralization is needed more urgently than they had ever anticipated.

In this context, we find the past not a mythical golden age, but a ruminant of our hope long forgotten. With the issue of slavery behind us and civil rights to some degree achieved, perhaps an agrarian society is a better option for us and for the world at-large.

An agrarian society is one in which agriculture is the leading vocation, from which all other labor derive their philosophical purpose. To cultivate something, in a sense, should be elevated to the highest of our ontology; and the process of cultivation yields the highest form of our epistemological endeavors.

To grow something, then, becomes the ultimate purpose in an agrarian society; and in our attempt to grow something, a process-type metaphysics takes over the idle existential one—religiosity is replaced by a broader sense of spiritualism, and pursuit of happiness takes on meaning. The culture of nourishing earth becomes a priority; the culture of simply making more gadgets and widgets readily apparent as frivolous; and the culture of democracy—that the responsibility of a society rests with its people and not the separated rich and the powerful—takes shape. . .

Monday, January 21, 2013

Be Not Simply Good, Be Good for Something

(On this inauguration day, I thought I bring back one of the post I wrote last year as a reminder why we elect our presidents.)
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“That government is best which governs least." – Henry David Thoreau

It is not our government that kept the country free, settled the wild lands, or gave men their knowledge. These endeavors came from the people of their own volitions. It is questionable if these people would have been more successful in their endeavors had the government not been involved; to carry the conversation to those extremes would require the irreconcilable forms of idealism and the pragmatic completeness to exist in a vacuum, void of people and their imperfections—an impossible task for any theorist.

Thus, form the moment, we search for progress and not perfection; for the moment we do not question the existential necessity of our functioning government—that if we should abolish all governing bodies and start a fresh—we simply ask for a better government as Thoreau would. We demand a better government as each of us would.

What, then, is a better government? Is it what most people would believe—simply the majority that shall rule? Is it not the American motto that the will of the populous controls? After all, isn’t the collective wisdom of the masses persistently superior to a single man’s moral conscience? Isn’t the right of majority THE moral right as opposed to the individual conscience that could be to the left, above, below, or beyond what can be accepted as acceptable norms?

Thoreau holds firm on a positive NO; he argues a government founded on the principle of simple majority rule cannot be based on justice. He writes, "must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think we should be men first, and subjects afterward."

To Henry David Thoreau, it is more important to respect for what is right, rather than a blind respect for law; it is the people's obligations to do what is morally right, not just perform what is asked of them.

Too much rigidity in the respect for law leads people to do many unjust things. We saw this more recently in the war on terrorism and the invasion of Iraq: soldiers become only a shadow of their humanity; the government shapes them into machines; they have no opportunity to exercise moral sense and are reduced to the existence comparable to that of a dog. Yet these men are often labeled good citizens, marked for token patriotism, and eventually left to the gutters and slums for hunger and insanity to claim their souls.

What of those legislators and politicians, powerful lobbyists and their masked backers? They do not put moral sense first, something else is in front of their eyes; be it wealth, power, or simply a twisted sense of satisfaction from vengeance, they march on and send young men and women to die for empty ideals and they persecute the few who dare to oppose their views. Their wishes come true at the price of dead boys and girls.

Thoreau declares, "I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave's government also." As a contemporary, we have no more moral quarrels with the injustice of slavery, but we must ask if we can recognize and align ourselves with a government that is taking from the poor and embracing the privileged few openly and unjustly.

Thoreau believed a duty to rebel the enslavement of one sixth of the population and the invasion of Mexico; he denounced these tremendous injustices that we must not allow to continue. One could argue that the modern political culture would no longer allow slavery and we would no longer enter senseless wars; I wish I could believe such optimism.

So to ask what is a better government we must first ask what is the form and function of our government in our irreconcilable world of ideals and pragmatic completeness. Thoreau, in addressing this question notes the attitude that civil obligation should be maintained for the sake of expediency and that government should be obeyed simply to preserve the services we enjoy as a collective civil society. Expediency does not take precedence over justice; however, people still must do what justice requires regardless of cost even at one's own life.

If one is not prepared to defend what is just does not deserve one’s life given in justice.

Thus, Thoreau writes, "If I have unjustly wrested a plank from a drowning man, I must restore it to him though I drown myself." The people of the United States, urged by Thoreau, must stop slavery and the war with Mexico even if it costs them their existence as a people.

Thoreau rejects that a person must sacrifice or marginalize his/her values out of loyalty to the government; he believed that if an individual supports the government in any way then that person is complicit in injustices done by the government--even if the support is only in form of respecting authority. But we must then ask can a society function if everybody is a man first and a subject afterwards? Even if Thoreau's principle does become implausible when universalized, does this mean that it cannot pertain to a particular person's actions?

To reconcile these difficulties, Thoreau argued that it is each individual’s own moral duty to set a standard for him or herself. This transpired a strong sense of individualism and skepticism toward government that has served as the basis for many important reform movements. So we see where the irreconcilable ideals of forms reconcile with the pragmatic completeness of the world—indeed, this strong sense of individualism and skepticism is particularly embodied in the American values and has allowed America to become a nation of relative freedom. There we find a better government, one which attempts the reforms out of a moral obligation of the few; no longer is the majority rule simply arbitrary, but challenged in the sense of what is right.

There we find that government is better which governs least—we men/women have such individual moral obligations to do what is just for the governed, and the power is placed with the people--not lobbyists, not lawyers, not politicians or corporate greed.We make our government better, no one else.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

How Does Sustainability Succeed In Opposition of Market Norms?

“Ideas are the greatest and most crucially practical power on earth.” - Ayn Rand 

I’ve read Karl Marx in college. He had an rather interesting idea about business folks: that all they do is sit in some plush office, with expensive art hanging on the wall and expensive shoes plopped on their desk, chatting away on some posturing social gossip while fashionable cigar smoke idled in the air. Marx considered managers and CEOs parasites, exploiters of workers; it is the workers who actually made the products sold or services rendered—their labor the true forces of social good.

I have a funny feeling Marx wouldn’t have too high of regards for lawyers either. Well, that’s Marx I guess; a different time, a different place, and a different perspective that’s all.

Now that I’m a bit older; no longer a zealot philosopher and have worked my way almost out of law school, I know that’s not the truth. I know the division of exploiters and workers more byzantine, more convoluted. I know that amongst CEOs and managers, there are those who would supply the guiding intelligence, mental skillness, sharp focus and vision to the labor force so critical so the market machine would run efficiently and effectively—for the good of the order of things. Without these folks, the machine would breakdown or run aimlessly to consume all of our resources. We would be like a computer without a chip, a race without intelligence; we’d sooner consume ourselves. I doubt Marx ever thought about resource scarcity the way we are confronted with its many facets of problems, but again, a different time, a different place, and a different perspective, that’s all.


But I get the feeling that Marx was onto something. There seem to be two different kinds of businesses and two different kinds of CEOs and managers. There are those who do indeed have a sense of guiding intelligence, a sharp and focused mental skillness, and a vision to lead their companies to success and doing social good in the process: just look at Ben and Jerry’s—serving up sweetness and social consciousness since 1978. Then, there are those businesses that are doing nothing more than serving up a paper game of bottom-lines and share prices. These companies, and their CEOs, largely eroded themselves to the belief that value can be created from thin-air, that there is always something to be exploited; to these CEOs, the pride of business is nothing more than pure self-interest and they would sooner break up a company to sell it for pieces than to rescue it for the better of its employees and the communities they serve.

But is it good capitalism to turn shareholder interests into the single driven purpose of a company? Isn’t it a fallacy to assume that the business’s worth is its share’s worth, and a business’ purpose is its sheer profit gross? [See Joyner, B. E. & Payne, D. (2002) Evolution and Implementation: A Study of Values, Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility. Journal of Business Ethics. 41, 297-311.] Often I hear industry folks and investors say that a business is profitable only because of the legal cat-and-mouse game and what’s not included on the balance sheet. They are more worried about how to evade taxes and how to structure deals to squeeze that last penny. But we then need to ask, what exactly is this kind of business for and for who is this businesses created? The invariable answer doesn’t seem to escape Carl Marx’s silly idea of a capitalist, so for those CEOs and managers who would only care because it’s about the bottom line, I would consider them inescapable of socialist's criticism because they are the evil that socialism aimed to address. Let them be haunted by the ghost of Carl Marx to their ghastly graves. And I am not going to entertain those businesses here and I will not waste my spit to defend them from socialism. They don’t deserve it and I would sooner let them fall.

No, what I am interested in are those businesses, led by their CEOs and managers, that are focused on long-term and the social good. I am interested in how and why they take those externalities into account and are still able to create value for investors and shareholders.

First and foremost, in order for a business to succeed it must have some fundamentals in place. These may include assets and capital, but must also include some intangibles such as goodwill in the marketplace and human capital that is capable of preserving both tangible assets and intangible ones in the long run. Today, companies are starting to pay attention to cultivating these intangibles; considering their employees as a bundle of resources and their company culture a living organism, the forward looking CEOs and managers are beginning to value people more than products, communities more than commodities, and reputation more than the return on investments. [See Doane, D. (2005) Beyond corporate social responsibility: minnows, mammoths and markets. Futures. 37 (2–3), 215-229.] These forward looking CEOs and managers know in an ever changing climate of the marketplace, it is these intangibles that will get the company through tough times. Assets and capital can only get you so far, but it is a culture and core values that will survive the market changes and help a company adapt.

Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their 2004 book, Build to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, examined the exceptional companies and how they are different from their competitors and noted the core values of a company—its existential, immutable, and intrinsic value, together with its envisioned future—that which makes their immutable existential value malleable to change, makes up the guiding system of a unassailable force. Their views is particularly reconcilable with the aims of sustainability thus providing a glimpse into what can be of value to a sustainable goal in a company’s focus.

So while sustainable development goals may go directly against value creation in the short run and profits at the bottom of the balance sheet at the year’s end, having sustainable goals is not directly contradictory to building a long lasting and successful company. Giving a company core values and having visions to carry out those core values in everything a company will do invariable add value and compromise a company’s existence with that of our general social interest. Creating successful companies then is the same, intrinsically, as creating social good—standing for something then, is the same as maximizing profit returns in the long term; both of which defines sustainability inevitably—making a company’s existence and the planet’s existence forwardly compatible.

But sustainable goals in an existing business are more than just intangibles and core values entangling with social good. There is also something to be said for finding value in financial results. In the recent decade, investors and shareholders are becoming more and more active and asking more sophisticated questions about environmental, social and governance questions. As Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) becomes popular and mainstream, companies are setting up sustainability committees and standing up dedicating teams to address business approach and investor demands. Some fail because they take an isolated approach, dedicating the “sustainability team” to its very function: finding ways to token practices. The successful companies understand that there is something more. They require a much broader scope and effort: calling everyone within their organization structure to respond, these companies provide the necessary conditions to enshrine a culture not just build on sustainability per se, but on their own core values—what it is that they are doing. Again, we circle back to the original core question to consider: what is this company and who is it for? Sustainability, efficiency, and social good are simply the by-product of their focus; these successful companies know they must do not for doing’s sake, but that they must develop a sense of how they are spending their investment and why. In truth, these companies understand there is a difference between measuring results in profit so investors can extract wealth versus profiting from a measure to make the company more resilient. That is where we find financial results.

The successful companies, the sustainable and forwardly compatible ones, know that they must exist to exert influence on their wider ecosystem. They understand whatever core value they’ve set for themselves, the invariable one is that they exist because society exist—because they are serving the best interests of not just themselves. Here's go a hope for success in opposition of market norms. Change the norm then we must.



Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong. 

                                                                          - Ayn Rand

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Awakening to a Sustainable World

Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. . . . It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today [education] is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him [or her] for later professional training, and in helping him [or her] to adjust normally to his environment.[1] 



Al Gore and David Blood in 2011defined sustainable capitalism as “a framework that seeks to maximize long-term economic value by reforming markets to address real needs while integrating environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics throughout the decision-making process.” Gore and Blood argued that such capitalism should apply to the entire investment market scope, from small entrepreneurial ventures to large public companies, across landscapes to include micro investors and institutional account holders. In fact, they are calling for a broad sweep of involvement from all market participants: “employees to CEOs, activists to policy makers,” sustainable capitalism should transcendent “borders, industries, asset classes and stakeholders.”

I wholeheartedly agree. But I would also add that there is no other stakeholder more vital, more decisive to the success of such a transcendent transformation, than our educational system and the generation that will follow our footsteps in burdening the responsibilities of caring for our planet in the next decades. In today’s society, we face, amongst many other uncertainties, economic[2] and ecological[3] crisis, war and hunger[4], unemployment and increasing costs of our basic necessities. In the United States, however, our education system is failing; cost of secondary education has gone up but its relative value has decreased. Today, you need a Master’s degree to even begin looking for a reasonable white-collar job. All the while, there is a sense of growing divergence between the educational system and the world outside: while employers struggle to better bridge the gap between their operational needs and pedagogical focuses, newly-grads are struggling to find their competitive edge over the more skilled and experienced displaced-workforce. Somewhere in the middle, there is an opportunity—there is synergy to be said for having willing minds and growing businesses; perhaps we’ve just been looking into the wrong places.[5]

What are the right places to look then? This precise question surfaces within the industries with the key question of why sustainability adds value. Gore and Blood suggest that we should be asking "Why does an absence of sustainability not damage companies, investors and society at large?" They go on to argue that industries that would integrate sustainability into their business models are finding their profitability enhanced over the longer term and “embracing sustainable capitalism yields four [specific] kinds of important benefits for companies:

• sustainable products and services increase profits, enhance brand recognition, and improve competitive positioning;

• sustainable capitalism promotes efficiency and reduces waste, and by improving human-capital practices, costs of training new employees decreases;

• sustainable business models give companies a holistic understanding of the material issues affecting their business and their sector economy thus giving them distinct advantages in market downturns; and

• sustainable businesses realize lower cost of debt and lower capital constraints. 

To being our understanding of where to look for these four specific benefits between willing minds and growing businesses, we must first change the way we approach business in our educational and institutional systems. Business is a process. It takes materials and transforms them through production and propels society. This much we already know. What we haven’t caught on, but slowly we are becoming aware of, is the fact that the process is very much a part of the overall ecology that houses the human eco-system. The balance between maintaining a human-ecology with the broader sense planetary ecology is finding a way to overlap the two; the interest of our families, of our communities, and of our businesses, is the interest of this planet as a whole—engaging in this holistic process to improve the way we engage production and society is our duty and responsibility.

But to adapt our existing anthropocentric production process to a more sustainable ecopocentric model, willing minds will have to learn how the existing system works and decide how to best adapt. They will need to engage the business aspect of their learning from an ecological whole. To do this, the student must be mindful of process improvement and engage in civic duties from a business perspective to understand how to best overcome our social, economic, and ecological challenges. Businesses will have to be willing to accept the creativities and innovative energies these willing minds bring forth to the table. Yet, despite the various school programs, civic organizations, and public campaigns, civic engagement overall is on a slow decline alongside of our economies.[6] Traditional internships, community service activities, and advocacy work also fail to inspire change. Without civic engagement, the very core of our republic may be at risk; the very foundation of our society is thus endangered.

Universities and market institutions may have an obligation to address business needs for short term growth—solving the economic and employment issue through their academic curricula; but they must also encourage civic participation mindful of the greater production process and the science[7] of sustainability. But we note in a more and more irrelevant and resource scarce economy, entrepreneurs continue their pursuit of opportunities “exploiting change” “without regard to [scarce] resources currently controlled.”[8] Because of their role as change agents, entrepreneurship is ever more recognized as one of the major players of economic development today.[9] According to economists, entrepreneurial start-ups accounted for most of the positive net job growth in the United States during 1992–2005.[10] In addition to job creation, entrepreneurs and their start-ups also promote market efficiency and serve the economy by “correcting market errors or inefficient uses of market resources.”[11] They also facilitate new knowledge in the market place by commercializing innovations otherwise unnoticed.[12]

Entrepreneurs are thus critical to our transition from a resource scarce economy to a sustainable one by exploiting our current opportunity for change without regards to the methods of our exploitations or our scarcity. They cannot achieve this without civic engagement and empathy for social improvements. Encouraging students to become social entrepreneurs, then, will likely inspire inclusive, diversified, and unique solutions to our most pressing problems.

In a vacuum of civic discontent and economic recession triggered by lack of accountability, social entrepreneurship is becoming more and more popular. Armed with a “heightened sense of accountability to the constituencies served and for the outcomes created,” social entrepreneurs are “change agents in the social sector” and they create and sustain social values, pursuit new opportunities to service social missions, and engage in continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning.[13] Where traditional internships, community service activities, and advocacy works failed to inspire change, business school’s focus on social entrepreneurship may just provide the right amount of empowerment of innovation. With a keen focus on creating viable start-ups, a tailored business incubator for social start-ups can bring new innovations to solve real world problems while creating jobs to benefit the disadvantaged demographics.

Judge McLaughlin of the Second Circuit wrote in 1996 that there is a legitimate state interest in teaching students the values and habits of good citizenship, and introducing them to their social responsibilities as citizens.[14] In the spirit of Brown v. Board of Education[15] and under the current circumstances we face, the legitimate state interest becomes a duty of every corporate and private citizen, of the universities and market institutions, to enhance and empower social entrepreneurial and intrapreneurs, to allow them to lead our transition from an old world capitalism into a new age of sustainable and productive capitalism—one that balances people and their communities with the interest of our planet and the interest of our economic progress.

_______________________________________________________

[1] Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 493 (1954).

[2] See generally Yale Global Online, Global Financial Crisis (Last visited Oct 15, 2012) (“The current financial crisis is the worst the world has seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s . . . . “In an Interconnected World, American Homeowner Woes Can Be Felt from Beijing to Rio de Janeiro,” observed the International Herald Tribune at the onset of the crisis. “Chinese Steelmakers Shiver, Indian Miners Catch Flu,” noted the Hindustan Times. “US and China Must Tame Imbalances Together,” suggested YaleGlobal, as the frenzied search for a solution continues around the globe.).

[3] Edmund S. Muskie, The Global Environmental Crisis, 19 B.C. Envtl. Aff. L. Rev. 731 (1992), available at http://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/ealr/vol19/iss4/6.

[4] Coleman-Jensen, et al., Household Food Security in the United States in 2010, ERR-125, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Econ. Res. Serv. September 2011 (noting that in 2010, approximately one in seven U.S. households were food insecure, the highest number ever recorded in the United States) available at http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/err125/.

[5] See Sir Ken Robinson, Do Schools Kill Creativity (TED Video), available at http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html (“I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology, one in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity. Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth, for a particular commodity, and for the future, it won’t serve us.”).

[6] See Nathan Conroy, Applying the Entrepreneurial Model of Experiential Learning in Political Science Courses, (2009), available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=2002689.

[7] R.W. Kates (Ed.), Center for International Development, Harvard University, Readings in Sustainability Science and Technology – An Introduction to the Key Literatures of Sustainability Science, CID Working Paper No. 213, 2010, available at: www.hks.harvard.edu/var/ezp_site/storage/fckeditor/.../213.pdf.

[8] Gregory Dees, The Meaning of “Social Entrepreneurship”, (1998) (funding provided by The Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership with assistance from the members of the Social Entrepreneurship Funders Working Group). 

[9] Haifeng Qian, Kingsley E. Haynesb, The Small Business Innovation Research Program as Entrepreneurship Policy, (Working Paper) (August 30, 2012) available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2140096. 

[10] Haifeng Qian, Zoltan J. Acs, Roger R. Stough, Regional systems of entrepreneurship: the nexus of human capital, knowledge and new firm formation, Journal of Economic Geography 1-29 (2012) (referencing data from Haltiwanger, et al., Who create jobs? Small vs. large vs. young, (NBER Working Paper, w16300.) (2010).). 

[11] Qian & Kingsley, at 2. 

[12] Id. 

[13] Dees, The Meaning of “Social Entrepreneurship”. 

[14] Immediato v. Rye Neck Sch. Dist., 73 F.3d 454, 462 (2d Cir. N.Y. 1996); see also Ambach v. Norwick, 441 U.S. 68, 76-77 (U.S. 1979). 

[15] Supra n.1.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government."

“The protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights on the Internet is critical for the United States, for its creators and inventors, and for the jobs it promotes and the economic promise it provides. There is no contradiction between intellectual property rights protection and enforcement and ensuring freedom of expression on the Internet.”

                                                                     - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 

Cynthia Wong, attorney for the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) and Director of CDT’s Project on Global Internet Freedom, wrote in 2011 that while it is true intellectual property rights must be protected, we risk a very serious infringement on human rights work worldwide if the U.S. policy makers do not adequately address “how” we should protect intellectual property along side of our freedom of expression.

“Enforcing intellectual property rights and promoting Internet freedom are not — and should not be — mutually exclusive goals for the US government. Efforts to curb IP infringement in a manner that respects rule of law and free expression are not equivalent to government censorship. Indeed, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls on states to multi-task, protecting the right to free expression, the right to participate in cultural life, and the right of artists to benefit from their works at the same time. Setting up a false dichotomy belies the harder questions at the heart of current debates around the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the US: the question isn’t whether to protect, but how to protect intellectual property in the Internet age.” 

SOPA and PIPA would allow the US government to obtain court order and require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and search engines to prevent access to a site if the site is found to infringe US domestic copy right laws. These two Acts would also allow the US government to order cease and decease of business dealings with such sites and censor domain name expressions, which would seriously hinder Internet security and sweep innocent expressions alongside. At the focal point of the quarrel with these two proposed laws is the possibility that user driven online communication tools such as Wikipedia and Dropbox could be severely hindered or even asphyxiated. The implication is profound; content platforms world-wide would have to closely monitor and police user behaviors, which would only lead to unnecessary restriction on privacy and free expression. This directly impacts on human rights work across the globe, according to Ms. Wong, because if the social communication tools so often employed by activists are implicated under these Acts, then the activists will invariably lose their organizational tool and expression platform.

There is another complication to the passage of these laws. If the United States were to pass laws that limits non-US website activities, then there is little to stop other sovereign nations from passing domestic laws limiting Internet usage to whatever social policies they deemed important. If the US can protect copyrights, what will keep China from restricting political speech by ex-pats or Arab countries passing laws restricting speech on religion? 
“If many other countries adopt these mechanisms, we risk further Balkanisation of the Internet, undermining its benefits as a global platform for expression, democratic engagement, and economic development. . . .The US cannot effectively urge other governments to stop blocking Internet content that violates local laws when the US is supporting precisely the same mechanisms in service of Intellectual Property enforcement.”
                                                                                            - Cynthia Wong. 

I am happy to report that back in January, 2012, a massive online protest effectively stopped these two proposed laws. Together, there were over ten million petitions signed, over eight million calls made, over four million emails send, more than one-hundred-and-fifteen thousand websites participated, and almost a billion people were blocked from websites. This staggering show of support forced Congress to shelve the bills indefinitely.

So am I late to the party?

Are the human rights activists safe? Is the world at peace? Are we free?

Not necessarily.

As you have seen on the news recently, one of the most brilliant and vocal supporter of free and open Internet died a few days ago. Aaron Swartz, co-author of the old Rich Site Summary (now Real Simple Syndication—RSS), killed himself last Friday.

Swartz had co-founded Reddit and would spend his own money to move public court records, which the government-run system--PACER--charged a fee for, onto an open public site.

Swartz, according to media sources, had long suffered from depression and had committed suicide in his Brooklyn apartment apparently due to the mounting pressures from federal charges filed against him for using the MIT’s computer network to download nearly five million fee-charging academic journals from JSTOR. The prosecutors of the case had threatened to put him in jail for more than thirty-five years with fines of more than a million dollars. Ironically, “after a 10-month trial program, JSTOR opened its archives to free reading by the public” and it had told the federal prosecutors that it wasn’t interested in pursuing charges against Mr. Swartz.

So it seems while massive online protests are able to stop legislators from committing mayhem against the free and open online public, their police cronies are not so inclined to play nice and yield. They wanted to make an example of someone for “wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer and recklessly damaging a protected computer.” (Wall Street Journal, Jan 13, 2013).  In the process, they have not silenced his voice by putting him in jail and letting him rot; instead, they have made a martyr of him so his voice will forever be heard.


"Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious." George Orwell - 1984

Thursday, January 10, 2013

For fear of death I ran toward bullets.

It was a narrow alleyway. Only one man can fit through with just enough room to turn around in case something was to happen. I can’t remember what season it was; with about eighty pounds of gear on me and adrenaline running through my body, I couldn’t really care if it was eighty-degrees or eight. Sweat would soak my cloth regardless, bullets would fly nevertheless—I don’t think anyone shooting at us had in mind that it was winter or summer. Death was on everyone’s mind, the changing of the seasons was not. 

I had been on loan to Charlie Company, Second Platoon, at the time. Their medic was on R&R and I took over. For the short three weeks I was with them, I got to know them well. They had just lost someone a few weeks before and they carried a heavy silent burden that was deafening to the soul. 

It was a suicide bomber who drove a truck full of explosives into a building the Second Platoon was holding. I never really knew the guy they lost that day, but I prayed each morning that I was with them that I would not be the next. I feared death. I was afraid that if I died, no one would be able to dress wounds and save other lives. The Platoon felt the same way; I was always given the safest seat possible in the vehicle and whenever we were on foot patrol, I would be in the middle so when the bullets would fly, someone would always be in the way. 

God bless the infantry. 

We were on foot patrol that day; walking from house to house knocking and searching for weapons and intel. It had been a long and uneventful day; children played and sewers sweated—we cheered and smelled just the same. 

We approached the alleyway carelessly. High walls on each side protected us. For a few brief seconds, I let my mind wonder. Back home, my parents were probably asleep; my brother was probably still up playing video games. I could call them after the mission to see how their day was yesterday. In combat, my mind always wondered to yesterday; now-a-days, my mind tends to wonder just the opposite direction.

Suddenly, everything changed. A few crispy cracks rang through the air. 

“Small arms fire” someone shouted. 

Everyone looked up and around to make sure it wasn’t coming for us.

“It sounded like it was coming from that direction” another man squawked, “from behind us.” 

Everyone turned and I followed. There were two men behind me at that point and once we all turned around, they each took a position high and low against one corner of the wall. I ran toward them, completely oblivious to the open space in front of me. I ran because I was afraid. Someone might have been shot; there was danger in that direction. I must go and see what I could do. I ran for fear of death and bullets.

Then an abrupt jerk forced me to my back. Someone had yanked on my aid-bag hard enough to pull me to the ground. Like a helpless turtle, I looked up.

“Doc, if you ever do something that stupid again, I will shoot you myself. Now get back up and behind me.”

He ran towards bullets and death overstepping my helplessness. I wrangled around and grabbed the dirt on the ground and stood up. There were now four or five men in front of me, moving fast covering all directions of an open space in front of us. I took a knee in shame and I took my weapon off safety. 

“A. . .  B. . .  C. . .; airway, breathing, circulation” I repeated in my head. 


That was over seven years ago. I relive that moment occasionally when I feel helpless or defeated. I don’t know why but I guess the feeling of someone having my back comforted me. When I fail, or do something incredibly stupid, I crave that someone would yank me to the ground and allow me the strength and courage to grab some dirt to get back up. I relive that moment because I fear failure; I fear death and I want to know someone will run towards the bullets. I would gladly run towards death and save lives if I could. 

I’m a happy and fat civilian now. I eat well and exercise but I lost my edge since the days I ran around with the infantry. These days I worry about frivolous things like sustainability and a forward compatible Human Ecology. I write business proposals and legal notes, no longer do I constantly fear for death and run toward bullets.

But as I indulge in my craft, write and research on these topics that are supposed to help transition a paradigm, I became increasingly aware of a lack of direction in my work. It’s as if I hear the gun shots in the distant and I run towards the open space, but no one is there to yank me to the ground and tell me to be patient while they figure out just where the shots are coming from. Sustainability is like a ghost waiting to be discovered in the far distant but only too late; and I am the only man running towards it thinking that I can reverse death. 

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my military days. On some fundamental level, it was easier to operate as a soldier. We were trained together and in tight places where bullets fly, we all knew exactly what we are to do. When dumb shit happens, someone will yank you to the ground and remind you the rights things for the moment. The civilian world is nothing like it. As civilians, we are trained separately and we have our own agendas and missions. In tight places where bullets fly, we seem to run in all sorts of directions and do all sorts of stupid things. No one is the sensible one to do the yanking and everyone seem to be on the ground, helplessly pandering. In light of our recent awareness of an unsustainable development path, we seem to just “green-wash” ourselves and we take refuge in all sorts of directions and hopeless efforts. Our aim is as it was before, make money and ask questions later; run towards bullets and wonder about death later. The great wide open is a dangerous place, yet we seem to be oblivious.     


All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

                                             - Tolkien



Saturday, January 5, 2013

The traveler sees what he sees; the tourist sees what he has come to see.

The Green Elephant is headed to the New Media Expo (NMX 2013). We have been attending this event since its “Blog World Expo” days. Last year, we decided not to go because we felt the event had gone from a grassroots, authentic, gathering of writers and techies to an over-hyped industry show full of gimmicks and get rich quick schemes; but this year, we felt we needed to give it another chance. 

I have my reservations about going. I fear we will see the same “how to build one million visits in one month” ploys and the “how to write a post to go viral” sermons. None of these offer any real incentives for people to come together and build real progress—all of it is just about taking advantage of the idiosyncrasies of a mass hysteria that self-perpetuates a narcissistic need. Well, maybe there is a bit of narcissism in us that keeps us writing, but I like to believe we write because we want to perpetuate something greater—something far more useful in the long run for the people we reach. We want to help shape the way you think about sustainability, about forward compatibility of a Human Ecology with our planet; we want to shift the paradigm. And there are no quick schemes or tricks that will shift the paradigm; the shift occurs when least expected, upon a crisis, and we, the observers, are removed from our own perceptions.

That is why we decided to give it another chance—to see things not as how we are, but as how they are. We decided to explore the contours of a culture changing in a changing world, to see the technologies come together to give us buoyancy, to know there is at least something to be understood.

So we travel not to be somewhere, we do not intend to have plans nor do we hope to arrive at some quintessential inkling of where this blog is going. We travel to the expo following the sound advice of those who came before us:     

“And even when the apparatus exists, novelty ordinarily emerges only for the man who, knowing with precision what he should expect, is able to recognize that something has gone wrong.”

― Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Cheers to 2013 and all of its Mediocrities.

Well, I squandered 2012 trying to figure out if there is something brainy I can say about sustainability so people will take me seriously. But I soon realized people don’t want brainy; intelligence is overrated. From looking at all of the funny pictures and copy-and-paste quotes on facebook, I get the sense that everyone demands just plain mediocrity. Quick fixes are better than deep introspective changes; “Yes We Can” is nothing more than a slogan that makes people feel better once every four years, that’s all.

So as I look forward to 2013, I have a few things to get off my chest before I squander another precious year on meaningless things under the disguise of hoping for better days. Here is goes:

First, the EPA’s administrator, Lisa Jackson, is leaving office. She has been a good administrator and I have reported on some of her initiatives. But as the EPA have always taken the backseat in the Obama ride, the  "end of the pipeline" command and control regulation to make pollution illegal still irks me.  I can’t stress enough that I don’t believe more regulation is the way to solve our problems (thus I alienate my brainless friends from the left); but I can’t help but laugh at the tea-bagger’s sentiment that a complete deconstruction of civilized order is the happy meal I should be made to suffer. So I stay far and far away from the right and as I estrange myself (and this blog) to the middle of nowhere, I remind you that sustainable development is not about who’s right or wrong, but about how to make this planet productive enough to support all of us without self-destruction.

This leads me to my second point: the Obama administration and those in the House and Senate seem to not understand the economics of an escalating global interface and probably even less about the sustainability science. So far, our policies have been both conventional and unimaginative and there had been no effort to integrate sustainable resource utilization and technological development into our economic strategies. "Green" has been a PR ploy rather than creating real solutions and the leverage on social media is just perpetuating the mediocrity. The right thinks of the EPA as “the anti-growth, eat-your-spinach,don't use that plastic bag, Department of Things We Aren't Allowed to Do” and the left thinks more authoritative directives will make us like our veggies. While the idealists clash over how many rules we should follow and how much freedom we ought to turn over to the big government, the savvy business folks are partnering social media opportunists to create the green wash phenomenon that makes me want to puke.   

The retches of new media for profit’s sake brings me to the third thing I must expose: sustainability is supposed to be a global initiative to study the closed human ecosystem—the Human Ecology—that ensures that all resources end up in some form of production to advance our common interest; the premise of sustainability is that our environment is the source of our economics and ultimately impacts our communities. From a business perspective, process efficiency and continuous improvements is about the better use of natural resources that makes a company more profitable and people friendly—it’s not just about stock prices and profit margins. But from a policy perspective, and from a mass media reporting perspective, the EPA and the green-washed lefties seem to assume inefficient and polluting manufacturing is a given and are still fighting natural growth and job creation that is necessary to balance a civilized society. I often wonder if the left think completely banning all manufacturing and production will mean utopia just as the far right thinks complete deregulating the industries means we will, in some miraculous ways, all get rich and die happy. Meanwhile, the Chinese are aggressively pursuing sustainable growth and creating new economic incentives, drawing what little opportunities are left to their businesses. Here in the US, we are trotting bad politics as if empty slogans and Jesus will save us.  

And here is my final point: there is a growing inequality here in the US; it is shaped by a combination of federal policies, new technologies, unevenness of educational opportunity, the evolution of the market, and escalating demands of the global population. There is less and less class mobility, and cultural bifurcation is “the greatest danger our country faces.” Facing this horror of income and perspective gap between the wealthy and the poor, between the left and the right, between generations, I can’t help but think Idioaracy is playing itself out and I’m being evolved out of this new media history.

As I engage in another year of rants and raves about sustainability, allow me this opportunity to be a cynic and say cheers to an ill-defined mediocrity. For the New Year, I shall try to shed as much of my intelligence as possible to fit into this ill-fitting place.