- Daniel Quinn Book Club — My Ishmael, session 4 reading: School Daze II through Wealth, Leaver Style
- Brené Brown Book Club — Daring Greatly, finishing session 2 reading: Chapter 3: Understanding and Combating Shame through Chapter 4: The Vulnerability Armory
(Commissions earned on Amazon links.)
School Daze II
“Grades four through twelve were added to the curriculum in order to keep youngsters off the job market, and the skills taught in these grades are the ones most students find to be neither useful in their lives nor gratifying to master.” Quinn is pointing to the fundamental design of the education system in a way that can connect the dots to why it is so likely to result in shame and demoralization for so many students.
“In effect, you’ve passed a law extending childhood for an indefinite period and have redefined adulthood as a moral privilege that ultimately can only be self-awarded, on grounds that are far from clear. In tribal cultures, people are made adults just the way your presidents are made presidents, and they no more doubt that they’re adults than George Bush doubts that he’s the president. Most adults in your culture, however, are never absolutely sure when they’ve managed to cross the line — or even if they’ve ever managed to cross it.” Our society has structural features which keep people immature and, in so doing, create conditions for shame to arise.
“Millions of years of natural selection have produced creatures capable of solving these problems in a rough-and-ready way that isn’t perfect but that does in fact work, because — behold! — these creatures are here.” An evolutionary paradigm is one in which imperfection is not a problem, and in which the very existence of something is sufficient to make its worth self-evident.
Unschooling the World
“What do you call a system that will only work if the people in it are better than people have ever been?”
“I don’t know. Is there a special name for it?”
“What do you call a system that’s built on the presumption that people in this system will be better than they have ever been? Everyone in this system is going to be kind and generous and considerate and selfless and obedient and compassionate and peaceable. What kind of system is that?”
“Utopian is right, Julie. Every one of your systems is a utopian system. Democracy would be heaven — if people would just be better than people have ever been. Of course, Soviet communism was supposed to have been heaven too — if people had just been better than people have ever been. Your justice system would work perfectly if people would just be better than people have ever been. And of course your schools would work perfectly under the same conditions.”
“The tribal system is a system that works with people the way they are, not the way you wish they were. It’s a thoroughly practical system that has worked perfectly for people for hundreds of thousands of years, but you apparently think it a bizarre notion that it would work for you, now.” All the main institutions and systems of global civilization are inconsistent with who humans really are, while there is an alternative system that works perfectly for imperfect, Wholehearted human beings.
“Our system works for business but it doesn’t work for people.” Brené regularly points out the ways in which commercial structures and messages work in favor of shame and against Wholeheartedness.
“In our new tribal system, parents will understand that including their children in their working lives is their alternative to spending tens of billions of dollars annually on schools that are basically just detention centers. We’re not talking about turning children into apprentices — that’s something else entirely. We’re just giving them access to what they want to know, and all children want to know what their parents are up to when they leave the house… In tribal societies, it’s taken for granted that children will want to work alongside their elders. The work circle is also the social circle… The system I’ve outlined here will never be implemented among the people of your culture as long as you value business over people.” Brené often talks about competing goals that feel impossible to achieve at the same time. Quinn shows that civilization by its nature fragments our lives into these competing realms — parenting and work, work and socializing — and paints an alternative in which they can all be tended to because they are integrated. Her Guideposts point the way toward valuing people over business — and in turn toward these kinds of alternative systems that support the Wholeheartedness her Guideposts seek.
“But the main thing I want you to see is that it’s your system that is utopian. The tribal system isn’t perfect, but it isn’t a utopian scheme. It’s completely feasible, and it would save you tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars every year.” Underscoring the tribal system as a gift of imperfection.
Wealth, Taker Style
“The people of your culture imagine that the treasury was completely empty when you came along and began to build civilization ten thousand years ago. You imagine that the first three million years of human life brought nothing of value to the store of human knowledge but fire and stone tools. In fact, however, you began by emptying the treasury of its most precious elements. You wanted to start with nothing and invent it all, and you did. Unfortunately, aside from the products (which work very well), you’ve been able to invent very little that works well — for people… But it’s still there, working perfectly, in the Leaver treasury I’m showing you.” Brené studies groups of people and learns lessons from the relatively few in the group who are Wholehearted. Imagine if she studied societies full of Wholehearted people, run on principles that work well for imperfect humans — imagine what learnings there could be for us.
“When did disproportionate amounts of wealth begin to be concentrated the hands of a few people at the top of the heap?… The earliest Taker civilizations come to us fully formed in this mold. No developmental hesitancy to be seen here. As soon as there’s visible wealth — as opposed to just food on the table, clothes on your back, and a roof over your head — it’s easy to predict how it will be distributed. There will be a few ultrarich at the top, a more numerous wealthy class below them, and a vastly more numerous class of tradesmen, merchants, soldiers, artisans, workers, servants, slaves, and paupers at the bottom… A system based on exchanging products inevitably channels wealth to a few, and no governmental change will ever be able to correct that. It isn’t a defect of the system, it’s intrinsic to the system. This doesn’t have anything to do with capitalism specifically. Capitalism is just the most recent expression of an idea that came into being ten thousands years ago in the founding of your culture.” Hierarchy, inequality, oppression and power-over are inherent to civilization.
Wealth, Leaver Style
“Wealth generated in the tribal economy has no tendency to flow into the hands of a few,” Ishmael said. “This is not at all because Leaver are nicer people than you are, but rather because they have a fundamentally different kind of wealth. There’s no way to accumulate their wealth — no way to put it under lock and key — so there’s no way for it to be concentrated in anyone’s hands.” Brené regularly advocates for power-with instead of power-over — and in effect, Quinn’s explanations point to power-with being antithetical to hierarchy and the differential accumulation of material wealth.
“The foremost wealth of tribal people is cradle-to-grave security for each and every member.” Compare Brené talking about how much we all need to hustle in our current society.
“Tribes survive by sticking together at all costs, and when it’s every man for himself, the tribe ceases to be a tribe.” Brené acknowledges that humans are wired for connection. The tribe is the social structure that evolved with that wiring, to fulfill that need. Once a society is large and complex enough for hierarchy to emerge, it is no longer tribal and can no longer fulfill that need reliably for all its members.
“To live and walk among your neighbors without fear is the second greatest wealth of tribal peoples.” Compare Brené regularly pointing out our society’s prevalence of us-vs.-them, dehumanizing, othering.
“Equal to any of these is a form of wealth you lack so profoundly that you’re truly pathetic. In a Leaver society, you’re never left to cope with a crushing problem all by yourself… They know that a problem shared widely becomes almost no problem at all — and they know very well that each of them will someday need similar help with one problem or another. I find it truly heartrending to see the people of your world suffering without this wealth.” Compare Brené’s focus on connection and support networks (and note that we must take care not to read this as advocating safety nets on the levels of cities, states, nations, etc., given that such entities are inherently hierarchical and work against exactly the kind of connection and support that is discussed here).
“In the Taker system, you use your carefully accumulated product wealth to buy support wealth that is free to all in the Leaver system.” A simple statement that cuts to the heart of the tension between Wholeheartedness and the world in which we find ourselves clamoring for a Wholeheartedness revolution.
Chapter 4: The Vulnerability Armory
“Well, it appears that believing that we’re ‘enough’ is the way out of the armor — it gives us permission to take off the mask. With that sense of ‘enough’ comes an embrace of worthiness, boundaries, and engagement. This lay at the core of every strategy illuminated by the research participants for freeing themselves from their armor:
“-I am enough (worthiness versus shame)
“-I’ve had enough (boundaries versus one-uping and comparison)
“-Showing up, taking risks, and letting myself be seen is enough (engagement versus disengagement)”
Taker culture believing humanity is flawed, believing always in a need for more, and fostering disconnection among people is a recipe for culture in which people don vulnerability armor.
“What the perpetual-disappointment folks described it this: ‘It’s easier to live disappointed than it is to feel disappointed. It feels more vulnerable to dip in and out of disappointment than to just set up camp there. You sacrifice joy, but you suffer less pain.'” Taker culture fosters widespread resignation and cynicism, supporting this perpetual-disappointment mindset.
“Perfectionism is not the path that leads us to our gifts and to our sense of purpose; it’s the hazardous detour.” Taker perfectionism has led global culture on a hazardous detour away from the gifts and purpose inherent in being a human being.
“Somewhere along the way, they adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: ‘I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect.’… Perfectionism is not the key to success. In fact, research shows that perfectionism hampers achievement. Perfectionism is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis or missed opportunities.” Taker culture ever improving, ever conquering, is perfectionism in action, and no wonder these psychological dysfunctions run rampant within it.
“‘To manage my perfectionism I give myself tons of permission to do things that are good enough. I do things quickly… and if it’s good enough, it gets my stamp of approval. I have a few mantras that help.
“‘Quick and dirty wins the race.
“‘Perfectionism is the enemy of done.
“‘Good enough is really effin’ good.'” Compare Quinn about talking about rough-and-ready solutions that have evolved over millions of years to work well.
“We are a culture of people who’ve bought into the idea that if we stay busy enough, the truth of our lives won’t catch up with us.” More deeply true than Brené may even realize, given the unsustainability of the “Taker Thunderbolt.”
“Shame enters for those of us who experience anxiety because not only are we feeling fearful, out of control, and incapable of managing our increasingly demanding lives, but eventually our anxiety is compounded and made unbearable by our belief that if we were just smarter, stronger, or better, we’d be able to handle everything.” Compare Quinn saying if only people were better.
“I’ve always looked for better ways to manage my exhaustion and anxiety. I wanted help ‘living like this,’ not suggestions on how to ‘stop living like this.'” Taker culture has exactly the same attitude, seeking symptomatic solutions for what can only be resolved with a system redesign.
“When we treat people as objects, we dehumanize them. We do something really terrible to their souls and to our own. Martin Buber, an Austrian-born philosopher, wrote about the difference between an I-it relationship and an I-you relationship. An I-it relationship is basically what we create when we are in transactions with people whom we treat like objects — people who are simply there to serve us or complete a task. I-you relationships are characterized by human connection and empathy.” Taker culture intrinsically fosters I-it relationships both among people as well as between people and everything non-human. A Leaver/evolutionary paradigm is one in which all relationships may be I-you relationships.
“Either you’re a Victim in life — a sucker or a loser who’s always being taken advantage of and can’t hold your own — or you’re a Viking — someone who sees the threat of being victimized as a constant, so you stay in control, you dominate, you exert power over things, and you never show vulnerability.” Taker culture is a Viking that sees everything outside itself as a Victim and that creates Vikings and Victims within itself.
“‘Serpentining’ means trying to control a situation, backing out of it, pretending it’s not happening, or maybe even pretending that you don’t care.” Sounds like Taker culture’s attitude about many of its problems.
“When we see cruelty, vulnerability is likely to be the driver.” Considering Taker culture’s unsustainability and its intrinsic sense of scarcity, it’s no wonder that it becomes the cruelest culture in human history.
“‘Worthiness is my birthright.'” Quinn’s overall message is that who human beings really are is something that is worthy and workable, unlike what we’ve convinced ourselves about “human nature.”