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As I play with my Colorado Confluence Facebook page (, selecting interests and organizations and historical figures to “like” in an attempt to convey the universe of ideas and efforts that I believe we are called upon to try to weave together into coherent wholes; and as I survey my accumulating corpus of posts, wondering how to convey their underlying integrity; and as I struggle with the challenges of my personal life, of unemployment, of seeking a new career advancing this general cause of humanity, and of a wife and daughter who depend on me; I feel the full brunt of both the hope and despair that life serves up in such generous portions.

That is really what this blog, and my life, are all about. The many themes of the blog are all facets of a single orientation, an orientation that includes conceptual and practical dimensions, one that seeks understanding from a variety of angles, and a refinement of our collective ability to both accelerate the growth and deepening of our understanding and improve our ability to implement that understanding in ways which cultivate ever-increasing quality and humanity in our lives.

“Quality” is an interesting word, one explored in subtle ways in Robert Pirsig’s iconic novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The debate over what it means is, in many ways, at the heart of our political struggles. Does the quality of life require attention to social justice and material human welfare, or merely attention to individual liberty (narrowly defined as “freedom from state sponsored coercion”)? Does it require intergenerational justice, foresight and proactive attention to probable future problems, or merely short-sighted, individualistic service to immediate needs and wants? Does it have any collective and enduring attributes, or is it merely something in the moment, to be grasped now without regard for future consequences?

One of the difficulties of addressing these questions and their political off-shoots is the differing frames and narratives upon which people rely. But one of the most significant differences in frames and narratives is the one between those that would ever even identify frames and narratives as a salient consideration, and those that are trapped in narrower, shallower, and more rigid conceptualizations of reality. In other words, the most basic ideological divide isn’t between “right” and “left,” but between “aspiring to be more conscious” and “complacent with current consciousness.” To put it more simply, the divide is between those who recognize that they live in an almost infinitely complex and subtle world and those who think that it is all really quite simple and clear.

The social movement that we currently lack, and that we always most profoundly require, is the social movement in advocacy of the deepening of our consciousness, not just as an abstract or self-indulgent hobby, but as the essence of the human enterprise, and the most essential tool in service to our ability to forever increase our liberty and compassion and wisdom and joy, here and elsewhere, now and in the future.

This blog employs what I’ll coin “Coherent Eclecticism” in service to that aspiration. No branch or form of human thought is dismissed, no aspect of the effort denied, no wrinkle or subtlety ignored, to the fullest extent of our individual and collective ability. That does not mean that Coherent Eclecticism treats all ideas and opinions as equal, but rather as equally meriting the full consideration of our reason and imagination and compassion. We start with as few assumptions as possible, revisit conclusions not carefully enough examined, and dedicate ourselves to the refinement of those procedures and methodologies, individually and collectively, that best serve the goal of distilling all thought and action into the wisest, most liberating, most compassionate, and most useful concoction possible.

Coherent Eclecticism implies that apparent contradictions and incompatibilities may not be, that “realism” and “idealism” (the philosophy), “cynicism” and “idealism” (the attitude), aspects of conservatism and aspects of progressivism, religion and science, imagination and reason, aesthetics and practicality, may all be nodes in a coherent whole, may all serve a single vision and single aspiration. But it is not the arbitrary glomming together of disparate elements; rather, it is the careful articulation of subtly integral elements, the realization of coherence in complexity, of systems subtler and richer than our minds can ever quite fully grasp.

As I briefly describe at the beginning of The Politics of Consciousness, this is one aspect of Thomas Kuhn’s famous theory of “paradigm shifts,” the notion that accumulating anomalies within a coherent understanding lead to a focus on the resolution of those anomalies and a deepening of the understanding, often reconciling what had been apparently contradictory views. One excellent modern example involves The Theory of Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and String Theory in physics. Throughout the 20th century, Relativity and Quantum Mechanics had both proven themselves indispensable theoretical tools for understanding the subtleties and complexities of our physical universe, and yet they were apparently incompatible, addressing different kinds of phenomena, but essentially contradicting one another. String Theory has, to a large extent, reconciled that apparent incompatibility with a subtler mathematical model that transcends and encompasses both of its predecessors.

I describe this general phenomenon in fictional terms in The Wizards’ Eye, metaphorically synthesizing Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shifts with Eastern Philosophical notions of Enlightenment or Nirvana, describing a process which leads us into deeper and deeper understandings that are simultaneously rational and spiritual, reductionist and holistic, “noisy” and meditative. The narrative itself reconciles the forms of fiction and exposition, and the realms of Eastern Mysticism and Western Philosophy of Science.

Coherent Eclecticism is apparent, too, in the range of essays and narratives I’ve published on this blog, often seeming to inhabit completely separate realms, but always coalescing into a coherent vision when examined as a whole. The social theoretical essays in the first box at Catalogue of Selected Posts may seem at first glance to have little or no connection to the social movement essays in the second box, but, without trying, the threads that weave them together have gradually begun to appear. The most recent addition to the first box is Emotional Contagion, which identifies how the cognitive/social institutional dynamics described in posts such as The Fractal Geometry of Social Change have an emotional element to them. Among the earliest entries to what is now the second box, pulling together the essays that developed and now describe “the politics of reason and goodwill” (see The Politics of Reason & Goodwill, simplified), are essays that explored that emotional contagion in current political activism, and the importance of being careful about what emotions we are spreading (see, e.g.,  The Politics of Anger and The Politics of Kindness).

These first two sets of essays, those in the box labelled “the evolutionary ecology of natural, human, and technological systems,” and those in the box labelled “the politics of reason and goodwill,” form together the overarching structure of the “coherently eclectic” paradigm developing on this blog. But the other boxes, with their various other focuses, fill in that framework, add other kinds of meat to those bones, get into the details of specific policy areas and specific ideological orientations and specific social and political phenomena, articulating those details with the overarching paradigm that organizes and channels them. And the fictional vignettes and poems celebrate the beauty and wonder of the entirety.

It’s quite a giddy thing to participate in, this dance of consciousness of ours. It is, when you get right down to it, both the means and the ends of all of our aspirations and efforts.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

I’ve always wanted to be too cool to care about being in the presence of celebs, if and when I ever should find myself in that situation. Reason dictates that it’s both absurd and unbecoming to go ga-ga over people just because everyone knows who they are. But I’m too honest not to admit that I’m not completely immune to the hold fame has over us, that I casually covet my few direct and indirect brushes with those who occupy the stratosphere of social renown, and even a few who hover only slightly above the rest of us.

Here are the brushes (both direct and indirect) I remember: One of my brothers dated for a while (or was just good friends with, I’m never quite sure) Stephanie Zimbalist, who co-starred with the still-famous Pierce Brosnan in the television show Remington Steele a few decades ago; another brother was center screen for an incredibly long time as an extra on “Ali,” playing a reporter taking notes while Will Smith tried to look a hundred pounds heavier than he was; I chatted with Timothy Busfield (of  30-Something, Field of Dreams, and West Wing fame) in line to board a plane from Newark to New Orleans; I met Sam Elliot by the keg at the post-production party for High-Low Country in Santa Fe that I more or less crashed (by invitation from a friend of the host), not knowing anything about the film whose completion I was supposedly celebrating (so when Sam hung out with me, and asked me my name, I thought it only reasonable to ask him his as well, not recognizing him at all until later, retroactively; he seemed a little taken aback that someone presumably on the crew of the movie he had just completed not only wasn’t honored by his gift of a little attention, but had even failed to recognize him!); I had a brief encounter with Condoleezza Rice when she was either Secretary of State or National Security Advisor and living in the Watergate complex, when I was staying across the street and having my morning coffee in a little courtyard in the complex; I just saw Time Magazine icon and Chris Matthews Show panelist Joe Klein walk quietly into a candidate forum in Denver a couple of weeks ago, and kicked myself afterward for not slipping him my card with this URL on it…, and so on. I know there are at least a few other similar encounters that I can’t think of now, but you get the idea. Fame is all around.

I myself have managed to get my mug on local TV, and my mugless voice on radio, a few times over the years, most recently on Denver Channel 12 and some radio station or other on Mike Zinna’s TV and radio shows. The occasional op-ed. Little itsy-bitsy droplets of public recognition.

As a marginal state house candidate, or even just as a social activist, I’ve learned how easy it is to become familiar with political big-shots. I can’t help but play a little game with myself, gauging how well this U.S. Senator or that Congressman remembers me; and they play it as well, demonstrating that they recall my name (when they do), because they know that it’s appreciated. (One found a pretext to shout my name across a parking lot as I was leaving a function, because he clearly hadn’t remembered it the last time we had met).

But why? The last example is the easiest to use to demonstrate the answer: Because fame is social capital. I’m trying to make a career in public policy analysis and advocacy, and getting to know people who are hubs, and hopefully bigger hubs, in the hub-and-spoke social networks in which I want to work is good for my career ambitions. “Social networking” is a valuable skill, because social networks are valuable assets.

It’s primal, and it’s wired into us early in life. When we lived in bands of primates foraging on the savanna, you wanted the strongest to be your friend, and so the strongest was very popular. He had as many allies as he could handle, which made him just that much more formidable. His reputation soared, and the desire to be in his inner-circle soared with it. Life was just better if you could manage to be among the chosen, and you often could, because it served his interests as well as yours. Fame, charisma, the human rallying point of social organization, it’s all tangled together, though not always coextensive (there are famous people with no charisma, for instance).

As a child, if you’re not one of the cool kids, you sure want one of them to take you under his or her wing, because that’s a form of protection. Their local fame provides a penumbra under which you can shelter, and “bask in their reflected glory”. If you can’t be cool, you can at least be a mascot.

People who droolingly seek an autograph from a celebrity secretly dream that they’ll be noticed, have a chance to show how lovable or talented they are, and maybe actually become a friend of the celeb. That desire isn’t irrational (though the belief that it might be fulfilled may be): Elvis’s friends made a darn good living being Elvis’s friends, and becoming a member of a celebrity entourage has long been seen as an awfully good gig if you can get it. The fantasy that contact can lead to connection, like buying a lottery ticket, drives the desire to touch, to encounter, to have one moment to have a shot at striking it big.

But reason sometimes intervenes: I always had a stronger desire to meet and talk with people whose fame was based on accomplishments that impressed me than on non-accomplishments that didn’t. I sincerely have no desire whatsoever to meet the vast majority of today’s crop of celebrities, and even the one’s I respect I don’t care that much about meeting. I treasure my conversations with famous scholars far more than I treasure my chat about the New Orleans weather with Timothy Busfield, or my comical encounter with Sam Elliot.

And I treasure encounters with people whose fame is very minor indeed (or even non-existent), but have some admirable talent or achievements or social network location that make them more famous to me. When (Denver Channel 9 political reporter and talk show host) Adam Schrager emailed me to compliment a fund-raising poem I had written (the same one, with a different last stanza, now gracing the home page of this blog), and stopped by my table at a candidate forum to chat with me for a few minutes; or when (hopefully soon to be Colorado Speaker of the House) Rep. Andy Kerr, with whom I did a legal internship during the 2009 legislative session, treats me like the casual friend that I am; or when State Senator Moe Keller warmly greeted me at a “legislative breakfast” hosted by Mental Health America yesterday, and later emailed me that she “loved” my blog, I was as delighted as I could be, because the accessibility of local luminaries is more valuable, and more pleasant, than the “immensity” of national and international ones.

Andy and Moe and Adam will probably feel, on reading themselves referred to as “local luminaries,” and discussed in the context of the attraction to famous people, pretty much the same way I felt a couple of weeks ago at Summerset Festival in South Jeffco, where I spent the weekend at the Jeffco Dems booth, when a young fellow, probably in his late teens, upon learning that I was a state house candidate, took on the demeanor of someone talking to an important person, with a little bit of a tremor in his voice, not realizing how astoundingly unimportant I really am!

But that’s just it. Importance or unimportance is situational, and subjectively perceived. In this brave new world of ours, we don’t have to wait for gatekeepers to allow us to show our stuff; we can type it on our laptops and send it out there, for others to admire or disdain, letting our own qualities distill from the social continuum a little dew drop of fame, evaporating with the rising sun. The person who posts something witty, or insightful, or inspirational, is admired by all who read it, and admired in a more meaningful and substantial way than a Paris Hilton by a gushing fan. We all have gifts to give one another, a song, an insight, a gesture of goodwill, that we can share as broadly as we choose, and by doing so, generate something of lasting importance, flashing through our social networks, rapidly evolving as it goes. We can earn fame in small doses, for moments at a time, and let others earn it as well. And we can retract it from those who have only attracted attention, reserving it for those who have done something of merit.

Just like other forms of capital, fame can be earned, inherited, acquired by deception or chance, horded, spent, or invested. Celebrities who use their celebrity to promote causes and to raise money for charities are spending their fame. When they open a restaurant in their name, they are investing it. When the promote someone else (such as Oprah regularly did with her book club), they are giving some of it to others, though their own supply is not diminished by doing so.

Fame has become more diffuse, too often trivial, a circus of balloon boys and party goers, but also occasionally well deserved, such as the little girl whose brilliant operatic voice on U-Tube landed her on American Idol. We are no longer apes on the savanna, no longer needing to focus on centralized individuals toward which to gravitate and around which to form hierarchies. We are now a decentralized network of interconnected minds, the juice of fame coursing among us all, lighting up momentarily here or there, and moving on.

Like other forms of capital, it is increased by being dispersed, it flows rather than resides, and it should be invested rather than horded. Recognition from the recognized has value, and increases the quantity and quality of recognition to be bestowed.

Let’s be one another’s entourage, sharing a fame that belongs to no one in particular, bestowing on one another the respect that we can all strive to deserve, and creating together the penumbra under which to shelter ourselves. Let’s bask in each other’s reflected glory, in our collective glory, without burdening any one of us with its exclusive possession, or denying the rest of us its occasional delight.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards