Notes from Monoculture


I usually put stickies in books I am reading, and then go back and reread the things I marked, and sometimes copy them here. These are notes from Monoculture: How one story is changing everything, by F.S. Michaels.

  • “Government is instituted for the common good; for the protections, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men.” –John Adams, 1776
  • p. 65 Re: Medicine and the growth of hospitals. At one time, few people used hospitals voluntarily because of the risk of infection; hospitals were more about charity than medical expertise and most were run by religious orders where nuns, doctors and nurses volunteered their time to care for the sick. You went to the hospital to die, or when you didn’t have family or friends to care for you. If you were sick, you were simply safer at home.
  • p. 93. Re: Art. “When you look back on a lifetime and think of what has been given to the world by your presence, your fugitive presence, inevitably you think of your art, whatever it may be, as the gift you have made to the world in acknowledgment of the gift you have been given, which is the life itself.” — Stanley Kunitz
  • p. 97. Government cultural policy in the arts came to be based on a Romantic ideal that the arts mattered and deserved public funds because art had a civilizing influence on us and contributed to our humanity. President John F. Kennedy said, “The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation’s purpose, and is a test of the quality of a nation’s civilization.”
  • p. 105. The Monoculture. As the monoculture aligns our experiences and expectations with the economic story, our life together becomes more at risk. Just as biodiversity embodies many forms of life and signals the health of our ecosystems, value diversity embodies many ways of life and signals the health of our social systems. When we lose value diversity, we lose our ability to express ourselves outside of the economic realm. We lose the “languages” we once spoke in distinct parts of our lives — the language of family and relationships, the language of the natural world, of art and spirituality, of health and education, of the public interest and the common good. We learn to substitute an economic language for all of it.
  • p. 107. Imagine two circles that overlap a bit. One circle represents your creativity, and the other represents the economic story’s world of markets. The area where the circles overlap represents creativity that is financially successful in the world of markets. The economic story says the circles should overlap as much as possible — that creativity is about producing something someone will buy. In actuality, the circles never completely overlap, and in an economic monoculture, the creativity that exists independently of the market is never considered to be worth pursuing.
  • p. 110. In a society grown rigid with ideology, Vaclav Havel said, you come to accept that you live according to that society’s values and assumptions. If you were to refuse to conform, there could be trouble. You could be isolated, alienated, reproached for being idealistic, or scorned for not being a team player. You know what it is you are supposed to do, and you do it, not least to show that you are doing it. You go along to get along, he said, and so you confirm to others that certain things in fact must be done. If you fail to act as you are expected to, others will view your behavior as abnormal, think you arrogant for believing you’re above the rules, or assume you’ve dropped out of society…In truth, Havel said, that story is not natural; there is an enormous gap between its aims and the aims of life. Whereas life moves toward plurality and diversity and the fulfillment of its own freedom, the system demands conformity, uniformity and discipline. The system, Havel said, “is a world of appearances trying to pass for reality.”
  • p. 113. Oscar Wilde: “The fatal errors of life are not due to man’s being unreasonable: an unreasonable moment may be one’s finest moment. They are due to man’s being logical. There is a wide difference.”
  • p. 113. When our higher-level needs are denied, we develop what psychologist Abraham Maslow called metapathologies: “sicknesses of the soul.”
  • p.116. As you begin to live aligned with your deepest values instead of solely economic ones, your actions from day to day can in time give birth to something more articulate and structured, something Havel called “the independent spiritual, social and political life of society.” …The independent life can take almost any form. You don’t automatically have to quit everything you’re doing and move to the country to transcend the monoculture.
  • p. 116. As time goes on, that independent life naturally begins to be organized in one way or another, heralding the development of what Havel called “parallel structures”. Parallel structures, he said, are about the daily human struggle to live in freedom, truth and dignity — an articulated expression of living within the truth of life.
  • p. 117. Parallel structures are not counter-cultural structures; they are parallel precisely because they emerge alongside the monoculture….Michaels then gives three examples of parallel structures in our society: the Slow Food movement, Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language, and Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication.

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