Tuesday, December 20, 2016


When I discovered Organizational Design at PNWD UU Leadership School about 1977, I thought I finally knew the secret to getting groups to work.  It was meant to keep struggling little fellowships on the road to growth and happiness and also to prevent firefights in bigger churches where there are always insurgencies, usually from the music program or the Sunday School leaders, but just as often from social action groups who were anti-theist and met in some unused room during the main service in order to avoid responsive readings.  This did less damage than starting a splinter fellowship, though some of them have turned out to be more vital and enduring than the “old block” church.

I have all my notes from the first three summer schools, which were retreat style at Fort Worden, a splendid park on the Washington state coast which took advantage of the buildings where soldiers were once housed and the fabulous coastal view.  There are no notes from the third summer and as far as I know there have never been other third-year UU Leadership Schools.  The rather experimental idea was that since we’d had two summers of learning, we should just start from zero and design ourselves as we went.  So what did we want to do?

Have fun.  That was the great principle by which we proceeded.  (There are seven very serious, idealistic and incontrovertible principles in the formal UU manifesto.)  How does one have fun?  There was a request for a day of silence.  Feminists wanted a beauty contest for men.  Someone wanted to play “Sardines” (which resulted in so much ruckus that the park rangers came to intervene, at which point all lay leaders deserted the ordained minister and left him to explain.)

Somewhere in there wires began to cross, starting burnout fires; people neglected to do what they had promised, and there was shouting.  The men’s beauty contest blew up when the innocent men didn’t know they should have been wearing support garments under their swim suits.  They came draped in kelp from the beach and looked like marine versions of satyrs.  Being ogled gave them hard-ons.  Some went back to their rooms and wept.  Our gentle men.

Finally it all turned into such a mess that the ordained clergy suggested we elect a dictator to straighten us out.  Who did we trust?  We turned to one of the older Canadian women (this was before the border wall divided the USA from Canada) and she asked for an hour to think while we all went for a walk.  “Return at tea time,” she said.  I forget what she told us to do, but we were relieved and obedient.

Later the ordained clergyman and his assistant gave us instructions. (Every Lone Ranger needs a Tonto, every Cisco Kid needs a Pancho, every Don Quixote needs a Sancho Panza — this is the Principle of the Sidekick.)  We were to assemble alongside one of the buildings, wearing old clothes, carrying a cup and a dollar bill.  The instructors disappeared.

At the appointed time we were there holding our dollar bills.  A VW bus drove up fast, paused long enough for the occupant to grab all the bills, and left again.  We stood gabbling and puzzled.  Then the water balloons began to drop on us from the roof.  Shrieks!!  When we were thoroughly soaked, the VW came back, this time with champagne!  We held our our mugs.  (That’s what the dollar bills were for — no subsidy from anyone else.)

That was fun.  No one but the mighty leader and his sidekick planned it.  The unexpectedness of it was part of the fun.  It was seemingly harmless (I’m guessing there were no alcoholics) and there was no solemn trigger warning.  It was risky.  A water balloon might have busted the spectacles of people looking up.

Here’s the swerve.  We’re waiting for the Electoral College vote, normally a merely ceremonial event, to be taken in every state today.  I suppose we’ll know by bedtime whether some people had internal foundations that made able to step out of custom and vote from someone so unsuitable for the Presidency that he has already probably destroyed his political party — or was it the other way around, the destroyed political party having made him possible.  Officially the count won’t be announced until January 6, but I’m suspecting that the deviants will be unofficially noted right away.

It was inevitable.  Nothing changed.  Few stepped out of line.  One of the best moments was when Faith Spotted Eagle got a vote.  People with that name here are from Heart Butte, but she seems to be enrolled with the Sioux .

It doesn’t seem as though Organizational Design had much to do with it, but more like old schisms that have operated for millennia in what we might call “Silk Road Wars.”  Destruction of whole populations for the sake of wealth, first on foot and horseback and later on ships, throwing the whole planet into disorder, destroying whole cultures exquisitely attuned to the land in ways that have never been restored.

There are 528 electoral voters (an excellent size for a congregation supporting a minister and a building).  There is nothing wrong with the electoral college per se.  The problem is the deterioration of the two party system, because of the deterioration of the two parties.  No amount of re-organizing or authoritarianism or even global international corporation wealth achieved by legal jiggering seems able to save democracy.  


One theory links prosperity to reliable politics.  Confident people vote well.  Branko Milanović is an economist who has a clear idea that is a variation on the familiar bell curve:  the Elephant Curve.  “Our incomes are increasingly determined globally, but our political space is national.”  Thus we’re out of sync.  I find this persuasive to a point.

Accounts of history suggest that prosperity comes from getting access to resources that had been separated by oceans, deserts and mountain ranges.  This rings familiar to people on reservations where mineral resources have been discovered, causing tribes to be squeezed.  The American political parties have run out of capital.

But what were the original substances of wealth?  Precious metals, gems, spices, new foods, fabric (silk) and the sale of human beings, sometimes with value increased by castration like any livestock.  And what are the wealth-indicators now?  Internet.  Power sources, privacy, corporation boards.  Intermediaries for education, sport, fashion, entertainment, medicine.  (Cuba looks like an excellent place to raid for these since they’ve been separated a long time.)

Much neglected is the principle that simple stability is a source of value.  Switzerland knows.  And yet we are so stable we are “pot-bound,” no place for the roots to penetrate to new nutrition.  Maybe that’s true for Trump, as well.  Maybe his candidacy was an attempt to simply escape his pot by breaking it.  If he is prevented from office, he will still have accomplished his goal, and without the onerous obligation to run the country.  Otherwise, I suspect he will feel as though he'd been tipped out on the floor, all his soil spilled away.

What we need is a religious principle as compelling as those of the past, including God and his various sidekicks: Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, et al.  Personally, I thought the satellite photo of the planet from outer space would do the job, but I guess to many people it’s still an abstract concept that isn’t personal.  We aren’t going to find the answer before teatime or even on January 6 when the actual electoral votes are announced.  But some people are thinking very hard.

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