Circles, Baldwin, and Comments

-Valor Academy’s Circles, By Wade Lee Hudson
-Mass Culture and the Creative Artist, By James Baldwin (1959)
-Readers’ Comments

Valor Academy’s Circles, By Wade Lee Hudson

I found “How one school is centering social-emotional learning” to be profoundly inspiring. This PBS “Brief but Spectacular” video documents a Valor Collegiate Academy mutual aid “Circle.” Since 2014, Valor has expanded to more than 30,000 students nationwide. Their success suggests the holistic, egalitarian movement is spreading. Time is short, however. The world may be on a deadly downward spiral.

Daren Dickson, Valor’s Chief Culture Officer, says

Our dream has been to turn circle facilitation over to the kids as they get into high school. We all know that middle schoolers are much more impacted by each other than by adults, so having them lead the practice will be more meaningful. 

This 11-minute video captures a Circle led by a Valor student.

Valor encourages students to share what’s going on in their lives and accept support. Their mission is “sharp minds; big hearts.”  They aim to create a community of care “to empower our diverse community to live inspired, purposeful lives,…bring our diverse community together, and support each other in identity and relational development.”  Valor bases its approach on four pillars: 1) top-tier academics; 2) intentional diversity; 3) built to last; and 4) whole child development….
(read more)

Mass Culture and the Creative Artist: Some Personal Notes
By James Baldwin (1959)

Someone once said to me that the people in general cannot bear very much reality. He meant by this that they prefer fantasy to a truthful re-creation of their experience. The Italians, for example, during the time that De Sica and Rossellini were revitalizing the Italian cinema industry, showed a marked preference for Rita Hayworth vehicles; the world in which she moved across the screen was like a fairy tale, whereas the world De Sica was describing was one with which they were only too familiar. (And it can be suggested perhaps that the Americans who stood in fine for Shoe Shine and Open City were also responding to images which they found exotic, to a reality by which they were not threatened. What passes for the appreciation of serious effort in this country is very often nothing more than an inability to take anything very seriously.)

Now, of course, the people cannot bear very much reality, if by this one means their ability to respond to high intellectual or artistic endeavor. I have never in the least understood why they should be expected to. There is a division of labor in the world  — as I see it — and the people have quite enough reality to bear, simply getting

through their lives, raising their children, dealing with the eternal conundrums of birth, taxes, and death. They do not do this with all the wisdom, foresight, or charity one might wish; nevertheless, this is what they are always doing and it is what the writer is always describing….
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Readers’ Comments

Re: “Friedman on Israel”
Larry Walker
Excellent and timely article. My related observation is that the US is losing its role as world leader in other ways as well.


Re: Introduction
Freddi Fredrickson

Growing a generation of intrinsically minded people.


Re: Interview with “Fluke” author, Brian Klass”
Jed Riffe

After being self employed for over 50 years, experiencing 19 stock market failures, all of which seriously disrupted my small independent print and documentary film businesses, I feel like chaos is the operating mode. I appreciate Wade’s two comments.

Yahya Abdal-Aziz
Thank you for this! I believe he’s hit on something important about modern society. He’s right, there is – by design! – very little slack in our systems, so any little chance event (“fluke”) can tip us into an unstable situation that may deteriorate rapidly and uncontrollably into chaos and disaster.

Yes, we like to think we’re in control of our personal lives, but “a little less hubris” would be a very good thing for most of us. And perhaps we can trace some of the roots of our modern epidemic of anxiety and depression to our inchoate sense of the precariousness of the teetering sand-pile?

Joyce Beattie

Friedman on Israel

I’ve spent the past few days traveling from New Delhi to Dubai and Amman, and I have an urgent message to deliver to President Biden and the Israeli people: I am seeing the increasingly rapid erosion of Israel’s standing among friendly nations — a level of acceptance and legitimacy that was painstakingly built up over decades. And if Biden is not careful, America’s global standing will plummet right along with Israel’s. I don’t think Israelis or the Biden administration fully appreciate the rage that is bubbling up around the world, fueled by social media and TV footage.
Thomas L. Friedman

The Circle

Circles have been used as structures for meeting communally for thousands of years. Some of the earliest known tribes and native people across all continents used Circles, sometimes called councils, to meet to discuss the most important matters their communities faced. In this sense, Circles are natural to us and are not anything new. In many ways, the Valor Circle is a new spin on an ancient practice.
Valor Collegiate Academies

Putin, Truth, and Scapegoating

Readers’ Comments and “Does ‘the System’ Exist?

Reader’s Comments on “New Homepage and Preface

Larry Walker

All the Best for Your New Website Approach

I read your piece in Wade’s Wire describing your new approach.  It sounds promising to me, so all the best as you go down this path. Cheers

Wade: Good to hear. Thanks much for the feedback.

Freddi Fredrickson
I  just read your “Wire” and Preface which I enjoyed. It is hard trying to get people to organize for a better society. I don’t know if it ever will happen as a large movement. I guess I think that the goal will be for more and more people who care about others to infuse their ideas in smaller groups, and then have this spread. 

I wanted to tell you I bought the new book by David Brooks on how to really get to know people. I saw him on a couple of shows and thought he reminded me of what you have said about people knowing other people. I’ll let you know if I think it’s useful. Take care and many hugs, Freddi 

Wade: Yes, I believe small groups can help educate and inspire each other to be more proactive. My hope is that somehow someday these groups, and issue-oriented organizations, will unite and accomplish more together than they can alone…. I look forward to hearing what you think about Brooks’ book, including points that resonate with you most strongly.

Mary Hudson

Great job! Would this picture work as a replacement for the Cultural picture?

Wade: I think it works well. What do you think? Thanks.

I think it looks great!  I’ll look for a replacement for the “Political” picture.

Wade: Sure.

Yahya Abdal-Aziz

I appreciate the countless hours you have put into thinking and writing about how to achieve “a global society that’s fair and kind,” which is exactly what I’d love to see on the global scale, mirrored at every scale in communities both large and small, physical and virtual, that are also both kind and just.

We may have different perspectives on how to get there.  You talk of unity, and I hear a faint whisper of conformity.  Because, as we all know, people can be coerced into following an easier path when loaded words make them feel guilty for wanting to go their own way.  Still, I trust, that you’re really talking about “unity in diversity”.  I value diversity much more than I do unity.  So, it appears, does nature, as countless varieties of organisms evolve into ever-new and unexpected forms.

We all have overlapping circles of family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and other practical relationships, such as business, medical, official, political, etc.  Every one of us is a member of at least two distinctly different kinds of community, and it would be impractical to combine or unite these communities in any meaningful way.  However, all these communities do intersect, and we, individual persons, are the points of intersection.

I remember the fun I had at my 21st birthday party, introducing dozens of people from very different circles to each other, and enjoying observing their interactions.  The musicians, the chess players, the linguists, the mathematicians and scientists, the literary people, the politicians, and family members all received a present at my party: a chance to meet and converse with people they’d never normally bump into.  Some received their gifts gratefully and gracefully; others were bemused.  To this day, I still enjoy a smorgasbord better than a three-course set dinner!

Let’s compare the two formats: online encyclopedia vs. book.  The second offers us a set menu of courses.  The first offers us endless, web-like hyperlinks.  Very much as envisioned by Vannevar Bush, in his prophetic article “As we may think”, the source document for the notion of hyper-text and a direct inspiration for Wikipedia.

Guests circulating at my party weren’t tied to their previous decisions; they could sample a little here, nibble a little there; and feast on what they found to their taste and abilities. I guess you can sense which way this analogy is heading, right?  

Yes, I do prefer the collaboratively-edited, somewhat amorphous, potentially chaotic, and patchy structure of the encyclopedia, to that of the carefully curated, architecturally-designed, and professionally-constructed book.

Not that I don’t appreciate the design and construction skills behind the book format!  But it does throw too much responsibility on its architect, to see the project through to a usable state.  Whereas the other approach lets everybody muck in.  So what if somebody gets it wrong?  Others can jump in to fix any problems that arise.

How many readers of Wikipedia know the name Jimmy Webb?  How many of its editors do?  But does it matter?  No.  Wikipedia wasn’t built by Jimmy Webb; an impossible undertaking for one person.  It was started by him, for which I’m extremely grateful.  And his effort deserves to be recognized as the great game-changer it is.  Yet the value of what he started has been amplified many thousand-fold, by his slipping the reins and letting the horse follow its head.  (Mixed metaphors, perhaps!)

So, I hope that I’ve left you something to chew on.  (As if you were the horse!)  It may be nutritious oats; it may only be chaff; taste it and see. Regards.

Wade: I, too, prefer collaboration.


Does “the System” exist?

References to  “the system” are common in advertising, political commentary, popular culture, and elsewhere, but few people define what they mean by the phrase.

Wikipedia says, “A system is a group of interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole.” 

This description leaves open the question of whether any one element controls or dominates a particular system. Concerning human societies, for instance, who rules? Who’s to blame?

In its “Jungles” episode, Our Planet declares “No one species can ever dominate, protecting the jungle’s incredible diversity.” 

But don’t humans dominate nature? The Oxford Dictionary defines the “Anthropocene” as the geological age. “during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.” Dominant means “ruling or controlling.”

However, “The irony of the Anthropocene: People dominate a planet beyond our control,” argues, “It appears that nature…may have some tricks up its sleeve. Despite humans’ pervasive influence on the planet, our actual control over natural systems remains limited.”

In “The Limits to Human Domination of Nature,” Steve Cohen writes, 

There is little question that human activities have damaged and sometimes dominated nature. But dominating nature is proving to be a little more difficult than some might have thought. The forces of natural environmental systems have proven to be more than current technologies can handle…. What is missing from our economic system and its technological base is humility and reverence for a universe that may, well, in some measure, always be beyond scientific understanding. 

National Geographic likewise takes a more qualified position. It states, “The Anthropocene Epoch is an unofficial unit of geologic time, used to describe the most recent period in Earth’s history when human activity started to have a significant impact on the planet’s climate and ecosystems (emphasis added).”

Whether human society functions as a system is another question. In its introduction to sociology, Lumen reports:

Functionalists view society as a system in which all parts work — or function — together to create society as a whole. In this way, societies need culture to exist. Cultural norms function to support the fluid operation and continued stability of society, and cultural values guide people in making choices.

As summarized by Graham Scammbler, Talcott Parsons and other sociologists have seen society as a system composed of interconnected parts, where each part has a specific function that contributes to society’s overall functioning. Specialized institutions that perform specific functions help maintain social stability. Society socializes individuals to internalize norms and values, which guide their behavior, constrain their freedom, and reinforce social order. 

If successful, this socialization results in norms and values becoming internalized by individuals. When people pursue their own interests, they also serve the needs of society as a whole. Unity with diversity sustains stability over time. Otherwise, societies fall apart.

Whether one element controls or dominates is a related question. In the February 5, 2020, Ezra Klein Show podcast about Klein’s book, Why We’re Polarized, Jill Lepore comments, “In some big structural way in the book there’s a quite notable absence of villains,” and asks Klein, “Why no villains?” He replies:

I’m trying to tell you how a machine works. I’m just trying to tell you what happens to almost everybody in it… I wanted to call some players and institutions villains, (but) I had trouble figuring out a chain of causality… Every time I tried to trace [blame] down to the place where I could prove it, I would fail… I have trouble assigning the causality or even figuring out where it begins. All these things seem to be in a dynamic relationship with each other. It’s hard to figure out how if you replaced a player or even the institution how different of a result you would get… The thing I’m trying to build an idea of is a machine with different pieces all working together.     

In the Introduction to his book, Klein talks about “the system” and writes, “We collapse systemic problems into personalized narratives.” 

Commentators most often merely refer to “systems” that are not integrated into a single social system. I’ve concluded, however, that our society weaves together all sectors — social, cultural, personal, economic, environmental, and political — into a single self-perpetuating social system — the Top-Down System. 

The next question is what is the Top-Down System’s function? As I see it, its driving force is programming people to selfishly climb social ladders, look down on those below, and try to dominate and exploit them — and submit to those above. Our institutions, our culture, and ourselves as individuals are woven together into this social system. As individuals, we reinforce it with our daily actions. 

Whether you call it hyper-meritocracy, rankism, elitism, technocracy, or some other label, this Top-Down System assumes that a select few with superior abilities should rule society. 

Domination and submission can be justified as a means to a higher end, but when they become the goal, the be-all and end-all, structural reforms are needed to establish a Bottom-Up System that holds leaders accountable to those they serve.

Bob Anschuetz, a former college English teacher, told me:

I think all references to “the system,” whether within or without quotes, should be changed to “the System.” That’s because you use the word in a special sense, as developed in your booklet. You need to distinguish that special sense for the reader by, in effect, representing it as a “proper name” — which in turn requires an initial capital letter…. This still represents my opinion on the use of an upper-case “S” in “the System.” 

Proper nouns are capitalized words for a particular person, place, organization, or thing. The Top-Down System is a specific thing. 

How to reform it into a Bottom-Up System is a challenge. This website suggests methods for how to move in this direction and grow our society into a compassionate community. 

Whether this systemic focus is the wisest path is uncertain, but it’s the best I can do so far. Suggested course corrections are welcome.


New Homepage and Preface

With apologies to FromWade subscribers for cross-posting.

I’ve reframed the website as a constantly updated digital book rather than an online encyclopedia. The homepage now features the book’s working title, Systemic Reform, and I’ve changed the “Resources” drop-down menu heading to “Content.” This menu now begins with “Preface” and “Introduction,” followed by the chapter titles.

The “Learn More” links under the chapter images on the homepage continue to summarize the chapters, but soon the drop-down links will lead to more extensive content with essays with links to the Knowledge Base, which will serve as endnotes. The Index will continue to link to the Knowledge Base resources.

Though many people have made valuable contributions to this project, which I appreciate, my efforts to recruit a co-editor or co-authors have failed. Likewise, my discussions with potential partner organizations have not panned out.

So I’m accepting that I’m the editor and lead content author. This approach requires more solitude, so I’m learning how better to be alone and refrain from so frequently asking for feedback.

Rather, I’ll digest the research I’ve conducted and the input I’ve received so far, present my conclusions to the best of my ability, and trust that they’re sensible, unique, and important. Perhaps someday they’ll ring more bells and garner more engagement.

In the meantime, I’ll proceed as if thousands of people read my work, my Daily Reflections and What’s New with great interest, subscribe to the monthly Mutual Empowerment newsletter and the daily Wade’s Wire, and take action to advance a systemic reform movement.

Soon, drawing on three recent generous donations, I’ll hire a part-time administrative assistant to help clean up the Knowledge Base. The latest draft of the job description is here.

My cancer doctor told me, “You beat the odds. Your cancer will not kill you.” I’ve almost recovered from the injuries I suffered from a recent fall, and soon, my apartment should be completely free of bedbugs. These difficulties have hampered my productivity, but with the excitement of a New Year, I look forward to being bug- and bruise-free and getting into a better groove.

Regardless, I appreciate your interest.

Following is the new Preface.

For 60 years, I helped organize egalitarian communities whose members supported each other in becoming better persons and more effective activists. Now I sum up what I’ve learned.

Though my methods have changed, more than anything, I’ve wanted a global society that’s fair and kind. This site explores how to move in this direction.

Within institutions and informally, countless individuals and organizations empower the powerless, control the powerful, live in harmony with Mother Nature, promote fairness, relieve suffering, and cultivate positive cultural change.

Unfortunately, however, this compassionate humanity community is fragmented. Its members don’t see how their efforts are interconnected. They fail to unite, address root causes, and support each other.

My goal is to help unify this community and thoroughly and fundamentally reform our society into a compassionate community.

Utopia is impossible, but we can make steady progress. We can make incremental improvements while at the same time building support for deep change.

A good first step is to face and name our primary problem: the System. The roots of our fragmentation lie in the larger social system. Society encourages everyone to climb social ladders and look down on, dominate, and exploit those below — and submit to those above — for personal gain.

Our institutions, our culture, and ourselves as individuals are woven together into a hyper-meritocracy rooted in rugged individualism and winner-take-all competition. The System rewards division with financial incentives, and we reinforce the System with our daily actions. Wealth, power, and status become ends, rather than means to a higher goal.

This hyper-competitive individualism breeds bitter power struggles that undermine solidarity. We must establish new, more compassionate social structures  — and reform existing ones — as well as work within them to make incremental gains and nurture individual and collective empowerment.

The inflated quest for upward mobility afflicts almost everyone if not all. Unfortunately, however, few people who engage in compassionate action focus on overcoming these weaknesses. I know of no organization that sets aside time for its members to support each other with unlearning the desire to dominate and the willingness to submit for personal gain.

Twelve-step support groups and many other projects have demonstrated that peer support can help people reach personal goals and thrive more fully. Social service and political activists can learn from these efforts. This website explores how we might do so.

In recent decades, to explore how we activists might be more effective, I’ve conducted strategy workshops, engaged in extensive research, shared drafts of proposals, interviewed individuals, circulated online surveys, and experimented with specific methods to help bring about fundamental and comprehensive reform.

Self-development can serve a greater end. We can care for ourselves so we can better care for others. We can find a balance between being selfish and sacrificing too much. We can build strong communities and strong individuals.  We can find solutions where everyone wins. We can prevent suffering by correcting root causes.

Ego, arrogance, the desire to dominate, and the willingness to submit get in the way. Bitter power struggles divide organizations. People assume leaders are those who can get followers to do what they want, which undermines mutual empowerment.

I’ve had this problem and still do. I know it’s better to work with others to solve problems, but I’ve struggled to live up to this ideal, I’ve formed strong opinions about the right action plan and recruited people to support it. I’ve been too focused on proving myself and gaining recognition and become too vulnerable to hostility, criticism, and disappointment.  I’m not alone.

This website promotes holistic and systemic change. It’s holistic because it involves the whole person and the whole society. It’s systemic because it proposes that we adopt a new primary purpose for our society and establish new ways of organizing our activities (structures) to serve that purpose — while preserving healthy traditions.

The proposals presented here aren’t a blueprint. The focus is on articulating a worldview that might serve as a foundation for lasting unity. Specific policy proposals that flow from this worldview are presented for the sake of discussion to clarify possibilities. Many people have helped with this project, but I assume responsibility for the final edits.

I know my current audience is small. These big questions are hard and I may be wrong on major points. Nevertheless, the response I’ve received so far has been largely supportive and I still believe that what I’m saying is unique and important.

So I hope that someday, thousands will be engaged with this project and I work AS IF they were. Regardless, many people are on similar wavelengths, and eventually, we may grow in number and come together to change the world.

I invite you, dear reader, to share your thoughts, experiences, and suggested resources to help improve this effort.

—Wade Lee Hudson

A ‘National and Global Maelstrom’ Is Pulling Us Under

By Thomas B Edsall

…Perhaps the most trenchant comment I received was from Theda Skocpol, a professor of government and sociology at Harvard, who replied to my inquiry at the height of the controversy over the former Harvard president Claudine Gay:

I have thought for some time that America was suffering multiple elite-driven institutional breakdowns across the board, opening the door to a national and global maelstrom. But now I find myself so overwhelmingly distressed by it all, including the collapse of core values at my own university (Harvard), that I cannot write coherently about it.

Excerpts from “The Fate of Free Will”

The Fate of Free Will
Kevin Mitchell

Organisms struggle to maintain themselves. They strive to persist and then to reproduce. Natural selection ensures it. “The universe doesn’t have purpose, but life does,” Mitchell says. “Living organisms are adapted for the sake of only one thing — their selves. This brings something new to the universe: a frame of reference, a subject. The existence of a goal imbues things with properties that previously never existed relative to that goal: function, meaning, and value. And yet…no one would say that (a single cell organism) has will, free or otherwise.

Rejecting the reductionist view does not mean resorting to mind–body dualism—positing some extra, nonphysical entity, like a soul or a spirit. There is no ghost in this machine. “Our minds are not an extra layer sitting above our physical brains,” Mitchell says. They are the holistic sum of that continuous, dynamic, distributed activity. The brain is material, and its parts are increasingly well understood.

Free will, as distinct from agency, implies consciousness and self-reflection. Yet so much of what we do is involuntary. 

Yet unconscious decision-making is still decision-making. And sometimes we do think. We reflect, ponder, dither, weigh alternatives for some time before choosing to act.

Still, when the occasion requires, we can gather our wits, as the expression goes.

Thought involves continual feedback and self-correction, and the individual components cannot be teased apart. Mitchell writes:

The various subsystems involved are in constant dialogue with each other, each attempting to satisfy its own constraints in the context of the dynamically changing information it receives from all the interconnected areas.

Agency is what distinguishes us from machines. For biological creatures, reason and purpose come from acting in the world and experiencing the consequences. 

Reviving Wade’s Wire

Dear Wade’s Wire Subscriber:

After allowing it to lie dormant for more than a year while constructing the Compassionate Humanity Community website, I’m reviving this list. No more than once a day, I’ll share discoveries, thoughts, and feelings here. I appreciate your interest and support.

I just posted the January 2024 Mutual Empowerment newsletter, a publication of the Compassionate Humanity Community. If you did not receive it, you can view it here and subscribe to the monthly newsletter here. If you already have, I apologize for the redundancy.

Wade Lee Hudson