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Tereza Coraggio

Third Paradigm is an out-of-the-box thinktank on community sovereignty and regenerative economics.

We look at how to take back our cities, farmland and water; our money, production and trade; our media, education and culture, our religion and even our God.

We present a people's history of the Bible and a parent's view on how to raise giving kids in a taking world.

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Past Shows


Cassandra's Dilemma

October 18, 2009

3P-047 Show Information (includes MP3 download link)

Welcome to the 47th episode of Third Paradigm. Our title this week is Cassandra's Dilemma. We'll be looking first at a book from 1999 called Believing Cassandra, which explains the concept of Cassandra's Dilemma. Then we'll look at a book published in the year 2000 called Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam. Although not a harbinger of doom, he gives some very compelling trend analysis on the last century, and specific suggestions for what we should aim for by the year 2010. Let's see how we've done in this decade. Thanks to local social networking guru Peter Lindener for giving me this book and getting me thinking along these lines. But we'll start out as current as the last month, when the updated version of Rob Brezsny's Pronoia, was published with 55% fresh content. This week's show is dedicated to my youngest daughter, Cassandra Abigail, who turned 11 on Tuesday. When I was nine months pregnant with Cassandra, I happened to pick up that week's Free Will Astrology by Rob Brezsny. Rob is a local legend who's exploded into the big time with his book Pronoia is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings. I'm not a believer in horoscopes, but Rob has taken it to an art form – mixing politics with metaphysics and sex with spirituality.

So 11 years ago, I happened to come across his column for Taurus, which read, "An aspect of you which has never been manifested is about to be born."

I looked at my other two daughters, both girls after my own heart, and wondered what part of me it could be that wasn't already present in one of them. I decided that it was the ability to tell the truth in a way that, this time, could be heard. And so I named her Cassandra, my future-teller.

The prophecy, however, seemed to be for both of us. It was during her first year that I started writing again, after a decade hiatus. I went back to playing piano and trying to learn jazz. I crashed Bible studies and church groups, asking questions they didn't know what to do with. I read books like Derrick Jensen's The Culture of Make-Believe, which left me gasping for meaning like a fish out of water. In a sense, she's grown up with a different mother – instead of trying to get her to wear clothes that matched, I was investigating who made the clothes and under what conditions. Sometimes I'm amazed that we got through her formative years more or less intact. There's a story I wrote about the less intact part that I'll post on the website. It's called Where We Fail, which Sun magazine rejected, but Derrick Jensen liked. This is the ending:

I scare myself. Fearful Mom is right; I do have a segmented mind. Less than two months later, I've forgotten Cassandra in the car again while I walked 10 steps away. After running back and apologizing, I asked her why she didn't say anything. She said she was looking out the window, thinking, and didn't notice I was gone. She's truly my child. We're both looking out some inner window, our mental landscape pre-occupied with teeming hordes of unruly ideas, demanding to be put into order. We're not absent-minded; we're elsewhere-minded. But at 4, she's allowed. And I'm missing a 4-year-old landscape that I'll never have access to again.

I notice more. She tells the cat that he has a smart brain, and he knows not to tango with the gray cat. She tells me that everything is made up from love, and that's God. God wears a big hat and handsome clothes, she says. From her description, it seems that God wears a sombrero. I learn from her that the world will hold together just as long as it needs to, to do what it's here to do. I can trust it to spin without my direction long enough to drink her in. There are more than reflections in her dark eyes, there are sparks that I need to catch, and I find that she's not a distraction but part of my direction.

While we're having a Cassandra day, I'll also read two poems I wrote when she was little. They're called To Sleep with a Child's Heart in Your Hand and The Constellations of the Day.

To Sleep With a Childs Heart In Your Hands

To Sleep with a Child's Heart in your Hand

To sleep with a child's
fevered heart in your hand,
thrashing against your palm
like a bird wild to break free,
is to be too frightened to fall asleep.

Better to watch the restless dreams,
eavesdrop on the muttered words
of a toothless soothsayer.

Better to move the hand to the back:
breath is the ocean's metronome.

Like a folded wing, my thumb nestles
under shoulder blade. My fingers cup
the bellows that give a sense of wind
to calm the caged starling of a heart.

Reluctantly, I let myself drift
like a kite into a distant windstream,
trusting the fragile thread to tug me back
in the instant of a bursting bubble,

~ Tereza Coraggio ~

* * * * * * *

The Constellations of the Day

Glitter spilled in Cassandra's bed last night.
The older sisters read stories there,
then retreated to their bunk beds,
glitter migrating like tiny silver geese.

Cassandra's comet path ended in our bed,
a small, spent fury. The unjust rule
of no-dessert-without-vegetables
flaming her into a tailspin of defeat.

I come in at one from the poetry reception,
buzzing with decadence. It's a gooey slice
of 50's salon in my minivan-on-whole-wheat
week. I take my place as the line completing
the ideograph for family - two soft curves
around a sleeping child.

Pre-dawn, the middle daughter wanders.
Her moonlit sail glimpses down the hall
seeking the harbor that Tom relinquishes.
A deserted bed, sparkling empty sand,
isn't such a compromise for a sleepy dad.

In the morning, I make up Cassandra's bed,
sheets blue as the Tucson sky, jumping with stars
as I ripple the comforter. The kids come to breakfast
like reborn Vegas showgirls, eyes dewy-clear
under the thumbprint of glitzy ash.

Tom's hair sparkles in seven directions, rays of a surly sun.
His stubble glints like mica in a riverbed. He's late to meet
the trash-talking boys at the hoops, pagers and gold chains
left in gym bags. He walked off last time when the fouls
got mean and dirty. They yelled, "Hey, come back here –
you my bitch!" Oh, if they could see their sequined bitch now.

But me, I'm just here for the contact shine. Burying my nose
into necks rippling with laughter, gleaning flecks of light.

~ Tereza Coraggio ~

When Cassandra was five, I picked up a used book published when she was one called Believing Cassandra: An Optimist Looks at a Pessimist's World by Alan AtKisson. The author was an editor of In Context magazine and co-founder of Sustainable Seattle. Published in 1999, one thing he talks about is a publicity shoot for his CD, Whole Lotta Shoppin' Goin' On. He careens through Kmart wearing, carrying, and carting as much as he can pile on. He wonders why no one's staring, then realizes he doesn't look so different from some other shoppers. On a related note, my husband, Tom, has recently sent me to look at the People of Walmart website. He wanted to make sure I didn't get carried away thinking that the intelligent and aware people who respond to my show are the only America.

One of AtKisson's chapters gives creative explanations to a gallery of graphs. A chart, that's stuck with me ever since, shows global economic disparity to have the shape of a champagne glass. Spread across the top 1/5th is 85% of the wealth. Then the stem tapers sharply into 9%, 4%, 2%, and finally 1% for the 1.2 billion people at the bottom of this baseless economy.

[Below is a 2006 graph of Wealth Distribution from another source...]

It wasn't just the fragility that got me, although that's true too, but the graphic depiction of the extreme injustice that props up our bubbly world. He also mentions that 70% of the goods don't come from the countries that consume them. It's not primarily our trees cut down, our water poisoned, our way of life destroyed.

But the key concept in the book is something he refers to as Cassandra's Dilemma. He explains it this way:

"The role of Cassandra, issuing unpopular warnings of avoidable danger, is a no-win situation. Failure to convey the message effectively results in catastrophe. In which case, they may even blame you, as if your prediction set in motion the process that resulted in disaster. [But] success in being understood means ultimately being proven wrong. Once proven "wrong" your credibility will be destroyed, so that thereafter your effect will be minimal."

My own solution to Cassandra's Dilemma is having a radio show, so you can point to more credible people thinking along the same lines. After my episode You've Been Framed, which compares Congress' reaction to ACORN and lack of reaction to KBR, Al Franken passed an Amendment that freezes funding to military contractors who prohibit lawsuits for sexual harassment. Betty McCollum introduced legislation in the House called Against Corporations Organizing to Rip-off the Nation, or the ACORN Act. She targets Pfizer, but with military contractors to follow. This week, Barbara Ehrenreich talked about "Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America." I heard echoes of my episode, "Joy, Luck, and the Religion of Prosperity". I'm not deluded that I'm influencing them. We're just on parallel tracks, both tapping into the Collective Cassandra, which is the only one that will be able to be heard, coming from as many mouths as possible.

But let's listen to a song for my own private Cassandra, by John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting, whose new album Slice came out on her birthday. This track is called Chances.

[Five For Fighting – Chances]

Let's go now to the book, Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam, which was given to me by Peter Lindener. Where graphs were a gallery in Believing Cassandra, in Bowling Alone, they're the wallpaper. One I just opened to shows that the percentage of women who are working because they want to has stayed stable at 12% for the last quarter century. But the women working because they have to has risen from 21% to almost 40%. I'd add to this that since mortgages are competitive – i.e., we bid against each other for how much 30-year debt we can absorb – the cost of housing will always absorb any rise in discretionary income. Where working mothers could supplement income in 1975, by 2000, a house had risen to a double income, and women lost the ability to not work.

Another fascinating chart was the growing generation gap in malaise – headaches, insomnia, indigestion. In 1975, these symptoms were most prevalent in the over-60 crowd with 30-45 year-olds experiencing the least. By 1998, the 18 to 29 year-olds were almost off the chart, followed by thirty-somethings, with 45 and up next. But the 60 to 100 year-olds were eating and sleeping well as a bunch. What's up with this? Putnam gives social isolation as a possible explanation. He cites a study showing that the average American teenager spends 3.5 hours alone each day, more than they spend with family or friends. Compared with the 1950's, they have fewer, weaker, and more fluid friendships. Putnam wonders if channel surfing also leads to friend surfing. (Barbara Schneider and David Stevenson) Depression has even spread to the Amish community, caused by "rampant individualism" according to Martin Seligman.

I showed Tom that the peak years for PTA's, Unions, and Card Clubs happened between my birth date in '57 and his in '60. It's been downhill ever since. The institutions of religion, country, and family have disintegrated steadily during his reign. Rather than taking this personally, he replied, "But what happened during those years? Information started leaking out about all the corruption, scandals, and lies. As the institutions crumbled, no communities replaced them."

Another major impact during the last half-century was technology. "As T.S. Eliot observed early in the television age,

'It is a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome.'

The artifice of canned laughter reflected both the enduring fact that mirth is enhanced by companionship and the novel fact that companionship could now be simulated electronically." [p. 217]

With only 1% of households having a TV in 1948, in only 11 years it had reached 90% saturation. Between 1965 and 1995, Americans gained six hours a week of leisure, and spent almost all of it watching TV.

Sets per household have proliferated. Three-quarters of all households have more than one set. Sixth-graders with a set in their bedrooms grew from 6% in 1970 to 77% in 1999. Two kids in three say a TV set is usually on during dinner. Half of all Americans usually watch alone. For kids aged 8-18, less than 5% of their watching is done with their parents, and 1/3rd is entirely alone. Selective viewing, which is tied to community involvement, has steadily declined as more turn it on habitually.

In 1948, the average American had nine years of schooling, but the average family read 1.3 daily newspapers – more than one newspaper a day! But with each generation, newspaper reading's been cut in half.

The reason may seem to be simple – TV. But in fact, those who watch news on TV are more likely to read newspapers. It's not just newspapers, but interest in the news that's declining generationally. Again, I have to point out Tom's elephant in the room – like government and religion, maybe it's not people who've deserted the news, but the news that's deserted the people. If what we're being offered is vacuous infotainment, it's like eating a chocolate-covered granola bar. Who are you fooling? Why not be honest and just go for the cupcake? So instead of faux-news, spelled Fox, the next generation watches Friends.

Last week, free radio SC rejected my proposal that an independent news subcommittee, comprised of programmers, volunteers, and donors, be given responsibility for 1/3rd of the schedule. Since then, Skidmark Bob and another founder have quit the station, after 15 years. I gave notice to leave when my dues were up, but they've offered to refund my money rather than have me stay two more weeks. While they'd issued a schedule leaving Bob's shows on, after he'd left, I was advised that it was up to the collective whether mine would continue. I sent back an email saying, "Look, you won. You can do whatever you want now." A DJ wrote back, "No one won. You didn't get what you wanted, and the station lost a programmer." By which, I assume he meant the good workhorse Bob, because, by my count, it was three of us that left.

So let's just review what selfish, egotistical thing it was that I wanted. Third Paradigm marathons? That would be fun. A locked cabinet for the toilet paper? That would be hygienic. But no, what we wanted was to reliably bring the independent news to Santa Cruz listeners. If we wanted to hear our own voices on the radio, leaving would be counterproductive. I feel badly that Third Paradigm may turn out to only be accessible by computer. Although a great medium for unbiased information and communication, as a listening device, it seems passive and isolating.

In Honduras, the coup regime understands the significance of radio. The studios of Radio Globo and Channel 36 were assaulted in the middle of the night and their transmitters were sabotaged and taken, thus leaving the majority of the country without access to the few independent news sources they had depended on for so long.  He then forcibly evicted 55 local farm workers who had occupied the headquarters of the National Agrarian Institute for months since the June coup. According to Honduras Resists, a leading online source for Resistance support, the Institute "houses the land titles that had been attained by small rural farmers and communities through years of struggle, many of which were finally granted under the Zelaya administration, angering the powerful landholders who are responsible for the coup and now want to halt and reverse the process of land reform in Honduras."

Not only coup regimes understand the importance of unbiased media. According to Democracy Now, Argentina has enacted a media reform bill aimed at undoing dictatorship-era rules that left a handful of companies in control of national broadcasting.

The bill allocates two-thirds of the broadcast spectrum to non-commercial stations, limits the number of licenses any one company can hold, and promotes Argentine-made content.

The bill was based on a proposal written by a coalition of Argentine community media, human rights groups, unions and progressive academics. President Cristina Fernandez quickly signed it into law following its approval by the Argentine Senate.
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner : President of Argentina


Estela de Carlotto of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo was among thousands to celebrate outside Congress. She said:

"Everyone will have the opportunity to have a form of communication for the dignity of the people. Culturally, it is good; the advancement of freedom of expression is good. Celebrating here, we are all together. The Grandmothers are a part of these people that never ever gave up."

To underscore this point, we'll end with Benjamin Zephaniah, British Rastafarian rap artist, just elected 3rd most popular poet in Britain after T.S. Eliot and John Dunne. Thanks to my friend Ernest Gusella for sending me the Black Cab Sessions. Thanks to Skidmark Bob for sound production, and to Mike Scirocco for visual production. Thanks to Lamp for a perceptive response to the interview of Vivek Chibber, and to Tom Madden of Chicago for his "energetic support."

This is Benjamin Zephaniah with Rong Radio.

[Black Cab Sessions with Benjamin Zephaniah – Rong Radio]

Thank you for listening.