Building With the Future in Mind Since 1955

Rick Dubrow’s “On The Level” Column in the Cascadia Weekly; Published 10-10-07

Humans are unique.  While all other animals inherently know what to do, you and I have so much choice in our ability to decide what to do.  This is such a blessing, but we pay a sobering price.  For if the behavior one chooses runs contrary to environmental health, our choices can deconstruct the natural world.

It’s therefore important for us to look carefully at the reasons one might choose a particular action.  Are there pressures on our decision making – pressures to conform – that might create unintended consequences that damage our natural world, even though, in our heart, we want to do no harm? What is our capacity for independent judgment, so that one might avoid the pressure to conform to detrimental activities?

Consider the work of Somoan Asch in the 1940’s and 1950’s when he conducted a range of tests to assess this capacity.  To what degree, he sought to discover, might people allow themselves to be manipulated or controlled in order to achieve security in the short term?

He brought an unsuspecting subject into a room with a group of others instructed to falsify their answers to a simple perceptual test:  each person was asked to assert which of three lines of varying lengths on one graph most closely corresponded to a single line on an adjacent graph. Unknown to the subjects, Asch was pitting them against a pre-arranged, unanimous, yet entirely irrational consensus. Initially the group matched lines that were reasonably similar.  Gradually, though, he introduced widening discrepancies so that eventually the group consensus matched the lines of extremely different lengths. Catch these results:  only 20% of his subjects proved capable of independent judgment in the face of an absurd consensus.

Somoan’s research indicates that people are conditioned to conform to group perceptions; to doubt and perhaps withhold their individual perceptions if they are in conflict with the shared reality of those around them. This has enormous implications when we consider how people respond to the deteriorating state of the natural systems that support us.  Perhaps the explanation for the pervasive inaction – this sleep-walking — to this profoundly life threatening situation could be best explained by viewing our culture as an ‘absurd consensus’ to a societal framework that ignores, or under-values, the health of the fishbowl in which we live.

Thus, until our dominant framework aligns conformist behavior with a healthy natural world, we’ve got things inside out, don’t we?  Somehow we need to find the way to act in alignment with natural law; to conform to natural law.

How do we achieve the tipping point in order to turn things inside out? To wake up from our sleep walking, acknowledge our irrational rationality, and change the dream? To create a world in which conformity breeds health?

Here’s one path:  attend the symposium called “Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream” coming to town on Oct. 27, 2007; an opportunity to take part in transforming our collective agreement.  I’ve previously attended this Pachamama Alliance Symposium and strongly suggest you spend the day at the Woodside Spiritual Center for a cost of only $25. Go to to learn more, and, to register, go to

Help me turn this absurd consensus inside out.

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