Thursday, May 26, 2005

Utopias are interesting things. To me, utopia is my kids not getting sick (or if they are sick, not saying "don't pray for me, wait until I get older, if I live that long, then you can pray for me" and "am I going to die too this time"). I'm waiting on my five year old, her strep throat and her cough. Grateful for tylenol and antibiotics.

In writing about utopias, what I am really writing about is stable communal societies or organizations, not perfect places. To succeed, such an entity needs:

1. A shared culture that will work for both adults and children (I've seen a lot of attempts at utopia that worked for the adults, but that failed for the children they had, and a few that worked for kids but fail for the adults).

2. Sufficient resources to:
a. Establish the society,
b. continue the society and export from it,
c. endure, create accumulations, support members who have lessened productivity due to age.

3. Must be self-sustaining

Interesting examples include the Hutterites (a religious group of sealed communities that just keeps expanding. They export goose down to the outside world that at one point was the gold standard for goose down), small steel mills (there is a "modern" small fab plant steel mill system that is generally worker run in a communal system) and several worker managed piecework factories.

Entities that seemed like they would succeed and failed share some hinge or collapse points.

1. intellectual property issues and a changing environment.
2. rent seeking behavior
3. free riders and feather bedders.
a. the piecework factories manage to break through the "magic number of 100 to 200 adults by having a payment system that prevents free riding.
b. the worker managed railroads have worked on staffing levels of specific tasks to solve the same problem.
c. several worker owned companies have suffered from control groups forming and using that control to loot the communal good for the benefit of the group.
4. giving in to the temptation to create a management class (vs. renting or hiring it from consultants or outsiders as some unions have done).

Examples that are closer to home are law firms and other partnerships (which, for the professionals, though not the staff, are communal organizations which are prone to grow into non-communal ones), Yugoslavia under Tito (the only marxist state with a free market society), agricultural cooperatives (for machines that are effectively shared and for shared marketing tasks.

A failure of a cooperative endeavor occurs when:

1. The administrative cost is too high (centralized economies anyone?).
2. The cultural needs of the members diverge too far (you may think living in Big Bend as an artist is heaven -- but will your children who haven't learned to read by age 12?).
3. The level of assets fails to sustain the group (note, retirement planning need not be a part of the cooperative endeavor. It is for Hutterites. It isn't for steel mills).
4. Stratification destroys the communal nature.
5. External attack (the group of pacifists that got eaten by New Zealanders in the 1800s are a good example of this).
6. Problems of scale swamp the society.
7. Stratification (sometiems combined with scale issues) destroys the communal or cooperative nature.

The false issue is waste, as all systems have it.

Quick notes.

The magic size for many communal groups is 100 to 200. More than 200 and the group generates too many slackers and free riders. Under 100 adult workers and there seems not to be enough "community."

Cooperative groups can work just fine in a market society, competing with other such groups and non-communal groups. I would note that worker managed firms tend to outperform other management types inside the magic number size limits so that they can be quite competitive. It is very possible to run a country where the government runs the banks, military and universities and cooperatives handle everything else.

Universities can be used to create mental capital and intellectual property and they seem to do it well.

One thing the Amish have mastered is the art of making people suspect by virtue of their being willing to be leaders. There are problems with such a model -- especially when attacked violently by outsiders or when it needs to respond quickly. Communal systems benefit by having a slow economy vs. a fast one. (Imagine in the stock market only ran once a week instead of every day? If property had to be held for five years before you could sell it again and people preferred to live in the house their parents lived in.).

Some things are possible, some are not, though for miracles, I just want children not to die.

Sunday, May 22, 2005



Go with me, will you go to the Saints that have died—
To the next better world where the righteous reside?
Where the angels and spirits in harmony be,
In the joys of a paradise vast?—Go with me.

Go with me where the truth and the virtues prevail;
Where the union is one, and the years never fail;
Not a heart can conceive, nor a nat'ral eye see
What the Lord has prepar'd for the just.—Go with me.

Go with me where there's no destruction or war;
Neither tyrants, nor sland'rers, nor nations ajar;
Where the system is perfect, and happiness free,
And the life is eternal with God.—Go with me.

Go with me, will you go to the mansions above,
Where the bliss, and the knowledge, the light, and the love,
And the glory of God do eternally be?
Death, the wages of sin, is not there.—Go with me.
50 Nauvoo, January, 1843.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Some misc. comments, on a personal note, rather than essays.

Just switched to Sunrocket for our telephone service. Switching from a $45.00 a month basic service telephone (extended calling area and some other "options" are required here) to $29.00 a month cable internet and $199 a year Sunrocket resulted in unlimited calling, an extra telephone number in Portland (so my brother can call me as a local call)and more reliable service than the DSL line was giving us. Without the extra cost of a DSL line. So, for less than basic local telephone service I have x2 DSL internet and unlimited long distance calling and two lines. So far, so good, and the free telephones included work very nicely.

I like New Balance Express for atheletic shoes. My feet are hard to fit and it can be hard to find cross trainers I like. Up to size 20 and up to 4E in width. I've small feet, I have relatives with smaller feet and some with gigantic feet. This is a great site.

Another essay soon. Paris was wonderful, the French were friendly, hardly anyone smoked, few dogs, and spring time was perfect. Being there with Win was like dreaming.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

One thing that always struck me about historical research was just how miserable the lives of those living in the past were by our standards while they were joyous to be living them.

Take the Sun King of France. His murals aren't to my taste, my air conditioning works better than his, my bed has fewer bedbugs and lice (seriously, in some parts of the United States bedbug powder was still selling strong in the 1950s) and the food I eat is more varied, fresh and healthy than the food he ate. My car goes faster than any thing he rode in, and more smoothly, my teeth are in far better shape. It is as if we live in different realities, not just different times, yet he rejoiced to be born, not to mention we have the writings of those in far more humble circumstances who relished life and the experiences they had.

It always amazed me that people rejoiced to be born, leaving the presence of God. But from the outside perspective, life in and of itself is a valuable thing, the duration is short, and the experience is like an extreme camping trip, even for the most privileged -- and not measurably different from an eternal perspective for the worst.

In my own pain, the one thing that struck me about the terrible things that happened as I buried child after child from different causes is that my loss was not unique or unusual, only out of context for the community I lived in. That in the historical context, I was luckier than most, if not all.

It also struck me that better men than I had faced pain and complained to God about it, but that living in a fallen world, as an experience, involves living in a fallen world. That means pain without consolation in this world.

Not that the pain is not real when experienced (that is one thing I like about both Paul and Joseph Smith, both acknowledge that pain is pain and suffering is grevious when it occurs), but it is also experience and that the promise of God is not that it will pay off in this life (that is just another riff on the theme that if we worship God he will give us Mammon) but that it will be swallowed up and balanced in the next.

But, that which does not kill me merely does not kill me. Not necessarily stronger or weaker, not necessarily more or less alive. Those are my choices in how I react, combined with time and effort. And life will eventually kill me, but that is not the point. The point is that Christ can welcome me home and heal me of all my wounds, not that I will not be wounded by life.

So I live for my wife and children and with the hope of Christ. May that hope be also with you.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

A heart breaking post at Happy Birthday Betsey Pearl -- a story from Portland, Oregon where my brother lives and where I visit from time to time.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Silence of the Lamb – What is happening when we can not hear Christ in our time of sorrow.


"Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani" -- My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me? -- is haunting whether it is sung in a Synagogue or read in Matthew 27: 46 or in the full context at Psalms 22:1-21ff.

Of all the miracles in life, the one that is both the softest and the strongest is the voice and presence of God in our lives. But at times, God is silent and the Spirit is withdrawn. Not only do we not receive the tangible miracles we expect or hope for or have seen, but God seems to be withdrawn as well.

Sometimes the Spirit of the Lord is grieved and withdraws from us because of sin, especially if we wrongfully oppress others. We are all familiar with stories and examples and similar things in our lives (e.g. if you lift weights and then quit, you will lose strength over time, if you quit praying and related activities, you will grow weaker in spirit). But the issues go far deeper than those shallow examples, and with more complexity.

This is especially true since silence, especially in the face of suffering and loss, seems to draw the most anguish of all (and, the essence of a fallen world is suffering and loss – which is all death is). We know that God’s silence compelled Christ to voice. We are not greater than He and his silence to us causes us to give voice as well.

The Sounds of Silence

Before silence can be talked about with any intelligence, we need to talk about the various sounds, looks and feels of silence – a collection I refer to as the sounds of silence.

Chaim Potok’s book, The Chosen, (a good summary for the purposes of this discussion is at: summary) talks about a man who raises his son in silence, never talking to him. “He also explains why he raised his son in silence--it was to teach him to listen to silence, to learn compassion, to develop a soul to go with his magnificent mind.” If our purpose here in life is to grow, (vs. life as a replacement for amusement parks and television) then silence makes a good metaphor for the general distance between our state and God.

There are some God is silent with in order to teach them to hear.

A young child, who I will not identify by name, once banged her shin. To reduce the sensory load, she closed her eyes as she hopped about complaining about first the pain and then that she could not see. Some times we can not hear God, can not see his hand, can not feel his Spirit because we are so overloaded that we close down.

Of course, sometimes we are faced away from God, through our decisions to turn from him to our sins. While that is the reason many think of most often (read Job and consider the advice and comments of his “friends” – all they could do is insist he had some terrible hidden sin), that approach is scarcely useful for understanding God’s silence with the just (such as Job) and the humbled.

In addition, sometimes our spiritual senses have atrophied so much we have difficulty hearing God over any sort of background noise, including that of our own sorrow or pain. That same child who closed her eyes, also yelled pretty load and also complained that she couldn’t hear me. She had to quit shouting before my voice would come through. The more background noise or internal noise, the less atrophy we need before we can not hear anything over ourselves.

There are also other times of silence (such as when Oliver Cowdrey was praying to God for an answer and God finally spoke, saying “remember, I already answered this question, think on the answer I gave you before” [paraphrased]).

Thinking and listening

If we start with the beginning, which is that the world is fallen, telestial, and fails of the glory and joy of God, imperfection and sorrow become the side effects of mortality, not the purpose of them or their end. In a blog entry, I can not give this foundation the pages of text it deserves, but it provides a beginning place.

Of course sorrowful events do not make the world a better place because, by definition, the world is not a better place. As Paul said, if we live in this world only, those who know Christ would be of all the most miserable because they would know more than any others the depth of how unfair and fallen the world is. In the world is not where we expect consolation.

In addition, in the world is not where miracles, tangible or not (see my earlier post) dominate – they come only after faith, not before and not in place of faith.

Finally, God has warned us that he will try each of us, purifying our faith and giving us experience. This life ends in death, the question is when, not if. All that is required of us is to draw breath, the rest is a gift of experience and choice so valuable from an eternal perspective that those who await being born are willing to be born any time, any where and in any condition.

It is only from our perspective that God has failed us by giving us what we so much desired when we had a full perspective.

So why the Silence

God gives us silence for many reasons.

In some cases, we grasp silence and God allows us to hold to it until we release, open our eyes, and hear, all at once, like the unnamed child I’ve referred to above who closed her eyes and her ears as she coped with pain.

In some cases, God gives us silence to teach us or to allow us the fullness of experience that would otherwise not be complete without silence. Christ on the cross had silence that he spoke into, both for his experience and for our teaching (so that we could learn from his experiencing silence).

At other times, silence comes upon us as all other experiences do, because the world is imperfect or because we are.

I have faced silence. Once to teach me that I had learned a lesson and could do certain things without “training wheels” so to speak. At other times to aid me in learning charity, as a direct answer to prayers seeking to learn compassion and love. I’ve experienced silence that gave me perspective of how people live and think and cope in silence so that I could understand them better. And, I’m certain that I’ve also experienced not hearing the voice of God or seeing his hand or feeling his Spirit to know his will, at times, because of my own sins or failures of effort.

Finally, I’ve experienced silence because it wasn’t time for an answer or I had gotten an answer and wasn’t listening to it.


Silence is a deep subject, of which this is only an introduction to start a conversation, not the end of the answers. But there is a rhythm and meaning, a touch, sound and look to silence that is too often too easy to miss, and that leaves us feeling in the silence of the Lamb of God that we have been sacrificed rather than sacrificed for. It is my testimony that while we may not understand, the one truth is that God loves his children and that no silence, no depth or height or loss or sorrow, power or dominion can separate us from that love if we only allow that love into our hearts and bear patiently until the silence is quiet and the voice of God speaks again.


Monday, May 02, 2005

The kids were well. The grandparents had a delightful time and everyone was very happy. I'm still jet lagged, but I dropped my mom and dad off at the airport, had a great family home evening, and am about to go to sleep.

Our hotel was grand. Right next to a metro station (on the M4 line), hot water and great water pressure on the top floor, quiet (very well insulated against sound) and clean.

Paris was a delight. We met one (1) rude frenchman (he was also short, stout, bald and drunk -- while the other short, stout and bald frenchman we met was gallant in the extreme).

I so love my wife, it is hard to express. I have to confess that sometimes I talk to her in her sleep about how wonderful she is. And we are both so glad to be home with our kids.

I'll blog more latter. Too much to write about.