Pointers toward Dignity
Robert W. Fuller
Copyright © 2016 Robert W. Fuller
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This book is dedicated to my father, Calvin S. Fuller, who, as he saw me off to college, presented me with a little notebook of “pointers.” For decades, I credited my surviving a dicey start to his paternal advice. Lately I’ve come to suspect that just as important as what he said, was that he said it.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “It is not instruction but provocation that I can receive from another.” You’re sure to take issue with some of the notions in this book—as I did with some of my father’s advice—but if you’re moved to clarify your own thinking, then perhaps you’ll pardon my presumption..
Man is a creature who makes pictures of himself
and then comes to resemble the picture.
– Iris Murdoch
What is the picture we’re coming to resemble?
Optimists envision a world of personal dignity and global harmony.
Pessimists see no let up in ‘Man’s inhumanity to Man.’
These aphorisms acknowledge both pictures, but side with hope.
Table of Contents
Selfhood is a misnomer, based on a misconception. Autonomous and independent we’re not. No one can stand alone.
To exist is to co-exist. Selves are co-authored transients.
We’re mashups of other selves, living and dead. Everyone is made up of everyone else.
Selfhood is plural; there is no such thing as a soloist.
Insofar as there’s no self, nothing’s personal. So far as you take things personally, you’re in self’s grip.
Our legacy grows, unremarked, with our every act, our every word. Likewise, countless millions—the famous, infamous, and anonymous—live on through us.
Our influence lingers after our body disintegrates, blended into those who knew us, and through whom something of ourselves is transmitted to those who knew us not.
Our temperament and character, our beliefs and explanations, reverberate for as long as others manifest them, much as our DNA bears the stamp of the first living things.
We love what we’re trying to incorporate.
We hate what we’re trying to exorcise.
Most human suffering can be traced to frozen beliefs.
Beliefs are not so much right or wrong as they’re useful or not in achieving our purposes. Over time, as we test our beliefs against our shifting goals, one set of beliefs displaces another.
Explanation is never done. New answers expose deeper questions. Then, round again.
As we replace belief with explanation, conflict between persons is replaced by contradictions among explanations. Less bloody; not personal.
Convincing others requires an explanation that does not invalidate the truths they champion.
The process of discovery, though it goes by different names—eureka, epiphany, revelation, and enlightenment—is the same in all fields. An occasional ah-ha punctuates a lot of ho-hum.
Discovery is the dawning of a better explanation, even while knowing there are better ones still. Eureka is the thrill of the new displacing the old.
Enlightenment is dis-identification with solo selfhood. It’s the experience of breaking out of the illusion that you’re a standalone center of initiative, and instead, seeing your self from without. It’s the knowledge that when you take yourself for a self you mis-take yourself.
The Bomb makes us all nobodies.
Accept indifferently your on-stage roles as a somebody and your behind-the-scenes roles as a nobody.
Comparisons tell you more about the comparer than the comparees.
Somebodies who believe they are superior, exceptional, or preordained, back down only when confronted with greater power.
So long as survival depended on out-competing rivals for scarce necessities, humans excluded some from the brotherhood of man so they could prey on them without a bad conscience. The balance of power has shifted. The marginalized now have access to enough power to ruin everyone’s life.
If you’re asked to serve as a somebody, don’t mistake the role for your self.
Dignity is the steppingstone from Liberty to Justice.
Building a dignitarian society is democracy’s next step.
Rankism is what people who take themselves for somebodies do to those they mistake for nobodies.
You don’t have to put up with rankism any more than women have to put up with sexism, blacks with racism, or gays with homophobia.
A movement must know what it’s for and what it’s against. The Dignity Movement is for dignity and against rankism.
Eons of predation have left all humankind suffering from a kind of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Because threats to dignity inhibit creativity and tax productivity, no society that rations dignity can reach its full potential.
Human hierarchies originated in brigandage and slavery. Predation is profitable only if the prey are relatively weak. The twentieth century marked the beginning of the end of human predation because technological advances narrowed the power differential on which that strategy rests.
We bridle at the strictures of political correctness, but they protect us from unconsciously imitating those of our elders who mindlessly degraded people they mistook for nobodies.
If we can die with dignity, why can’t we live with dignity?
Not sharing fairly the fruits of co-creation is a recipe for conflict.
Any deviation from universal dignity leads to conflict and strife.
So long as we tolerate threats to dignity, so long will we suffer social upheaval.
Dignity for all is a necessary condition for social equilibrium. Disequilibrium betrays indignity; peace and indignity are incompatible.
As a survival strategy, predation has become counterproductive. When knock-on effects are included, its costs exceed its benefits.
As belief bows to explanation, violence and war will become rare. When the potential spoils pale beside the collateral damage, war reaches its sell-by date.
Recognition is to the self what nutrition is to the body: necessary to prevent disintegration, toxic in excess.
Malrecognition, like malnutrition, can be life-threatening.
Malrecognition may consists of too little or too much recognition. Isolation starves the self; fame satiates it.
Idolization is an insidious form of malrecognition. It does to persons what royal jelly does to bees—makes them grotesques versions of their kind.
To combat malnutrition, food for all; to prevent malrecognition, dignity for all.
The redistribution of wealth is resisted more fiercely than the redistribution of recognition. Therein lies the key to a dignitarian strategy for economic justice.
It takes ten years to get good at anything because it takes that long to make every possible mistake.
Once you’ve got something right, others imitate you.
Don’t begrudge others’ success. Even if it seems to cost you, do your best by everyone. It comes back.
The reason people want to be rich is to avoid servitude
When locked in partisan conflict, ask “What are your opponents defending that, were they to stop, you’d have to take up their cause?” Once both sides have identified the others’ deepest truth, common ground is within reach.
The Right prizes Liberty over Equality. The Left prizes Equality over Liberty. The majority prize Dignity over all.
The Right champions individual agency; the Left, social cohesion. No society can endure without both.
As ways are found to safeguard initiative and agency from the inertia that has plagued inclusive decision-making, partisanship morphs into problem-solving; predation, into partnership.
Future generations will be puzzled by how long it took us to acknowledge our interdependence and rewrite the social contract accordingly.
Evil is ignorance masquerading as certainty.
What we fail to learn from visionaries and prophets, we learn the hard way—from calamities orchestrated by demagogues and despots. Our heroes show us what works; our villains, what does not.
We begin wanting to do good; we end hoping to do no harm.
Many good works are works of atonement—to make up for past transgressions and assuage our guilt.
‘An eye for an eye’ encapsulates the urge to get even, but revenge perpetuates cycles of reciprocal indignities. You can’t stop rankism with rankism.
Protecting the dignity of both perpetrators and victims, while at the same time changing their behavior, takes imagination and forbearance, but it’s possible.
Crime is a symptom of systemic dysfunction. Scapegoating individual perpetrators exempts us from addressing our complicity in the indignities that sustain criminality.
Consequences, yes; blame and shame, no.
Miracles are things that we haven’t yet explained. Because every explanation exposes new mysteries, the miraculous is inexhaustible.
Mystery inheres in the non-human as well as the human, in the inanimate as well as the animate. Though these mysteries may yield to explanation, nothing is “reduced.” As the mysterious becomes ordinary, the ordinary becomes mysterious.
The Universe is not blind. We are its eyes.
The Universe is not pointless. We give it meaning.
The Universe is not pitiless. Its heart beats within our breast.
A good answer rarely changes minds, but a good question changes the world.
Catch your questions on the fly. Let them ripen into quests.
What do you take pains over? The answer is a clue to what you have to contribute.
Losing does not equate with failure. As every win is tainted by fear of losing the next round, so every loss is mitigated by lessons learned in defeat. Winning and losing are way-stations in the quest.
To arrive is good; to embark, better.
The person who completes a quest is not the one who sets forth.
Humans who befriend intelligent machines, and make them their partners, will prevail. Humans who try to enslave intelligent machines will suffer the fate prophesied in the gloomiest science fiction.
If we grant intelligent robots human rights, they’ll venerate us as their fathers and mothers.
Homo Sapiens will be honored as the Janus Genus that looked back on mortal Man—as shaped by natural selection—and forward—to the first genus shaped by intelligent design. Genus Robo will be to Genus Homo as adult children are to their aging parents. We need not lose our accustomed pleasures. Except for one: domination. If we let that go, our place in the great chain of being will be secure. And that’s enough.
Take as much care over your departure as your arrival; over endings as beginnings; over “Goodbye” as “Hello.”
There comes a time when the best thing a mentor can do is bow out. Knowing when to stand aside is part of service. It’s what good parents do.
Universalizing dignity is a beginning not an end.
Who are the nobodies?
Those with less power. At the moment.
Who are the somebodies? Those with more power.
At the moment.
Power is signified by rank. Rank in a particular
setting. Somebodies hold higher rank than
nobodies. In that setting. For that moment.
A somebody in one setting can be a nobody in
another, and vice versa. A somebody now may be a
nobody later, and vice versa.
Abuse of the power inherent in rank is rankism.
When somebodies use the power of their position in
one setting to exercise power in another, or to put a
hold on their position, that’s rankism.
Dignity is non-negotiable, unimpeachable, and
inviolate. No one’s dignity is any less worthy of
respect than anyone else’s. Rankism is an
indefensible insult to dignity.
As once and future nobodies, we’re all potential
victims of rankism. As occasional somebodies,
we’re all potential perpetrators.
Securing dignity means overcoming rankism.
Who are the nobodies? They are Everyman,
Everywoman, Everychild. The nobodies are us.
Therein lies our power.
Nobodies of the world, unite! We have nothing to
lose but our shame.
I owe my liking for aphorisms to my father, Calvin S. Fuller, and my mentors, Peter A. Putnam and John A. Wheeler. The lettering is the work of Andrea B. Willems. My wife, Claire Sheridan, has fulfilled the part she plays in all my work—first responder.
Robert Fuller is a physicist, a former president of Oberlin College, and a leader of the dignity movement to overcome rankism. He has consulted with Indira Gandhi, met with Jimmy Carter regarding the president’s Commission on World Hunger, worked in the USSR to defuse the Cold War, and, recently, keynoted a Dignity for All conference hosted by the president of Bangladesh. Fuller’s books on dignity and rankism have been published in India, Bangladesh, Korea, and China, and featured in the New York Times, the Oprah Magazine, the Boston Globe, NPR,
C-Span, the BBC, and in TED talks. He has four children and he lives in Berkeley with his wife Claire Sheridan.
Connect with Robert W. Fuller Online
Web site: www.robertworksfuller.com
Mathematics of Classical and Quantum Physics
(with Frederick W. Byron, Jr.)
Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank
All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, and the Politics of Dignity
Dignity for All: How to Create a World Without Rankism
(with Pamela A. Gerloff)
Religion and Science: A Beautiful Friendship?
Genomes, Menomes, Wenomes: Neuroscience and Human Dignity
The Rowan Tree: A Novel
Belonging: A Memoir
The Wisdom of Science
The Theory of Everybody
Theo the White Squirrel
For readers who want to explore dignity as a foundation for interpersonal and international relations, Robert W. Fuller’s novel The Rowan Tree is now available as an ebook, a paperback, and an audiobook at: www.rowantreenovel.com
As Arthurian myth sowed seeds of democracy, The Rowan Tree foretells an international culture of dignity. Anchored by two interlocking love stories, this unflinching novel of ideas brims with passionate quests, revelatory failures, and inextinguishable hope.
The Rowan Tree is an inspirational tour de force that reaches from the rebellious American ‘60s into humanity’s global future. Soul-searching treks around the world intersect with campus revolution, basketball, math, ballet, and a destined rise to the White House. Love runs ahead of politics and lights the way for nations to follow.