Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Communities Vs. Networks: To Which Do You Belong? (Forthcoming: How to Have an Organization with Both)

Communities Vs. Networks: To Which Do You Belong?

In making his newest documentary, Korengal, author and filmmaker Sebastian Junger wanted to explore the answer to the question of why — despite its dangers and deprivations — men actually miss war when their tour of duty is over. A large part of the answer is the intense camaraderie created in combat — a brotherhood that they lack when they return home. In a recent interview, Junger posits that this absence of camaraderie is often at the root of why soldiers sometimes struggle so acutely to adjust to life after deployment. They come home, Junger says, and realize for the first time what an “alienated society” they truly live in. What they need, he argues, is a country that “operates in more of a community way.”

He then adds: “But frankly, that’s what we need.”

Unfortunately, true community in our modern world is hard to find for soldiers and civilians alike. Instead, we increasingly live out our lives as members of networks. This transition from community to network life is truly at the heart of the increasing feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and anomie that many people experience in the modern age. We’ve never been so “connected” — and yet so isolated at the same time.

While networks often borrow from the language of community, the two models of sociality are not the same. In an essay included in the book Dumbing Us Down, author John Gatto sharply elucidates the differences, and argues that if we truly want to experience “the Good Life” and develop fully as human beings, we need to spend more time in communities and less time in networks.
Today I will share some of Gatto’s key points, explore the way networks emptily ape communities, and touch on a few things we can all do to create a greater sense of community in our lives.

Networks vs. Communities

Networks Are Large and Anonymous; Communities Are Small and Intimate

With networks, the bigger they are the better. As Gatto notes, “’More’ may not be ‘better,’ but ‘more’ is always more profitable for the people who make a living out of networking.” Continually increasing in size may even be necessary for a network’s very survival. For example, as a platform like Facebook increases its number of employees, the cost of its servers, and its obligation to please shareholders, it has to keep on accumulating more and more users to stay afloat.
Because networks are so large, anonymity reigns. Members do not meet face-to-face, do not know if the people they interact with digitally are even who they say they are, and may have no idea who also belongs to the network. Because of the lack of physical intimacy, a culture of honor and shame cannot function, necessitating the erection of numerous rules and regulations to check and control members’ behavior.

In contrast, communities have inherent limits on size. Unlike networks, if communities don’t stop growing, they’ll die. According to Dunbar’s Number, most humans can’t maintain more than around 150 meaningful relationships. Anthropologists have found that hunter-gatherer societies hover around 150 members before they split. In Western military history, the size of a military company — the smallest autonomous and fully functioning unit — has been around 150 members.
If a community gets too big, people get overlooked. And because members no longer face the social scrutiny of their peers, they can opt out of contributing without shame or consequence. Once that disengagement happens, community life slowly begins to crumble.

Networks Are Artificial, Top-Down; Communities Are Organic, Bottom-Up

Networks are typically artificial; they rarely form organically. And they’re invariably created, and then governed, in a top-down fashion. Policies and regulations are decreed from on high with little or no input from the majority of the people who make up the network. Because those at the top are so removed physically and psychologically from those at the bottom, the solutions ultimately proffered are often out of touch and highly ineffective. Here’s a perfect example: The other day I was at a big-box retailer and mentioned to a cashier how warm it felt inside. She told me that the store’s thermostat was controlled from the corporate headquarters…in New Jersey. “They obviously don’t know how hot it gets here in Oklahoma,” she said with a sigh.
Even when the powers that be in a network ask for input from its lower-level members, the request for feedback is usually a token gesture lacking in any efficacy. For example, corporations sometimes survey their employees about their satisfaction with their job, but don’t make any changes after reviewing the results. Similarly, the White House has created the “We the People” petitioning system where, if 100,000 people sign a petition within 30 days, an official from the administration will offer a response; no action is taken beyond this token acknowledgement. When networks solicit feedback, the aim is to pacify members with the illusion, and only the illusion, of their having a voice and influence.
Communities, on the other hand, are organic and autonomous. They’re made up of a collection of real families that are bound together by geography and shared values. When facing a problem, individuals within a community band together to come up with a solution that will work for them. Because the people trying to address problems within the community — including its leaders — are familiar with the group’s unique needs, the solutions that are generated are typically more effective.

Networks Encourage Passivity and Consumption; Communities Require Action and Contribution

Because there are so many people in a network, members assume someone else will take care of problems that arise. But because that’s what everyone else is thinking, nothing gets done. People will step around someone in distress on the street in a big city, or pass the collection plate at a giant church, figuring other people will help. The anonymity of the crowd allows the passive bystander to escape shame.
Networks not only breed passivity, but encourage consumption. They’re all about what you canget, rather than what you must give. Oftentimes you can buy your way into networks, and because you’re paying for the service, you don’t feel obligated to offer any other form of contribution. The network doesn’t ask for anything either. It’s a business transaction. When you join a gym, for instance, once you pay your monthly dues your part of the deal is done — nothing else is expected of you. In a network, the members provide the money, and the network provides the experience. You are wholly consumer, rather than creator.
Even when contributions are mildly encouraged, because networks are large and anonymous, people can get away with taking from the pot but not adding to it. For example, you can join an online forum, and post some questions in order to pick the brains of other members. While it would be nice to offer advice in return, you’re certainly not obligated to do so. You can come in to a network, get what you need, and leave.
In contrast, in communities you get and you give; you can take from the collective pot, but you’re required to add to it too. There’s a sense of duty and obligation on this point. In a community, the group is small enough that people know who is and who isn’t being taken care of, and who is and who isn’t stepping in to help. If you don’t pull your weight and you’re perfectly capable of doing so, you face social repercussions.

Networks Can Be Location Independent; Communities Are Attached to a Place(s) 

With networks, you don’t actually have to be physically in the presence of the other members of the network to participate in the group. You can work from home for a corporation whose headquarters are halfway around the world or take part in online discussions about starting your own business while you’re vacationing in Thailand.
Communities, on the other hand, are attached to a physical place. They require you to be geographically close to your fellow community members. By necessitating physical presence, and face-to-face interactions, communities force individuals to be accountable to one another.

Networks Divide a Person Into Parts; Communities Nurture the Whole Person

Networks only ask for the part of a person that’s pertinent to that particular network’s limited and specialized aim. When we go to work, we don’t talk much about our politics or our religious beliefs (in fact, asking people about those things can get employers and co-workers in trouble with the law); when we attend PTA meetings, we don’t bring up our work; when we go to our CrossFit class, we talk burpees but not about burping babies. The offering of only one narrow slice of ourselves is especially pernicious on social networks like Facebook and Instagram, where we show others a glowing highlight reel of our lives, but hide the not-so-pretty behind-the-scenes parts.
By splitting the person up, the network promises efficiency. But according to Gatto, “this is, in fact, a devil’s bargain, since on the promise of some future gain one must surrender the wholeness of one’s present humanity. If you enter into too many of these bargains, you will split yourself into many specialized pieces, none of them completely human.” Because we divide ourselves between so many different networks, “no time is available to reintegrate” the different pieces of our personality. “This, ironically, is the destiny of many successful networkers and doubtless generates much business for divorce courts and therapists of a variety of persuasions.”
Communities, on the other hand, nurture the whole person. A community, as Gatto puts it, “is a place in which people face each other over time in all their human variety: good parts, bad parts, and all the rest.” There’s no identity splintering in a community. Yes, you may have the role of town barber, but people don’t treat you merely as a barber in one-off transactions. They treat you as Bill — husband to a wife with terminal cancer; father of three beautiful children; cantankerous man who’s capable of immense kindness; devout and dedicated deacon in his church who also happens to be a free-thinker. Oh, and you cut men’s hair for a living.
When a person suffers a crisis in a community (say for instance a debilitating accident), the community comes to help the whole person. Food is brought over; yard work is done; rooms are cleaned; hats are passed around; spiritual and emotional comfort is given. The same person steeped in network living would have to depend on paying strangers specialized in different areas to get the same sort of help: a cook, a house cleaner, a yard worker, and a therapist.

Is This Group I’m Part of a Network or a Community?

Ever since I learned about the network/community distinction, I’m continually analyzing whether the groups I belong to are one or the other.
In our modern age, intimate, face-to-face communities are hard to come by; while exceptions exist, networks have almost completely taken over how Americans socially organize themselves. So in evaluating the groups you belong to, it’s perhaps better to ask if they aremore like a network, or more like a community. The following questions can help you think through where your group falls on the spectrum:

§  Do I know the names of most if not every person in my group and interact with them?
§  Does my group have a meeting place or arrangement?
§  If I left the group, would anyone know I was gone? Would there be any repercussions for doing so?
§  If I got sick, or needed a favor, how many members of my group could I count on for visits or assistance?
§  Am I required to contribute to the communal pot, or can I utilize the benefits of the group without making any contributions beyond dues/fees/tithes?

Beware of Networks Wearing Community’s Clothing!

For most of human history we ran in small, intimate tribes. We’re social animals, and our brains are evolved for life in close groups. We crave the bonds and sense of belonging and stability that communities provide. In the modern age, these vital communities have disappeared, so we have turned to networks to fulfill our social needs.
But networks can never be a fully satisfying replacement for communities. They’re not designed for social intimacy and fulfillment — they’re designed for efficiency and growth.
And yet we continue to hold out hope that networks can perform a function for which they are fundamentally unsuited. And this hope is so tempting to buy into because many networks attempt to provide what Gatto calls “cartoon simulations of communities.” In other words, networks like to dress themselves up in the clothing of community.
For example, the idea of a “global community” has been much ballyhooed in our time (see The World Is Flat), but running it through the above requirements quickly reveals the idea to be an utter farce. If your only obligation to helping other members involves texting a $10 donation to aid tsunami victims every now and again, what you’re part of is a network, not a community.
Another perfect example of networks masquerading as communities is when giant corporations claim that they consider their employees and customers to be “family.” Except in the corporate version of “family,” members are charged for basic services and can be fired if another “brother” or “sister” will work more cheaply from India.
Marketers perpetrate what is perhaps the most insidious form of networks pretending to be communities. Taking a cue from religion — a strong source of community identity for tens of thousands of years — marketers have turned commercial brands into counterfeit communities. In his book Primalbranding, marketing expert Patrick Hanlon shows how businesses can turn their customers into cultish zealots by taking advantage of humanity’s innate desire to believe in something higher than themselves and to belong to a group. According to Hanlon, successful brands should mimic religious faiths by having a creation story, creeds, icons (logos), rituals, a charismatic leader, sacred words, and non-believers who the believers can use as a foil to buttress their identity.
Apple is perhaps the most successful of these pseudo-religious brands. We all know Apple’s creation story, we know their creed (Think Different), their ubiquitous half-eaten apple icon, their charismatic leader (Steve Jobs), and who the non-believers are (those philistine PC users). Apple even has their holy sanctuaries (the Apple Store). People who use Macs feel a connection to one another. Like they’re part of a community. Except they’re not.
The growing fitness industry is another example of the way in which businesses have done an excellent job of gilding what are really networks with the polish of community life. Enterprises like Crossfit and Tough Mudder have managed to make lots of money, while elevating their businesses into “movements” of loyal, zealous followers.
Online entrepreneurs have become especially adept at creating networks that have the veneer of community. Thanks to Seth Godin, many websites and blogs will have a big square in their sidebar saying something like “Join My Tribe! Sign up for my email newsletter!” But the idea of an online tribe completely contradicts what an actual tribe is. Members of true tribes live and work together on a daily basis, see each other face-to-face, are expected to contribute to the well-being of the tribe, and are rooted to a physical place. In online “tribes,” however, you’ll likely never see your fellow “tribesmen” in the flesh, you can drop out anytime, and your only interaction with other members will be about the specific topic that that particular online community is dedicated to, be it fitness or entrepreneurship.
The façade of community quickly disappears when emergency strikes in your life and you really need somebody. Is the Apple community going to rally behind you and help you out? Of course not. Your fellow online “tribe” members might raise some money for you if they even know about your problem, but they won’t come visit you or provide actual human-to-human services. The fact that the only thing online communities can really do for their members is raise money is a telltale sign that they’re actually just networks and not communities. Community contributions should “pinch” — they should feel like a sacrifice. Lots of people are willing to click on a link to Paypal, but how many will come over to clean out your bedpan? As Gatto puts it, “when people in networks suffer, they suffer alone.”
The lack of genuine care from people in network life isn’t malicious. They are more than likely very caring people. The problem is they’re part of the network, and networks artificially divide us from each other. “I really would like to visit Jim, but you know, we’ve never hung out outside work, so it might be weird if I came by.” The unfortunate result of networked life is that it makes us feel lonely even when we’re surrounded by masses of people. Gatto describes the sad, shallow nature of networked life:
“With a network, what you get at the beginning is all you ever get. Networks don’t get better or worse; their limited purpose keeps them pretty much the same all the time, as there just isn’t much development possible. The pathological state which eventually develops out of these constant repetitions of thin human contact is a feeling that your “friends” and “colleagues” don’t really care about you beyond what you can do for them, that they have no curiosity about the way you manage your life, no curiosity about your hopes, fears, victories, defeats. The real truth is that the “friends” falsely mourned for their indifference were never friends, just fellow networkers from whom in fairness little should be expected beyond attention to the common interest.”
So beware of false tribes, which come to you in community’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening networks.

Learning How to Live in a Community Again

While I’ve certainly put the idea of networks through the ringer in this post, I don’t want folks to get the idea that they’re evil. They can serve a good purpose. They’re good for moving ahead in business, sharing information, raising money, and even meeting acquaintances that later turn into deeper relationships. They’re just not a replacement for true communities. Unfortunately we treat them as such. The result is a world where it is as if people eat only junk food, and don’t understand why their bodies are wasting away. Communities provide us with vital physical “nutrients” that we all need to thrive and be happy.

While it’s difficult to find “pure” tribe-like communities in our modern age, it is definitely possible to cultivate a greater community ethos in the groups you already participate in. As mentioned above, it’s better to not think of communities vs. networks as an either/or proposition, but rather as a spectrum. Churches, neighborhoods, schools, gyms, clubs, and so on can be more like networks or more like communities. Here are a few suggestions to move the ticker towards the latter:

Shoot for small. We’re made to run in tribes of around 150 people. When looking to join a church, deciding what school to send your kids to, or even joining a gym, keep that number in mind. Join groups where you’re able to know every other member by name.

Break larger groups into smaller ones. Belonging to a larger network isn’t a bad thing, if you can find a way to create smaller, more intimate groups within it. Megachurches, for example, often encourage members to join one of their many small groups in order to establish more close-knit bonds than are possible during their huge Sunday worship services.

Create you own tribes. Don’t just be a joiner. The best way to find a community is to start your own tribe. And when you do, don’t take the easy way out of borrowing a preformed, predefined structure; create your group’s culture from the ground up. People often ask me to start an official Art of Manliness men’s group. I have no plans to, because the result would be a top-down network, not a true community. It’s the latter that men need. You don’t need me to show you how to make your own fraternity of men — figure it out together with your brothers.

Get involved. The more passive people are, the more a potential community devolves into a network. For example, many people today treat public schools as a consumer transaction; I’ve paid my taxes, and once I drop my kid off at the curb, my part of the deal is done. Instead, you could volunteer and get involved with the school, get to know the teachers and the other families, and boost the school’s feeling of community. Same thing with your neighborhood —start actively finding ways to get to know the people on your block.

Meet physically. There are churches out there that offer online “services” where you watch the sermon online, give money online, and even pray and chat with other members online. The intention is good — bringing the bread of life to those who otherwise might not get it at all. But such a set-up only feeds one part of the soul; their need for community will remain famished. Online interactions can be fun and convenient — a supplement to our lives — but they can’tsubstitute for in-person meetings.

Share your whole self. The more your group encourages people to bring their whole self, rather than just a slice of it, the more the group feels like a community. For example, many corporate globo-gyms are soulless networks, but small powerlifting gyms often feel like communities, as the members not only know each other’s workout habits, but about their families and jobs, too.

Be prepared to sacrifice. Oftentimes people lament that they want to be part of communities, but what they really mean is that they want to enjoy the benefits of communities without having to deal with any of their responsibilities and hassles. They want to get, but not give. Being part of a community means not only taking from the pot, but putting into it; if you’re not willing to help out fellow members when they’re in need, and deal with the annoyances inherent to any close-knit group, you’ll never move beyond existing in a network.

Live by family. These final two suggestions will likely be controversial, but I would argue that they truly represent the best ways to be part of a community.
The heart of community is family; not just the nuclear family, but extended family. For centuries people lived near their parents and grandparents, along with their uncles, aunts, and cousins. They were your go-to, tight-knit support group. In our present age, one’s parents and siblings are strung out all across the country. You see them once a year at Christmas, and keep track of each other through your Facebook updates. Family has become just another network.
I have long struggled with the fact that while I’d like to live somewhere that allowed more opportunities for outdoor recreation, like Colorado or Vermont, both Kate and my parents and siblings are here in Oklahoma. I have long pondered which is better: living in a place you love, or living by family? While I still pine for the mountains, for now, family wins hands down. Our kids adore their grandparents (and vice versa!), and they’ll get to romp around with their cousins throughout their youth. They’ll get to feel like part of a familial community, rather than nodes in a disconnected network.
Some people relish being far from their families, because then they don’t have to participate in the inevitable hassle of familial drama. But that hassle is part and parcel of our humanity.
Don’t move very frequently. In order to form a community, you need to live and interact with the same people for a long time — to go through a myriad of ups and downs together. People will never know your whole self if you trade them in for new friends every two years. Community requires being rooted in a single place for an extended period of time.
The likelihood of 20-somethings moving to another state has fallen 40% since the 1980s. Various reasons for why young people are staying put have been floated: some posit that the trauma of the recession has made them risk-averse, that Facebook has made them less adventurous, or that they’re just plain unambitious. As such, my fellow Millennials have been derided as the “Go-Nowhere Generation.”
I’d venture to say there’s another reason for the trend that everyone else seems to have missed: my generation, having grown up socially famished in the vacuous network, now rightly craves the nourishment of true community.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Book explores connection between Freemasonry and Mormonism

Book explores connection between Freemasonry and Mormonism

Standard-Examiner correspondent
There are historians who believe there is a complex historical connection between Freemasonry, an organization with origins to local fraternities of Freemasons, and Mormonism, a popular name given to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Michael Homer, an award-winning author who has published numerous articles in the fields of law and Mormonism, delves into the historical parallels in his recently published book, “Joseph’s Temples: The dynamic relationship between Freemasonry and Mormonism” (University of Utah Press, $34.95).

Homer said the connections between the two may be challenging and controversial, but are worthy of further consideration even in the 21st century.
"For many years, there has been a gap in scholarship on the relationship between Freemasonry and Mormonism,“ said Homer. ”In fact, the subject was almost verboten. But in recognizing the historical importance of this topic, both Mormon and non-Mormon historians have encouraged me to pursue this book-length survey and I am excited to share the results.” 

The focus of the book looks at the rituals performed in Latter-day Saint temples, with more than 140 temples in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa, and traces many of their origins back to the rituals performed in Masonic Lodges, the basic organizational unit of Freemasonry.

Homer begins by recounting how Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and other early church leaders were Masons at one time, but recognizes that modern Mormon church prophets and leaders have attempted to downplay the parallels between Mormon ritual and doctrine with that of Freemasonry in the early nineteenth century, saying that Joseph Smith received the temple endowments before he became a Freemason.

Homer explains the history behind the ceremonies used in both Freemasonry Lodges and Mormon Church temples. “Many nineteenth-century Mormons who were serious students of Freemasonry believed that the endowment was a restoration of the ritual introduced in Solomon’s temple that had been partially preserved by the Craft (of Freemasonry),” said Homer.

Several church leaders, including apostle Melvin Ballard and E. Cecil McGavin, an instructor in the LDS Church education system in the 1930s, are quoted in Homer’s book.
In their statements, they explain that Joseph Smith received revelation for the temple endowment ceremony long before he joined Freemasonry, doing so “to fraternize with the prominent leaders in the political and religious world, and that he had a complete knowledge of the temple ceremony before he became affiliated with the Masons,” said McGavin.

However, Homer points out that some LDS church leaders feel differently, such as Reed Durham Jr., director of the LDS Institute of Religion at the University of Utah, who concluded in 1974 that the Mormon temple endowment “had an immediate inspiration from Masonry,” and that “most of the things which were developed in the church at Nauvoo were inextricably interwoven with Masonry.”

Homer states that Durham then said that the connections between Masonic rituals and the endowment were “so apparent and overwhelming that some dependent relationship cannot be denied,” with connections between the signs, tokens, obligations and penalties of the two rituals.

In several sections of his book, Homer notes that Smith taught church members that the most important lessons they needed to learn was the Masonic skill of keeping a secret, including the Mormon Church’s early practice of plural marriage, which has since been abolished.

Homer also points out that the murder of Joseph Smith may have been led by discord between the Mormon Church and Freemasons, who accused Smith of plagiarizing their rituals. The mob that killed Smith on June 27, 1844, included Freemasons, who were criticized for not heeding their fellow Masons in distress.

On July 15, 1844, the local newspaper published an editorial confirming that both Joseph and Hyrum were Masons in good standing, according to Homer’s research. The editorial continued on, saying “they were shot to death, while, with uplifted hands they gave such signs of distress … and that Joseph’s last exclamation was ‘O Lord my God!’, which is the first few words of the Masonic distress call.”

As Homer concludes his book, he declares: “While Joseph’s temples were not a literal restoration of Solomon’s Temple, they are also not a mere pirated copy of Masonic rites. But the first Mormon prophet did use and adapt a Masonic formula and extrapolated some of Masonry’s teachings that were developed during the previous one hundred years in England, France, and America.”

Monday, June 24, 2013

Many Want the Brotherhood We Have. Value it.

How to Create a Lifelong Brotherhood
This article is adapted from the Art of Manliness, a website we often promote. 

by A Manly Guest Contributor on June 18, 2013 
Editor’s Note: This a guest post from Jonathan Mead.

The responses from my closest male friends surprised me when I asked them this question: “What’s the one thing you feel was or is missing that’s held you back from becoming a man?”

I assumed for most men it would be “lack of direction” or “knowing my purpose.” But the common thread in every reply caught me completely off-guard.

Nearly all the responses had to do with a painful absence of brotherhood or mentorship in their lives.
I know that pain deeply.

For at least the last decade, I’ve felt the void of brotherhood and have wondered if I’ll ever have what childhood friends and old men sitting around barbershop stools have.

I’m not talking about just “bros” you shoot the breeze with, but quality, salt-of-the-earth men you know have your back through thick and thin. I’ve felt a pull to build a brotherhood of men I can count on to meet up without hesitance and have real camaraderie with, not just guys that want to get wasted and chase women.

And it’s painfully clear to me that most men are starving for a brotherhood that goes beyond beer slugging and fantasy football.

I got tired of passively complaining and decided to do something about it. You can choose, like I did, to actively create what you want, or wallow in your despair.

But first things first…

The Lost Art of Intentional Brotherhoods

Brotherhood used to be built into tribes and nomadic cultures. Lionel Tiger, who literally wrote the book on male bonding, had this to say: ”Male bonding is a process with biological roots to the establishment of alliances necessary for group defense and hunting.”

The question, then, becomes, have we lost the integral existence of male groups because our modern lives don’t make them a necessity?

Because of their lack of survival obligation, modern brotherhood is becoming more of a lost art relegated to secret societies and dying traditions. The few remaining forms of these brotherhoods are fraternities, Boy Scouts, and church groups. You might also have boyhood friendships that has lasted through adulthood, or built-in brotherhood through close brothers, uncles, or perhaps your father.

That is, if you’re lucky. Not so with me.

I was an only boy of four sisters, so I was out of luck in the “built-in brotherhood” department. And while I loved Boy Scouts, it’s an adventure that ends at adulthood.

If we don’t have brotherhood built-in, perhaps we must create it.

It’s no wonder why movies like Fight Club and 300 are so popular. They stir within us an unquenched desire to belong to our own tribe of men that we can call brothers.

But can we learn to just deal with surface-level interaction and solitude as men? I don’t think so.

There are three reasons we need brotherhoods now more than ever:

Critical Reason #1: We Need Brotherhoods to Become Better Men

Interestingly, men, not women, are the likeliest to form gender-based groups, and have the highest percentage of groups that meet in secret (“secret societies”).

While most of these groups have traditionally had a specific agenda — religious, political, or otherwise — it’s through organized groups that men come together to compete, insult, berate, and grow together.

This is a male-specific form of bonding and growth. Men for thousands of years have come together in intentional groups to sharpen each other in different ways. It’s through challenges from other men that we grow.

Critical Reason #2: Bonding with Other Men Is How We Best Learn 

David Deida, author of Way of the Superior Man, eloquently states the defining characteristic of the male sex: “Life as a man is like a constant error correction. Making a mistake, and correcting, then making another mistake and correcting.”

This is distinct from the way women interact and bond with each other. Men tend to be more binary: “This is right and that is wrong, and I learn by discovering what is most right.” Whereas women tend to be more intuitive: “This is how I feel, and I’m going to feel out what I want to do next based on everything I’m taking in.”

As men, we need this kind of feedback and guidance from other men to help us error correct, to help us learn what it means to be a man. We’re not good at feeling our way through it. We need to see “correct” behavior in order to find our own most appropriate path.

Critical Reason #3: Brotherhoods May Be the Antidote for Fatherlessness and Depression

While more women than men attempt suicide overall, men account for 3/4 of all completed suicides. And suicide rates for men overall have been climbing sharply over this past decade; among middle-age men, suicide now accounts for almost 30 out of every 100,000 deaths –3X that of their female peers. Rates of suicide for men in their 50s has increased an astonishing 50%. What accounts for this jump? One of the reasons researchers cite is isolation.

Perhaps women are often better at maintaining friendships, seeking out help, and discussing their thoughts, challenges, fears and aspirations. Why are men so bad at this? Is it because we’re missing the brotherhood and camaraderie that makes us feel safe to express ourselves as men? Is it the lack of strong male role models that have left us lost in a world where we don’t know how to be strong, sensitive, and courageous men?

We also need more men to step up and lead other men.

How Brotherhood Finally Helped Me Become a Man

I didn’t feel like I was truly a man until I left my cubicle behind, struck out on my own, and started working for myself. Once my wife and I were 100% reliant on my ability to hustle and make ends meet, I felt like I had gone through a rite of passage that transformed me into a man.

Maybe it was that I felt like I could control the course and direction of my own destiny. I had become truly self-reliant for the first time in my life.

But the reason I was able to succeed was not simply because of my own independent will. It was because I had a brotherhood that was also working to create their own vocations on their own terms. These men helped lift me up, believe in me, and made me stronger than I was standing alone.

And while online connections are great, I realized I was yearning for something offline and more personal. I wanted to be able to call the guys to a pickup game of basketball in the park or go on a hike in the woods without planning it out a month in advance.

I wanted real brotherhood, so I decided to do something about it.

There’s an old saying that goes, “When you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, you’ll finally do something about it.”

I got sick and tired of complaining about a lack of brotherhood when there were so many awesome men around me.

So I gathered the email addresses of nine local guys and asked them a simple question:

“Would you be interested in meeting up with other awesome men once a month to do cool things?”

The overwhelming response was, “Hell yes.” I guess I wasn’t the only one that needed something like this.

So far we’ve played glow-in-the-dark miniature golf, sat and drank mind-expanding tea (yes, tea can get you high, believe it or not), and have conquered fears together. We use our gatherings as an excuse to bond and do fun, bucket-list type stuff together.

You don’t need blood-brother rituals, matching tattoos, or secret handshakes to create a brotherhood (not that any of those things aren’t cool).

All you need is initiative and the right men.


How to Create Your Own Brotherhood

The first and most critical step is to define your intention and purpose:
  • What do you want in a brotherhood and why do you want it?
  • What do you hope to gain from and give to it?
  • Is your intention to have fun, bond, and do interesting things, or do you care more about having a forum for expressing your challenges and issues as a man to work through them?
Answering these questions will help you get clear on your purpose for the group.

How to find the right men for your brotherhood:

This is probably the hardest part, and why most men will never do the work necessary to create an organized men’s group.

You have a few choices:
  • Find an existing men’s group or meetup that’s firmly established. If you just want a forum for expressing yourself and exploring your masculinity, this might be the best fit for you. This is the easiest choice if you can find a good group that’s already established.
  • Create a group locally. This will give you the most intentional control and freedom as you won’t have to work within the bounds of an established group and “fit in” to their intentions. This is a bit harder, but worth it if you want to determine the direction of the group.
  • Move somewhere where there’s an existing group. This is obviously the most difficult option. However, if you are already looking to move somewhere where there is a culture much more resonant with who you are, this change might be exactly what you need.
  • Create a group virtually. Obviously, this is the most limited variation, but it might be good enough if you can’t find or create a local group. Instead, you might meet on Skype or Google Hangout.

Recruiting and enlisting the right men:

Who and how you’ll recruit depends on your intention for the group. If you want a group of guys that meets every month as an excuse to go on exciting adventures, you will have different criteria for the men you enlist than if you’re wanting a weekly men’s group that meets to discuss and challenge each other to grow as men.

You don’t have to limit yourself to either of these group types, but deciding your intention for the group will help you identify the right candidates.

Here are some tips I’ve found helpful for finding good men:
  • Try to look for guys that are interested in personal growth, fitness, and pushing past personal limitations. Where do these men hang out? Conferences, seminars, blogs, forums, and events related to personal growth, of course.
  • Look for men that you wouldn’t mind hanging out with for an entire weekend. If someone is going to get on your nerves quickly, they’re probably not a great fit.
  • Determine the size of the group and demographics you want. I find that 6-10 guys is a great size and keeps things fairly simple. Most of the men in our group are in the age range of 25-50. All of us are health-conscious and live active lifestyles so it makes it easy for us to do physical things.
  • Look within your network first. Approach peers, coworkers, friends, and family that you would love to connect with more deeply. Post something on Facebook telling people you’re considering starting a group and ask for interest. Email the people you’re considering including directly with a casual invitation.
  • If you’re having trouble enlisting in your established network, utilize tools like Craigslist (in their Strictly Platonic section) and

Creating the right space and intention:

Our men’s group meets on the last Saturday of every month. Each month we take nominations for what we’re going to do next, and then we vote on what we’ll do.

We use this as an excuse to do adventurous things and conquer personal challenges. Some of them are things that have been on one of our bucket lists for a long time. Some are things one of us has always wanted to learn or try. Sometimes it’s just something random and fun.

If you want to be more formal, you can organize a weekly group with a set agenda. A quick start guide on creating a formal men’s group can be found here.

Next, decide what the rules will be, if any. For our group we have two rules:
  1. It’s not all about business. If we didn’t have this rule it would be easy for us to default to conversations and activities centered around work. This helps us stay focused on what matters to us: connection about but also beyond work.
  2. If you miss more than two meetups in a row you’ll stop getting invited. We want members that are committed and in this for the long haul. If you’re not committed, well, it wasn’t meant to be, and we’re not going to try to convince you otherwise.
We might change this in the future, but this works for us right now.

The final, never-ending step — cultivating the brotherhood:

Starting is obviously the hardest step. But you can’t end there.

Creating a lasting, lifelong brotherhood takes time, energy, and continual investment. You have to “show up” for your brothers on a regular basis. You need to hold space for them to become who they’re meant to be. You need to encourage them, challenge them, and push each other to reach new heights.

More than anything, you just need to show up.

Here are some ways you can do that:
  • Take an active interest in the desires, dreams, and goals of the men in your group. How can you tailor discussions, events, and adventures that help your friends achieve their dreams?
  • Regularly brief the group. What’s coming up next? What was something fun and memorable that happened the last time you all hung out?
  • Share the spotlight and encourage others (especially more withdrawn and introverted members) to share their voice and take a leadership role. Consider rotating coordination and leadership of meetings and events.
  • Teach via example. The more you show up in your fully alive, embodied masculinity, the more you will inspire others to do the same.
  • Make it damn near unmissable. Cultivate an experience and a group that no one wants to miss.
The primary key is to show up and give courageously to your fellow men.

The world needs more brotherhood. Will you create it?

Don’t wait until you’ve got it all figured out as a man. Don’t wait until you’re the perfect leader.

Don’t wait until you have the perfect group of men. A ragtag group of misfits will do.

The world needs more courageous men banding together to challenge each other, to grow together. Wouldn’t you agree?

So here’s my challenge to you: Do one thing today to cultivate more brotherhood in your life.

Now, over to you: Have you ever felt a lack of brotherhood in your life? What are you going to do about it?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A False Premise: light on mysterious order

Some still believe that by denuding fraternal orders of their mystery, spirituality, character and exclusiveness that they will make themselves more popular.  Just the opposite is true.  This article from the Guardian:

Freemasonry exhibition throws light on mysterious order

Carlisle museum looks at the symbolism and history of freemasonry in England over the last 300 years
George IV's freemason's throne
George IV's freemason's throne.
Frequently the subject of criticism or bewilderment because of the secrecy of some members, Freemasonry is for most of us an alluring mystery.

But an exhibition at Carlisle's Tullie House – probably the most extensive public gallery exhibition ever devoted to the subject – attempts to nail down some facts amid the murk.

The exhibition's title, Into the Light, alludes both to the attempt to throw light on the "order" and to a stage of initiation when a new mason's blindfold is removed.

In a voxpop video at the entrance to the exhibition, Edna Croft attempts to sum-up freemasonry: "It used to be rather sinister and secretive, but they've made desperate attempts to prove they're just a charity."
Masonic costumes Masonic costumes.
Sandy McKay said people in public office should declare their membership. From 1998 it was compulsory for judges and magistrates to register membership, but Jack Straw, as home secretary, abolished that rule in 2009.

The origins of freemasonry are obscure. Although a 1730 book traced the organisation back to ancient Egypt, it is now thought most likely that it derives from 17th century guilds of master masons, which later became open to all professions.

The symbolism of the stonemason is still widespread in freemasonry, with set square and compasses frequently appearing on aprons and other ornaments, often with the addition of an "all-seeing" eye.

There are some 250,000 members of lodges affiliated to the United Grand Lodge of England. In Carlisle alone there are 14 lodges, typically with around 50 members.
A dress with masonic symbolism by John Galliano A dress with masonic symbolism by John Galliano. In England there are three orders of membership, who all wear different colours to signify their rank – so lodge stewards wear red, grand officers dark blue and gold and ordinary members sky blue.

In Scotland there are 33 different orders of membership, so if they too have to wear different colours, lodge meetings in Scotland must be somewhat polychromatic.

The list of notable freemasons includes some surprising names, from Wellington and Walter Scott to Simon Bolivar and Mozart. Mozart's The Magic Flute, with libretto written by fellow freemason Emanuel Shikanader, has several overtly Masonic themes. Other Masonic works by Mozart include some Masonic funeral music and a choral cantata, The Mason's Joy.

It is possible for men of good character who are over 21 and believe in a Supreme Being to become members. Women need not apply in England or Wales - although there are a four all women and mixed lodges, they are not officially recognised by the United Grand Lodge, for reasons that are not explained.

Among the displays are Donald Campbell's apron, Winston Churchill's leather apron pouch, a frock with masonic motifs by John Galiano, as well as a lodge banner dating from 1796.

Most impressive, perhaps, are the seats borrowed from the United Grand Lodge in London's Covent Garden. These are huge throne-like chairs of gilded lime wood, made in 1791 at a cost of 150 guineas.

The largest central throne was made for the then Prince of Wales, later George IV. Even for the notoriously over-weight prince with his capacious backside, the throne must have been more than roomy.

Into the Light: the Story of Freemasonry is on at Tullie House, Carlisle, until 7 July.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

How Social Networks Drive Unemployment by Ethnicity, Race


How Social Networks Drive Black Unemployment

The Great Divide
New York Times:  The Great Divide is a series about inequality.
It’s easy to believe the worst is over in the economic downturn. But for African-Americans, the pain continues — over 13 percent of black workers are unemployed, nearly twice the national average. And that’s not a new development: regardless of the economy, job prospects for African-Americans have long been significantly worse than for the country as a whole.

The most obvious explanation for this entrenched disparity is racial discrimination. But in my research I have found a somewhat different culprit: favoritism. Getting an inside edge by using help from family and friends is a powerful, hidden force driving inequality in the United States.

Such favoritism has a strong racial component. Through such seemingly innocuous networking, white Americans tend to help other whites, because social resources are concentrated among whites. If African-Americans are not part of the same networks, they will have a harder time finding decent jobs.
Jobseekers stand in line to attend the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Career Fair in New York on April 12, 2012.Lucas Jackson/Reuters Jobseekers stand in line to attend the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Career Fair in New York on April 12, 2012.

The mechanism that reproduces inequality, in other words, may be inclusion more than exclusion. And while exclusion or discrimination is illegal, inclusion or favoritism is not — meaning it can be more insidious and largely immune to legal challenges.

Favoritism is almost universal in today’s job market. In interviews with hundreds of people on this topic, I found that all but a handful used the help of family and friends to find 70 percent of the jobs they held over their lifetimes; they all used personal networks and insider information if it was available to them.

In this context of widespread networking, the idea that there is a job “market” based solely on skills, qualifications and merit is false. Whenever possible, Americans seeking jobs try to avoid market competition: they look for unequal rather than equal opportunity. In fact, the last thing job seekers want to face is equal opportunity; they want an advantage. They want to find ways to cut in line and get ahead.

You don’t usually need a strong social network to land a low-wage job at a fast-food restaurant or retail store. But trying to land a coveted position that offers a good salary and benefits is a different story. To gain an edge, job seekers actively work connections with friends and family members in pursuit of these opportunities.

Help is not given to just anyone, nor is it available from everyone. Inequality reproduces itself because help is typically reserved for people who are “like me”: the people who live in my neighborhood, those who attend my church or school or those with whom I have worked in the past. It is only natural that when there are jobs to be had, people who know about them will tell the people who are close to them, those with whom they identify, and those who at some point can reciprocate the favor.

Because we still live largely segregated lives, such networking fosters categorical inequality: whites help other whites, especially when unemployment is high. Although people from every background may try to help their own, whites are more likely to hold the sorts of jobs that are protected from market competition, that pay a living wage and that have the potential to teach skills and allow for job training and advancement. So, just as opportunities are unequally distributed, they are also unequally redistributed.

All of this may make sense intuitively, but most people are unaware of the way racial ties affect their job prospects.

When I asked my interviewees what most contributed to their level of career success, they usually discussed how hard they had worked and how uncertain were the outcomes — not the help they had received throughout their lives to gain most of their jobs. In fact, only 14 percent mentioned that they had received help of any kind from others. Seeing contemporary labor-market politics through the lens of favoritism, rather than discrimination alone, is revealing. It explains, for example, why even though the majority of all Americans, including whites, support civil rights in principle, there is widespread opposition on the part of many whites to affirmative action policies — despite complaints about “reverse discrimination,” my research demonstrated that the real complaint is that affirmative action undermines long-established patterns of favoritism.

The interviewees in my study who were most angry about affirmative action were those who had relatively fewer marketable skills — and were therefore most dependent on getting an inside edge for the best jobs. Whites who felt entitled to these positions believed that affirmative action was unfair because it blocked their own privileged access.

But interviewees’ feelings about such policies betrayed the reality of their experience of them. I found these attitudes evident among my interviewees — even though, among the 1,463 jobs they discussed with me, there were only two cases in which someone might have been passed over for a job because of affirmative action policies benefiting African-Americans. These data are consistent with other research on affirmative action.

There’s no question that discrimination is still a problem in the American economy. But whites helping other whites is not the same as discrimination, and it is not illegal. Yet it may have a powerful effect on the access that African-Americans and other minorities have to good jobs, or even to the job market itself.

Nancy DiTomaso, the vice dean for faculty and research and a professor of management and global business at Rutgers Business School, is the author of “The American Non-Dilemma: Racial Inequality Without Racism.”

This is an excellent article. It really gets to the point of negative and positive social capital and competition. The myth of individual merit is just that, people compete as all sorts of groups. This is not just a black and white issue but definitely ethnicity is a primary grouping, perhaps the primary grouping if one looks at history or current disparities. (Today the most socially downward mobile group are White Christians for instance, which is an interesting shift historically, while Jewish and Asian Americans are the most upwardly mobile and affluent sectors of our society; and Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans remain mired at the bottom of this ethnic ladder.)

The problem is that groups are not on an equal footing, they don't have equal resources and sophistication nor do they operate with the same amount of cooperation or cohesiveness, for a myriad of reasons. One has to be able to build capital (of all types) within communities while also "bridging" to capital of all types across communities. Bridging is difficult and comes with a lot of potential pitfalls and resistance; it also requires a level of political sophistication that eludes less politically astute communities. A negative form of bridging is seen all the time, where the more powerful bridge to other communities in one direction, taking or utilizing resources and power.

That is one of the ironies, that competition means a calculated attempt to have what is yours and what is someone else's as amoral or immoral as that may seem to many of us.

It would seem like their should be some mode of living where we have a less predatory or just division and allotment (or at least some reset) but that isn't really happening in today's world, and that is becoming more and more apparent. In many ways we see social policies that exacerbate unfairness and injustice, often labeled with Orwellian doublespeak such as "multi-culturalism".

Failure to locate remedies for injustice or systemic inequality also persists because people seek justice or some reset first from government as if government wasn't one of the key vehicles for injustice or unfairness in the allotment of resources and capital among various communities.

Also, see WASP ROT.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Freemasons Who Allow Women to Join (News item with our comments following)

The Freemasons Who Allow Women to Join

Yes, women can join the freemasons – the Co-Freemasons that is. But would they want to?
The Guardian,
Nikki Roberts
Nikki Roberts, 31, followed her grandfather into the Co-Freemasons. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

On a leafy street in the London suburb of Surbiton, a big white sign welcomes visitors to a masonic lodge for "men and women". The lodge is an imposing Edwardian mansion, down the stairs of which comes a white-haired man offering his hand to shake, which is a bit hurried on a cold, wintry morning, but not particularly funny.

Julian Rees is a member of the International Order of Co-Freemasonry and he is keen to disprove the sense that it is a secret men-only society. The visit to Surbiton was arranged by a press officer after I called the rules on allowing women to join "complicated". Offering to carry my bag before he proffers a cup of tea, Rees explains that his order has welcomed women since its formation by feminist and socialist Annie Besant in 1892. Women now make up more than half of the Co-Freemasons estimated in the UK today.

Yet, as we climb the hexagonal staircase of the British HQ, filled with symbols and pictures of elaborately dressed masons, the presence of women doesn't detract from some of the bigger questions about the freemasonry, such as why a publicist is arranging meetings with a society best known for its secrecy. The answer lies in the fact that freemasonry in this country is in something of a crisis.

Apart from the important difference of the inclusion of women, the International Order of Co-Freemasonry, with talk of rituals, symbols and "the Craft", is identical to the better-known United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) to the unitiated eye. And both are suffering from a declining and ageing membership base.

Although official numbers are hard to come by, most estimates suggest that there are some 6 million freemasons in the world and just over 300,000 in the UK. In comparison, 300 men and women belong to the UK arm of the Co-Freemasons. At its peak in the 1950s, there were five times as many Co-Freemasons, a rate of decline that many believe is echoed in the main branch.

At its postwar peak, membership of a fraternity that began as a sort of union for medieval stonemasons was boosted by returning armed service personnel as well as some of the most powerful men in the land. George VI, who died in 1952, the last British king, is listed on the official UGLE website, which also includes Winston Churchill, an Archbishop of Canterbury and a surprisingly long list of celebrities from Nat King Cole to Peter Sellers. The royal connection continues today with the Duke of Kent, who is the current grand master of the UGLE.

Freemasons have long denied suggestions that it is a pernicious old boys' network, arguing that it is a sort of gentleman's club, concerned with moral and spiritual growth. Although in the UK the sense that freemasons are no longer the force they once were has given rise to jokes about suburban middle managers prone to rolling up their trouser legs and doing funny handshakes, there are signs elsewhere that membership confers preferment. The collapse of Propaganda Due or P2, an order that linked Silvio Berlusconi to the Italian central bank and the heads of all three secret services until it was closed down in the 1980s, did little to end suspicions.

Given this double whammy of conspiracy and mockery, it is no surprise that all parts of the fraternity are looking for a rebrand. Or the fact that Co-Freemasons want to disassociate themselves from the main branch, employ a PR company and launch a "recruitment drive" specifically aimed at attracting younger women.

Brian Roberts, a retired businessman who works "eight days a week" as the British grand commander, says that, by meeting the requirements of the Equalities Act at least, Co-Freemasonry "fits with the current age". With membership fees of £90 a year it is also "cheaper than most golf clubs". But everyone knows why you join golf clubs. Why would anyone want to become a freemason?

Nikki, Julian and Sandra are all Co-Freemasons.  
Nikki, Julian and Sandra are all Co-Freemasons. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian
A morning spent talking to four master masons makes an organisation that members still call a fraternity sound like church without the hymns. But Rees says, "It's dangerous to associate it with religion. We accept people with any or no religion. We follow a religious path outside religion." Some masons are atheists, he says, although they have to sign up to meetings which pray to a spiritual being, which seems a bit odd.

There has been a long and often bitter history of mistrust between organised religion and freemasonry.

At its most benign it led to a spat between freemasons and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, when he suggested their beliefs were incompatible with Christianity. He then got into trouble for appointing a freemason to be bishop, thereby proving many avenues are open to freemasons but still closed to women.

But there are obvious similarities in the way adherents speak about their beliefs. Nikki Roberts, Brian's 31-year-old granddaughter, is held up as an example of the new kind of freemason with her Facebook page and media-friendly ways. Having dabbled in Buddhism, she gave up her job in the City before finding "stability" in Co-Freemasonry. She says the order adds "greater meaning" to her life.

But what about the signs and funny handshakes? These are apparently only used "if you need to prove yourself and you don't have your passport", says Rees. A passport? Disappointingly, it looks just like an aged travelcard with weird stamps inside.

In trying to explain freemasonry, Sandra Clarke, a businesswoman who comes up for the lodge's eight annual meetings from her home in the Cotswolds, says: "At the lowest individual level it's about practising the essentials of freemasonry every day. In that way freemasonry is no different from any other organisation with the added initiatory aspect and spiritual context." This secret initiation – of which little is known apart from the fact that new members are blindfolded – tends to arouse suspicions among outsiders. "It's not about hiding the location," says Rees. "It's so that he can look inward."

If somewhat vague on why people become freemasons, those I spoke to are clear on why they shouldn't. "If anybody wants to join to use it to gain preferential treatment in business they have completely the wrong idea," says Roberts. "It is a total myth." Clarke adds, "We would turn away people looking for personal material gain of some kind."

Turning people away seems to conflict with the idea of a recruitment drive that is drumming up business with a website, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Basically, anyone over the age of 18 can join, but not everyone is accepted. Why?

"Trust us, a lot of people do come along whom we subsequently find not to be suitable," says Roberts.
"They have the wrong perspective, the wrong idea about who we are."

What makes someone "suitable"? Clarke says "It's not necessarily one particular thing, it's more we don't resonate with each other. They may have other ethos and values. They might be better off in a church, say. Or a business network." The others talk of making an "emotional, moral commitment" by commiting to the standards expected of freemasons, whatever they are. "We don't think we're better than other people," says Clarke, "but we do think we can make ourselves better."

Many freemasons such as Nikki grew up with family members in the fraternity, which also underlines the sense of freemasonry being an all-white club. Rees protests, describing "half" his central London lodge as "non-Caucasian".

Rees, who defected from the all-male side because of an argument over its lack of "spirituality", is also keen to stress that the differences go much further than the fact that the bigger male-only arm also has a much grander HQ in London's West End.

"The male order, much as they may deny it, is all about wearing more and more elaborate regalia and advancing to a higher rank. Male masonry is peopled by old grey beards, the aristocracy, major generals of the army, and they're nearly all male chauvinists."

Perhaps this differentiation is working. Since the recruitment drive launched last November the freemasons report growing interest in membership – mostly from women.

With the website and Facebook pages, freemasonry no longer seems as secret as it did. But why anyone – male or female – would want to join is still unclear. end

Comments from the Lodge Room:
Brother Julian Rees misses a point- that having a separate space for males (or anyone else) does not mean all spaces should be separate. That point aside, I approve of co-Masonry and for that matter I approve of all-women Masonic orders, as long as it is not forced upon everyone.

There is the argument that having a new iteration of an order that does not acknowledge a key precept of the original (if we acknowledge that solely male membership is a key precept) makes it a different thing even if it is same in name. On these grounds many deny female Freemasons are Freemasons at all.

What weakens that argument is that (speculative) Freemasonry itself has changed and evolved so greatly from its origins. Freemasonry was once Christian in nature for instance, and the rituals have changed profoundly over time. The argument can be and has been made that Freemasonry as practiced in many of the largest obediences or orders is not Freemasonry.

For good or bad, Freemasonry did not originally rise from nor is it maintained with a centralized hierarchy or leadership, like the for example, the Catholic Church. Instead it has been messy, even before the arrogation by those meeting to form a grand lodge in 1717. Extension of new lodges grew from many directions with or without central authority and following that new self-styled central authorities or grand lodges. Drawing and redrawing rituals and practices became a cottage industry. The only legitimacy exists in whatever extent mutual recognition exists and that is highly fractured. Even though major branches homogenized, precepts and practices still vary greatly in the Masonic world. Interestingly some of the larger and more homogenized orders are the ones that are failing the most. 

Perhaps it is, as the authors of the piece suggest, because Freemasons do not know why they join nor can they tell anyone else why to.  Let's set aside the attire, the rooms and titles because they are not Freemasonry and have little real value and can be found elsewhere; and let's remember that today people don't need a past time, there is too much pulling at us now.  In the internet age one can pursue philosophical inquiry with relative ease. Why then, do we exist?  

I would suggest that individual lodges should be give a chance to try to answer that question, and not be so quick to run away from those things that really draw people, such deeper philosophical discussions, shared social space with like people, personal relationships that can translate into our worldly affairs, concern with mutual benefit and assistance and so forth.

Variety may produce more competition and some new lodges may strike upon a formula that fits what people desire today. Calcifying dysfunction and failure is no way forward. Quality of membership, usefulness, depth of inquiry, relevancy, shared identity might be some directions that new lodges move toward and in these ways they may be returning to Freemasonry's more distinguished past.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

France: Where Freemasons Are Still Feared

France: Where Freemasons Are Still Feared
Bloomberg Businessweek Lifestyle

France: Where Freemasons Are Still Feared

 By Joshua Levine on March 19, 2012

Magazines and newspapers all have stories they run in one form or another, year in, year out. The details may differ, but the stories are largely the same everywhere, striking universal chords of sex, health, and money. A few of these perennials, however, don’t travel. They drill deep into one country’s psyche while everyone else scratches their head and says, “Huh?”

In France, the story that keeps coming back is about Freemasons. It’s everywhere. Most big French magazines run at least one big Freemason cover a year. Books dissect the “state within a state,” to borrow from a recent title. Blogs abound.

“France has several of these marronniers—chestnuts,” says Alain Bauer, former grand master of France’s Grand Orient lodge and president Nicolas Sarkozy’s Masonic liaison. “There’s real estate prices and there’s how to cure headaches, and then there’s Freemasons. The ultimate French magazine story is a Freemason with a headache who’s moving. We don’t like these stories, but at the same time, we love them, because they make us feel like we’re still important.”

Huh? Yes, Freemasons: the old fraternal order known in the U.S. for the Masonic lodges that dot American cities, musty reminders of an era when Masonry stirred the American melting pot. Or for the arcane Masonic symbols engraved on every dollar bill. Or on a sillier note, for the Shriners in their red fezzes. (The Shriners were founded in the 1870s to add a little levity to regular Freemasonry. Mission accomplished.)

In France, though, there’s nothing funny about Freemasons. The way the French see it, Masons are a fifth column at the heart of French society, a cabal of powerful politicians, businessmen, and intellectuals with a hidden agenda that is difficult to pin down because it’s, well, hidden. Nobody knows quite what the Masons are up to, but everybody suspects they’re up to something.

“Freemasons—How they manipulate the candidates,” ran the cover line on the Jan. 10, 2012 issue of L’Express, one of France’s three big newsweeklies. Even Francois Koch, its author, admits that the headline is “exaggerated.” Le Point, the second big newsweekly, followed in its Jan. 26 issue with “Freemasons—the infiltrators.” The third weekly news magazine, Le Nouvel Observateur, got ahead of the game this election cycle: They ran their Masons-and-politics cover last August.

“The subject never fails to generate interest,” says Koch. “It’s the mystery of it that attracts attention.” Koch’s cover story sold 80,000 copies on the newsstand, almost 10 percent more than L’Express’s average of 73,000 copies. “We always get at least average sales, and sometimes sales that are really big. It’s always a gamble worth taking.” Two years ago, Koch, who normally covers criminal justice, launched a blog devoted to Masonic matters.

To understand how French Masons ended up under the national magnifying glass requires a brief side trip through history. Nobody knows precisely where the Freemasons came from, but experts mostly agree their origins lie in the medieval English guilds that laid the stones of the great cathedrals. Modern Masonry dates perhaps to the founding of the first Grand Lodge in London in 1717, and today’s United Grand Lodge of England is still a kind of Masonic mothership.

Those first English Masons laid down the loose precepts that govern most Masonic practice. Masons meet regularly to improve themselves morally and spiritually, and to practice brotherly love and mutual assistance. They’re enjoined to believe in a supreme being and to stay out of politics. And no women are allowed. Solidarity is reinforced by an elaborate web of shared mumbo jumbo—signs, symbols, secret handshakes, and code words that are either sexy, absurd, or sinister, depending on who’s looking at them.

Masonry fanned out from England just when the Enlightenment was making the world safe for such values as anti-clericalism and scientific enquiry. The world’s best and brightest joined in a stampede. Voltaire, John Locke, and Goethe all signed up. In the New World, Benjamin Franklin became America’s favorite Mason and George Washington laid the cornerstone at the White House in a Masonic ceremony.

The early Masons made enemies on all sides. At one point the Catholic church branded them anti-Christians, the established political order branded them revolutionaries, and a lot of other people just found them elitist and creepy. This might have been expected. Any international brotherhood with secret handshakes and symbolic jewelry is begging to put its name on a conspiracy theory. The Masons have provoked many, right up to the Nazis, to decimate Masonry on the European continent.

In the U.S., those prejudices coalesced in 1825. A turncoat Mason from New York named Morgan disappeared after threatening to expose his brethren and their rituals. The Masons said they paid him $500 and "escorted" him to the Canadian border, but he was never seen or heard from again.

The “Morgan Affair” sparked an anti-Mason furor that lasted 25 years, during which 100 anti-Mason newspapers were published and some lodges were looted. The Anti-Masonic Party even ran a candidate for president in 1831—the first third-party movement in U.S. history. Masonic membership dropped from 100,000 to fewer than 40,000. Over time, American Masonry managed to rebuild itself, but it came back as a less secret, less scrappy institution. Today, America’s 1 million Masons are as likely to meet one another at a Masonic barbecue as a Masonic temple. Masons in other countries followed a similar path.

Not the French. In many ways, French Masonry has struck out on its own, ignoring the basic precepts of its Anglo-Saxon brethren and positioning itself as a counterweight to the deeply conservative Catholic and monarchist strains of French society. “Freemasonry has always had a political role in France,” says Pierre Mollier, director of archives at the Grand Orient de France, the country’s largest and most important lodge.

From 1880 to 1905, the Grand Orient battled the Catholic Church for the soul of France, and still considers the Third Republic its stepchild. “The Republican party took its support from the Freemasons—a third of the deputies were Masons,” says Mollier. “All of the Third Republic’s progressive legislation comes from here,” he says, pointing around him at the Grand Orient’s headquarters on the Rue Cadet. “The current presidential candidates all knocked on our door, giving speeches and appealing to our members in private audience this year.

For an English or an American Freemason, that’s just horrible!”

Adding insult to injury, in 1880 the Grand Orient removed all references to the divinity. Freemasons insist on a belief in what Masonic jargon calls the Grand Architect of the Universe, however each member may define it. Phooey, said most of the French grand lodges. That’s just religion through the back door.

All this has helped make France’s 160,000 Masons pariahs in much of the Anglophone Masonic world. The United Grand Lodge of England doesn’t recognize two of the three big French lodges, the Grand Orient and the Grande Loge de France. It recently suspended recognition of the third big lodge, the Grande Loge Nationale Française, but mostly because of politics between them and that French grand lodge's internal bickering.

“The French take a rather fluid attitude towards what we do,” says John Hamill, director of special projects for the United Grand Lodge of England. Responds Pierre Millier of the Grand Orient: “Do Protestants care if they’re recognized by the Pope? We just turn the other cheek.”

Jean-Claude Zambelli is a French government employee who has lived in the U.S. for 30 years. He first joined an American Masonic lodge in San Francisco. In 1996 he helped re-found the George Washington Union, a lodge patterned after and recognized by the Grand Orient. It is very French. God: no. Women members: yes.  Several grand lodges of France permit its constituent lodges to practice "co-Masonry", that is to have male and female members if they so choose.

“When we explain this to American Masons, they sometimes recoil physically,” says Zambelli. “It’s just not the same Masonry. They do more charitable work, like the big Shriner hospital in San Francisco. We do a lot more work on ourselves. We’re not a social club. We’re here to progress spiritually. Otherwise, what good is all this? The Americans are proud to be Masons and show you their Mason rings. We find that shocking.”

The French do indeed play their membership cards closer to the vest than other Masons. The heightened intrigue does much to keep them on magazine covers. It also convinces people that the Masons must have something to hide.

Occasionally, they do. Their shadowy networks, no-questions-asked eagerness to help brother Masons, and code of silence has made the lodges a breeding ground for shady business dealing—what the French call affairisme. Membership in French lodges has quadrupled in the past 40 years—an astonishing increase. Recent growth has been fueled by unseemly recruitment drives, principally by the discredited Grande Loge Nationale Française as it battled the Grand Orient for influence. French Masonry was a chicken coop with a sign reading: “Welcome, foxes.”

“We have a hard time defending ourselves against the affairistes, says Jean-Claude Zambelli. “It’s very difficult to show bad faith toward a brother Mason. That has helped various mafia outfits hide behind Masonic networks.”

Sophie Coignard covers the Mason beat at Le Point magazine and wrote the book A State Within A State. “Most of the Masons I know are hyper-honest,” says Coignard. “But it’s also fair to say that in most of the big financial-political scandals of the past 20 years, you’ll find Freemasons.”

Coignard ticks off the Elf-Aquitaine African bribery scandal, the Paris housing projects scandal in the 1990s, and now the Carlton affair—an ongoing investigation of a prostitution ring in Lille. “They’re mostly all Masons,” says Coignard of the Carlton’s ringleaders (Dominique Strauss-Kahn, also embroiled in the Carlton affair, is not a Mason.)

The solution, says journalist and author Eric Giacometti, is for French Masons to come out of the closet. It would help them clean house, and it would take the fun out of trying to peek through the closet keyhole. Giacometti isn’t a Mason, but his fictional creation, detective Christian Marcas, is, and he’s proud to say so. Marcas has appeared in seven detective novels with combined sales of a million copies since 2005. That makes Giacometti and co-author Jacques Ravenne the third-best-selling mystery writers in France.

“We decided to go straight against everything you read in the media when we chose to make Marcas a Freemason,” says Giacometti. “That’s the success of the series. Francois Koch of L’Express says we’re just giving the Freemasons free advertising, but we don’t care. I would tell the Freemasons, ‘Be proud of who you are—there were some extraordinary Freemasons.’ Nobody knows that story!”

Meanwhile, the French presses continue to churn. Sophie Coignard says she’s sniffing around another financial scandal with Masons at its heart. “When it comes to the Masons,” says Coignard, “I’m never at a loss for inspiration.”