The Group: To Save Spaceship Earth is a work in progress. While settings, plots, theories, objects, and narratives in this novel may be loosely analogous to the same that have happened in various realities around Spaceship Earth, the names, actions, and attributions of characters cast herein are purely fictional. All episodes of this novel will be published in the Effective Learning Report at various intervals on the Internet, subject to revision at any time, hopefully culminating in a final print edition offered for sale to the public.
Copyright 2020 by Richard John Stapleton, Effective Learning Publications. All rights reserved. No part of this novel may be copied or printed on paper without permission. Share on the Internet as you wish.
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Rout—“Good afternoon, folks. I hope you enjoyed your lunch. Some of you probably think I should have told you in advance what would happen in the meeting, and I should have passed out a detailed list of do’s and don’ts, or a lengthy detailed printed set of instructions, perhaps passing out something like a syllabus for a college course, explaining in detail all the process procedures, rules, laws, requirements, and so forth in advance.
“The problem is I don’t know everything that will happen as we progress through this process, yet I know I have to provide some structure. Any process has to have a few procedures, rules and laws to achieve a satisfactory level of efficiency and effectiveness. I’m sure I will invent a few more as time goes by, as they occur to me. Most likely if you stay with the program long enough you’ll conclude the process is efficient and effective. Everything I said this morning was audio and video recorded and you can access it with your computer in this room before or after a session starts, if you forget something you want to remember. I have an assistant who can help you pull it up on your computer if you need help.
“Some people would call me a facilitator, but I am more than that. I do some teaching, but I am more a co-learner than anything else. Most of the problems we will be discussing do not have provably-true “right” answers. The best answers are those that have the highest probabilities of producing salutary outcomes. This process is similar to some university business school case method courses, which entail analyzing and discussing facts, not memorizing theories, dogmas or doctrines, or talking about rumors, lies and conspiracy theories; but instead of discussing researched printed paper cases in a casebook, our case is what is going on now around Spaceship Earth itself.
“On the other hand, you may talk about your personal feelings and thoughts regarding the facts of Spaceship Earth in these sessions, as a client might in a group therapy session. We are interested in what you feel, think, know, believe, advocate, and recommend regarding factual problems threatening Spaceship Earth.
“You have now been furnished at your work station a seating chart showing the name and location of every member in the room, a UniDesk™, and a laptop computer.
“The laptop computers will be booted up during all sessions from now on. You can adjust the UniDesk™ to position your computer to the height and angle that optimizes your comfort and efficiency using the computer as you sit in your chair. The desk was invented and trademarked by a former professor who used a process similar to ours in his classes. The particular model used here was custom manufactured to fit our layout and chairs.
“A UniDesk™, an Apple laptop computer and a seating chart will be in place for your use in all subsequent sessions, as will one of the chairs in this room which will be moved from the hotel and city of the last meeting to the new hotel and city for the next meeting.
“We will use the laptops to check out facts on the Internet when we have disagreements or a lack of factual knowledge among group members regarding a particular problem or opportunity. When a legitimate question or dispute exists about facts the entire group will do an Internet search for relevant facts. The default browser is Google because it is widely used and generally effective, and because I am used to it. Once someone becomes convinced she or he has found relevant facts he or she will email the website address to the group. Special email addresses have been arranged for every citizen in the group for use during group sessions. It is against the law to email anything to persons, groups or organizations other than members of this group using these computers, and such emails have been blocked. You can only send content to the whole group in the meeting room at once. Again there will be no side conversations during group sessions, including computer email conversations. “The Group” email addresses have been permanently affixed to the address bar on your email page. All you have to do is hit the “send” button one time to email the whole group. We use the same rule for email communication as for face-to-face communication: No gossiping of any sort is allowed during group sessions, by tongue or computer. Anything said must be said to the group as a whole. We will not use this Google/email process often, but we will use it when disputes arise about facts in discussions and when I decide you need information from various Internet sites. I will tell you when to use your computer during sessions.
“I have also given some thought to using the laptops occasionally to give you an opportunity to publish your own writing to the group. I’m not sure how this will work but it seems to me it might be helpful to set aside thirty or so minutes now and then for writing, posting and reading, to add variety to the discussion process. If there are any poets among you this will give you an opportunity to express your feelings and thoughts about what has been going on the group process in writing. All poems must relate to what has been discussed or experienced in the group process. This would entail stopping the discussion and giving each of you a few minutes, perhaps up to thirty minutes, time to compose something. Should you wish to post your writing to the group, you would save your writing in a Word document and email it to the all group members as an attachment, which would be opened on all laptops for reading and comments. This would give you an opportunity to express feelings and thoughts in writing in language not possible to express orally in the discussion.
“If you write something at home you want to publish to the whole group or forward something you have found on the Internet at home you will have to transfer it to your group computer using a memory stick, and you will have to get my permission to do so. All you have to do is tell the whole group during a session what you want to transmit and I will decide if it’s appropriate within the context of what we have been discussing.
“While we are on the subject of laptops, you will notice—why not open up your laptop right now and turn it on?—the power button is a small circle on the upper left corner of your computer—there are only three icons at the lower edge of your screen, an Internet browser icon, an email icon, and a word processing icon, which are all we need for this process. If you hit the browser icon a Google Internet search slot, as well as other browser options, will appear at the upper right of your screen. When we do Internet searches to find facts, all you have to do is type your questions regarding the problem in the Google slot and hit the return key to find the addresses of Internet sites with information relative to the problem. If you find a site with relevant facts, copy the address and paste it into an email—all emails are pre-addressed to all group members, and only group members, which are the only addresses you can use as recipients. After it appears to me you have had sufficient time to find relevant addresses, I will notify you to send the site addresses you consider relevant to the group, which all of you will do simultaneously, which will result in each of you receiving a list of sites sent by all group members. I will give you a few minutes to visit and peruse some of the sites and digest the information. We will then discuss the information using our normal discussion process with leaders selected by The Truther. This should result in a factual discussion of the problem.
“Regarding the poetry, during these sessions, should I decide to do this, I will give you a few minutes to write and save your poem to a Word document, after which time I will tell you to attach your poem to an email and send it to the group. Everyone in the group shall then receive a list of all poems written and sent by the members. We will then discuss one or a few poems using our normal discussion process by twirling The Truther to select the poems to be discussed. It’s ok for you not to post any of your poems by the way. It’s ok for none of you to post any, for that matter, should I decide to actually do this, the purpose of the exercise being to give you an opportunity to abstract in a philosophical artful way your experience in the group and get feedback. All poems posted must relate to experiences shared by the group. All posted poems will be saved and some of them might be posted in the Spaceship Earth Group book published around Earth based on the discussions and proceedings of the group at the termination of this program.
“During the morning session I heard some cellphones go off. This is also against the law. All cellphones must be turned off during all sessions. And for sure it is against the law to play on your laptop computer for your own entertainment during a session, searching for irrelevant information on Google, such as information for your personal business. At no time are you to do anything with your computer unless I tell you to, and I must authorize all questions you are to find facts for with a Google search. You many suggest questions and fact searches to the group, but I must ok the computer search. We cannot waste the time of the group with frivolous irrelevant computer searches just for the fun of it.
“Don’t get caught with you hands on your computer except during authorized times. If you do you can be fined or expelled.
“You may not remove a computer from the discussion room for any reason. Our support personnel will pack up all computers, UniDesks™, seating charts and chairs after and have them ready for your use at the city and hotel of the next monthly meeting. Do not write or doodle on the seating charts. The computers are not personalized, so do not save any sort of personal messages, notes, etc. on them. The relevant thing is the discussion, the entire content of which is being saved through the audio/visual recording system.
“On the other hand, the web addresses and facts of all Internet sites used for Internet facts found and accepted by this group as relevant in its discussions shall be saved.
“Make sure you are sitting between the two members the seating chart says you are sitting between in sessions for a good while, so all group members can learn your name to be linked to your face and what you say. After the group has had time to learn the names of all participants I will from time to time require everyone to move to a different chair, maximizing the distance between themselves and the two people they are now sitting between, to eliminate any psychological collusion and alliances that may develop between group members.
“You are not to remove a seating chart from the room for any reason.
“Although it’s not my job to teach you, I decided during lunch to share more background with you. I know most of you are wondering why you were selected and where the money is coming from. You were selected from a large pool using computers and the Internet, based on information available through Internet surveillance systems, much like the USian government uses now to surveil the entire USian population. The sponsors know a good bit about you. You represent a cross-sample of the culture, from various socio-economic and educational levels, representing various professions, occupations, vocations, religions, political parties, racial backgrounds, and sexual identities. About one-fourth of you are registered Republicans and about one-fourth are registered Democrats. The rest of you are Independents, Greens, Libertarians, Progressives, Tea Partiers, and some other things too insignificant to mention. Almost fifty percent of you are non-voters in USian national elections. All major religions are represented among you, as are non-theists. All of you are at least reasonably bright.
“As you know, this process could cost a considerable amount of money if it continues for a long time, especially if it expands into other countries. Monthly expenses for this group currently are about $260,000, over three million dollars a year. Where is the money coming from? It’s coming from anonymous donors who pledged varying amounts, some large, some small. Why did they do it? These people are seriously worried about Spaceship Earth, a planet supplied with oxygen and various gases and elements necessary for sustaining plant and animal life by natural physical and ecological processes in a closed system hurtling through infinite airless time and space in concert with gadzillions of other inter-galactic and inter-universal objects. The sponsors think serious changes must be made to stop and avert extinction processes and events caused by global warming and the possibility of nuclear war, caused by greed and lust for power among humans, causing income inequalities, poverty, racial hatred, class hatred, religious hatred, nationalism, ethnic hatred, cultural hatred, overpopulation, resource depletions, and poorly regulated economic systems such as capitalism, fascism, communism, and socialism.
“The donors think homo sapiens on Earth will not change their economic and political systems unless they learn new ways of feeling, thinking, believing, communicating and behaving, and they do not think mainstream media, schools, colleges, universities, churches or governments can produce this kind of learning. They want to see if this process can cause you to learn what might save Spaceship Earth. They know you would not pay to receive this sort of education, so they want to see if you will assimilate and accommodate this sort of learning if they pay you to do it. The whole thing’s an experiment.
“The donors do not think human Earthians will voluntarily learn new feelings, thoughts, beliefs, dogmas, doctrines, and behaviors on their own, especially if they have to pay for it. They want to know if human Earthians can be paid to learn what is necessary to save Spaceship Earth. You are their first class of guinea pigs. If it works they intend to roll the program out to other countries, as extensively as possible, depending on how many more donors they can find to fund programs. If what you feel, think, say, do and learn in this program produces salutary results it could help save Spaceship Earth by creating this sort of learning process in groups around Earth.
“At present about sixty-five thousand Earthian species become extinct every year, and millions have already become extinct. Our job is to hopefully come up with something that will help prevent the human species on Earth from joining all the other extinct Earthian species in a theoretical cosmic happy hunting ground. An Earthian is a member of any species of fauna or flora now alive on Earth.
“The appellation Spaceship Earth, by the way, was invented by Buckminster Fuller back in the 1960s. For background you might want to read his book Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth. Fuller also invented the word Earthian.
“There were some programs similar to this back in the 1960s and 70s that people paid to attend, but they mostly died out as the culture changed after 1980, after the Ronald Reagan USian presidency turned back the clock in the US, not quite as much as the Taliban turned back their clock in Afghanistan, but a serious antediluvian regression occurred nevertheless, pitting authoritarian nihilists against democratic idealists, and the nihilists basically won. Fewer and fewer US citizens would pay for bottom-up personal growth, encounter group, brainstorming, and pop psychology programs after 1980, largely caused by anti-intellectual top down messages and requirements produced by the regressive culture. More and more poorly informed fearful citizens were brainwashed with conservative right wing ideologies and fantasies, increasingly eschewing facts, logical reasoning, social and psychological innovations, and scientific discoveries.
“We are paying citizens to participate in our progressive discussion process, which is devoid of doctrines, dogmas and rituals, focusing instead on relevant factual problems and opportunities, hopefully generating workable consensual strategies that will help sustain Earthian life indefinitely.
Bill—“I gotta ask. Why did you choose these Apple Macintosh laptops?”
Rout—“Because I have been using a Mac since they first came out in 1984, and I still think they are the easiest to use.”
Bill—“I beg to disagree, and I teach computer science.”
Rout—“You’re entitled to your opinion.”
Maria—“During lunch some of us decided it would be better if the lunch hour was only one hour long so we might get out off work earlier so we might catch a plane back home on Saturday, to attend mass, or church, or whatever on Sunday morning, to have more time with our families. Would this be permissible?”
Hal, the last person selected by the Truther, got up from his chair and did his duty, spinning The Truther one more time, after Rout caught his eye and diverted its gaze to the center of the room.
The Truther selected Adam and the rooster crowed.
Adam—“This is the most insane seminar I can imagine, but I guess I might as well try to say something relevant. The biggest problem is there are so many problems it is almost absurd to waste time talking about any one of them. Most people do not want to hear or talk about real problems. They’re zombies numbed and dumbed down by irrelevant crap since childhood. Somehow most kids learn how to read, write and do simple arithmetic in grade school, but not much else. I was talking about this with my wife a few days ago, telling her I could not remember learning a darn thing in grade school in any class. I could remember playing with some blocks as if they were musical instruments in a music class and filling out some sort of work sheets in another, but that is about it. I can’t remember a single discussion about anything in any class. Relevance was irrelevant. Most of the time the teacher just seemed to sit behind her desk and stare at us. I do remember one teacher teaching us how to eat soup using pencils as simulated spoons and her coming up behind me and showing me how to do it holding my arm and telling me to dip into the soup from the inside out and raise the spoon straight up to make sure it doesn’t spill.
“But, I swear that is about all I can remember learning in a grade school class. Somehow I learned how to read, write, and do arithmetic during those years, but I cannot remember learning any of it class. I remember looking at a few books with colored pictures about Jack and Jane doing things in simple declarative sentences that were supposed to help us learn how to read. High school was not much better, but there were two courses in which I actually remember learning something, plane geometry and physics. And I did learn a few lines of one or two of Robert Burns’ poems in a literature course, and a few lines of a poem called Invictus.
“If you take the average person today, even many college graduates, all they care about is watching movies and television, especially soap operas and sports, and playing video games. Rarely is there any serious discussion of economic and political problems. As I said they’re zombies. And they vote, if they vote, that is, for zombie politicians who tell people platitudes, fantasies and dogma they want people to hear. God forbid a politician would talk about or seriously analyze facts about real problems.
“So the biggest problem is ignorant and stupid voters. I recently saw George Carlin on TV telling his audience, ‘Stupid people vote for stupid politicians; it’s as simple as that!’
“How you would ever educate enough voters to cause them to vote for intelligent, wise politicians who would vote to raise the taxes of large corporations and the elite rich, create infrastructure jobs to create jobs for the middle class, and scale down the US military-industrial complex?
“But that’s what needs to be done, among many other things, such as doing things to reduce the threats of global warming and nuclear war. It’s depressing as hell. What are the chances any of this will happen any time soon? Probably about zero. So here we sit waiting for some catastrophe to happen, as most people just blithely tend to the details of their daily lives as if there were no threats at all, some looking as if they are actually happy. Ignorance is bliss I guess.”
Dick—“Come on now. You know that’s not right. I’m a politician and I know I talk about relevant matters with my constituents. You are lucky enough to live in this great land of ours and yet you complain. America is the greatest place on Earth, blessed by God with the greatest values on the face of the earth. If we stick to our beliefs and values the Lord will guide and protect us. If we continue to love Him in His tender mercy he will see us through and welcome us into his heavenly home. Have you accepted Jesus into your heart? If not, as a true American I say unto you it is time you got right with God, before it’s too late.”
Adam—“I can’t believe right off the bat in this lunatic seminar I get confronted by a moral moron. All I did was speak the truth as I see it and I immediately get preached to. If god protects everyone how did we get in the mess we are in now. Must be a very incompetent god. You people are living in a dream world. You don’t want to be confused by facts or logic. All that count are your so-called values. If God is going to take care of everything when is he going to start? Why did he allow things to get as messed up as they are in the first place if he takes care of things? I have never seen one shred of evidence with my two eyes that any sort of god has ever done anything on Earth, regardless of what people believe or do, or say, or pray.”
Dick—“Well, I can see you need some praying for my friend; but don’t you ever call me a moral moron again. I won’t put up with it. You have insulted me and my religion, which is against the laws of this group. What about it Rout? Tell this liberal creep he can’t insult me or anyone else in this group because of their religious beliefs.”
Rout—“Well, I’m not sure Adam was seriously insulting you using the term moral moron. I think he was making the point that people in general who ignore facts because of their ideologies are morons, which sounds ok with me, a bit pejorative perhaps, but not necessarily a direct insult for purposes of this program. I’m not sure that would rise to the level of a law-breaking insult in this program. On the other hand you just called him a liberal creep, which some people would consider insulting. ”
Dick—“Anyone who criticizes my religion, my beliefs and my values insults me. I will not tolerate this.”
Rout—“You don’t have to. Anyone can drop out of this group at any time. There’s the door. But if you’re making a threat, that is against the rules. By the way, I suppose I should reemphasize to the group that we have security people available if we need them to enforce rules or protect the group from violence.”
Dick was angry and confused, shocked by Rout’s response. He decided Adam must be a damned atheist. He considered getting up and walking out right now but he remembered the five thousand dollar monthly fee, which he needed. He wondered how many people in the group were like this asshole, Adam. Adam’s reactions were similar to Dick’s in some respects. Did he want to put up with this? Yes, at least for now, because the money was too good to turn down. Adam was pleasantly surprised by Rout’s reaction to Dick’s comments; but he wondered where were the security people? Were they somehow observing and listening to the group? Most of the group members had similar feelings, reservations, and questions stimulated by this new alert about the security system, which made most of them feel less secure. They felt trapped by what had looked like some easy money.
Looking out the window of the plane on the way home, Sam, like most members, wondered what he had gotten himself in for. He thought the project sounded interesting and was impressed in some ways by what he had seen and heard. He was impressed by the UniDesks™, the laptop computers, and the seating charts, which made it easy to link names and faces, and the overall efficiency of the process. And the chairs were comfortable. In some ways, he liked the way Rout had laid down the law. Although he thought Rout had been a bit harsh and impolite with a few of the group members, he thought he had generally been fair and impartial. He thought using a Truther to randomly select leaders was a novel idea and was surprised by the dynamics it caused in the group, especially the rooster crowing. It did seem to cause them to talk in a more adult way in more depth and detail than normally happens in conversations. And The Truther did seem to engender equality. It appeared those with domineering and manipulative personalities would not be able to take over psychologically or otherwise.
Sam had never seen a group composed of people from backgrounds as different as those in the group. It was clear some of the people in the group were wealthy and others were poor; some were highly educated and some were not. There were several shades of skin color, ranging from almost black to almost white. It would be interesting to see what would happen in the group, making different people talk with one another like equals, but he had little confidence anything significant would happen. What could they produce or learn bullshitting like this that most people did not already know? He could not believe charitable donors would spend this kind of money on this sort of thing.
On the other hand, if only the country as a whole could operate like this, he thought, there would at least be a chance people could work out some of their problems face-to-face. One of the problems with the way things work now is that people are congregated into their particular groups and cliques, such as churches and football teams based on their wealth, skills, and beliefs, doing the same things day after day week after week, talking with the same people about the same things over and over. A group like this might cause people to at least think about new things.
Sam had been worried about the state of the world for some time. He had been depressed about the possibilities of global warming. People were now talking more and more about human extinction. Can you believe that? The human species becoming extinct within decades. Yet most people just keep on going as if nothing is wrong, feeling, thinking and doing pretty much like they always had. Just a normal temporary change in the weather they think and then things will get just hunky dory again. How this group could solve this problem is something else, but at least they might talk about it, and this might at least cause them to vote for politicians who might vote for things that might help stave off extinction. Or is it already too late?
On the other hand, Sam was already in his seventies, and he knew he would not be around much longer. He knew he would soon be extinct regardless of what happens to all species. And sometimes he wondered if he cared what happened to him personally. He had by now learned enough about old age to know it’s not fun, prostate cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, skin cancer, arthritis, allergies, having to worry about falling and breaking a hip, no, not fun at all. But there were still a few satisfactions. He still loved his wife and beautiful scenery, birds, trees, streams, sunset views. He enjoyed good food and a bottle of red wine. He took satisfaction from making money in the stock market, however punishing it is to think about his real estate holdings some of which are now probably unsellable, without taking a beating selling them. And it wasn’t pleasant knowing another economic recession similar to 2007-08 might wipe out half the market value of his investments.
He knew he would do what he could to live as long as he could, however much of a drain he became to the healthcare system, finally wasting away in a nursing home if he lived that long. On the other hand, he thought one good strong heart attack any time would be the best way to go. He had written his will as fairly as he could and he was ready to go when his lights went out, so why not hang out once a month with this lunatic discussion process, just for a lark?
End of Episode 2. To be continued.