Good morning! We’re here today with Catherine Baird, author of the newly released book, Revolution from Within, that tells the story of 160 intellectuals who were expelled from their country in 1922 by the Communist Party leader Vladimir Lenin because he was afraid their ideas might undermine his totalitarian grasp on the people of Russia and prevent him from carrying out his plans to eradicate Russian Orthodoxy and, indeed, all and any beliefs beside Marxism. The YMCA plays a pivotal role in Catherine’s book. They quickly became staunch supporters of The 160 and worked with them to alleviate the plight of over 2 millions Russian émigrés and POWs now scattered across the entire globe… in Asia, Europe, Africa, North and South America and even Australia and New Zealand. In what is perhaps one of the most impactful initiatives of YMCA World Service, the YMCA Russian Division created publishing houses to preserve the ideas of these people in their native language, a Russian Students Christian Movement that operated across the world, Technical Colleges, Correspondence Schools, Aid and Relief programs, Student Huts, and even a Russian Orthodox Theological Academy. Dr. John Mott personally oversaw this huge effort, explaining that he felt the faith of over 100 million Christians was at stake.
What Catherine discovered while researching this subject and writing Revolution from Within was even more incredible. Not only did the YMCA greatly help enable these displaced Russians to start new lives outside their former homeland and maintain their language, beliefs and traditions, but in preserving the ideas of Russia’s greatest thinkers, including The 160, the YMCA Press made it possible for these alternatives to Communism to survive even behind the Iron Curtain! From Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech” to restricted University and Church libraries, these books and the ideas they contained were passed hand to hand among the members of a growing dissident movement. Coming simultaneously from above and from below, these waves collided in the 1980s bringing the collapse of the Communist Party, break up of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall! As Catherine says: “Like the first crack in a concrete foundation, The 160 sparked a tiny flicker of freedom in their oppressed country, and light returned to Russia as the flame grew…”
When I graduated there were a glut of Ph.Ds and a scarcity of jobs. At that time in Canada we were in a recession that looked much like what we’ve been going through here in the States… new graduates faced 25% unemployment. Fortunately, I’d already established and run a pretty successful consulting business while I was getting my degrees so I just pivoted and threw my energies into growing that. I started writing R&D tax credit grant applications and, as part of that, I was privileged to be part of the first pilots for JDEdwards and SAP in the textile industry. Having a taste of the complexity of those initial huge ERP business systems – well…I fell in love!
I came down to the States in 1999 at the height of what we call “the gold rush” – the dot.com bubble – and have been flying ever since building enterprise software, implementing computer network infrastructure and systems, and now building these huge platforms.
I actually found a natural synergy in the disciplines. History requires you to consume enormous volumes of information rapidly and analyze very complex, interrelated activities and events. Computer systems are modeled after us and so they work very much like our political, economic, social and other functional organizations.
Well along the way in my IT career, my rather unusual background (i.e. humanities instead of computer science) always cropped up as a topic for discussion and time and again as I’d tell this incredible story of The 160 and the YMCA, my colleagues would become very animated and urged me to publish it.
I also experienced an uncanny repetition of synchronicity. My family and friends would experience something and then call or email to tell me: “you’ve got to turn that thesis into a book!” (see backstory) I’d be at business events and totally out of the blue meet agents and publishers. I guess you can say it was equally intended and meant to be!
Somehow the ideas on personalism, love, unity, freedom and creativity that I’d studied in so much depth while completing my Ph.D. stuck with me and reemerged time and again as I formed and inspired teams to build computer applications, systems and networks.
Tell us more… It’s interesting you find a connection between history and IT, but are you saying the ideas of The 160, personalism, are also somehow relevant to Big Data, Cloud Computing and whatever else it is that you engineer?
Oh definitely. I would almost say the philosophical principles converge beautifully with the architectural principles and design patterns underlying most information technology today … or at least what’s coming now!
In fact, at one of my previous companies the marketing team turned a descriptor of personalism into our logo and tag line: “IT’s Personal”. I have continued this now that I have my own IT services organization and support a variety of complementary professional practices.
When we asked our clients what was different, the answer was: “we know it’s personal to you … that Catherine will take whatever steps are needed to get our problems resolved the best possible way for all concerned … we know we’re not just a customer or job … Catherine’s teams approach each of our business goals and challenges with a fresh eye – we don’t get brushed aside or told to use some one-size-fits-all solution.”
Later, when I was building these humungous platforms at a multinational Telco, I found myself continually being drawn into personalized recommendation engines; privacy; federated identities; personalized containers; virtualization and APIs to enable personalized interactions rather than massive singular systems; local, distributed architectures.
All my work – both with people in the organizations and with the applications or networks we were building – kept coming back to resolving the same fundamental paradox that The 160, the French Personalists, had focused on: accommodating the sanctity of the divine personal within the larger community, The paradox between each One is unique and yet all is One.
French Personalism; Russian spiritual philosophy, the call for changes we’re hearing about today – a need for transparency, the protection of our inalienable rights and undoing the corruption of big government, big business, big tech – cartels.
Above all, it’s about the person living in harmony with our communities and our environment!
So are you going to write and publish more books with this company or is From Pyramids to Clouds some kind of IT services firm…?
Right now the company manages my professional publishing career and is slowly building out information portals – I like the term we used back in the 1990s “Web-Rings” for people to learn more about these ideas, about Russian philosophy globally, Personalism holistically, Unity Consciousness as it’s being represented by so many different stakeholders and interest groups today (sustainable living, resource based economy, transparency and disclosure, ascension, quantum energetics…)
In time, I do envision it also contributing more actively to actual Cloud enablement to help companies and people break free of the old pyramidal, hierarchical systems. You see, as we get back to directly engaging with our lives, rather than paying a host of intermediaries… middlemen… to essentially live our lives for us, there is so much creative vitality and capability that the options are really limitless.
There’s a lot of work we need to do to build new social structures that are fair and equitable, clean up the terrible mess we’ve made of our environment, education system, politics… Basically we’re emerging from many long years of decay.
The iChing has a symbol ku which means “Work on What has Been Spoiled” It comes from repressing our free, creative energies — our fire impulse. I really resonate with the guidance:
“What has been spoiled through man’s fault can be made good again through man’s work. It is not immutable fate … work toward improving conditions promises well because it accords with the possibilities of the time. We must not recoil from work and danger – symbolized by crossing of the great water – but must take hold energetically. Success depends, however, on proper deliberation … We must first know the causes of corruption before we can do away with them; hence it is necessary to be cautious during the he start. Then we must see to it that the new way is safely entered upon, so that a relapse may be avoided; therefore we must pay attention to the time after the start. Decisiveness and energy must take the place of the inertia and indifference that have led to decay, in order that the ending may be followed by a new beginning”
A revolution is simply a big change … it’s not necessarily violent upheaval leading to war or civil war as in the American or French Revolutions. And literally, it just means one turn of the wheel.
By the way, did you know the Bolshevik Revolution where they took power from the provisional government that had been elected after the Tsar was overthrown actually occurred without a single death or shot being fired?
We’re all living in a time of revolution right now. I don’t see myself as separate from the people in the Middle East who are seeking sovereignty and the right to guide their own lives again or the Occupy Movement or even the Hedge Fund Managers and weird bankers flailing away at Quantitative Easing. We’re all people living here and now and it’s pretty clear to everyone that there has to be a better way!
By necessity of my career, I’ve played a major role in the technology revolution (like the industrial revolution that proceeded it). We’ve automated almost every repetitive drudge function and most requiring high precision and speed. Caught up in the excitement of building all this cool software, I took it for granted that society would adjust and take care of people’s personal economics, training, needs as we moved into this halcyon time when it was no longer necessary to work in order to survive. I am a child of the idealistic 60s. What I was blinded to was greed and the intransigence of our Calvinist work ethic as an underlying societal philosophy — face it, there’s more than enough of everything for everyone in the world to have enough food to eat, good housing, protection from the elements and never have to work a day in their lives for it and without any discernable negative impact to our environment … unfortunately, instead of people seeing this and accepting that they have enough, we’ve turned on ourselves with this ravenous addiction of consumer culture and haves vs. haves not to create a really unpleasant, Orwellian status quo.
I never advocate nor support violence. I understand it, but I think it’s futile and self-destructive. Whenever you fight the enemy – period – you become like them… you become what you hate.
I also am deeply convinced we cannot continue the way we have been and we need to all seriously become engaged in defining new social rules, new economic principles, stop delegating our politics to professional politicians and crony capitalism, and make this again a world that works for everyone.
Interesting. I think I see what you mean about people getting too disengaged from living their own lives and participating in society. We face that challenge recruiting volunteers all the time. Yet once people do give their time and their energy, they find it so amazingly rewarding. But can you explain what you mean by middlemen?
In the telecom industry we talk about intermediaries and disintermediation all the time. You see AT&T, BellSouth, Bell Canada, all the phone companies provided an intermediary between two people to have a connection, a phone call. It’s how our communication technology works!
So think of two tin cans on a string. We, the telcos, run the string. Same thing with the Internet, surfing the web, mobile phones over wifi, any type of communication. And it was a lot like a railway. We ran the service and also supporting services at each stop or alongside the pipe. Very nice business opportunity.
At the turn of this century – 21st – new disruptive businesses emerged all over, mostly because of advances we’d made with web services, service oriented architecture, open source software and the like, that started to encroach on what was for all intents and purposes a cartel, a monopoly. Telcos had ALL the business sewn up, then Google, Apple, Facebook and others came along and started using our underlying infrastructure – the lines, the airwaves, the rails – but delivering their own services directly to the consumer. And frankly, they gave the consumer a much better experience than we had.
So in the telco industry there was all this defensive marketing effort to avoid becoming just a dumb pipe and losing all those other business opportunities to other companies.
Well I feel that revolution, that change, is pretty well all over. It happened and most telecoms and ISPs really are the dumb pipe. In fact, those disruptive businesses are now becoming telecom network operators themselves! But what happened along the way, is people became used to the idea that they didn’t need a middleman, they could talk directly to each other, share information (content) directly with each other, do deals directly with each other and it was more lucrative, more rewarding, more fulfilling. So Google, Facebook and all the others disintermediated people from the telcos and network operators and now peer-to-peer technologies and all the free apps and content are disintermediating people from Google, Facebook, and all the content providers.
People ask, why can’t I just watch a music video I like on Youtube or Pandora or download it directly from bittorrent? They want something, they’re now used to reaching out and getting it, for free, at the click of a button. And it’s showing that people naturally share. Back in the day, if you had a book you really liked, didn’t you just give your copy to your family members or friends? Well that’s actually a copyright violation in this day and age – it’s “illegal”. Signs of the old paradigm trying to hold on to a non- longer meaningful understanding of value.
Other places. We pay people to cook for us … and now we’re learning 80% of the food in the big box grocery chains is not nutritionally viable; we pay people to raise our kids … and we now have all the problems with unfunded schools, what courses they’re teaching, censorship, propaganda, privacy, violence, family services; most of all we delegated our political responsibilities thereby allowing a small number of essentially professional politicians and lawyers to interpret how our society functions, how we live our lives, what gets done with our money and what the constitution means for us. I won’t belabor the point because there are far too many examples of the pain this has caused us in recent days – suffice to say, I do believe we have the government we “deserve” in that we let our representatives think they run the country instead of remembering that they work for us.
What I see with the Occupy movement, with the push to end the rules that make a two party system paralyze American politics, calls to end the Fed, restore the constitution, rise of local city governments, State nullification laws and a whole host of other freedom inspired efforts is the growing realization among the American people that this is our country to govern, live in and manage and that we are no longer willing to let politicians and bureaucrats be the intermediaries. This political sea change will likely be the most exciting and challenging period the United States has experienced since our founding fathers declared independence from Great Britain!
The hardest part of this transition is going to be raising each of our own levels of responsibility. If in time we’re all essentially self-employed specialists and consultants, or small organic companies each offering the best service in what we love to do, then we have to be 100% responsible for our own actions and delivery. There’s no more waiting around for instructions or to be told what to do. We can take a day off work without having to ask anyone – but likewise, we’re responsible if that loses us a contract, delays a delivery or stops us getting the results we want.
Consciousness, Sustainable Living – speak to that. Much of our time today, we run on auto-pilot. We’re not really looking around, engaging, consciously deciding what our next step will be. Consciousness teaches us to change that – to really look! So this running on auto or just mindlessly reacting – well it’s changing. And it needs to. It’s easy to overlook pollution or unhealthy food and living habits if we’re not paying attention. It’s easy to be disrespectful of others if we’re not really paying attention or listening. It’s all about the “Wake Up Call”. Personally, economically, politically – you name it.
And part of that “wake up” really gets to the question of are we living in a way that we can sustain? I did 100 hour work weeks as a consultant and IT specialist. I know how hard I worked my teammates when I was running Insol. It took a toll – too costly a toll. It wasn’t sustainable. People need to have balance, need time, need great quality life opportunities. Time to think, contribute to their communities, be with their families, get and stay healthy. Same with money – we run businesses to make money – but there’s also a time when we can say – if we’re aware of the question – hey I’ve got enough. One of the challenges capitalism as it’s working today presents us with is the need to always be first [climb to the top of that darn pyramid!]. But growth for growth’s sake isn’t good or healthy. I don’t like the analogy, but look at biology: growing just for growth’s sake is actually very harmful – that’s what cancer is.
What I like most about Unity Consciousness, Sustainable Living and related movements is that they respect everyone. And they don’t come from a place of fear or lack. Come on, if we’re honest about it, there’s enough for everyone and we are all in this together. I want to live on an Earth that is vibrant with clean air, clean water and abundant natural resources. I don’t want to live in smog central like we saw on the news a few weeks ago occurring in China, or feel sick all the time. I want to see blue sky and sun.
We can do this – we just have to readjust our priorities and break a bunch of bad habits.
Read more about Catherine Baird and Revolution from Within …. coming soon!