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Chuck W.

Systems, Structures and Fundamental Principles



“What does Trump and atoms have in common?”  (Warning:  this is my only original joke)  The answer:  “They both make up everything.”  My son offered a better answer.  “They both have tiny protons surrounded by a cloud of negativity”.

By Chuck Woolery (The Activist and not the TV Host)

“What does Trump and atoms have in common?”  (Warning:  this is my only original joke) The answer: “They both make up everything.”  My son offered a better answer.  “They both have tiny protons surrounded by a cloud of negativity”.

In a peace conference three years ago, I had a conversation with a U.S. government nuclear engineer whose job was inspecting US nuclear power plants and weapons facilities.  He was there to convince peace activists to enlist engineers to support the peace movement because many of the engineers making weapons had signed a pledge to protect the public health and safety.  The leaders of the peace conference ignored him.

But as our conversation deepened, he enlightened me on a simple perspective that I should have known as a biologist and I’ve never seen the world, politics, science, or religion the same way since then.  He said, “everything in the Universe is made up of systems, structures, and fundamental principles.”  And they are all connected.  And, if anything goes wrong (anything!) with a system or structure, you can be certain that somewhere, somehow, someway a fundamental principle was not followed.   Wow!   Profound cubed (to the third power).

I love making and fixing things.  Having tripled the original floor space of my home by building mostly with used and recycled materials I learned a lot about the laws of nature (gravity, wind force, material strengths, decomposition of wood exposed to the elements…) and city laws (building codes).  Other than a leaky basement the walls, floors, windows, doors, wood stove, ceilings and 1000 sq ft roof deck have had no systemic or structural failures.

As a professional grass roots organizer, I built a small grass roots organization of US based health and medical professionals to tweak the US government system (earmarks) and structures (USAID) to earmark an appropriation of millions of tax dollars devoted to saving the lives of poor women and children beyond US borders (a fundamental principle of the organization).

As a volunteer I returned to Haiti to reinforce a rural K-7 school building I’d assisted in building prior to their catastrophic quake (more Haitians died in that 15 minutes than Japanese that died from both the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined).  Haitians rarely use rebar in their cement structures.  The earth quake didn’t killed them.  It was flawed political, economic and education systems that killed them.  Rebar was simply too expensive.   And the fundamental principles of physics and geology used to forecast earthquakes in the area two years earlier were ignored.

Before the quake there were other systemic failures in Haiti that I pointed out to my Haitian friends. They were defensive until I listed the systemic weaknesses of my own government.  Like the lack of justice. And, our own resistance to doing what we know needs to be done.  It’s nothing new.  Our nation’s founding fathers wrote in the Declaration of Independence that we prefer suffering to changing our form of government as long as the evils are sufferable.

One human minds are laziness (energy conservation?) related to our prehistoric evolution.  Deep thinking takes time and energy.  Our brains were hardwired for quick answers in a dangerous environment.  We look at immediate threats not systemic flaws.  George Lakoff explains it as “Direct causation” and “systemic causation”.   It wasn’t the earthquake, or the lack of rebar that caused the massive death toll from Haiti’s quake.  It was their flawed economic, political, education and building code systems.    Liberals see someone killed with a gun and they want to take away the 2nd Amendment. Trump supporters see immigrants and want to build a wall.   Peace activists see a war and want to take away the weapons systems or money to the military.  Conservatives see a war and fear motivates them to demand more money for the military and more advanced weapons.  When it is the profound flaws in both our national and international political system that need to be corrected.

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The profound concept is how everything is connected and interdependent.  We basically understand this but don’t spend much time making the irreversible connections between war, poverty, infectious disease, climate change, politics, environment, loss of species, WMD proliferation, terrorism, international law, peace, lack of education, mental illness, public health, and the US debt (just to scratch the surface of a planet and universe that influence every aspect of our quality of life, and life itself.

“A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe’; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but striving for such achievement is, in itself, a part of the liberation, and a foundation for inner security.”   -Albert Einstein.  As quoted in Quantum Reality, Beyond the New Physics, p. 250.

  • Connect the dots (everything is connected)g is connected!).
  • See the web (of life).
  • Insist on justice for all (17 Sustainable Development Goals).
  • Or prepare for the catastrophic consequences (Global Catastrophic Risks 2018).

If you listen to C-span, read national security reports, or listen to experts attempting to explain how to solve a particular problem, you will often hear the words ‘holistic’, “comprehensive” or “whole of government approach.”  Rarely will enough funding be appropriated to actually prevent extremely costly problems, so there is usually one other word these experts will offer “resilience”.  They know what our founding fathers wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”   Our form of government is based on the concept of independence.  We have independent agencies working problems that are completely dependent on things that happen in multiple issue areas, nations and oceans.

After the attacks on September 11, 2001, the US government first broke down the barriers between the CIA and the FBI that could have detected the plot before it happened. Later Congress created the Department of Homeland Security which consolidated over 20 other ‘independent’ federal agencies to improve our nation’s security.  But DHS doesn’t include the Department of Defense or the EPA which are each “independent” agencies but all equally dependent on tax dollars from a tax system that is unjust and dependent on Political will…. I think you get the point.  If not, read Einstein’s quote above, again.

Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half of the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality. MLK.

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” – Chief Seattle, Duwamish (1780-1866) 


So what are fundamental principles?  Read the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence for the best introduction.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are the most comprehensive and holistic solutions created by humans since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Unfortunately, it was never made enforceable.  Failing the SDGs will require investing in our resilience.  Given that some global threats are inevitable, and others we could prevent, won’t be, resilience investments are the next best plan.

But chances are that will NOT happen without some catastrophic suffering.  Even then, we might not spend on what’s needed.  Our minds and political factions work in mysterious ways.  Things change.  Maybe these should too.


Chuck Woolery, Former Chair
United Nations Association, Council of Organizations


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