My Foreign Policy

Dymaxion Map image by Eric Gaba — Wikimedia Commons user: Sting

Under the Constitution of the United States, the President determines foreign policy. The President is advised by people who supposedly know what’s going on everywhere and what the U.S. needs to do about it.

I am personally unable to influence U.S. foreign policy and while I have spent decades of my life wishing or hoping or pretending that I could, I can’t. None of my friends can. No one I know can.

Finally recognizing the futility of even trying to influence U.S. foreign policy, I am now focused on a different approach. I am developing and implementing my own foreign policy.

The idea of my own foreign policy sounds ridiculous, even vaguely seditious, because regular citizens care about domestic issues, but they don’t know enough about, for example, Ukraine, to contribute to a policy. So the U.S. President’s team not only has figure out foreign policy, but it also has coax and cajole at least some portion of U.S. citizens to go along with the plan.

To me, everything about that approach is much more ridiculous than me having my own foreign policy.

Domestic and foreign policies do not exist in separate realms and coaxing and cajoling invariably become distortion and outright manipulation. Since the next plan almost always boils down to aggression, the media is enlisted to tell frightening stories to justify whatever form of attack is planned and to make any alternate view seem way outside the norm.

Some believe this approach to foreign policy has worked and is still working. The U.S. worldwide presence certainly has the appearance of an immovable object.

I look at the U.S. worldwide presence as an important factor in my foreign policy but I do not see it as an immovable object or an irresistible force. I see it as a big selfish force catering to a narrow set of interests, which makes it predictable and easy to manage.

My foreign policy goals are focused on wide spread well-being but my plans will not be implemented through big programs or big organizations. I don’t have them all worked out and I don’t have to because my plan is about being part of a larger process that is already underway.

I live on a little island just off the Pacific Northwest coast of the U.S. But I work on my foreign policy implementation every day. I have put myself in a virtual position where serendipitous encounters and opportunities present themselves frequently and I sift and choose and follow-up where I sense some leverage and common interests.

My Foreign Policy: Africa

Early in January, Paul’s Simon’s Africa was launched in AltspaceVR, (a Microsoft property in the Metaverse). Paul Simon is a gifted storyteller in Nairobi, Kenya, not to be confused with “the other Paul Simon.”

For now, the event is weekly. Eventually it will be its own always-on World.

For now, the Nairobi Paul Simon brings content, a story to share — which leads to a discussion. Eventually, there will be others joining Paul from Africa and community will grow.

Paul Simon’s Africa is an integral part of my foreign policy because Paul Simon is my friend. A new kind of friend I know through digital media, a friend I didn’t grow up with or go to school with or work in the same company with. We met in VR.

In late May, 2020 when the whole quarantined world was aware of George Floyd’s death, an avatar named Paul Simon came to the front of an open discussion event I hosted in VR, the day after. He was in Nairobi and he wanted to be heard. He wanted someone in Africa to be part of the discussion.

He talked about police in Nairobi. He had a gentle tone and a ton of passion. He organized a VR event of his own the next day, just to share his perspective, an African perspective, with anyone who came.

We became friends right away, sealed with a Zoom visit to his home, meeting his wife and some of his children. Emails, social media and messaging helped us get to know each other better over time.

Image: Paul Simon’s AltspaceVR avatar, by Paul Simon

Now, Paul Simon’s Africa is a real virtual thing. I have helped with ideas and encouragement and a worldbuilder friend to get things started. I tend to be most useful at the very beginning when something is taking shape out of nothing. I will be increasingly irrelevant but I will always see myself in Paul’s work, wherever this initiative takes him.

Supporting Paul Simon’s work is one way of looking at a personal foreign policy. It is based on a strong human connection that is difficult to quantify or explain — and that neither of us were specifically looking for. It is a loose guerilla-style cooperation, the beginning of a network in which people mostly take care of themselves while they feel actively engaged in some common cause.

Paul and I have already seen that the real point of Paul Simon’s Africa is to support personal connections among people all over the world. When the event is over, the event begins. People who heard each other speak during the discussion introduce themselves and begin talking informally. Just themselves, no Paul Simon present.

When people take in Paul Simon from Nairobi, they expand their awareness. They grow. When people take in other people from Paul Simon’s Africa, they also expand and grow and when new relationships are sustained, the effect is multiplied.

My foreign policy is completely based on this kind of gradual expansion of relationships and perspectives by everyone. It seems a lot slower than, say, Kemal Ataturk entirely changing Turkish culture in one decade by Presidential edict in the 1920s.

But in the 2020s, individuals can connect and touch each other deeply, like Paul Simon and I have touched each other. It is possible that the connecting could begin to spread rapidly at some point and lead to a deeper personal change at scale that cannot be rolled back.

Image: Liu, Xu, and Yuo from researchgate

My Foreign Policy: China

The ludicrous idea of my own China policy is matched only by the ludicrous idea that the planet can sustain an adversarial relationship between the U.S. and China at this time.

I cede nothing, no moral higher ground and no pragmatic higher ground to the official U.S. China policy as compared to mine. In fact, I think mine is much more realistic than the main U.S. China policy idea that the People’s Republic of China will eventually, through some combination of pressure or threat, accept U.S. dominance over the entire global system.

I see this central U.S. foreign policy idea as a dangerous foundation for any policy, not just a ludicrous idea, but one that could start a war.

Like my Africa policy, my China policy is based on individuals making human connections.

In my current project, the vehicle is meditation and my goal is for people in China and the U.S. to meditate together. Not just at the same time, although that’s something— but together, through the shared social presence of virtual worlds. Afterward, they can hang out like people do at Paul Simon’s Africa and most VR meditations, talking informally and making more connections.

Image: Ashley Kuanger

My friend in China is Ashley Kuanger, in Chengdu, PRC.

Meditation is trending there and she and her partner have started MetaFeelin to help people get started and stay with it. Her events are mostly off-line, as Pop-Ups in different locations. She introduces meditation using scent, visuals, tea drinking — anything that can serve as an object of attention.

She and others are also intrigued with the Metaverse discussion now raging in many communities and cultures around the world. She knows an online layer can pull together the location-based events she is planning in Chengdu and other Tier I and II cities.

Wanting to learn more about meditation in the Metaverse brought her by VPN into a session I was leading, once again in AltspaceVR. She stayed and we talked for a long time after the event. Like Paul and I, we have nothing in common and a lot that matters in common.

Any connection to China can be intoxicating. I know, I was consistently intoxicated by China during a five-year window of university-business travel in many different parts of the mainland, including Chengdu, 20 years ago.

Now, I am neither a panda hugger nor a panda slugger. I don’t defend the Communist Party of China. I try to understand what the CCP has done and what it continues to do by taking in as many different perspectives as I can find, not all from the U.S. I read every bit of China-related information from the U.S. government or from organizations it funds very critically, assuming distortion designed to further U.S. interests at the expense of an avowed adversary.

My advantage over the U.S. is that I have no avowed adversaries.

I am semi-old, and I am not pushing a brand with ancillary merch.

A foreign policy in 2022 without a constructive China program isn’t a foreign policy. Many were shocked and disconcerted at the confrontative turn the U.S. policies took under the Trump administration, but nothing has changed under the Biden administration, which was advertised as the reasonable not-Trump. The confrontative approach is getting us nowhere other than closer to war.

War is extremely profitable, and U.S. foreign policy is largely based on this fact.

Mine isn’t.

During the month of December, 2021, I led sessions for a group of meditators in different parts of China, who heard my voice over the WeChat app. We experimented with a few ways of dealing with language.

I tried using Mandarin phrases that I memorized, but my pronunciation was so bad, listeners had to work hard to understand me, which is not meditative. We have settled on simple-English meditations for English-speakers there with almost any level of fluency, which describes millions of people.

Our next step will be to offer different session leaders, through the EvolVR meditation community, in three time slots, Friday evening and Saturday and Sunday morning, Beijing time. My colleagues in Germany, the UK, and North America are well-positioned to offer an eight-week pilot. Metafeelin will collect data and we will determine the next steps.

I can’t think of a better way to help the nations of China and the U.S. cooperate than to help the people of China and the U.S. meditate together, as much as possible. That’s my plan.

Pretty unsophisticated, but it’ll develop iteratively.

My China foreign policy is based on a premise of common humanity. That we are all born into a world we have to make sense of on our own terms. Trust and intimacy haven’t extended beyond 150 or so fellow humans but we’re leaving those limits behind.

Paul and Ashley and I are all on the same spaceship. Nairobi, Chengdu, Deer Harbor.

Listening to stories and talking about them together is how experience will scale up. Being part of it changes people’s ideas about what is possible.

Meditating together helps us stay centered as the world is being transformed around us and we see that people everywhere are our brothers and sisters.

I write about VR and other topics I have no standing to write about on Medium and Substack.

I have a black belt in learning and I’ve been meditating for so long it’s ridiculous I’m not enlightened yet. But I’m definitely not.

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Learning Technologist focusing on VR, Video, and Mortality … producer of Less Than One Minute and 360 degree videos

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Tom Nickel

Tom Nickel

Learning Technologist focusing on VR, Video, and Mortality … producer of Less Than One Minute and 360 degree videos

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