The Purpose of Work


child labourers, Pennsylvania, 1910, photo by Lewis Hine in the National Archives

The word “work” originally meant “what we do”, and came into use around 900 years ago. At that time it was mostly about craftwork, and the design and creation of art. The words “job” and “employee”, describing modern forms of voluntary servitude, are only about 170 years old, inventions of the industrial age. Prior to that, there was of course, involuntary servitude, in the form of slavery, feudal serfdom, and military conscription, dating back about 4,000 years.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the bicameral mind, the evolution in the human brain that makes possible the conception of the separate self, and of language, agriculture and “civilized” culture, is also believed to date back about 4,000 years. As soon as there were creatures who conceived themselves as separate beings with free will and choice, there were other creatures poised to exploit that sense, and the anxiety that accompanied it, to bend them to obey another’s will. Hence armies, hierarchies, nobles, serfdom, and the use, and abuse, of power.

The vast majority of us today spend roughly half our waking hours directly or indirectly engaged in “work”, and before that being “schooled” for “work”, from very early childhood until death, or, for a lucky few, until we are deemed unsuitable to continue working and are “retired” from the work “force” and labour “force” (one of many “work”-related terms borrowed from the military).

It is perhaps surprising then, this invention of voluntary servitude called “work” being so new and yet so preoccupying our lives, that relatively few of us even ponder the purpose of “work”, and most just assume this exhausting and life-defining labour is essential to society’s functioning.

It’s a false assumption. Even with our unsustainable human numbers, the availability of billions of barrels of oil, each capable of producing the equivalent of 4.5 person-years of labour, is more than enough, if it were not spent on wars and extravagances, and if it were even close to equitably distributed, to allow everyone who didn’t want to work to live a life of comfortable leisure. In fact, this bonanza of essentially free energy has both enabled and provoked the hockey-stick exponential growth of human numbers, from less than one billion when it was first discovered (and when the concepts of “jobs” and “employees” were first invented), to nearly eight billion today.

As Daniel Quinn has explained, it is the availability of food (and the productive capacity to make it available in vast quantities that cheap energy has enabled) that has led to the population boom. In all animal populations, even in creatures as bone-headed and disconnected from the rest of life as our species, numbers adapt quickly to the availability of food.

So one reason we feel we “have” to work is because the number of humans we have to feed quickly explodes to match the amount of food we produce, necessitating ever more work to produce ever more food and other necessities of life for ever more people — and because the wealth is so inequitably distributed and so much of the wealth is squandered on non-necessities, the system is in a state of constant scarcity.

Yet even with this massive waste and inequality, the vast majority of “workers” — and “executives” in particular — are employed in completely unnecessary bullshit jobs. The economy employs people not because it has to (a comfortable guaranteed annual income would be a much simpler and more effective way to distribute wealth) but because it feels it must do so to enable the species to have the means to buy the insanely overpriced and mostly useless shoddy crap that has to be sold “to keep the economy growing”. It’s an insane mass delusion, and we have all been conned into believing it, and have spread this nonsense propaganda to our children.

And to keep the mad wheel spinning, a comparable, extravagantly-expensive barrage of propaganda called “marketing” is required to convince us that we “need” to buy this crap, that our very identity is caught up in how elegantly we decorate our homes and our bodies.

And of course, it’s killing the planet. But this system of mostly-useless “work”, of excessive production and subsequent trashing of mostly-worthless overpriced junk, has been operating for 170 years, as long as the idea of “work” and “industry” has been around, since there were only a billion of us living mostly within our means. And like all complex systems, it obeys Pollard’s Law of Complexity, which means it will continue to resist reform and try to self-perpetuate until it can no longer do so, and then rapidly collapse.

For almost all of us, while it may seem that our work has purpose and meaning, it is completely unnecessary, a product of a completely dysfunctional economic system. Were it not so, the only people who would “have” to “work” would be those who find joy in making things work well and making them work better.

This was the original meaning, and value, of “work” — the work of the crafter, the artist, and more recently the scientist, those pursuing their passion to make the world a better place. This true work is about making an essential product or service better. Not the bullshit jobs of ad agencies, sales “forces”, usurious bankers, munitions manufacturers, vulture capitalists, f&%^ing lawyers, factory farm managers, commodities speculators and other highly-paid miscreants.

As our economy gets more and more dysfunctional in its more advanced state of collapse, it will serve fewer and fewer of us, and, as happens in all civilizations, the vast majority of us will, one person at a time, walk away from it. We will, by force or by choice, stop buying what we don’t need, refuse to pay for what is essential (recognizing that the bounty of the world belongs to all of us, and should be distributed generously and freely to all), and — most importantly — refuse to work. It can’t happen soon enough. As quickly as economic collapse often unfolds, because of Pollard’s Law it will need to be precipitated; we should strive to accelerate collapse before it exhausts the last of the planet’s resources.

In the meantime, there is real work to be done. In the vacuum of collapse we will have to relearn how to build real community, and all of the skills and practices that making a life in a radically relocalized community entails, like those described in this list:

And as we start to do that, we can learn about deep work, the work of inventors, artists, craftspeople, scientists and others whose energies are actually spent in making things work well and making them work better. 

This real work, I believe, has a number of characteristics:

  1. It is extraordinarily collaborative and deliberative. As with the thousands of public health workers all over the world who have struggled with understanding and coping with CoVid-19, this is not siloed work, and nothing is kept secret. It has no individual heroes. It’s the future of our planet and our societies that’s at stake, and only by standing on the shoulders of giants, and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with others with different knowledge, ideas and insights, can this work be done well.
  2. It is unashamedly generous. It is done for its own sake, because it’s important, because it cannot not be done, not for profit or glory.
  3. It is painstaking and patient. Real work requires concentration, experience from failure, years of practice, perseverance, and self-discipline. If it’s rushed or done sloppily or thoughtlessly or distractedly, it’s not good work.
  4. It is both imaginative and creative. These are different qualities, and they require different innate and practiced capacities. We live in a world of enormous imaginative poverty because we no longer practice it, as children or as “employees”. And we abuse the term “creative” to describe worthless financial “products”, incremental, derivative thinking, marketing “buzz” and too much other useless “work”.
  5. It stems from a combination of passion and curiosity. We can only do real work when we really care about the world and how what we do contributes to making it better. And we can only make things better when we’re curious about why they are the way they are, and capable of pursuing “what if” lines of thinking.
  6. It requires exceptional critical thinking skill. That requires great humility. It is easy to produce a new design, a new theory, a new idea. To understand why things are the way they are, and not how one wishes or hopes or thinks they might be, is to realize how insignificant and powerless we are, as human individuals. Critical thinking requires both a conscious process (built on self-knowledge and self-awareness of one’s own ignorance, biases, and poor thinking and behavioural habits), and years of practice.
  7. It requires enormous attention and listening skills. There is a horrifying shortage of these skills in modern society, and especially in most modern “work” places.

One of the things that most shocked me when I retired was the realization that, after 37 years in the work “force”, I had really done almost no real work. And the little real work I had done was almost entirely outside the “work” place, and almost entirely unpaid.

Since retiring, I have basically gone back to square one — learning more about myself and building personal core capacities (the first four steps in the Being Adaptable list above), and practicing doing things that I care about (in my case writing, conversation, music, and learning) and things that I’m at least marginally skilled at (making unique connections between ideas and information from disparate fields, and using them to imagine new possibilities).

I live in a community that has real needs — lots of old people, many single and in not-great health, so when the power goes out or the driveways get snowed in, or there’s a medical or plumbing emergency, or a scary intruder, or a fallen tree, or the ferry is cancelled, or any of a hundred other little crises that can happen in an isolated community, people need to get working on them fast. And I have realized that I have essentially none of the skills that my neighbours might need. For all my lauded successes in the “work” “force”, my exceptional reputation, and all the praise and thanks I’ve been given for my “work”, I’m more or less useless here.

Most of us are going to find that, as economic collapse deepens and becomes permanent, and then ecological collapse weighs in, most or all of the “work” we’ve done in our careers was actually a waste of time, and of no value in a post-collapse world, leaving us ill-equipped and with little time to relearn what real work is about. It’s going to be humiliating and sobering for many — like the executives — and bewildering for just about all of us.

We’re going to have to figure out what we need, and what our community needs, and offers. We’re going to have to learn some basic skills that weren’t necessary in a hierarchical “work” place. We’re going to have to figure out what our real skills and capacities are, and what we really care about. We’re going to have to discover who we really are and what our biases, fears, strengths and weaknesses, wants and needs, triggers and sorrows are, and for many that will be a horrifyingly difficult and sobering process.

Only then can the real work begin.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End, Working Smarter | 2 Comments

Links of the Month: December 2020

I’ve been listening to some amazing music from country-rock band Little Big Town about what it’s like to be a woman growing up and living in a patriarchy. Two samples (click on the titles for YouTube videos of the songs):

The Daughters

Oh girl, wash your face
‘fore you come to the table

Girl, know your place, be willing and able
Take it on the chin; let the best man win

Girl, shoulders back and stand up straight
Girl, watch your mouth and watch your weight
Mind your manners; smile for the camera

Girl don’t be weak and don’t be strong
Say what you want, just as long
As you nod your head, with your lipstick on

Wash the dishes, feed the kids
and clean up all this mess

Do my best, forgive myself
and look good in this dress

(Damn I look good in this dress)

And pose like a trophy on a shelf
Dream for everyone but not yourself
I’ve heard of God the Son and God the Father
I’m just looking for a god for the daughters

 

Questions

Do you still kill the radio pulling up the drive?
Still say you’ll only smoke on a Saturday night?
Do you still hang out at the bar
at the end of our street?

(‘Cause I can’t go there anymore)
Did you find my jean jacket on your back seat?

Did you give her my old key?
Am I anywhere in your memory?
Did your brother move back home
or is he still in LA?

Is the back porch light still broke?
Does it hurt when you hear my name?
Is Songbird spinning on the 45?
(‘Cause I can’t listen anymore)
Is your heart still on your sleeve?

Did you give her my old key?
Am I anywhere in your memory?
Are you thinking about giving her
your grandma’s ring?

(The one your mama gave you to give to me)

Oh, I was just wondering
I got questions
With no intention of ever saying them out loud


CIVILIZATION’S ACCELERATING COLLAPSE


New Yorker cartoon by Tom Toro

We broke the world: Roy Scranton explains how hard it is to face the fact of extinction, and urges us to “practice saying goodbye”. Excerpt:

Most of us are going to go on about our business within the structural and conceptual constraints of the societies in which we live, even as those societies are threatened with existential collapse, even if we happen to know it… Whether the future holds imminent revolution or, more likely, a decades-long collapse—we must accept the coming catastrophe and all that it means.

The deities that came before the fire: Arnold Shroder, writing in Dark Mountain #15, explains that we are living in the story of the end of the world. We simply cannot process information that is overwhelming, he says, until we actually witness it, in some way, for ourselves. And on his own blog (thanks Paul Heft for the link), Arnold ponders our modern ideological landscape as it relates to collapse denial, and says something pretty close to Pollard’s Third Law:

When asked, or when arguing about politics, most of us claim a rational basis for our positions, but this largely reflects the psychological need to believe our deepest intuitions about the world are valid. What is actually happening is that our innate psychological templates direct us toward an ideological position, and the rational parts of our brain then leap in to do the work of justifying it.

The causes of collapse: Richard Heinberg has been writing his far-reaching and thought-provoking Museletter for decades. In a recent essay he explains the six civilizational trends whose excesses have led to our accelerating ecological collapse and also threaten wholesale economic collapse, and how those trends are now abruptly reversing as civilization becomes unsustainable. In the second part of another essay he weighs in on the dispute between XR (more optimistic) and Deep Adaptation (more pessimistic) and comes down largely on the side of the latter. And in a third essay he speculates on the inherent and intentional beauty of the natural world and whether the “aesthetic decadence” of our human civilized world has starved us of experiences and activities that are essential to a truly meaningful life.

The real Great Reset: The conspiracy theorists have branded the Davos gnomes’ plan for a Great Reset “an elite plan to enslave humanity by creating a global authoritarian surveillance super-state, compete with re-education camps for those who suffer from wrongthink, and Soylent Green-style euthanasia camps for addressing the twin problems of overpopulation and an aging society”. But as Tim Watkins explains, it’s actually just a wild-eyed idealist’s ludicrous proposal for how to tweak the economy to make it sustainable. Completely impossible, but utterly well-intentioned. Sadly, as Tim concludes:

There is no currently available energy mix which allows us to continue to grow the industrial economy in the aftermath of the pandemic; and the attempt to do so risks an even greater humanitarian catastrophe than it aims to prevent. If there is to be a viable reset of any kind, it will be akin to what I have called a “brown new deal” in which we use what remains of the energy available to us to de-grow, de-materialise and re-localise our economies while saving some, at least, of the benefits of our current way of life such as basic healthcare and access to clean drinking water. Unfortunately, as the old adage has it, people would much prefer [Davos’ Klaus Schwab’s] reassuring fantasies to my inconvenient truths.


LIVING BETTER


Cartoon by Susan Camilleri Konar from Cartoon Collections

Time for a jubilee: A colleague of the late, great David Graeber calls on Biden to declare a jubilee (across-the-board forgiveness) of all US student debt. Don’t hold your breath, though.

Ibogaine for depression and addiction: Research confirms the medical effectiveness of the hallucinogen ibogaine in treating a variety of psychological disorders. This is the drug Gabor Maté has been advocating in lieu of psilocybin and ayahuasca, and it’s now been manufactured chemically in a form that avoids the serious side effects.

Undam it: If we want fish populations to recover, along with the whole ruined ecosystem they’re part of, one answer is removing the massively destructive and now mostly useless dams we’ve built over the last century. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the link.


POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL


Image circulating on Facebook; artist unknown (thanks to Raffi for the link)

Coup or no coup?: Masha Gessen argues that Trump’s actions since the election bear all the markings of a coup attempt of the type that’s succeeded elsewhere in the world. Zeynep Tüfekçi agrees, but she also presents a contrary viewpoint from Maciej Ceglowski, who argues that the election, despite the theatrics, was actually pretty ordinary, and the real danger is if we ignore the anger and desperation of voters prepared to vote for anyone to bring down the status quo. Meanwhile, Jill Lepore worries that, now that the election has been lost, Trump will burn all the evidence of his years of misdeeds. Could you blame him?

Aussie troops kill dozens of Afghani citizens for kicks: A damning and gut-wrenching report, long delayed by Australian military authorities, finds irrefutable evidence of atrocities by Australia’s Afghan occupation forces. If we think this is the extent of it, or that Aussie troops are particularly bloodthirsty, who are we trying to kid?

Gambling with employees’ lives: Executives of the disgusting mega-factory-farm and animal-slaughter empire Tyson Foods have apparently been placing bets with each other over how many of its employees would die from CoVid-19.

Balancing the extremist US supreme court: Rather than shrugging off outrageous court decisions, Congress, if it had the courage (and the numbers) could simply override the court’s rulings with new legislation, which the courts would be bound to respect. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the link.

US DHS head in office illegally: Chad Wolf, the cretin who suspended DACA, and his deputy, have been found to have been illegally appointed to their posts, and are not even legally eligible to apply for the positions they occupied.

Where’s the leadership Canada needs?: Andrew Nikiforuk brilliantly takes down “leaders” of all three of Canada’s viable political parties, showing them to be as clueless, useless and gutless as Tweedledum and Tweedledee south of the border.

The most important US election was in 2016, and progressives lost: James Kwak fears the question isn’t about if another right-wing autocrat will be elected president, but when. Thanks to John Whiting for the link. Excerpt:

Every election that we take progressives for granted and try to grind out a win by picking up a few more votes from affluent suburbanites—who don’t want higher taxes, don’t want low-income housing in their town, want to keep their employer-provided health insurance, and like the police just fine—is another battle we may or may not win while losing the war for our country’s future.

Trans extremists harass women who dare to call themselves women: Jen Gerson has become the latest target of misogynists who want the term “woman” to be replaced with terms like “uterus-bearing people” or “birthers”, and try to get women who object fired from their jobs.

Blowing the whistle on the CIA: When a DOJ operative complained about illegal CIA-FBI collaborations, he was threatened and sacked.


COVID-19 CORNER


Image from Reddit; original source not cited.

CoVid-19: The half-time show: It’s now looking more than likely that the death toll will close to double between now and the date of effective vaccine inoculation in much of the world. That means another 1.5 million deaths worldwide, another 200k American deaths, and another 20k Canadian deaths. Although the vaccines stand to save 80% of the potential deaths from the disease, these deaths between now and then are drearily preventable. We’re just politically unwilling to take the steps that NZ, Australia, and Taiwan took to prevent them. Just as millions of deaths each year are preventable by a few simple adjustments to our diet and lifestyle that we’re unwilling to mandate (though strangely we seem willing to mandate that other forms of effective suicide are illegal) it seems that these additional disease victims will just be chalked up to “collateral damage” to “save our economy”. Latest updates:

    • It might not work elsewhere, but the idea of a televised conference of Canada’s premiers, health ministers, senior public health officers and federal party leaders might lead to an honest consensus on the way forward, one that would be so transparent as to prevent political maneuvering, and re-engender trust in our political processes. Maybe next pandemic.
    • Things are grim in anti-authoritarian Western North American jurisdictions that were largely spared the spring wave of CoVid-19. In Alberta, the government’s dithering has led to one of the highest infection and death rates in the world. It’s so bad there that when a whistle-blower captured despairing remarks of the senior public health officer about her advice being ignored, she attacked the whistle-blower. In the Dakotas, which imposed almost no restrictions, the situation is even worse, and hospitals are overflowing. And in nearby Idaho soldiers are triaging patients in parking lots.
    • Meanwhile, some small, rigorous research is teaching us important new things about the disease. Zeynep Tüfekçi describes one study of transmission in restaurants that concludes “air flow and talking seem to matter a great deal; Three, indoor dining and any activity where people are either singing or huffing and puffing (like a gym) indoors, especially with poor ventilation, clearly remains high risk; both masks (which dampen the emission of droplets/aerosols from the infected person and which can also lessen the amount one breathes in) and ventilation remain crucial tools”. A second study from Yale (thanks to Melissa Harrison for the link) concluded that: mask mandates work for everyone, especially employees; “recommending” masks does not; “stay-at-home orders, limiting gatherings to 10 people, and closing restaurants, gyms, and parks and beaches” all work (“parks and beaches” was a surprise, and seems due to groups spending a lot of time partying together in close quarters); closing low-risk retail businesses such as bookstores and clothing stores, and limiting gatherings to “fewer than 100” people did not work, the former leading to higher-risk behaviours and the latter to complacency in smaller groups.

FUN AND INSPIRATION


Photo by Indika Nettigama, posted on the Frans de Waal FB page. This is one smart leopard!

A history of the planet: What was earth like 3B years ago?

Foo fighting: A very young British Zulu artist Nandi Bushell challenges Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl to a drum battle. Dave accepts. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the links.

Some things never change: Restored, colourized version of a short 1906 film. Of course, there is a video-bombing cat who steals the show.

AOC and Jagmeet Singh kill people: Playing the hit video game Among Us (based on the old party game Werewolf), my favourite American and Canadian politicians raise a ton of money to fight poverty and evictions. How it came about.

Russian cyberpunk farm: A bizarre but brilliant video about imagined Russian agricultural AI, with a ton of “inside” jokes in Russian (spoilers in the comment by Const Axe here). Thanks to Raffi for the link.

How’d they get that sound?: The series Song Exploder will tell you all the secrets behind some of your favourite songs.

How they do CoVid-19 in Scotland: Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon sounds a lot like other daily reporters on the virus‘ toll. But voice-over spoofer Janey Godley takes it to a whole ‘nother level. Falling down funny.

Could perovskites revolutionize solar?: No, perovskites are not a Russian radical sect. They’re actually a group of materials found naturally, like silicas, but they can also be made synthetically, printed on a dot-matrix printer, and sprayed on flexible rolls, making them much more versatile than solar panels, and potentially producing twice the energy per square inch.


RADICAL NON-DUALITY STUFF


photo and artwork by Rita Newman

A sampling of radical non-duality messengers: The message is the same, but the voices and the wording of how “this” is described vary considerably:


THOUGHTS FOR THE MONTH


Image from FatCatArt; thanks to Jason Heppenstall for the link. Homage to Dali’s Persistence of Memory, of course. And the background, as we all know, is the landscape of Cat-alonia.

From Caitlin Johnstone:

“Thus far, 46 percent of Biden’s transition staff are people of color and 41 percent of senior staff are people of color,” Vox reports. “More than half of the transition staff — 52 percent — are women, and 53 percent of senior staff are women.” Meanwhile exactly zero percent of them oppose war, nuclear brinkmanship, starvation sanctions and imperialism. Zero percent oppose US oligarchy or its sociopathic intelligence agencies. Zero percent support universal healthcare or redistributing the nation’s immense wealth to end poverty in the United States. Zero percent support ending the drug war, ending the prison-industrial complex, ending the US police state, ending mass surveillance. Zero percent oppose Israeli apartheid, oppose internet censorship, or oppose mass media propaganda via US plutocracy.

Mock headline of the month, from The Beaverton, Canada’s version of The Onion:

Amber Alert issued for 52-year-old premier:  EDMONTON – Edmonton Police Service have issued an amber alert for Alberta Premier Jason Kenney who is nowhere to be found and may be in danger. The 52-year-old, who has the accountability of a five-year-old, is believed to have been kidnapped or is ducking for political cover during a bad news cycle as Alberta has reported more COVID-19 cases than a province three times its size.

And a repost from 2016 thoughts of the month: from Warsan Shire, “What They Did Yesterday Afternoon”:

they set my aunt’s house on fire
i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who used to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?

i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
dear god
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.


 

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End, Radical Non-Duality | Comments Off on Links of the Month: December 2020

The Illusion of Democracy: A World Gone Mad Part 2

Voters in most so-called western democracies could not be blamed if they feel a bit like innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire of a gang war: Whew! We dodged the Trump bullet, but damn! now Biden’s taking aim!

The problem with this metaphor is that we may see ourselves as what is now euphemistically called “collateral damage” in this war. We’re actually the targets. The politicians would seem to be shooting at each other, but that’s only because they’re fighting over who gets to steal our stuff. The politicians are just pawns for a handful of powerful cadres who have already stolen 90% of the power and wealth of the planet. What they want is to ensure they get to keep all that, and slowly acquire the other 10%. To do that they want regressive taxation (see my last post), complete deregulation of their activities, and new laws that benefit and protect them.

In fancy activist terms, we are ruled by a corporatist plutocracy. “Corporatist” is just a fancy word for fascist, which means nothing more than an authoritarian dictatorship run in perpetuity by an elite power group that represses all opposition. That is essentially the modus operandi of all large corporations, and, now, most governments. “Plutocracy” means government control by the very wealthy.

There is nothing inherently evil or even necessarily corrupt in this. Corporatism can come in a variety of ideological flavours, depending on which elite it favours — “everyone in their place” patriarchal conservatives, the military-industrial complex, the “Main Street” corporate oligopolies, or the financial banksters. These gangs overlap and cooperate, but they also compete for who’s going to get the 10% of wealth and power that still hasn’t been stolen from the rest of us.

The patriarchal conservatives are especially popular in gang circles because they will often settle for more repressive laws (eg no abortions, no right to die, no immigrants stealing our share of the pie, jail all the protesters and militarize the cops); in return for support on this, they will support just about any laws that allow the theft and divvying up of the rest of the world’s wealth, the starving of social services for the “masses”, deregulation of every industry, tax cuts for the rich, and defunding of government services except the military.

So in the US we are seeing, for now, the departure of Trump, a chameleon who promised the moon to the white working class and then betrayed them when he realized his own wealth and power depended completely on playing nice with the corporatist gangs, who begrudgingly allowed the fake-nouveau riche orange tub of lard into their gang as long as he behaved. And for them, he has behaved very well.

And we’re seeing the installation of Biden, the long-time warmonger, social conservative, and corporatist shill reinstated in his place. No change at all behind the scenes, other than the superficial ideological difference (Like Trump’s, Biden’s position on abortion, for example, has been all over the map), and a different set of names of the specific group of gang leaders appointed to oversee the corporatist plutocracy for the next four years. This year’s appointees have been at least as notable for their military-industrial connections and their corporate lobbying connections as for their symbolic diversity.

So we can expect much more “defence” spending by the Biden gang — meaning that money will be spent on military budgets and war-mongering against Russia, China, Iran and Syria, although none of them poses any threat to the US. But it’s good for “the economy”! It also means that the criminal war against the civilians of Yemen will continue under this “moderate” administration, and that anti-progressive interventions in the rest of the world will be stepped up.

The complete lack of any so-called “leftists” in the cabinet suggests that the gang has concluded that the half-way measure of the Affordable Care Act was seen by the corporatists as an expensive sop that didn’t provide enough bang (in terms of placating the outrage of the masses) for the considerable buck.

Hence, don’t look for any expansions to public services under Biden, and especially don’t expect any reforms to regulations over monopolies, financial usury, and similar “unfair” business practices. Expect lots of symbolic gestures and platitudes on the environment, since polls show they are popular and don’t cost anything, but don’t expect anything of substance, such as an admission that the capitalist industrial growth economy is making our planet uninhabitable and has to be stopped at all costs, or even a Green New Deal.

There will be more hand-wringing under Biden, since he can do this more convincingly than the smug-faced Trump. He will also have much better speech-writers, which will play well to the dwindling portion of the electorate that is both literate and inclined to listen to speeches.

There actually was an election coup in 2020, but it’s not the one Trump has attempted, nor the alleged one conspiracy theorists posit Biden to have accomplished. It was the coup that, just like four years ago, blackballed Bernie Sanders when it looked like he was getting more popular than their hand-picked gang-member-for-president.

Four years ago, deciding that Bernie was more of a threat to the establishment than Trump, they used the mainstream media to spread fear and misinformation about him, who they feared could cost them the election to Cruz, Rubio, Bush or Kasich (and who might cost them big-time if he actually acted on his campaign promises). Their nasty campaign worked: Hillary Clinton, the “sure-fire” candidate, was selected instead.

That backfired, but they discovered the politically malleable Trump was actually pretty easy for them to control, and his blather distracted from their successes at increasing their share of wealth, and deregulating industry, at an unprecedented pace.

So this year, knowing that they couldn’t get the Republicans to dump Trump for a more mentally stable candidate, they again focused on defeating Bernie Sanders (and to a lesser extent Elizabeth Warren), when Bernie appeared poised to win the nomination again (see chart above). They posted hundreds of op-eds in the mainstream media warning that the so-called “leftist” candidates were “unelectable”, and had ill-thought-out and “dangerous” platforms — and that voting for any of them was “handing the election to Donald Trump”. They said this with no sense of irony. They endorsed the obedient Biden and poured money into his campaign, and strong-armed other candidates to endorse Biden or face being the “spoiler” (shades of Ralph Nader) who forever destroyed the Democrats’ presidential hopes.

This campaign also worked, so they got their candidate nominated and into office, and the strong-arm tactics even worked on the so-called “leftists”, who endorsed and worked furiously for Biden. Though they really had no choice — if they’d refused to endorse Biden and Trump had won (which he would have), they’d have become perpetual pariahs.

So, as in most western so-called “democracies”, your choice really comes down to which corporatist tool candidate to support. Any candidate that rouses the masses to take back wealth and power from the gangs is going to face the wealth and power of those who simply will not allow that to happen. If that wealth and power were more equally distributed, a “democratic” rebuff might be possible. But it is no longer so. Even when the occasional non-gang member is elected, it is quickly made very clear to them the consequences of not doing what they’re told, and they fall into line.

It’s pretty much foolproof. The incumbent fools in the US, Canada, the UK and Australia, among others, make that quite clear. They all reneged on election “promises” to favour the corporatists.

This is mad. It’s not democracy. Yet the mainstream media continue, despite all the evidence, to talk about how a new democratic resurgence is possible. We have a new opportunity, they extol, to tackle the ecological, economic and social justice crises that are getting ever-worse, and to wipe away the scourge of crippling, cruel, and unsustainable debt levels. George Packer in the Atlantic writes:

Beneath the dreary furor of the partisan wars, most Americans agree on fundamental issues facing the country. Large majorities say that government should ensure some form of universal health care, that it should do more to mitigate global warming, that the rich should pay higher taxes, that racial inequality is a significant problem, that workers should have the right to join unions, that immigrants are a good thing for American life, that the federal government is plagued by corruption. These majorities have remained strong for years. The readiness, the demand for action, is new.

George is a wonderful investigative reporter, and of course he is right. But surely he understands that all of the above actions, if taken, would redistribute wealth and power away from the gangs that control both parties (and their counterparts in many other countries). As such, they simply will not be allowed to occur.

I know I sound cynical in this, but what I’m describing isn’t an evil plot; it’s just humans behaving in their self-interest in a system that is not in anyone’s control, not even theirs.

It’s completely insane, but it’s perfectly understandable. And, just as the inequality I described in my last article won’t go away as a result of some great human enlightenment, neither will the perversion of the (never entirely noble) idea of democracy.

Thanks to systems no one actually designed, that are now so dysfunctional they are collapsing, most of the citizens of earth in 2020 are fated to live in an alms-based economy and ruled by a corporatist plutocracy.

It’s mad. But it will be over soon.


Next in the “mad world” series: Taking stock of our health care and education systems.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 4 Comments

Some Are More Equal Than Others: A World Gone Mad Part 1

Some people I know think the world has gone mad. I agree with them, but not for the reasons they cite.

They think it’s mad for people to be “forced” to wear masks and to stay away from work or loved ones during the pandemic. I think the fact that five billion people across the globe are wearing masks and taking other steps to protect the health and safety of others, is perhaps the most hopeful and merciful sign of global solidarity in a time of crisis that the world has ever witnessed.

They think it’s mad for people to be calling for the abolition of police forces while at the same time “allowing rioters to vandalize” government buildings with impunity. I think that replacing staggeringly expensive militarized police forces that have a long, horrific record of killing innocent people wth impunity, their violence focused notably on BIPOC citizens, the homeless, refugees, immigrants and other mostly defenceless people — replacing them with a throng of community social workers whose mandate is to address the myriad problems (poverty, mental and physical illness, racism and discrimination, obscene inequality of wealth, power and opportunity etc) that underlie the strife in our communities, is a brilliant, radical and long-overdue plan.

But I do agree the world has gone mad. Witness the fact that more money is being spent on military actions and “defence” against supposed “enemies” viz Russia, China and select Middle East nations like Iran and Syria, than has ever been spent on anything, by any group, ever in our history, and those countries are being subjected to cruel sanctions that almost exclusively kill and starve innocent citizens, while (a) Russian and American astronauts and scientific experts collaborate closely on the International Space Station and other globally valuable science programs, and (b) Chinese medical authorities and scientists have worked openly and closely with colleagues all over the world since the start of the pandemic, sequencing and globally sharing the virus’ code way back on January 10th, without which a vaccine might well still be at least a year away. Insane, right?

(Yes, I’m aware that this article already contains several sentences so long as to possibly qualify for the book of world records. I get wordy when I get worked up.)

And there are some things even more insane than that. This will be the first of a series of articles on the most insane things going on in our world. There is a nuclear level of dysfunction and cognitive dissonance in each of them.

My subject for this first article is inequality. On that score, here is what’s insane:

  • All the net wealth increase that has occurred across the entire planet since 1980, the production of which is directly responsible for pushing us past the tipping point of climate collapse, has accrued to just the richest 1% of the planet’s citizens. Everyone else has become poorer.
  • As a result of tax laws passed by administrations of both the Tweedledum and Tweedledee party in the US since 1960, the richest 0.1% of Americans now pay the lowest average effective tax rate of any income group. The trend is the same in most western countries, though it’s not quite reached that insane level.
  • Despite the ghastly economic hardship that has accrued to the vast majority of citizens on the planet as a result of this pandemic, the stock market is at record high levels, and analysts say it is poised to go much higher.
  • Throughout the pandemic, which would have resulted in the foreclosure and eviction of up to 30% of renters in many countries had it not been for rent and eviction freezes and emergency payments to renters and mortgagors by governments, the real estate market has been especially hot throughout the pandemic, with average prices in many areas rising 20-40% since it started. In some communities fewer than 20% of those working in the community had the income to afford to buy or rent in that community, and that was before the pandemic began.
  • Recent public offerings of companies like Airbnb, which has never turned a profit and has seen its revenues devastated by the pandemic, have been priced at more than twice the expected offering price, and been oversubscribed.

Now that’s mad. You have the richest 1%, who combined have more income than the remaining 99%, with so much money pouring in that they’ll dump it into ridiculously overpriced stocks, real estate and IPOs — anywhere there is at least some prospect of it at least holding its value. They will never need it. They don’t know what to do with it all. And governments desperate to try to keep that wealth in the country are proposing even more tax cuts to the ultra-rich to encourage them t0 do so.

For the rest of us, it’s alms time. The word comes from the Greek word for pity, and we’re used to using it in reference to meagre provisions for the destitute, the ill, refugees, and the homeless. But what we have now is an alms-based economy. Those desperately needing money for medical care to stay alive or to address incapacitating health problems are literally begging on YouFundMe and other sites that were set up purportedly for raising venture capital for new enterprises. The small cheques sent to many (and in some areas, most) families during the pandemic are, let’s face it, charity, alms for the poor who can’t make it any other way. And even then, many governments are dithering on whether such alms for the majority of the population are “affordable”. In many western nations, close to 20% of children live in families below the poverty line, dependent on food stamps, school meal programs and other “handouts” that can disappear overnight.

And the citizens aren’t the only ones who’s been left begging. The mainstream media have reached the level of insolvency, despite their billionaire owners, that they’ve all had to erect paywalls of one kind or another that prevent many from even reading the news about how bad the situation has become. A paywall is the equivalent of a pay toilet — a charge for an absolutely essential service. A charge that many now cannot afford.

For many citizens now, charities and foundations begging for money constitute the largest portion of what they get in their mailbox (physical and email). Most of them provide what should be considered essential (health, education, environmental protection, and public advocacy) services.

Of course, the big corporations that back Tweedledum and Tweedledee don’t have to, exactly, beg. They get the money they need to keep their share value from collapsing buried in omnibus bills with other pork, kickbacks and “subsidies”. Corporate welfare for the vast enterprises of the 1% has been around since even before Reaganomics and Thatcherism. But it’s now a fine art, with the corporate lawyers actually drafting much of the legislation that gives them all the money and tax breaks they want; the politicians don’t have to raise a finger, except to vote “yea”. And it’s a revolving door between the halls of office and the offices of the corporate C-suites of the corporate welfare bums. If you’re part of the 1%, which nowadays with financial mobility reduced to nearly zero means if you’re already rich or are the child or spouse of someone who is, you really can’t lose. If you’re not in that elite number, you soon learn that “others need not apply”.

This is insane. It’s embarrassing. It’s unsustainable. It’s in the process of destroying our ecosystems and rendering much of the world unfit for human (or other) habitation. The rich know it — they’ve already acquired all the good safe haven properties in New Zealand, Hawai’i and other places that may escape the worst of growing ecological and economic collapse. Now they’re just trading them with each other for profit, pushing the prices up even higher.

And the rest of us, feeling justifiably helpless and hopeless about what to do, can only watch as it all starts to spring apart. The nature of complex systems, as I’ve repeated ad nauseam, is to self-perpetuate and to resist change until they become so dysfunctional they utterly collapse. The alms economy is very far along that road. Better keep walking that tightrope, because they’ve taken away the net below.

When scientists study mice in terribly overcrowded, unsustainable conditions, they notice that the mice inevitably go crazy. They kill each other. They retreat into immobility and allow themselves to die of starvation. They eat their own young. Normally generous and even altruistic, when the system is so haywire that normal behaviours no longer make sense, they stop sharing and instead hoard. No one to blame for this; it’s how complex systems work. Sometimes collapse is the fastest route back to sustainable equilibrium, nature’s last resort.

We’re no different from the mice. Look out, they’re coming for your cheese.


More on Tweeledum and Tweedledee in Part Two, coming up soon.

 

 

 

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves | 3 Comments

What Price Freedom?


Image by kaaathi from Pixabay CC0

I have argued before that there is no such thing as an “inalienable right” — in a civilized society, rights and freedoms are granted to us in return for commensurate responsibilities, and balanced against other rights and freedoms with which they may conflict. It’s a bargain, and the price of living in civilization.

Once upon a time, idealists not interested in the terms of the bargain were “free” to opt out of civilization, and go where there was none, or where the new settlers were still defining the rights, freedoms and responsibilities that would apply in their new frontier. But today there are no such frontiers left. Civilization is global, and while one’s rights and freedoms and responsibilities vary (at least formally) from country to country, our only choice if we don’t like the local bargain is to beg admission to another place whose bargain seems more to our liking. And few countries are accepting more than a tiny portion of those looking for a better bargain.

In Canada, for example, the rights and freedoms granted to citizens, residents and visitors are codified in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is a part of the Canadian Constitution, and which prevails (with a couple of notable exceptions) over any and all laws and regulations of the land. The Charter explicitly acknowledges that no rights or freedoms are absolute — they can be “limited to protect other rights or important national values” (eg hate speech is not protected by the freedom of speech provision). Nevertheless, they are not to be trifled with lightly. They have been the basis for Canada’s hard-fought laws for women’s reproductive freedom. Their violation by laws restricting Canadians’ right to die with dignity have been struck down by the courts (and the newest attempt to restrict those rights seems similarly likely to be struck down almost as soon as it is passed into law, unless the Canadian Senate prevails upon Trudeau to gather up the courage to confront the right-to-lifers).

Much of the global outrage over CoVid-19 restrictions seems to be a fundamental disagreement over whether the right of the majority to protection from an out-of-control pandemic (and the right of governments to impose restrictions to enforce that right) does, or does not, supersede the right of any individual or group to pursue activities they believe to be essential to their spiritual or financial health. American constitutional law is much clumsier and more ambiguous than the modern Canadian equivalent, so the US courts have been inconsistently adjudicating this dispute over whose rights should prevail, unfortunately largely along ideological lines rather than those based either in jurisprudence or overarching principle. Similar conflicts are playing out all over the world.

This raises the question about what the de facto priorities are in ranking rights and freedoms where they conflict. Some obvious examples (I admit my biases on these issues are pretty obvious in how I frame these conflicts):

  • a woman’s right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy versus the rights of a foetus to be carried to term and be supported by that woman for as long as necessary
  • a person’s right to end their own life of (what is to them) intolerable physical or mental anguish versus the rights of those dependent on that person for continued support
  • a society’s collective right to be free of the scourge of fatal and debilitating contagious diseases versus the rights of individuals to behaviour that is in their own personal best interest but which (on the best available evidence) is likely to increase the spread of such diseases
  • the rights of citizens (let’s not get into non-humans’ rights for the moment) to live in a healthy, unpolluted, sustainable environment versus a business’ (and/or its owners’) right to conduct its affairs to maximize profits
  • a BIPOC person’s right to freedom from discrimination, assault and harassment versus the rights of all citizens to choose who they want to associate with, say what they believe, and be protected by “law enforcement agencies” they trust
  • the rights of citizens to restrict the sale of foods, drugs and other products that are (on the best available evidence) unhealthy, addictive and/or toxic versus the rights of the food industry to maximize profits and the rights of citizens to consume whatever they want
  • a conscientious objector’s right not to fight in what they consider an unjust war versus the rights of citizens to raise an army to protect themselves against what they consider an existential threat to their security or sovereignty

As you can tell, these conflicts between rights and freedoms are principally based on disagreements about the facts, more than they are moral disagreements, though there is a moral component to some of these conflicts. The problem is that generally we cannot know the facts (or the future) for certain, so (Pollard’s third law) we believe what we want to believe are the facts, and hence tend to find the “other” side’s position untenable, deniable, or repugnant.

If we could see into the future, or, even better, if we could see into a range of alternatively possible futures based on what we did today, there would likely be much less disagreement over which rights should prevail today. But we cannot, and even in cases where research has indicated how people on both sides of the dispute in past have felt once the consequences were known, this evidence is rarely enough to overcome Pollard’s third law. For example, there is strong evidence that most women choosing to have an abortion have said years later it was the right decision, while those talked out of it were considerably less sure they made the right decision. But there is always the objection that those in both situations are “rationalizing” their decision to assuage their guilt. In these debates, there is never a winner.

Every freedom has its costs. Affirmative action to enable oppressed people to access the same rights and freedoms as the dominant castes, will inevitably disadvantage those ‘displaced’ by these actions. Whether that’s ‘fair’ or not depends on where you stand. The Trudeau government is being guilt-tripped by right-to-lifers into trying to protect disabled Canadians from being coerced into ending their lives unwillingly or unwittingly by unscrupulous heirs or exhausted caregivers. There is always a risk of this, but it has to be weighed against the risk of condemning thousands of times more Canadians to have to live out truly unbearable and agonizing lives (physical or mental — Alzheimers can take a terrible toll) against their will.

As I said in my previous article, I think the last forty years has seen a shift away from willingness to sacrifice personal rights and freedoms in the collective interest, due principally to a growing, and cultivated, distrust of government and central authority.

What would be the price of freedom if (as is highly likely) in the near future we face another pandemic? And what is the price of individual freedom as we slide deeper into collective ecological, economic, and possibly social, collapse? What are we willing to sacrifice for a collective healthy future, or at least the healthiest that is possible given the circumstances we’re likely to face?

The overwhelming consensus of scientists, based on actual scientific data — far from certain but the best available evidence right now — is that we absolutely must prevent a 1.5ºC rise in global average temperature to have a reasonable chance of averting runaway climate collapse (a catastrophic 4-6ºC rise by 2100 rendering most of the planet uninhabitable by humans).

What would we have to give up to prevent such a rise? The various scenarios that have been run so far (and they have all — all — proven to be far too optimistic) suggest that we would essentially have to stop using hydrocarbons entirely within five years, and simultaneously institute a massive, globally-coordinated and globally-honoured campaign to reduce net emissions to zero shortly after that. Setting aside the Rapture, a sudden magical agreement and united effort of 8-9B people to completely change their lifestyle and accept enormous hardships, the technophiles’ wet dream of an energy source that defies the laws of thermodynamics, or a friendly alien intervention, my guess is that the sacrifices we would have to make would be something like this:

  1. A complete and immediate shutdown of non-essential industrial activity. That would mean everyone’s “right” to consume anything beyond (government!-rationed) food, water, basic medical goods, and enough heating or cooling to prevent extreme discomfort, would end. We’d each get, as has happened in previous large-scale emergencies like wars and depressions, some coupons for a small quantity of non-essential goods that we could “spend” as we wish. You would not be able to buy anything with currency, credit or savings.
  2. This would of course crash the Ponzi scheme stock market and real estate market, and with it most people’s life savings, net worth and pensions. But since very few people would actually be working, we’d all be living on a standard guaranteed annual income anyway, so everyone having zero net worth would only, for most, be a heartbreak, not an existential threat.
  3. The most obvious change would be the end of the private automobile and other private transportation, and the end of airplane travel (the biggest single contributor to emissions), and long-distance shipping of goods. Feeling your freedoms impinged upon yet? You’d have a short time to make a final move to be with family and loved ones, and then you’d be left with very expensive and unreliable telecommunications to stay in touch with those more than a short bus ride away.
  4. If you’re in the privileged caste, you’d lose a lot more of your “rights”. You wouldn’t be allowed to maintain your expensive property, since that would exceed your personal emissions limit. So you’d either see it collapse, or gift most of it to people who hadn’t used up their limits. Your golf courses would be closed, of course. Your private jet would be grounded.
  5. You’d still have the freedom to say and believe what you want, as long as it wasn’t hateful or violence-provoking. You’d have to walk to the steps of the government offices to protest the restrictions on your freedoms, and you still wouldn’t have the right to kidnap the governor. You’d still have freedom of religion (ie to walk to church). You’d still be able to leave the country, on foot or horseback or boat or on public ground transport up to your emissions limit, provided the next country was willing to take you for a while. You’d still have the right to equal treatment and freedom from mistreatment by law enforcement officials, if you ever had that.
  6. You’d have the right and freedom, and encouragement, to start up or partner with an enterprise that provided essential goods and services to your local community, within the emissions limit. You wouldn’t be paid for doing so, but you wouldn’t need or have any use for the money anyway. And you’d be thanked.
  7. You’d still have a “right” to privacy, even though it’s not a constitutional one. But you’d probably find you had less need to exercise it in a world that would be, of necessity, much more egalitarian and much more “public” — more of what you give and receive would be through collaborative, communitarian, voluntary activities. Not much room, or need, for closed doors for anything but the most personal activities.

So much of the identity of so many in most affluent nations is caught up in our identity as consumers, that any radical shift to an economy of minimal consumption (and production) is likely unfathomable to most of us. We wouldn’t know who we were without our stuff, differentiating us from everybody else (and/or symbolizing our membership, our belonging within some elite group). We would have to relearn how to belong, without money as the currency, in our own local communities.

But don’t worry, none of this is going to happen. Even if we were willing to give up our rights to acquire and to do everything we can afford (and, thanks to credit, to acquire lots of things that we can’t afford) — which we aren’t — no government or corporation would ever allow it to happen. The issue isn’t so much what rights and freedoms we’d have to give up to prevent climate collapse, but why preventing collapse is impossible, and what that will mean to all of us, and to our rights and freedoms, as that collapse advances.

So let’s take a more immediate look at these rights and freedoms “trade-offs”. Given the accelerating rate of pandemics in this century, and the near-impossibility of eliminating factory farming, exotic animal harvesting, and intrusions into the last wildernesses of the planet (which together have led to almost all modern pandemics), we’re very likely to face the next one within a decade at most. How are we likely to respond if, say, seven years from now we get another pandemic that looks, at least at first, like CoVid-19 — that is, it appears highly transmissible (ie most of the planet will get it relatively quickly in the absence of drastic interventions), and its mortality rate is unclear (ie could be like the seasonal flu, or several time more lethal like CoVid-19, or much more lethal like SARS or MERS)?

Let’s consider how CoVid-19 is likely to be remembered looking back from 2027. It now appears likely that the global IFR of the 2020-21 “waves” will be about 0.36%, with much lower rates in countries with young populations and considerably higher rates (averaging about 0.43%) in older populations like North America and Europe.

The death toll so far has been about 1.5M and it’s still accelerating, so suppose it reaches 3.0M by the time an effective vaccine is in effect worldwide. That would mean that 10% of the world’s population was infected before the vaccine inoculated the rest of us. If we’d waited for “herd immunity”, when more than 50% of the population was infected, then conservatively 15M would have died instead of 3M; ie we saved 12M lives through globally-imposed restrictions.

[Equivalent numbers for the US: current deaths 275,000; projected by vaccine date 400-500,000; percent of population then infected 30-35%; lives saved 600,000-1 million.] These numbers are based on current best estimates and are conservative — they don’t factor in any unreported “excess deaths” likely attributable to CoVid-19.

And these are just deaths; we’re not talking about hospital overwhelm, which could easily have doubled the number of deaths, and we’re not talking about the billions spared from the disease, a disease whose long-term effect on the bodies, hearts, brains, lungs, other organs and lives of close to a billion people that will have been infected before inoculation, is utterly unknown. And we’re assuming the virus doesn’t mutate, as happened in the 1918 pandemic.

So the restrictions on our rights and freedoms saved a “mere” 12 million lives around the world and a bit less than a million American lives in 2020-21. It reduced the degree of infection of probably more than half a billion people, and prevented any infection in around 4 billion humans, even assuming this incredibly transmissible disease would only have touched half the planet without our interventions.

Meanwhile, the 1918 pandemic killed 50 million (700,000 in the US), the average annual flu kills about 500,000 (50,000 in the US), heart diseases and strokes kill 18 million a year (800,000 in the US), lung diseases including pulmonary disease and lung cancer kill 5 million a year (300,000 in the US), and pneumonia and other respiratory infections kill a total of 3 million a year (160,000 in the US).

So looking back from the perspective of 2027, and the advent of, say, disease H7N9-27, having spread through Tyson’s massive factory farms in Arkansas and just recently leapt the species barrier to humans, how do you think we might react to the news?

My guess is that we’ll be no better prepared for this than we were this year for CoVid-19. We had warning of the dangers of coronaviruses in 2003 (SARS, CFR=11%) and again in 2012 (MERS, CFR=34%) which mercifully had low transmissibility, and in the years since we did essentially nothing to prepare for the inevitable next one. And since we’ll be no better prepared, we will inevitably be stuck with the same ineffective “yo-yo” response regime, at best, next time. In fact, there may be more intransigence about restrictions since CoVid-19 had a much-lower-than-feared fatality rate.

So, what price freedom? The freedom to suffer and die from heart diseases, strokes, lung diseases, cancers, diabetes and dozens of other chronic conditions directly related to our poor diets, to preserve our right to ingest whatever we want, whatever tastes good and makes us feel good.

The freedom to die a ghastly death from a suffocating respiratory and circulatory system illness caused by a pandemic knowingly allowed to run out of control for fear of damaging “the economy” or letting governments “control our lives”.

The freedom to struggle and die in a world devastated and desolated by climate and ecological collapse, with 2B climate refugees and comparable numbers dying in place for want of the basic necessities of life, when we knew what had to be done to at least have a chance of preventing it.

Wolfi Landstreicher, in a quote I have used often on this blog, explains the primeval sentiment that underlies our yearning for freedom, for independence:

In a very general way, we know what we want. We want to live as wild, free beings in a world of wild, free beings. The humiliation of having to follow rules, of having to sell our lives away to buy survival, of seeing our usurped desires transformed into abstractions and images in order to sell us commodities fills us with rage. How long will we put up with this misery? We want to make this world into a place where our desires can be immediately realized, not just sporadically, but normally. We want to re-eroticize our lives. We want to live not in a dead world of resources, but in a living world of free wild lovers. We need to start exploring the extent to which we are capable of living these dreams in the present without isolating ourselves. This will give us a clearer understanding of the domination of civilization over our lives, an understanding which will allow us to fight domestication more intensely and so expand the extent to which we can live wildly.

So this instinctive revulsion to restrictions on our freedoms is, to me, completely understandable. The problem is, its realization is utterly incompatible with civilization. We can’t have it both ways. We can give up the narrow freedom to buy and own stuff, whatever we can afford, or not afford, in order to regain the broader freedom Wolfi describes, but to do so we will have to give up the civilization on which the narrow freedom depends. With 7.8B crowded like tribbles onto this increasingly biologically and ecologically impoverished planet, we have to accept more and more restrictions on our freedoms in order to avoid massive violence and chaos. We all have to obey, all have to answer the call to keep rowing, faster and faster, over the edge into oblivion. We have to deny that this is madness, that it cannot go on, that it’s going to kill all of us.

We long ago gave up our freedom, and our illusory rights, in the bargain that brought us civilization, its creature comforts, its conformity, its ghastly and oblivious destruction. We were conned, but we didn’t know any better, and neither did the con artists who struck the bargain with us. “Ladies and gentlemen, the ride is coming to an end. Please remain in your seats.” It will be over soon. As JT said: No one’s gonna stop us now.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 4 Comments

Salvaging Human Society


For many years, my writing about collapse centred around the “3 E’s” — economic, energy, and ecological collapse. They are of course connected. An economy cannot be maintained when severe weather events keep crashing the infrastructure everywhere, or when climate collapse produces 2 billion climate refugees or makes large parts of the planet unfit for either habitation or agriculture.

Likewise, we cannot prevent an ever-worsening ecological collapse when we apply a religion of never-ending industrial growth and increasing human population far beyond what our finite earth systems can support. And our economy depends entirely on cheap, affordable energy which, even with today’s massive subsidies of fossil fuel production, is running out. Most of it will likely be left in the ground not because it will reduce the severity of climate change, but because as our economy stumbles it will simply be too expensive to extract. So decline in energy use may mean both a brief respite for the planet’s ecological systems and a precipitator of collapse of our economic systems.

While all this is still true, I’ve come to realize that there are many more inextricably interconnected systems that comprise the earth (ecological) systems and human (civilizational) systems on which our lives depend, and that they are all poised to collapse. Some of these are listed in the chart above.

History is replete with examples of political, financial and economic collapse, and often when one fails the rest of these systems follow. Much of the world already lives in cities and countries that are in fairly advanced stages of both civilizational and ecological collapse. I have argued that the collapse of our human systems is likely to precede the collapse of the world’s ecological systems, which I think will be more gradual. But ecological collapse is still accelerating, and my sense is it will almost inevitably inflict the final blow on civilization by the end of this century.

The many economic crashes we have seen in past, and which various countries have seen lead to panic and even starvation, have occurred frightening quickly — in a matter of months when a “tipping point” is reached. The problem now is that our economy is so tightly globally integrated, and so lacking in resilience (“efficiency”, being cheaper and more profitable for corporations, has been pursued instead) that the next crash is highly likely to be global. And since the mechanisms to recover from a crash have now all been exhausted (we used the last of them up in 2008), when it happens it will probably be a ‘permanent’ (unrecoverable) collapse.

As I’ve written about often, this will mean a collapse of substantially all currencies, businesses, international (and most domestic) trade, the job market, and the value of real estate, investments and pensions. This will likely lead, as it has before (but this time globally), to the bankruptcy of governments and the devolution of almost all economic activity by default to the community level. We will essentially have to start again to build, community by community, economies that are sustainable and radically relocalized, rather than predicated on the current centralized Ponzi scheme of perpetual double-digit growth and ignored externalities.

Many writers on collapse have expressed the hope that we can manage, with difficulty, collapse of our economic and political systems, while keeping our social systems more or less intact. Social disintegration, if it happens, will create vastly more suffering than the collapse of our economic, financial and political systems (and the educational, health care, technological infrastructure and other systems that depend on them).

As someone who believes we’re all doing our best, my sense has always been that salvaging our social systems should be possible, and will be essential to avoiding chaos as the rest of our systems collapse. But of late I’m becoming less confident that that is possible.

What exactly are our “social systems”? They are, in essence, a vast array of tacit agreements on how we will individually and collectively behave. These agreements are built on a mutual trust that it is in the collective interest of everyone to respect them. Some examples:

  1. Contribution to shared services: We agree to pay a fair amount of taxes, tithes or similar payments to finance what we agree to be “essential services” — our collective health, education, roads, communications and other infrastructure, and “defence” and “security”.
  2. Abiding by laws: We agree to respect and uphold the laws of the land, even when we don’t agree with all of them.
  3. Unified response to crises: We agree to subordinate our personal interests to some extent to the collective interest in times of recognized crisis (wars, depressions, “natural” disasters).
  4. Allow governments to do their best: We respect governments to have the collective best interest of the whole population in mind, even when we disagree with what they see that best interest to be.
  5. Universal rights and responsibilities: We agree to respect a broad set of rights and freedoms for everyone, and to amicably and peacefully resolve differences when these rights and freedoms are perceived to conflict. These rights include property rights. These rights and freedoms come with a commensurate set of responsibilities, including the responsibility to ensure one’s property doesn’t harm others, and the responsibility to dutifully discharge one’s debts so as to not undermine confidence in the system of exchange.

I would argue that since the 1980s — just 40 years ago — most of the population in most nations has moved from a profound respect for these agreements to a position of no longer accepting most or all of these agreements. That is neither a good nor a bad thing in itself, and it is certainly understandable given the current utter dysfunction of most of our human systems. But the prevalence of this new antipathy towards any basic social contracts has profound implications for social cohesion, locally, nationally and globally.

Here are some examples of how this has manifested since it seemingly began in the reactionary Reagan/Thatcher era:

  1. Loss of commitment to paying for and providing shared services for all:
    • Tax cheats, corrupt administrations and powerful international corporate lobbies openly reject the idea of paying taxes for “others’” essential services.
    • Tax fraud is euphemistically reframed as “tax avoidance” and rewarded.
    • Social services are starved for funds as more and more tax monies are spent on international (wars, invasions, coups and assassinations) and domestic (spying, militarized police) repression of citizens.
    • Tax havens openly embrace corporate grifters.
    • The privileged castes’ lawyers write tax laws to make the poor pay higher tax rates than the ultra-rich.
    • Starved public education, public health care, public transportation and other systems deteriorate closer and closer to a state of total dysfunction, while the privileged castes and their friends and families access exclusive first class private education, private health care, and private transportation, subsidized by public moneys.
    • The word “services” is replaced by the derogatory term “entitlements” by the privileged castes and their government cronies to discredit public programs, so that they can be further starved and eventually dismantled.
  1. Loss of commitment to fairly create and uphold, and obey the law:
    • The privileged castes break the law with complete impunity, including laws against murder, mega-pollution, fraud, bribery, price-fixing, oligopoly and sexual assault. Laws are harshly applied against everyone else.
    • When the privileged castes buy, bribe or extort their way out of punishment, their success is celebrated, or their crimes “pardoned”.
    • When the privileged castes’ enterprises fail due to greed, corruption or mismanagement, they are bailed out at public expense (“too big to fail”).
    • Corporate oligopolies receive massive corporate subsidies, some of them buried in opaque “omnibus” packages of laws too huge and convoluted for anyone to wade through and object to. This includes horrifically inequitable and misdirected CoVid-19 subsidies.
    • Other laws written by the lawyers of the privileged castes and dutifully passed by well-paid-off semi-literate politicians, often without them even having being read before they are “passed”, enable and encourage the oppression of the country’s citizens by (a) surveilling and often targeting them for harassment, (b) enabling the charging of usurious interest rates on their debts, and (c) depriving them of essential health care, education and other vital services.
    • Still other laws enable the bombing and slaughtering of citizens anywhere in the world if they happen to be in countries whose governments don’t offer fealty to the privileged castes.
    • Law “enforcement” has become militarized, overtly biased and racist, and governments seemingly lack both the will and means to rein in the excesses of “officers”.
  1. “Everyone for themselves” response to crises:
    • The cult of individuality has reached the extreme where citizens claim that a requirement to wear a mask or get a vaccine is an outrageous violation of their “personal freedom”, and is deliberately and ostentatiously ignored.
    • Trust in the judgement of scientists has been systematically destroyed through disinformation campaigns, so attempts to coordinate science-based emergency responses result in lawsuits, death threats against public health experts, and at least one attempted coup.
    • An ever-growing number of both progressives and conservatives describe themselves as “libertarians” who want to be “left alone” to make all decisions for themselves, even in times of emergency.
  1. Widespread distrust of government intentions and actions:
    • There is a broad distrust, hatred and loathing for anything that even vaguely smacks of government or involves any government agencies. This is amplified and constantly played up in the oligopolistic media and social media, whose technocrats just shrug and say “up to you to decide what is true” or “we’re just a platform, not responsible for content”.
    • Hysterical claims about the “deep state”, alleged government plots, conspiracies and cover-ups are becoming more widespread and more popular. Attempts to debunk and fact-check misinformation and disinformation are assailed as “censorship” and merely drive their believers to unmonitored underground sites and into conspiracy theory cults.
    • Among conservatives and the uneducated, we have returned to a 1950s-era sensibility that “collective” and “community” are synonymous with communism and totalitarianism. This myth never really went away, but recently-sowed anti-Russian and anti-Chinese sentiment (to provide cover for domestic failures) is strengthening this myth’s hold. So any government action that benefits a collective (ie everyone) is viewed with suspicion.
  1. Unequal “rights” and abrogation of commensurate responsibilities:
    • Thanks to vast deregulation, non-enforcement, and granting of “rights” to corporations, corporate mega-polluters are free to destroy the world’s natural heritage (land, soil, air, water), accelerating the sixth extinction of life on earth. And they are free to distribute toxic and unhealthy foods that now cause most of the world’s deaths and diseases.
    • Meanwhile, whistle-blowers and protesters objecting to these actions are killed, threatened, imprisoned and “disappeared”.
    • Hiding behind corporate charters, the privileged castes now exercise the “right” to do anything that increases profits for their corporations, executives and shareholders, regardless of the cost to citizens, impact on citizens’ rights, and the viability of life on the planet. And they buy judicial appointments that will ensure this “right” is never infringed upon.
    • Debts have reached staggering levels in every part of the economy — corporate, individual and government. Interest rates are fixed by the privileged castes so that large corporations, the privileged caste and “friendly” governments pay essentially zero interest, while the poorest citizens pay 24-28% on credit cards, the only credit they can obtain, and credit that they are constantly pushed to take on more of (and have to, when the real cost of living is rising at four times the rate average workers’ wages are).
    • The privileged castes’ corporations now have the “right” to write off as tax losses the results of their misadventures and mismanagement, and to push the numbered companies of unsuccessful high-risk ventures into bankruptcy with impunity. Meanwhile, new laws have largely removed the corresponding right of individuals to declare personal bankruptcy.

These betrayals and abrogations of the agreements by which our societies function were initially propagated mostly by the privileged castes, with the often-overt encouragement and enablement of governments. It is not surprising, then, that the rest of the population, seeing itself discriminated against and oppressed by the privileged castes’ disregard for these agreements, are showing a similar disregard for these agreements, saying:

      • If the privileged castes aren’t respecting the agreements, why should they?
      • Why should they have any trust in, or respect for, governments and the agreements they are only enforcing to their disadvantage?
      • Why should they not cheat on their taxes as well?
      • Why should they obey laws that seem designed to discriminate against and oppress them?
      • Why should they trust governments to pass and enforce laws in the “collective interest” when governments seemingly only cater to the vested interests of the privileged castes?
      • Why should they respect corporations’ and privileged castes’ “rights and freedoms” when they seem to amount to the right to destroy the planet, poison its citizens, and deprive them of their own rights and freedoms?
      • Why when inequality has skyrocketed over the past 40 years should citizens presume anything governments do is in the “collective interest”?

So the population, no longer able to discern what they can and can’t believe and who they can trust, are filled with fear, bewilderment, rage and hopelessness. With trust gone, these social agreements are now, in many countries, in tatters.

And without them, the social fabric that has kept 7.8B people in line, and functioning at least superficially as a civil society, is rapidly tearing apart.

In many parts of the world where collapse is well-advanced, the members of constituent communities have learned to create a new local, social fabric. That may be in intentional community, or in a gang or cult, or less formally just in an evolving sense of “who’s in our community and how are we looking after each other?”. They are practicing, trying to figure out how to create a local economy, politic, health care system, education system, and social systems, in the vacuum left by government neglect and incapacity, and by the abandonment and abrogation of basic social agreements. They have forged new agreements, for better or worse. Some of the ones I’ve seen are amazing, while others are horrifying. We should be watching, and learning.

In parts of the world like (most of) ours where collapse still seems a way off, there hasn’t been much if any thought given to how, if the social fabric that is now so badly torn cannot be mended, we are going to follow “third world” examples and create new agreements that will work well-enough for us to survive.

It won’t be easy. We are like dogs that have been looked after all our lives and are suddenly witnessing the breakup of our family and the possibility we are going to have to make do for ourselves, in collaboration with the other dogs suddenly in the same position. We have become so dependent on civilization’s systems we have never given a thought to having to create whole “new” societies, from the bottom up, from the ruins of the one that is now quickly disintegrating.

Where once I was confident we’d muddle along, I now fear it may be a more brutal adaptation. We do have good intentions, but that’s about all we have going for us right now. We suffer from severe imaginative poverty (from 40 years’ lack of exercise of our imaginations). We have almost no residual skill or experience in community-building, consensus-building, or living and working in self-sufficient and self-managed communities. It may take two or three generations of experiment and practice to build up the skills and experience to be able to do what wild animals do innately.

We are inevitably, due to lack of imagination and better models, going to try to create new societies similar to the only ones we were familiar with, even though they were hopelessly dysfunctional and are unworkable in a world where all of the systems in the diagram above have already collapsed or are in the process of collapsing. We will probably try out neo-tribal models first, which will provide some useful lessons but likely won’t work well in our vastly diverse, vastly under-skilled post-civilization societies.

We will have to cope with the death throes of the top privileged castes as they desperately attempt to retain their wealth, power and influence. They will likely create a kind of neo-feudal model which will work for a while and then fail spectacularly once the “nobles” run out of money (and hence power; since most of their wealth is in real estate and “financial assets”, that shouldn’t take too long, but it will be chaotic). If you’ve ever lived in a “company town” you probably have a good idea how this works.

The biggest unknown in building post-civilization societies is whether some of the technologies we have produced during our civilization’s reign, such as nuclear and biological resources that have been or could be adapted for weaponry, could be used by very small groups of people to produce a global catastrophe, even before the catastrophes that ecological collapse is just now starting to present us with, weigh in. It really wouldn’t take a rocket scientist. (I’m much less worried about AI, nano-bots etc — that stuff takes a lot of energy to sustain, and I think we’ll run out before new technologies emerge that can start to rival in destructive capacity what’s already out there in military arsenals, power plants and laboratories.) And if neglected after collapse, all the existing nuclear power plants could melt down, and the mega-warehouses full of lethal chemicals could crumble, with disastrous consequences that could last for millennia.

The next biggest unknown is how severe the ecological collapse will be over the next couple of centuries. I think at least a small part of the planet will remain habitable to humans as this collapse unfolds, even without the energy-dependent, prosthetic, artificial environments in which almost all of us now live. But there are models that suggest otherwise. And it hasn’t been that long since the entire planet was wrapped in hot toxic gases that only microscopic creatures could endure. Even less time has passed since the entire planet was last covered in miles-thick ice. We can’t know.

If we can dodge these two bullets (and a few others equally as depressing), I still believe the human race can survive the collapse of global civilization, and in a couple of millennia, humbled, much smaller in number, and back to being a tiny and insignificant part of Gaia’s awesome experiment of life on earth, we might find our distant descendants living very happy, peaceful, simple lives, mostly free from stress and struggle. As Anna Tsing explains in The Mushroom at the End of the World, it will probably be a salvage-gift-and-scavenger society, similar and yet in ways amazingly different from how prehistoric humans lived.

That’s what I want to believe anyway.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 4 Comments

CoVid-19: The Go-for-Zero Strategy

This is the 14th in a series of articles on CoVid-19. I am not a medical expert, but have worked with epidemiologists and have some expertise in research, data analysis and statistics. I am producing these articles in the belief that reasonably researched writing on this topic can’t help but be an improvement over the firehose of misinformation that represents far too much of what is being presented on this topic in social (and some other) media.

NB: Sweden is a day behind in reporting; its latest report shows 350 cases/day/M (ie should be dark red not grey in map on right). 

There has been much talk lately about the wisdom of the prevailing “yo-yo” approach to dealing with CoVid-19 — relaxing restrictions when cases, hospitalizations and deaths drop, and reimposing them when they rise to “unacceptable” levels.

The only reason this utterly failed policy is still being used in North America and Europe is that governments and public health organizations have been paralyzed by fierce antipathy to government, antipathy which has been repeatedly churned up since the 1980s by fear-driven conservatives and by uneducated citizens prone to believing fear-mongered conspiracy theories about “evil” governments.

So governments and health authorities are reluctant, even fearful, to impose any restrictions on the public until and unless the crisis reaches catastrophic levels. The violent knee-jerk responses of the right to even the modest restrictions that have been imposed (eg widespread death threats, occupations by heavily-armed right-wing “militias”, the blossoming of QAnon and other lunatic fringe anti-government conspiracy theory cults, and the attempted kidnapping and coup in Michigan), suggest that governments’ fear to act decisively is not entirely ill-founded.

As a result of this absurd policy, 11,000 Canadians, 275,000 Americans and nearly 1.5M people globally have needlessly died, and the pandemic is now spreading faster than ever.

In Canada, as a result of the use of the yo-yo strategy, as Andrew Nikiforuk reports, “hospitals in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Quebec are almost overwhelmed, long-term care homes have once again become deadly hot zones, and a nation that committed $4 billion to be able to conduct 200,000 tests a day still struggles to do half that”.

The only viable alternative to the yo-yo strategy is a go-for-zero strategy, which has been successfully deployed in the so-called TANZANC countries (Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, and Atlantic & Northern Canada). These democratic countries have essentially eliminated CoVid-19 within their borders, put in place stringent measures to prevent its re-emergence, and hence been able to restore “normal” life, and seen their economies quickly rebound as a result.

The Australian Grattan report shows what would be required for any democratic country to achieve similar success:

  1. Make zero cases the explicit goal for the country/state, and implement a specific, public plan to achieve that goal.
  2. That plan will likely include a complete lockdown for all ages until the number of reported new cases has been reduced to approximately 3 per day per million people. [Current level in the US is 500/day/M; in Canada it’s 120/day/M, but it was about 10/day/M for much of the summer before the recent surge]. Once the 3/day/M level has been achieved, certain specific low-risk, high-benefit activities can be permitted and encouraged. Additional easing can be permitted once new cases drop to 1/day/M people, and considerable further easing once zero new cases have been reported for a week.
  3. Everyone entering the country must be tested at the border and/or strictly quarantined for 14 days or until a negative test is confirmed.
  4. Stringent, properly staffed contact tracing and isolation must be in place for any cases that do arise. Non-cooperation and lying about exposure should be prosecutable. Lives depend on it.
  5. Testing must be easily and universally accessible for free, and test results must be able to be produced and communicated within 24 hours. The technology to do this exists; the capacity in most jurisdictions currently does not.
  6. Testing with digital attendance record-keeping and follow-up must be instituted in all public venues (restaurants, arenas etc). [Australia’s success means that up to 35,000 people can now attend stadium events with zero resulting cases.]
  7. Masks are mandatory in all public places in areas which have had recently-reported cases. In all other places they are optional.
  8. Economic supports for all those disadvantaged by restrictions must be available.
  9. Strict enforcement of quarantine must be maintained; no exceptions.

I can imagine the QAnon crowd getting apoplexy just reading this list. But it works. It has saved thousands of lives and enabled quick economic recovery in areas that have had the courage and resources to implement it.

What would it take to implement it in other areas? Obviously the more out-of-control the virus is in an area, the longer the lockdown and the greater the challenge. In most of the US, interstate border crossings are impossible to restrict and the resources simply don’t exist, so it wouldn’t be possible even if cases weren’t already 100 times or more the target 3/day/M rate for achieving the go-to-zero benefits. Maybe in Vermont and Hawai’i.

But in Canada, despite the upsurge, it’s still feasible. It took Victoria state in Australia nearly 2 months to reduce their spike from 80 cases/day/M back down below 3 (and it’s now zero on most days). So Canada could probably get its 120 cases/day/M down to below 3 within 90 days (by Feb 28) if we followed a national, strict, Grattan-style go-for-zero strategy.

If not, IHME projects the Canadian infection rate will soar to 360/day/M and nearly 30,000 more Canadians will die by that date, which is likely the earliest that a vaccine will start to be available in sufficient quantities for the population at large. A go-for-zero strategy could save 90% of those deaths, 27,000 lives. Not to mention the unknown long-term damage to those infected, and the strain on our hospitals and other institutions. Is that worth a 90-day lockdown? I would say so.

Probably the most important question (since Canadian and other governments know about this strategy and have refused to implement it), is whether CoVid-19 will teach us the lesson that this is the way to go next time. The next pandemic is surely coming, and while governments shrugged off the threat of SARS and MERS ten years ago, the number of pandemics per decade is accelerating as factory farms proliferate, and as exotic animal harvesting and encroachment into the world’s last wilderness areas grows exponentially. A pandemic with the transmissibility of CoVid-19 and the morbidity of SARS or MERS would (will?) kill billions. When it hits, we cannot afford to be unready. And unless trust in government and public health institutions in most of the world’s democracies can be restored, we will not be ready.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves | 3 Comments

Pollard’s Laws

We will just keep going
Until we drop
And this is not a sad thing.
All the leaves that ever lived
Did the same.
— Alice Walker (2020) (images of Alice Walker and Ursula Le Guin above CC-SA 2.0 from wikimedia)

For the nearly 18 years I have been blogging, I have been keeping track of aphorisms (pithy observations containing general truths), principles (fundamental ideas that underlie a system of beliefs), and maxims (rules or suggestions on how to conduct oneself — eg “Trust your instincts.” “Show, don’t tell.”) Over the years I have deleted many that now strike me as overly simplistic (no matter how wittily articulated), or as simply untrue (I am decidedly less idealistic than I was 18 years ago, and some of what I used to espouse now just makes me cringe).

When I last looked through my collection, I lamented how few of them were written/said by women. So here are a few more by some very smart women:

  • Given a choice between their worldview and the facts, it’s always interesting how many people toss the facts.
    — Rebecca Solnit
  • Reality simply consists of different points of view.
  • Every aspect of human technology has a dark side, including the bow and arrow.
  • Nothing interests people so much as themselves.
    — Margaret Atwood
  • We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.      [this is my absolute favourite]
  • There are no right answers to wrong questions.
  • My imagination makes me human and makes me a fool; it gives me all the world, and exiles me from it.
  • The only questions that really matter are the ones you ask yourself.
    — Ursula Le Guin
  • The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.
  • What the mind doesn’t understand, it worships or fears.
  • Propaganda is amazing. People can be led to believe anything.
  • Nobody is as powerful as we make them out to be.
  • The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.
  • The most important question in the world is, ‘Why is the child crying?’
    — Alice Walker

There are some aphorisms or principles that are so profound and important that I’ve chosen to call them “laws”. To me, a law actually changes or reformulates your worldview. It creates a new lens through which you see everything.

Over the years I’ve come up with two “laws”, things that have “shaken my windows and rattled my walls”. They are:

Pollard’s Law of Human Behaviour: Humans have evolved to do what’s personally urgent for them (the unavoidable imperatives of the moment), then to do what’s easy, and then to do what’s fun. There is never time left for things that are seen as merely important. Social, political and economic change happens only when the old generation dies and a new generation with different entrained beliefs and imperatives fills the power vacuum. We have evolved to be a collaborative and caring species, and we are all doing our best — we cannot do otherwise.

Pollard’s Law of Complexity: Things are the way they are for a reason. To change something, it helps to know that reason. If that reason is complex (and it frequently is), success at truly understanding and changing it is unlikely, and developing workarounds and adapting to it is probably a better strategy. Complex systems evolve to self-sustain and resist reform until they finally collapse. For that reason, the systems of global industrial civilization culture, having precipitated the sixth great extinction of life on Earth, are now collapsing rapidly and inevitably.

Now I think I’m ready to add a third “law” to the list. Here it is as it currently stands (since it’s my law I have the right to rewrite it):

Pollard’s Law of Human Beliefs: We believe what we want to believe, not what is actually true. We want to believe in happy endings, simple answers, the inevitability of progress, self-control, karma, responsibility, destiny, miracles, a proper order of things, the power of love, and infinite human capacity and agency. Most of us want to believe in a higher power that can step in when we falter. We want to believe what those in our circles of trust believe (even if it’s crazy, gaslighting or propaganda). So we tend to seek sources that reinforce those beliefs and ignore those that undermine or unsettle them. Our hopes and expectations are determined by those beliefs. Our worldview is the sum of those beliefs, hopes and expectations, and bears no necessary resemblance to truth or reality. This invented reality is the only way we can  make sense of a world that is vastly too complex to ever make sense of.

Yeah, it needs some editing, and I suspect it will evolve, but I think the essence of it is there. You can probably recognize some aphorisms (like Rebecca Solnit’s above, and the third one by Alice Walker above), and some of the work by Lawrence Lessig, Francis Bacon and others, that underpin this “law”.

One of the values of a “law”, to me, is that it not only reveals a profound truth but hints at why it is so. An aphorism teases us to ask “why” it is so for ourselves. That too is valuable, but it is incomplete without the dessert of appreciation for why it is so. Sometimes we have to supply our own dessert.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 7 Comments

Deliberately So


image CC0 from pexels.com

Lately I have been enjoying a series of podcasts from a young Toronto-based group called The Stoa. Some of their recent discussions have been about deliberative processes — the work we do, both personally and in groups, to think things through in a balanced, and, well, deliberate way (etymologically, the term comes from libra, the scales — nothing to do with liberation).

The best of these podcasts IMO have been those that have featured Daniel Schmachtenberger and Forrest Landry. Daniel, a home-schooled vegan, has been working on multiple fronts towards the lofty goal of reimagining (and perhaps reinventing) civilization and, towards that end, improving our dialogic and collaborative processes, on the basis that this goal can only be achieved through better sense-making and improvements to the ways we surface collective wisdom.

Forrest developed the idea of Immanent Metaphysics, and then went on to produce what he calls Ephemeral Group Process (EGP), an essentially inquiry-based collaborative process where the questions are collectively developed using a “technology” somewhat analogous to Open Space, explored in multiple small-group sessions (usually 5-7 people), and then “harvested” to make sense of the group’s understanding, using a specific methodology.

As an aside, both Daniel and Forrest have rather peculiar entrepreneurial histories: Daniel co-founded a nutritional supplement company that purports to sell products that improve cognitive capacity and health, while Forrest’s company sells portable vaporizers (perhaps to feed your mind in a different way).

The ideas and frameworks that Daniel and Forrest have developed are every philosopher-geek-idealist’s wet dream, but you may be wondering why I, having disavowed the existence of free choice, would be intrigued about ideas and processes that purport, ultimately, to improve our collective choices and (re-)make the world a better place.

I could be flip and say I have no choice as to what ideas I choose to get infatuated by (and inflict on my poor readers). But the truth is I think there is a role, even in a free-will-less world, for better — more disciplined, more open-minded, more creative — ways of thinking about the world, about what we believe about it, and about what our role is in it. If some of Daniel’s and Forrest’s ideas and approaches inspire you to think about things differently and to ultimately act differently, then, while you would inevitably be drawn to them (or not), my exposing them to you could actually make a difference. Our lack of free will does not in any way equate to determinism. None of us may have any choice, but our unpredictable interactions with each other will change our trajectories, and no one can say what that might lead to. We can run a marble race down the same track a dozen times and the outcome will be different every time, no matter how we try to control the variables.

Over my long career as an advisor to business, I witnessed and participated in many excruciating meetings that exemplified absolutely ghastly deliberative processes, many of them “led” by executives earning seven figure incomes. And away from the office, I have witnessed an equivalent number of equally-dreadful deliberative and collaborative activities, in communities, on boards, and even in very small-group conversations.

When I got involved with the Group Pattern Language Project that ultimately produced the Group Works deck, I realized that deliberative processes didn’t have to be so awful, if they were well-facilitated, and/or more thoughtfully structured. And I’ve since learned of many other facilitation tools, methods and formats that can help.

But even well-structured, well-facilitated activities can be unsuccessful, and even dysfunctional, if the processes that the individual participants employ, and which the collective group employs (influenced by an infinite number of dynamics), are poor processes. There is only so much a facilitator can do.

Daniel argues that there is a need for us to develop both our personal cognitive capacities and processes (and self-knowledge), and our collaborative capacities and processes — in other words, our personal and collective deliberation capacities and processes. Without doing so, he says, we have little hope of improving the quality and effectiveness of our collective decisions and actions, and are likely to fall back to preconceived ideas, hidden biases, and dysfunctional power dynamics. His Consilience Project (consilience = the tendency of evidence obtained from independent, unrelated sources to “converge” on strong, compelling conclusions) is designed to provide a framework for improving our deliberative processes, focused specifically on improving sense-making and combatting misinformation. And he suggests Forrest’s EGP as a method to use within such frameworks.

Both Daniel and Forrest stress that this isn’t just a matter of intellectual skill — deliberative processes are as much about how we feel as about what we think, and as much about the emotional dynamics of the group (and beyond) as it is about concepts, perceptions and ideas. And it’s not just about analytical rigour — the richer creative output and “emotional intelligence” that comes from effective deliberative work is perhaps even more important. That’s one of the reasons they both stress the importance of play in such processes.

So that has led me to ponder two questions: (1) how do we go about improving our own personal sense-making and communication processes so we contribute more effectively and creatively to group deliberations, and (2) how do we go about employing EGP or similar methods to work better as a group?

My sense is that the simple answer to both these questions is: No one knows. Daniel and Forrest are still working on these questions. The Consilient Project and EGP are both still under development, and there is nothing much online yet.

But perhaps the answers to these questions aren’t as important as the process for exploring them. If we were to follow the processes that Daniel and Forrest espouse, then in order to try to answer these two questions we would formulate additional questions, the answers to which might help us address these two ‘primary’ questions. Such questions might be of some of these forms, which apply analogously regardless of what our primary questions are (they could be applied equally to questions like how we might best address homelessness, systemic caste-ism, or climate collapse):

  1. What are the assumptions built into this question?
  2. What would we want to know in order to better answer these questions, and who would we need to talk with to know these things?
  3. What have others done to try to answer these questions, and who else is asking them, and how are they answering them, and why?
  4. What approaches to these questions have worked, and not worked, in past, and why, and what stories illuminate these past successes and failures?
  5. For whom is answering these questions not even an issue, and why not?
  6. What are the benefits of answering these questions well, and what are the costs if we fail to do so?
  7. Why do we care (or not care) about these questions?
  8. How did the situation arise to the point where these questions have seemingly become important?
  9. What are the adjacent possibilities that arise from this inquiry?
  10. How might the situation constructively change such that these questions would be rendered moot, and how might we intervene in the situation, or creatively reframe the issue entirely, to bring about such a change?
  11. Who is or potentially would be affected by how these questions are answered, and how are we involving them in exploring approaches to those people?
  12. Are we ready (personally and collectively) to commit the time, energy and resources to exploring these questions enough to come up with and implement useful and practical approaches to them, and if not, why not and when might be the right time?

You get the idea. Every one of these questions begs further questions, and the inquiry-based approach enables us to deeply explore the issues at hand rather than jumping to conclusions (decisions, preferences, actions). One of the great values of questions is that they avoid the inclination for polarization and ego-reactivity that declarative statements, hypotheses and “suggested answers” can evoke, and hence encourage more group “binding” and thus collaborative energy and capacity.

There’s a question whether an individual or group thoughtfully and deliberately exploring such questions even needs to move from asking these questions to the ultimate question: OK so what do we do? It may be that the inquiry itself evolves ideas, approaches and collective knowledge such that the answer to this ultimate question is obvious.

In his book The Other Side of Eden Hugh Brody describes an indigenous deliberative process that involves story-telling and asking questions, but, unlike western processes, doesn’t conclude with a “who will do what by when” chart; it’s left up to the individuals listening to the stories and questions to decide tacitly what actions to take personally, and to discuss one-on-one (with the people affected) what actions they might want to take collectively. How might such a trust-and-personal-responsibility approach work in large, hierarchical groups and organizations? And how might such an approach enable such groups and organizations to evolve into self-organizing, self-managing groups and organizations, and eliminate the need for hierarchy entirely?

The most astonishingly productive, instructional, and enjoyable group activity of my life was a neighbourhood ‘barn-raising’ twenty years ago. A neighbour’s old barn, being used as a garage, was dangerously falling apart. An invitation was sent out to the neighbours to meet for tea and discuss ideas for converting it into a stable, more useful structure. In an entirely self-organized way, creative ideas evolved, others were consulted, and work bees happened. The result was an amazing multi-purpose space created without any blueprint or hierarchy. We all learned new skills. And every time we passed it, we could say “We did that!”

Forrest makes the point that our political processes and systems have evolved dysfunctionally much the same way our health care processes and systems have: to focus on ‘acute’ problems (eg the latest Trump executive order, a CoVid-19 spike, or a foreign threat) rather than ‘chronic’ problems (eg inequality, homelessness, caste-ism/racism, ecological and economic collapse). And that dysfunctionality stems largely from an incapacity of large groups to get their heads around very complex problems.

Listening to others with different perspectives, knowledge, ideas and experiences enables us to see an issue ‘stereoscopically’, he notes. Two perspectives are not only richer for problem-solving than one, they allow the seeing of multiple additional perspectives, much as having two eyes provides much more than just two monoscopic views of something.

Daniel makes the point that such a multi-dimensional perspective also allows groups to identify “synergetic satisfiers” — ideas and adaptations that satisfy more than one need at the same time. It also tends to nurture what Zeynep Tüfeckçi calls “epistemic humility” — appreciation that we don’t, and can’t, have all the knowledge, understanding, and “answers” we’d like, and sometimes presume to have.

Collaboration, he says, is only effective when there are three things in place: practice and experience working together, cognitive coherence (appreciation of others’ ways of thinking and communicating), and shared values. Connecting the collaborators at a more than semantic level is also helpful (prehistoric tribes did this through music and dance rituals, which allow for individual riffs that are in concert with the collective rhythm). Ideally, achieving a (non-western) culture of individual responsibility with  shared, collective credit for outcomes is your goal.

The challenge we face, Daniel adds, is the context in which most of us have to work together: our destructive and debilitating globalized industrial culture. “There is no way to have your hands totally clean in a world that is built on institutional, structural violence”, he says. The only ethical resolution is to minimize the harms while maximizing our collective capacity to change things, which is especially difficult when so many of our harms are invisible to us personally (he uses factory farming as an example, though he could as easily have used our prison system, our education system, and toxic family and workplace environments). We all have to walk the razor’s edge between courage and sensitivity, he says, and not forfeit either.

Of course, this is easier if you have the background, the temperament, the capacity, the time, and the curiosity to work on these things. Expecting many or most people to be able and willing to do any of this is likely pretty unrealistic.

But it’s still worth keeping in mind. We can (as Daniel recommends) take training to become better facilitators. We can become guerrilla facilitators in situations when no one is facilitating, or the facilitator is floundering. We can use methods like Best Possible Outcome to exercise a group’s collaborative muscles.

And of course we can work on our own stuff. Not only the quality of our own work in groups, but the quality of our own internal deliberation — our capacity to ask the right questions of ourselves, and to be constantly self-aware and challenging ourselves about our biases, beliefs and blind spots.

So, in keeping with the theme of inquiry, instead of suggesting a process for evaluating your internal deliberation capacities, I will conclude with a question:

If you were designing a ‘scorecard’ to assess the quality of your own internal deliberative processes — leading to greater objectivity and openness, better articulation of your own thoughts and ideas, deeper self-knowledge and self-awareness, larger capacity for creativity, resilience, equanimity, effective listening, sense-making and ‘usefulness’ to yourself, others and the world — what elements would the scorecard score you on, how (highly) would you score yourself, and what one action might best improve your ‘score’?

And if you’re looking for a place to start with the process of self-inquiry, Daniel has — of course — a list of questions for you.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Working Smarter | 3 Comments

Links of the Month: November 2020


image from Pikrepo, CC0

This poem is by the winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature, Louise Glück, written last month:

SONG

Leo Cruz makes the most beautiful white bowls;
I think I must get some to you
but how is the question
in these times

He is teaching me
the names of the desert grasses;
I have a book
since to see the grasses is impossible

Leo thinks the things man makes
are more beautiful
than what exists in nature

and I say no.
And Leo says
wait and see.

We make plans
to walk the trails together.
When, I ask him,
when? Never again:
that is what we do not say.

He is teaching me
to live in imagination:

a cold wind
blows as I cross the desert;
I can see his house in the distance;
smoke is coming from the chimney

That is the kiln, I think;
only Leo makes porcelain in the desert

Ah, he says, you are dreaming again

And I say then I’m glad I dream
the fire is still alive


CIVILIZATION’S COLLAPSE


Dr Love (Bacha Khoperia, ბაჩა ხოფერია), described by some as the Republic of Georgia’s Banksy, sums up modern civilization quite brilliantly. This work is in Bristol, UK. Street art has long been a popular art form in Georgia (Sakartvelo, საქართველო)

How do you know when civilization’s about to fall apart?: Joseph Tainter was recently interviewed, along with several other societal collapse theorists, on how close we are to collapse today. Excerpt:

In “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” Tainter [writes] “The world today is full.” Complex societies occupy every inhabitable region of the planet. There is no escaping. This also means, he writes, that collapse, “if and when it comes again, will this time be global.” Our fates are interlinked. “No longer can any individual nation collapse. World civilization will disintegrate as a whole.”

When I ask him about this, the usually sober-sounding Tainter sounds very sober indeed. If it happens, he says, it would be “the worst catastrophe in history.” The quest for efficiency, he wrote recently, has brought on unprecedented levels of complexity: “an elaborate global system of production, shipping, manufacturing and retailing” in which goods are manufactured in one part of the world to meet immediate demands in another, and delivered only when they’re needed. The system’s speed is dizzying, but so are its vulnerabilities. A more comprehensive failure of fragile supply chains could mean that fuel, food and other essentials would no longer flow to cities. “There would be billions of deaths within a very short period,” Tainter says. Even a short-term failure of the financial system, Tainter worries, might be enough to trip supply chains to a halt.


LIVING BETTER


cartoon by Michael Leunig

The wisdom of nationalizing social (and other) media: Now that Facebook and Google are threatening to pull out of Australia unless the government backs down on rules requiring them to pay local media outlets for use of their content, people are asking how we can take back control of the media from rich private interests. While Zeynep Tüfekçi has suggested they be nationalized and run as networked national/local co-ops, the Guardian explores whether national public broadcast media couldn’t, and shouldn’t just take them over and run them as extensions of their own services, networked country-to-country. In the meantime, Zeynep argues, it’s essential to re-empower the regulatory authorities to actually regulate — break up monopolies and oligopolies, tell these companies what they can and can’t do and the penalties for not following the regulations — instead of trying to do the refereeing that these oligopolies have utterly failed to figure out how to do.

Smashing meeting privilege: Evelyn Arellano dissects the power dynamics implicit in many corporate meetings (even and especially virtual meetings) and suggests ways to confront them. And a new BYU study reveals how women are disempowered in the workplace and 7 steps that can elevate women’s voices. Thanks to Elise Keith for the links.

Portland creates THE working model for housing reform: The city has introduced radical changes to density laws, including setting maximum building sizes, to encourage greater density and affordability and reduce sprawl. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the link, and the one that follows.

It’s time for reparations: Nikole Hannah-Jones explains why descendants of American slaves are owed reparations for the centuries-long deficit their oppression has left them in, and how they might be introduced.

New ways of working: In a scintillating new one-hour discussion, seven authors of books on creating self-managed organizations share their successes and challenges.

Create your own green job: Goodwork.ca continues its excellent non-profit services with a new guide for Canadians on how to start your own green enterprise.


POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL


From FB. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the link.

The food industry is knowingly making us sick: Michael Greger explains why the food industry’s “model of systemic dishonesty” is profitable, and how it has knowingly caused the deaths and chronic diseases of most Americans. The article links to 22 videos, with transcripts, that explain in detail how and why, worldwide, the food we eat (and food industry regulatory inaction) directly causes most of our deaths and illnesses.

The right-wing judiciary’s rotten core: Masha Gessen describes how the right-wing ideologues who now dominate the US Supreme Court share an utter “contempt for the norms and processes of government”, and the execrable process that led to the latest, incompetent and unqualified, appointee. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse explained at the hearings exactly which right-wing billionaires’ money were bankrolling the nomination, but none of the Republican senators cared. A disgrace of Stalinesque proportions. Thanks to Raffi for the links.

How the Bush-Cheney regime sabotaged the OPCW: The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was established to promote and verify adherence to the global ban on chemical weapons. But prior to the unwarranted and criminal invasion of Iraq, the US deliberately sabotaged the organization, orchestrated the ouster of its Director, who was successfully negotiating with Iraq to destroy its chemical weapons, bugged its offices, and strong-armed its allies to “neutralize” the OPCW to prevent it interfering with the Iraq invasion, and later to justify war on Syria based on disputed claims of that country’s chemical weaponry. Caitlin Johnstone has the story, which reads like an espionage thriller. She explains that this bullying is not limited to international organizations that get in its way, but is extended to countries like Australia (where they orchestrated the ouster of both Gough Whitlam and Kevin Rudd), Bolivia, and of course Venezuela. And it’s continued unabated during Democratic Party presidents. Now, she says, “America has no allies, only hostages”.

Women’s sovereignty over their own bodies again under assault: The newly unrepresentative US supreme court and the extreme abortion ban passed recently in Poland have again raised the spectre, even in Canada, that women will again be deprived of freedom of choice over abortion and even contraception. Here’s an interesting synopsis of the issue, which raises the obvious question about how any sane person can possibly defend forced-birth laws while simultaneously opposing humanitarian laws and programs to protect babies, children and adults after birth. But we’d better figure it out: Poland is our warning shot. And the next authoritarian right-wing populist likely won’t be as inept and appalling as the one Americans just, barely, got rid of.

When Murdoch soured on Trump: Interesting story in the centrist UK newspaper iNews about how Trump abused Murdoch’s support to the point the right-wing billionaire started to shift his publications away from supporting Trump.

Last rites for Canada’s MAID law: Trudeau has waffled again and introduced a bill that would provide only marginally better access to medically assisted death than the law that was struck down as unconstitutionally restrictive last year. If passed, it will continue to force many who want control over the own bodies and the right to die with dignity to live in pain, horror and shame. It will probably, and hopefully, again be ruled unconstitutionally restrictive by the courts. But in the meantime, religious right wingnuts are trying to force the government to tighten the law even further, claiming without evidence that it is “ableist” and will lead to people being coerced into dying against their will or proper judgement. There seems to be no limit to the sanctimonious and patronizing preaching by those screaming that we can’t be trusted to decide what to do with our own bodies. It’s the same argument that the anti-abortion forces use, and it’s bullshit. This editorial by an Anglican minister is the only analysis of the situation that I’ve read that’s sane, and sadly our government is too weak-willed to listen.


COVID-19 CORNER


left chart from WorldoMeters; right charts from the Atlantic’s CoVid Tracking Project

We still don’t know: CoVid-19 hospitalizations in the US have three-peaked back to a record 60,000, and US daily deaths look on track to soon repeat the “second” peak of 1,100/day. But no one knows what comes after that. IHME, still sticking to its 0.68% IFR rate, is projecting a rise in hospitalizations by January to 130,000 and a rise in daily deaths to 2,300/day. My sense is that the actual IFR, at least in areas that have already been hard hit by the disease, is somewhat lower than that, thanks in no small part to the profession’s dedication and sharing of knowledge on how to best treat it. In some areas of North America that avoided the April peak, hospitalizations and deaths are at record levels and projected to reach the ghastly per capital levels that Italy and NYC saw in the spring, over the next month. Again, I’m cautiously optimistic that common sense will prevail in people’s behaviour in hard-hit areas and hospitals will be able to manage the current surge, though with difficulty in some areas. Global deaths have risen to more than 7,500/day, well above the 4-6k/day range it’s tracked for six months, with nearly half the daily deaths now occurring in a reinfected Europe/Russia. Whether they can flatten the curve better than last time remains to be seen. We just don’t know. Here’s the latest news:


FUN AND INSPIRATION


New Yorker cartoon by Mike Twohy

ASL performers’ stunning music videos: The celebrated troupe Deaf West Theatre shines with moving, uplifting versions of Kelly Clarkson’s “I Dare You“, Sara Bareilles’ “She Used to Be Mine“, and Ingrid Michaelson’s “Hell No“. Just watch the faces, and how much more than mere words can be conveyed with one’s hands. Jaw-dropping. More please!

Two great classical composers you’ve never heard of: Mozart contemporary Joseph Bologne, born in Guadeloupe, created works of unparalleled skill and imagination, but racism kept his work in the shadow of that of more famous composers. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the link. And just recently, Alma Deutscher, at the age of 12, premiered her own piano concerto with the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, demonstrating at once her world-class compositional prowess and virtuoso performance skills.

And speaking of extraordinary musical talent…: Music teacher Paul Harvey, suffering from severe Alzheimers, was inspired by his son to try, as a therapy, repeating an improvisational exercise Paul had used in his youth (creating a piece of music based on four random musical notes, given in the moment), and the result was so remarkable it was recorded by the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

About those exit polls: Exit polls in the 2020 US election suggested again that most white women (not just white men) voted for Trump. But are exit polls even less reliable than the obviously dubious opinion polls? Pew research deconstructing the 2016 exit polls says: don’t believe it.

How to conduct an interview with a disinformation agent: NZ journalist Tova O’Brien masterfully demonstrates how to shut down disinformation perpetrators.


RADICAL NON-DUALITY STUFF

charles-barsotti-truth-clown
cartoon by the late, wonderful Charles Barsotti

The light in the trees: Paul Kingsnorth’s latest short story describes something that might be non-duality. Or perhaps not. Excerpt:

I mean you died, he said. Not your body. Your body is still in the driver’s seat. Snap your fingers and you’ll see the headlights and the wire again, just as it was. What died was your self, your will, and just for a moment. Your self gets in the way of reality, you see. Your small worlds, your little truths that are not truths, the temptations, the opinions, the striving. They have to die for you to see.

The girl stared at everything at once and it all seemed to stare back. So what is it? said the girl. The normal stuff, I mean. The everyday things. What’s happening?

My conclusion, said the man, is that everything you see every day, everyone you know, everything around you: all of it is made by your mind. None of it has any substance unless you believe it does. You created the mountain, the cave, your place of work. You created me. We create our own little worlds and we carry them on our backs like sacks of winter wood. Once they break and fall away, there is reality, waiting for you.

But what do I do with it? said the girl. What do I do now?

It’s not what you do with it, said the man’s voice. It’s what it does with you.

Best descriptions (IMO) of this, published this month:


THOUGHTS OF THE MONTH


Tribe of Assam Macaques. Photo by Khushboo Sharma. From the Frans de Waal FB page. Click on image for a larger version.

From Verta Maloney:

a white lady who voted for 45 told me i hurt her feelings because i chose to talk to her about her vote.
a white lady who voted for 45 said that my decision to no longer greet her everyday has “affected her well-being” & started to cry real tears. (🙄)
a white lady who voted for 45 said that she was not trying to keep any secrets BUT it was her business that she voted for 45 and she didn’t want anyone to know. (🤔)⠀⠀⠀
a white lady who voted for 45 told me that we would just have to agree to disagree and i told her NO we would not.
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
i told her that as a black woman i could get more than my feelings hurt because of the political decisions of mediocre white ladies like her.⠀⠀⠀⠀
i told her that we do not understand each other because she hadn’t said anything that made sense, actually she hadn’t said anything of substance at all.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
i told her i wouldn’t be speaking to her in the future or waving and smiling at her as we drop our children off at school because i am done doing that. politics matter AND they are personal; my very existence as a black woman/mother is political.
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
white ladies who voted for 45 and the lot of you “liberal” white ladies who know and love white ladies who did and don’t challenge them or call them on their shit …⠀⠀
i am not here to convince you of my humanity.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
i am not here to play nice when you are playing with lives and legacies.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
i am not here for your white fragility and your fragile/exclusive versions of feminism.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
i am not here for your denial, your guilt or your racism.
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
what i am here for is all of us (even you) getting and being free and i am on that quest with or without you.
stop crying. stop making this about you. stop lying. stop always talking. just stop and for a bit of time listen to, believe and follow black women.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
once you know better, before you leap to the “do better” phase how about you actually BE better! cause honestly if you can’t BE better at your core whatever you do will simply continue to cause more harm than good.

From the Beaverton (Canada’s version of the Onion): The latest headlines, explained:

Canada searches for new country to compare ourselves to now that U.S. is too sad 

COVID replaces racism as #1 thing Canadians think they handle better than the States

(a cultural study of Canadians actually determined that more than anything else, Canadian culture is defined by how we differentiate ourselves from Americans) 

Alberta removes education from curriculum 

(the right-wing extremist government of Alberta commissioned an overhaul of the province’s education system; the report recommended a curriculum that included bible verses, but excluded any mention of “Indian residential schools” or other atrocities committed against First Nations people)

From Daniel Schmachtenberger, in a recent interview with The Stoa (my paraphrasing for brevity):

If you want to solve a complex problem (like eg homelessness):

      • start by looking at places that don’t have it and find out what they did
      • look at places that have reduced it successfully and how they did that
      • then identify and connect with the major existing projects already working on this problem
      • don’t overlook how indigenous cultures have addressed it
      • engage the people dealing with it (both as problem-solvers and as those most affected by it)
      • understand the context — how did it get to be this way, and what’s been tried successfully, and unsuccessfully
      • look at the cost/benefits of straightforward alternative ways to address the underlying problems that could be easy wins
      • enable self-sufficiency among those facing the problem every day so that when interventions have been completed, those people are able to sustain the changes themselves
      • while radically reimagining possibilities from the bottom up is a useful process, it needs to look at the practicality (economic, cultural etc) of making the necessary changes, and not get caught up in idealism
      • in addressing any problem, there is a need to balance external work with internal self-awareness — your appreciation of the problem has to evolve with the understanding of how you might effectively address it
      • be patient and persevere — don’t forget that the masters in any space have failed more often than the laypeople have tried

From an anonymous FB poster on Nov 2:

When you say: “No matter who wins tomorrow, I’m going to go to work the next day, be happy, and love my neighbour”, what I hear is: “My privilege shields me from the potentially devastating effects of this election. My livelihood is secure. I am safe from racism and bigotry. I never have to question where my next meal is coming from. And no one has ever attempted to take away my bodily autonomy.” We do not all live in the same America.

From Clay Shirky in 2018 on why the arguments of progressives fall on deaf conservative ears:

We brought fact-checkers to a culture war.

From John Green on standing on the shoulders of giants and on immunity:

I think of art as being a big collaboration in which a few people get over-celebrated and the rest unacknowledged. The world’s biggest ball of paint (in Alexandria, Indiana) is a baseball painted with 40,000 layers of paint. It’s now 12-15′ in diameter circumference. Most of it has been painted by visitors to Alexandria. Your layer doesn’t much matter in affecting what the ball looks like, but the colour you choose affects the colour the next person chooses, which affects the colour the next person chooses, and so on. Your layer of paint will always be utterly invisible to the rest of the world, but it was absolutely essential to the ball of paint becoming what the ball of paint has become. And like a great coat of paint, some books and artworks are sometimes celebrated as extraordinary. And they are likely deservedly remembered (many others are undeservedly forgotten). But they’re just like the great coat of paint —still just one layer that will be painted over too. The way that it matters is that it shapes the people who come after it, the people to whom it matters. What makes King Lear so great is the conversations we’ve had around it and the responses we’ve all had to it over the last 500 years…

If a new vaccine is coming, let’s not build a statue to anyone. Let us instead build monuments to the sprawling cooperation of thousands of people who share their work openly and generously, so that together we can achieve what we cannot achieve alone: shared immunity.


 

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End, Radical Non-Duality | Comments Off on Links of the Month: November 2020