It’s the buying not the breeding..

Forget population, focus on consumerism.
It’s what we’re doing, not how many of us are doing it that’s the real problem.

George Monbiot’s article  (Population is just a sidekick to the real big baddie – consumption) – upon which I commented repeatedly – stirs some thoughts that I feel need explaining. I was pleased to see him write that as I had planned to write my own post on this for a couple of weeks now. He beat me to it, but here is what I think.

A lot of people seem to struggle with the concept that an increasing population is not necessarily the problem it’s made out to be. That is not to say that somewhere someday there will be a limit – a number that is ‘too much’ – but that we have to accept our own inability to work out what that number is. Why?

Well, for a start we can definitely say that if we continue dong things the way we are doing them now, then we will run out of all the resources our planet can provide and we will face a rather rude shock, to put it mildly. Catastrophic civilisation collapse is another way of thinking about it.

Now, if in this equation we only increase the population then the bad stuff happens sooner as more people are doing it. So yes, in this model population is a problem. The main point here however is that even if you reduce population, the way we are living will still come to that end one day – maybe just a few years later than it would have been with more people. So, if you haven’t worked it out yet – this tell us that the way we live must change either way, no matter how many people we have, thus population is the wrong problem to be working on.

Secondly, so long as we are living in an unsustainable manner, we will never be able to truly know what that magic number or limit actually, truthfully is. Because only once we have a stable sustainable and balanced human population can we then see what the necessary resource demand is to support a happy human life. Until that moment, all guesses are coloured by bad data, all graphs will show a downward curve hitting the baseline at some point because unsustainable behaviour is by definition going to bring an end to itself.

To put it another way;
Let’s say a hundred people living highly consumerist unsustainable lives might actually (in reality) allow a thousand to live sustainably in their place.
Until they are actually living in that balanced sustainable way, they won’t come up against the actual limits of population until they are doing everything else right – because until then, the way you live is what’s going to end you no matter what – and thus is you’re biggest problem anyway, and where you should be focusing your efforts.
This is the situation we have today.

Quite a few people however, seem to struggle with even imagining another way of living. They seem to think we live in the best of all possible worlds and that anything else must be a step backwards, or down – that the only human consumption model is the one we have now.. that there is no other way to live comfortable rewarding lives than this way.
This is catastrophic failure of imagination.

We have the answers to the major problems of our times but they are largely incompatible with capitalsm – which is a problem to their implementation but makes sense if you think about it because they are the antidote to the problem – which unsurprisingly is capitalism – so that incompatibility should come as no shock.

The barriers that people have in their minds when discussing this are considerable however. They think because they live ok and have a hope of living better if they work more or get richer that it’s a fair system or the best one we know of. Why ese would we have it right? Those in power have only our best interests at heart don’t they? A very feudal mentality underlies all this – though few would stop to appreciate it.

We need to remember that the system we have now is deliberate. It is not here by accident but by the design of the ruling classes that preceded this age, and who have been working it to their advantage ever since. History shows this very clearly. Capitalism provides us with the incentives to be greedy and subordinate almost everything to money – but that is not who we are. That is not our nature as history, science and well as the numerous examples our there today will attest. Any observation about human greed is almost always made within a culture dominated by a monetary system and it’s incentives. We have lived differently in the past and we can do so again – only better and more wisely. But first we have to survive long enough to remove capitalism.

Capitalism accumulates wealth to those that already have it, that’s why we have this system and also why the Russians had to have a revolution in order to try anything else. Now that failed miserably for a variety of reasons and I certainly am not advocating that path, but what I will say is that just because Lenin and his cronies made a terrible hash of it doesn’t mean that what they were fighting against was really any better. It wasn’t that the failure of soviet Leninism proved capitalism was right – far from. Slavery and oppression wear many masks. Now that advertising and brand management rules the public spaces we just get a different coat of paint on it really, don’t we?

Whether you’re shackled at night in a cell and forced to pick cotton by day, ploughing fields and indentured to pay back debts to feudal overlords, toiling in factories for inhuman hours for less than subsistence pay – or you are left no choice but to live as a wage slave to a corporate job you hate, or unable to travel, re-educate, follow your dreams or change careers because you are chained to a mortgage  and the whole while coerced, forced or manipulated in consuming a whole lot of shit you don’t need that needs replacing in a year or two – frankly makes little difference to me. Either way you are left with little genuine choice about how to live your life and the system is doing to you rather than for you.

Population therefore is something to keep an eye on at best but is far far down the list of concerns we have if we are going to tackle our current dangerous behaviours fuelling the looming crises of climate change, food production, energy generation, clean water and breathable air.

Once we employ the necessary changes to our societies to tackle those things, then population will be a question viewed more clearly. To get there however, I don’t see how it can be done whilst keeping capitalism and, more specifically, the monetary system. They have to go..  So you and I need to start thinking about the choices we can make to ease ourselves gradually to a better world.

Let’s do it.

DI

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The global financial system isn’t broken, it’s capitalism working just fine

[Here is a response I posted on the Guardian website in response to this article. If you have read that and followed the link here, please read further down for more.]

You can’t fix our global financial & monetary system, you can’t ‘fix’ capitalism.

What we see here is capitalism doing what it’s (in essence) designed to do. The mistake that so many people are making is to think that this is an accident or an aberration. This is capitalism working.

It’s a ridiculous system who’s lifeblood (money) is a complete fiction – and as it turns out, a dangerous one.

If by ‘fixing it’ we want to live in a world where the basics for survival (oxygen, food, water, shelter, security etc) and the most important things in a human life (meaningful employment of time and energy, rewarding relationships, social inclusion etc) then we have to recognise that none of those NONE of them require money – capitalism even less so. The fact that anyone has been taught differently has to be unlearned. Thankfully it’s not very hard to see it if you stand in the right place to get some perspective on it.

We need to recognise that anything we do to make things closer to how they were only serves to delay the inevitable collapse of a ludicrous system that runs on an impossible promise of infinite growth in a world of finite resources. It’s unsustainable and when something is unsustainable it’s demise is inevitable. The sooner we recognise this and agree a better way of doing things the happier we’ll all be.

Until then we will be applying band aid after band aid to keep ourselves locked into a rat race that keeps us buying and deluded into thinking we can all win. We want to keep our stockholm syndrome alive, we want to believe that if we work hard or are talented we can have it all. But it’s just not true. Everything we really need and want is within our grasp, and can be sustainably managed for all if we only decided to live that way. It requires no ‘devolution’ no drop in the ‘quality of life’ (for us the richest) and a huge uplift for the majority of the world.. yes, even with our growing population. This system is not the best one we have, it’s the most virulent and the most divisive, but it cannot and shall not last. We have better options, if only we have the open mind and the courage to search for them.

One day this has to end and our only real choice is with a bang or a whimper.

DI

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The main differences between Economies and Tigers

Tigers are strikingly beautiful animals that have arisen as as result of millions of years of evolution. Tigers fulfil a natural and vital role in their natural ecosystems – constributing to biodiversity and this play a part in sustaining life on our planet.

In the jungle, the economy might just get you a little anxious as you swat mosquitoes and jump at shadows moving through the undergrowth. Tigers will kill you.
Tigers would find it hard to bite and claw an economy.
If the economy disappeared, we’d still have tigers.
Once tiger’s are gone we cannot get them back.

Economies however, send tigers extinct.

Economies drive the view that tiger parts and jungle forests are commodities that will earn people money – incentivising their rapid destruction.The greater the depletion of the resource the more valuable it becomes and the larger the incentive.
If tigers disappeared, we’d have economies for a while, until other ‘resources’ started disappearing too, then we’d have nothing to run an economy with.
If economies disappeared we could invent them again if we wanted to.

The economy is imaginary, we made it up – tigers are real.

People think it’s important to protect the tigers …so long as it doesn’t cost too much.

Almost everyone thinks it’s more important to protect the economy.

 

DI

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The illusions of our democracy

I know we’re not supposed to be thinking about this stuff.. It’s not allowed.. but here goes.

Does democracy give us real freedom of choice, or just the appearance of it?

I’m fascinated at the moment with the question of legitimacy. Specifically in so far as it related to our democratically elected governments.

When you look at the vote numbers from the last few elections in the USA and UK you see that governments are being elected to power with less than a quarter of the population’s vote. They may have an overall majority of the votes that have been cast, but as so few people vote, then it means that in reality only 20-25% of the population actually wanted these people to be in power and run things for us. Is that truly representative? Is that legitimate?

Who are these politicians really? What skills do they have? Do they do anything? Are they talented or skilled at something in a way that qualifies them to be holding a position of authority? Does it all just boil down to a popularity contest won by the least bad candidate? The one that can weave the shiniest web of silk screen around them wins. A lot of us are cynical about it all – and probably rightly so – but in a way our cynicism just hurts us. Our frustration and rage should be turned into a voice, a call, a demand for something else. People don’t vote because they feel disempowered, like it wont make a real difference, and their largely right. The more cynical we are the less likely we are to actually get involved and the likelihood of change decreases.

When I’m asked to vote for someone they present a set of ideas, principles, intentions etc and I choose based on that. I can also contact them and ask them to take a stand this way or that on something but they are of course free to ignore me. The reality however is that even if I was that engaged to stay on top of what my representative was doing and lobbying for my preferences all the time, the chain of influence is so long and politics so opaque and intricate that it hardly makes any difference.

It looks good on paper but in practice almost nobody (except the already wealthy or powerful who can exert obvious and immediate influence) get to do much to affect real change. The only exception is when enough people gather together that it embarrasses politicians or political parties into taking action. Their ‘public’ image (and thus re-electibiity) is threatened so they must respond or be seen to respond. It’s all about show, about the appearance. If 250,000 people marched for something and the media didn’t report it and no one else saw it except the government and the protesters.. how influenced would they really be I wonder.

So when it comes to having an influence myself, what can I do? What are my choices really?

I’m presented with a choice of two people in identical suits with almost the same ideas convincing me that their flavour of cola  beverage is the one and only – the alternative being dangerous ad untrustworthy. So my choice boils down to essentially Pepsi or coke. Now as they are both saying this we can conclude that if this is false then one of them is a liar, and if its true then both are. Not a great choice really. What if i don’t want either?When and where do I get to have my say? On the ballot sheet? That’s not a say, not a real choice, that’s Pepsi or Coke.

So standing back, what if I find certain legislation, a particular law, or even the entire system flawed, what can I do? More specifically, if I don’t want Pepsi or Coke (or anything like it), and find the whole idea that these clowns are in charge – and given the power and privilege that they are – offensive, and want to live in a completely different way, what are my choices?

I can leave, go to another country.. but then I have the same thing. Same set of problems, very similar limitations but a different bureaucracy run by almost identical set of clowns. It’s like being told you can vote for labour camp director, what a freedom! And of course if you absolutely cannot stand for the elected choice then you can change labour camps.. Right, is that really a free choice?

What if I fundamentally don’t accept that these people have any authority over me. They weren’t born better or with any authority over me and I choose to grant them none. I didn’t vote for them and I don’t want them, what then? Where can I go? Who decides the world is divided up into countries? Who gave them the right? Certainly no one I know. Why don’t I have the same legitimate right to say No. I don’t recognise your state, your authority or your regulations and I choose instead to live on my own terms in my own way by my own moral and ethical framework and take responsibility for my own actions. Where am I allowed to do that? It seems that if I was to really try I would be imprisoned for one thing or another – probably trespassing on land someone claims to own at the very least.

I think when you look at it from this perspective the choice we have suddenly doesn’t feel quite as free anymore. It feels a bit token. I’m not against the concept of participatory democratic forms of running things, but what we have? It’s not really what we think it is.

You have to accept what you’re given, bottom line. True independence, true freedom is not an option. There is nowhere to go. It’s their way or no way at all. Are we all political prisoners in this sense?

DI

 

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A positive start : revolting Wall St & a Plenitude economy.

I am pleased to see the occupation of Wall st and it’s about time all the people who have been hurt hardest in the USA find a voice and a stage. Especially great against the backdrop of faltering US economic pride, UK double-dip recessions and the Eurozone panic. Predictions of another great depression might be over stating it, but then again who knows?

I just hope that the protest does more than rally the usual band of shouty youths in alternative clothing who want to express out the last drops of their teeny rage hormones and newfound political awareness recently gleaned from skimming some college books, and instead becomes some sort of coherent message, nay demand for change. I fear that vague and general dis-satisfaction will into lead to anything except tedium. It’s fine for the beginning as it coalesces but without a unified purpose and calls for specific action – I can’t see what reaction could follow from those we give power to, that would make it all seem worthwhile. Having spent time both marching and working behind enemy lines, I know that protests die away, but specific calls often find an ear.
I am however – as always – hopeful. More power to them.

On a similar note of change in the wind, I just watched a short ‘RSAnimate style’ video from Juliet Schor on her theory of the ‘Plenitude Economy’:

Aside from the fact that it’s about a ‘New American dream’ (which for the other 6.6billion people on the planet seems a bit selfish), it’s a good idea. Plays very nicely (albeit in a much more simplistic and summarised form in the video above) into Tim Jackson’s theories in the excellent ‘Prosperity Without Growth – Economics for a finite planet’ as both talk of shorter working weeks, less consumerist culture, less focus on growth fuelled by increasingly stripping the planet of finite resources etc. I especially like the nudge towards increasing a sense of community and the rebuilding of shared lives, resources, tools and skills.

Without having gone into the detail of the Plenitude Economy theory as much as I have with Tim Jacksons ‘zero-growth’ macro-economic scenario alluded to in the book, I can only comment so deeply, but from what I could see I think that it’s a lovely sentiment and a good first step – but (like Tim Jackson) doesn’t go far enough to be called a ‘solution’. Not nearly far enough. It’s still not viable ‘end-state’ or sustainable scenario.

Maybe that’s why it’s only called a new american dream. The rest of the world is still expected to be kept in grinding poverty so that America (and the other rich western nations) can enjoy the lifestyle that it has becomes accustomed to? Hard to tell if this has been thought through or not upon cursory examination.

If we can achieve the world a that video describes it, then why do we really need capitalism at all? Why do we need money? Really the true value in all the things that she mentions would fill our lives in that scenario don’t require anything from the capitalist system. Does it? People could be just as meaningfully employed – in fact arguably far more so – if they didn’t have to work for money. There is nothing in this model that requires us to live within a state does it? [I mean to do some of those things the way we do them now would (ie manufacture solar panels) but there are other many other ways to organise the manufacturing of goods that doesn’t require wage slavery or ‘human capital’]. My point is that to live happy meaningful lives in the way that this idea alludes to doesn’t actually require capitalism, money or states at all.

Aside from the obvious inability or unwillingness to challenge the fundamentals of capitalism the general theory is good and I think provides a small hint of what life – post money and post-capitalism might be like. At least in so far as that it’s about people being more self-sufficient, taking responsibility for their own lives, more interlinked with each other, stronger community bonds,  shared responsibility, increased engagement with education over the course of a life, wider skill sharing, more resilient small-scale, less uniform, production of goods and providing of services form people who do not have jobs for life (but only for as long as they feel like) and who do many things that give them pleasure and benefit others with their energy.

In fact the only way you can have a situation that vaguely resembles something like that is when you get rid of money – for a variety of reasons that I have outlined in several previous posts.

I think these viewpoints should be spread, they are positive and get people thinking some really important things. Who knows, maybe the time for the ideas that excite me and that I share on this blog have not yet had their time but it’s kind of a shame that the debate hasn’t reached a level of maturity yet where you can drop a word like Communism or Anarchist in without a sharp intake of breath, or that has the villagers reaching for their pitchforks. Still too soon?

Anyway, its not about labels.. but it is about trying to get people to not build their world view on a foundation of thought that automatically includes money in it, because it seems to me that it’s exactly there that we are making the biggest mistake of all. I mean, why is capitalism so bad? Why does it produce such bad effects in the world? How does that happen? The only conclusion that I have ever come across is (in short) because of the incentives that abstract notions of currency and wealth embodied in money provides. It becomes primary, the thing after which all other things follow… and that distorts everything else for the worse.

It’s had  fair go around the track, we’ve taken it for a test drive, it had some benefits for some but let’s admit when it’s a failure and move on already.

Let’s have more thinking, more theories and let’s never be afraid to dream big and ask the awkward questions as we keep taking solid steps towards a better world.

DI

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Ending poverty

The American Dream - A Great Depression

Efforts to lift people out of poverty and the worst kinds of harship on the planet are entirely noble and should be supported more. Education, empowerment and helping people to become self sufficient is important and valuable – I would never suggest otherwise.

Do you feel a ‘but’ coming? Well there isn’t one. There is a ‘however’ however..
The basic problem is that these are good people (I am assuming) and groups engaged in actively trying to do genuinely noble, positive and much needed work to help others lift themselves out of suffering at the sharpest, roughest, darkest end of life in our capitalist money-driven world. They are good people fighting an un-winnable fight – at least on the game board upon which they are playing.

The issue here is that their work is – in essence – a ‘band aid’ measure, one that does nothing to address the underlying causes of the problem – capitalism. In fact I would go further to say money itself.

The answer to poverty is not more money. As counterintuitive as it sounds, the answer is to get rid of money entirely. The system – however you rig it – is always going to be skewed by the innate quality of capital to attract more capital. If you hit the reset button it would only be a matter of time before the same situation arose again.

For example, providing aid to countries in times of disaster is a wonderful thing to do and saves millions of lives. The fact that quite a few of the ‘disasters’ that happen would never have become disasters in the first place if these people had been given the support they needed to develop their own resiliency is never really talked about much.

Sending foreign aid to developing nations doesn’t address why these places are poor in the first place. Who is profiting from their resources? Why don’t they have stable political and judicial systems? Why can’t they trade fairly in the global market? Who’s exploiting them? Whose keeping these countries poor? Every situation is different but you follow the roots back far enough the stories all start to look a bit familiar I think.

Trickle Down

If all the money in the world was divided equally, each person would get under USD10,000 (some say under six) – either way it doesn’t really matter as before long inequality will arise again. Money simply attracts more money. Capital gives you something to leverage to make more of it and debt is even better. The more debt you own the more money you create and the more debt is created and on it goes. If you are the wealthy then you never really have to even pay it. (For more on this, take a look at the Money As Debt documentary).

Expressed in (admittedly simple terms), this is how it works. For an example just look outside at the window at the world you live in. It’s not an accident things are this way, that’s how it’s ‘supposed’ to work. That is also why the wealthy and powerful (same people?) wish to preserve the status quo, it works to their benefit.

Personally I think the kinda crazy bit is when people believe strongly that their wealth is a sign of their superiority, and hence that they are somehow entitled and deserving of their elevated status. To be rich is the same as to be successful and vice versa. (This is often Americans for a variety of cultural reasons – the USA is culturally a meritocracy in that sense). The fact that this belief ignores who is actually paying for them to have the conditions they enjoy to become wealthy in the first place is neither here nor there apparently. But anyway, back to poverty.

It seems sensible that to cure’ poverty you must throw money at it. Poverty is a lack of money after all isn’t it? The fact is however that it’s somewhere around this point where most people’s thinking seems grind to a halt. They say to themselves that this is the way things are, the nature of economies etc and move on. What they don’t seem to do is take it to the next step and ask if it actually needs to be that way and (more importantly) is this really the end result we desire?

Most of us can see the problems, and how pervasive they are if we are interested enough to look. The sticking point just seems to be that most of us are too conditioned by the present way of doing things that it never occurs to us to challenge the idea of money and that if we do it seems too ‘far out’, too radical. But why is it so radical really?

We talk of all kinds of tweaks to the macro economic models, more and more complicated engineering of an imaginary system to try and make something that is inherently unequal – more equal. Then when it doesn’t change anything in any meaningful way, we wonder why it’s not really working very well.

The simple question of how to build a better system that does not have oppressive inequality built into it doesn’t even seem to get raised.

I suspect that it’s something that if you bring up in public you’d be shouted down as a lunatic radical communist etc and called much much worse, but that in itself is an interesting point. There are many of people who can point to what is broken about the system and what they think should be done to tweak it so that it’s better – but hardly anyone ever challenges the basic premise of a monetary systems itself. But why? The flaws are so obvious and becoming only more and more alarming.

Nobody – not even the most intelligent and respected economists in the world – have yet put forward a credible sustainable, macro economic model that reconciles the desire for infinite growth in a universe with finite resources. More peculiarly even than that is that no one has called them on it. This cannot last but no reasonable alternative is put forward. Whether you agree with my political views or not, that is a pretty big question that needs an answer don’t you think?

When “the richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of global household wealth” you know something is broken, don’t you? Poverty is a dramatic and epic problem that requires equally dramatic and epic solutions in my opinion.

You really want to end poverty? Advocate a sustainable society without money. Get rid of it entirely. We don’t actually need it. As hard as it may be to imagine a world without it, it’s actually where we started and ultimately where we’re heading (I believe). From a galactic civilisation sort of timescale perspective it’s just a phase we’re going through. Soon we’ll realise that it is more hassle than it’s worth, a pointless illusion and just move away from it towards something that doesn’t require us to maintain an elaborate and confusing communal fiction.

The majority of the developing world and striking percentage of the developed world live in unnecessary hardship. This hardship is all too real, but it root causes are imaginary. Food is grown, water, energy and shelter are produced but there is a barrier that we invent to prevent people getting it, something they must give in return.

Manu of these people in fact grow food themselves but struggle because they are obliged to participate in capitalism. Some of them starve as a result of speculation on food futures in the commodity markets while grain or other necessities for food production sit in warehouses, are left to spoil or are sent somewhere where they are perhaps less needed. [More on this in future posts].

I recently heard that the 40-50% of the food in the USA is discarded as waste (depending on whether you measure it at point of production or consumption). Half. Meanwhile everyone talks about population being the problem. I’m not sure that it is.. not at the moment anyway. There is a number that is too much.. absolutely no doubt. The truth is that we probably aren’t there yet but it’s going to be very hard to tell one way or the other because our problems aren’t actually how many of us there are, it’s the way we run things.. The way we live, the way we share (or don’t) the resources we have and the methods by which we apportion them. The drive to produce more than we need, to extract and trade for the sake of itself – the pressure to think short term; one election cycle, one financial quarter, one human life at a time – all for the sake of profit.

Remove these sorts of incentives and greed (if and where it exists at all) takes a completely different shape. Security isn’t produced by having more money in the bank, it’s about having strong communities, sustainable, reliable access to food, water and shelter. Opportunities to pursue meaningful activity, find love etc. All these things are free at the point of production. We all know that money wont keep you dry in a storm, wont fill your belly unless there’s something to buy with it, and won’t provide you directly with any of the other things in life that we all truly value. The purpose of it as an intermediary device for attaining these things however is also – as it turns out – ineffective for the vast majority of people and, most of all, completely unnecessary.

Poverty is a huge global problem, but I can’t see how you can get rid of poverty and still keep money. You can push the problem around, move it, but you cant ‘solve’ it without changing the system because the basic rules are that for one to have more, another somewhere must definitively have less.  If we could reset the clock, wipe global debt and  all have the same, then we wouldn’t really need money anyway would we?

Strip the problem right back. What do we actually need?

Do we need governments? Do we need money or is there a better way for us to get what we all really want anyway? What do you think?

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Do as your told

I think this about sums it up doesn’t it?

Work Buy Consume Die

This is what is wanted from you

But is that all you are going to do? Is that all you want?

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Human nature, the economy & our hope of a better future

This is a big post for a big topic, but bear with me – it’s worth it.

It’s the perennial question “what is human nature?”
Are we able to live together peacefully and in harmony with each other and the world around us or are we doomed to be governed by our baser selfish instincts – to cheat, lie, steal and dominate others to get what we want at their cost?

It’s an interesting question because where a person stands on this one underpins what futures they consider possible for the human race. In other words, is a society based on principles of cooperation and fairness possible – or will we always require a state of some sort to keep us in check and playing by the rules? Can we be trusted or will we always be tempted towards cheating?

The question is interesting also because really it holds a mirror up to the questioner themselves, revealing their underlying prejudice and general disposition in life; optimist or pessimist?

It’s so easy to cherry pick one’s own personal selection of human history’s highlights into your very own ‘best of’ to prove a point but more often than not it really just says more about the specific person asking the question than it does about the wider group of people who’s nature the question generally concerns.

The more prevalent position (at least that I come across) is somewhere on the more pessimistic end of the scale. Interestingly, it seems to increase into middle age until declining in very old age when people take a step back and are more reflective – rather than caught up in the heat of life’s day to day struggle. Often this person uses their years of experience as further evidence that it’s in fact an ongoing realisation of truth, ‘a wisening’ that allows them to see reality more clearly than a young naïve person with a head full of optimism – often terming themselves “realists” (the dead giveaway that someone is a pessimist).

In reality we almost all have reasons to be jaded after weathering the hardships that life throws our way and so it is easy (maybe even seductive) to let oneself narrow the view and slip into seeing only humanity’s rap sheet. There’s certainly plenty there to look at from times gone by – the greed, the cruelty, the violence, the hatred, the oppression, the selfish exploitation in all spheres of life over the ages and so on. It’s all there today as well – the rampant individualism and selfishness that pervades modern consumerist societies, depletes the world’s natural resources, in the race to get more, have more, be more at any cost. Get ahead, make a million, focus on the short term, squeeze the developing word to keep the wealthy west wealthy. Feed the poor into the furnace of capitalism to keep the engine running that drives up the productivity from which the middle and upper tiers profit. There’s a lot to be angry at, sure – a lot of very condemning evidence.

I used the word seductive before for a reason. I think this kind of pessimism can be seductive in some ways because it let’s you off the hook a bit, because if that’s how the world is then I tell myself that there’s nothing I can do about it, and thus it removes any responsibility from me to actually do anything about it. It’s not my fault and it’s not my problem in any broader sense. “Life sucks, just deal with it” becomes the de-facto position. Or in other words, “life will be like this no matter what I do, so I may as well just look after myself” which of course only contributes to the original problem. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The alternative can seem too overwhelming however, too frightening to face and thus anyone that sees things differently is labelled naïve or wilfully blinkered to the bad reality out there because (following the usual argument) unless you can show how to cure all the world’s ills – or prove that all the bad things don’t actually happen all the time – then they’re position still stands and they are right. Bad things happen, therefore the world is bad, people are bad and we just deal with it. If that’s wrong prove otherwise.

On the other hand, the optimist will point to the triumphs of human civilisation, the spectacular advances in thought, science and technology that have led us (among other places) to the moon – combined with the breathtaking capacity for love, compassion and artistic expression that hints at the potential for transcendence. With this filter in place we can see humanity as a shining beacon to life as we know it, the pinnacle of evolution in our ongoing path to physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual growth.

We are capable of so much, and yes while some of our most lauded achievements have been created on the backs of the oppressed, the product of their toil and effort – we still have this amazing capacity to create, to innovate, to be altruistic and to empathise with even other species than our own. To possess a consciousness that is wondrous in not only it’s very existence but also it’s possible (as yet largely unknown) potential.

So what is it? Rotten to the core and only capable of altruism when it serves our needs – or largely good creatures with a bright future of hope ahead? Are we more like the chimpanzee (clever and playful but also warlike, capable of great violence and cruelty) – or the bonobo (intelligent, caring, more cooperative, more peaceful, more sexual, more empathetic and gentle). Both are genetically similar to us to roughly the same degree (though the bonobo might be a fraction closer). Which end of the spectrum does our nature really sit on?

Really, the answer is ‘both’.  It’s obvious in a lot of ways but no less significant or worthy of examination because of it. It’s easy to say “there’s a bit of everything” and just move on when in fact this point is a rich and deep vein of truth that yields interesting results. Interesting because once you accept that in reality it’s all there – we are capable of both extreme acts of cruelty and extreme acts of compassion – then you have to ask well what pushes a person or group along the scale? What determines whether a person will act to their better nature or their worse one? Now we really get to the nub of it.

It’s a kind of nature vs nurture debate, but a bit broader in some ways because rather than examining the specifics of a particular person’s characteristics and how they develop, we are looking at the larger pressures and influencing factors that push a person to one end of the scale or another – which will be expressed through their individual characteristics.

We have thousands of years of case history with our civilisation to examine and an ever growing window into our collective soul and mental experience to inform us and really what it’s telling us I think is that most of what we learn about how to treat each other and behave in the world is taught to us.

Clearly the circumstances under which we are put have a huge influence on how we behave – the more desperate our situation the more extreme our self-preservation takes over. It’s not really very complicated but it’s simplicity is seemingly deceptive to a lot of people because this fact shows us that when the converse is true (and we are well cared for, loved, spared of great trauma, fed well, treated with respect and compassion, taught to love their fellow humans, encouraged to be cooperative and given the opportunities we need to grow and prosper in life) people are generally found to be happier, healthier, more generous, empathetic, altruistic and less aggressive to their neighbours.

Now I need to put a disclaimer on that statement above because while I am making a connection, I am not saying that having this kind of situation is a precondition to having these qualities.. That would imply that you have to be rich to be nice etc – clearly not true. My experience in fact is that often the poorest and most disadvantaged are the ones that display the most amazing acts of generosity and kindness.

What I am actually saying is that when you remove the reasons for people to compete against each other, when you lift the boot off their back a bit and treat them fairly and with respect then change their behaviour. Once again, a simple truism that few would dispute but an important building block in where we are going with this. (Yes there’s a point!)

It’s the world that’s warped and perverse – specifically the system by which we ‘run’ things is nonsensical. The capitalistic globalised economy and (at it’s real core) money is what causes the inequalities, and what causes one hairless monkey to be set against his brother or sister to compete for this imaginary resource in order to access the basic elements for survival. This basic idea underpins everything. For many around the world, without money you can’t eat, you have no shelter, you cannot provide for or protect your loved ones. This is an existential threat and thus many of us are constantly involved in a sort of deferred life and death struggle all the time. If we don’t play the game, get a job, get a better job and get some money, build some financial security etc then we could end up going under.

People will do all kinds of things to stop that happening. The stress and fear of it causes all kinds of behaviour, and when you add in the element of a human’s need to establish status then it warps a psyche on a whole bigger scale. How many homes are broken or violent places a result of these factors? The pressures of money, or not having enough, of fear at losing what you have, at the worry over or loss of status associated with it. I know that domestic violence is obviously a little more complicated and nuanced than that, but I’m saying that if you removed those financial pressures, then people are now far better able to cope and their capacity to deal with the built in concerns of being a living person in a relationship or community a lot better.

The fat is that we actually CAN grow the food that we need sustainably. We can harvest and produce the water we need sustainably. We can build sustainable shelters and generate clean energy. That is the fundamentals taken care of. Money (and the status, power, influence etc) that it brings is what plays to our greed, causes us to compete rather than cooperate. It is money that we invented that has taken over our lives and subjugated them to it’s will – literally. We denude our environment and exploit our own limited resources, persecute each other and live lives tainted with stress and fear all because of this imaginary stuff that we actually don’t need.

I am often struck by hearing children (who have usually been brought up to recognise a moral code- taught right and wrong), who can’t work out why the world is the way it is. Why do people have wars, why can’t people share? Why do these adults not play by the rules of right and wrong that these children have been taught? Why isn’t the world simple? We laugh and pat them on the head but they are fair questions. Are we hypocrites?

The world is only what we have made it. We can make it something else if we wanted to. We invented money, we can un-invent it. What is the purpose of governments, or countries and economies if they don’t actually make our lives better as a civilisation/species? If these things have outgrown their usefulness and now hurt more than they help then why not change? Why do we really need money? We don’t.

A system of living based on mutual cooperation and respect where each individual is taught to be peaceful, considerate and take responsibility for themselves and for caring for the world around them – is not only possible, but actually the only way we’ll survive in the long term. It’s not unrealistic, and it is not precluded by our nature. We can organise things another way, one that plays to our strengths and maximises human happiness and meaningful existence. It doesn’t require we live primitively or that we abandon the progress of science and technology – far from it.

If we chose to, we could imagine a world that  incentivises harmony and cooperation. One where mutual benefit is sought rather than at the cost of another. History (if you look for it) also provides examples of this. There are places in the world (even today) where societies work together to live well and resolve problems, and it works.

We can find a way that works for us, and it doesn’t need a centralised government, doesn’t need politicians and some supreme nanny to tell us how to act and punish us when we are naughty – and most certainly doesn’t need money. It just needs people to focus on what matters and forget about what doesn’t.

This isn’t a roadmap yet, but this is a rough sketch of where (I think) we all want and need to get to. Many of us dispute whether it’s possible but I say the evidence is all there that the answer is a resounding yes.

You don’t have to be a hippy and live in a yurt to want or benefit from a world focused on peace, freedom, meaningful prosperity and cooperation. Our civilisation needs resilience and it needs to lift it’s head out of the sand and rediscover how to live sustainably on this planet – not only because it’s a noble principle but because if we don’t then one day we will drive ourselves into extinction.

What do you think – doomed to repeat our mistakes or capable of building something more?

DI

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Nothing to see here.. right?

If you really think about it, the vast majority of harm that is done in the world is done for the sake of money. Money is wealth is influence is status is agency is freedom is power.

Given the fact that money is fiction, imaginary, made up, make believe, abstract and illusionary – we have to see that (all things considered) it is actually rather stupid to ‘run’ things this way. It is completely unnecessary.

I know that this is a hard concept to really grasp however. If – (like me) you live in a western liberal capitalist democracy and are probably therefore in the top 5% of the world’s wealthiest – then it can be possible to consider that nothing is really all that wrong with it. We work, we get by, we try to improve things and on the whole things could be a lot worse but they are certainly better than they were in the past on the whole.. we have technology, more comforts etc etc and so on the argument runs.

If we could just help others in the world to live more like we do, then everything would be fine. Money has always been around so all this talk of getting rid of it is crazy talk.
It’s easy to kind of say, “we have all these smart economists running things and though it goes up and down it’s the best system that we got”.

The problem with the above lines of reasoning is that they are entirely false and that you only have to scratch the surface of them to reveal some rather worrying flaws.

The global economy is not a good system with a few kinks to work out, it is an entirely flawed system that on a one way course to meltdown – it’s not a case of ‘if’, but ‘when’.

It cannot present a credible way to address the ludicrous gap posed by a system based on continual (and thus infinite) growth on a finite planet with limited resources, nor can it come up with any convincing idea of how to address the increasingly severe levels of wealth inequality across the world or the titanic mass of debt that it creates with no way to pay back – only pass on.

So (to my mind) any attempt to shrug off the issue as “not important right now”, “not my problem” or “overblown and not requiring any drastic measures” shows a deep ignorance of a) how it works, b) what the effects of it are on a global scale d) what the actual root causes of the problems are, and c) what value the alternatives bring.

If the world’s population was represented by 1,000 people – here’s a look at what it looks like right now:

Click on the image for a larger view..

If you are not an economist and want to understand in more depth how our global economies work, I can recommend reading Tim Jackson’s “Prosperity Without Growth” for a relatively easy to read,  frank and intelligent analysis of economies, capitalism and the nature of our financial systems. It’s a good read and not dry at all – which was a pleasant surprise. He shows how we must urgently reconcile this issue of prosperity within the limits of the planet we inhabit – though personally I would have liked to see him go further but I can see that he might have been dismissed as a lunatic if he went as far as I do in this blog, and the baby would have been thrown out with the bath water.

For now, the essence of capitalist economies can be summed up like this however:
Economies (thus the Governments who administer to them) need growth.
Growth is largely based on the increasing/improving levels of ‘busy-ness’ (GDP) in an economy (productivity, efficiency, employment, spending etc).
Economies are also a bit like a car with the accelerator stuck down, if they are pointed in the right direction they keep accelerating forwards in a positive direction but if they point the wrong way then the engine pushes it faster and faster towards catastrophe.
The real catch is that;
a) As soon as the market thinks that things are going bad, then they – by definition – are. Like money, your economy is fictional and really only worth what others believe it to be and
b) continual infinite growth on a finite world is a logical and logistical impossibility.

But you know what? We can discuss the effects of trade relationships on the third world, the ridiculous levels of profit that people expect and the warping of the social fabric as a result of money becoming an end in itself, but there’s a danger is debating too far down that path because it distracts from the main point.

Those that want to defend the status quo can invent all manner of temporary delays and band-aid measures to address the issues presented by capitalist economies and money more widely – thus countering (on the surface at least) the main objections to it – however it all merely treats the symptoms and ignores treating the cause; money itself.

Even if it were possible to patch up all the current obvious shortcomings of the global economy, bring stability, reliable growth and reduce wealth inequality etc.. you are still left with the underlying problem. The system is flawed, fundamentally flawed. It is unsustainable and – by it’s very nature –  doomed to collapse. It simply cannot go any other way.

So the real argument to be had is not ‘can we improve the global economy to make it more fair’ and so on.. but to ask what is a better way to approach our individual and collective human lives, making them more likely to be filled with happiness and meaningful prosperity – rather than misery, constant competition, pointless struggle and suffering.

Let’s overcome the fear of change and ask ourselves: if we don’t actually need it, then why have it?

DI

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Climate sanity losing cabin pressure

I read every few days about some climate change carbon deal, legislation to curb unsustainable resource consumption or inter governmental panel on the environment grinding to a halt – or falling over, or being patched together into some weak and largely meaningless form – and I am frankly dumbfounded.

All of these deals are (in essence) a negotiation between two concerns – our planetary environment, resources etc and the world economy. The truth is that (for some reason that I  cannot fathom) these people involved treat the interests of the economy as sacrosanct. There is somewhere buried in there a belief that past a certain point we cannot go.. that there is an impact or cost to the economy that cannot be countenanced.. a line we cannot cross – a price too high to pay for bowing to environmental concerns. This ‘hard point’ around which legislation and accords must bend to be considered viable.

Pull your head out of the ant hill and think about this mind boggling situation for just a moment. Economies are completely conceptual. You can’t pick it up, you can’t eat it, it only exists in our minds – only the minds of one species on the planet I might add. It has – like money – relative importance (relative that is to the importance we grant it) but it is completely a work of fiction.

Our environment – on the other hand – is quite a bit more real. You don’t have fresh water to drink; you die, you run our of food; you die, you run out of clean breathable oxygen; you die, and so on.. What are we supposed to do with our safely preserved capitalist economies once there is nothing left to eat, drink or make things from?

All things being equal it’s great to protect economies and all (if that’s what you’re into), but why are we trying everything we can to keep the party going while the building is smouldering and threatening to burn down around us?

Out of the two concerns – economies and the environment – it seems pretty clear which one has the most finite and pressing limits around which everything else should be worked around – and it’s not the  one we invented.

Am I alone in seeing this?

DI

The March of Progress

 

 

 

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