All doomed?

“A great civilisation is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.”

Will Durant

To make up for a significant gap in my scientific/technological education, I once waded through Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History (abridged version, a mere 1003 pages summarising the original 12 volumes), with significant help from a large Webster’s Dictionary. The ebb and flow of humanity and its civilisations was indeed fascinating. But always there was the question at the back of my mind ‘Why do civilisations fail? This has inspired many historians to produce their own stories and analyses. William Ophuls is familiar with many of these and has produced this short book Immoderate Greatness in which he summarises the conclusions, not the stories.

So why do civilisations fail? Ophuls suggest there are six fundamental reasons:

  1. Ecological exhaustion through systematic exhaustion of the civilisation’s periphery and nature. The money economy tends to become an abstraction disconnected from the real world.
  2. Exponential growth. Essentially the future is valued at a great discount to the present. Decisions are taken for now, not for future generations.
  3. The law of Entropy, disorder tends to increase despite technological advances. Technologies tend to require more energy than they can generate. The natural system based on living processes does not have this problem.
  4. Excessive complexity. Eventually the level of problems created exhausts the capacity of people to manage them.
  5. Moral decay. Glubb identified that civilisations pass through natural ages: pioneers, commerce, affluence, intellect, then decadence. Over a period of around 250 years. In the latter age politics is increasingly corrupt and life unjust with huge wealth discrepancies – with bread and circuses to distract the people.
  6. Practical failure. The previous problems inevitably lead to increasing failure. Inflation,  debasing currency and wars have been the desperate paths historically taken. Reform and revival is possible, but is not the path most taken.

Now we have a global civilisation that has been around for about 250 years. It exhibits many of the symptoms mentioned. Collapse is possible, are we all doomed? Not necessarily.

What is clear is that fundamental change is needed – not least re global warming, catastrophic decline of the natural world, pandemics and global security. All require global cooperation.

The evident reversion of some countries to populism and posturing nationalism are moving in the wrong direction – that of moral decay, privileged elites, bread and circuses. This is the last thing that is needed.

Economics catching up?

“Nature is a “blind spot” in economics. We can no longer afford for it to be absent from accounting systems that dictate national finances, or ignored by economic decision makers.”

At last, economics appears to be catching up with the real world. The Dasgupta Review, commissioned by the UK Treasury, has stated what has for long been the bleeding obvious. Our economics is not serving us well by supporting destruction of our natural environment, our home.

“Truly sustainable economic growth and development means recognising that our long-term prosperity relies on rebalancing our demand of Nature’s goods and services with its capacity to supply them.”

I’ve lost count of the number of pressure groups that have made this point over the past decades, but here is hope that at least the UK government is starting to listen, and perhaps it may influence the forthcoming biodiversity summit.

Maybe the ice is beginning to melt away – the neoliberal dogma that has ruled over the gradual destruction of nature for 4 decades.

The review quotes that modern saint, David Attenborough:

“Economics is a discipline that shapes decisions of the utmost consequence, and so matters to us all. The Dasgupta Review at last puts biodiversity at its core.”

We all need reasons to hope.

New Renaissance vision – 25 years on

I recently came across this short unpublished article I wrote towards the end of 1996, reflecting on The Knutsford Lectures 1993-1996 on Visions of a New Renaissance, previously described in this post. It was an ambitious attempt to capture the spirit and outline of the needed New Renaissance, inspired by what the 19 individual speakers had said. The limitations of my perspective and the lack of suitable outlets meant the article was never published.

Discovering this piece led me to consider, what has changed in nearly 25 years. Was the outlined vision valid? Are we any nearer to it? Here’s my brief assessment, against the categories in the Emerging Vision section of the above paper i.e.:

  • Sustainable ecology.
  • Ethical behaviour and social responsibility
  • Local economy and community
  • Appropriate scale and human scale
  • Open science
  • Soul and spirit
  • Love, compassion, nonviolence
  • Holistic views
  • Living philosophy
  • Imagination, inspiration, arts

I have to say that, despite some encouraging features, it seems as if we are further away from a New Renaissance than we were 25 years ago. Consider just three points:

  1. Dominating everything else, the failure to effectively act on environmental sustainability and climate change for 25 years has led us into an increasingly perilous situation. We, particularly governments and moneymakers, have failed the test of ‘acting as if future generations matter’. On the other hand, far more individual people are acting as if they do; the pendulum is moving.
  2. Behind this is the dead weight of materialism, mechanism and reductionism, continuing to dominate science, governance and economics, stifling the emergence of soul, spirit, love, compassion, true values.
  3. The conflict between large scale and human scale is still heavily over-balanced in favour of the mega-projects, big government, industrial-scale farming and against human communities, particularly indigenous, and local solutions. Human inequalities increase as a result of an economic/governmental system that systematically increases them.

It does not have to be thus. We are creating the new world day by day, in our thoughts and resulting actions. The New Renaissance is a spur to our forward thinking. Take at look at SciMed‘s current New Renaissance initiative!

And I have to be encouraged by the direction taken by international organisations, and particularly the forthcoming Davos Agenda, plus this year’s schedule of global conferences. Covid-19 appears to have catalysed the understanding that the current ‘system’ no longer works, and a new direction is necessary for the whole of humanity, based on working with nature, inclusion and social justice, and trust between nations. A reason for hope!

The Fight for The Fens

Having grown up surrounded by The Fens (see earlier post), I was delighted to receive the book Imperial Mud by James Boyce, which outlines the history of this area of England. But why a book about English history written by an Aussie historian from Tasmania? This becomes clear as you realise that Boyce is also author of Van Diemens Land, a history of Tasmania. It turns out that the history of The Fens in England has strong echoes with the history of Tasmania – both being stories of displacement or co-opting of indigenous peoples in a colonial project, stealing their land for settlement.

The thing about the English Fens is that they were not easily settled by farmers, nor easily dominated by landowners. The low-lying land comprised varying degrees of bog/marsh, depending on season. But there was an abundance of fish and wildlfe, so it was possible to survive without the large farms in other areas of England. Also, travel was difficult, so the local people were very independent and distrusting of outsiders.

Boyce tells the story of the formation of the Fens and what he calls the ‘Fennish’ people with the emergence of a marshland environment in the East of England around 3-4000 years ago. The Roman invasion in AD43 had a significant impact, draining and colonising part of the Fens, provoking the rebellion led by Boudicca. After the Roman withdrawal in 410 the next ‘invasion’ came from the Christian church, through establishment of numerous monasteries, which grew into powerful centres integrated into the social fabric, and doing their own drainage projects. With the Norman invasion of 1066, feudal lords owned much of the land, alongside the monasteries, but there was still much ‘common land’ managed according to traditional practice, particularly in the Fens.

Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s led to major change, as many of the new landowners eventually wanted to enclose some of the common land and drain it for farmland. Land reclamation by drainage became big business in Holland in the late 1500s and this expertise inevitably found its way to the Fens. The political will came with the Stuart kings in the 1600s.

Boyce outlines the events of the ‘fight for the Fens’, where landowners sought to drain the land and create settlements by removing access to the Common land of the people. This was naturally resisted by local people whose way of life was being destroyed.

Read More »

Having grown up surrounded by The Fens (see earlier post), I was delighted to receive the book Imperial Mud by James Boyce, which outlines the history of this area of England. But why a book about English history written by an Aussie historian from Tasmania? This becomes clear as you realise that Boyce is also author of Van Diemens Land, a history of Tasmania. It turns out that the history of The Fens in England has strong echoes with the history of Tasmania – both being stories of displacement or co-opting of indigenous peoples in a colonial project, stealing their land for settlement.

The thing about the English Fens is that they were not easily settled by farmers, nor easily dominated by landowners. The low-lying land comprised varying degrees of bog/marsh, depending on season. But there was an abundance of fish and wildlfe, so it was possible to survive without the large farms in other areas of England. Also, travel was difficult, so the local people were very independent and distrusting of outsiders.

Boyce tells the story of the formation of the Fens and what he calls the ‘Fennish’ people with the emergence of a marshland environment in the East of England around 3-4000 years ago. The Roman invasion in AD43 had a significant impact, draining and colonising part of the Fens, provoking the rebellion led by Boudicca. After the Roman withdrawal in 410 the next ‘invasion’ came from the Christian church, through establishment of numerous monasteries, which grew into powerful centres integrated into the social fabric, and doing their own drainage projects. With the Norman invasion of 1066, feudal lords owned much of the land, alongside the monasteries, but there was still much ‘common land’ managed according to traditional practice, particularly in the Fens.

Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s led to major change, as many of the new landowners eventually wanted to enclose some of the common land and drain it for farmland. Land reclamation by drainage became big business in Holland in the late 1500s and this expertise inevitably found its way to the Fens. The political will came with the Stuart kings in the 1600s.

Boyce outlines the events of the ‘fight for the Fens’, where landowners sought to drain the land and create settlements by removing access to the Common land of the people. This was naturally resisted by local people whose way of life was being destroyed.

Read More »

Reality is Now the Enemy!

Here is a passionate, thought-provoking post by Eric Wayne on the dangers of current trends away from respect for truth towards shared narratives divorced from critical evaluation and thinking for oneself – and whether banning ideas from media is actually a sinister trend in the wrong direction.

I particularly like his quotes from an old friend, Roman Emperor Marcus Aureliius. Eric also posts really innovative art.

Art & Crit by Eric Wayne

I’m old school on reality. Well, technically, I’m kinda’ old period. And white. And male. You could say I am a remnant of a bygone era. I still believe that reality should be sought, and accepted, and that to do so is healthy and necessary.


We should defer to the greater argument.

There are a few obsolete ideas that I still cherish, and they could get me erased if I’m not careful about acting on them. One is that we should defer to the better argument and evidence. I might have picked that up from an Intro to Philosophy class in community college. [Not that I didn’t go on to get a Master’s in Art, but I think I learned the most in a couple years of free community college, back in the day, which is part of the reason I think we should bring it back.] This idea has…

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That was 2020 on this blog

It always seems a bit introspective, reflecting on your own blog. But that is one way to learn. I start with my own favourites from the 165 posts that appeared on this blog in 2020.

My favourite photo posts of 2020

My favourite wordy posts of 2020

Most viewed in 2020

WordPress stats give the top 5 most viewed posts in 2020. This appears to be a strange selection, until you realise that mostly these will be hits from search engines, of subjects not widely covered on the web.

Most liked (4 years)

The ‘most liked’ top 5 covers likes over the lifetime of this blog. What most surprised me was the top one, a recent post on psychology and astrology models – which is somewhat peripheral to the main thrusts of this blog.

I note that my preoccupation with a New Renaissance and rantings on politics/economics/science do not figure in either of these lists!

Maybe I should ask myself the question: should I have a number of different blogs, rather than this single eclectic blog?

Out of the Wreckage

I haven’t had time to read George Monbiot’s book ‘Out of the Wreckage’. This excellent post by Zoe O’Kill gives a good summary – and an excellent overview of our predicament related to the insane neoliberalism that our politics seems to be increasingly in thrall to, both sides of the pond but especially the US.

Zoe is lost in thought

I’d like to begin by wishing everyone a happy new year! I hope you all managed to have a lovely holiday period despite the impacts 2020 has had on all of us.

I’ve definitely had a dry patch with ideas for posts. I kept coming up with ideas that felt easy or boring and I realised that I didn’t start this website to aimlessly post without any real intention. It was to allow me to learn and to share what I’d learnt with all of you. I love to read, learn new things, and to write, that’s why I made this blog. Getting back to that root motivation has been important to me. I would rather post quality over quantity and share something truly interesting and beneficial with you all. Something I’ve put real work into learning about and producing. That is what brings on today’s post and future posts…

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Not the yellow headlights

The first time we took the car to France was in the early 70s. There was a bureaucratic routine you had to go through before we could cross the channel: get travel insurance, get car insurance, GB sticker and a green card for the car, pay the Automobile Association a fiver for an International Driving Permit, purchase beam benders and yellow transparent paint to be applied at the port.

Then we joined the EEC in 1973, which eventually became the EU. The French stopped insisting on yellow headlights, car insurers tended to include Europe cover, there was no need for green card or IDP. We still needed beam benders – some things never change. We got a dog and the pet passport scheme eventually made that easy. Mobile phones became ubiquitous and the EU eventually forced an end to yellow headlights and outrageous roaming charges. GB stickers bacame unnecessary.

And we never had to worry about how long our trip would be, we could stay as long as we wanted.

But today we’re finally out of the EU. All that bureaucracy is coming back, the pet passport is gone, there may be new roaming charges. We can only stay for 3 months out of six. We’re effectively excluded from free travel in ‘our’ Europe, the Europe that is our history.

These freedoms have been taken from us in the name of an abstraction called ‘sovereignty’, an anachronism in the modern interconnected world. They’re intended to ‘make Britain great again’, harking back to the days when renegade Britons roamed the world, stole land and riches from indigenous peoples, eliminating them or turning them into slaves, and made an inglorious ‘Empire’.

Fortunately, the law of unintended consequences means that unexpected benefits will turn up, and needed change may eventually be forced on the EU itself.

But at least we won’t need the yellow headlights again. Unless there is a Frexit.

Featured image shows one of the first optic headlamp lenses, the Corning Conaphore made of selective yellow “Noviol” glass (public domain via Wikipedia). So-called ‘selective yellow’ gives better visibility than white light in poor conditions and is still permitted in fog lights.

Nationalism is a psychological aberration

Nationalism is a psychological abberation, driven by insecurity. This is the message of this excellent article by Steve Taylor in Psychology Today, which I recommend reading. Nations are artificial constructs, which lead to pathological effects such as wars. The basic psychology of human beings is co-operative with their fellow human beings. The problems we now face, such as the covid19, climate breakdown, species extinction transcend national boundaries. The only future for humanity is one of global co-operation.

The impulse behind Brexit, of ‘making the UK great again’, and the similar impulse behind the Trump presidency, have been going in precisely the wrong direction, driven by the insecurity of their former working populations who have been driven to feel insecure by the economic system. The US appears to have a ‘get out of jail’ card in a Joe Biden presidency, but only if he addresses that failed economic system. The UK has got itself into a more permanent mess with Brexit, but can emerge if the co-operation engendered by a fair ‘deal’ is brought to fruition. A ‘no deal’ will be a psychological disaster for not just UK, but the whole of Europe. The insecurity generated can only lead to more problems.

Of course, nations will still need to exist in some form to organise human affairs, but only within the context of the larger groupings of which they are a part. History tells us that these are largely geographically based – China, India, various European empires, USA… or more global such as the Spanish, British and French colonial expansions. And the context of the United Nations or equivalent organisation is vital.

The charismatic and the populist leader are most suspect in this whole context. I suspect they automatically come to prominence as the collective sense of insecurity rises.

As Steve says,

Nationalism is a psychological aberration, and we owe it to our ancestors, and to our descendants — and to the other species, and to the Earth itself — to move beyond it.

Will things be better in 2021? Read on…

In this post, Matthew Wright gives a sober reality check on whether things are likely to get back to ‘normal’ anytime soon. The real problem is that the neoliberal so-called ‘normal’ was not working and needs a global ‘reset’ to address sustainability of our natural world and a just economic system for all people.

Matthew Wright

I write this in December 2020, as one of the most difficult years in living memory draws to a close. Globally. It’s rare that virtually the whole planet shares a crisis. Usually it’s due to war. This time, it’s a pandemic, and the whole has been buoyed on an unprecedented swirl of social media.

The result has been a sense that 2020 has been a disaster. What surprises me is the amount of material I’m seeing which suggests that, come 1 January 2021, all will come right – I mean, 2021 couldn’t possibly be a worse year than 2020 – er – could it?

Actually, history tells me that it ain’t over until it’s over. Crises of this nature don’t shut down because the calendar’s rolled into a new year. Nor do they come out of a vacuum. If we dig beneath the surface we find that ‘2020’, in all…

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Agonism

It is in the nature of humanity for there to be conflict and wars. If you doubt this, see the list of wars that have raged throughout history, or see how even now a large portion of the earth is engulfed in some form of conflict. So conflict is inevitable. Yet there is a spiritual principle, call Harmony through Conflict (also known as 4th Ray), which indicates that harmony can indeed result from conflict.

So political conflict does not necessarily result in wars. In this context, agonism is a very useful word, as you can see from its definition in Wikipedia. Agonism “emphasizes the potentially positive aspects of certain forms of political conflict [and]… seeks to show how people might accept and channel this positively”.

The recent World Goodwill Newsletter points at the deeper meaning of an agonistic approach as described by political theorist Samuel A. Chambers:

“Agonism implies a deep respect and concern for the other; indeed, the Greek agon refers most directly to an athletic contest oriented not merely toward victory or defeat, but emphasizing the importance of the struggle itself—a struggle that cannot exist without the opponent. Victory through forfeit or default, or over an unworthy opponent, comes up short compared to a defeat at the hands of a worthy opponent—a defeat that still brings honour. An agonistic discourse will therefore be one marked not merely by conflict but just as importantly, by mutual admiration…”

So agonism is the ideal in any conflict – a respect for the other side, some sort of struggle, and a result that brings honour to both sides. This is of course the original ideal behind sports, which still prevailed in the cricket of the unpaid ‘gentlemen’ in my youth, but was soon superseded by the professionalism of paid ‘players’.

The important underlying concepts are respect for the other, and dealing with honour. Are the protagonists in the current Brexit negotiations behaving with respect for the other and with honour? One suspects that the problem in reaching a final agreement lies in a certain lack of trust that they are dealing with people with these fine qualities? Which sounds like agony rather than agonism.

Featured image shows world conflict map from Statista.
The idea for this post came from World Goodwill Newsletter.
Britannica suggests that agonism is a biological term meaning ‘survivalist animal behaviour that includes aggression, defense, and avoidance’. ‘In human societies, agonistic behaviour can serve as a tool to bring about constructive activity as well as distinct antisocial, destructive acts.’

Hope in Hell

I am standing on the steps of Knutsford’s new civic centre. It is ten minutes to eight in the evening, in the mid 1990s. I peer anxiously at the traffic coming from the south, the direction of the railway station at Crewe. Where is he? His lecture was due to begin at half past seven. There is a full house of nearly 200 people waiting. Each of our organising committee for these ‘Knutsford Lectures’ on ‘Visions of a New Renaissance’ is quietly panicking. How long should we wait?

A taxi appears. Thank God, it appears to contain well known environmentalist and former Green Party Leader Jonathon Porritt. He sweeps into the building without a concern; the train was delayed. He’s ready to go on immediately. Panic over!

I don’t recall much of what Jonathon said that evening, but I do recall that it was well received, and he made a major theme of people ‘dancing in the streets’, with a social healing as well as an environmental healing as part of his New Renaissance vision.

All this was very much brought to mind as I recently tuned in to catch up on a Zoom talk recently given by Jonathon in a series organised by the Scientific & Medical Network, chaired by the indefatigable David Lorimer. Unsurprisingly looking somewhat older, Jonathon was speaking on the ideas in his latest book Hope in Hell.

It was interesting to hear Jonathon’s reflections on events over his lifetime and the current world situation. I picked out just a few key points, many of which have appeared in various guises on this blog over the years:

  • At one time UK was a leader in addressing climate change, not now.
  • It is good that UK was the first country to commit to net zero emissions by 2050, but current actions do not match this ambition, e.g. far more spent on HS2 than on a green revolution. This is a sort of institutional mendacity.
  • There is a huge gap between what the science says on climate and the institutional response (c.f. covid situation where the gap is relatively small), despite its being an existential threat to humanity. The current incrementalism is not an adequate response.
  • The dominant ideology of indefinite economic growth prevents effective action on climate. Only the Green Party has challenged this dogma over the last 50 years.
  • The other key driver of climate change is population. Because of historic situations it is impossible to have a sensible conversation on this subject.
  • There have been decades of visionaries and good works that have not fundamentally changed the direction of travel. The problem is political and the answers will only come by telling the truth about climate and effectively challenging politicians to do better – active political engagement for those who can. The establishment may not like it, but Extinction Rebellion did achieve political change.
  • At heart, what is needed is a change from self-based thinking to humanitarian-based thinking, from head only to head and heart. [Rather contradicts the previous point – the problem is not just political, but lies in all of us.]

Jonathon is substantially right, and was right in the 1990s.

This and many other issues related to a New Renaissance are covered by the wide ranging activities of SciMed, which has embraced the Zoom age with impressive energy. It is well worth joining if you want to become more informed. They even now publish a regular newletter entitled Towards a New Renaissance.

Politics as my Footnote

In this reblogged post, Matt Tevebaugh expresses clearly something many of us have thought. The values of what I would call the ‘celebrity culture’ are what led to the election of a president like Donald Trump, the ultimate empty ‘celebrity’.
The politicians we elect reflect our values. What does this say about the Western world, and particularly US and UK? Too many have lost or ignored their depth of soul and meaning, and settled for the surface attraction of the celebrity culture and the sports star. When we regain some depth, we will elect politicians of genuine depth and substance.
Great post by Matt:

Matt's Notes

We are in the middle of a contentious election. And that is perhaps an understatement. There’s lots of opinions flying around, and even some violent displays of opinions. So this is a serious conversation. I don’t want to come off like I am taking the reality lightly. But I am doing my best to treat politics as a footnote for myself and other people.

I realize that statement can come across as a lot of things. Blind. Ignorant. Perhaps demeaning and even racist. It’s perhaps easy to say I am going to reducing a system that is oppressing people to a footnote because I am not part of the group being oppressed. But let me explain a little further.

My hope for the future does not rest in politics. Whether he actually said it or not, Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying some version of the phrase “We can’t…

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We are tired of this blindness

Modern capitalism has ignored the lessons of history in the ignorant and short-sighted pursuit of individual wealth. See for example the article Economics for the People by economic historian Dirk Philipsen in Aeon magazine, from which I quote at length, due to its eloquence:

In preindustrial societies, cooperation represented naked necessity for survival. Yet the realisation that a healthy whole is larger than its parts never stopped informing cultures. It embodies the pillars of Christianity as much as the Islamic Golden Age, the Enlightenment or the New Deal. In the midst of a global depression, the US president Franklin D Roosevelt evoked an ‘industrial covenant’ – a commitment to living wages and a right to work for all. During the 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr gave voice to the broader idea when he said that no one is free until we are all free. On Earth Day 1970, the US senator Edmund Muskie proclaimed that the only society to survive is one that ‘will not tolerate slums for some and decent houses for others, … clean air for some and filth for others’. We should call these ideas what they are – central civilisational insights. Social and economic prosperity depends on the wellbeing of all, not just the few.

Cultures that fundamentally departed from this awareness usually did not, in the long run, fare well, from the Roman Empire to Nazism or Stalinism. Will neoliberal capitalism be next? Rather than acknowledge the endless variety of things that had to be in place to make our individual accomplishments possible, it is grounded in the immature claim that our privileges are ‘earned’, made possible primarily by private initiative.

But what a claim it is: where would we be without the work and care of others? Without the food from the farmer? Without the electricity and housing and roads and healthcare and education and access to information and hundreds of other things provided to us, day in and day out, often for free, and routinely without us knowing what went into their existence? Seeing ourselves as seemingly free-floating individuals, it’s both easy and convenient to indulge in the delusion that ‘I built it. I worked for it. I earned it.’

The painful flipside are the billions of those who, through no fault of their own, drew the short end of the stick. Those who were born in the wrong country, to the wrong parents, in the wrong school district – ‘wrong’ for no other reason than that their skin colour or religion or talents didn’t happen to be favoured. The limited focus on the individual can here be seen as nakedly serving power: if those who have privilege and wealth presumably earned it, so must those who have pain and hardship deserve it.

Make no mistake, this is the mistaken direction that the US and UK have increasingly taken since the 1980s, the ideology that has driven tax cuts for the well off and austerity for the public good. This is the ideology driving the right wings of both the Republican Party in US, the Conservatives in UK and similar parties across the Western world.

It is time that the direction of travel changes. Covid-19 and climate change are making this crystal clear; the system has produced these, and they are the necessary corrective. We really are all in this together, and making a good life for everyone really is the answer, and should be the goal.

The pendulum needs to swing big-time. Some call it socialism, with a derogatory tone to their voice. It is basic human dignity and the basis of civilisation.

Featured image is from the article in Aeon magazine.

Could the goodies lose?

I’m sure that one of the formative influences of my life was watching Westerns on the new medium of TV. You know the story. It was always about the goodies and the baddies. The baddies got together in gangs, and got more of their share by force, imposing their will on the goodies, who were well meaning but ineffectual. Then along came the hero(es), who sorted out the baddies and gave them their just desserts. The goodies won.

Can the goodies win in real life? If we look at history who were the goodies? The indigenous peoples who lived a sustainable life over thousands of years in sympathy with nature? They lost bigtime, their lands and precious artifacts, even their lives, stolen by Europeans over hundreds of years, who look suspiciously like baddies.

The winners of wars against the likes of Napoleon and Hitler? So many baddish acts to rid the world of the worst sort of baddie. Hardly goodies.

The creators of political systems out of the ashes of wars – the American constitution, the UN, the welfare states, the German constitution, the Marshall Plan. Yes, these look very much like goodies.

The thing is, this is not a symmetrical polarity, as might appear. Goodies are, well, good. They do the right thing in all their dealings. They are driven by conscience and abhor bad acts. They are even inclined to give baddies the benefit of the doubt. They recognise the bad in themselves.

On the other hand, baddies are bad, and have no conscience. Baddies always do what will benefit themselves and those who profess loyalty. And they will do whatever it takes. They have no self insight, nor any desire for it.

So, in a straight contest, the baddies will probably win. Putative heroes are driven out of town, or worse.

But the thing is, goodies are more numerous, and more co-operative. Given the right political system, such as democracy, the goodies can and do win. Welfare states thrive.

However, in the wrong political system, the one-party state, the corruptible democratic institutions, the ruling junta, the baddies can rule the roost for a long time. So many countries seem to be in this state at this moment. Name your own examples.

This is why democratic institutions and the rule of law (and I would add limited terms of office) are so important, and why they should never be allowed to be undermined, which is precisely what populist leaders and beneficiaries of the status quo try to do.

My conclusion – the goodies can win, but eternal vigilance is needed from the heroes within the people, to sustain the institutions that are their defence against emerging baddies.

Featured image is shootout from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Women leaders and coronavirus: look beyond stereotypes to find the secret of their success

This thoughtful post on women leaders and the coronavirus highlights the political systems in New Zealand, Taiwan and Germany that make it difficult for macho populists to gain control, and provide the space for empathic ‘feminine’ leaders, who have clearly made a better job of handling the coronavirus.
Then look at the macho leaders: Trump, Johnson, Putin, Bolsonaro, and what ‘success’ they have achieved…. The stats give the answer.

Bruce Nixon

I am hosting this important article written by Kate Maclean,Professor of International Development, Northumbria University, Newcastle and published by The Conversation

Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, Tsai Ing-Wen of Taiwan and Angela Merkel of Germany have all been singled out for the way they have handled the coronavirus pandemic. They’ve been praised for demonstrating care, empathy and a collaborative approach. These skills – stereotypically described as “feminine” – have enabled them to listen to scientific expertise, work with local authorities and communicate effectively with the public. It has made them come across as transparent and accountable at a time of mass confusion.

In stark contrast, male leaders in some of the worst performing countries – the UK, the US and Brazil – have adopted a leadership style of belligerent rhetoric. They’ve taken guidance from entourages of confidantes, often instead of experts. Their inconsistent, unclear communications have been compared to

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Time for change, but will we?

When I was growing up in Lincoln in the 1950s, most people cycled, walked or caught the bus to work, few had cars. Cycling was safe. There was no air pollution, once the old coal-powered gasworks closed.

Even ten years later, when I visited Lincoln in the 1960s, the main route into town was beginning to be clogged with cars. Another decade and cycling was becoming a thing of the past. It was becoming dangerous, particularly as lorries got bigger and bigger.

Of course this pattern recurred in towns and cities all over the UK, and air pollution became endemic, particularly when there was the ill-advised shift to diesel fuels. The car was king and all bowed before it. Air became polluted and there was a surge in cases of asthma. Strangely, government did little about it, although some cities did a fair amount, within their allowed powers.

Then came covid-19 and lockdown. Suddenly air was clean, roads were quiet, it was safe to cycle. People were exhorted to cycle or walk and avoid cars and public transport. It was like the 1950s again.

Of course the natural reaction of government is to try to re-establish the status quo ante, because that was when the economy ‘worked’. But it didn’t – see inequality, polluted air, climate breakdown and covid.

So we really do need to take stock and set course for a more sensible world that is based on real needs of people and nature, not just on ‘the economy.’ All the ideas are there – green new deals, basic income, move to renewable energy, sovereign money,…

We just need to get on with it. But will we?

Photo of Lincoln High Street near St Peter’s from Francis Frith website – go visit.

 

VE Day

It’s VE day, marking the 75th anniversary of the ending of the Nazi regime and its attempt to take over Europe.

European countries are each celebrating in their own way. Yes, we should thank those whose sacrifice made this possible, and reflect on their achievement. It is a shame that they cannot do this together at this time.

Yet also this is a bitter-sweet moment. In our reflection, should we consider why Europe fell apart into two major wars between 1918 and 1945?

Should we consider the irony that this is happening just as Brexit and economic strains are apparently in the process of destroying that long post-war project (EU) of bringing the European nations together to end the scourge of war that had scarred the continent for centuries?

Should we consider the irony that populist leaders are again controlling many of the world’s major countries? The nazi leader was one such, who believed that he alone had the right prescriptions for his people. How wrong he was, and how wrong they all are.

Yes, a bitter-sweet moment.

 

America’s issue with socialism, so that’s what it’s all about

Jane Fritz puts her finger on why the US really is different, and why a lot of their citizens just cannot abide the idea of socialism or social democracy or free healthcare. Of course, it’s not all Americans – this is the ‘base’ that Donald Trump is always speaking to. And this shows us why we in the UK our unwise to follow the right of our Conservative Party that would like to make us more like the US.

Robby Robin's Journey

I can’t have been alone in wondering over many, many years why so many Americans have such an aversion to ‘socialism’ even in its mildest forms, like universal healthcare.   Every other ‘developed’ country embraced what’s commonly called social democracy decades ago, in the aftermath of WWII, as have other countries. But not the U.S. As far as they’re concerned, it’s socialism.

I used to think that I understood the reason and that surely it would pass. My theory was that it was tied to the Cold War fear of communism and the thought that socialism would lead to communism. I reckoned that once enough time had passed they’d realize that wasn’t the case. However, I have now learned that this aversion to social rights has been at the core of American principles since at least the mid-1700s. That’s what individualism is all about. It explains a lot of things.

Full…

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Private gain must no longer be allowed to elbow out the public good

This excellent post by Wayne Woodman is an essay by Dick Philipsen, who summarises quite succinctly why ‘the system’ has gone too far in privileging private gain over the public good. Covid-19 has brought this crazy situation into sharp relief, where we absolutely depend on those who have been least well regarded and rewarded over recent years.

Adam Smith had an elegant idea when addressing the notorious difficulty that humans face in trying to be smart, efficient and moral. In The Wealth of Nations (1776), he maintained that the baker bakes bread not out of benevolence, but out of self-interest. No doubt, public benefits can result when people pursue what comes easiest: self-interest.

And yet: the logic of private interest – the notion that we should just ‘let the market handle it’ – has serious limitations. Particularly in the United States, the lack of an effective health and social policy in response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak has brought the contradictions into high relief.

Around the world, the free market rewards competing, positioning and elbowing, so these have become the most desirable qualifications people can have. Empathy, solidarity or concern for the public good are relegated to the family, houses of worship or activism. Meanwhile, the market and private gain don’t account for social stability, health or happiness. As a result, from Cape Town to Washington, the market system has depleted and ravaged the public sphere – public health, public education, public access to a healthy environment – in favour of private gain.

COVID-19 reveals a further irrational component: the people who do essential work – taking care of the sick; picking up our garbage; bringing us food; guaranteeing that we have access to water, electricity and WiFi – are often the very people who earn the least, without benefits or secure contracts. On the other hand, those who often have few identifiably useful skills – the pontificators and chief elbowing officers – continue to be the winners. Think about it: what’s the harm if the executive suites of private equity, corporate law and marketing firms closed down during quarantine? Unless your stock portfolio directly profits from their activities, the answer is likely: none. But it is those people who make millions – sometimes as much in an hour as healthcare workers or delivery personnel make in an entire year.

Simply put, a market system driven by private interests never has protected and never will protect public health, essential kinds of freedom and communal wellbeing.

See the full post here.

Featured image: Adam Smith.