The five freedoms

It is surely by now apparent that covid-19 is leading all countries into a world that will be different from what came before. Some sections of societies will prosper as before; others will be devastated. In the West, so far, it is apparent that the initial reflex of governments is to support and bailout the large corporations that represent the status quo. For the small business things are not at all rosy; for those at the poor end of society things could become catastrophic. And the super rich in their yachts and hideaways and the self-serving celebs are seen to to be the sad detritus of a failed system.

I am reminded of the Great Depression and its aftermath in WW2. What carried us through was the New Deal of President Roosevelt, and the Marshall Plan to support the revival of Western Europe. The theme was to revive economies, but at the same time look after those in need. Roosevelt encapsulated this in his famous ‘four freedoms’ (State of the Union Address 1941). Coincidentally, we visited an exhibition of Norman Rockwell’s work recently at Houston’s Fine Arts Museum, on the theme of those four freedoms.

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In that speech President Roosevelt put it this way:

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium.

It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.

That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.”

Rockwell’s paintings were a part of the propaganda campaign engineered by the US government to bring about this revolutionary change. After FDR’s death his wife Eleanor Roosevelt took up the cause of the four freedoms and became a leading figure in the emerging United Nations. Unfortunately, this early impetus soon became diluted as USA concentrated on establishing its superpower status.

Today we face a future possibly as perilous as in those days of post WW2. The four freedoms are surely precisely what is needed to establish just economies and a just world order in the aftermath of the present calamity.

Sadly, many on the right of politics would dismiss this humane vision as socialism and pacifism. But we now need those four freedoms and more.

The necessary fifth freedom would be for nature to have the space and freedom to go about its business undeterred by the economic activities of human beings, for species to continue their lives without the threat of mass extinctions caused directly by human activity.

Our idealism needs to move up a gear!

Oh, and it was a great exhibition, but of course impossible to visit now, it closed 22nd March.

The featured image shows busts of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt
from the Houston exhibition. I think they were originally by Carolyn Palmer.

 

 

Dalai Lama’s message

I remember seeing the Dalai Lama speak at an event in North London around 1991/2. He was an inspiration then, and remains one now. How unfortunate that political leaders refuse to interact with him due to fears of upsetting the Chinese government. The following wise words reflecting on the current world situation and our personal response are an edited version of the Dalai Lama’s 30 March message, from the newsletter of the Charter for Compassion.

My dear brothers and sisters,

…[A]ncient Indian tradition describes the creation, abiding and destruction of worlds over time. Among the causes of such destruction are armed conflict and disease, which seems to accord with what we are experiencing today. However, despite the enormous challenges we face, living beings, including humans, have shown a remarkable ability to survive.

No matter how difficult the situation may be, we should employ science and human ingenuity with determination and courage to overcome the problems that confront us. Faced with threats to our health and well-being, it is natural to feel anxiety and fear. Nevertheless, I take great solace in the following wise advice to examine the problems before us: If there is something to be done—do it, without any need to worry; if there’s nothing to be done, worrying about it further will not help….

…[I]understand that as a result of the necessary lockdowns across the world, many people are facing tremendous hardship due to a loss of livelihood. For those with no stable income life is a daily struggle for survival. I earnestly appeal to all concerned to do everything possible to care for the vulnerable members of our communities.

I offer special gratitude to the medical staff—doctors, nurses and other support personnel—who are working on the frontline to save lives at great personal risk. Their service is indeed compassion in action.

With heartfelt feelings of concern for my brothers and sisters around the world who are passing through these difficult times, I pray for an early end to this pandemic so that your peace and happiness may soon be restored.

With my prayers,

[H.H. Dalai Lama]

Chickens coming home

It has long been apparent that free market capitalism, as currently practised, is running into the buffers of climate breakdown, species extinction, pollution and gross inequality. A system that favours profit maximization at the expense of all else, including nature, cannot expect to go on and on without consequence.

Similarly, globalisation of finance, tourism and product supply with consequent massive movement of people, products and living beings around the world is foundering on the sands of the coronavirus panic and the apparent inability of the system to withstand shocks, and the human fears that follow.

Further, the overemphasis on sovereignty of nation states, with the related rise of populism, and with a weak United Nations, means that collective attempts to resolve these problems is easily nullified by powerful actors.

The chickens are indeed coming home to roost. Yet this process seems to be necessary before humanity can build up the collective will to make the necessary changes.

Change there will be, but only when the consequences have effectively forced it. Human nature seems to work that way.

The coronavirus outbreak – the economic impact

This fascinating post by Matthew Wright explains why the world financial system is so vulnerable to shocks to the system like COVID-19. The world economy is indeed a reflection of the collective psyche. Collective confidence and fear play very real roles in the direction of the economy. And this is without further considering the increasing effects of climate breakdown.

Matthew Wright

What worries me about the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak isn’t so much the virus itself. It’s the economic effects of the way people – and societies – have been reacting to it since the outbreak began. Because of the way western economics has gone in the past forty-odd years, what economists call a ‘shock’ can have real-world effects that run far beyond the scale and nature of whatever that ‘shock’ might be.

In economic terms, a ‘shock’ refers to an unexpected shift, usually to do with pricing associated with a commodity. The classic western example is the 1973 oil shock, which sent oil availability plummeting and prices skyrocketing. The resulting economic impact was significantly greater than the scale of the oil embargo that provoked it.

These days, world economies are far more fragile. It’s not just the fact that the ‘General Financial Crisis’ of 2008-10 wasn’t actually resolved. It’s the fact…

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End of an Empire

fate of romeWhy did the Roman Empire collapse? Kyle Harper’s very readable book The Fate of Rome makes a persuasive case that this was much to do with climate change and epidemic disease, both of which were consequences of the process of Empire itself.

It is salutary to reflect that such a political system is a process that has consequences on its environment and its citizens and their well-being. The parallels with today’s climate change and threatening global pandemic are obvious.

We could see this fatalistically in cataclysmic terms, or we can see it optimistically as being a story in need of constant renewal and redirection. It’s our choice.

My notes below outline the Empire’s story.Read More »

Pity the Nation: the handwriting was on the wall

Thanks to Jane Fritz for blogging this beautiful retelling of Khalil Gibran’s poem. It is uncannily prescient of the situations we now find in UK, US and too many other nations across the world, as if the lessons of history are felt in need of being learned again. Pity the nation indeed.

Robby Robin's Journey

In 1933, writer Kahlil Gibran’s poem “Pity the Nation” was published posthumously in the book The Garden of the Prophet. In 1933. This poem has inspired several important writers over the years, including American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

In 2006 Ferlinghetti published his version of Gibran’s Pity the Nation. In 2016. Fourteen years ago. Its prescience is beyond sobering. He clearly saw what many of us were blind to.

PITY THE NATION
(After Khalil Gibran)

Pity the nation whose people are sheep
And whose shepherds mislead them
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars
Whose sages are silenced
And whose bigots haunt the airwaves
Pity the nation that raises not its voice
Except to praise conquerors
And acclaim the bully as hero
And aims to rule the world
By force and by torture
Pity the nation that knows
No other language but its own
And no other culture…

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So That’s It

So that’s it. The sun goes down over Knutsford 31st January 2020, heavy clouds loom. It’s the last sunset we shall see while the UK is in the EU. We are actually out. The UK flag is coming down all over Europe. Winston Churchill’s dream is over for us in the UK, for now – but it is alive and well in the rest of the EU. We wish them well, and hope to join again some day.

Reactions have been remarkably contrasting, notably in the European parliament, where the emotionally mature statements of the European politicians contrasted markedly with the infantile gestures of Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party.

For another 11 months we’ll individually have the privileges of membership, such as freedom to work or retire anywhere in Europe, such as reciprocal medical care when we travel, such as minimal bureaucracy when we take the dog to Europe. Life is likely to be more inconvenient and costly from there on. But that’s nothing compared to the strain on UK people living in EU and and other countries nationals living in UK – it is a nightmare for them. Even for us, it feels that we have been severed from Europe against our will by our fellow citizens – like the branch on this tree.

31jan severed limbs on tree
Severed limb on tree, Knutsford 31 Jan 2020

We now await the Amazing Boris performing the great illusion of Having His Cake and Eating It, just as he did with the Withdrawal Agreement. This time I fear he will fail, falling between Scylla and Charybdis (EU and US). But maybe he is the master illusionist?

If only there had been an evident good reason for Brexit, it might have all seemed worthwhile, rather than being an unnecessary diversion from the real issues we (and Europe) face!

Trade Deals

Trade deals are bandied around by its supporters as one of the advantages of Brexit. We will be able to do all these wonderful trade deals which will make us better off.

Let’s just take a reality check. Now I’m no expert in trade deals, in fact few people in UK are, because we were part of the EU team. That’s maybe the point.

UK is joining the big league of trade dealers. Let’s just suppose it’s a league of the 10 top world economies. All the other teams are highly skilled and proven in the world trade dealing. The UK is just putting together a team to compete with the others, all at the same time.

If it were football, where do you think UK would finish at the end of the season, with a cobbled-together team playing against the best in the world, with a highly congested fixture programme? Bottom, obviously.

History tells us that trade deals are used by rich and powerful countries to control and exploit other countries. The British Empire, for example, is replete with examples, from cotton to salt. The current trade war between US and China is part of that pattern.

But the UK is rich and powerful, you say, the 5th or 9th largest economy in the world. So we can deal on equal terms with the others. Maybe. At the end of the day, sheer numbers mean that the smaller economy will usually have more to lose by not reaching a deal.

I’m not betting that we’ll have any deals any time soon, and the prospect of a ‘no deal’ exit from the EU is as real as ever.

However, all is not necessarily negative. The impinging of reality on the Brexit project may result in Prime Minister Johnson agreeing to a deal that keeps us reasonably close to the EU. Of course, this would annoy the hard Brexiteers, just as he annoyed the DUP with the withdrawal agreement. We live in hope!

Featured image of President Trump attending agreement of beef deal with EU,
by The White House from Washington, DC via Wikimedia Commons.

Kindness, compassion, and post-truth

In this post Jane Fritz highlights one of the most disturbing trends of my lifetime – that to ‘post-truth’. To me, this is an evil in the world, in that it enables the manipulation of populations, to the disadvantage of all but a few.

I would suggest that the world needs precisely the opposite – a dedication to understanding reality in order to effectively address it, which is the only way humanity can negotiate the potentially catastrophic world we have created. Post-truth is the precise negation of the true (outer) science and (inner) spirituality that is needed.

Robby Robin's Journey

My philosophy discussion group is “studying” Post-Truth this term. More often than not we’re exploring a philosophical topic where the ideas are so challenging (along with the writing) that we spend ages trying to make heads or tails of what the philosopher is saying. (It’s really way more fun than it sounds!) In this case, however, it is painfully clear. There’s nothing difficult to understand about what post-truth is; the difficult thing is figuring out just how we can get past it.

Post-Truth?! What is that, anyway, yet another catch phrase of our times, like fake news and hoaxes? When are we going to get past this strange world of alternate universes? Well, it turns out that Post-Truth really is an accepted and accurate term to describe the world we now find ourselves in. The mainstream news sources that people used to count on for thorough investigative reporting (the most…

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Stakeholders and Davos

It was around 1985/6 that I became aware of shareholder capitalism. Up to that time, our company had been a business that designed, produced and sold computers, and was proud of its contribution to the local economy. Then along came these ideas of shareholder value, and suddenly the accounts became oriented to optimising the share price. My area, software, became ‘capitalized’ and included in the sums.

It was not evident to me at the time where this was headed, and indeed in the early years of the Blair government (late 1990s) I remember quite an excitement at the idea of stakeholder capitalism, whereby the purpose of a company was not just to make money but to be concerned with all its stakeholders – customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders and the surrounding society. Unfortunately, this idea gradually seemed to disappear and full-blooded shareholder capitalism resumed – all that mattered was to make money for shareholders.

Since then, the dysfunction of this system has become apparent, in that companies have become global, relocate operations at will, produce obscene inequality, and avoid paying local taxes that enable governments to adequately function in their sphere. And the corporate world does not appear to accept responsibility for addressing the social and climate breakdown they have caused, indeed some actively try to avert action.

Now, the World Economic Forum and the annual Davos gatherings do not have the greatest of reputations, but their founding ethos is undeniably good – seeking to provide a forum where corporations and governments can discuss key issues and the way ahead.

The Davos Manifesto 2020 outlines what I’m sure most of us would like today’s corporations to be like. If only they were, we could all have more confidence that humanity was at last headed in the right direction.

The companion page why we need the Davos manifesto articulates well why such stakeholder capitalism is desirable and why it is better suited to addressing today’s challenges than is either current shareholder capitalism in the West or state capitalism in the East. The thing is, it allows its management to act as moral agents, rather than as self-interested accountants.

It will take a long time to convert all the diehards, but all power to Davos for its annual meeting 21-24 January.

It might help if we each hold them in mind, send positive thoughts, or pray for them!

How can climate change not be the main goal of all countries in 2020? Canada?!

Here’s another great post from Jane Fritz, expressing the frustration of all who have been struggling to get climate change, now climate breakdown, on the agenda of governments since Rio 1992 and before. As she says, there is no Planet B.

Robby Robin's Journey

Australia is burning. California’s been burning. British Columbia’s been burning. Portugal’s been burning. This summer, the Arctic broke records for wildfires in Canada, Alaska, Greenland, and Siberia. In the Arctic!  We’ve seen storms more volatile and ferocious than ever before, bringing destructive flooding.  Massive glaciers and ice sheets melting at unheard of rates. Threat of coastal flooding of epic proportions. Island nations fearful of being swallowed up by rising seas in the foreseeable future. What could possibly be more important to every country and every political leader than addressing climate change?

You got it, money. Not the money needed to make radical changes. Not the money needed to support innovation in developing new sustainable energy sources. Not the money needed to incentivize people to embrace new technologies free of fossil fuels. No, it’s all that money flowing from fossil fuel-based industries that decision makers are loath to give up…

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Crystallised thinking?

“There are times in life when the question of knowing if one can think differently than one thinks, and perceive differently than one sees, is absolutely necessary if one is to go on looking and reflecting at all.”
Michel Foucault

Political theories and movements come and go. Similarly, scientific theories and paradigms become obsolete, out of date. The reason is well articulated in a recent Arcane School letter:

“…as the evolutionary process moves on, that which once expressed truth and served as a liberating force, eventually crystallizes.”

So as we search for the way to address the problems of the human world in 2020, we must move beyond the stale answers and prescriptions of the past, notably the neoliberalism that exploits nature to the benefit of those who have, against those who have not, and the scientific materialism that sets us apart from (rather than within) the natural world. And the necessary way is not backwards to the nationalisms and populisms of yesteryear or any perceived historic ‘golden age’.

And soberingly, this applies to our own thinking and habitual ways of seeing things. We each need to see the world anew every day, and treat each situation as it comes, unencumbered by previous patterns.

Sounds a bit like total mindfulness. Keep trying!

Picture of osmium crystals by Alchemist-hp via Wikimedia Commons.

Maintain Your Rage

This is  powerful piece on the current state of Australian wildfires and the credibility of world ‘leaders’ in addressing climate breakdown. Yes, they seem to have run out of ideas, other than maintaining a ‘status quo’ that cannot be sustained. We need real leadership, and need to ‘rage’ until we get it…

(Featured image via mronline.)

Musings and Wonderings

Someday soon you may be like me, watching your homeland burn while its leader betrays it.

Ian GillToday | TheTyee.ca Ian Gill is a journalist, author and conservationist currently working as the inaugural Dan and Priscilla Bernard Wieden Foundation Salmon Nation Storytelling Fellow. He is a contributing editor at The Tyee, and co-creator of a new initiative called Salmon Nation. He lives in Vancouver and Clayoquot Sound.

FireAftermathNewSouthWales.jpg

A few minutes before midnight on the last day of the year, Pacific daylight time, I began to cry.

I’m a purportedly “grown man” and I’m not easily moved to tears, but as is the way with emotions, there wasn’t much I could do when the tears came but to wipe them away and trust that they would stop, which eventually they did.

I cried for my country, for my Lucky Country, the wide brown land, the Fatal Shore — for Australia…

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Wrapping up a tumultuous year

Matthew Wright’s posts from New Zealand and others across the world show that there are a lot of people who are disturbed about the direction humanity is going, and the apparent regression to the mentality of the 1930s (and we all know where that finished up). Yet his call for optimism and hope is surely the only sensible response for us.

Matthew Wright

It’s almost the end of 2019, and I am wrapping up my blog for the year with a few thoughts; some joyous, some sombre.

The joy is that, for some, Christmas is upon is, as is the New Year. It is a time for family, and to enjoy a brief respite from the labours of the world. As has been earned, and as we should.

But for me this year is also set against a sombre darkness. When I look around at what is happening globally; at the ugly end-game of greed and entitlement into which the neo-liberal revolution of the 1980s has fallen; at the way certain social media platforms amplify polemic and reduce reason to asserted slogans – a litmus test, perhaps, for human nature; and when I look at the way national sentiments around the globe are becoming polarised for deeper-running socio-economic reasons, I have to wonder…

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Everybody Knows

The first two verses of Leonard Cohen’s lyrics in the track ‘Everybody Knows’ seem an apposite comment on the recent UK General Election.

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died
Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose
Everybody knows

Here’s the rest, or listen here.

Everybody knows that you love me baby
Everybody knows that you really do
Everybody knows that you’ve been faithful
Ah give or take a night or two
Everybody knows you’ve been discreet
But there were so many people you just had to meet
Without your clothes
And everybody knows

And everybody knows that it’s now or never
Everybody knows that it’s me or you
And everybody knows that you live forever
Ah when you’ve done a line or two
Everybody knows the deal is rotten
Old Black Joe’s still pickin’ cotton
For your ribbons and bows
And everybody knows

And everybody knows that the Plague is coming
Everybody knows that it’s moving fast
Everybody knows that the naked man and woman
Are just a shining artifact of the past
Everybody knows the scene is dead
But there’s gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows

And everybody knows that you’re in trouble
Everybody knows what you’ve been through
From the bloody cross on top of Calvary
To the beach of Malibu
Everybody knows it’s coming apart
Take one last look at this Sacred Heart
Before it blows
And everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Their Inheritance

Quotes from Great Thunberg at COP25, Madrid, reported by Evening Standard:

“Greenhouse gas emissions has to stop. To be stable at 1.5 degrees we need to keep the carbon in the ground.”

“Only setting up distant dates and saying things which give the impression that action is underway will only most likely do more harm than good because the changes required are still nowhere in sight.”

“The politics needed does not exist today despite what you might hear from world leaders… I still believe that the biggest danger is not inaction, the real danger is when politicians and CEOs are making it look like real action is happening when in fact almost nothing is being done apart from clever accounting and creative PR.”

“If there is a child standing in the middle of the road and cars are coming at full speed you don’t look away because it’s too uncomfortable, you immediately run out and rescue that child, and without that sense of urgency how can we, the people, understand that we are facing a real crisis.”

“In just three weeks we enter a new decade, a decade that will define the future, and right now we are desperate for any sign of hope.”

Such young people see clearly. The Emperor of capitalism, with constant unfettered economic growth and inadequate environment protection, has no clothes. Current political leaders have failed. We have to get organised globally to address the problem.

Featured image by Anders Hellberg via Wikimedia Commons.

At the Hustings

We’re into the last week of the UK General Election, so we went to the local hustings, in Alderley Edge. As background, Tatton is a Conservative safe seat currently held with a huge majority (58% of voters, Labour second) by ex-minister Esther McVey.

The hustings were held in a church and chaired by the vicar. Candidates answered questions put by selected members of the audience.

Esther McVey largely stuck to the party line – get Brexit done, with little detail on anything else. She was bemused as to why there were more food banks today than 10 years ago, and why politics is now so divisive. It seems it was all caused by Labour’s creating the financial crash of 2008 and leaving the country in a mess. Nothing to do with the banks and Tory policy in the intervening years, then. Derisive laughter met her attempts to explain why police numbers had been reduced by 20000, which were now going to be replaced, and similar apparent reversals on education and NHS.

The Labour Party candidate James Weinberg came over as confident and dynamic, reeling off a plethora of attractive-sounding policies across the piece, including the green new deal. This young man gives confidence in the future of our politics. While doubts must remain on whether the Labour programme is over-ambitious, he did sensibly point out that their proposals are in fact only returning UK public spending levels to be comparable to other European countries.

Generally, Weinberg got the applause and McVey the derision. However, there was clearly a silent mass of Conservative supporters who murmured assent when their buttons were pressed.

The Liberal Democrat candidate Jonathan Smith gave fair answers, generally on similar lines to Labour. Many things came back to staying in Europe. While this is true, it does not seem to have sufficient traction in the current environment – there seems to be a feeling that Brexit must be closed off by realisation or by referendum. Sadly, the Lib Dem message is still sullied by the coalition years that established the current Conservative hegemony.

Green Party candidate Nigel Hennerley correctly pointed out that climate breakdown is the real issue facing us all, and now is the time to act. I suspect the hidden majority in Tatton will only agree with him when Cheshire fields are under ten feet of water, and forest fires threaten Alderley Edge itself.

Jonathan did point out that Tatton is probably the most unequal constituency in the country. Of course that means there is no chance of McVey being deposed. The silent majority at home will vote Tory to retain a status quo that suits them well.

Indeed, any vote for Jonathan or Nigel is essentially wasted; only Labour has any chance of removing the incumbent. Our first-past-the-post system is really quite iniquitous.

Photograph from Alderley Edge by JarrahTree via Wikimedia Commons

Light in Dark Times

It is all too easy to get bogged down into negative perspectives based on current politics and its manifest failings. In its recent newsletter, World Goodwill shows that there is actually much to celebrate and be positive about that is happening across the world today. It highlights the work of ten organisations that are wresting with necessary changes to the global mindset:

It is possible that a transformation of the global zeitgeist is indeed in progress. These organisations represent rays of the light showing the way forward through the dark, materialistic and egotistic times many fellow citizens are currently living through.

You can read the summaries in the above newsletter,
or follow the link to any individual website to find out more.
Apologies for any misrepresentation in my briefest of overviews.

Featured image is from the World Goodwill Newsletter.