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.

The One Reality

If you’re following the plot of my philosophically inclined posts you will see my dismissal of materialists as modern flat earthers. So what basic philosophical stance do I regard as more appropriate? In his book The Flip, Jeffrey Krittal suggest five possible perspectives, as follows.

  • Panpsychism. Everything has mind/ has some level of consciousness/ is alive.
  • Dual-Aspect Monism. Mind and matter are aspects of a single underlying reality.
  • Quantum Mind. Quantum mechanics applies at a level of real world objects; mind is an expression of the quantum wave function. (Alexander Wendt)
  • Cosmopsychism/ panentheism. All conscious subjects are partial aspects of the more fundamental whole.
  • Idealism. Mind is fundamental and matter is a manifestation thereof.

This is all very interesting as theory, and no doubt enthusiasts of the various viewpoints could spend many an hour debating their differences. But in essence, if you don’t mind my saying so, it doesn’t matter!

The essential point of all of these perspectives is that matter/mind are indivisible aspects of reality, the one reality. Everything has inner and outer, indivisible. We are each aspects of the whole, interconnected with all others.

So much flows from that.

  • Materialism is a misleading diversion.
  • Science/technology has a limited domain if it restricts itself to outers.
  • At best, religions provide paths towards realisation of this underlying (spiritual) reality.
  • Politics must recognise that all humans and other living systems are co-sharers of our world. Having reached the earth’s limits we have become responsible for the future of the whole earth’s ecosystem.

Humanity’s Endgame, or New Beginning?

I was struck by the juxtaposition of two book reviews in the recent edition of Paradigm Explorer – magazine of the Scientific and Medical Network.

uninhabitable earthFirst, David Lorimer reviews The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace Wells, a book that suggests that our institutions and leaders are simply not up to the task of addressing the challenges of climate breakdown. Humanity is basically not an intelligent species en masse and will go down the pan.

planet remadeThis is followed by Paul Kieniewicz’s review of The Planet Remade – How Geoengineering Could Change the World, by Oliver Morton. This sort of accepts the premise of the previous book, except suggests that humanity will increasingly resort to geoengineering to try to alleviate the resulting problems. Of course, geoengineering is a largely unknown, untested and inherently unpredictable.

At the end of the day, neither of these mindsets seems likely to do more than scare us, which is perhaps what is needed, in addition to the positive work being done by Extinction Rebellion and many others.

The problem is enormous, almost beyond comprehension, and involves every living person. The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. If the majority of people did their little bit every day, always making the carbon-reducing, climate stabilising, non-polluting choices – so that individuals, communities, businesses, corporations, towns and cities, regions, national governments, international institutions were all moving in the same direction, we would soon realise that we were solving the problem.

We just have to give up caring about money more than people and nature, and about power and fighting more than peace and cooperation. Nothing less than total transformation of our politics and economics!

When did this ever happen before? Well, after WW2 there was a recognition of the need for change and the establishment of institutions to improve cooperation (UN, EU) and reduce the chance of wars, and to establish improved living standards for peoples. The game of sovereignty and ‘interests’ of nation states and powerful individuals has since undermined all this. It has to stop, or the ‘interests’ of the big boys will destroy us all.

Think before you post.

This post on Musings and Wonderings deserves to be understood more widely – the role that social media have been playing in potentially undermining democracies, specifically USA.

Social media are clearly evolving to do the right sort of things. You might think that governments need to keep a close eye on what is going on. There is clearly potential conflict between the desire to make loads of money versus the need to be socially responsible.

Musings and Wonderings

The Dark Psychology of Social Networks

Why it feels like everything is going haywire
Mark Pernice

Story by Jonathan Haidt and Tobias Rose-Stockwell

Suppose that the biblical story of Creation were true: God created the universe in six days, including all the laws of physics and all the physical constants that apply throughout the universe. Now imagine that one day, in the early 21st century, God became bored and, just for fun, doubled the gravitational constant. What would it be like to live through such a change? We’d all be pulled toward the floor; many buildings would collapse; birds would fall from the sky; the Earth would move closer to the sun, reestablishing orbit in a far hotter zone.

Let’s rerun this thought experiment in the social and political world, rather than the physical one. The U.S. Constitution was an exercise in intelligent design. The Founding Fathers knew that most…

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The Narrative

What is Brexit but a clash of stories, or narratives. In the first, UK is a part of a collaborative European Union that arose out of the ashes of the World Wars to establish an island of peace and commerce that is a beacon to the rest of the world. In the second, UK frees itself from the tyranny of an overseeing and threatening superstate, and goes forth free again to trade on its own terms with the world, as in some mythical past times.

These two stories are so completely incompatible that the country is now riven. We are in the midst of a narrative war. Of course, we always are. The conventional left-right prism in politics is a characterisation of two stories – we are all in it together, or we are self driving and independent individuals that owe nothing to anyone.

These thoughts were provoked by Tim Jackson’s review of Robert J. Shiller’s book Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral and Drive Major Economic Events – well worth reading (the review, that is). I quote from Tim’s review:

“Stories are more powerful than statistics… The irrationality inherent in financial exuberance (and despair) defies the neat territory of numbers and demands a deeper excursion into the decidedly unruly world of narratives”

Tim goes on to quote economic historian Deidre McCloskey in 1990:

“Economists are tellers of stories and makers of poems”

As in economics, so in politics and other areas of human affairs. Our world is really a world of meaning and story, not a world of atoms and molecules, as materialists would have us believe.

In recent years social media have clearly increased the ability for the stories accepted by large sections of a population to be manipulated by unknown actors, and beneficiary politicians appear reluctant to do anything about it. The battle of narratives is the battle of our times.

Tim’s conclusion:

“We must all choose carefully which stories we live by.”

 

The First Supermarket

I remember when the first supermarket was opened in Lincoln High Street. It must have been the early 1960s. There was a great discussion in the local paper ‘The Lincolnshire Echo’. I recall the biggest argument being that it would destroy the other shops in the high street, which in those days offered a cornucopia of family and privately owned outlets, plus the ubiquitous Woolworths, Marks & Spencer, BHS, Curries and Boots.

Well yes, it did indeed turn out as predicted. Slowly at first. Then came out-of-town supermarkets, shopping centres, retail outlets, shopping malls, the internet, online shopping. Sixty years on, the result is evident. Many UK high streets are colonised by empty properties, charity shops, betting shops and cheap outlet chains – paradoxically supported by local ‘convenience’ versions of the big grocery chains, and certainly supplemented by varying amounts of coffee shops, restaurants and hairdressers.

Of course there are honourable exceptions. Ludlow and Truro spring to mind as having many independent shops, but others outside the mainstream still thrive and show that a different path is possible. Lincoln itself has made good progress, and indeed its High Street is now a much more pleasant place for shoppers than it was in the 1960s, due to its being pedestrianised.

Local councils and Chambers of Commerce across the country face the conundrum of how to revitalise the high street. There are no instant solutions, but it does seem to me that we must look to solutions that keep more money in circulation locally and minimise the extraction of money from the local economy. As a simple example, it’s crazy that local businesses pay high rents, business tax and vat, and keep profits within the local community, which are taxed nationally, while an online business can have far lower rents and make profits that are virtually not taxed at all, and that extract money from the community that is being polluted by their many delivery vehicles. Where’s the sense in that as a system?

(Local currencies, such as the Bristol pound, are one way of attempting to address this locally.)

Featured image of Lincoln High Street 1960s from Francis Frith website – an interesting resource

“Brexit is the will of the British people” is complete nonsense

Bruce Nixon’s post summarises succinctly why the ‘will of the people’ stuff is nonsense/propaganda.

Bruce Nixon

This mantra is clever propaganda but complete nonsense. We are duped.

Boris

Getty image.

It’s a lie that needs to be contradicted firmly in Parliament and the news media including television. The facts are that of those who voted, only slightly more than half voted for leave. 51.9% voted for Brexit and 48.1% voted for Remain. However only 37% of the 46 million registered electorate voted for Brexit. Almost 13 million people did not vote at all. The UK as a whole is deeply divided: Scotland, Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK being in favour of Remain. There is an age divide: the younger you are the more likely you are to want Remain; the older you are the more likely to want Leave. It is the young whose future is most at stake. Yet 16 to 17 year olds, large numbers of whom were in favour of Remain…

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MLK Jr. On Getting ‘Woke’ in 1965

I loved this post by Andrew Belonsky, reminding us just how significant were the words of Martin Luther King, with messages still very relevant today.

In Case You're Interested

On June 14, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr gave the commencement address at Oberlin College. It had been two years after his iconic 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, and this oratory was meant to keep young Americans engaged and encouraged in a civil rights battle that was beginning to drag.

Entitled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” King’s speech lays out the three rules for winning the civil rights movement.  He says, in short, 1) the globalized world has become a neighborhood; we must make it a brotherhood; 2) we must eradicate racial discrimination, a note to which I added economic, gendered and sexual, all three of which I am sure King would support; and, 3), we must approach rivals with non-violence. Dr. King of course was far more elegant, eloquent and masterful, so, without further ado, a truncated text version of MLK Jr.’s…

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The Big Egos

What are we to make of the rise of elected leaders who appear to be unsuited to the task, being driven by personal ego aggrandisement and the desire for personal power and gain? They seem to be everywhere. They appear to be individuals without self-insight, with little psychological or spiritual development, hence no wisdom, but often with great cunning and charisma, the ability to appeal to large segments of the population.

Voting appears to become more like a popularity contest than one in which the electorate consider what would be best for their country. The popular media love to play this game, as divisive as possible, it makes for good copy.

Serious and complex issues get over-simplified and trivialised. Politicians align their speech with their party line, and people no longer believe or even hear what they say.

The real issues, like climate breakdown, like social care in the UK, are first denied and then deferred to a later date.

This is no way to run a human society, we need all the wisdom we can muster to address the drastic challenges facing our societies.

Within our human collective we know how to make wise individuals, we know how to make learning organisations, we have many exemplars of wise leaders. None of these involve big egos, but involve people engaged with personal insight, growth and transformation.

Perhaps these big egos are there to provide just the counter-example we need!

Pic by Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48801991