Fake. News.

Here’s an excellent post from Older Eyes on the term ‘fake news’ – ‘lazy confirmation bias’ seems about right.
There’s a lot of wisdom in old curmudgeons!

Older Eyes

Fake: [fāk] ADJECTIVE:   not genuine; counterfeit.

News: [n(y)o͞oz]  NOUN: newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or                                                    important events.

Fake News: a form of news consisting of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional news media (print and broadcast) or online social media.

I absolutely  hate the term Fake News.   First and perhaps foremost, it reflects the dumbing down of the American language that seems to prevail right now, even in the media.   You would expect better of journalists who are presumably trained in the use of language.  Look at the first two definitions above.  Of course, you could say not genuine news or counterfeit news but it really is a poor choice of words.   Inaccurate news or incorrect news is more precise, sounds…

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Black Swan

Black swan theory is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise and has a major effect, based on the observed historical fact in Europe that black swans did not exist.

I guess we could call covid-19 a black swan event, although it was actually predicted that such an event would happen at some time, which was always ‘in the future’, until it wasn’t. Of course, globalised trade made this black swan event a worldwide phenomenon pretty rapidly.

Globalisation also means we can now see black swans in Europe without travelling to Australia. This one was at WWT Martin Mere, caught in the act of biting off chunks of reed.

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.

Night walks in lockdown

We self isolated for two weeks after returning from Houston. Soon everyone around was in a similar boat due to the covid-19 lockdown. Walking in the late evening darkness has been very safe as there are few people around, mostly odd dog walkers, as indeed we are.

Remarkable is the silence, just the odd car or delivery van from time to time. Even the nearby M6 is mostly quiet. It seems bizarre to be able to walk along the middle of what is normally a busy main road.

Owls seem to hoot more frequently on the edges of town. Several hedgehogs have been in evidence, not normally seen. I guess the brave ones are usually soon flattened by traffic.

We have returned to the conditions of the days before mass motor traffic, maybe the 1950s or even earlier in this part of the world.

Read More »

After Covid-19 – humanity at the crossroads

Following covid-19 humanity has critical choices to make. A return to ‘business as usual’ does not seem to be a viable option to those of us who despair at the effects it was having – environmental, political and social. Matthew Wright gives here a great outline of the options facing us. Obviously, his third option is the only way to go.

Matthew Wright

One of the ironies of the past few months, for me at least, has been the way most western governments have – after two generations of hands-off, market-driven neo-liberal indifference at the plight of the people – suddenly ‘switched on’ old-style Keynesian support systems. The fiscal faucets have opened, and money is pouring into the economies of nations that, one after another, have been forced to lock down their populations against the pandemic.

I confess that after two generations of neo-liberalism, I am cynical about the motives. It is just possible that governments around the world have genuine care for the people in their policy-making. I can think of one that does. But for the rest – well, I doubt it. I suspect the main reason why one government after another has been forced to engage in support packages despite still, for the most part, having an ideological foundation in…

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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!

Enantiodromia

Enantiodromia is one of those words you come across in a text and scan over because you don’t have a dictionary or search engine to hand. I keep coming across this word, a synchronicity which suggests I pay a little attention to it.

Enantiodromia is actually a very useful concept and deserves to be more widely known. According to Wikipedia, enantiodromia is a principle introduced in the West by Carl Jung, probably originally from Taoism, also attributed to the ancient Greek Heraclitus.

Jung defines enantiodromia as

“the emergence of the unconscious opposite in the course of time. This characteristic phenomenon practically always occurs when an extreme, one-sided tendency dominates conscious life; in time an equally powerful counterposition is built up which first inhibits the conscious performance and subsequently breaks through the conscious control.”

The extreme position builds up a pressure in the unconscious, which eventually actually invokes its opposite. This archetypal process is clear in the reported conversion of the Christian-persecutor Saul into the evangelist Paul. This may also explain why extremists on the ‘left’ and ‘right’ of politics actually appear to be so similar.

In accord with the principle ‘as above, so below’, enantiodromia will surely apply to nations and to the global community. By this principle, extreme free market capitalism inevitably at some point ceases to be effective (eg it destroys communities and despoils the environment that enabled its operation) and invokes its opposite (which nurtures community and the surrounding ecology). I would suggest that we are witnessing just such a process at the moment.

Never despair!

Wordsmith gives the etymology of entiodromia as
from the Greek enantio- (opposite) + dromos (running). 

A Berlin Wall Moment?

It seems that the more progressive UK media, including the BBC, have finally taken on board that global warming/climate change, pollution, species extinction, population are major issues of our time that need to be urgently addressed. Many of the issues aired at our New Renaissance Lectures in 1993 onward are becoming mainstream, covered in ‘the news’ almost every day. But they’re not yet ingrained. There are still many news media, corporates and governments in denial, actively blocking change because of their perceived self-interest.

Yet can they resist the surging tide of realism? It feels like a ‘Berlin Wall’ type of time in history. The ice floes are melting. Humanity is turning to face reality, startled at where it has come to, as it followed the materialist dream and for half a century largely ignored the problems being created. The spectre of floods, fires, wars, epidemics, on a scale hitherto unknown, haunts us all, especially the young.

But there is an aspect of those lectures that is less mentioned, less easy to popularise – that of inner spiritual renewal. The outer is a reflection of the inner. Until our compassion for others and for the natural world rises to meet the occasion, and our conscience is heard and acted upon, we may alleviate but not resolve the problems we have created.

Featured image: The Fall of the Berlin Wall, 1989 (at the Brandenberg Gate).
By Lear 21 via Wikimedia Commons.

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!

Antibacterial soaps

I’ve always been very suspicious of products labelled ‘antibacterial’, in a way that makes you think they might be in some way better. So I’ve always avoided them. Bacteria are ‘generally’ good, and certainly should not be over-destroyed. Mother always said a bit of dirt never did you any harm!

The simple truth is that plain soap is just as effective. The products added to give the ‘antibacterial’ label are pesticides which are potentially dangerous to the environment, our water systems and our health. See this US FDA post. or this comprehensive item from EcoWatch.

Although some such products are banned by the US FDA, I can still find them on the shelves in my local supermarkets, even the more upmarket Waitrose.

It seems we must always be on our guard against supposedly ‘new’ and more beneficial products that can actually put us in jeopardy. One could argue that this is because we do not correctly apply the ‘precautionary principle’ to the introduction of new technologies.

Thanks to this Magical Elements post on water for bringing this to my attention.

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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The Flip

It has long been apparent to me that the pervasive materialistic perspective of human societies, driven by the great success of capitalism and science/technology, is slowly undermining the very ecosystem on which it depends. Human beings have become the scourge of the earth and the oceans, to the extent that those who are more aware desperately struggle to retain aspects of our natural world.

the flipA different way of looking at things, a different perspective on life the universe and everything, is needed. Jeffery Kripal’s book The Flip suggests that there could come a tipping point after which a new world view will have come into being and be generally accepted. Kripal holds a Chair in Philosophy and Religious Thought at Rice University, Houston.

What is the flip, and could it happen quickly? This quote from an Amazon reviewer gives an idea:

“This book is a brief plea for the importance of bringing consciousness back into the humanities and then the humanities back into science (moving beyond materialism)”.

Kripal’s book is basically concerned with the underlying paradigm of science, presenting material that will be partly familiar to those interested in the boundaries of science and spirituality. He gives many examples where scientists previously embedded in the materialistic paradigm have become converted to a wider view through their own experiences of so-called paranormal experiences, which science should be open to, but many scientists tend to discount because of their materialistic lenses.

The relationship between quantum theory and consciousness is particularly explored. Many of the pioneers of quantum theory were convinced of the limitations of materialism and had a more mystical perspective on life. Kripal explores these in a very readable manner, considering alternative metaphysical views that I’ve already summarised in an earlier post on The One Reality.

Then Kripal moves on to a stimulating consideration of the use of symbols that ‘point between’ the concrete aspects of reality, and the related concept of synchronicity. Dreams and mysticism are ways of approaching such symbols, which take us back to earlier levels of human experience.

In a concluding chapter Kripal moves on to summarise. It really does matter how we think of consciousness and the cosmos. From seeing ourselves as separate beings we come to see ourselves as aspects of an interrelated whole. But will that make us better human beings? Kripal makes us think, but there is no definitive answer!

As in Plato’s allegory of the cave, many individuals already have flipped, and are seen as strange and unrealistic by the majority. But the zeitgeist does flip – a look at history shows us, and the evident climate breakdown and chaos in contemporary Western politics suggests that something really is ‘in the air’.

It seems to me that, to effectively address climate breakdown and ecological collapse, humanity really does need to ‘flip’.

 

 

 

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.

Kindness is key to health and happiness, and it’s free!

A nice reminder from Jane of the need to be kind, so easily forgotten in these confrontational days when the extremes of polarities seem to become all-important to many people.

Robby Robin's Journey

Today is Thanksgiving in the U.S. and, just as with Thanksgiving in Canada (which is a little earlier, when travel is more predictable), it’s a time for many people to consider all that they have to be thankful for and to be reminded that gratitude is good for our health. In fact it’s very good for our health. Just google “gratitude and health” and you’ll find out.

As it turns out, being kind to others is also good for your health, maybe even more so. You can google that as well! Engaging in kindness has all kinds of positive physical effects. Ongoing research shows that kindness can actually extend your life. It lowers your blood pressure, reduces anxiety and depression, and helps the immune system. Research shows that kindness can help you live longer and better, both in the giving of kindness and in being the recipient of kindness. And…

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