“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost‘s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”
Sustainability – in the sense of the continuation and preservation of what is – is not a realistic long-term option…
Thomas Lombardo in Future Consciousness
It’s a bit of a shock to realise that Lombardo is probably right.
Psychologically, evolution is the key to understanding this. We seek not to go back to some previous situation, but to evolve and grow to a new, transformed level, where we have learned from the past to address the challenges of the present new situation.
Evolution does not demand that we abandon technology and go back to feudal times, that we abandon large scale farming for rotation farming of small plots, that we stop travelling around the world, that we become Luddites and reject all new technologies, and retreat into our localities. Life does not, cannot, go backwards.
Evolution does demand that we, and the system of which we are a part, evolve and grow. We must transcend and overcome the problems that have emerged from previous stages of our development, from the over-development of the little ego, from the corresponding misapprehension of the role of the egoistic ‘sovereign’ nation state, from the lack of recognition that the economy is part of the ecology rather than a competing and overwhelming competitor, from the lack of real empathy with others and the natural world. This is what climate breakdown, pollution of land, sea and air, species extinctions, gross economic inequality and associated problems are teaching us.
The longer we take to respond, the more extreme the provocations caused by ourselves become. We have so-called ‘leaders’ acting like spoilt children, trying to inspire populations with supposed earlier glories and visions of becoming ‘great again’, trying to win some great power game against each other. This is all illusion and regression.
It is time for humanity to grow up and flourish through addressing these problems, rather than retreating to supposed former glories while they overwhelm us.
This is the evolutionary meaning of sustainability.
“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands …” If everyone were to sing this well-known ditty, which age groups would clap the loudest? 1-5 year olds? 10-20 year olds? 40-50 year olds? 70-80 year olds?
If you were to read John Persico’s blog post from earlier this week (and he’s not always as negative as this), you would definitely think that it must be the 40-50 year olds, those at the peak of achieving the goals they started in their youth. He suggested that youth is a time of “getting” (friends, education, a career, a spouse, kids, a home, promotions, status, etc.), whereas old age is a time of “losing” (our careers, friends and family as they pass away, teeth, hair, eyesight, hearing, flexibility, dexterity, balance, our knees, our hips, our homes because we can’t climb the stairs, and our money to pay…
How sad to see Our Lady, Notre Dame, in flames today.
My relationship with Our Lady began in 1967, on our honeymoon in Paris, a first introduction to one of the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe. We climbed the towers, took in the views, admired the gargoyles and the magnificent architecture.
Since then, we’ve visited Paris round about every decade, and of course Notre Dame always figured in the itinerary, renewal of that ever-present inspiration. She lives in my soul, is part of my conception of Paris, France and Europe.
Now, it is difficult to believe that she is disfigured, just as over the centuries, many of those great Gothic edifices have taken their turn at the destruction wrought by fire, earthquakes and other natural disasters.
Incredibly, the spirit of man is such that they are often lovingly restored. Hopefully that will also happen to Our Lady, a glory of the exceptional beauty that religions can inspire in the hearts of men and women.
Night photo by Gpesenti via Wikemedia Commons
Featured image cut from Twitter
It’s surely obvious that the current economic system is not working, what with increasing inequality, increasingly low wages at the bottom, squeezed public finances, financial crashes, resulting populism, ever-increasing automation, ineffectively-addressed global warming and so on. And it seems equally clear that the global elite haven’t a clue what to do about it and plan to just let it run while they continue their comfortable lives.
Rutger Bregman’s book Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There brings up the heretical suggestion that we can do something about it, all we need are the visionary ideas and the determination to follow them through.
There is no reason why we cannot end poverty, give free money to everyone (basic income), move towards a shorter working week, pay important workers like nurses and bin men a commensurate salary, and open borders once the imperative to move anywhere but home is removed.
That sounds like a Utopia, you say. Yes it is. But we need a stretching vision of where we want to get to and then maybe we’ll start moving there.
Bregman cites the fascinating story of how neoliberal free market ideas moved from being the interest of just a few economists in the years after WW2, when Keynes dominated economic thought, to becoming the dominant force behind world economics from the 1970s to the present. These ideas have now run their course and are actually the cause of the predicaments we increasingly find ourselves in.
We desperately need these new Utopian ideas to gain momentum. So go read Utopia for Realists.
What human energies could be freed up for a New Renaissance!
Education is of paramount importance in establishing a right relationship with the earth in future generations. In the 50s and 60s I was taught about maths, science, languages and a little bit of history and geography. I had one day out in nature, plus quite a few murderous cross-country runs I was not properly trained for. Luckily I lived on the edge of a city and wandered around the surrounding fields; most children today are not so lucky.
Modern educational thinking and practice is much better than this, but they fight such a materialistic paradigm. Look at the world and its trends; there is way more to do.
Another blog post by Bill Graham has distilled some of the thinking of educator David Orr into seven propositions for earth-centred learning. Let’s hope they become more widely understood and applied. I’ve edited his points for my own understanding
All education is environmental education.
[Conventional education, for the most part, excludes our dependence on nature.]
Environmental issues are complex and cannot be understood through a single discipline or department.
[Most institutions are discipline centered.]
The study of place is a fundamental organizing concept for education.
[Formal education prepares students to reside, not to inhabit. The inhabitant and a place mutually shape each other.]
For inhabitants, education occurs in part as a dialogue with a place and has the characteristic of a good conversation.
[Good conversation with nature has the purpose of establishing what is here, what nature will permit, and what nature will help us do here.]
Environment education should change the way people live, not just how they talk.
[Real learning is participatory, experiential, and interdisciplinary, not just didactic. Teachers function best as facilitators, and students are expected to be active agents in defining what is learned and how.]
Experience in the natural world is both an essential part of understanding the environment and conducive to good thinking.
[Understanding nature demands a disciplined and observant intellect.]
Education that addresses the challenge of building a sustainable society will enhance the learner’s competence with natural systems.
Featured image is of Himalaya rivers and snow, from NASA.
Just how gullible are we human beings, and how easily do we cling on to ideas that have no true justification? This question appears increasingly relevant to those of a liberal disposition, and is indirectly the subject of James O’Brien’s book How to Be Right… in a world gone wrong.
O’Brien runs a talk show on LBC radio and has callers on many controversial subjects: Islam, Brexit, LGBT, political correctness, feminism, the nanny state, Trump… The book basically gives his own ‘take’ on the subject from a ‘reality-based’ perspective, and demonstrates how various callers from different perspectives handle explaining their views, with many entertaining dialogues.
He essentially seeks to understand the caller’s viewpoint. The striking thing is often just how shallow those viewpoints are, and what little justification is given for them when questioned. It’s as if the person has unquestioningly swallowed a viewpoint and subsequently regurgitates it, without any understanding of why it might make sense. In other words, it is blind prejudice. They have effectively been brainwashed.
O’Brien’s technique is remarkable for its persistence, sticking to the point, and not allowing the caller to get away with simply restating their prejudice in another form. As well as giving us all ideas on how to handle the prejudice we inevitably encounter, it gives some insight into the minds that are most susceptible to populism.
My previous post on ecoliteracy brought to mind a review I did of two books, both published in 1996.
The Whispering Pond, Ervin Laszlo, Element
The Web of Life, Fritjof Capra, Harper Collins
The review appeared in Long Range Planning magazine in 1997, so is written from a business/ strategic planning perspective, but the messages are widely applicable. Any books by these two authors are well worth reading.
Some of the references to current trends now appear somewhat dated, a lot has happened in over 20 years! Sadly, a lot of the change since then has not been for the better.
should business people be interested in two recent books describing
thinking from the forefront of popular science? The answer lies in
the way all our thinking is dominated by the underlying paradigms
that have crystallised in our consciousness since the scientific
revolution. This structure is being shattered by the sort of
developments described in these books. The world of the future is
likely to be founded on this emerging underlying paradigm.
It’s in the nature of polarity that neither side can ‘win’. There is always a balance to be achieved in the creative interplay of opposites.
So what are we to make of the attitude of ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ in this context? Everywhere, it seems, we see groups fighting for their ideal and resisting ever compromising on what they see as ‘right’.
In the UK, the Brexiteers will never compromise on anything short of hard Brexit. The Remainers think a big mistake has been made, which must be reversed. The US thought it ‘won’ the cold war and sought to impose its will on the rest of the world.
Of course, you can win in sport, and you can apparently win in life. In 2000, the neoconservatives ‘won’ the direction of US policy for decades, by fair means or foul.
But you cannot cheat the polarity for ever. The chickens come home to roost if the balance gets too far out of kilter. Make inequality too great, and you get unrest, then revolution. Ignore the scientific evidence on climate and the climate comes back to bite you.
Populism thrives on simple ideas about ‘winning’. We desperately need to reach a more sophisticated level of discourse. Winning is illusory, and usually involves overriding or ignoring the necessary counterbalance.
Featured image. When England won. The queen presents 1966 World Cup to England captain Bobby Robson, via Wikimedia Commons
If you wish to understand how society always organizes itself:
Equals can get along if they have nothing to do with each other or both are generous to each other.
Superior/sub-ordinate can get along if both will be merely just to each other.
There was some interest in this so I’ll explain what I mean and why it is the case.
There are and have been many forms of social organization—democracy, republics monarchies, dictatorships, bureaucracies, clubs, churches, friends, families, neighbors, villages, cities, etc.—but they all share some basic traits because they are organizations of human beings and human nature imposes restrictions upon how human beings can be organized.
In a fallen world, one of the biggest problems which needs to be handled in human relationships is how to handle when two people’s wills diverge. There are only three possible outcomes: both get their way, one…
The Rise of Fascism Through the Eyes of Everyday People
As one of a generation haunted by discovering the then-recent calamity of WW2, now disturbed by the rise in populism across the world, I found this a timely book by Julia Boyd.
It tells the story of the Third Reich through the eyes of people who visited or lived in Germany through the days of Adolf Hitler’s ascent to power, its consolidation, the increasing drumbeats towards war, and the war itself.
What is remarkable is how many people gave the Nazi regime the benefit of the doubt, despite the clear signs, such as the centralisation of all power, rescinding of civil liberties and press freedom, the early concentration camps, the persecution of Jews, the burning of books (all in 1933) through to Kristallnacht (1938) and the subsequent descent into war.
Of course, the desire to avoid another war was a major part of this, and there is the interesting story of Neville Chamberlain’s vain attempt to make peace in Munich in 1938, and Hitler’s dismissive attitude to the whole affair.
The book presents an interesting story, perhaps a bit long-winded at times. It certainly opened my eyes to some things, such as the fact that Germany welcomed English and American tourists throughout the 1930s, and many found the country very efficient and friendly, except where they came face to face with the persecution of Jews and supposed non-aryans.
The stories from the 1920s and early 1930s show that, after making a fair recovery from WW1, Germany was not in a good place after the shock of the great depression. The arduous reparation terms imposed by the Allies at the end of WW1 were a major cause of German suffering and dissatisfaction. It seems that these were major factors in the rise to power of Hitler.
The evident parallel today is the rise of populism following the 2008 financial crash, and the subsequent failure to make due reckoning with its causes. The missing factor today is there is no sense of national persecution similar to that caused in Germany by the WW1 armistice terms.
In the case of Donald Trump and the US, it is maybe too early to say how far the parallels go – but he clearly came to the presidency by exploiting white male dissatisfaction with the status quo that had come about – economic, racial and misogynistic. On the positive side, the US constitution appears to be much more robust in resisting over-centralization of power than was Germany in the 1930s.
Human societies get so stuck in a collective mental groove, like a railroad track, that they cannot see a way out of the predicaments caused by being in that groove. Take ‘jobs’. As automation gradually replaces many of the jobs that make society work today, we worry about where the future jobs are going to come from. For instance, what are all those lorry/taxi/delivery drivers going to do to earn a living when transport is automated? How are we going to generate enough taxes to adequately provision the public sphere and feed those who don’t have jobs?
The only answer is to get out of the groove.
Why do we need a 5-day-week job, why not 4 or 3 days?
Why does everybody have to have a ‘job’?
Why not a basic income for everyone that provides for minimal subsistence?
Why do countries across the world need to compete economically, and thus drive down standards of living for everyone, can they not co-operate?
Why is money created to the benefit of banks, not of people or of governance?
Why can’t we have a more equal distribution of wealth?
The answers lie in the human imagination. History suggests that crisis precedes the inevitable change. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are enough intelligent people on the planet, but many vested interests that do not want things to change…
The same is of course true about other issues, such as climate breakdown and its consequent travails. The forward scouts (scientists) have long told us the bridge is down on the track ahead, and the train will go over into the ravine if we stay on this track. We just need the imagination to change track.
Featured image by Mississippi Department of Archives and History – via Wikimedia Commons
We were sent to Methodist chapel every Sunday in 1950s Lincoln – morning service and afternoon Sunday School. This gave a good grounding in bible stories and hymn singing, and table tennis at the social club. Two messages became memorably ingrained into us – the evils of alcohol and gambling.
In the later teenage years, we tried beer at the local pubs. It turned out to be a good social lubricant, especially for a quiet lad like me, and we soon learned not to drink too much – the effects were most unpleasant. At university I discovered wine and that was that.
Gambling was a different matter. My dad did the football pools every week, so I got to looking at the weekly sheet that he had to fill in. At the back I noticed the ‘fixed odds’ where you could bet on the outcome of particular matches. This seemed more attractive to me than the general lottery entered by my dad. I used to notionally fill it in and then check on the results – I usually ‘lost’. But I became aware of the inner ‘pull’ of fixed odds betting, so never tried it out for real. So I can understand the attraction of the fixed odds betting terminals that have been the subject of recent controversy in the UK, where the maximum stake in a betting shop is being reduced from £100 to £2. Good thing too.
Gambling is highly regulated in the UK yet, since the relaxation of attitudes in the 1960s, plays a significant part in the economy. My own attitude to gambling has changed little since the 1950s, apart from the odd raffle ticket. Maybe that’s one up to my teachers at Chapel, or down to a wartime-induced attitude of frugality.
At times I’ve come across people who became addicted to alcohol or gambling – for them, yes these things really are evil. And Alcoholics/Gambling Anonymous provide a necessary salvation.
Featured image from 1857 report by James Haughton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Daughter often sends interesting web links. The latest was this one How to Avoid Raising a Materialistic Child. Apparently, research shows that practising gratitude makes children’s attitudes less materialistic. Well of course it does.
Psychology Today defines gratitude: “Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has—as opposed to, for instance, a consumer-driven emphasis on what one wants or thinks they need.” So it is also an antidote to consumerism.
Those messages to children to ‘say thank you’ are very important and need reinforcement by adults in their words and their behaviour. I know I used to think this was just a socialised habit that was meaningless; I now know it’s just so important. Gratitude is one of the main ways we connect with others, and with the natural world.
While researching this, I came across this excellent TEDxSF talk by Louis Schwarzberg – well worth the ten minutes run time, with some superb time lapse photography and inspirational messages – gratitude is the secret! The beauty of the natural world inspires gratitude for existence, gives meaning to life.
It’s scary to think how much driving I’ve done in over 50 years since the late sixties. Probably not quite a million miles (that would be 20000 miles per annum), but getting well towards that. That’s about 28000 hours, assuming a probable average speed around 35mpg, or around 3500 average 8-hour days. So that’s nearly 10 years of possibly productive time devoted to driving.
There must be many of mine and the next generation who will ‘achieve’ the million miles over their lifetime. No wonder we have a problem with global warming and pollution! Now, driving is not unpleasant, but what could I have achieved in all that time spent driving?
But it is clear that these generations will be the last million mile men. The technologies are converging fast and change will happen fast – just as horses and carriages were supplanted by the motor car within a decade or so at the start of the twentieth century. Electric vehicles, order on demand and automated driving are inevitable. Only the rich and people in sparsely populated areas will bother to own cars – until driving is banned on many roads for safety reasons.
Just think of the advantages – unpolluted towns and cities, no hassle of car ownership, an end to 1.25 million global traffic deaths per year (WHO-2013), reclaiming of the suburban front garden for plants and wildlife, a new mobility for the old and disabled, the opportunity to work or read while travelling… Of course, there will be problems, like hacking could take in a whole new dimension of crime – but these should be soluble. In the end, economics should force the change.
Well, yes but… There is now that unpredictable variable of climate breakdown, with extreme weather events becoming ever more frequent. Those who can afford it may just like to hang on to their motor vehicles, just in case… But they won’t be million mile men.
PS Before feminists complain, I would say that I am using ‘man’ in its old sense to refer to both genders. It would spoil the alliteration to add ‘and women’ to the title.
And I know I haven’t considered truckers, the ten million mile men!
Liverpool’s Liver Birds enhance the attractive waterfront skyline at any time, but especially on an autumn afternoon, when a clear sun is at a low angle across the River Mersey. The mythical birds, believed to be representations of cormorants, have stood on the clock towers of the Royal Liver Building since 1911 (my grandfather worked for the company Royal Liver Assurance).
According to legend, the female looks out to sea, watching for the seamen to return safely home, and the male looks in to the city, watching over the seamen’s families. The birds face away from each other; if were they to mate and fly away, the city would cease to exist.
Look at the full-size photograph and the image appears to not be horizontal. That diagonal line from the modern building in the foreground has completely messed up the perspective. Actually, I think it is pretty well true.
The interloper in the picture is unfortunately not a cormorant, but probably a pigeon.
World affairs can sometimes lead us into a trough of despair. Gandhi must have felt this sometimes in his battles for truth and justice. I just came across this quote which gives hope in difficult times:
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”
It also reminds me of EF Schumacher’s words at the end of A Guide for the Perplexed (pub 1977):
“Can we rely on it that a ‘turning around’ will be accomplished by enough people quickly enough to save the modern world? This question is often asked, but whatever answer is given to it will mislead. The answer ‘Yes’ would lead to complacency; the answer ‘No’ to despair. It is desirable to leave these perplexities behind us and get down to work.”
Of course, hope is the antidote to fear, and one of the great messengers of hope in the world has been Barak Obama. For example:
“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”
My post on Competition and Co-operation touched on cultural differences between The UK and the US, so I was attracted to read Jon Sopel’s recent book ‘If Only They Didn’t Speak English’, which explores the differences Jon has found during his long stint as the BBC’s North America correspondent.
Jon’s book confirms that the US is a very different country, quite alien in many ways to a European perspective – resulting of course from a very different history and geography. A list of the subjects covered by chapter gives an idea of its scope:
the anger felt by many Americans, the ‘losers’ in the globalising project
the pervasive influence of race and discrimination
the evident patriotism
the system of government, and the current neglect of public infrastructure
the continued major influence of religion and God
the issue of guns and the right to bear arms
the easily aroused anxiety felt by many Americans
the ‘special’ role that Americans feel they have with the world, and the supposed ‘special’ relationship with UK
the increasing loss of contact with truth in the political arena
the descent into chaos with the Trump administration.
There is much insight here, although interestingly he does not focus on issues of competition vs co-operation. The book provides a stimulating read. And Jon warns that we should not expect major change or realignment; these are real differences. We really are confused by a common language, to suppose that the differences are not as great as they appear – they are.
At the end of the day, although Britain aspires to provide a bridge between Europe and America, our culture is much more European than American. Attempts to move us in an American direction must be seen in this light. Americans think we’re socialists, and most Brits don’t really want to change the current settlement and, for example, lose our NHS. Brexit puts this all in jeopardy, engineered as it was on a misleading and false prospectus of supporting the NHS.
I have a vibrant memory of Sunday evenings in the 1950s, walking home after visiting grandparents in the nearby village. We walked on the pavement in almost complete darkness through the countryside. The stars were so bright, and my dad pointed out the common constellations (the Plough/Big Dipper, Orion…) and the Milky Way.
There were street lamps, still gas powered in those days. They cast small oases of light in the pervading darkness, an essential aid when the Moon was not up. As we navigated from oasis to oasis, they gave a feeling of security.
In later decades street lights became ever brighter, until more recently people realised that this over-brightness was polluting any chance of being aware of the majesty of the night sky – the pervading influence for all earlier human generations. So, they’ve become more subdued and direct light downwards rather than everywhere. On our residential estate there’s now a small sense of those earlier oases of light in the darkness – although the power of modern leds is inevitably much stronger than the old gas lamps.
But there’s a new kid on the block: a proliferation of lighting from residential houses, notably porch lights, and lights at the end of the drive. Some throw stronger light than the actual street lighting. My senses are repelled by this unnecessary brightness and the accompanying waste of energy. Why? When a cheap sensor could turn the light on only when needed. If every house did the same we would rarely experience the darkness of night.
We need to make friends with the darkness, it is as much a part of life as the light. Only then do we and our children see those gems in the sky, perhaps inspiring an interest in astronomy or its twin astrology.
Human eyes are actually very good at seeing in low light conditions. So please can we turn those lights out, except when needed.
And make friends with the dusk, one of the truly magical parts of the day (I’m sure the dawn is also, but I rarely make it.)
Featured image of gas lamp by Tulane Public Relations (Uploaded by AlbertHerring), via Wikimedia Commons
Image of The Milky Way by John Fowler, via Wikimedia Commons
In their recent report East Cheshire council was pleased to report that 55% of garbage is now recycled. That means it went into the recycling bins. How much was really recycled is anyone’s guess.
This reminds me of the first Knutsford Lectures in 1994, the days of the single black rubbish bin. We had subsidiary short talks on matters of local interest and one was given by a man from the then Macclesfield Borough Council. He had the good news that recycling was to begin soon, which indeed it did a few years later. So this was progress of a sort, and people are now furiously engaged in playing a part in recycling. Of course this led to the plague of wheelie bins that now disfigures streets and alleyways across the world. [One day we will get back to a single bin which is automatically recycled, like the mostly manual French dechetterie we toured round many years ago, but that’s not my main focus here.]
It feels that we actually generate more rubbish than we did 25 years ago. Now why is that? Packaging – both plastic packaging from supermarket products and the endless excessively large cardboard boxes and internal wadding from ever more internet purchases. Amazon and product producers are actually filling up the recycling bins and thereby increasing that recycling statistic. It seems like two steps forward and one step back.
And of course Amazon avoid paying the tax that would pay for the extra cost of all this recycling. Politicians seem so slow to grasp these nettles!
Featured image shows bins in Christchurch, New Zealand by gobeirne via Wikimedia Commons