The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Prisons: Retribution or Rehabilitation? (Part 1)

More than 11 million people are imprisoned worldwide.  Almost half that total are behind bars in just four countries: the US, Russia, China and Brazil.  With one in 690 people worldwide behind bars it is worth asking: do prisons work?

That question, however, begs a prior question.  What is it we want prisons to do?  There seems to be four broad answers.  We may want prisons to do one, or more, of the following:
  1. Be rehabilitative and reform prisoners.
  2. Be retributive and punish offenders.
  3. Deter future possible prisoners.
  4. Keep society safe from “unsafe” prisoners.
Your answer to this question, of course, depends upon your personal world-view, your cultural setting, and even your own propensity towards behaviour that may lead to jail.

If the purpose of prisons is to reform and rehabilitate, or to deter, then they are blatantly failing.  Prisons, by and large, do not reform, do not rehabilitate, and do not deter.  Indeed, prisons may be doing exactly the opposite.  Prison may be making it more likely that prisoners will continue with their “anti-social” activity, and may even become “better” at doing so.

A study published this month (February 2018) is pertinent.1  Studying a group of prisoners in the Netherlands, researchers found that after 3 months imprisonment, risk-taking in prisoners significantly increased, attention significantly declined and self-control significantly deteriorated.  The researchers noted that this deterioration in self-control could “exacerbate the risk for aggressive or violent behaviour in high-risk individuals.” 

Hardly a recipe for rehabilitation or reform.

It should be noted that this research does have limitations.  The sample size was small (37 prisoners), there was no control group, and it was carried out in a specific cultural setting (the Netherlands).  However, it is the first exploratory look at the effects of prisons (an impoverished setting as the researchers note) on the self-control functioning of prisoners.  The researchers recommend further studies.

This research, though, does serve to make us stop and ask: do prisons rehabilitate, reform, or deter?  The indications are that the answer is – NO!

If we are locking people up at a faster and faster rate (as we appear to be doing), then one of two things seems to be happening.  Either people are displaying increasing levels of “anti-social” behaviour (i.e. the crime rate is going up); or we are locking people up because we want to punish to a greater extent, possibly for lesser and lesser violations of acceptable social behaviour.

Consider that many prisoners are in jail for crimes that not related to physical harm to another person.  In the US for example, approximately half the prison population are there for drug-related crimes.  In Australia, homicide and armed robbery has decreased significantly in the past three decades (although assault and sexual assaults have increased to a lesser extent), yet the rate of imprisonment has increased.  Consider too, that a highly disproportionate number of people in jails are from indigenous populations or minorities that are discriminated against.

It would appear, from a cursory look at the statistics, and from the small amount of research, that prisons do not reform or rehabilitate.  They may not deter either.  The reading of statistics relating to incarceration rates and violent crime are ambiguous.  Certainly there is a correlation between the two.  But, as we know, correlation does not imply causation.  It is possible to read the stats two ways.  It is possible to infer that as incarceration rates increase, violent crime decreases.  It is also possible to infer that despite violent crime rates decreasing, incarceration rates have increased.

There is, of course, a further factor for us to consider.  That is, the cost of imprisonment.  Throughout the western-styled nations the cost of keeping one person in jail for one year ranges from about US$50,000 to US$80,000 or more.  Yet, even that figure is only the tip of the iceberg.  A Washington University study found that for every dollar of correctional costs, a further ten dollars in social costs are generated.2

That is worth repeating.  For every dollar spent on imprisoning someone, ten more dollars of social costs are incurred.  So, the true cost of incarceration could be as much as half a million to a million dollars per year for every person imprisoned.

The question now is this:  if prisons do not reform or rehabilitate, or deter, is the cost worth it in order to satisfy our collective need for retribution or revenge?

Part 2 will look at an alternative to prison.

Notes:
1. Meijers, Harte, Meynen, Cuilpers, Scherder, Reduced Self-Control after 3 Months of Imprisonment; A Pilot Study.  Frontiers in Psychology, February 2018, Vol 9, article 69

2. McLaughlin, Pettus-Davis, Brown, Veeh, Renn, The Economic Burden of Incarceration in the US, Working Paper #AJI072016, Washington University in St Louis, October 2016.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

What Are We Afraid Of?

Lets face it.  One of our biggest motivators is fear.  Fear is not our only motivator, of course, but we’d
have to admit it is a pretty big one.  And our classic response options to fear are – fight, flight, or freeze.

So, when we look at the world what do we see and what do we fear?  All of us will have differing answers, but some that come to mind on the global scale might be terrorism, war, climate change, biodiversity loss, inequality, corporate corruption, or refugee crises.  Closer to home it may be domestic violence, homelessness, or drug/alcohol abuse. 

In 1974 the authors of the ground-breaking book/study Limits to Growth,1 noted a correlation between what people were concerned with and their proximity to it geographically and in time.  The further away the issue, the less concerned people tended to be.  The more into the future the issue, the less concerned we can be.  Even things that may affect our children adversely in their lifetimes often are of less concern than something happening next week, or in our street.

We can also be more concerned about something if it happens suddenly, rather than if it unfolds over a long period of time.  For example, our fear is amplified by a gunman firing at random in a street, yet our fear of climate change is diminished.  One happens suddenly and occurs over a short space of time.  The other unfolds over many years and continues on over a long period of time.  See the diagram below.

 
It is little wonder then that public policy debates relating to community safety tend to focus on those events that happen suddenly, with little attention given to the safety that is threatened by events that unfold over a long period of time.

The psychology involved here is undoubtedly complex.  I am not a psychologist and hence, I have no insight into how to work with this.  If any reader is aware of any research into this conundrum, then please share it.

Notes:

1. Meadows, Meadows, Randers, Behrens III, Limits to Growth, Universe Books, New York, 1972

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Advanced and/or Evolved?

I recently read a book that asked whether we were an advanced or evolved species?  The book noted the difference between "advanced," and "evolved."  I thought, what a useful question to ask.  So, now I pose it here, along with a few comparisons.  What do you think?  Are we advanced?  More importantly, are we evolved?  Are we evolving?





Advanced!

We’ve invented combine harvesters, refrigeration, microwaves.  We are able to grow food using machinery and plant technology.


We communicate with iphones, ipads, and smart phones.  We instantly connect by texts, skype or by tweeting.



We have better sanitation systems, water comes through a tap.  We have flushing toilets and impressive sanitation systems.

In psychiatry  we have developed anti-depressants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilisers.


We can fly from one side of the world to the other in less than 24 hours.  There are over one billion cars in the world with car ownership at more than one for every two people in North America, Western Europe and Oceania.

The financial world continues to develop new financial instruments.  Cryptocurrencies have skyrocketed in price.

The world spent $1.68 trillion on arms in 2016.  Just 8 countries account for more than 2/3rds of this expenditure.
Evolved?

One billion people world-wide experience hunger and malnutrition.  Global obesity rates have tripled since 1975 with 650 million now obese world-wide

Yet, we still seem unable to truly communicate with one another.  Communication problems are one of the biggest problems in relationships and in business.

844 million people globally are without access to safe water.


Suicide rates are on the rise, amongst the 3 leading causes of death in some countries.  Depression is a leading cause of disability.

In many parts of the world women and girls spend up to six hours per day walking to fetch water.




Over 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 per day.



The number of people killed in wars has tripled since 2008.  Drone warfare and other such technologies is desensitising combatants to killing other humans.  Civilian casualties in war have climbed drastically as a proportion of total casualties.

What do you think?  Advanced?  And evolved?  The ledger above doesn't look good does it?  Perhaps we have invested too much in becoming advanced and paid too little attention to our evolution as a species.

Let me know your thoughts





Tuesday, 23 January 2018

I Asked The Eagle (Guest Blog)

This week I am posting a very special short story from a guest.  Ian is one of the wisest souls I have ever had the pleasure, fortune, and honour to meet.  Recently he gave me a short story he had written.  At just 64 words, this short story is moving, beautiful, and inspiring.  I decided to make a short video of it.

Thank you, Ian.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

God's Message To The World (Book Review)

What’s a review of a book titled God’s Message To The World1 got to do with a blog dedicated to community development and social justice?  The answer lies in a couple of paragraphs on p 2 of the book.  There, Walsch makes the following observations:
“Not one of the systems we have put into place to make life better on this planet is working.  Wait.  It’s worse.  Not only have the systems we have put into place failed to produce the outcomes for which they were intended – they are actually producing exactly the opposite.”
In the next couple of paragraphs he notes that our political systems are increasing disagreement, our economic systems are increasing the gap between rich and poor, and out ecological systems are increasing environmental degradation.  Furthermore, he notes, our health systems are increasing inequality of access, our educational systems are increasing the knowledge gap, and our social systems are increasing disparity, disharmony, and injustice.

At the heart of these failures, according to Walsch, is that “our spiritual systems are increasing righteousness, intolerance, anger, hatred, violence, and war.”

Why?  What is the fundamental reason for these failures?  The answer lies in the book’s subtitle.

Following the main title God’s Message To The World, is God’s message – You’ve Got Me All Wrong.  Walsch outlines seventeen understandings that we have got wrong about God.

Walsch is best known for his series of books titled Conversations With God, which have sold over 10 million copies worldwide and been translated into 37 languages.  God’s Message To The World is a condensation of many of the messages found in that series of books in Walsch’s own words. 

Before proceeding, for those readers who may be put off by the use of the word God, perhaps you might like to think of God as; the Essential Essence, the Prime Source. The Creator and The Created, First Cause, or Pure Energy.  In the end, God (in Walsch’s understanding) is “made manifest through the experience and the expression of Love.”

Indeed, one of the seventeen misunderstandings about God that our major religious systems teach is that God is a superhuman male being.  Walsch notes that God is not superhuman and certainly not male.

Other misunderstandings outlined by Walsch include:
  • God is the be feared,
  • God demands obedience,
  • God determines what is right and wrong,
  • God honours self-sacrifice, long-suffering, and martyrdom,
  • God is on our side,
  • God is separate from us.
Looking at this short list of just half-a-dozen (from the 17) teachings, it is easy to see how things would change immensely if they were seen for the misunderstandings that they are.  For example, if we no longer believed that God is on our side, and that God honours martyrdom and self-sacrifice, most of the war and violence in the world would cease.

The biggest mistake we have made about God is the final one in the above list – God is separate from us.  Irrespective of our religious belief, or even non-belief, most of our cultural beliefs separate us from God, gods, or the divine.  Furthermore, by extension, these beliefs separate us from each other, and separate us from nature and other sentient beings.  Think about it, this one belief may be the most important belief we need to challenge.  If we were to annul this belief, s Walsh says, “It would change everything about just about everything.”

In this book, Walsch tells us that:
“All things are One Thing.  There is only One Thing, and all things are part of the One Thing there is.”
After enunciating a number of different words we have given to this One Thing, Walsch easily states,
“The One Thing may also be called, simply: Life.” 
This blog has often noted the inter-connectedness of everything, often quoting Thich Nhat Hanh’s notion of inter-being.  This non-separation, this concept of non-other is certainly a theme in my book – Opportunities Emerging.2  A further theme that this blog, and my book, refer to is that the way we approach the world, and the way we attempt to bring about social justice, has less to do with what we do, and more to do with who we are.  In a word, more to do with our consciousness.  These two themes are addressed in a highly accessible, and engaging manner in Walsch’s book.

Read it and ask yourself – have we got God’s message to the world wrong?

Notes:
1. Walsch, Neale Donald, God’s Message To The World: You’ve Got Me All Wrong.  Rainbow Ridge Books, Virginia, 2014.

2. meder, bruce, Opportunities Emerging: Social Change in a Complex World, Rainbow Juice Publishing, Coffs Harbour, Australia, 2017. 

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Is Social Justice A Goal?

Have you ever considered that social justice may not be a goal at all?  It sounds like a strange question doesn’t it?  Of course, social justice is a goal.  What could be more just than the pursuit of fairness, equity, and empowerment?  What could be more just than reducing inequality, overcoming poverty, or getting rid of oppression?

Yet, I think the question is one that is worthy of consideration.  Is social justice a goal?

When we think of goals, or targets, or visions then we tend to think of the future, of something yet to come about.  We set a goal and then devise plans and strategies to get from here to that future state.  And therein may lie the trap.  Goals suggest that we are not there.  We are stuck in the present, and the goal is in the future.

How about this question: What is the best way to get from here (little social justice) to there (social justice existing)?  The answer may be as simple as: act as if. 

Act as if social justice is a reality.  Act as if everyone were treated fairly.  Act as if equity exists.  Act as if inequality is no more.

This may sound facile, yet, I ask you: take a little time to think of the implications.

What if, right now, with everyone we meet, we acted fairly?  What if, right now, with everyone we meet, we act as if we are all of equal value.

Would anything change?

I strongly suspect things would change dramatically.  Plus, we would have the added benefit of not having to get bogged down in plans, goals, targets, and strategies.  And, if we weren’t bogged down in these things, then we might find we had a whole lot of creative energy to spare.  That surplus energy might be useful in our present dealings with one another, and with our relationship to the earth.

Its worth considering isn’t it?  Is social justice a goal?
Or, do we act as if social justice already exists?

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

The Best We Can Be

What better way to start the year than with a discussion about being the best we can be?  I want to begin the discussion by considering two words: optimum and optimism.  Optimum means the most favourable situation possible.  Optimism means to be confident about the future or be sure of success at something.

Both words derive from a Latin root – optimus, meaning “the best.”

So, both words have a sense of being the best possible. 

What does being the best possible mean as we head into a new year?

Optimum

Often the word optimum, and its associated verb (to optimise) gets conflated with words like: maximisation of profit, the greatest on Earth, or sometimes even victorious and powerful.  However, to associate these concepts with optimisation is incorrect.  It is possible to optimise a situation or system without having to maximise it.  It is also possible for something to be maximised, yet end up  along way from an optimum.

The classic story of “The Tragedy of the Commons” illustrates this well.  The Tragedy of the Commons was the name of a pamphlet written by the English economist William Forster Lloyd in 1833.  In it Lloyd tells of the grazing of the Commons - a common parcel of customary land in English villages.  If one, or more, herders grazed more than their allocated number of cattle on this land, then overgrazing would occur.  Thus, if individual herders maximised the number of cattle they grazed then everyone (including those that maximise their herd) would suffer.  The optimum in this case was less for each individual herder than the maximum each herder could theoretically graze.

Another metaphor that illustrates this is to think of a fish pond.  Suppose the pond carries twelve fish.  Each day, four people fish the pond, and each night each remaining fish spawns two new fish.  How many fish can each person take each day?

The answer is just two fish each.  Simple arithmetic tells us that if each of the four people take two fish each (eight fish in total) then the remaining four fish will spawn eight fish overnight, meaning there are twelve fish in the pond the next day.  However, if just one of the people fishing takes three fish (assuming the others take two each) then the following day there will be just nine fish.  If the same thing happens the next day, i.e. three people take two fish each and the fourth takes three, then there will be no fish left in the pond, no spawning will take place overnight.  By the third day there will be no fish in the pond for anyone.

It is a simple metaphor, yet it illustrates William Lloyd’s concept well.  Optimisation does not mean maximisation, or vice versa.

Optimism

Martin Seligman has written as much as, if not more, than anyone else about optimism.  He notes that, faced with the same misfortune that pessimists face, the optimist “tends to believe defeat is just a temporary setback, that its causes are confined to this one case.”1  There is research suggesting that pessimists are more likely to see reality accurately, but then get bogged down by that reality, becoming depressed, inactive, lacking in drive, prone to poorer health, and tend to catastrophise.  An optimist, on the other hand, will make plans, be happier, tend to live longer, and often be friendlier.

It is the optimist who plants seeds, waters the garden, removes the weeds, and waits months for the new crop.  It is the optimist who puts money into a fund for their 3 year old child to be used for the child’s university education.  It is the optimist who sees the opportunity in the problem (contrasted with the pessimist who sees the difficulty in every opportunity.)2

Seligman notes that it is possible to learn optimism, yet counsels us to heed pessimism.  Sometimes, the pessimist warning is worth noting.  As we head into the new year (I am writing this on 1 January 2018) there are warnings all around us.  We would be wise to heed them, but not allow them to dampen our optimism.

When we heed the pessimist warnings, yet proceed with optimism we are being the best we can.

The best we can be may be to bring these two words (optimum and optimism) together.  If we proceed with optimism and we see the optimum in any situation or system then we can all be the best we can be.  If we seek the optimum (not the maximum) then we will have cause to be optimistic about the future.  We become the best we can be.

Notes:
1. Seligman, Martin, Learned Optimism, Random House, Sydney, 1991

2. Paraphrasing Winston Churchill.