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.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Place of Competition

“Competitive markets,” “competition for resources,” “competition builds character.”  With numerous phrases such as these we might expect that competition is what makes the world go round.  Yet, competition is nothing more than a concept.  Some would go further and claim that competition is an illusion.

Of course, sport is based on competition.  It would be difficult to conceive of an Olympic Games, the FIFA World Cup, or the Tour de France without competition.

But, that is where competition should remain.

There is no need to introduce competition into other realms, such as education, business, health, housing or employment.  Yet, we do. 

We are wont to rank students according to their results in academic tests and exams that take little or no account of emotional differences, cultural differences, intuitional differences or spiritual differences.

Housing is supplied on a competitive basis.  Those with access to wealth accumulate more properties than they need and others must compete on the rental market in order to find somewhere to live.

When health is supplied in a competitive environment then those on limited incomes will struggle to receive the health benefits they should deserve from living in a modern society.

Where did our obsession with competition being the basis for social policy come from?

Darwin and Kropotkin

Perhaps Mr Darwin and his Origin of Species had a role to play.  More likely, it was the misinterpretation of what that tome had to say that was at the basis of the obsession.  The “survival of the fittest” came to be the phrase most commonly associated with Darwin’s theory.  Yet Darwin did not coin the phrase.  He preferred the phrase “struggle for existence” which he used
“…in a metaphorical sense, including dependence of one being on another…” (my emphasis)
Darwin and his theory came to almost monopolise the popular ideas of evolution and was expanded upon and, unfairly, used to justify “social Darwinism.”  But there were many others writing at the same time as Darwin who were similarly attempting to discover who we humans were and where we came from.

One of these was Peter Kropotkin who published an oft forgotten book, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution in 1902.  This book put forward the notion that many animal and human societies were based less on competition and more on cooperation.  Kropotkin had read Darwin and had determined that many of Darwin’s followers had misinterpreted him.  Kropotkin’s reading of Darwin (and his own research) recognised cooperative elements in Darwin’s writing.

Kropotkin did acknowledge competitiveness, but also realised that for many societies (both animal and human) competition “did not answer it’s purpose.” 

Kropotkin was keen to develop the cooperative element in Darwin’s theory – quite at odds with the competitive element commonly mistaken to be the core of Darwin’s theory.

Competition distorted

Not only have we misinterpreted Darwin, we have also distorted the word competition itself.  Competition combines two Latin words; com meaning together and petere meaning to strive, to seek, to attack or rush upon.

Rather that competition being about rivalry then, the word literally means “to strive together” or “to seek together.”

Had we taken a more literal interpretation of the word compete, or had we understood the role of mutual aid or cooperation in evolution, then maybe today we would have a society that benefits all rather than one in which there are winners and losers in a competitive maelstrom.

Maybe we still can.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Simply Living in History: A Review

Simply Living in History1 is published by the Simplicity Institute and is an important book – because of its simple message: we can and must live simply.  Indeed, after almost 200 pages the author of the chapter on Permaculture states unequivocally “greater simplicity is not optional.  It is unavoidable.”

A few pages later, one of the book’s editors notes that “any solution to todays social, economic, and ecological problems will not be solved and probably only exacerbated at the highest government level.  It follows that it is up to us.”

And that is what this book does.  It shows that we can do it, that we have done it – for thousands of years – and that we are still doing it.  Or, at least some of us are – living simply that is.

It is possible to read this book by dipping into any of the chapters in any order that you wish.  Each chapter is complete in itself and each is written by one of 24 different contributors.  The chapters give a brief overview of historical examples of communities and individuals who have opted for simplicity throughout history.

However, by reading the book through in sequence the reader becomes impressed by the continuous chain of seeking for simple ways of living that humanity has pursued over the past 2,500 years.  The book begins with Buddha in the 5th Century BC and continues up to the present day, culminating with an essay on mindfulness – a practice that has entered Western thought by way of Buddhism.  Thus, the book neatly turns its own circle.

There are two caveats to place on the reading of this book.  First, it draws heavily on the Western tradition, apart from one chapter on Buddha and another on Gandhi.  The Greek and Roman thinkers are represented by Diogenes, Aristotle, Epicurus and the Stoics.  Two chapter on Jesus, St Francis and the Monastics then serves as a bridge between the Greeks/Romans and the 16/17th Centuries where we meet the Quakers, the Amish and thinkers such as Henry David Thoreau, John Ruskin and William Morris.

The second half of the book begins with overviews of 20th Century communities (e.g. Ditchling Village and the Agrarians) and writers (e.g. Ivan Illich and John Seymour).

The final chapters outline the ideas that many today are familiar with (e.g. Voluntary Simplicity, Permaculture, Transition Towns and Degrowth) before ending with the chapter on Mindfulness.

Although the attention of the book is on the Western tradition, this should not be viewed as a criticism.  It is primarily the Western, rich, nations that have contributed mostly to the problems that now mean that a simple path is a necessity.

We Can

The second caveat is that this is not a “how to” book.  It is an “I can, you can, we can” book.

The desire for a simple way of living can have many motivations: moral, philosophical, ecological, economic, social, religious, practical, communal – all these motivations are represented here.

If there is one theme that underpins each of these motivations it is that at the heart of each is a desire for a less consuming way of life.  It is, as the editors (Samuel Alexander and Amanda McLeod) note in the Preface: “simple living is about knowing how much is ‘enough’ and discovering that ‘enough is plenty’.”

Serge Latouche2 is even more adamant when he contends that “we have to deal with the addiction to the drug of consumerism.” (my emphasis)

Although there is an undercurrent that consumerism as an ill that, well, consumes us, the book is hopeful.  As Mark Burch3 reminds us: “People have never taken up simple living because they thought it would make them worse off.  They have never persisted in it if it reduced their wellbeing.”

He then goes on to exhort us “…to live simply in terms of what is to be gained and not what is to be foregone.”

Yes, it is a hopeful book, it is an inspirational book and it reminds us that there is a wealth of experience and knowledge to draw on in seeking a simpler way of life that offers greater well-being for all.

Simply Living in History is available at

1. Samuel Alexander & Amanda McLeod (eds) Simple Living in History, Simplicity Institute, Melbourne, 2014.
2. Serge Latouche is Professor Emeritus at the University of Paris-Sud.
3. Mark Burch retired as Director of the Campus Sustainability Office for the University of Winnipeg and is currently a Fellow of the Simplicity Institute.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Bias and Prejudice

In Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen notes that “angry people are not always wise.”  How true that is.  Our personal prejudices often get in the way of wisdom, and often, too, get in the way of common courtesy and humanity.

The word prejudice gives away its insidious aspect quite clearly – pre judgement.  Therein is the problem with prejudice.  A judgement is made before the facts, the ideas or the character of someone is known.  We come to an opinion of, or a conclusion about, something or someone before we know the full circumstances, sometimes even before we know any of the circumstances.

Prejudice is usually a judgement made towards someone else, it is a desire on our part to reject, take offense at or disrespect someone else.  The other may be of a differing cultural background to our own, they may have a different skin colour, they may believe differently, they may be afflicted by a disability, they may be of a different nationality, they may be of the opposite sex, they may be younger or older than us.  The difference could be any number of things. 

When we assume the belief, understanding or characteristic of the other person to be inherently inferior to our own then we are pre-judging – we are prejudiced.

Does this mean that we should do away with our own views, beliefs or cultural norms?  Not at all.  In fact, we can still value, embrace and celebrate our personal or collective identity.  We can, if you like, be biased.


Bias is sometimes considered as a synonym for prejudice.  However, this is not necessarily a useful way of thinking of the word.  The word derives from old Latin and seems to have originally meant “on a lean, aslant or oblique to.”  Within that understanding there is the sense of a "leaning towards" something.  It was not until the 16th century that the association with prejudice came into the English language.

Dictionary definitions often add notions of favouritism or partiality to that of bias.  Thus, bias can be thought of as judgement that is towards ourselves.  Our bias is that we feel comfortable with ourselves or identify with our culture.

Being comfortable towards our cultural heritage or who we are does not mean that we are automatically prejudiced against another’s cultural background or identity.

So, we can be biased but not prejudiced. 

We already have a word for negatively stereotyping another because of their culture or identity – prejudice.  We need a word for being content with, happy with and comfortable in our culture or identity.  Why not the word bias?

Bias and Prejudice.  We can be biased, but we do not need to be prejudiced.  Anne Wilson Schaef said it best in the epigraph to her ground-breaking book “Women’s Reality”
“It is not necessary to deny another’s reality in order to affirm your own.”

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Two Unhelpful Slogans of Change

A previous post discussed five slogans of social change.  Here are two more, only these have proven to be unhelpful in the various campaigns for social justice.

Power Grows out of the barrel of a gun.

This slogan has been attributed to Mao Tse Tung.  Undoubtedly, Mao did gain political power via the use of guns and weaponry.  However, as has been shown time and time again, the power obtained by violence is both illusory and transitory. 

Illusory because of the nature of power.  Until the 20th Century many of those working for change understood power in very much the same way that those who were the oppressors also viewed it.  That is, the power of one group over another.  The feudal lords over the peasantry or the owners of capital over the labouring classes.

However, the understanding of power changed significantly in the second half of the 20th Century.  Michel Foucault (the French philosopher) shifted the thinking about power from the idea that power was something held by one group and used to coerce or oppress another group.  Foucault’s insight was that “power is everywhere” and transcends politics.

The environmental movement also helped shape a differing conception of power – one that began to see everything as interconnected and hence that one part of an ecosystem was dependent on other parts and that if one part attempted to exercise control over other parts or the whole, it was doomed to fail.

Undoubtedly, the non-violent campaigns of Gandhi, Martin Luther King and later Nelson Mandela (and many others) rocked the idea that power is obtained through the use of violence.

Sadly, the nations of the world have not yet given up Mao’s slogan.  The “War on Terrorism” is a good example of that.  Since that war began the number of terrorists and terrorist organisations has increased rather than decreased.

The Ends justifies the Means.

This slogan was used by many working for social justice ideals.  Within community development it was used extensively by Saul Alinski, a social activist working in Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s.

However, this slogan also came to be unhelpful in a liberatory sense.  The feminist movement and the indigenous movements of the 1970s and 1980s both challenged this view.  Rather, they suggested, the means and the ends must be in harmony with one another. 

Later, those movements and the emerging sciences of systems and quantum physics suggested that the means and the ends are so intertwined that often it is difficult to tell one from the other.  Linear causality had been cast aside.

Joanna Macy, an American deep ecologist, engaged Buddhist and systems theorist, explains it succinctly.  She makes no distinction between ends and means, and defines means as “ends in the making.”

It is doubtful that many individuals and organisations working for social change have fully accepted and understood what dispersing with these two outdated and unhelpful slogans means.  It is not simply a rejection of one set of slogans and the picking up of another set.

We must be mindful of approaching our personal and worldly transformation in ways that truly understand what the ideas of non-violence and interconnection mean.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

In Conversation with Peter Westoby

Peter Westoby launched his new book Theorising the Practice of community development – a South African Perspective recently.  I caught up with Peter over coffee at the University of Queensland a few days after the launch and we chatted informally.

Peter has now written, or co-written, six books relating to community development.  You can find a review of his (co-authored with Gerard Dowling) book Theory and Practice of Dialogical Community Development here on this blogsite.

Peter is originally from the UK but now resides in Brisbane, Australia, where he is a lecturer in community development at the University of Queensland.  His community development work has taken him to South Africa, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Vanuatu. 

Writing and Practice

I was keen to ask Peter whether the process of writing about community development changed the way in which he undertook his community development work.  Peter reflected that the process of writing reinforced practice and forced him to look at theory.  Writing helped to make sense of the world and enabled him to ask “what might it mean?”

For Peter, his writing is a creative process and opportunity.  “When I begin a book,” he notes, “there is a part that knows what I want to say and there is a part that I don’t know.”  Writing allows that part that is not known to become known.

For Peter, his writing helps to make explicit what is intuitively known.  Writing enables him to ask “is there is a different way of thinking about what we’re doing?”

The South African Experience

Peter’s most recent book looks at community development in South Africa.  I was keen to know if he thought that the South African experience had anything to teach us in Australia and New Zealand.  Peter was ambivalent in his answer, primarily because South African community development was operating in a very different setting to that in Australia or New Zealand.

“South African development is about survival,” Peter states.  Community development is about economic development – “it’s about jobs.”  Furthermore, in South Africa inequalities are at the “heart of things, whereas they are often on the edge here in Australia.”

Community development in South Africa is not located within a welfare state which means that it is often about livelihoods.  “Black practitioners,” says Peter, “want to talk about jobs.  Whereas in Australia it is about the right to a voice or a fair share.”

If the South African experience does have something to teach us here then it is that change is long term and that we must learn patience.  That learning includes being aware of the dangers of burn-out.  “When things get tough, the mistake is to work harder, (so that) we become our own worst enemy.”

What Next?

Peter has been a prolific writer of books dealing with community development (6 books in 5 years) so I wondered what was next on the authorship agenda for him.

“Soul,” replied Peter, “Soul, Community and Social Change.”  The title is an intriguing one and Peter explained that he was delving into this from four perspectives:
  • soul as being embodied energy, of a downward, earthy nature rather than an upward, other-worldly kind.
  • a soulful approach, as in getting close attention, becoming slow.
  • a recognition that we are part of the earth, so how do we re-enchant the world, so that we come to understand the part we play?
  • Gandhi’s soul-force (satyāgraha).  The use of non-violence and civil disobedience.
This certainly sounds like a book to look forward to.  Due for publication in the middle of 2016 – look out for it.