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 28 February 2013

Community Development Talks with Deep Ecology (Part 1)

Recently I had the pleasant experience of attending a 3-day retreat exploring Deep Ecology with John Seed as one of the facilitators.  But it was more than pleasant: it touched my heart and prodded my thinking.

What would a respectful and honest discussion between Community Development and Deep Ecology discover?  Can one worldview inform the other?  Are there similarities?  Are there differences?  Can an activist walk both paths?

First, a very brief (and possibly inadequate) starting point.  Community Development places people at it’s core, whereas Deep Ecology places nature at the core.  I warned you: very superficial and debatable, but it does provide the rest of what is to come with two loci.

Community Development.

Following on from the social reforms of the 18th and 19th Centuries, Community Development arose as a response to deprivation in the 1950s and 60s.  The peace movement (Ban The Bomb), feminism and the indigenous renaissance provided Community Development with further “proof” that there was something amiss in the communities of the Western world.  A fledgling environmental movement was arising at the same time.

Community Development quickly gained momentum, establishing a liberatory philosophy, principles based on values, and learning organising practises.

Two of it’s basic goals are social justice and empowerment.  Social justice meant a society in which all were treated respectfully and all had a right to share in the benefits of belonging to that society.  Empowerment recognises that the decisions that affect a community should not be made by others, but by members of that community.  Empowerment suggests a society in which decision-making is not left in the hands of political elites (whether established by force or elected by populism).

As it explored this vision for society Community Development discovered that the process by which this vision was to be established could not be at odds with the goals.  In other words, Community Development rejected the notion that “the ends justifies the means.”

Those working in Community Development also know of the inter-relatedness of issues.  The connections between low income, poor health, inadequate housing and low education levels are well known.  As also is the realisation that changes in one part of a system induce changes (sometimes unpredictable) in other parts of the system.

These realisations have led Community Development to value interdependence and diversity of people, cultures and beliefs.

Deep Ecology.

Meanwhile, the environmental movement had been evolving since the 1960s and early 1970s with the publishing of seminal works such as Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and  “The Population Bomb"  by Paul and Anne Ehrlich.

It was the environmental movement that first alerted us to the interconnection between population, economics, ecology, resources and consumerism through the publication and popularisation of “The Limits To Growth” in 1972.

Andres Musta (Creative Commons)

In Norway Arne Naess coined the term Deep Ecology to move the understanding of ecology as dealing with a number of distinct systems to a recognition that the earth and all it’s flora and fauna is one complex inter-related system.

Except for a few followers Naess was not well known in the 1970s.  However, the Gaia Principle of James Lovelock and others did become commonly known amongst environmental activists.  The Gaia Principle is the notion that the Earth and everything upon it is one gigantic living system (some would say – organism).

The contribution that Deep Ecology added to the environmental movement was that of removing humanity from it’s position of dominance in some (misunderstood)hierarchy of life.

Common Language.

Looking at the histories, philosophies and principles of Community Development and Deep Ecology it is possible to identify at least a common language with which to begin a discussion between the two:
  • Both recognise the inter-connectedness of things,
  • Both reject a hierarchical model,
  • Both understand the importance of diversity, and
  • Both realise that we live in a complex system.
So, given this common language, what do each have to say to the other?  Part 2 will attempt to describe some of that possible dialogue.

Friday 22 February 2013

Of Earthquakes and Earthquotes

Today (22 February 2013) is the second anniversary of a massive earthquake hitting the city of Christchurch, New Zealand.  I was living there at the time.

We live on a living, breathing, moving planet.  It moves beneath us, with earthquakes and volcanoes being the surface manifestation.  It moves around us, with tornadoes and floods being the manifestation.

Yes, the earth may make our lives difficult or even traumatic.  But it is the earth that sustains us, gives us the ability to live.  We must similarly sustain the earth. 

So today, in honour of the Earth I wish to offer some Earthquotes:
“Our task must be to free ourselves … by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and it’s beauty.” – Albert Einstein

“The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.” – Dolly Parton

“We are all visitors to this time, this place.  We are just passing through.  Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… and then we return home.” – Australian Aboriginal Proverb

“The major problems of the world are the result of the difference between the way nature works and the way people think.” – Gregory Bateson

“To see the world in a grain of sand, And heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour.” – William Blake

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It’s not.” – Dr Seuss

“Humans did not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it.  Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.” – Chief Seattle
As I remember a day on which the earth moved terribly, we can also reflect on what moves us and what we can do.  Events around us can paralyse us so that we can think of nothing to do, or the enormity of the task can perplex us so that we end up doing nothing.  Thinking of those impasses leaves me with one more quote:
“You don’t have to see the whole staircase.  Just take the first step.” – unknown
In memory of 181 people who died in the Christchurch earthquake, 22 February 2011.

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Letter to Gen X and Y (Part 2: A Challenge)

Dear Generation X and Y,

In my last letter I offered you an apology for the mess that we Baby Boomers had left you.  In this letter I want to set you a challenge.  It is not a simple challenge, like solving a cryptic crossword or finding the lost treasure of Moctezuma II.

It’s about saving humanity.

First, a caveat.  Notice that I did not say “saving the planet.”  There is a reason for that.  The planet will take care of itself.  It has done so before and will do so again.  It doesn’t need us to save it.  Cosmos knows that we have done enough harm.1

Why do I say that?  Think of past human civilisations that have collapsed and been forgotten: the Incas, the ancient Egyptians, the Easter Islanders.  In all cases the planet witnessed the collapse, ignored the fact that humans were no longer present and just got on with the job of covering Inca ruins in jungle or burying Egyptian tombs.2

So, it’s us that needs saving.  You and me, your neighbour, your community,  humanity, homo sapiens.  To my we humans have two major crises facing us.  One is climate change, the other inequality.

Doing something about climate change is less about saving the planet, but a lot about saving us.  Indeed, the changing climate can easily be seen as the planet’s way of coping with the change we are forcing upon her and may even be viewed as Gaia3 attempting to rid herself of a cancerous growth.

The other issue is that of inequality.  Since the 1980s inequality has widened considerably.  Not only has the gap between rich nations and poor nations widened, inequality within the rich Western nations has significantly increased also.  This massive inequality is not only bad news for the have-nots, but what is less well-known is that that it is also bad news for the whole of society.

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett4 have shown that as inequality increases, social ills in that society worsen – across the board.

Source: Creative Commons
Globalisation and Indra’s Net.

Interestingly, if we track the rise in CO2 emissions (which contribute significantly to climate change) and the rise in inequality, we find that both “took off”  in the 1980s.  Coincidentally, that’s about when globalisation took flight.

Globalisation has been described as “the closer integration of the countries and peoples of the world…”5  In one sense it is a manifestation of the inter-connectedness of everything that many of us are aware of.  However, globalisation as it is presently being driven is a drab web of uniformity and sameness.  What is needed is a net of diversity and creativity.

Therein is my challenge.  Generation X and Y – your challenge, should you accept it, is to recognise the global web of uniformity as being harmful to our future and to discover the network that is brilliant, diverse and creative within that web. 

The Buddhist metaphor of Indra’s Net is useful here.  Indra’s Net is an infinitely inter-connected net with jewels at each of the nodes of the net.  Although each jewel may be unique, the facets of each jewel reflect the image of each and everyone of the other jewels and the connections between them.

Looking at the world at present it is possible to see this net.  Unfortunately, most of the jewels are dim and tarnished.  Many recognise their immediate connections but because of the dimness and tarnishing the whole net is not reflected within them nor back at them.

The Task.

The task, Generation X and Y, is to polish the facets of the jewel that we are so that the brilliance, the diversity and the creativity of Indra’s Net can be seen in it’s entirety.

We are all connected to a number of different networks: family networks, work networks, sporting networks, cultural networks, religious networks, even short-term networks such as the conversation with someone at a bus-stop or the owner of the corner dairy.  When we connect we must reflect all our connections and allow Indra’s Net to shine once more.

So, take your understanding of climate change and your concern for social equity into your churches, share it with your work colleagues, discuss it round the dinner table at home, talk about it over a beer after the footy game.

And, use globalisation.  Use the Internet, use social media.  But don’t forget that the connections that truly count are human ones.  The Arab Spring may have begun with a posting on YouTube, but it was on the streets and in the squares that the voices were heard.

I wish you well,
A Baby Boomer.

1. This should not be read as my suggesting that environmental actions are worthless.
2. For an excellent account of this process see Alan Weisman, The World Without Us.
3. The Gaia hypothesis proposed by James Lovelock posits that the Earth is a self-regulating complex system involving the biosphere, the atmosphere, the hydrospheres and the pedosphere, tightly coupled as an evolving system. (Wikipedia)
4. Wilkinson and Pickett, The Spirit Level, Penguin, London, 2010.
5. Joseph Stiglitz, Globalization and its Discontents, W W Norton and Co., New York, 2002, p 9.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Tibetan Centenary

One Century ago today the 13th Dalai Lama re-proclaimed Tibet to be an independent nation.  Manchurian troops had invaded Tibet in 1910 prompting the 13th Dalai Lama to flee into exile.  Two years later the Manchu dynasty collapsed and the Tibetans took the opportunity to expel the Manchurian troops.  The Dalai Lama returned.  On the 13th of February 2013 the 13th Dalai Lama proclaimed Tibet to be independent.

With the coming to power of the Communist party in China, Tibet was again invaded in 1950.  The Chinese forced Tibetan leaders to signing the “Seventeen Point Agreement” which provided for Tibetan autonomy and respect for Buddhism, yet ceding the establishment of Chinese civil and military headquarters in Llasa.  However, the Chinese failed to honour their part and in 1959 uprisings broke out.  Crack-downs and repression led eventually to the Dalai Lama (this time the 14th) fleeing to northern India.  He has not set foot in Tibet since.

Over the following 50 years Tibetans have had their culture and religion suppressed, their language repressed and monks and nuns forced to undergo “patriotic re-education.”  More than 6,000 monasteries and nunneries have been razed, photos of the Dalai Lama are banned, as is the Tibetan flag.

Tibet has undergone severe environmental damage with deforestation, desertification, resource depletion and the building of hundreds of hydro-electric dams flooding agricultural land and forcing thousands into resettlement.  Tibet has been the site of Chinese nuclear weapons testing and nuclear waste dumping.

With Tibetans becoming a minority in their own country1 it was little wonder that the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama being forced into exile would see an escalation in unrest.  Beginning in 2008 prior to the Beijing Olympic Games protest at Chinese occupation has continued unabated.  China’s promotion of it’s appointee of Panchen Lama (the second highest ranking Lama) in 2009 added fuel to the fire that had begun burning.

Self-immolation became an all too familiar symbol of protest since the first young monk (Tapey)set himself on fire in Januuary 2009.

The centenary of the proclamation of Tibet’s independence will undoubtedly be a focus for Tibetan resistance.  Will we see, sadly, another centenary occur alongside the centenary of proclamation?  Since that first self-immolation in 2009, 99 Tibetans have so far self-immolated.

Various organisations around the world attempt to bring the plight of Tibet and it’s people to our attention.  Here are just a couple:

1.  7.5 million Chinese, 6 million Tibetans.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

5 Pillars of Democracy

Photo: Pete Charles
(Creative Commons)
  1. Belief in the intelligence of ordinary citizens.
  2. Belief that ordinary citizens can be kept sufficiently informed about the issues.
  3. Belief that ordinary citizens are prepared to disregard their self-interest in cases where there is a conflict with national interest.
  4. Belief that ordinary citizens are interested in making decisions instead of delegating politics to professional representatives.
  5. Support for amateurism insofar as common sense is considered sufficient to make rational decisions based upon presentation of expert knowledge.

According to Mogens Hansen1 these 5 pillars are what laid the foundation for Athenian democracy.  It would seem that only the shadows of these pillars remain in our modern democracy.

Public decision-making today is in the hands of professional and career politicians and bureaucrats.  These politicians allow us (the ordinary citizen) only a glimpse of the information and knowledge necessary to make public policy.  They suggest to us that we are not intelligent enough or do not have the experience to make informed and rational decisions.

My experience from working in the field of community development for some 40 years is that ordinary citizens are very interested in making decisions about what affects them.  Furthermore, given full, accurate and timely information and the opportunity to learn and debate collectively, most ordinary citizens do make considered and wise decisions.

So, how did the Athenians maintain these 5 pillars?  When direct democracy meant that there would be too many at the forum, the Athenians used a rather different technique for selecting their decision-makers than we do today. 

They used sortition.  Simply put, sortition is the choosing of representatives by random selection.  A simple, fair and equitable system.

That means that you or I, or your dentist, or the woman running the dairy at the corner of the street, could be randomly chosen to be a public decision-maker.

This means of choosing our public decision-makers has many benefits, including:
  • the spreading of civic skill rather than it being in the hands of a minority of career politicians and bureaucrats,
  • reduced opportunity for powerful lobby groups to “buy” the allegiance of representatives2,
  • ensuring that public decision-making is informed by a wider diversity of backgrounds, experience and knowledge than is presently the case,
  • a much cheaper method of selection,
  • greater opportunity for sections of society presently not or under-represented being included in public decision-making processes,
  • less likelihood of an adversarial environment in which decisions are made (eg political parties would become largely redundant),
  • enabling ordinary citizens to discover their wisdom and ability to participate in public decision-making.
It’s time we went looking for those 5 pillars again, in order to rebuild our damaged democracy.  But this time let’s not leave it to the career politicians and bureaucrats.

1. Mogens Herman Hansen is a Danish classical philologist who worked for 40 years at Copenhagen University.
2. For example, organisations with gambling interests donated almost A$1.8million to Australian political parties in 2011-12 at a time when the the government was considering dropping poker machine reform.  During the same year, mining interests donated over A$700,000 as the debate on the Carbon Tax raged.  (Australian Electoral Commission quoted in Sydney Morning Herald, 2-3 Feb. 2013)

Friday 1 February 2013

Front-line Women

Recently in the news there has been discussion about women taking on front-line duties in the armed forces.  Seven countries have already done so1, Australia is phasing in women taking on combat roles by 2016 and the US is about to lift the ban on women taking on combat roles.

Well, I’m in favour of a ban on women taking on front-line combat roles.

In fact, I want to go further.  I want men to be banned from combat also.

Well – why not?

During the 20th Century the world saw dozens of wars, with two of those involving almost the entire globe.  Some 230 million people were killed, with countless millions maimed and injured.
At the beginning of that century approximately one in eleven of those deaths were civilians.  However, by the final decade of the century, that ratio had totally reversed so that of all deaths in violent conflict, 90% were civilians.  By then the terrain of warfare had also changed.  No longer were wars primarily between states, conflicts were now within states.

The final decade of the century also saw a decline in world expenditure on the military mostly due to the collapse of communism and the subsequent reduction in expenditure by the former Warsaw Pact nations.  But the sanity didn’t last.  The first decade of the 21st Century has seen world military spending soar to shameful levels.

World military spending in 2011 was US$1.63 trillion, up 50% on what it had been just ten years earlier, at the start of the century.

The problem with war and people (men or women) being placed into combat roles is not simply that war is a killing machine.  Conflict and militarism; robs from the poor, steals from those without access to clean, fresh water, diverts funds from the education of millions of children, and displaces people from their homes, families and lands.

UNICEF has estimated that just 5% of the world’s spending on the military would be sufficient to meet basic human needs for everyone on earth.  That’s less than three weeks.

What is further disappointing is that men and women in combat roles are men and women unable to apply their knowledge, skills and human resources to helping to solve these needs and the issues that give rise to conflict and violence in the first place.

Albert Einstein succinctly noted this many years ago when he said that:
“You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.”
If we are to reduce poverty, provide clean, safe access to water, offer education for all and also look to solving some of our most pressing global issues then we must stop wasting money on the military and ban men and women from conflict roles.

1. Canada (but not submarine duties), Denmark, France (but not submarine or riot control duties), Germany, Israel, New Zealand and Norway.