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.

Wednesday 16 December 2015

5 Success Stories for 2015

Sometimes those working for social justice or towards a more sustainable world can feel overwhelmed by the odds we face.  It can seem that no matter what we do, the issues we face are becoming more entrenched, worsening, and becoming more widespread.

So, it can be worthwhile to take a step back and reflect on some of the positive achievements that have been made.  There are many that could be showcased, but here are just five. 

Keystone XL Pipeline Dismissed

Phase IV of the giant Keystone XL pipeline was to have brought oil from the oil sands of Alberta (Canada) all the way through to Steele City in Nebraska.  The pipeline would have added 800,000 barrels of oil per day to only worsen the problems of climate change.

However, in a massive display of public opposition including an unique alliance between mid-Western farmers and native Americans (the Cowboys and Indians Alliance) the pipeline was disrupted physically, politically and legislatively.  Opposition took place not just along the route of the pipeline, but throughout the US, with hundreds arrested at the White House in March, after tying themselves to the fence.

On 6 November 2015 President Obama rejected the proposal.  Bill McKibben, co-founder of the group, noted that this “is nothing short of historic, and sets an important precedent that should send shockwaves through the fossil fuel industry.”

Divestment Increases

One of the most innovative campaigns opposing the fossil fuel industry has been the Divestment Campaign.  Indeed, divestment was one of the factors involved in the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline.  The campaign calls on individuals and institutions to withdraw their funds from companies associated with the fossil fuel industry.  Companies targeted include banks, insurance providers, universities, large charities, and wealth funds, as well as smaller, local institutions.  Individual investors have closed their accounts with banks that continue to invest in the fossil fuel industry, and shifted to financial institutions that pledge to not fund such companies.

Some well-known celebrities, including Leonardo di Caprio, have supported this campaign and have committed to divesting.  The world’s largest sovereign wealth fund1 (worth $945 billion) is the biggest divestor yet. 

The campaign now covers 43 countries and as of September 2015 it is estimated that over US$2.6 trillion has been withdrawn from the fossil fuel companies.  The value of divestments in 2015 rocketed by over fifty times the level it had been at just a year ago.  The 436 known institutions to have divested represent almost 650 million people world-wide.

The campaign is truly a world-wide, financially significant, phenomenon.

Making Bankers Responsible

Whilst most western countries were bailing out the banks and other financial institutions following the 2008 financial crisis, the small nation of Iceland took a decidedly different tack.  Iceland decided to make those at the heart of the collapse responsible for their actions.  So far, 26 bankers have been jailed in Iceland, with a combined prison sentence between them of 74 years.  This is in complete contrast to that of rewarding bankers elsewhere with bail-outs at the expense of everyday citizens.  In fact, Iceland intends paying every Icelander kr30,000 after the government takes back ownership of the second of the there major Icelandic banks.

Iceland is the only European nation to have fully recovered from the financial crisis, including paying back in full it’s debt to the IMF – ahead of time.  Asked how Iceland managed to do this, the President, Olafur Ragnar Grimmson, replied that:
“We were wise enough not to follow the traditional prevailing orthodoxies of the Western financial world in the last 30 years.”
Wise indeed.  Would that a few other governments had the courage to expose the fraud, corruption and deceit of the world’s banking systems.

Flagging Down Racism

Flags may be just symbols, but symbols can be very powerful.  For many black Americans the Confederate flag is a symbol of a system that was based on slavery, an extreme outward show of racism.

In 1961 the Confederate flag was flown from the dome of South Carolina’s statehouse to mark the 100th anniversary of the American Civil War.  It remained there as a symbol of opposition to the civil rights movement.  In 2000 amidst protests it was moved to a flagpole near a Confederate monument in the Statehouse grounds, as a compromise.

However, the massacre of nine people in an historic black church in Charleston in June 2015 sparked further protest, not just in South Carolina, but throughout the US.  The person accused of this crime had posted photos of himself posing with the Confederate flag and guns before the shootings.  Within a month of the racially inspired killings South Carolina lawmakers had passed by 93-27 votes a law requiring the flag to be removed from Statehouse grounds.

Of course, there is nothing in this act that suggests historic revision.  Recalling history and exhibiting memorabilia from those times is entirely appropriate.  However, displaying the Confederate flag on flagpoles in the state capitol would be akin to the Nazi flag being flown above the Reichstag in Germany.

Getting Real on Domestic Violence

Research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2013 found that “worldwide, almost one third (30%) of all women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner.”  In Australia the incidence is similar, if not, somewhat higher – possibly as high as 40%.

So, it was pleasing to note that the Queensland government, in August 2015, adopted all 140 recommendations in the report by the Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence.2  Adopting the recommendations, the Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuck, noted that “the time is right for action and I believe the community has the will to change," going on to say that the State would work to bring about a shift in attitudes towards domestic and family violence.

Measures include funding for more crisis centres, a campaign of education, a review panel to identify gaps in procedures and systems, and funding to help develop services for clients. 

In an age of heightened awareness of domestic and family violence it is heartening to find a government willing to take on board all recommendations made by an independent taskforce.

Further Successes

As I write this blog news is coming out of Paris that an agreement has been reached that would see the nations of the world halt global temperature rise to 2 degrees, with a target of just 1.5 degrees.  The success or otherwise of this agreement will be seen over the next couple of years.

Let us celebrate these and other successes from 2015, and look forward to more in 2016.

1. Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG).  It is likely to divest of $9 billion – $10 billion from fossil fuel industries.
2. Not Now, Not Ever: Putting an End to Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland.  Report produced by Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence, chaired by Honourable Quentin Bryce and presented to the Queensland government on 28 February 2015.

Note: This is the final posting on this site for 2015.  The next posting will be in the second week of January 2016.

Tuesday 8 December 2015

Beasts and Gods (A Review)

Democracy:  the hallmark of a civilised society, the pinnacle of our search for equality and freedom, the best political system ever devised.  Well, not according to Roslyn Fuller.

In Beasts and Gods: How democracy changed it’s meaning and lost it’s purpose,1 Roslyn Fuller picks through our democratic claims to fairness, equality, freedom, and representation; and finds all of them wanting.

Fuller presents a compelling case against our electoral/representative democracy.  Using case studies from all over the world, plus devastating statistics, Fuller shows how modern democracy has enabled those with wealth to obtain political power, and then those with political power to gain more wealth.  Simultaneously, the rest of society are excluded from public decision-making and not even represented in the process.

With clear examples Fuller unpicks many of the myths that continue to support our hold on electoral democracy as a sacrosanct institution. 
  • Representation is “mathematically impossible” when such a small number of citizens represent an entire nation.  Furthermore, Fuller claims, tinkering with the system will get us no closer to accurate representation.
  • Getting elected costs money, meaning that those who are rich, or have access to money (from corporate donations etc.) have a greater chance of being elected.  Pulling together statistics from various nations, Fuller shows that as the amount of money spent in a campaign increases so too does the chance of being elected.  So much so that if one candidate spends just twice the amount of another, the chance of being elected can be 90%.  If that ratio  increases to 5:1 then the chances of election become 100%
  • Not even the use of referenda can make a difference.  Because referenda are used so infrequently, they just become another bottleneck (as Fuller terms them), along with elections, for the rich to assert their influence.
  • Participation is one of the greatest myths of electoral democracy.  Large corporations have the inside running and the rest of society is shut out.  Even using petitions only gives the petitioners the right to ask politicians to do something, they do not enable citizens to do anything.  Protest is often claimed to be essential to democracy, but as Fuller exclaims, “far from being a part of democracy, protest is a reaction to a lack of democracy.” (emphasis in original)
  • Those who control the media essentially also control the political system and who gets elected.  Fuller uses damning case studies to prove her point.
  • But it gets worse.  Once we get to international politics and representation, the problems at national level only get heightened, intensified and exacerbated.  Taking just one of Fuller’s many examples, the IMF is a case in point.  Although the USA has just 4.4% of the world’s population it has 16.7% of the votes on the IMF.  Japan at just 1.8% of the world’s population claims 6.2% of the vote.  Meanwhile, those on the Indian subcontinent with 20% of the world’s population hold on to just 2.8% of the votes.  This, and numerous other examples indicate how the poor are cut out of decision-making, thus exacerbating the power/wealth imbalance.
Fixing It

It would seem that democracy is broken and that we need to fix it.  But, asserts Fuller, what we have is not even democracy.  It doesn’t even derive it’s identity from Athens where we have been taught it comes from.  Our present system finds its roots in another city and another system – the oligarchic Roman Republic.  Whatsmore, Rome decayed from the inside and there are signs that our current electoral system is doing the same, for the same reasons.

So, what does Fuller suggest we do?  Look to the true source of democracy she replies: Athenian demo-kratia, literally "people power."  The Athenians had already tried elections and had discarded them as being not democratic enough.  They brought in two new elements in public dialogue and decision-making: the Assembly and the cleroterion.

Most of us will have heard of the Assembly, whereby any Athenian citizen2 could turn up to participate in public discourse and decision-making.  Up to 15% of those eligible did so, a far cry from the 0.01% (or less) that make up most of the parliaments of electoral democracies today.  However, many of us will not have heard of the cleroterion.  It was a simple piece of technology that allowed for a very simple method of selecting public officials randomly.  Yes, randomly, much like a lotto system today.3

The Athenian democratic system had  a lot going for it, according to Fuller.  It was fair, it was representative, it was equal, it provided for freedom.  Most of all, it was – democratic.

But, can it work today?  Why not, replies Fuller.  She describes a number of already existing technologies and processes that enable the use of both direct democracy and random selection.  For example:
  • Participatory budgeting which originated in Porto Alegre, Brazil, but now used in New York, London, Toronto, Cologne, Paris and many other municipalities around the world.
  • Citizens Juries whereby citizens are randomly selected to make public decisions on a number of issues.  The use of such juries is wide-spread and have proved to be highly effective.
  • Online technologies such as LiquidFeedback, Loomio and DemocracyOS can be used in much the same way that the Athenian Assembly was used.
Fuller’s book is a welcome addition to the discussion about the future of democracy.  If this review does nothing more than whet the appetite for those thinking about running for political office in order to change something to read this book first, then it will have done it’s job.  As Fuller asserts, it is not that we need to find alternative candidates to vote for:
“We simply need to create a parallel politics that encourages real democracy.  Indeed, when one is locked into a self-perpetuating system, which is what the electoral representative system is, this is the only approach that really has any chance of success.”
That is something that we can all do.  First though, get a hold of this important book and read it.  It will change the way you think about democracy.

1. Roslyn Fuller, Beasts and Gods: How democracy changed it’s meaning and lost it’s purpose, Zed Books, London, 2015
2. At the time (6th to 4th centuries BC) citizenship in Athens did not include women, slaves, children or metics (Foreigners residing in Athens).  However, such criticism does not deny the basic democratic ideas.  We must remember that even our electoral system has only allowed women to vote since the early part of the 20th century, and many indigenous people have been disenfranchised until very recently.
3.  Indeed, the cleroterion bore an uncanny resemblance to modern day lotto machines.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Let’s Not Cop Out

Effects of sea level rise in the Maldives
This week (beginning 30 November 2015) COP21 began in Paris.  COP being the Conference Of Parties, an annual gathering of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, adopted in 1992.  The avowed aim of this conference is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.

Some are claiming that 2°C is too great a warming.  Significantly, it is the least developed nations calling for a target of 1.5°C.  Mr Giza Gaspar-Martins, from Angola, and chair of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) group said:
“The current plans to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions do not keep the world within the ‘safe’ temperature rise of 2°C. But from a Least Developed Country perspective, it is far worse than that. For the LDCs, economic development, regional food security, ecosystems, and the very survival of their populations and livelihoods are at risk if talks aim only for a 2°C world.”
Gaspar-Martins and the poorest nations of the world are supported by the Alliance Of Small Island States (AOSIS), who are already suffering the effects of sea level rise.  The chair of the Alliance, Thoriq Ibrahim from the Maldives1 had this to say:
“Slower onset events like sea level rise and ocean acidification continue to assault our small states. Climate change in all its forms is a new reality for us and it is getting worse.”
He went on to say that
“a long-term temperature goal of well below 1.5 degrees must be reflected in the Paris Agreement, along with an indicative pathway for achieving it, including urgent peaking and deep mid-century emissions reductions.”
Those of us in the western-styled, rich nations of the world must take note.  It is the poor nations and the small island states that are experiencing the worst effects of climate change, yet they are the nations contributing the least to this change.  A simple graph plotting per capita GDP against per capita greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) is very telling.

In this graph the horizontal axis represents per capita GDP in US dollars and the vertical axis per capita tonnes of GHGs.  The vertical blue line marks a per capita GDP of $10,000 US – one hundred and twenty nations lie to the left of this line!  The graph is a scatter diagram with the red line representing the “line of best fit” showing the rough correlation between GDP and GHG emissions.
Telling, isn’t it?  Clearly, it is the rich nations that contribute most significantly towards GHG emissions and therefore climate change.

And we in the western-styled, rich nations continue to consume at ever alarming rates.  The richest 1/5th of the world’s population consume 86% of the world’s resources.2  Meanwhile one-third of the world’s population living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, consume just 3.2%.

We must face it – it is our consumption patterns that contribute to climate change.  It is those of us in the western-styled, rich nations that continue to consume in great, excessive, obscene levels; who condemn those living in poor nations and small island states to the ravages of climate change.

Certainly, we must continue to ensure that our leaders put in place the policies needed at COP.  Certainly, we must continue to oppose mining and drilling for fossil fuels.  Certainly, we must continue advocating for renewable energy.

But, if we continue driving our cars to climate change rallies, continue to eat meat in vast quantities, continue to throw food away, continue to adopt the latest fads and fashions, continue to be hooked on electronic and telecommunications gadgetry then we will continue to cop out.3

Let’s not cop out.

1. The average height of the Maldives is just 1.2 metres above sea level, and the highest point is only 2.4m above sea level, making this nation the most vulnerable to sea level rise.
2. This 20% consume:  45% of all meat and fish,  58% of the total energy, 84% of all paper, have 74% of all telephone lines, and own 87% of the world's vehicle fleet.  (Source, accessed 1-12-15)
3. Cop out is a slang term meaning to avoid or shirk responsibility, to fail to fulfil a commitment, or to provide an evasive excuse.

Tuesday 24 November 2015

The Enemy is Us

It seems that humans have a great capacity to find enemies.  For millennia we have been fighting wars, ostracising those we are afraid of (e.g. lepers, homeless, beggars), discriminating based on gender, ethnicity, age, ability (or disability), and a whole host of other criteria.  In each case we have pointed our finger at the enemy - otherwise known as the other

For there to be an other, there must be a self.  Our western tradition has been that our sense of who we are as individuals, our self, is separate to and separate from all other selves. 

What happens when we construct our sense of who we are in this way?  We come to understand ourselves as essentially alone.  For some that aloneness comes quickly and can lead to depressive and even suicidal states.  For others, the dawning comes slowly.  But for most of us in western-styled societies the sense of aloneness is deeply entrenched, so much so that it is almost unconscious.  But, the effects are not so sublimated. 

Being alone brings on a sense of fear – a fear of the other.  That’s a frightening place to be and so we band together with those who are similar to us for protection.  We band together along religious lines.  We band together in ethnic enclaves.  Our ways of banding together have become many and varied.  But we have been able to shift our sense of being from one of isolation and fear to one of belonging and security – I becomes we.

With this collective identity we can attempt to overcome or at least control the other – the enemy. We have pursued that objective time after time through the millennia.  We know of the exploits of Alexander the Great.  We know of the Trojan War from the writings of Homer.  We’ve heard of Genghis Khan, the Crusades and the Hundred Years War.  Many of us now alive have lived through the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and now the war in Syria.

The battle with the enemy is not always a war though.  Discrimination, oppression and subjugation occur without full blown war erupting.  Women have been seeking relief from male dominance for at least two centuries1 – sometimes referred to as the battle of the sexes.  Racism has been a blight on human society and continues to be so.  Homosexual couples are only now beginning to obtain similar rights to heterosexual couples. 

Sometimes the enemy is not other human beings – it can be an idea or product.  The War on Drugs and the War on Terrorism are two such recent examples.

Indeed, the concept of self has become so entrenched and dominant that the sense of other is extended beyond that of other human selves – it extends to other life forms, indeed, to the Earth itself.  And so, we rape, pillage and exploit the Earth.  We wish to dominate nature.  In fact the notion of man (sic) against nature is so well established that it is almost a literary genre.

Finding the enemy is convenient for our sense of self, for our identity.  We find that enemy in the other, in someone or something outside of ourselves.  Over the millennia we have always managed to find that external enemy.

Now we live in a time of climate change and we look for an enemy to blame, an enemy that we can point to and say – “look , they did it, they are the cause of our pain and suffering.”  But, no matter how hard we try, we cannot find that external enemy.  The truly uncomfortable fact is that we must point the finger back at ourselves and say – the enemy is us.2 

That realisation, when we make it, awakens us to a new sense of who we are.  With such a new awareness we may find not only that we do not need enemies; we also find a greater, deeper sense of who we are as well.

As we head towards the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris can we expect answers from that forum?  The possibility is unlikely.  The answers lie with and within each and every one of us.

1. Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women was published in 1792.
2. In 1970, for the first Earth Day, Walt Kelly (the creator of the cartoon strop Pogo) created a poster to promote Earth Day in which Pogo the Possum  is preparing to clean up the mess made by humans in his environment.  The poster carries the line: We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us.

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Turning Society Inside-Out

The world needs to change.  Society needs to change.  Individually, we need to change.  Many have said that we are at a cross-roads.  Either we will break-through, or we will break-down.  We have a choice.  But our choice cannot be informed by or rooted in our old ways.  We need to make new choices, create new patterns, create new ways of living and being. 

To do that means not accepting top-down solutions.  The top-down, government-knows-best approach is clearly unable to provide us with the answers, solutions and future we desire. 

That means that must turn society inside-out.  Our society has to be created by us, from the ground-up.  It has to be created locally, yet in combination with other local initiatives, rather like a massive web of inter-linking local initiatives that encompass the whole world.

Can it be done?  Yes it can. 

There are dozens of examples world-wide of communities attempting to create and design their own futures, without relying on central authority or governments.  Here are just four examples:


The Federation of Demanhur is an ecovillage located in Italy’s Piedmont region.  Founded in 1975 the village now houses over 800 people with Demanhurites participating in one of four levels, from permanent occupants through to those that live elsewhere but maintain a social and/or spiritual link with the village.  Houses in the village can house anywhere from 10 to 20 people, with all of them federated under the auspices of the Federation of Demanhur.


Perhaps the most well-known ecovillage in the world, Findhorn, in Moray, Scotland, was founded in 1962.  The community subscribes to no particular creed or doctrine, making it accessible to many who may be put off by other villages of particular faiths or doctrines.  Instead, Findhorn opens its doors to well over 5000 people every year from all over the world who come to workshops on the workings of an ecovillage.  Its prominence as a working example of what can be achieved has been recognised by the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements by awarding it the UN Habitat Best Practice designation.

Findhorn’s decision-making is vastly different to that of most of the world’s parliaments, senates and congresses. 
“Decisions are made by a process of listening to or reading information about a proposal, asking questions to learn the facts, and also meditating to open a space for intuitive information to be included in the decision-making process. Sometimes silence is used to create this meditative space, called 'attuning', where each person does their best to find an inner state of mind in which goodwill is foremost and any outcome will be one which serves as the best for all. Sometimes people share their thoughts, feelings, and any other information gained from attuning, and then a vote is taken.”1

The location of Gaviotas in Los Llanos (the Plains) of Columbia and amidst the cocaine growers, guerrilla groups, and ever present military and paramilitary forces make this an unlikely setting for an ecovillage.  However, this intentional community, founded in 1971 has made some amazing technological innovations.  For instance, they developed a children's’ seesaw that provides the energy for a water pump.

The scientists and engineers drawn to the community have become proficient at developing engineering solutions specific to the local issues and environment.  When solar hot water panel manufacturers explained the costs and difficulties associated with solar technology, the inhabitants of Gaviotas came up with their own solution.  Notwithstanding the often overcast weather of the region, Gaviotas engineers came up with solutions better equipped to deal with the local conditions, and did so using cheaper, local building materials.

A further benefit of developing local solutions has been an improvement in the health of the population in the surrounding area.  Gaviotas has developed cheaper, more efficient, more ecologically sustainable water supply systems, and this has had a direct benefit in terms of supplying people with cleaner, safer water.

The Llanos area was at one stage part of the Amazon rainforest, but had become denuded of this ecological system.  More than 1.5 million trees have since been planted by the inhabitants of Gaviotas.  These trees have provided the groundcover needed to enable tropical rainforest species to regenerate in the area.

Neve Shalom

Neve Shalom (meaning Oasis of Peace) is a cooperative village established primarily to show that two peoples (in this case Israelis and Palestinians) can live side-by-side in harmony.  The brainchild of an Egyptian, Bruno Hussar, the village is midway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  Hussar established the village as a way to promote interfaith dialogue in the war-torn area.  Administratively the village is run by a number of elected committees, with half the representatives of each committee being Israeli, the other half Palestinian.

Although the community itself is small, its reach is large.  It is estimated that since 1980 over 35,000 people have been educated there, including many of them as facilitators in non-violent conflict group encounter skills.

Where To?

Where to next?  More of these intentional, cooperative, sustainable, radically democratic ecovillages will be necessary.  We are seeing the beginnings of global shifts towards these styles of living with the emergence of movements such as Transition Towns, voluntary simplicity, permaculture and dozens of small groups of people coming together to create alternatives to the business-as-usual, growth-oriented and harmful ways of the past. 

These groups are no longer demanding leadership from above; but are intentionally building and creating, from the inside out.

1.  Frequently Asked Questions, accessed 17 November 2015

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Was Ned Ludd right?

Ned Ludd
Was Ned Ludd, the 18th century lad who supposedly smashed a couple of textile machines right?  His name gives us the term luddite – famously applied to English textile workers who protested at the introduction of labour-saving technology in the early part of the 19th century.

Looking back on the unease of Ned Ludd from the 21st century it is possible to contend that he was right to be worried about technology, although not for the same reasons.  Many of the most pressing concerns of today have come about because of our fixation on technology.  Two examples help to illustrate this point.

The invention of the internal combustion engine has, arguably, been the one piece of technology that has contributed more than any other factor towards climate change.  Fourteen percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the fuelling of the engines of transport.  There is little indication that this is reducing or likely to reduce.

Over the past fifty years the number of car registrations world wide has increased seven-fold.  Not only has the number of vehicles increased, but the distance travelled per vehicle has also increased – almost doubling in the last forty years.  Certainly, the fuel efficiency of vehicles has increased, however, the fact that we are now travelling further, means that each car is using more fuel per year now than it did forty years ago.

Massive technological innovation in the agricultural sector, although increasing yields, has had some disastrous consequences.  The technology has allowed for the deforestation of large swathes of South American, African and Asian rainforests – the “lungs of the earth.” 

The much vaunted Green Revolution was a technological fix that was going to solve the problems of starvation and hunger in many of the poor nations of the earth.  The failure of this technological approach is now well documented.  The introduction of crops that required large investments of expensive fertiliser, seeds and irrigation had the effect of displacing many subsistence and poor farmers from their lands and only means of livelihood.

Perhaps Ned Ludd was right.

That’s all in the past though isn’t it?  The technology of the future will surely solve our problems.  Well, maybe not!

Difficulties with technological solutions

There are inherent difficulties with putting faith in technological solutions.

First is what is known as the Rebound Effect (or Jevons Effect), which notes that when an efficiency gain is produced one of the effects is to increase consumption of that item or another item.  The increased fuel efficiency referred to above is a good example of this.  Although vehicle efficiencies have increased, all that happened was that vehicles were driven further and so the actual fuel usage increased. 

Examples such as this can be found everywhere, consider another.  The efficiency of transporting fresh food from one side of the planet to the other has increased, so that consumers in rich nations are now able to eat whatever food they want year round.  The effect upon climate, soil erosion and manipulation of crops has been disastrous – all because of technological efficiency gains.

Technologically we currently have the ability to transport people much more efficiently and sustainably than we do.  The technology of public transport is well developed, but do we use it as wisely or as effectively as we could?  The short answer is – no!  Why not?  It just isn’t socially acceptable to do so.  We would far prefer to use our own private vehicle.  Social acceptance is one of the big hurdles to overcome with any technological advancement when it comes to sustainability.
When businesses adopt technology advances then the gains from that are often reinvested into increased production and consumption rather than to reducing either.  Thus, the current economic model encourages further growth and development because of technology, not less.

Furthermore, the business model of increased economic growth is predicated on further consumption.  Hence it is in the interests of business to privilege technology ahead of other sustainability options.  No wonder we hear so much about technological solutions to climate change, biodiversity loss, water shortages and other problems.

Perhaps the biggest difficulty with the idea of putting our faith in technological solutions is exactly that – putting our faith in techno-fixes.  Relying on, or having faith in, technology allows us to not have to think about some of the more fundamental questions related to how we humans impact the earth and its other inhabitants.

We are currently consuming approximately one and half times the Earth’s sustainable replenishment rate.  Those of us in the rich nations are the worst culprits.  We are consuming anywhere between four and nine Earth-sized planets worth of resources per year.  This is the real issue we must face – our over-consumption.  That has little to do with technology.  If anything, it requires us to reduce our reliance on technology, not create more of it.

Relying on technology to solve our issues is rather like those who put their faith in cryogenics: freeze me now, and thaw me out when technology has found a  cure for aging.

Let’s face it.  We have some serious thinking and acting to do, and it has to do with our individual, and collective, lifestyles and expectations.  Our fixation on techno-fixes is misplaced.  It is our global consumerism that we must tackle if we are to solve the issues that face us.

Maybe Ned Ludd was right.

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Community Development Degrees

Do you want a job in community development?  These days it is possible to get a qualification in community development.  A Masters of Community Development, even a PhD if you so desire. That’s a good thing isn’t it?  People become trained and qualified to deliver community development programmes, plans and projects.  It must be good.

Well, no, not really.  Like any upper level educational qualification it sets the haves against the have-nots.  If I have a degree in community development then that suggests I know more about the process of community development than many of those in the communities I am working with.  And that is absurd.

The very notion of community development is premised on the understanding that local communities are capable of understanding the issues that face them, of working out solutions, of discovering what skills they already have, and determining the resources they need.  Community development degrees set up an “expert” mindset that may lead some to believe that they do not have the necessary intellectual, psychological or emotional resources to become “experts” in their own community.  Once that thought takes root then a downward spiral ensues.

Of course it is highly desirable that those who choose to work in community development undergo learning and development opportunities.  But this learning should be firmly rooted in active, experiential, participatory styles based in community settings. 

One of the earlier models developed within community development settings was that of the Action-Reflection model of learning and practise.

The model simply suggests that following analysis, we act.  But that is not the end.  Action-Reflection says that after we have acted, we analyse and reflect on what happened, what the effects or outcome was.  By doing this we learn what went well, what went badly, what more we need to take into consideration.  With this new understanding it is now possible to plan our next action.  The cycle then repeats, and continues to repeat. (see diagram)

A key element of the Action-Reflection model is that of learning from experience.  The maxim of “learning from experience” is often bandied about, without too much thought.  Action-Reflection, however, notes that we do not necessarily learn anything just by having an experience.  The experience must be actively, consciously, reflected on.  It is the active questioning of the experience that allows for the learning to take place.  We must actively ask ourselves: what did we learn from this experience?

Having a degree in community development may be required by many employers, but having the ability to consciously reflect on experience, in participation with the community itself, is of far greater benefit to the community.  Ultimately it is also of greater benefit to the community development worker themselves.

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Our Future Democracy

Amongst the hundreds of articles, discussions, and books addressing the ills of today, there are many that speak of what the future could look like.  Visions, dreams - utopias even.  Most of these scenarios of the future look to societies using renewable energy, highly efficient public transport, organically and locally produced food, sustainable fabrics, green housing, satisfying work that provides sufficiency without exploitation, and a raft of other aspects of human life.

Often within those visions there is mention of governments being receptive to this new thinking, and acting in a way that will enable this new society to emerge.  Social action groups too, when determining their strategies, will often target their elected politicians.  There will be talk of deputations, letter writing, petitions, rallies on parliamentary steps, sometimes even support for particular candidates.

That journey, however, is a dead-end one.  Our present democratic system – electoral, representative democracy – has failed.  It has failed to deliver the promise of equity and equality.  It has failed to provide us with a sustainable future.  Most importantly, it has failed in it’s most fundamental raison d’etre – it has failed to be representative.

“What?  Not representative!”  I can hear the shouts of alarm and incredulity now.  Just look around, look at our politicians.  How many of them are like the person next door, or the shop assistant at the supermarket?  How many look like the barista pulling your morning coffee?  Very few I would suggest.  Furthermore, for how many of them is politics their career?  The sad fact is that it is increasingly so that those who are represented in our democratic chambers are – career politicians.

And that is not good.  Electoral democracy is giving us decision-makers drawn from less and less sectors of society at the very time that the world needs greater diversity of representation in its public decision-making.

So, when we envision new societies we need to also think of new ways to conduct our pubic decision-making.  We need to rethink our democracy, rather than accept it as a given.

Samuel Alexander is a writer who has given much thought to what he calls the “sufficiency economy” – a post-growth economy and society that “is shaped by an acceptance that ‘just enough is plenty’ … (that is) nothing short of revolutionary.”  Alexander notes that, from our current perspective, the shift to this new society “will not arise in liberal democracies until there is a culture that wants it, at which time those cultural values will be embraced by representative politicians and used to shape public policy in order to keep or win office.”  However, as Alexander goes on, “this understanding of representative democracy might be nice in theory, but it assumes that democracies are functioning well.”

Alexander concludes that democracy is not functioning well.  He is one of the few new society visionaries that has dared to raise the question of democracy in that future society.  He raises more questions than answers in his treatment of this topic.  Are there any answers?

Bastard-proofing democracy

Perhaps there are.  The ancient Athenians in creating democratic processes were keen to “bastard-proof their system.”2  One of their primary mechanisms for doing that was to use the lottery system.  Many, if not most, of their representatives were chose by lot – known as sortition.

Anyone who has sat on a jury knows that those chosen represent a diversity of backgrounds and experience.  Those jurors are charged with making the decision on whether a person is guilty or not guilty.  They do so after having heard the evidence of expert witnesses and the arguments of lawyers.  Their decision is based on this input, not on their prejudices or preconceived notions of guilt or innocence.  Why should such a system of selection not work for those charged with making our public decisions?

The claim that we need to elect people who are best suited or competent to represent us in our parliaments, senates and councils fails to convince.  It fails in two ways.  We can all think of politicians who have clearly been incompetent and open to manipulation and being swayed by corporate lobbyists.  Indeed, too many some would say.  Secondly, it fails because it assumes that we do not have sufficient faith in our own common sense.  If we are competent enough to cast a vote, then we are competent enough to take on a public decision-making role.

Dangerous democracy

A further argument for envisioning a new form of democracy lies in the very faith we put in our present democratic outcomes.  All around the world we see examples of people and communities seeking greater say over their lives and affairs.  From the Arab Spring to Occupy, from blockading mines on threatened farmland to indigenous peoples blockading ports in canoes, from divestment campaigns to Transition Towns; everywhere we look people are demanding greater say. 

But governments only know one way to deal with issues – by imposing programmes, laws and restrictions.  The danger then, in putting faith in present democratic institutions to solve our multi-faceted crises, is that we will further enhance the oligarchic approach to public decision-making.  That is a recipe for disaster. 

The original Athenian system provides an example of a way to avert that disaster, for it curbs the accumulation of power.  Quoting Dr Fuller again, “(in the Athenian system) power was possible, power consolidation more of a challenge.”2 

Envisioning sortition

Yes, it is worth giving thought to new ways of doing democracy; ways that enhance representation, ways that reduce the rise of oligarchs, ways that tap into our collective wisdom and common sense.  This blogsite has written about the benefits of sortition elsewhere.  See here and here.

We cannot dream of a new, sustainable, society without simultaneously imagining a new democracy.  Sortition offers one, hopeful, possibility.

1. Samuel Alexander, Sufficiency Economy, Sufficiency Institute, Melbourne, 2015, Chapter 4.
2. Dr Roslyn Fuller, Creating a Framework for Sortition.  Dr Fuller is a lecturer in International Law based in Ireland.  Her forthcoming book is Beasts and Gods:  How Democracy Changed its Meaning and Lost its Purpose to be published in November 2015 by Zed Books.

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Building Alliances of Mutual Aid and Respect

"Cowboys and Indians" coalition march on Washington
In today’s inter-connected and complex world it would seem that building alliances between differing issue groups would be straight forward and simple.  Alliance building is often crucial to the success of most campaigns.  But sometimes in our focus on the issue that concerns us we can neglect this aspect of community organising.  Within that last sentence lies the key to building those alliances.  What concerns each of us is what motivates us.  Extrapolating that, it becomes clear that what concerns others is what motivates them.

If in my self motivation I can seek out and find what motivates you, then together we may be able to form an alliance that fulfils each of us.  That is no less true of groups than it is of individuals.  You could say that our mutual self-interests are what builds the alliance.  It is important to note here that self-interest is not the same as selfishness.  Selfishness claims that my cause, my issue, my concern is paramount and that all other causes, issues, and concerns are not only of lesser importance, they are of no worth at all.  Self-interest on the other hand, speaks more to who I am  and what my aspirations are; to my essence.  Indeed, the word essence and interest have the same root, esse

Looked at this way, it is possible to discover that my self-interest and that of someone else share something – a common humanity.

Noticing this common humanity it becomes much easier to build alliances.  No concern or issue today stands alone.  All are interconnected.  All issues, and their solutions, have an impact upon other issues.  When that too, is understood, it becomes much easier to build alliances.

Easier – yes!  Doing so, however, requires intent and it requires thinking “outside the box.”  It requires each of us momentarily dispensing with our self-interest and listening to, accepting and understanding the self-interest of others.  Oftentimes that can be difficult to do when we get caught up in the issue that is of concern to us.  We see our issue as urgent, a priority, and we see our campaign building entirely from within this perspective.

We must learn to look outside our own perspective.

Two Examples

Perhaps one of the most intriguing alliances that has been built in recent years (at least in the western world) has been that of the Cowboys and Indians coalition.  Intriguing because of the nominally politically incorrect name, but also because of the historic animosity between North American native peoples and the European settlers who invaded their lands in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The two groups, as well as environmental organisations, came together to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline1 that threatens both the Cowboys and the Indians.  The ranchers and farmers are opposed to the pipeline because of their lands being confiscated for the building of the pipeline.  Native American organisations (such as Idle No More) claim that sacred lands are being desecrated, resulting in health and environmental perils.

This example brings together at least three concerns: loss of land/livelihood, health threats, and climate change activism.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, in Australia, the Lock the Gate coalition has also brought together often disparate groups.  Farmers,  Aboriginal owners, environmentalists and others have joined forces to stop the coal seam gas and coal mining in rural areas of Queensland and New South Wales.  The alliance has successfully overturned gas license applications as well as declaring 280 communities across Australia to be mine-free.  The importance of this alliance in the opposition to fossil fuel exploitation cannot be overstated, with Australia being one of the world’s largest exporters of coal.

These two examples are of large, nationally-based alliances; however, the need to seek alliances even at small, local level is just as important.  No issue is paramount.  No concern is of greater urgency than any other.  No cause has priority.  All are interconnected and supporters of one cause will find that by seeking alliances with other groups, that there will be common ground.  That common ground is often our common humanity.

The case for building alliances can best be summarised by an African proverb:
“If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go further, go together.”

1. The XL pipeline is a 3,500 km pipeline planned to be constructed from the Alberta (Canada) tar sands drilling grounds southwards, across the USA, and terminating at the refineries in Illinois and Texas.  It is estimated to cost $7 billion and produce release approximately 1.37 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere over its 50 year timeframe.

Wednesday 14 October 2015

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis: art in social movements

Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937
Ars longa, vita brevis is one of those Latin maxims that occasionally gets quoted.  Translated as art is long, life is short, the saying is full of meaning.  One of those possible meanings is that the art we create today may survive not only our individual lifetimes, but possibly have significance well beyond the space that we inhabit.

If art is long then those of us working in community development, advocating for social justice, or seeking sustainable futures, cannot ignore its power.  Art can inspire.  Art can be a learning aid.  Art can send a message.  Art can unleash our creative talents.  Let’s use it.

The use of the arts in social change movements has a long and proud history.  One of the earliest examples of activist theatre, for instance, dates to 425 BC when Aristophanes play, Acharnians, was performed at the Athenian Lenaia.  More recently we have seen the development of guerrilla theatre, emerging especially from within the anti-Vietnam War movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

This highly public, in-your-face, form of theatre brought the anti-war message into the public sphere perhaps more than any other medium did.  It could not be ignored.  Guerrilla theatre struck a chord not only for those who witnessed it, but also for for those who performed – most of whom were not actors in the traditional sense.

In another art form Picasso’s Guernica is one of the most recognisable paintings in the world.  The painting is an indictment of the use of warfare in resolving differences.1  Painting too has been taken to the streets, and street walls.  Who can dismiss the impact that Banksy has had on our awareness of consumerism, globalisation, and corporate misdeeds?

Musically there have been artists moved by a desire to create music that ranges from anti-war anthems such as Buffy Saint-Marie’s Universal Soldier through to those, like John Lennon, imagining better worlds.  More recently, the current shootings of black people in the US have spawned dozens of rap, hip-hop and other protest songs.

Literature too has been a favoured medium by many that would seek a more socially just world, or warn against techno-corporate takeovers of our lives.  Books such as 1984, Brave New World, Animal Farm, and The Dispossessed, come to mind.

But art and social commentary does not, and should not, start and stop with the professionals.  Those of us working in social movements can use art just as creatively and usefully as those for whom it is their livelihood.

Guerrilla theatre has already been alluded to, but even within our collective learning endeavours using art can have great power.  We can use paint, collage, movement, role-playing, songs, poetry, drums, clapping, chanting, or story-telling to explore our understandings and create visions of the futures that we want for ourselves and our grandchildren.

Indeed, the more we use the arts the more we tap into creative sources and intuitions that we did not know we had.  We can all be creative and artistic.  We may not pen a tune that will rise to the top of the hit parade, we may not paint a portrait that hangs in the Louvre, and we may not write the bestseller reviewed by Oprah.  But we all have some degree of creativity within us.  For some it may be a few words of a poem, for others it may a splash of colour on a poster, and others it may be a particular dance that evokes connection with the earth.

For those facilitating social action groups it is important to remember that everyone is different and that we have differing learning styles and differing ways of expressing what we feel and think.  The greater the variety of methods used the better.

Art is definitely long.  Art is also able to change the world.

1. Pablo Picasso’s Guernica hangs in Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain.  It was painted in 1937.  Widely recognised as one of the world’s most powerful and moving anti-war paintings, it is huge, measuring 3.49 metres in height and 7.76 metres in length.  Picasso is believed to have painted it in response to the bombing of Guernica, a village in the Basque region of Spain by German and Italian planes.

Friday 9 October 2015

Communication is Precarious

Communication is a skill that is a crucial one in the community development worker’s tool kit.  By practicing effective communication the community development worker is better able to do their job, as well as providing a good role model to those around them.

Talking, speaking, hearing, listening.  What could be easier?  After all, we have grown up doing it, haven’t we.  As babies, we heard our parents, or other adults voices.  We learnt to imitate the words and then tested them out, by speaking.  Simple, piece of cake.

So, how is it that communication can be so difficult sometimes?  Why does apparently simple communication break-down?  Simply because there are at least six processes going on in the simple transaction between one person and another.  Think about it.  Before I say something to another person I must first have a thought or intuition.  Then I must put that thought into words, before finally speaking those words.

The person to whom I am speaking then goes through the opposite three stage process.  First, they must hear my words.  Then they interpret those words, give the words meaning and finally, derive a thought from that interpretation.

That’s six steps.  I am not suggesting that every communication flows in this logical step-by-step manner, nor am I suggesting that any of it is necessarily conscious.  However, each of these elements is involved in some way in my communication with one other person.

That means there are six ways in which communication can break down, can go astray and lead quickly to mis-communication.  And, that’s just with one other person!

Learning Listening and Speaking

Effective communication is something that can be learned, but rarely do we take the time to do so. 
How can we more effectively listen?  We can learn to focus on the speaker and their words by not interrupting, avoiding distractions, watching for non-verbal cues, not pre-judging, and not making assumptions.

As a speaker we can improve our communication by focussing on our internal thought processes.  One technique is to use the THINK acronym, by asking ourselves whether what we want to say is:
  • Truthful
  • Honest
  • Inspiring
  • Necessary
  • Kind
Next time you find yourself in a conversation that seems to have become derailed, step back and see if you can figure out where the problem may be.  It may be in your thinking patterns, in the words you use or in the speech you have just given.  Similarly, it may be that you were distracted at a crucial time that someone was telling you something and you never heard the words, or that you interpreted their words in a different way to that in which the speaker intended. 

It may be worth talking about the mis-communication.  This time listening attentively and speaking thoughtfully.

Tuesday 29 September 2015

Refugees: Some Perspective Needed

It is impossible these days to watch TV, read a newspaper, or even log into social media and not find a story about refugees.  Those of us in the rich, western-styled nations display two, opposing, responses.
On one hand there are those that want to reach out to refugees, who want to embrace them and welcome them into their homes and homelands.

Then there are those who want to “protect our borders,” “turn back the boats,” or “keep our country for ourselves.”

I am no expert on refugees, but it does seem that some historical perspective needs to be taken on the refugee crises.  It can be humbling and revealing to take a long-term, historical and cultural perspective on the issues.

The Word Refugee

The word refugee comes from the French refugier, meaning to take shelter or protection.  The first use of the term refugee to describe a group of people fleeing persecution is, indeed, French.  During the 17th century the Huguenots (French protestants) became increasingly persecuted by Louis XIV, with many being killed, and half a million becoming the worlds first “refugees,” fleeing France to other, more tolerant, European nations.

In 1914 the term refugee came to mean “a person fleeing home,” and was applied to thousands of civilians in Flanders escaping the atrocities of World War I and fleeing into Holland, France and elsewhere.  The second World War saw even greater mass exoduses of European people from war, starvation and persecution.

Further Back

For centuries European nations have sought to conquer lands well outside the European continent.  For almost four centuries from the 11th century onwards, nations of western Europe invaded and terrorised those of the so-called Holy Lands via the Crusades.  Many would argue that those attempts at conquest were the genesis of many of the problems in the Middle East today.

Between the 16th and 20th centuries European nations embarked upon another take-over endeavour – this time known as colonialism.  The period saw several European nations expand into and conquer lands in Asia, Africa, Australasia, and the Americas.  The latter half of the 19th century saw massive migration of Europeans to these lands – some 40 million people.

This massive migration had a devastating effect upon the indigenous populations of those lands.  Migrants brought disease, an unthinking sense of superiority, and a destructive force that has not been repeated since.


With these understandings in mind those of us in western-styled nations would do well to reflect upon the following when considering the plight of modern-day refugees:
  • Europeans were amongst the worlds first refugees.
  • Europeans have contributed to the very conditions that many of todays refugees wish to flee from.
  • Europeans have been the largest group of migrants in the world.
  • Europeans have no moral justification for refusing modern day refugees a right to safety, dignity and freedom.
In the above, by European I include also those people who live in countries outside of Europe,1 but who trace their descent form European colonisers, conquerors or migrants.

1. The use of the word “western-styled” is deliberate.  There are many nations who are western-styled in their cultural roots, ways of life and belief systems that are not necessarily of the “west.”  These include countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the USA.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Day of Peace – Oh Yeah?

Earlier this week, 21 September, marked the International Day of Peace.  Not that you would have noticed from the news that day.  Instead we had yet more images of the bombings in Syria, attacks in Somalia, and reports of domestic violence in the homes of our nations.

Although the day was established in 1981 by the United Nations you could not be blamed for not noticing it for all that the media took note.  The decade following the UN adoption of the Day of Peace was the bloodiest on record since the end of the second World War.  The highly regarded Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) notes that 2014 saw more wars than any other year since 2000.  Even on the website of SIPRI, with it’s vision of “a world in which sources of insecurity are identified and understood, conflicts are prevented or resolved, and peace is sustained,” it is difficult to find much data or information related to peace.  There is much there about military spending, arms manufacture and trading, chemical and nuclear weapons manufacture etc etc etc. 

Peace just doesn’t seem to cut it.  The newspapers rarely mention peaceful solutions, television embraces warfare, and Hollywood movies glorify the carnage and mayhem of war.  Even a search of google results in over 1.3 billion listings for “War 2015.”  A similar search under “Peace 2015” yielded less than half this number.

The nations of the world seem unable to recognise the Day of Peace.  Just two days before the Day of Peace, the Japanese upper chamber overturned Article 9 of it’s post-war Constitution.  That article stated that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes."   The new legislation now allows for Japanese forces to participate in a limited manner alongside other nations in armed conflict in other parts of the world.  Along with nations such as Switzerland, the Japanese renunciation of war as a means of resolving conflict was a beacon of hope.  That beacon now seems to have been snuffed out.

A day for peace.  Surely that is not too much to ask.  Of course, we should be aiming at a Year of Peace, and perhaps even a Decade of Peace.  but if we can’t even manage a day, do we have much hope?

So, we must start where and when we can.  We can bring peace into our daily lives.  We can embark on peace within our homes and our relationships.  We can encourage peace in our workplaces and schools.  If the leaders of the world, and those who report the news of the world, won’t encourage or promulgate peace, then we must do it ourselves. 

A Day of Peace.  Oh Yeah!

Tuesday 15 September 2015

Day of Democracy

Today, 15 September, is International Day of Democracy.  The day has had this moniker since 2007 when the United Nations declared it such.  But eight years on and democracy as we know it is stumbling.  The people (demos) are disillusioned.  To paraphrase Shakespeare – there is something rotten within the State of Democracy.

Political parties are responding in the same old, tired, ways.  Less than a week before 15 September the UK Labour Party elected a new leader, Jeremy Corbyn – a radical left-winger that some within the party fear will mean the demise of the party.  Meanwhile just the night before the Day of Democracy, the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbot, was challenged for his leadership by Malcolm Turnbull.  Turnbull won and so Australia now has a new Prime Minister.

This is how political parties respond to challenges and issues.  Change the leader, rearrange the cabinet, or shuffle the front bench.  But all that does is change the players, it does nothing to change the system.  Systems thinking tells us that changing the components of a system is the weakest method of bringing about the change we need.  It is akin to changing the tyres on an old, beat-up, rusty car.  You may have bright shiny new tyres but you still have the same car. 

In similar fashion our electoral representative democracy continues to give us:
  • an adversarial system where politicians often appear more interested in personal point-scoring than in dealing with the issues.
  • a parliament, or senate, or council, that is less and less representative of the diversity within the population as a whole.
  • a system that is open to manipulation by powerful and rich vested interests and lobby groups.
That’s just three of the obstacles that our present democracies are stumbling over.

It is time for us to give up our dependence upon electoral representative democracy.  It is, after all, simply a human construct.  There is nothing sacrosanct or inherently absolute about it.  It can be improved.


We could try something really simple.  We could try something really fair.  We could try something really random.  We could try selecting our representatives by lot.  As soon as this notion is suggested hands are thrown up in the air and shouts of “ludicrous,” “impossible,” or “unworkable” are heard.

But it has been done.  The very cradle of democracy, Athens, utilised the selection of decision-makers by lot more often than they did the mechanism of the vote.  This blogsite has written about the Athenian democracy previously.

More recently we have seen a couple of examples of the use of random selection (known as sortition) in politics.


The constitutional reform in Ireland that allows for same-sex marriage is now well known.  Perhaps what is less well known is the path that led to this momentous decision.

At the heart of it was sortition.  Following the 2008-09 economic crisis the Irish people called for constitutional reform.  The Irish Constitutional Convention (ICC) was established to consider eight topics for constitutional reform – marriage equality the most notable.  The membership of the ICC was made up of 100 individuals, one-third of them members of parliament, but the other two-thirds Irish citizens chosen at random.  None of these ordinary citizens were there because of vested interest, lobby groups or political affiliation.  They were there as representatives of the demos – the ordinary citizen.  And all citizens had the chance of being selected.  They did not need to be famous, rich, or great orators.

It was from the ICC that the matter of marriage equality was put on the ballot paper that Ireland then voted on.


In Belgium many senior politicians are supporting a move to introduce sortition into the Belgian Senate.  Sortition is gaining support from all sectors of the political spectrum.  A former socialist vice-prime minister, Laurette Onkelinx, contends that “traditional politics is ailing and new ways have to be considered.”  

A current member of the ruling right of centre party, the Reform Movement, notes that  “we need to go directly to the people and hear their positions – and sortition is the way.”

Peter Vanvelthoven, a former labour minister, is also supportive, noting that political decision-making needs greater diversity than it presently achieves and that “the pure democratic idea requires more participation of the citizens in decision making – beyond casting one vote in an election once every four years.”

Sortition Benefits

In those two examples we see some of the benefits that sortition can bring, and the means by which the three obstacles mentioned above can be overcome.
  • in Ireland the discussion in the ICC was of a more deliberative nature than an adversarial one.  Those chosen by lot do not bring a vested interest or party line to the table and hence, are more likely to enter into true dialogue than adversarial debate.
  • The Belgian politicians are recognising that their present Senate is not representing the populace, whereas sortition offers a means by which greater representation could be achieved.
  • The ICC achieved a high level of agreement because those chosen to be representatives arrived without pre-existing “positions” and were un-aligned to political parties, vested interests, or lobby groups.  They were there as citizens, as representatives of the demos.
We can’t keep tinkering around with the players.  We have to allow democracy to take it’s next step into the 21st century.  That step can be sortition.

Tuesday 8 September 2015

Forgiving A Bomber

Fernando Pereira
In 1985 I was actively involved with the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific (NFIP) movement in Aotearoa (New Zealand).  NFIP was one of a number of organisations campaigning against nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific, along with groups such as Greenpeace, Friends Of the Earth (FOE), Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), the Peace Squadron and others.

On the morning of 11 July 1985 we awoke to the news that the Greenpeace flagship, Rainbow Warrior, had been blown up and sunk in Auckland Harbour.  I was shocked, dismayed, angry and devastated.  This was not an example of the type of world I wanted.  It quickly became apparent that this was the work of French agents and two of them, Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur, were caught and tried.  But another ten French agents were never captured and never brought to justice.

Now, thirty years later, one of those remaining ten agents, Jean-Luc Kister, has spoken to the French investigative organisation, Mediapart, and on New Zealand television for the first time.   In those interviews Kister said that “…it is time for me to express my profound regret and my apologies.”  He went on to say that he wanted to apologise to the family of the man (Fernando Pereira) that was killed in the blast, “especially to his daughter Marelle.”

The apology may be thirty years in the coming, but as Peter Wilcox, the captain of the Rainbow Warrior that fateful night, commented, “it seemed sincere to me.  Perhaps late in coming, but sincere.”

The question now for those of us involved in social justice issues, especially for those of us who had connections (even tenuously) with this act of state terrorism, becomes: can we accept Jean-Luc Kister's apology and can we forgive him?

Peter Wilcox remarked that he “did not think it was for me to forgive.” Certainly Wilcox did not lose a father, as Marelle did (she was 8 years old at the time), but he did lose a friend, a colleague, and he did lose a ship.  Whether Wilcox is able to forgive Kister for these loses is up to him and his conscience.

However, the bigger question is the role of forgiveness in the advocacy and activism of social justice campaigners. 

Lets first be clear about what forgiveness is not.  Bishop Desmond Tutu perhaps knows more about the act of forgiveness and the power that it has than anyone on the planet.  He oversaw the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa following the collapse of the apartheid regime.  In his book, The Book of Forgiving, written with his daughter, Mpho, he identifies five things that forgiveness is not.  Forgiveness is not: 1. forgetting, 2. weakness, 3. a subversion of justice, 4. quick, nor 5. easy.

A further misconception about forgiveness is that it is offered to the offender by a victim, and that in some way it is an exoneration of a harm committed by the offender.  Yes, forgiveness may be offered to the offender, but equally, perhaps more importantly, forgiveness is something that the victim offers to themselves.  Louise Hay said it well when she stated that:
“The act of forgiveness takes place in your own mind.  It really has nothing to do with the other person.”
To Forgive is not to neglect Justice.

Jean-Luc Kister, along with another DGSE diver, Jean Camas, planted those two bombs on the hull of the Rainbow Warrior.  They set the timers.  They knew what they were doing.  They were responsible for the sinking of the ship.  They were responsible for the murder of Fernando Pereira.  Forgiveness does not deny this, nor does it wish to subvert the course of justice.  Peter Wilcox is right to attest that “justice has not been done.”  Justice and forgiveness however, are not conflicting notions.

How many of us can forget that the Rainbow Warrior was bombed?  Marelle Pereira cannot forget that her father was murdered in an act of state terrorism.  The Greenpeace organisation cannot forget that it lost a ship and a comrade.  The people of New Zealand cannot forget that their sovereign borders were infiltrated by another nation and an act of terrorism committed in their largest harbour.  Nor should we all forget.  But forgiveness does not mean that we do so.

Desmond and Mpho Tutu claim that there is nothing that cannot be forgiven and that no-one is undeserving of forgiveness.  These are challenging claims.  Yet, those of us seeking a more just, a more peaceful, a more sustainable world need to work with these claims.  We must accept the challenge that the Tutus have given us.

The habitual response to being harmed, individually or nationally, is to seek retribution, to want to punish and do harm back to our offender.  Doing so only leads us into the vicious cycle of harm – pain – retaliation – more harm and so on …. an endless cycle.  Within that cycle we end up rejecting our common and shared humanity.  Plus, we become trapped not only within the cycle but also by the debilitating emotions of anger, resentment, bitterness and hate.

It is up to those of us campaigning for social justice to show a better way, to point to a more compassionate future.  The power of forgiveness is one way of doing that.

Can we forgive Jean-Luc Kister?  Each one of us must answer that for ourselves.  Me?  I haven’t yet, but I’m working on it.

1. DGSE: the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, the French intelligence service.

Addendum:  The French Greenpeace organisation, in response to the latest revelations, issued a statement that says “we would like to insist that French town halls, and particularly that of Paris, the capital of France’s major political decisions, that Fernando’s memory is properly and fully honoured, as it should be, with a road or a square named after him.”

Wednesday 2 September 2015

The Real Problem With Egotistical Politicians

Many of us want to accuse politicians of having large egos or being drawn to a desire for ego enhancement.  The evidence (both anecdotal and research-based) suggests that our accusations have some justification.  Egotism is at the core of psychological patterns such as narcissism, psychopathy, sociopathy or hubris.

In 2007 Jim Kouri (then vice-president of the US National Association of Chiefs of Police) wrote a brief, yet telling, article claiming that politicians share the same traits as serial killers – namely psychopathic traits.1  Whilst Kouri noted that “not all violent offenders are psychopaths and not all psychopaths are violent offenders,” he claimed that “some of the character traits exhibited by serial killers or criminals may be observed in many within the political arena.”

One of the world’s leading psychopathy experts, Dr Robert D Hare, describes psychopaths as showing the following characteristics: conscienceless yet rational, logical and manipulative, predisposed to crime, selfish, and without guilt, shame, remorse or empathy.  Other traits include: a superficial charm, glibness, and a grandiose sense of self-worth.  Does all this sound like any politicians you know?

Another psychological diagnosis that sometimes is attributed to politicians is that of Narcissistic Personality Disorder which has similar characteristics to those of psychopathy or sociopathy.  In a 1998 study2 involving four professions (university faculty, politicians, clergy and librarians) politicians scored higher than the other three professions in a test known as the Narcissistic Personality Inventory.

Hubris is defined as insolent pride and excessive overconfidence, and this too has been studied with respect to politicians.  Dr Peter Garrard et al studied US and UK political leaders.3  Garrard noted that many of them developed what he called “Hubris Syndrome” which he defined as “a radical change in a persons outlook, style and attitude after they acquire positions of power or great influence.”  The change in those with this syndrome meant that they lost contact with reality and overestimated their competence, accomplishments or capabilities.

Sometimes politicians don’t even attempt to hide their egotism going so far as to flaunt it in the face of their electorate.  In Australia there are no less than four political groupings that include the name of the politician in the title.  Clive Palmer started the Palmer United Party, Bob Katter has Katter’s Australian Party, Nick Xenophon the Nick Xenophon Team and Jacqui Lambie (having quit from the Palmer United Party) is forming the Jacqui Lambie Network.

From this – admittedly very brief – perusal of the evidence it appears reasonable to suggest that there is a strong correlation between egotism and politicians.  What may be still in doubt is whether politicians are driven to enter politics because of their over-inflated egos or whether they acquire an excessive sense of self-worth and entitlement as a result of attaining political office.  Perhaps it is a bit of both.

Whether we use the terms narcissism, psych/sociopathy, or hubris, politicians do display a much greater inclination towards these psychologies than does the rest of the population.  Dr Hare, for instance, estimates that just 1% of the population display psychopathic traits.

Therein is the real problem with egotistical politicians.  It is not that politicians are egotistical per se, but that those with psychopathic/narcissistic/hubris tendencies are highly over-represented in our parliaments, congresses and senates.

It is easy to see why when we think of some of the traits.  Those with these traits can be charming, expert manipulators (meaning that you don’t see it coming), and have a glib way of speaking.  It is easy to vote for a charmer.  Thus we get parliaments, senates and congresses that are woefully unrepresentative of the population as a whole.  That’s the real issue.  The “typical” politician, is not “typical” of the population, hence it becomes increasingly impossible to claim that we live in a “representative” democracy.

So if our system of electoral democracy means that we are likely to end up with politicians who display far greater narcissistic or psychopathic tendencies than is usual in the population, then it is time to look for alternative democratic models.

1. Jim Kouri, Serial killers and politicians share traits, The Examiner, June 2009
2. Robert Hill & Gregory Yousey, Adaptive and Maladaptive Narcissism among University Faculty, Clergy, Politicians, and Librarians, in Nathaniel Pallone (ed) Altruism, Narcissism, Comity: Research Perspectives from Current Psychology, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, 1999.
3. Peter Garrard, Vassiliki Rentoumi, Christian Lambert, David Owen, Linguistic Biomarkers of Hubris Syndrome, 2013. available at, accessed 28 August 2015