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 29 April 2015

Crime and Punishment (Book Review)

This is not Dostoevsky’s psychological masterpiece, but it does offer some psychological insights.  The subtitle alludes to this: “Offenders and Victims in a Broken Justice System.”  Russell Marks’ book is an unequivocal indictment of the current criminal justice system, with the author suggesting four problems with that system:
  1. It punishes on the basis that offenders make “bad choices” rather than tackling the structures that induce those choices.
  2. The system claims “equality” yet some communities (notably indigenous peoples) are not treated equally.
  3. Punishment often does more harm than good, and increases the risk of re-offending.
  4. Victims are mostly excluded from the process, making it difficult for them to move on.
Although Marks1 writes from an Australian perspective, he draws on research and experience in other culturally similar countries – primarily the US, UK and New Zealand.  The four problems he identifies are no less in these and many other nations that employ a similar adversarial, retributive approach to criminal justice.

Rather than presenting these issues as simply of philosophical interest, Marks presents a strong case for attending to them seriously and transparently.  Each problem is meticulously exposed, so much so that by the end of the book the reader is left wondering whether the current criminal justice system is in need of thorough revision, if not abandoning.

Underlying the four problems is a more fundamental problem; the system does not employ a problem-solving approach. 
“Prison doesn’t solve the problem (we) expect it to solve; it doesn’t rehabilitate,” he says, rather “it augments any existing problem for the offender and for society.”
Nor does it solve problems for victims. where they are often excluded from the process…
“… except as witnesses… (which keeps) victims effectively trapped in the ‘angry moment’.”
Unfortunately, says Marks, most victims rights associations only exacerbate this entrapment by focussing on rage an anger; again, failing to take a problem-solving approach.

Then there is the cost.  Prison is not cheap.  In Australia it costs over $100,000 to incarcerate an adult and almost a quarter of a million dollars for a young person in a youth detention centre.  Thus, attests Marks, prison is a massively expensive mistake.

Alternatives and Innovations

But, there are alternatives and Marks outlines a number of them, including; restorative justice, therapeutic jurisprudence, Koori courts (in Australia), and justice reinvestment.  Many of these innovations have been used for the last couple of decades and they work. 
 “(They) reduce rates of offending (and reoffending), …reduce the alienation felt by many offenders and victims, (and) save the state money over both the short and long terms.” 
So, asks Marks, “why aren’t governments…embracing these ideas?” 

Marks claims that as a society we still have an “appetite for ‘law and order’ policies – lock them up and throw away the key.”

Until we relinquish that retributive, punishment mindset we will not move to a more effective, cheaper and fairer model of justice.  This book is an excellent addition to making that shift.  It is relatively short (less than 200 pages), written in everyday language and easy to read.  It should be read by anyone concerned about our justice systems.

1. Russell Marks is a former criminal defence lawyer and an academic with La Trobe University, Sydney, Australia.

Tuesday 21 April 2015

Earth Moments

We’ve had Earth Hour, just a few weeks ago.  Earth Day is coming up on April 23rd.  Earth Day has been an annual event for even longer than Earth Hour – the first Earth Day having been held in 1970.  It is celebrated in almost 200 countries and by over one billion people.

So, since 1970, that’s 45 Earth Days and 9 Earth Hours – approximately one-eighth of an Earth Year.  Have we learnt anything?  Have we changed anything?  Lets see:

  • In 1970 we we needed one Earth-sized planet to be sustainable.  In 2015, we need 1.7 Earth-sized planets.
  • Worldwide emissions of CO2 in 1970 were 15.6 billion tonnes.  In 2013 35.3 billion tonnes were emitted.
  • 45 million barrels of oil per day were consumed in 1970, by 2012 this had doubled to 90 million barrels per day.
  • Obesity rates have doubled or even tripled in industrialised countries since 1970.
On the other hand, since 1970:’
  • Movements such as Transition Towns, the Slow Movement and permaculture have all begun.
  • Global investment in renewable energy technologies reached almost $260 billion in 2011, up from less than $50 billion in 2004.
  • Worldwide campaigns are now possible via information technology (e.g. the divestment campaign).
Moments to Reflect

Thus, there are signs that things are getting worse and also signs that things have a chance to improve.  However, it will only be when we begin to recognise Earth Moments that we might begin to see a real change taking place.  On Earth Day we can think of the earth for a day and undertake some action for the earth.  Even during Earth Hour we can switch off the lights and consider replacing the bulbs with energy-efficient bulbs or moving towards a renewable source of electricity generation.

An Earth Moment though obliges us to consider the earth now: right here and now, not in some ideal, possible, hopeful future, but right NOW.

Many of the world’s sages and spiritual leaders have been reminding us, also since 1970, that it is our unwillingness to be mindful of the present that compels us towards actions that are damaging for the earth.  In a consumer society that is focused on the next bigger, brighter or better thing, finding time to consider the impact upon the earth becomes less and less.  We don’t have the time; we have to catch the bus in order to get to work on time, so that we can get more money to pay for the luxuries and trivialities that we think will make our lives satisfying.

A moment is defined as “a brief, indefinite, period of time.”  When we slow down and pay attention to our moment, we begin to understand and recognise the connections between all things, we start to appreciate that I and you are not separate but rather, intimately connected.  We begin also to realise that we are not disconnected from the earth, that we are the earth and the earth is us.  Thich Nhat Hanh put it this way:
“You carry mother Earth within you.  She is not outside of you.  She is not just your environment.”
In becoming mindful of each Earth Moment we become mindful too, of the connections between the way in which we treat the planet and each other.  We understand that acting to save the planet is no different to that of acting to save a child from child abuse or from acting to put a stop to the use of violence to resolve conflict.  Nor, for that matter, is it any different to acting to take care of ourselves, and to heal ourselves.

Yes, let us celebrate Earth Day, let us switch off the lights for Earth Hour, but let us primarily be mindful of each and every Earth Moment.

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Social Change Crossword

Something a little different this week.  A puzzle that focuses on social justice, community development and sustainability.  Not every clue will exactly fit these themes, but the majority do.  Enjoy.

5. Western psychology posits this as one of the components of the mind. (2)
7 & 3 Down.  Measure of human pressure upon the Earth.  (10, 9)
9. Site of largest oil spill in US history.  ____ of Mexico. (4)
11. International environmental organisation. (10)
13. German Green Party politician.  Presently Vice president of the Bundestag.  Claudia ____ (4)
15.  A renewable energy source.  (5)
16.  International Association for Community Development (abbrev) (1,1,1,1)
20.  Verbal expression that is clear and fluent.  (10)
22.  Type of community (economically) that many community development workers work with and for.  (4)
24. “If you want others to be happy, practice ___________.  If you want to be happy, practice _________.” – Dalai Lama quote. (10)
25 & 4 Down.  __  ___ Campesina.  International Peasant’s Movement.  (2, 3)

1. Max _____, a founder of sociology.  (5)
2.  The planet gets ______ because of global warming. (6)
3. See 6 Across
4. See 22 Across
6. Sign language is important to this community. (4)
8. According to the Buddha, this is one of the three poisons. (5)
10. Sortition is a way of selecting decision makers by this means. (3)
11.  Coefficient (or ratio) of inequality. (4)
12. Tolstoy, Thoreau, Orwell, Le Guin and Tolkien are all famous authors, each also identified as an _________. (9)
14. David ____, 18th century philosopher of logical positivism. (4)
17. A non-government business allied to Fair Trade movement (abbrev) (1,1,1)
18. ____ Fo, Italian actor-playwright known for his political plays and his use of improvisation, (4)
19. A facilitator hopes to ______ discussion from group members. (6)
21. Transition _____. International movement to build resilience at local level. (5)
22.  What a political analyst might use to gauge public opinion. (4)
23. International Paralympic Committee (abbrev). (1,1,1)

The answers to this crossword will be posted here in a months time.  If you would like to check your answers before then, please make a comment (including your email address) or send me an email. (brucemeder (at)

Tuesday 7 April 2015

Don’t Study Economics

If you want to be compassionate and trusting, don’t study economics.  At least that is the conclusion 1 of Robert Frank – an economist himself.

Frank has looked at the patterns of giving to charity, personal gain, and the acceptance of greed and concern for fairness amongst economics professors and students in the US, Germany and Switzerland.  What he found is disturbing:
  • Economics professors in the US were more than twice as likely to give nothing to charity than were professors in other fields,
  • Economics students in Germany were more likely than other students to recommend a corrupt tradesperson when they had been paid to do so.
  • Economics majors and students were more likely than their peers to rate “greed” as “generally good,” “correct,” and “moral.”
  • Economics students were significantly less likely than other students to understand the concept of fairness.
Why should this be?  Is it that the teaching of economics inculcates such ideas and values?  Or is it that there is a predisposition by students with such ideas and values towards the study of economics?  There is evidence for both of these questions to be answered in the affirmative.

No matter whether the students are inculcated or predisposed the phenomenon is troubling.

Adam Smith and Charles Darwin

Well over 200 years ago Adam Smith (the so-called “father of economics”) wrote that “it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but by their regard for their own interest.”  In other words, according to this foundational economic theory, we are all selfish at heart and look out for our own best interests ahead of others.  Smith’s theory was that by doing so the good of all would be provided for.

One hundred years later Smith was followed by the theories of Charles Darwin which seemed to be suggesting a similar theme: the “survival of the fittest.” 
Darwin, at least (I’m uncertain of Smith) was misquoted and mis-interpreted.  Darwin, for instance, was troubled by2, and pondered, the role of altruism in evolution and came to the conclusion that altruistic humans would not be successful at passing on their genetic material.

George Price

However, another 100 years later, George Price showed, conclusively, that Darwin’s conclusion was in error.3  Price showed that evolution is, in fact, reliant upon altruistic people and that groups in which altruism is prevalent tend to prevail over groups in which selfishness is prevalent.

What does this mean for the study of economics?  Much of western economics is still premised on Smith’s self-interest model.  Could this be because the model acts in the same way as a self-fulfilling prophesy – a perpetual cycle of fallacy?

A Model to be Challenged

If students of economics are inclined towards greed, corruption, and unfairness, then they are more likely to find that their cohort will share those values and cannot but help but perpetuate Smith’s self-interest claim.  If, on the other hand, economics students are taught the self-interest model of Smith, then it is understandable that they will incorporate the values of greed, unfairness and non-compassion within their own moral framework.

This suggests that Smith’s basic theory has little chance of being challenged from within the economics profession.

But, challenge it we must.  Since the 1980s the notion of self-interest has not just been a feature of the prevailing economic theory – it has become the predominant idea and possibly even the goal of economic activity.

Self-interest has led to gross inequalities between and within nations, a disregard for the carrying capacity of the earth, financial crises, and a rapid increase in CO2 emissions.

And, it is all based on a flawed theory.

1. Adam Grant, Does Studying Economics Breed Greed? Psychology Today, 2013.
2. Darwin founded a Friendly Society in Downe (England) that looked after the welfare of impoverished agricultural workers. Cited in Stefan Klein, Survival of the Nicest, Scribe, Melbourne, London, 2014, p 17.
3. Klein, p 138