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

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

21: Coming Of Age

Turning 21 has long been the coming of age for young men and women in most western cultures.  A 21st birthday is still often celebrated in a special way: with speeches, an acknowledgement that the Adolescent is now an Adult, the presentation of a symbolic key that unlocks the future.  It is a significant event in one’s life journey.

Could turning 21 be significant for us culturally and socially as well?  We are about to enter the 21st year of the 21st century.  Are we likely to move from collective Adolescence to collective Adulthood?

In 2021 will we come of age?  Will we shift from an adolescent mindset to an adult mindset?  Will we be given the key to unlock our collective future?

We have been living a collective adolescent life and lifestyle for most of the past twenty or more centuries.  We have been continuing to live a collective Adolescence for the first 20 years of this century.

We have been driven by our collective adolescent ego; placing ourselves at the centre of the world where only we matter.  The Buddhist scholar, David Loy, names this collective ego our wego.  Loy describes wego as our “…deluded sense of collective self.”1  For Loy, our wego manifests at a collective level in similar ways to the ego’s manifestation at an individual level – in ill will, greed, and delusion.

Loy notes that these “three poisons” play out in our institutions.  Institutionalised greed plays out in our consumption levels, so much so that “the economy” now is often considered as of more importance than people’s well-being or the health of the planet.

Institutionalised ill will plays out in our heightened militarisation and penchant for retribution and retaliation.

And institutionalised delusion sees us separating ‘us’ from ‘them’ and the continuing polarisation of the world.

Whilst the development of an ego in and individual Adolescent can be a healthy one, remaining stuck in an ego-centric world view is unhealthy.  The same is true for us collectively.  Sadly, a large proportion of the population of western-styled cultures are stuck in what Bill Plotkin terms ‘patho-adolescence.’2

Plotkin is particularly scathing of Westernized societies, concluding that,

“…many people of adult age suffer from a variety of adolescent psychopathologies – incapacitating social insecurity, identity confusion, extremely low self-esteem, few or no social skills, narcissism, relentless greed, arrested moral development, recurrent physical violence, materialistic obsessions, little or no capacity for intimacy or empathy, substance addictions, and emotional numbness.”

Whew!  That’s damning isn’t it?  Yet, if we check it out, sadly he is not wrong.  He suggests that signs of this ‘patho-adolescence’ can be clearly seen in our political leaders, celebrities, captains of industry, and media personalities.

Socially and collectively, we are no different.  Western-styled societies are trapped in a patho-adolescent stage of development.  Our collective wego reigns.

Twenty-One

So then, how likely are we to collectively shift from our Adolescent preoccupation to a more Adult-like mindset?

Not without a lot of work.  The work that needs to be done must take on many forms.  It is personal work, as we are all trapped in our egos and must find our way for our egos to become servants rather than masters.  It is collective and cultural work, for we are all products of our culture, and co-creators of our culture.

It is institutional work.  Our institutions reflect our values, and our institutions shape our values.  Our work must turn that around.

It is relational work.  The ways in which we relate to one another (not just our friends and family) has a massive impact upon our personal emotional and psychological states.  The ways we relate to one another also has a massive impact upon the well-being of our collective selves, and the planet as a whole.

Are we willing to do this work (individually and collectively) now that we are turning 21?  Are we willing to become true Adults in a world so sorely in need of such?

Notes:

1. David Loy, Wego: The Social Roots of Suffering, in Mindful Politics, ed. Melvin McLeod, Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2006.

2. Bill Plotkin, Nature and the Human Soul, New World Library, Novato, California, 2008.

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop In

 In 1966 and 1967 Timothy Leary1 uttered the counter-cultural exhortation to “Turn on, tune in, drop out.”  The phrase pointed towards a new consciousness, abetted by drugs, that would allow the young generation of the time to break through the conventions of society.

Since then things have changed; not in the way Timothy Leary and others would have desired.  Many of the conventions of Leary’s days have stayed with us, some becoming even more entrenched.  Leary’s hoped for new consciousness has yet to be fully realised.

In 1967 consumerism was something relatively new, having only since World War 2 really begun its pernicious rise to an almost overarching goal of humanity.  Television had just made its way into most households over the previous decade.  The telephone was firmly attached (via telephone wires) within the confines of private homes.  Photographs, if taken at all, were taken by black-and-white cameras and the film then taken to a chemist (or other outlet) for developing and printing.  The final photograph was not available for viewing until two or three days (or more if the film roll was still in the camera) after the photograph had been taken.  Digital photos were still three decades away.  Movies were something to be seen only in theatres.  Even recorded music could only be personally listened to by purchasing a record (45 or LP) and taking it home to play on a record-player.

The rapid rise in technology since 1967, gaining even more momentum with the coming of the new millennium, has resulted in society becoming ever more bound by convention than it had been when Leary said his famous words.

Today, it may be more appropriate to call for society to turn off, tune out, drop in.

Turn Off

In 2019 more than 1.5 billion mobile phones were sold globally.  That is almost 3,000 every minute!  There are now more than 14 billion mobile phones in the world – almost two for every single man, woman, and child on the planet.

Our fascination with the mobile phone has grown to such an extent that it could be claimed that mobile phone use is our number one addiction.  Many may be inclined to think this is mainly an addiction confined to young people.  Not so.  American research shows that there is little difference in the ownership of mobile phones over all age groups.

Addiction has a number of characteristics, including: an inability to stop the behaviour, withdrawal from social interaction, keeping a steady supply, risky behaviours, obsessing, and denial.  Can anyone reasonably claim that these characteristics are not applicable to mobile phone use?  Unless of course, the last of these characteristics – denial – takes centre stage.

We know the damaging side effects of this addiction.  Excessive use of mobile phones can induce: headaches, insomnia, fatigue, memory loss, and dizziness.  The use of mobile phones has seen an increase in rates of depression and suicide amongst American teens following the release of the iPhone and iPad, according to some studies.

Social interaction is lessened by the use of mobile phones.  This phenomenon is easily attested to by simply observing people in everyday situations.

Turn off!

Tune Out

A mobile phone, of course, is no longer simply a phone.  It is, especially Smart Phones, a complete entertainment and communications centre.

In 2015 the number of hours spent watching a screen (TV, PC, mobile/Smart phone, tablet) ranged from an average of two and a half hours in Asia/Pacific to almost five hours in North America.  That is just the average.  Many, of course, are consuming many more hours than this.  Studies show a strong correlation between screen viewing time and obesity.  There is also a correlation with unreal perceptions of crime, resulting in greater fear of crime.  This leads inevitably to an increase in victim identification.

This excess of “screen-time” and passively consuming entertainment naturally has an unhealthy impact upon social interactions.  Combined with the use of mobile phones and similar devices it is little wonder that feelings of isolation, alienation, and loneliness are increasing.  The sad corollary of this is that these feelings can be drivers towards other forms of addiction, especially drug and alcohol addictions.

Tune out!

Drop In

Since the beginning of the 21st century there has been a small, but growing, awareness that many of the ills of the world stem from our disconnection from nature, from each other, and even from our own selves.

Many experiments and methods in eco-psychology, re-wilding, deep ecology, permaculture, and other nature-based practices, are attempting to re-discover our connections. 

Some have suggested that by using these methods it is possible to drop in to our proper relationship with nature.  We can drop in to our rightful and unique niche in the fabric of the world. 

Far from dropping out, we are no longer seeing nature, and other people, as separate from us.  We are not islands, entire unto ourselves.  We are connected, and we drop in to our place, much like a jigsaw piece in the bigger picture.

Drop in!

Note:

1.  Timothy Leary (1920-1996) was an American psychologist and writer who advocated strongly for the use of psychedelic drugs.

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

Thinking Outside The Box (Part 2)

Last weeks blog began an exploration of the box that constrains our thinking.  If we are to think outside the box, then what is this box constructed of.  Part 1 explored three of the six sides of the box: materialism, objectivity, and linearity.  Let us explore the other three sides.

Side 4 (Separation): In many ways Side 1 (materialism) is what enables this side of the box to be constructed.  If everything is simply matter, then everything can be seen as separate. 

Separation tells us that every phenomenon has its own separate identity.  Separation suggests that, although there may be a connection between two things, they remain separate.  If the connection is broken, then neither is changed in anyway.  Our own lives prove the untruth of this.  Think of when a connection with someone you are fond of is broken.  Perhaps the other person goes to live in another country or dies.  Can you honestly say that the broken connection has not changed you in some way?  I suspect not.

The western world view has attempted, at least since the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolutions, to understand and explain the world by breaking the world into pieces.  We have looked at the parts of the whole tried to understand each part – by its separateness.  We have even broken down our attempts to understand into “disciplines” – medicine, astronomy, geology, psychology, history, architecture, mathematics, physics, anatomy, …  And, within those disciplines we have sub-divided yet again. 

But separation is a myth.  Most indigenous cultures have understood the wholeness of the world, and cosmos, as have many of the Eastern spiritual traditions.  In these traditions everything is so inter-connected that it becomes impossible to explain one aspect without consideration of other aspects.  Thich Nhat Hanh (a Vietnamese Buddhist monk) coined the phrase interbeing to describe this understanding.

Side 4 needs to be broken through.

Side 5 (Control): If things are separate material objects then it is possible to control them.  At least, that is what this constraint tells us.  We can control ourselves and, by extension, things around us.  If we can control the inputs then we can control the outputs, and consequently we can control the outcomes.

Such thinking is a terrible constraint.  Not only is it a constraint, but it can have disastrous consequences.  Our desire to control nature has led to environmental destruction.  Our desire to control others has led to domestic violence, wars, terrorism, and all sorts of chauvinistic attitudes.  Our desire to control ourselves has led to anxiety, depression and many other (modern day) mental health issues.

Chaos Theory, and the Butterfly Effect, have shown this thinking to be in error.  A small (sometimes even apparently inconsequential) change in the initial conditions can have an enormous effect upon the final outcome.  Not only can the outcome be massively different it often is unpredictable.

Mostly we have no control over those small changes.

Consider climate chaos.  A temperature rise of one degree does not sound like much does it?  However, the increasing frequency and intensity of climatic effects such as hurricanes, cyclones, bushfires, floods, heatwaves, oceanic acidification etc are enormous.  Now we may think that perhaps we can reduce that one degree and stave off the effects of climate chaos.  However, we have now set in motion a series of interlinking (no separation here) effects that we humans have no control over.

Yet, it was our thinking we could control that has led to this point.

Side 5 must be smashed through.

Side 6 (Thinking is only in our mind): Side 6 is possibly the one side upon which all the other five sides are constructed.  It is the base of the box.

This thinking (belief) says that thinking takes place only inside our brains, or minds. 

“Je pense, donc je suis - I think therefore I am,” suggested René Descartes almost five hundred years ago.  The thinking he alluded to was entirely of an intellectual kind.  We have been constrained by this “thought” ever since.

Yet western science has recently discovered that our heart also contains neurons.  In 1991 Dr Andrew Armour (University of Montreal) published a ground-breaking monograph that described neurons and a sophisticated nervous system that he called the heart brain.1 

Since then, similar neurons have been discovered in the gut that Science magazine has described as “practically a brain unto itself.”

Of course, as we have now come to suspect, non-western cultures have always known this.  The Pali word citta is best translated as heart-mind.  There is no distinction.

Sadly, our western-styled culture has not only ignored this, but it has also actively dismissed thinking that is not of the brain.  Intuition, instinct, parapsychology, empathy, imagination, inner radar, and other thinking associated with the heart and gut have been considered non-thought and so disdained and rejected.  Much to our peril.

Side 6 needs to be firmly done away with.

There are no doubt other “…boundary conditions of our thinking” that exist.  No matter whether there are six or sixty, we must break through our current constraints.

That means not simply continuing with using the same thinking even if we get different results.  It means re-thinking our whole thinking processes and genuinely thinking outside the box.

Notes:

1. J. Andrew Armour, M.D., Ph.D., Neurocardiology: Anatomical and Functional Principles, University of Montreal, 1991.

2. Emily Underwood, Your gut is directly connected to your brain, by a newly discovered neuron circuit, Science, 20 September 2018. (accessed 8 December 2020)

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Thinking Outside The Box (Part 1)

This blog has often lamented our constrained thinking and the need for different ways of thinking about the state of the world.  Albert Einstein is often quoted:

“We can’t solve problems using the same thinking we used when we created them.”

So, what sort of thinking do we need?  Many suggest that we could do with “thinking outside the box.”  The Internet is awash with how to be more creative in our thinking, or how to use lateral thinking, or how to discover new ways to do something. 

I found little reference, if indeed any, to what the box is.  What is this box that we are exhorted to think outside of?  What is it constructed of?  What constraints to thinking does our cultural upbringing and education burden us with?  In fact, Einstein (who was quoted earlier) also noted that “We are boxed in by the boundary conditions of our thinking.”

Let us think of a box – just a very simple one.  It has six sides.  To think outside those six sides requires breaking through one or more of those sides, or perhaps removing a side or two completely.  Here is a way to think of each of those six sides as representing six Einsteinian boundary conditions (or constraints) to our western-styled thinking system. 

This blog piece will briefly explore three of those sides (constraints.)  The other three will be explored in Part 2.

Side 1 (Materialism):  This side of the box is the side that tells us the world is material.  There is no reality beyond the material.  Matter is the fundamental foundation of all of nature.

This constraint implies that everything can be explained by the material interactions between matter.  Even consciousness is viewed this way, as simply being the outcome of complex interactions between neurons.  And neurons themselves?  Well, of course, they are simply nerve cells (matter) that receive input from our environment and transmit messages to our muscles.

Materialism as a philosophical construct began in the 5th and 6th centuries BCE in ancient Indian philosophy and amongst the Greek Atomists.  In more modern times Thomas Hobbes (16th-17th centuries) set about constructing his social and political system around a mechanistic approach to life.  In his view humanity and society were simply interacting parts – much like the parts of a giant machine.  It is Hobbes who consigned humanity to a life that is solitary, poor, nastybrutish, and short.”

Marx and Engels took this material approach to the state of humanity to postulate their historical materialism.  And we know where that lead.  Capitalism, it must be said, is founded on the same materialism, only it set off on a different path to that of socialism.  Both, however, have constrained our thinking within a materialist and mechanical framework for most of the past three hundred or more years.

In many ways our thinking is still constrained by this Hobbesian idea.

Materialism leads to a mechanistic view of life, the Universe, and everything.  Then, trapped by that view, technological fixes become the default solution to any and all problems.  Yet, in many ways, our reliance on techno-fixes has been a major source for many of the problems we face.  We remain thinking inside this particular side of the box.

Fortunately, a shift is beginning.  Quantum physics was perhaps the first of the “sciences” to push against this side of the box.  Erwin Schrödinger, working in the first half of the 20th century noted that “…consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms.”  His contemporary, Werner Heisenberg, took issue with the very fundamental material world, when he stated simply, “Atoms are not things.”

Side 1 of the box must not constrain our thinking.

Side 2 (Objectivity):  Objectivity tells us that truth can be independently arrived at, without the influence of our own selves.  We can observe without influencing what is observed.  Our emotions, perceptions, intuitions, and other internal biases have no bearing on whatever it is that we are observing.  We can be completely objective.  Or, so the boundary condition tells us.

The Scientific method is grounded on the idea of objectivity.  Science tells us that we can undertake experiments, observe the outcome, and make conclusions from that, all the while remaining detached, independent, and objective.  Whilst the scientific method has much to offer and has allowed us to better understand aspects of nature, objectivity is beginning to be shown as a deception.

In the social world it is possible to notice this lack of objectivity.  Imagine you are walking down the street and someone approaches you with a clipboard and asks you some questions.  How do you answer?  With consideration, thoughtfulness, from a position of what is expected of you?  Now, imagine you are meeting friends in your favourite café a few minutes later and you relate this interaction.  How do you now answer those same questions?  Differently?  More honestly, dismissively?  It depends upon who is observing us, doesn’t it?

Side 2 of the box needs to be broken through.

Side 3 (Linearity):  Effect always follows cause.  A causes B which then causes C.  C cannot possibly cause A.  Linearity is exactly as it sounds: a straight line from point A to point B. 

The Enlightenment of Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries entrenched linear cause and effect ideas.  The logical system this approach enabled suggested that the world was subject to a very stable order; an order that could be identified and then manipulated.

However, many cultures have known for centuries that things are not that simple.  Buddhism, for example, describes a dependent arising (or dependent origination) whereby all phenomena are in continual state of continuous and inter-dependent interaction.  This dependent arising means it is almost impossible to tell which phenomenon is causing another phenomenon to emerge.  It is also impossible to attribute causality to any one particular phenomenon.

Within western science we are beginning to see this mutuality become more readily understood via theories such as Complexity Theory, Chaos Theory, and Emergence.  The straight (linear) lines of the box are being questioned.

Side 3 of the box is crumbling.

Part 2 of this blog-piece (next week) will explore the other three sides of the box.  1. Separation, 2. Control and 3. Mind as the sole source of thinking.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Renewing Our Thinking On Renewables

 We keep throwing our carbon waste into the atmosphere, don’t we?  And just like many of our other waste dumps, it heats up.  We used to call it global warming, and then we realised that the Earth’s climate was changing as a result.  We began to call it climate change.  Then we discovered that the change was happening terribly fast, and it was fluctuating wildly.  We changed the phrase again, and called it climate chaos.

The science confirmed it.  The climate is changing.  The change is because of extra carbon in the atmosphere.  The extra carbon is because we put it there.  And now we don’t like it.

We don’t like sea level rise.  We don’t like arctic ice sheets and glaciers melting.  We don’t like more and worse hurricanes, tornadoes, and super-storms.  We don’t like intense heat waves.  We don’t like longer and more intense bushfire seasons.

We don’t like our potential future!

What to do?  The answer seems to suggest a reduction in carbon emissions.  Next question: how does this waste product of carbon get produced?  Simple: from the burning of fossil-fuels.  Why do we burn them?  To provide us with energy.

That’s it then.  Swap to alternative energy sources.  But not a simple swap.  The new energy sources must be sustainable, they must not add further carbon waste.  And, they must be renewable (re-new-able.) 

Following on down that linear cause-effect thinking process we ask:  what is renewable?  Wind and sunshine.  We’ve solved it.  We invent technology that will harness the energy in solar and wind. 

And that has become the main message.  I may be stating it somewhat bluntly, but the essential message of hope is that if we turn away from fossil-fuels and invest in renewables we can solve the climate chaos crisis.  It is a three-pronged solution: solar, wind, battery storage.

Is it really a Solution?

Let’s ask a few more questions.  Let’s do some further thinking on renewables.

What will be the demand for metals needed for Solar Photovoltaics between now and 2050, if we want global warming to remain below 2 degrees Celsius?  On average, production will need to rise by at least 300%.  Silver, for example, has a current annual production level of about 25,000 tonnes.  It will need to rise to over 700,000 tonnes.1

We know that the wind doesn’t always blow and that the sun does not always shine.  Batteries are the answer to having electricity available for when solar and wind does not provide us with direct energy.  Lithium is a key mineral in battery production.  In 2019 lithium mines produced 77,000 tonnes.  To have sufficient storage capacity over the next thirty years production will need to expand to 30 million to 50 million tonnes per year.  That’s 400 times the present production rate!

What’s more, extracting one tonne of lithium from a mine requires 1,250 tonnes of earth to be dug up.  That translates to 50 billion tonnes of earth being dug up annually!2  And that’s just lithium.

Another suggested solution is to replace our petrol and diesel powered vehicles with Electric Vehicles (EVs.)  Sounds reasonable doesn’t it – until we start asking a few questions.  Questions like: how much raw material needs to be mined, moved, and processed in order to make one EV battery?  One EV battery weighs approximately 450 kg.  However, the answer to the question is 225,000 kg, i.e. 225 tonnes.  That is five hundred times the weight of the battery!

Sounds like a lot of earth needs to be dug up, and lots of minerals mined, in order to reach our “renewable” goals.  Perhaps it can be done.  Perhaps the mining industry has sufficient earth moving machinery, or will procure it.

Well, yes, but!!  But, what are we doing?  Tearing into Mother Earth.  Polluting water supplies.  Disrupting indigenous communities.  The damage to environments and people in South America (where minerals such as lithium and nickel are mined) and the Congo (which produces 70% of the world’s cobalt) is already well known.

A few months ago Rio Tinto received world-wide condemnation for blowing up a 46,000 year old site of cultural significance to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people in Western Australia.  Rio Tinto’s CEO and two other senior executives resigned as a result.  This was not the first instance of such culturally significant desecration.

Can we really expect that future miners will not undertake similar destruction simply because the minerals they are exploiting are to be used in renewables?

I can hear the responses already.  The technology will become more efficient.  Perhaps.  If it does though, it will be only small gains in efficiency.  The big efficiency gains have already been made.

There is a limit (known as the Schockley-Queisser Limit) to converting photons to electrons in photovoltaic cells.  It is 34%.  Currently photovoltaic technology is 26% or slightly more.  Most of the potential efficiency is already in the technology.3

Similarly for wind (where it is known as the Betz Limit) the limit of kinetic energy able to be utilised by a turbine is about 60%.  Modern wind turbines exceed 45%.3

Besides, increasing efficiency does not reduce growth in the technology.  Far from it.  Mostly it increases growth.  William Jevons (an English economist) noticed this paradox almost one hundred and sixty years ago.  Jevons realised that technological improvements leading to increased efficiency in coal use, led – contrary to expectation – to greater coal consumption.  The effect has been known as the Jevons Paradox ever since.

What to do then?

Some have pointed to these problems with renewables as evidence that we cannot step aside from fossil-fuels. 

This author is not advocating that conclusion.

However, the above does imply (strongly I would suggest) that we need a renewed approach to how we think about renewables.  That means we need to re-think the solutions we are offering if we intend to remain below a 2 degree rise in global temperature.

The renewable energy solution is one of supply.  It looks to an alternative way to supply the electricity demanded by human beings.

What if we do a rethink, and start asking questions about demand?  That means a renewed approach to our consumption levels. 

Simply put – we are consuming too much.  We are consuming more than Mother Earth can regenerate.

We must stop thinking about renewables and start thinking about de-growth.  We must go into de-tox; recover from our addiction to consumption for consumptions sake.

Notes:

1. These and the following data are from The Growing Role of Minerals and Metals for a Low Carbon Future, World Bank, 2017.

2.  Presently (as of 2020) 61.1 billion tonnes of metal ore, fossil fuels, and non-metallic minerals are extracted from the Earth annually. www.theworldcounts.com (accessed 25 Nov 2020)

3.  Mark P Mills (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), The ‘New Energy Economy’: An Exercise in Magical Thinking, March 2019.

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Going Back

Have you been involved in conversation with others about the state of the world and at some point been told: - But we can’t go back?

How do we handle such accusations and reality-checks?  Can we go back?

No, and yes.

Perhaps it is true that we cannot return to a time when there were: no cars, no refrigerators, no large shopping malls, no television, no mobile phones…

However, we can go back in another, more useful, and more valuable way.  We can go back to a former way of thinking.  Albert Einstein is credited with perhaps the most famous quotation regarding our thinking.

“We cannot solve problems using the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Einstein never actually said this, although he was the Chairman of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists who sent a telegram to prominent Americans in May 1946, in the wake of the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  That telegram included the phrase,

“…a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.”

In neither case did Einstein mean a thinking that simply produced different results.  He did not mean that we should apply our current way of thinking to come up with new ways of dealing with problems. 

Einstein was advocating an entirely different way of thinking.  He was advocating for a thinking placed within a much wider understanding of our human place in the world:

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

A similar understanding is suggested by indigenous peoples who exhort us to use different thinking processes and not simply steal the results of indigenous thinking.1

It is almost seventy-five years since Einstein bemoaned our way of thinking, yet we continue to think – in the same way we have been thinking since at least the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (and possibly much earlier.)

We are still trying to resolve conflict using combative thinking and the strategies of warfare.

We are still trying to make political decisions based on adversarial debating procedures from centuries ago.

And, crucially, currently we are trying to solve the problems of climate chaos using the same technological thinking we used when we began building steam engines.

Such ways of thinking must change.  We must find ways of thinking that do not rely simply upon information and knowledge.  It has been said that “As information doubles, knowledge is halved, and wisdom is quartered.”2

Changing our thinking requires us to let go of our desire for control, mastery, and even of outcomes.  We need thinking that admits to our being “…a part of the whole called by us universe.”

Can we do it?  We do have thinking that is based in patterns, holism, and complexity.  We have forgotten them.  Let’s go back and look for them.

Notes:

1.  See especially: Tyson Yunkaporta, sand talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World, Text Publishing, Melbourne, Australia, 2019.

2.  Ervin Laszlo & Jude Currivan, Cosmos: A Co-creator’s Guide to the Whole-World, Hay House Inc., 2008.

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Down With Elections! - A Review

As you might guess, Down With Elections! by Campbell Wallace1 is damning not just of the electoral process, but of elections per se.  Tellingly, the subtitle of the book, A plan for democracy without elections,  tells us that this is not a manifesto to overthrow the institution of democracy.  It is not a call to arms, nor is it a voice for socialism, communism, or any other “ism.”  It is, simply, an outline of a mechanism to improve democracy.

Improve democracy?  How?  Didn’t Churchill claim that “… democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…”?  Yes, he did.  But he prefaced that comment by saying: No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise.”  It is this preface that Wallace addresses in his book.

Indeed, Wallace begins the book by outlining 27 defects of democracy as we know it.  These defects all pertain to electoral democracy.  That is, each and every one of these defects is a defect of voting, of elections, not of democracy itself.

But, isn’t that democracy?  Doesn’t democracy mean elections and voting?  Are not they the same thing, mutually entwined?

No! says Wallace.  Democracy does not have to be wedded to elections, and nor should it. 

What then?  Wallace has a simple answer: sortition.  Sortition meaning the random selection of decision-makers from the entire population.  That’s right.  The way in which we could select our parliaments, senates, congresses, city councils, and other such bodies is by random selection, meaning that anyone could be selected, not just those with the money, prestige, power, charisma, or education. 

“Huh, nice idea,” we may cry, “but no-one has heard of it, so no-one will be in favour of it, and it won’t happen.”  Exactly.  Three pages before the end of his book, Wallace, notes this exact criticism.  His answer is perhaps obvious:

“The only real problem with sortition is the fact that it is not widely known and accepted, which is why I have written this book.”  Well done, Campbell Wallace.  This book is needed now, at a time when democracy all around the world is showing signs of aging.

Down With Elections! is part Manual, part Manifesto.  In it Wallace describes why it is that elections are not bringing us the results we would like (27 defects), explains what sortition is, and outlines a thorough implementation plan.

For those new to the idea, then the first four chapters and the last two are possibly sufficient reading.  Those who have come across the idea before and have assessed what it has to offer may be drawn more to Chapters 5-10.  In these chapters Wallace outlines in detail the make-up and practices of a nation state where sortition is the means of selecting decision-makers.  He addresses questions such as; how are bills proposed, what salary should selected members get, how long is their term of service, how many members should be selected?

Wallace also addresses some common criticisms, such as; will there be sufficient skill and knowledge in randomly selected bodies, won’t foolish decisions be made?  Wallace takes these criticisms seriously, and answers them with equal seriousness.

Has it been tried before?  Yes, it has.  In fact, it was Athens, the supposed birthplace of democracy, that first tried it out, and found that it works.  Wallace does not mention this until at least one hundred pages into his book.  This may be my only, minor, criticism of the book.  That sortition was used in the crucible of democracy is one of its most compelling features.  I would have liked to read that earlier in the book. 

This book is a welcome addition to the growing body of works exploring sortition. 

Note:

1. Available from https://www.amazon.com/DOWN-ELECTIONS-plan-DEMOCRACY-WITHOUT/dp/B0851M9H3F


Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Old Age Wisdom, or Age Old Wisdom

In 2019 an international study into The Future of Ageing was published.1 

Online interviews were conducted in 28 countries with 20,788 adults aged 16-64 about their expectations for aging. 

Asked to define the age at which someone became old, the global average was 66.2  Asked if they expected to be fit and healthy in old age, over 80% agreed in South American countries, China, and Malaysia.  Tellingly, less than 50% answered in the affirmative in many European nations, the US, Australia, Russia, and Japan.  Yet, with the exception perhaps of Russia, aren’t these supposed to be the countries with the highest standard of living in the world?

A little commented upon aspect of the study looked at wisdom.  14% of those interviewed thought that becoming wiser was the best thing about aging.

Yet, the notion that age brings wisdom is a myth.  Wisdom is identified with elderhood, yet, as Stephen Jenkinson laments:

“The proliferation of old people has not meant the proliferation of elders… The presence of elders in a culture turns out not to derive from an aging population.  We’d be awash in wisdom if it did.  We are awash in information, and an often inarticulate kind of mass blunt force trauma we call ‘experience,’ instead.”(3)

The study gives no hope for this sad observation to likely change.  Whilst 14% looked forward to becoming wiser, between a quarter and a third of respondents said that they looked forward to very individualistic futures (holidays, travel, hobbies, and leisure.)  Only 10% indicated they were looking forward to being able to help others, through volunteering.  This disparity in percentages does little to suggest wisdom.

Yet, we live in a world today where wisdom, and the functions of elderhood, would be greatly welcomed.

That wisdom comes with old age is a myth.  Old age wisdom is a fiction.

Age old wisdom however may be more what we need.  That means that those of us who are now of an older age need to let go our pretentions towards a good life, towards the comfort of old age.  It means opening our eyes to what is really going on in the world.  It means becoming aware of and awake to: the cries of young people, the pain of indigenous cultures, the injustices perpetrated on our behalf by transnational corporations, the degradation of landscapes, forests, and oceans.

If we had been aware of these issues in the previous decades of our lives, now is not the time to sit back and take it easy.  If we had not been aware in our previous decades, then now is the time to get out of our stupor and discover what is happening.

Stephen Jenkinson is worth quoting again.  This time from a talk he gave at a 5-day immersion on Stradbroke Island (Queensland, Australia) in May 2019:

“Now is not an okay time for okay people to be okay.”

Notes:

1. Ipsos, The Perennials: The Future of Ageing, February 2019.

2. I celebrate a birthday in a couple of days’ time that puts me a couple of years into the “old” category.

3. Stephen Jenkinson, Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble, North Atlantic Books, Bereley, California, 2018


Thursday, 29 October 2020

Fear Of Death = Loss Of Life

Western-styled culture is highly death averse.  We have a greater fear of death than other - indigenous and nature-based – cultures.  Not only do we fear death; we are also fearful (or at least, reluctant) of talking about death.

In life we also have a fear of nature.  This fear manifests in our desire to control, dominate, and eliminate nature.  Could there be a connection?  Could our fear of death trigger our fear of nature?

Perhaps those who are best able to answer that question are people who have had a near-death experience (NDE).

For those who have had a NDE their fear of death afterwards reduces significantly with many studies into the phenomenon showing that post-NDE the incidence of people reporting they have no fear of death is well above 90%, often 100%.  A ten-year longitudinal study in Holland during the 1990s found that after a NDE the fear of death dropped considerably in the first two years following the NDE, and continued to diminish as time went on.  This wasn’t an initial response that then lessened, the lack of fear remained and heightened.1

A reduction in fear of death wasn’t the only change in people’s lives.  Other changes occurred – primarily related to what they valued in life.  Eight years after their NDE more than 80% of people reported that nature and the environment in their lives was of greater importance.  Many regarded everything as connected, that there is a one-ness to life, with most recognising this unity for the first time in their lives.

Following their NDE people also found that they had a much greater desire to help others, empathy, and to show compassion, with more than 70% indicting these.

Other factors to increase significantly in people’s lives following a NDE included: a heightened sense of social justice, accepting of others, willingness to listen to others, and a greater understanding of life and oneself.

Interestingly too, following their NDE people’s appreciation of money and possessions dropped markedly, and the importance of a higher standard of living reduced significantly.  The importance of ordinary things increased.

A further remarkable outcome of the study was that interest in spirituality increased greatly and, seemingly paradoxically, their church attendance and involvement with organised religion decreased significantly.

What Can This Teach Us Of Life?

If these changes come about after a NDE, then must we wait until we go through a near-death experience ourselves for this to happen? 

There is certainly a correlation between a lack of fear of death and the changes in values for those experiencing a NDE.  Perhaps then, it is our fear of death that is a driver for our fear of one another, our disconnect from nature, and our avaricious consumption of the Earth and what she provides? 

What if we found a way to let go our fear of death?  Perhaps a start would be to talk about death.  We mostly do not talk about death until someone near us dies, and even then the conversations can often be simplistic, prejudiced, and brief.

Overcoming our fear of death may be the first, and essential, first step in healing ourselves and healing our planet.

1. This research is reported in the book: Pim van Lommel, M.D. Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of the Near-Death Experience, HarperOne, New York, 2010.  All subsequent statistics are also from this book.