Archive for category Recent musings
It’s rumoured that we live in a multiverse, comprising an infinite number of universes wherein anything is possible. Somewhere out there there’s a ‘me’ writing something worth reading.
But I don’t think the multiverse is infinite. We may indeed live in a multiverse, but the only universes that exist are those that, from the infinite number of variances of outcome from the Big Bang, actually comprised an outcome that could, by it’s nature, go on to persist and to evolvet.
Most of the potential ways in which the results of the Big Bang could manifest milliseconds after the event were not tenable. They produced results that pretty much instantly collapsed and cancelled themselves out. They ceased to exist, even as they came into existence.
So, whilst there may have been, perhaps still is in creation, an infinite number of events that could have resulted in a universe, only some succeeded. And we exist in one of them.
Therefore there is not an infinite number of universes. Rather, there are a few. Perhaps, just possibly, there’s only one. And the rest failed to achieve suitable stability sufficient to materialise and to evolve.
And then of course there’s the question of life. At the advent of the Big Bang, when all things were possible and all things were attempted, most things failed. But one outcome was a universe that happened to comprise the elements necessary for the material coalescence of various components that are required for life as we know it, and experience it.
So our universe comprises various forms of hydrogen, carbon and other basic elements, and it’s in the nature of things that as these combine, in all the various ways that they’re capable of, the process we know as life emerges.
The sophistication of this process has also evolved. Because that’s the way of the context in which life exists… a context and combination of interlaced processes that obliges the materials involved to tend towards greater degrees of complexity.
And the ways in which life formed interacted with, and came to observe that context. It thus became more complex in its perspective, and ultimately in its understanding. Until eventually, life evolved that was capable of seeing itself within the very context from which it emerged, and of questioning it.
This isn’t necessarily the same thing as consciousness. All living things are conscious, if by conscious we mean aware of, and able to respond to, the physical environment.
But this awareness was to evolve to such a degree that it became aware that it existed, and so it became conciousness. The universe had evolved a way of critically observing itself. And it did so as part of a natural consequence of its nature – namely its composition.
So we can say that life is as much a part of the nature of the universe as say, hydrogen atoms.Or any other component. Life is an intrinsic part of the nature of the universe. The universe we know comprises life as much as it comprises anything else. So given that life, by its nature, evolves to be self aware, so the universe is self aware. Life is part of the universe’s evolution. And we are the manifestation of the early stages of that evolving process.
So open your mind to the beauty of the world, and its complexity and intricacy, and see your awareness of these things as a separate component that you have a responsibility to nurture. Because a unique quality of conciousness, over all the other elements and components of the universe, is that it’s able to manage its own evolution, and growth, and the way in which it functions.
The universe is like a small child that’s starting to understand itself, its nature and its place. It has become self aware. And it is life in its multitude of forms, that undoubtedly occur on millions of planets, that represents that awareness. You yourself are the universe thinking and watching itself. No less than that.
So wise up. Take your eyes off the money, let go of religious dogma and bigotry of whatever persuasion, see that time spent pondering why and what is not time wasted. Disconnect as far as is practically possible from the world of people, think more freely and let yourself be what you feel inclined to be. Because that ‘you’, with all its potential knock-on effects in a chaotic system, is probably why you exist. To play a part in the evolution of the universe.
With thanks to Jostein Gaarder, and his novel ‘The Castle in the Pyrenees’, for inspiration.
Whether the majority of us know it or not, humanity is undertaking massive genocide of hundreds (actually it’s thousands) of species of other creatures. We are proactively creating the Sixth Great Extinction, the last one being of the Dinosaurs. In doing so, we’re destroying the very biosphere that supports us. We are without doubt, unfathomably stupid.
The last Great extinction occurred 66 million years ago. And it took at least a thousand years, probably several thousand. If you map the lifetime of the Earth to a 24 hour clock, humanity has been around for about 4 seconds. In this blink of the planet’s eye, we’ve eliminated at least a third of the world’s forests and hundreds of thousands of species. If we’re so stupid as to commit collective suicide through religious and political dogmatism and ignorance, that’s our choice (and it is a choice). But we have no right to take every other species down with us.
And all this derives from our value systems. The way we perceive what wealth is, and how we manage it. Money. Particularly debt based money. And the externalisation (leave the consequences for someone else to clean up) of the bad impacts of wealth acquisition. The conventional political right and left both maintain these value systems, and many religious perspectives, especially in the US, support and advocate them under the guise of ephemeral supposed ethical standards like ‘freedom’ and ‘the work ethic’. How many corporate CEOs and bankers attend church every Sunday? Did you know that the pay of CEOs has risen 127 times faster over the last thirty years than 99% of the US population? What do you expect the consequences of such greed and inequity to be, particularly at a global scale, if not conflict? And as this money wealth is squirrelled away or squandered on yachts and stupidly big houses, it’s unavailable for such things as building cities that are worth living in for everyone, for education and the encouragement of more enlightened perspectives, the protection of the very biosphere that contains and supports us, and every other crying need that the fruits of all our labour is supposed to allow us to cater for. Yet the religious right encourage it.
Factor in other emerging crises like the impending failure of our medical systems through antibiotic resistance, shifting and more extreme climate events, ocean acidification and the consequent destruction of marine food resources, desertification and water shortage.. and a host of others, virtually all caused by humanity, and there’s good reason to believe the better minds than mine that predict global ecological, societal and economic collapse within just a few decades.
Life comprises many strands. Like sine waves, they overlap each other. Some peaking as others dip.
Music is one such sine wave. As a cultural phenomenon. In the West, the music sine wave peaked in the 18th century with the advent of music from the likes of J S Bach.
In terms of happiness, that wave probably peaked just prior to the First World War. Or perhaps shortly after it.
The sine wave for the visual arts has a longer wavelength, and probably last peaked in the 19th Century.
The wisdom wave arced high in the 1960’s, even as it became dissipated and high jacked by perceived economic necessities.
Economically, in terms of managing money within our societies, we probably last knew a peak in the 1950’s and again the 60’s.
But one thing is for sure. With the noble exception of the technology sine wave, all are at a low right now.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that global problems and issues are the result of human nature. A couple of years back, when the Somali pirates were frightening factory fishing trawlers away from the East African coast, indigenous local Kenyan fishermen suddenly found that they could catch enough fish to feed themselves, and have enough to sell again. Because the bloody foreign trawlers weren’t in there taking all the fish. Indigenous people worldwide don’t overfish. It’s the fishing practices of the so called developed world that do the damage. So called developed simply because they have a sophisticated consumerist, market economy. And this is where the root of the problem lies. Our economic model derives from an experiment that emerged after the second world war. It was called the ‘American Dream’. As many cars and gadgets as possible in every household, and a household being based on the nuclear family model. Out of that has sprung an economic system that is obliged to grow, because its debt based money creation system needs growth in order to pay the interest on its money (making the banks rich). So everyone is encouraged to consume. Our societal narrative is to consume means success. No form of natural capital is seen as capital until its converted into cash. And then we think we have economic growth, when in fact we simply have a process that converts one form of capital into another, to the detriment of the first form which is finite but isn’t regarded as such.
We abuse our resources because our economics don’t see those resources as capital. And our social values are such that we assess each other on how much the other owns (or consumes). But this is a societal narrative, not some genetic driver born of ‘human nature’. We chose to run things this way. And we have a political system that puts power in the hands of people who are ignorant of the facts, namely democracy, which itself is then undermined by industrial vested interests whose only concern is to play the game they understand, which is to make loads of money, and stuff everything else.
It’s a human invention, this system. Not a force of nature. We don’t have to manage things this way. But in the UK we can choose between the Conservatives (name speaks for itself) and Labour (who are so close to the other lot as makes no difference), and in the US you have the Democrats who can’t fart without permission from corporate demagogues, or the Republicans who are, in a nutshell, the same corporate vested interests, sometimes hiding behind stupid religious children who don’t understand the world. So democracy, as we’ve chosen to implement it, is failing. Our systems are failing. They’re tired and outdated and have become corrupted. The experiment needs to be evaluated now. This is the challenge now… to reinvent our narratives and to start again with a new approach, taking the best of the old and casting off the poisonous bits, reinventing our societies and bringing them back inline with values that are more true and which make more sense.
One thing is for sure, and that is that a new world is emerging. A debate about what form that might take, as occurs on a lot of fora, is futile. Change is happening at an ever more rapid pace. Debates by supposed wise people of a certain age, like me, are more likely to be wrong because change is so rapid, based on newly emerging, networked paradigms that are evolving so quickly that I suspect the dignified thing to do might be to shut up and see what the 20+ generation make of things. Listening to their music, I suspect it’ll be pretty good, if they’re allowed to thrive.
Much is said about how, despite global warming, the average global temperature has pretty much flat lined over the last decade.
And yet, as the Arctic warms up very rapidly, it’s affecting the Jetstream. This phenomena exists as a result of the differential between the cold air to the north, and the warm air to the south, It defines the boundary between the two.
As the Arctic warms, the Jetstream is becoming erratic. This erratic behaviour includes a tendency to move further south than would historically be seen as normal. In doing so, it draws cooler air further south than normal, hence the current cold temperatures across Europe, relatively much colder for the time of year than the Arctic is warmer.
This Arctic air is cold only by European standards. In fact, as Arctic air, it’s warmer than historically would be the case. Nonetheless, this results in a drop in the average temperatures recorded across Europe, and the whole of the northern hemisphere, including the Arctic, giving the impression of a moderated rate of global warming.
Is it not possible then that global warming is resulting in a dramatic regional rise in certain zones, namely the Arctic, which is resulting in a drop in temperatures in temperate zones, that’s in turn generating average global temperatures that appear to be flat lining even though a dramatic shift is taking place. Average temperatures rise over a specific region – the Arctic – which results in a relatively small but very noticeable drop in neighbouring areas. But what’s in fact happening is a cataclysmic rise in the Arctic, and a relatively modest drop elsewhere, but over a larger area. Which, because the Arctic is smaller than the temperate zones being affected, gives the impression that temperatures over all are not rising.
The upshot being that, as these recent norms become built into the average, as the Arctic warms further, we’ll see a sudden large jump in average temperatures in the northern hemisphere in a few years time, that will at least compensate for the recent moderation in temperature rise.
I was seven years old. She hit me again, and again and again, all the while screaming, screaming. Spittle flew everywhere and furniture crashed about me. I lay down and covered my head as she beat me again and again with the present that daddy had given me that afternoon. My present. It was smashed now, the head hanging out of a hole in the neck, one arm missing, the dress torn. I noticed this even as she hit me with it again and again and again. I was so small and she was so big. And I didn’t understand what she was saying. She just screamed and screamed and screamed and spat words that were wet on my skin. I didn’t say anything. I knew better. I bit my lip and tasted blood. And screwed up my eyes and waited for it to stop and watched the words and the screams become distant like the noises from the school playground did when I lay in bed at daddy’s house when I couldn’t go to school because I was sick. Bang bang bang on my arms and my head and my legs. And she kicked me and hit me with her fist. Then she grabbed me by my hair and dragged me across the room and up the stairs, shouting and swearing. I fell and she still dragged me backwards up the stairs. The wall, the patterns on the wallpaper, the banisters, the carpet with the shapes in it like fishes all whirled around me. Then she threw me into my room, and hurled my broken toy, the one that daddy had given me, at the wall and locked the door from the outside. I hurt so much on my arm and my head and I could taste blood. I curled up there on the floor and lay there quiet and still with my eyes closed tight and thought of Mrs Poole at school who’d said what a nice little girl I was and how she would love to have a little girl like me, and she smelled nice and was soft and warm and she put flowers in a vase on her desk every day. My present, the one daddy gave me, was all broken now.
“Who the hell do you think you are?”
I’m not sure whether I was more taken aback by the question, or by the character who presented himself before me. Dressed in suede boots, black tights, a sequined T-shirt and some sort of translucent cloak, he’d interrupted my meandering path from late closing nightclub to home by suddenly jumping out of a dark alleyway.
I stopped. I didn’t have much choice. Swaying slightly, I looked at this person before me, stood there in falling drizzle, with laughter and the shouting voices of other revellers falling away behind me into some distance that hadn’t been there a moment before.
“Well who the hell do you think you are?” Spoken with more bravado than I felt. I was swaying back and forth. Not a good state to be in when challenging anyone, let alone some ranting pervert in a super hero costume.
He didn’t answer, and I started to feel really uneasy. One of the orange street lights was flickering, and the alleyway from whence this apparition had silently emerged kept alternating between sheer black, and ancient brickwork that ran with old water and rusty drainpipes.
Suddenly there were three parts to the world. There was my drunken perspective. There was the world of other people, laughing and shouting and calling to each other and going home together. And then there was this thing in front of me that clearly belonged to a different universe. He, or whatever it was, stood stock still and stared at me with an unmoving stillness. Irrefutable, irresistible. Not available for comment.
And his question hung there in the space between us, easily defeating my hastily muttered response. Because even I knew that his question was bigger than mine.
I was going to say that time stood still. But that sounds like such a cliche. That is what it was like though. I became aware. There, alone, I saw the orange of the heavy bellied cloud passing curious over the city. I saw the glossy windows of shops and offices that lined the road that made my direction, frozen and waiting for an answer to the question. I heard those people behind me, in a disconnected and staccato way that made no sense – they became mere sounds without language, distant and meaningless. And this apparition stood there before me, completely still and staring and waiting for an answer.
The only thing that had clarity, and was comprehensible, was the question.
And then the people behind me caught up and passed me, arm in arm and laughing and joshing and singing and ignoring me standing in their midst as they poured past me, like water flowing past a rock in midstream. There was me, and him, and them. And then they passed on, seemingly without noticing me standing there.
And the last person to walk past was Julie. Arm linked with some bloke. Teetering slightly, and leaning her head towards his shoulder. Neither said anything. They just followed the crowd. He walking stiffly, she languid and seeking comfort. They walked in silence. A crystal termination to the the crowd that preceded them. A silent and reflective backstop. A full stop.
I watched all of this as though I wasn’t really there. As though I was invisible. Stood there swaying faintly, hair drizzle damped and a drop of water forming on the end of my nose. Julie receded and finally disappeared round the corner, still hanging on to her upright man in needing quiet, saying nothing and being led.
I’d been well intentioned. Friday night. Single man. Pub with friends. Club afterwards. But the friends had melded away somehow, and I’d ended up sitting watching everything alone. Detached. Unhappy but unable to admit why I felt so bleak amongst people so apparently happy.
I’d turned towards the bar and accidentally bumped Julie, who was waiting to be served. And for a very brief instant as our eyes each registered the other’s in passing, some recognition of loneliness occurred. Just for an instant. And in that instant my otherwise serene sea surged and blistered and boiled with suppressed emotion and, just for an instant, my eyes watered. Just for an instant. And then the de facto social behaviour kicked back in, and I looked at her more coldly. As one stranger does to another. I’d seen that instant in her too, but the protocol insisted that it be ignored.
She was beautiful. Just utterly, stunningly beautiful. In all sorts of different ways, glimpsed in a flash over a single second and then cast to one side. And I watched the barman instead. Then, in some slow time way, I turned to meet her eyes again and she did too, and there was a small smile. But the heave and chaos of everything around us pushed in and our communication was drowned out, and we looked away again.
Flashing neon light flickered and soaked the air about me and everyone and everything was moving. The barman was so fast, and everyone called out to everyone else, and laughed and joked, and sound lay like a blanket of writhing worms over the entire pulsating place. Except for Julie and me. We stood free from it for a moment, aware of each other and nothing else. Quiet and detached awareness in a single moment. A flash of understanding. Incongruent state. Smooth water in a roiling sea.
Then the sound ocean came flooding back like a tsunami, washing anything genuine away, and leaving only the broken stumps of something that could have been said.
She bought her drink, and I bought mine.
“I know you don’t I?” God could I not come up with something more original?
And she turned and smiled such a smile that outshone the universe, reducing everything to grey light and everyone around me receded and became silent as I waited for her reply. In that moment I knew how utterly unhappy I was. How my life comprised mere existence. A sun with no horizon to rise above. In just a few seconds life quickened and compressed and simplified and reduced and I knew far more than I’d ever known before. I realised so much more than I needed to know. The glistening white mountain peak that was my supposed life turned into a tumbling avalanche sweeping all illusion before it and landing collapsed in a heap at the bottom of a slope I thought I’d conquered.
This all happened in an instant. Nothing more. Just a chance meeting of eyes. A glance and smile.
“I don’t think so.” she said. “My name’s Julie.” And then she turned to pay the barman. I watched him. I’m a man. I know men. I saw his eyes. Perhaps he also saw himself in that moment. Perhaps he was also forced to face himself.
All of this came flooding back to me as I stood there, damp and drizzled on and ignored and standing there still in the middle of the street. Once Julie and her partner has disappeared round the corner, there was me and the soft drizzling rain, and the silently flashing neon lights, and nothing else. The weird super hero had gone.
I woke and the real world rushed back again, quieter this time.
I carried on walking, deep in thought but seeing myself walking, from above. I rounded the corner. There stood Julie, all alone in the wide road, vapid commercial lights around her pulsating blurred through the falling rain. She was still and bowed and sad and longing. Everyone else had long since moved on, and she stood there in silence. She’d seen me and she’d waited for me.
I didn’t stop. I carried on walking towards her and as I approached, her eyes lifted and met mine and I reached out and gently took her in my arms and wrapped myself around her and we both stood there still, in the flickering lights of vainglorious butterfly shop windows and held each other very quietly. Nothing needed to be said, and for the first time in my life, I knew what it meant to be happy.
Whenever I consider alternative perspectives to the status quo, for example those espoused by E.F.Shumacher (whom I read when I was 16), I can’t help but visualise the sentiments expressed being sold to the majority of the world’s population, which of course is what’s required. Be those prospective recipients of ‘the message’ residents on a tower block estate in Liverpool, or a slum in the scrambling chaos of India, or rednecks in endlessly consumerist America, or aspiring young executives in Nairobi. Or even disease ridden children in Sudanese refugee camps. And then I wonder just how one would apply such ideals. Youfs in Liverpool just want lager and football, and money to pay for them. Slum dwellers in India want a house, and land and status in a country that just doesn’t have enough room. American Republicans have enormous power and also have an ideal that they too cling to tenaciously, however simplistic and naive it may be. And people all across the world, from Sudan to Bolivia via the South Pacific islands need electricity, and medicine, and a framework that allows them rights of tenure and the means to acquire the goods to build themselves a house and pay for everything from education to windows. This is the way the world is. The experiment that was the twentieth century and the resulting economic and social paradigms that grew from it has, unfortunately in its entirety rather than selectively, been accepted as the way to do things. And another unfortunate truth is that, as things stand, the kind of large scale commercial operations that now exist may represent the only sufficiently large scale approach that can provide sufficient economies of scale to provide all these things.
It seems to me that there are a few key variables in the human context that have primary influence over our ability to manage things.
One is population growth. If, theoretically, the population of the world was suddenly frozen where it is, then we’d have time to rearrange things to bring those that don’t have enough, and those that have too much, more into align with each other and with available resources. But as things are, each unit of progress is swallowed up by another unit of population growth, and the physical constraints of resource availability ever more stressed, are ignored.
Secondly, there’s the question of wealth creation and distribution, and what we consider to be wealth. The twentieth century experiment has produced a system where the entities that are supposed to allow us to organise to generate wealth have a twisted idea of what wealth is, and at the same time, they are designed to function in a system that requires them to only generate that form of wealth, and then only for a select few, namely their shareholders. The scale issue mentioned two paragraphs above suggests that we need large organisations. That’s not the problem. It’s who owns them, how they’re run and for what purpose that needs to be considered. There are many forms of wealth and cash is only one of them. Whilst cash works if treated as a means to achieve contentment for all, it doesn’t work if its seen merely as an end in itself and ‘success’ is deemed to be the acquisition of more money than one needs. It’s possible to be a lonely and depressed millionaire in New York as it is a depressed homeless person on the streets of Mumbai.
Finally, there’s the problem of establishing a sustainable common view of what humanity should aspire to. If we assume (and I’m really not sure) that democracy is an ideal, or is anyway the least undesirable of all of the alternatives, then this is a fundamental requirement for moving forwards in the right direction. But in countries where democracy does indeed exist, the majority of the populations are largely ignorant of what the true issues are. Be it climate change (clueless about the science) to economics (dunno… just want to get this mortgage off my back, or worse, get a bigger one to outshine the neighbours). What is the practical way then to initiate a kind of massive paradigm shift (apologies for the cliche) in people’s perspectives such that they shift their priorities? How do you do it? How? Unless the majority of people, in democracies or not, from the Liverpool footie hooligan to the Mumbai slumb dweller via the New York corporate CEO, change their understanding and their aspirations, and the focus of their concerns, requisite change that might make a real difference and divert us from what appears at the moment to be a disastrous route, is surely unattainable. And just how do you persuade religious fundamentalists that they need to change? Be they nutcases in the US, or even greater nutcases in Afghanistan and Pakistan?
I actually have a more positive perspective than this rant may suggest, although I fight shy of trying to explain to myself why. A key tenet of the book I’m supposed to be writing (if I ever finish it) is the concept of temework. Not a spelling mistake but an acronym that stands for technology, education, moderation and equity, brought together into a strategic, societal framework that emphasises policies designed to encourage each of these aspects. We need technology. We need really clever technology that’s designed to suit our real requirements. An example of a real requirement is clean energy. 3D television is not a real requirement. A solution to providing clean energy lies with some really clever, bleeding edge stuff that costs a hell of a lot of money to research and develop… so we need institutions that have the cash and are incentivised to spend it in this way – think about that. Certainly for me, as a cynic of corporate organisations, it’s food for thought.
For example, it’s possible to burn coal, which is by far and away the most plentiful resource (ok.. what about wind and waves etc.. but think realistically about scale and cost and implementation) in such a way that hydrogen is generated, which can power fuel cells, the only by products from which are water and CO2, which can now, thanks to some phenomenal and very expensive scientific work, be combined with silica to make house bricks. Wow. Clean energy and cheap building materials, from the worlds most easily accessible energy resource. The kind of intermediate solution on the road to ubiquitous renewables that might actually be useful in a world of 9 billion people, most of whom are homeless and energy starved, in a world threatened by CO2 emissions. And remember that this coal resource is being used anyway. Now. That’s the reality. The Chinese are building masses of power stations based on this fuel. And neither you, nor me, nor anyone else is going to stop them. We haven’t got time to discuss niceties. Climate change is happening. We have to work with the realities. And technical innovations like this CO2/fuel cell stuff might allow that. But it wouldn’t be happening if as a society, we just turned away from the institutions that we have instead of working with them and modifying them. And they need modifying. Both corporates and Governments, to reflect different and more pressing realities. Why on earth are our oil companies subsidised with tax payer’s money? Because our Governmental priorities are all wrong. Why is the development of clean energy technology driven only by the corporate profit motive and not as a desirable thing to happen in society? Because in that simplistic, 20th century model, money is the only way we have of reflecting value or defining aspiration.
So that’s technology. There’s also GM crops, and alternatives to antibiotics (would we be objecting to those if they wee just being invented?), and nuclear power, and the meat debate, and the vulnerability of mega cities, and desalinisation, and a whole load of technologies that could have the kind of short term beneficial impacts that we need. But that would take too long to talk about. All take loads of wonga though, and very complicated organisations to make them happen.
What about education? Again, the problem seems to be one of trying to shift established paradigms. We in the west, and elsewhere now, raise our children to aspire to make money. In a sense we have no choice, because by virtue of the fact that we ourselves (in the main) are spending most of our lives focused on that objective, our children of course acquire the same habit. And its all exacerbated by the trash media that promotes such aspirations as being proper. There’s actually nothing wrong with seeking to be comfortable, but no one is ever taught about the costs. No one is ever taught about the context that enables us to be acquisitive, and what it actually means. How many American children realise that whilst the US comprises some 5% of the world’s population, it uses some 25% of its energy and creates about 26% of its waste? All that energy is sucked in from other parts of the world, where people can’t afford it. And the ignorance of those American children who, were they to know the facts would probably act to create a better world, is down to an educational system that just doesn’t tell them. The whole system rattles on as though it were still 1895 and the internal combustion engine was emerging as a catalyst of a whole new dawn of humanity, that led to that great 20th century experiment. It’s daft. The world has changed, as have priorities. But just how the hell do you change a global school education system? It’s hard enough faffing about with primary school syllabi in the UK. And then there’s religious fundamentalism, and celebrity culture, and home influences related in turn to poverty and ignorance etc etc. And don’t get me started on stubborn adult ignorance.
Then there’s moderation. Oh dear. Big one this. Has fingers in every pie. Everything from the education system to social hierarchies, to workplace ‘success’, to pension systems all point towards more and more acquisition and stuff. The whole idea is so entrenched in just about every aspect of every society on earth. And who’s to tell those in developing countries that they shouldn’t aspire to more than a mud hut and one meal a day if they’re lucky? But as such realisation manifests, the great machine kicks into gear and all of a sudden, a level of wealth that approximates to a global average kicks in as the minimal desirable objective. Of course, we all know that that average is hugely distorted by unequal distribution of resource use, but (back to education) how do you convince millions and millions of people that that’s the case? And that the rich should become less materially well off so the poor can become materially better off? And then there’s meat eating, and water use, and power use, and land use etc etc.
Finally there’s equity. Touched on already (all these issues are interlinked and interdependent). The debate about inequity isn’t based upon the idea of equitable distribution. It’s based upon the idea of everyone having the same degree of material wealth as the wealthiest. That’s what economic growth is about. That’s what ‘developing ‘ countries are developing for. To be the same as the US or Europe. But it’s not possible. Or rather it is, but only if some really smart tech is embraced really quickly, and then there’ll be a different sort of price to pay from the environmental decimation that we’re witnessing now. Rather a sort of environmental modification. Where wild spaces are no more but exist only due to benevolence, and most are utilised Be that with bloody great wave or wind farms, or factory farmed GM agriculture, or organic farmholding forced on people who’d rather not have their material aspirations capped by government. Consider the practical ideal of Contraction and Convergence, as espoused by Aubrey Meyer. Yeah, yeah. Well done Aubrey. Completely agree with you. Now go and tell the Chinese and the Yanks.
Which ever way it plays out, a crowded planet, with too few resources, lots of ignorance, too much religious bigotry and prejudice and an economic system that’s not only too inflexible but is based upon the wrong objectives, is not a context where higher ideals can be applied. One might believe in them, but there’s a danger that doing so is only to satisfy some selfish need to feel good about oneself. OK, OK. Better than doing nothing.
We have no choice but to hope that a greater wisdom will come to prevail. But the truth is that it isn’t going to happen quickly enough, and the sheer scale of the global change that’s required is too big. Unless we all stop arguing, look at what we have, become far more realistic about what’s required and what’s possible, and very rapidly implement global changes that must include the adoption of technologies like nuclear power, and hydrogen power, and solar and the rest, and GM crops in the right (non commercial) way, and land redistribution, and the changing of the whole prerogative and raison d’etre of all out of our economic, religious (fat chance) and commercial institutions, implemented according to national and local circumstances and needs, to reflect the actual global priorities that we now face. Not to mention changing the personal aspirations and value sets of millions of people. That requires a complete reassessment of what is meant by democracy – less big govt and more devolution. National institutions that exist to serve a national need, such as health, pharmaceutical research, energy research, education. Economies that are structured to reflect real, local needs, including changing the way people belong to organisations. People are not ‘human resources’ . People ARE the organisation. The organisation exists to serve our needs. Not the other way round. Look at the Mondgragon Corporation for an example of a different and better way of organising corporates, with broader and more realistic objectives and priorities. Local organisation to allow differentiation and freedom from enslavement to an outdated economic dogma, and the profit driven corporate institutions that represent it.
I doubt it’s going to happen. But I live in hope. Only just though. And I switch between stressed out ‘aware person’ and ‘oh fuck it’ resigned person.
And he sat there on a bamboo veranda, watching the warm ocean roll in and out, below the bowing palm trees that sighed gently in warm wind. And he reflected quietly on his life and his place in the various machinations of the world that he moved within, and in which and of which he played a part.
And to what degree were his actions consequential? As each wave rolled up the ruffled sand, he saw how each decision he’d taken had made change. Not only in his own life but in the lives of others. And his actions echoed down through the world. He had a place. As the cicadas sang, and the sea hushed it’s complicated language over the shifting sands, he saw how his life played a part. Just a little part.
And as he sighed his last, and his vision blurred, and the sea melded with the sky, he knew that his life wasn’t without consequence. As his children laughed and played in the growing distance. And even as the cicadas continued relentless, he understood that the difference between snow and warm sea is that one is set and decided and crystallised, whilst the other is warm and fluid and undecided. And he knew that being alive was warm water, and that it took death to crystallise one’s view to one such that it held a perspective. Prior to that, only warm and tangled currents could define any view. Confusion. Something yet to form. Yet to crystallise. And only some frozen form that came from the cessation of fluid indecision could ever define him. So he came to know that his death coalesced his life into something recognisable.
I thought I wanted that, but I didn’t.. And so whole new worlds opened up. Worlds of questions. What then did I want? It wasn’t what Jill wanted. I don’t think.
Where does the line between short term desires and long term objectives occur? When do those short term desires, those real feelings that have to be categorised, acquire such prescience as to overwhelm longer term perspectives that one has chosen to adopt?
What is desire? How do we reconcile our lust, that drive that ensures genetic continuity, with our emotional needs?
What we call love is clearly a combination of biological drives and emotional needs. OK. But is the latter a component of the former? Are we really, perhaps, just driven by some chemical prerogative?
Just how valuable was that love I thought I once knew?
Tonight I’m listening to the music of Rachel Lauren. Not only is the music beautiful, she is too. Her dark eyes, her smooth skin and soft hair and her figure. And her voice is warm honey. Even when I can’t understand it.
She leads me to wonder about how well suited the two sexes are to considering the gentler, more subtle aspects of life. Perhaps Rachel Lauren is better equipped to see and to explain these things than a man would be. Given that she seems to be part of them already. How much does this define her femininity? How far is Rachel’s warm, passionate, liquid soothe from the cool, crystalline and perfectly patterned logic that is supposed to represent masculinity? And how can such things be equally well represented by two such different expressive forms?
What defines masculinity? When is a similarly gentle and tactile comprehension as Rachel’s masculine? Where is the divide that renders such sensitivity feminine or masculine? Is it possible for both to see the same perspective, and yet still melt into each other as snow into warm water, by virtue of their difference? And can each still retain their identity?
Are our views on gender too limited? Can a man be as responsive to, and expressive of, sweet beauty, of thing or of feeling, as a woman? And is the difference between them simply that one appears as warm, fluid blue ocean, and the other as well defined and rigid snow and ice, even as each are made of water? And the melding of their respective comprehension creates a pleasantly temperate context that is capable of nurturing both.
Or are only women sufficiently equipped to respond to subtle beauty given that they create so much of it? And men should only look on and do their best to understand? Or is it that men, being outside, are best placed to see and to recognise gentle beauty for what it is? Is cold snow, fixed and watching, better placed to recognise the complex fluid motion of the warm blue water that’s lapping at it’s edge?
I had a home once. With warm fires and warm people and friends and hot food. And a cat, and children. And problems with neighbours.
Village pub characters knew me, and I was always torn between their welcome, and the given one at home.
But it was all false. Built on sand. Built on an acquired attitude, acquired because it was required in order to be able to compete. Make money, forget about earning it. Quiet periods in some other pub, on the way home from work, when I could be me between being one person at work and another one entirely at home.
Will my wife be an angel or a devil when I get there? Synthetic when the former, insufferable when the latter.
But my children loved their home.
One winter, it began to snow. And that peculiar silence fell across the village. A sense of expectancy. Or was it more like a balm on sunburned skin? Or Christmas eve perhaps. As though all those competitive spirits had suspended the game for a few hours, to watch and consider each other for once.
The cat flap flapped, and in walked Sam. He paused, shook one paw daintily before proceeding to his righteous place in front of the blazing fire. One child read quietly in the corner, whilst the younger, three years junior at six, played with his cars, lining them up across the carpet in a precise grid, only to smash the resulting matrix to pieces by hurling his rubber dinosaur at them. Sam took his place by the fire, and I sat on the floor watching them all.
My wife appeared. Both children stopped what they were doing. The cat stopped purring. She stopped, and stood still in the doorway, and sighed. In that moment, in that warm room in that warm home, something of the frozen chill outside invaded and touched us all. Something of the future invaded the present, and in hindsight, made it worthless.
‘I want a divorce.’
Dancing orange firelight played amongst the fractal mirrors of frost on the windowpane, and the world felt colder still. My younger son threw one more dinosaur.
Pink dawn light fluoresced though steam rising ever so slowly from the frozen surface of the canal. A solitary bird uttered a note and fell silent again. Smoke oozed from the stack on a nearby narrowboat. A heap of sacks in front of me stirred and Angie’s face, red and blotchy, appeared from one end. I moved to speak but my beard was frozen to the bench and I had to busy myself freeing it.
A low and watery winter sun appeared, only to emphasise the sagging bellies of low grey cloud hanging over us. By eight o’clock, it was snowing. Big, wet lazy flakes drifting down of their own accord through the quiet air, not driven by any cause or need. I lay there and watched them, and the yellow windows of the narrowboat. Other boats sat further down the canal, each fainter than the other, becoming more grey as mist rising gently from the water obscured the view. In the background, dark hills sat squat and watching.
Angie produced a bottle of whisky from underneath her sacks and offered me some. She was a good old girl. Heart of gold.
The smell of bacon drifted over from the narrowboat. The whisky felt good, slipping down warm and softening the world. A noise came from the boat, and a cat appeared. It paused, and then jumped ashore, tail pointing contemptuously upwards at the glowering sky. Its paws left perfect prints in the snow as it walked by.
Then there was old Mrs Nocneid. Small and dainty, with a lame leg. Wearing the hat with a fabric flower to one side, and sheepskin boots. Picking her way along the pavement, trying not to step on the patches of snow, and standing in the puddles instead. She’d only popped out to get some onions and a loaf of bread.
Her path took her through the cemetery, where she always stopped to consider at least three of the headstones. Each one a portion of her life, wrapped up neatly in granite, frozen in time. Slow moments pondering, and wondering. And remembering, and sometimes dreaming. The sounds of wind and birdsong becoming distant for her, as her pale blue eyes misted over.
Two youths rushed by on bikes, shouting obscenities at each other and weaving in and out of the gravestones as they went.
“Hey lady.. your turn soon!”
“Fuck off Sim, don’t be a twat..”
And they were through the gate and off down the path, their noise disappearing with them.
But Mrs Nocneid’s world had been ruffled now. And a sibilant wind hissed through the watching Yew trees, blowing snow off the tops of the headstones as it went.
She shivered, her attention pulled unwillingly back from her past to her present, looked around her, and sighed. And the wind sighed with her and became still.
The youths returned, breaking the silence. They were racing each other round the block. Down the path, past the pub, down the high street past the shop, through the cemetery and off down the path again. This time they stopped in the cemetery.
At that moment, bright spring sunlight burst through a passing space between scudding clouds, and the church and cemetery lit up. A cross that stood on top of the roof cast a long shadow over the jumbled headstones, and there lay Mrs Nocneid. She was face up and cruciform, her eyes staring at the sky. Her hat lay some way from her head and her surprisingly long hair lay fanned out on the dazzling snow like a silver halo. She was smiling.
She forgave the boys.
There’s a delicious sense of detachment to be enjoyed sitting in a warm car in traffic in the snow. Wipers wend their way back and forth. The blood red lights of the car in front blur and clear and blur again, and I feel mesmerised, reluctant to watch anything else.
On the pavement, people pick their way delicately through the slush. Mouths open and close in conversation but all I see is their expression. A more pure form of communication is this, devoid of the confusion of spoken language. I know what they’re saying even though I can’t hear them. I watch them as one might watch a television documentary with the sound turned off. My focus is drawn to their eyes, and their mouths. The unintentional pleading. The unspoken scorn. The irritation. Occasional enthusiasm. Occasional distracted attention to half attended sentences that may as well remain unsaid.
I see all these people living their different lives apart from mine. And I see them seeing me living mine apart from theirs. Except I know they don’t notice me. I watch anonymously. But I’m cocooned in a warm bubble. Steel and glass encapsulated anonymity. And the snow falls gently from the universal grey to melt on my windscreen. And the wipers quietly sing their hushed, snow falling sibilance. And the engine purrs as though it will continue to purr for eternity.
How is my life different from that of these people walking past that I watch with such detachment? Why don’t I usually see them with such clarity? I love them. And I hate them. And I’m mystified by them. And I’m jealous of them. But most of all, I see them for what they really are, in a way that I usually can’t.
The traffic inches forward. I can’t see who’s in the car in front. Those behind present silhouettes. One is male and the other female. She turns to him, and then turns away again. He stares ahead.
Slowly through the sweeping snow, the blood red fluorescence of a Tesco sign emerges. The traffic moves more quickly as we approach and starts to carry me along. I have less time to watch the people walking past. I glimpse just small parts of their lives now and I guess the rest. They seem to be more like me. The gap in understanding reduces with my pace. The gap in comprehension and understanding increases.
Then the blockage is broken and I have to move faster to stay with the other cars. I have to look forwards. Can’t afford to look sideways. Can’t afford to consider those people anymore. Or to wonder about them. My attention is driven back to my most immediate concern, which is steering my car through this awful traffic.
And each person that I see now looks much as the other. All trudging through the slush, up the hill, with their bags of necessities. My world shrinks back to my cocoon and I see myself in them now. As part of a process that carries me, and all of them, along like flotsam on a river. But it was good, that small moment of clarity. Perhaps one day I’ll see that way again. Was it a state more alive, or nearer a state more like death?
Why do you do what you do? I mean really. Honestly. From inside you. Whether you be an accountant, or a painter, or a mechanic, or a florist. Why do you actually do that thing?
To pay the bills? If that’s the only reason, get another job. Because you enjoy it? Perhaps. But do look at that… why do you enjoy it? Some ego satisfying thing? Some way of covering something over? No? Oh…so it’s because you believe in it? That’s good. But why? Do you really understand the nature of the problems you see? Do you really know that buying Fair Trade Ethiopian tea is changing the world for the better? Or is there a bigger scheme afoot? And perhaps it won’t make any difference how much nearer the Ethiopian tea workers move towards the Western consumption model, the world will have moved on in a multitude of ways, most not so good.
Why do you do it? How near one hundred and eighty degrees away from what you intuit you should be doing is it? The nearer the number is to one hundred and eighty, the greater the reason you have to be unhappy. Change it now. It’s ‘later than you think’ as they say. And if it’s as bad as working to live, why are you living?
Are you doing anything to justify your existence?
In order to write, the writer must be endowed with a hugely visual imagination. One that actually sees what it’s imagining. In 3D. In the mind’s eye. Is part of it. And they must somehow allow what they see to flow through them and along their arms and fingers to the keyboard, without their proactive involvement. As a painter must allow their vision to flow through to the delicate tip of a paintbrush.
A corporate is a human construct. It’s not an aspect of nature that we have no choice but to contend with. We make corporates. They’re a device designed to facilitate the satisfaction of needs and the exchange of wealth within our societies. We made them. We are not beholden to them. We’re supposed to control them.
If it becomes apparent that the activities of corporates, as driven by those who run them, is going against the general good, then we should be able to effect them such that they stop working against us and continue to work for us. Isn’t this common sense?
Two elemental forces play a big part… democracy and greed.
We seem to have built societies that use wealth as a measure of everything that’s of value. The unending complexity of our societies requires that we have formulae to allow us to calculate appropriate ways forward in virtually every regard – cost benefit analyses. So everything becomes reduced to numbers, and the only available metric that could arguably encompass all variables is a monetary one. Just how much is that landscape worth to you? Enough to pay off your mortgage? More? Less? Never mind your first reactions. When the man from the corporate comes knocking on your door with a checkbook, what’s your price?
Democracy is supposed to be a process whereby decision making is collective. Decisions are supposed to reflect a consensus, and the supposition is that a consensus represents a kind of average view that stands the best chance of satisfying all parties at least to some degree. Those whose opinions vary from the mainstream are quietened by needing to acknowledge that their view isn’t shared by most and therefore wouldn’t command many followers. And so would probably be unworkable.
This all depends upon what people regard as being worth voting for. Why do people vote the way they do? Broadly, two reasons. national or global interest, or self interest.
Corporates are human constructs, but they’re also devices of power within society. Given the power of their role, they ought to be subject to democratic principles. But they’re not. Instead, they’re subject only to the democracy of people who deem the corporate a device for personal wealth creation. Noting else. Shareholders. People who could live anywhere on the planet, who’ve bought shares in the corporate with a view to selling those shares at a profit at some point in the future. And Directors, who can become wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of almost everyone, and they do.
Remember that these organisations… these corporates… are societal devices that we invented to facilitate general well being. The provision of goods and services, of social well being and of employment.
But corporates are run by people who’s brief is to generate profits for shareholders. They have no other defined objective. They’re not subject to any democratic process beyond that which reflects the ambitions of shareholders. In our free market economy based society, corporates seek to grow. And they do this by swallowing up any other company that threatens it’s position in the market, or which offers it the opportunity to become more powerful. Ultimately, corporates wield such power of the distribution of wealth and jobs that they become powerful enough to influence the decisions of our governmental representatives in our democracies even though only a tiny minority of vested interests ever voted for them.. the shareholders. And their motives are not necessarily for the common good. So these organisations that wield such economic and political power, with their industry lobbies and their ability to fund political parties, with all the societal ramifications thus implied, are in effect mini republics in their own right, the electorates of which vote purely out of financial self interest.
So where are we? We live in a democracy, but it seems that an undue proportion of influence within a system that is supposed to be driven by majority sentiment, which in turn is supposed to reflect a desire for a common good is actually driven by financially driven minority vested interests.
Why do these corporates wield such power? And is it a bad thing? Let’s look at our key players again; democracy and greed.
On the democratic front, corporates appear to lose out completely. But if there are enough corporates, and everyone in society has a shareholding, then doesn’t this equate to increasing democratic control over the means of production? No actually. Firstly, the way wealth is distributed means that most people are unable to become shareholders, as they simply can’t afford it. And even if they could, corporates standardise their operations wherever they are and are rarely able to accommodate specific local needs and requirements. Just because Joe Soap happens to own a few shares in ABC Inc, doesn’t mean he’s then able to influence their decision to demolish two hundred houses to make way for a shopping mall in his community any more than he’d be able to as a non-shareholder.
And as far as greed is concerned, as long as the raison d’etre for a corporate is the generation of shareholder profits, and nothing else, then by virtue of this, other priorities will always take second place. The whole organisational edifice is structured to harvest money from everyone in society and to funnel it to shareholders, and in particular to the top of the organisation. And if it can achieve this, then it’ll be deemed to have been successful, regardless of any negative impacts it may have on other aspects of life.
In short, a corporate’s financial interests are rarely the same as the interests of the regional or national communities in the more immediate sense. Consider a mining or oil production facility that destroys or at least damages the local natural environment, removing that form of wealth from the people who live there and making billions from it on global markets. Or a factory in India that employs people on a pittance working fifteen hour shifts to provide cheap clothes for the West at a huge markup to the cost of production. Or closer to home, a retail giant that overwhelms and kills local businesses purely by virtue of it’s enormous buying power and control it wields over suppliers, and the resulting uniformaity of choice, wherever one goes within a given country. All three examples are making money and so are deemed to be successful. But if one agrees that a corporate is supposed to exist to be of use and benefit to society, are they successful?
Consider how wealthy countries rely upon cheap labour for their quality of life. Corporate buying power in a globalised world. How cheap would plastic toys be if they were produced in America? And whilst you’re about it, consider how carbon emissions by consumer oriented countries such as constitute the West are actually externalised to other countries such as India, where the goods they use are produced. So the carbon emissions of those factories are deemed to be Indian, even though the factories only exist to supply cheap goods for the West. Things operate in this way regardless of the nature of the national governments that are in place. Corporates operate in a global economy and governments are malleable.
There’s a need for a third player to balance the greed and the lack of democracy. Wisdom. Corporates are constructs designed to facilitate progress and structure in society. So why are they run in such a way that their only prerogative is the generation of wealth for the people who run them and for shareholders who are usually unaffected in their lives by their physical activities? We need to be wiser in the way that we utilise these constructs within our society. We’ve allowed ourselves to forget why corporates exist. We’ve allowed them, as legal entities, to get out of control and to dominate us rather than serve us. We need to redefine what the corporate is and why we have them.
And in the process of doing this, we need to look again at our own individual behaviour. Just what are aesthetic and qualitative benefits worth to us? And how do we value them? Is monetary value always appropriate? And are we sufficiently driven by a desire for general well being, as much as for our own?
We need to reconsider how our corporates are run. Who they’re run by and who they’re run for. And what they’re run for. And we need to look again at the concept of shareholders. Who should own the shares in an organisation that can wield such enormous damage, or benefits, on communities locally, or on democratic nation states?
We need to consider why we have corporates. A wiser approach to the way we implement them at present would surely include consideration of who owns them, and how the real interests of those affected by their operations is reflected in the purpose of the organisation. The generation of monetary wealth is all very well, but if the end result is inequity and the exploitation of people, and the degradation and destruction of other more abstract forms of wealth such as quality of life, happiness and the aesthetic value of the natural environment, all to serve the burgeoning bank balances of a few, then these institutions that we’ve invented are failing. They need to be reinvented. They need to be formed in such a way that they nurture and support society and people and the world we live in. They need to be forces for positive improvement and progress in a sustainable way, that preserves all forms of wealth and value and benefits us all, including generations to come. They should be tools within democracies that further societal well being and progress.
Corporates are constructs that are supposed to work for us. So it’s time they functioned as more integrated components of democratic society that reflect our real needs, and they should be utilised in such a way that recognises all forms of wealth and value, not just cash.
[There are no truly good examples. Yet. But one that goes a long way in the right direction is the Mondragon Corporation. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondragon_Corporation for more.]
In the far distance lay a particularly spiky part of Switzerland, where there stood a magnificent mountain. This mountain was so huge that it wore the clouds around its shoulders like a scarf, and it’s peak was like a nose on a face forever pointed upwards and staring at the icy stars.
Part way down this mountain was a cave. It sat dark and forbidding like an empty eye socket, just above the tops of the clouds. No one had yet been there, partly because most didn’t know it existed, and partly because those that did know couldn’t scale the thousand feet of sheer cliff face to get to it.
There was no other way.
But if someone had indeed made the effort, they would have found themselves standing in a dark cavern that opened up wide behind its entrance. They’d have marvelled at the smooth, almost glassy, walls. And if they’d stood very still and quiet, the blood would have run cold in their veins because they would have heard not one but two things. There would be the steady and resonant plip plop of water dripping for ever into puddles that never filled, and there would have been something else. A regular breathing noise, with an impossibly long cycle. A thirty second long noise that whistled sibilantly from the dark cave depths, followed by a shorter wheeze, but a wheeze way down in the bass notes.
It would have taken this adventurer no more than a minute to turn and run, like the wind, towards the edge of the cave, whereupon one can only hope he would have had the presence of mind to lower himself down the cliff face in an orderly manner, rather than simply jumping into the void.
But of course, this never happened. It’s mere conjecture, because no one had ever been there. No human anyway.
One bleak day in early Spring, the sound of the breathing in the cave started to change. It became less deep. And shorter, mimicking the quickening pace of the sound of the dripping water. And eventually it became irregular and was punctuated by an occasional grunting sound.
Sixenz, as he’d been named, although he didn’t know that yet, was very young. He lay curled in a corner, with the point of his fiery red tail stabbed deep into a rock nearby, so it didn’t flail about in his dreams, and cut him.
This was only his thirty fifth year in this world. Equivalent to a mere toddler in human terms. But he was already as aware of the world as any adult human. His parents had prided him with this cave shortly after his birth and then left him there, as Dragons do.
That was almost twenty five years ago. And as baby Dragons do, he’d leaned to kill and eat and survive, as baby Dragons do. Far below him lay a thickly wooded forest. And when the clouds decided to sink to earth, as they sometimes did, and the forest there lay deeply swathed in fog, Sixenz would slither forward in his cave and peer down at the fog below, that lay like an undulating, gossamer blanket over the world.
He knew that his food lay there somewhere. A rogue deer that had strayed from the herd. Or a bleating foal, whose mother would bleat and squeak and huff great clouds of steam into the air as she ran about helplessly watching Sixenz crush her child alive with his huge, beak like jaws.
This was to be one of those days. As Sixenz stirred slowly, the sides of the tunnel that he saw as he opened his eyes shimmered in reflected sunlight, for here up above the clouds, the sun always shone. He’d been asleep for nine long months, and he was hungry.
In the usual way, he heaved and squirmed his way down the tunnel towards the dazzling cave entrance, the spines on his back grating into the groove that ran the length of the cave, worn into the rock by thousands of Dragons before him, going back to a time before mankind.
He reached the edge and, eyes narrowed against the bright light, he gazed down below. There lay the fog. Like a slow motion river in languid, silky flow across the gentle, hidden hills.
Sixenz longed to stretch his wings, which hadn’t unfurled in more than nine months. He didn’t look up. He didn’t need to as he knew there was no one up higher then he was. Dragons ruled this world, although the world didn’t realise it. So he just looked down, to make sure all was safe before he launched himself from the cave mouth, and shot like an arrow downwards, eight hundred feet to the fog wherein he slipped and vanished silently.
The forest was still and grey. Monotone shades from pale grey like bloodless skin, to dark shadows within shadows. All creatures stayed still and waiting for sun.
Leaves on trees were deathly still and dripped gently. Except some, that quivered momentarily as though something had passed that way, disturbing the tense air.
A lone stag stood still as a statue, his antlers gleaming wet and his dark eyes watching. But he didn’t see enough. For him, the air moved suddenly, a blur to his right and the agony as his rig cage was crushed between two halves of a hooked beak three times his length.
Sixenz had enjoyed the hunt. It was good to feel the cold pressure of the wind under his wings again. And the taste of warm blood brought him alive. Concluded his slumber. The fragile body of the deer collapsed in his mouth.
And then he looked up. Stood not thirty feet away was a man. Watching him. Stood stock still like a statue, eyes wide.
Stillness returned to the forest for a full half a minute, as each looked at the other.
Sixenz saw a man stood there in the wood. But something happened to him then. Then at that point, he grew up and became what he was meant to be. Sixenz wasn’t like any other Dragon. In fact, he wasn’t like any other creature in the world, this one or any of the others. Sixenz came to realise this within the first five seconds of having seen the man.
Sixenz realised with a shock that he could remember his past life, in every detail. All in one moment, he not only acquired this knowledge of a different world in a different form, but he also acquired the ability to process it. All at once. And a mere babe-in-arms Dragon, barely out of the nest, suddenly faced a world with the comprehension of a human man some seventeen times his age, in human-dragon years.
Actually, now Sixenz had seen enough, he saw that it wasn’t a man, it was a woman.
But what Sixenz saw in front of him was no longer a beast called a woman. What he saw was both what he saw normally, as a Dragon, plus what the woman saw. As a woman and also as a Dragon, with warm blood running down its iron hard chin, and warm blood curdling in the other.
Ten seconds had passed.
The woman turned to run and started to scream. Sixenz saw prey and death simultaneously. Sixenz understood the world in a much wider sense. He, in a moment, came to understand the perspective of everyone and every thing. And he knew that he had once been a woman. He lived the life of a human female, before he was born as a Dragon.
As the woman turned and ran headlong away into the disinterested fog, Sixenz reflected. He remembered hating his/her life. He remembered a life of angst, and doubt, and anger at the powerlessness.
He remembered a life of servitude and cleaning and being quietly but obviously afraid of her next lodger. She had to run this hotel and so she was going to have to face down threat with threat.
In the woods, Sixenz lay, dead deer in his jaws. In another world that’s supposed to be past us, a lonely soul lived her life imagining herself defending herself, and never doing anything else.
Everyone down at the local village pub, busiest on Fridays, thought she was a right old dragon.
Consider a number of the issues that humanity faces right now. Population growth. Increased resource use. Increased energy requirements. Increased food requirements. Increased water requirements.
Consider the context in which these requirements are being expressed. Increasing droughts and floods. Increasing corporate hegemony. Huge changes in global balances of power. Universal aspirations to the traditional American -way-of-life. A consumerist model, with an economic system that’s based on debt, both at an individual level and a national one. So growth is required just to pay the interest on the debt.
Where does all this reach some sort of equilibrium? Some real balance between supply and demand. Some state where people are happy with their lot.
Climate change is just one part of the dynamic that’s changing the world we live in. But why it’s significant s that it permeates all other aspects of our lives and our plans and our aspirations. It affects all of the processes that we rely upon to achieve our objectives. It causes disruptions to food supply. It causes floods and great storms. It fundamentally alters the physical context in which we operate. It changes our world. Therefore it has huge implications for the way our societies operate.
Climate Change is not the only issue that we face. There are a whole army of them. Most are caused or exacerbated by climate change but all are increasing in significance at exponential rates. Whilst climate change is a fundamental driver for many of these issues, we also have to deal with:
- Growing populations and their inherent increases in demand on resources.
- Simultaneous growing affluence and its resulting increase in demand on resources, such that this demand is accelerating.
- Microbial resistance to antibiotics and the consequent inherent threat of the undermining of many medical advances since the mid 20th century that are dependent upon antibiotics.
- Oil and energy resource shortage as demand increases and supplies become ever more hard to recover and ever more tenuous and unpredictable in their longevity.
- Increasing inequity between a small minority of people in the world, who increasingly control mote of its assets, and the vast majority who, on an average basis at least, have very little and who are powerless against a system where money is all powerful.
- The evolution of mega cities, where all of our problems become concentrated.
- The loss of biodiversity, the very aspect of the natural world that supports us that enables it to do so, and which allows for a flexible planet that’s able to accommodate typical crises.
- Competition between the need to use land to grow food, and the need to preserve natural environments and biodiversity that enables the ecological systems that support the production of plant and animal based food in the first place.
- Water shortage as more people use more, depleting underground aquifers, whilst climate change alters supply as rainfall patterns change, glaciers retreat and deplete dependent rivers, and precipitation that once fell as snow now falls as rain and runs away, causing floods.
- Accumulating waste as we continue to convert natural resources into short term material products that are discarded and thrown back into an environment that can’t break down their constituents quickly enough.
How the hell does all of this add up? The great challenge facing the people of the 21st century is how to reconcile their aspirations with what’s available to satisfy these aspirations. Never before has humanity been in such control. And never before has it been so hungry for more. How we deal with this conundrum over the next few decades will decided how we survive. Not whether or not we survive, because we will survive, but in what way we survive. We have reached a crux point, where we need to choose between different directions. For the first time we’re able to choose our own evolutionary path. And the worrying thing is that we don’t seem to realise that that’s the decision we’re in the process of making.
Consider all of this. Think about it. Look at the world about you. Research. Read. Think. And when you’ve realised for yourself what’s happening, take action. Join in. Rise and sing your own opera. For the sake of your children.
There’s an interesting post about whether development or democracy comes first, on the Global Voices website .
The fact that China has enjoyed such phenomenal growth for so long would seem to undermine any view that democracy is a prerequisite for economic growth. It all depends, it seems, on how the given non-democratic Government run things.
Before people are able to spend time considering the finer points of their ideal society, and whether or not their Government is doing well by their country, they need to be able to feed and shelter themselves. To do this, they need land to grow food and the means by which to construct a home. They also need a market. Markets have been around since the dawn of the agricultural revolution. I’ll swap this much cassava for that much maize. Or I’ll give you one fifth of the produce from my land in exchange for four weeks of your oxen ploughing my land.
Natural environmental constraints aside, these are the basics. But they need some sort of societal framework. Land tenure rights. Rule of law. Perhaps a currency. It doesn’t matter what body of authority establishes and provides these, as long as they exist. Then a society can start to flourish.
Then things get complicated. There’s a desire to move beyond subsistence. Having satisfied their basic requirements, people begin to innovate in order to gain advantage. Competition emerges and an hierarchy takes shape. So economic growth appears, as increasing wealth amongst innovators generates different forms of employment, which in turn generates further wealth and enables further innovation. The hierarchy acquires more levels.
Now a distance is opening up between those innovators who have power, and those lower down the hierarchy. Now a voice in the way things are run becomes a desirable objective for those without power. How desirable an objective this is depends upon how generous and inclusive are the existing power brokers. As absolute power corrupts, the power broker’s benevolence may be seen as inadequate, or patronising.
And so, an emerged society that has moved from chaos, though subsistence to adequate provision for all, then moves to competition for power. The only way such competition might be utilised satisfactorily is though the democratic process.
Bu this requires that all members of society respect that process. Which, in turn, requires that everyone is content to accept a result that doesn’t reflect their own vote. For this to happen, they need to be able to continue to achieve, in their own lives, material and philosophical goals regardless of who it is that’s in Government. The poorer a society is, the harder it is for any Government of any disposition to achieve this, simply because of there being fewer resources available.
In a society where the disparity between the best off and the worst off is extreme, and resources are few to enable to Government to moderate this difference, those lower down the hierarchy will always feel discontented. Discontented people will always be less inclined to accept the jurisdiction and policies laid down by the Government, which will be mainly populated by those at the upper end of the hierarchy.
In other words, the poorer the electorate is, the less likely they are to accept the democratic process. So it must be that economic growth is a prerequisite for democracy.
Conversely, it might be argued, that where a society contains levels that are frustrated and are therefore disinclined to democracy, their best interests are served by a benevolent dictatorship. Or at least a Government that is less concerned with democracy and more concerned with raising general standards of living. The problems occur when said dictatorship doesn’t care about such niceties and is instead happy to maintain the status quo. Of course, the irony is that such governments can’t be removed precisely because of the lack of democracy.
However, a society can become sufficiently wealthy such that the relative planes of wealth within the hierarchy all move upwards. So the poorest are now actually quite wealthy relative to the poorest in a less affluent society. A welfare state provides for basic needs, and the people at the top of the pile are very wealthy indeed. The whole dynamic now changes, as economic growth is, to an extent, a given. Or rather it’s considered less of an issue, or is even considered a bad thing as perfectly adequate amounts of wealth are perceived to already exist. The issue becomes one of wealth distribution rather than generation. Now, democracy becomes the higher objective, in the search for more equitable wealth distribution and more distributed control.
So, growth is a prerequisite for democracy, but once sufficient levels of growth have been achieved, democracy becomes a prerequisite to growth.