Are progressive arguments “radical social engineering”?

Two popular arguments have arisen in recent years from conservative voices to rebut any changes to laws that would improve the tolerance and morality within our systems. There two arguments are 1) to protect “free speech” and 2) to stop “radical social engineering”.

The first has been addressed many times in the past. The conservative voice doesn’t want to preserve free speech, or else this would be a non-issue. No, what they hate is that others reply (using their own freedom of speech) to tell the former that their views are pretty abhorrent by today’s standards.

That is to say that the person who screams loudest about the fear of the lose to their freedom of speech prefers a simpler time, when you could make a sexist joke and name-call the bloke who didn’t laugh “gay” and no one would think twice about it.

Of course, we’ve moved on from that.

Social engineering, on the other hand, is an interesting one. I’m inclined to say that it’s actually nonsensical.

What the argument implies is that there are agents attempting to change the fundamental views, ethics and behaviours away from some desired position for their own nefarious objectives.

There are two parts to this argument of interest, therefore; 1) that there is an ideal society, expressed through the views, ethics and behaviours of the society, which is already, or has previously been obtained; and 2) that there are agents dedicated to the destruction of this ideal.

Has the height of human morality been obtained?

In short, the answer is no.

Much of western culture comes from Greek and Roman roots, where it was commonly believed – even two thousand years ago – that the golden age of humanity was behind us. The Abrahamic faiths continue the same line of thought through the descent from the Garden of Eden.

It’s not too difficult to find someone who believes that we are living in a tired, if not entirely terrible time, regardless of the overwhelming data on premature mortality and various crime rates to the contrary.

That’s the danger in following the newsfeeds of media outlets dependent upon ratings.

Of course there are those who would point back not to some mythical origin, but to their childhood in the mid twentieth century. But we should excuse nostalgia and a child’s ignorance of the widespread racism, homophobia and domestic violence present at the time.

In fact, we can argue quite easily that attempts to anchor social progress to a desired previous standard are true forms of radical social engineering.

An extreme example of this is the Amish who largely (although not entirely) gave up on social progress with the industrial revolution. They may not suffer too much – primarily because they
can access the assistance of modern technology and medicine when required – but likewise, their societies are not morally superior either. Many might even consider their societies to be rather oppressive with rules based around every aspect of their lives.

In much the same way, the conservative voice drawn to any traditionalism, aims to shut down self-reflection on a societal level. Our beliefs, our ethical conduct and our behaviours are to remain unchallenged – even if it allows us to unfairly discriminate others based on intrinsic traits beyond their control.

The biggest influence on the changes to beliefs, ethics and behaviour over the past 10-15 years must be due to one class of technology – the smartphone. It has changed how we socialise, how we acquire – and even develop – news media, how we entertain ourselves and even how we document our lives and create an online identity, if you will.

Technology, therefore changes. News changes and leads us to ask questions about ourselves. Population changes through subsequent generations and immigration. Even viral global content influences the local society.

It can only be expected that societies too must change. They must be flexible within the flood of information or else they will break.

There is nothing radical about meeting such changes, only in denying them or refusing to address them.

Hence, those who champion new ideas are not dedicated to destroying some non-existent ideal, as the conservative voice would have you believe, but rather are willing to address a changing world.

In Australia, the question is currently about same-sex marriage. Our government doesn’t know whether or not the majority of Australians still accept what is, at a fundamental level, gender discrimination. That is to say that two adults in love should, or should not, have the right to marry based on nothing more than their corresponding genders.

Perhaps the most insidious part of this current discussion is that it sets up two unequal classes of people; the majority (i.e. heterosexual) have the voting power to decide whether or not a minority (i.e. the LGBTI community) deserve the same rights under common law with the majority. Should we lift up the LGBTI community to our level or not?

I’m ashamed of being asked to make such a decision on the lives of other people I’ll never know and have no right in questioning the validity of their love and commitment to one another. It’s none of my business, so why should I have such power, as a vote, in this question?

Ultimately, the complaint regarding social engineering is nonsensical, as I stated above.

Society is an ever growing and changing thing. We all collectively answer the questions raise by this natural process.

When one, or a group, provide an answer that we don’t like, it’s far easier to denounce it and frame it as something evil, rather than to tackle it head on with reason. In my view, when someone complains about the loss of free speech (most often in professional news media no less) or creates caricatures such as “radical social engineers”, they are doing nothing but admitting defeat.

They don’t have a rebuttal to the arguments presented, so they instead attack the individual or group presenting the argument. Name calling is a sign of intellectual weakness.

If they could find a flaw in the arguments provided to answer a changing society, they should provide them. It is essential that everyone does, because it helps us to make the best informed decisions.

It’s simply not enough to reject an argument because you don’t like it.

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Alternative Facts: a new name for an ancient problem

“Never argue with an idiot, they will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience,”

A warning from George Carlin. I have quoted this in the past, but in reality, I don’t like to apply it.

I tend to take others on face value and respect their arguments as a sound attempt to better understand the world.

The problem is that the main source of debate that I face comes from those who simply do not like a given conclusion, be it relating to climate change, vaccination or fluoridation of drinking water.

For a long time I refused to give up on the argument or in respecting the other as I believed that we could together reach a better level of understanding.

But experience has taught me otherwise.

These debates have forced me to learn about the philosophy of critical reasoning, not just empirical evidence. Today, I listen to the evidence provided as well as how the argument is being arranged.

I’ve come to realise just how defeating and exhausting it is to engage with those who simply reject evidence in favour of a preferred conclusion.

Recently, I decided to engage with the commentator. I stated that I’ve stopped debating such people because I’ve found most to be disingenuous in their debate, disrespectful and ultimately committed to their conclusion regardless of the evidence to the contrary.

After hours spent in research and a few thousand words in critical review of the arguments presented, I concluded with basically the same statement I started with.

“Alternative facts” have recently caused a small uproar among certain people. Yet, the more I’ve come to understand critical reasoning and debate, the more obvious it is to me that this view has been deeply ingrained into our societies for as long as we have had societies.

The rise of empirical methodology with the enlightenment has done little to impact our love for the fanciful – how we would like reality to be.

And contrary to common belief, we honestly don’t need to respect the groundless views of others – especially if those views can cause harm.

They could be oppressive ideologies or irrational fears leading to otherwise avoidable measles outbreaks. They could be charlatans selling magic water or “medicinal” turmeric. It could be the slow juggernaut of climate change. Each of these negatively impacts on the lives people.

I have previously been roped into a debate with an easy rebuttal to this conclusion; if I’m not willing to entertain a debate, I’m the real denier.

The commentator who initiates the debate is, in essence making the statement that they reject the scientific evidence – either through cherry picked evidence or blatant ignorance. The commentator demands I take their feelings seriously and engage with it or else commentator automatically assumes the high grounds for victory.

No, that’s not the case.

The reason for this is because we’re not engaged in an academic analysis of the evidence. There is a body of evidence that exists in the academic literature and not in a debate on NewAnthro. Debate here changes nothing – especially the minds of those who don’t like what science concludes.

Am I suggesting that we simply ignore them?

No. I don’t know what the actual answer is, but I know that leaving them to their own devices is just as bad and it leads to large followings on their pseudoscience websites.

I’m inclined to think that a lot of the older ones are lost to the absurdities. We can only truly tackle “alternative facts” through education – not what to think, but how to think. If we want to empower our democratic societies, each individual needs to have trained a finely tuned internal BS detector.

The alternative is that we will continue to be led by nefarious causes.

Hence I’m no longer going to be led into pointless exchanges on NewAnthro with anti-science advocates. I enjoy my life too much to waste it on the brick wall that they claim is their brain. If they want a debate they can do the academic hard-yards and contribute to the scientific literature.

Arguing here is pointless and I’m tired of my commitment to a fair and respectful exchange being used as a weakness by the dishonest and deluded.

The ‘Anthropocene’ was a nice concept, but in truth, it misses the mark

When I was an infant, I was ignorant of everything.

As a child, I was self interested, seeking what entertained me over all else.

As a teenager, I was arrogant and cocky about my knowledge.

As a young adult, I was sure I knew more than enough to succeed and leapt from the nest without a second thought.

I crashed. Time and time, I failed.

Eventually, I began to appreciate how much I didn’t know.

I understood, through my own trails, the real depth of empathy.

I learnt to anticipate the effects of my actions on others and strived to make them positive.

Patience. Patience has been the hardest thing to learn.

And today, I’m not angry, I strive to avoid too much self interest, I seek out what is necessary for a good life rather than listen to the wants of passing desires and I accept what I must work for over what I would like simply handed to me.

I began New Anthropocine with an idea. In short, there’s no question that our species is a force of nature. Daily, we modify the hydrological and chemical cycles, we reshape genetic diversity and natural landscapes and we even modify our climate. It’s the Anthropocine – an era where one species dominates everything.

By ‘New’ I’d like to think that we have reached a level of understanding that we are able to take responsibility for that dominance.

But we’re not at a point where we will willingly work for goals bigger than ourselves. We couldn’t care less for the necessities of a good life while the trinkets of want glitter from shop windows. We still expect an easy life – so much so that we utterly ignore the resulting social and environmental costs result from our actions.

We are impatient, selfish, cruel and heading for crash after crash.

The evidence for this has long been obvious in environmental degradation, debilitating social inequality and the resulting social impacts.

Yet, the political rhetoric surrounding the carbon price (here in Australia), refugees and ethnic groups have all grown more dreadful as they become further from the truth, to the point that facts have become irrelevant. Blind anger is a massive voting block.

From the vote against the carbon price, to Brexit and now, the next President of the free world, I’ve been left speechless. I feel like a mute prisoner stuck in the mind of my young adult self.

Collectively, we are moving down a path that is dangerous, isolating and irreversibly damaging to our resources, our prosperity and ourselves. Bad ideas dominate because they reward their messengers while the rest of us have failed to provide an effective rebuttal.

Hence, I can’t call this the New Anthropocine. I’m even tempted to say that it’s not even the Anthropocine at all.

Maybe, because we are simply the agents of potent ideas, it should be called the Memeocene.

100 Million Years Hence: a thought experiment

The inner cynic whispers to me a scenario:

The story is 100 million years from now.

A future species arrives at a level of intelligence great enough to develop self-flattering mythologies, empirical research methodologies, technology, distinct cultural identities and ideologies.

They dig.

In one geological layer, they find something striking.

It’s littered with the fossilised remnants of artificial origins.

fossil-human

Enough of these fragments point to a bipedal creature previously obtaining an akin level of intelligence, however, it’s impossible to tell whether or not they too were spacefaring.

Ice cores and geological assessment talk of their industries as well as hinted at their capacity to harness the energy in ionising radiation.

“At such a level of sophistication – something much like our own,” these future thinkers ask, “how is it that they disappeared?”

Of course, the answers too, were written in stone.

Climate research points to a radical global shift within a short time span – a few centuries at best – resulting from their burning of carbon fuels.

Species richness prior to the bipedal dominance layer was utterly gone within it. Genetic research likewise points to a bottleneck and later resurgence in species diversity around 90-95 million years ago. The loss of biological resources too would have led the bipeds to global poverty.

Yet the most damning line of evidence is found in the upper limits of the bipedal layer. It showed the strongest evidence of ionising radiation.

It was likely that their last chapter was one of winless war.

Of course, the reality of this story is too horrible to contemplate. For a long time, these future thinkers are cautious in drawing too many parallels. Certainly, the divine literature tell them that the world is theirs to harvest and cannot be over-exploited… but did the bipeds believe the same? Could the sacred texts be wrong?

And then there was the industries of these future thinkers, which likewise emit carbon dioxide. Can this trace compound in such low levels really threaten future prosperity and indeed life itself?

As these future thinkers dig deeper and look ever closer at the bipedal layer of junk and tragedy, the parallels become overwhelming.

The inner cynic asks me whether these future thinkers too would follow the same road to ruin, or is the story of their distant cousins enough of a forewarning?

I can’t answer the cynic. So I pose the question to you.

Vivaldi Lost: The Arts, “Lifestyle Choice” and sustainable, low-carbon economies

 

"expressionist violin" painting by Steve Johnson.
“expressionist violin”
painting by Steve Johnson.

In the early 18th century, Antonio Vivaldi taught violin to female students of the orphanage school, Ospedale della Pietà, so that they may have an occupation in adulthood.

Today, the arts are deemed, so we are told in Australia, an unprofitable “lifestyle choice”.

Before we turn to judgement, I would urge that we take this statement in the appropriate context.

Given that, raw resource extraction, the exploitation of cheap labour in developing nations, increasing car dependency and the hunger for material consumerism and housing, among others, are so profitable nowadays, why should we support the training of free expression?

It’s true that artists throughout history have struggled. Some of the most highly regarded authors, poets and painters only received their honours posthumously, when a future generation was ready to hear their message.

Others never make it for all their efforts.

From a strict financial risk assessment view point, investment in the arts is unfavourable.

Further, with the danger of sounding patronising I must also add that it’s easy to conclude materialism is our primary motivator. Just think of the mindless rush on stores around December and post-Christmas January.

Why invest in the arts when you can reliably receive greater returns in consumer goods and services?

The local art gallery appeals to a loftier crowd (who can be, or at least appear to be, judgemental to outsiders – I know firsthand).

How many venues for live local music close down each year? Of course, such venues only appeal to “youths”, drugs / alcohol and the unmotivated (so the stereotype goes). New apartments on the other hand will bring in students and young families – the industrious types.

A son returns home to tell his parents he was selected for a Bachelor degree in Creative Writing, while the daughter was previously accepted into a Medical degree. How do the parent respond? What do they envision for the relative futures of their children?

We have passively asserted to the “lifestyle choice” claim long before it was said.

I’m not casting blame here, however. We were often taught about the arts as a token gesture within our schools. In truth, it’s a feedback loop.

We are so far removed from Vivaldi.

The Arts can be an excellent low-carbon investment

In a recent post, I mentioned how Tobis once discussed the value of the non-material markets in achieving low carbon outcomes. The arts are exactly that.

Consumerism is little more than the wants of entertainment, either directly or one step removed (i.e. labour saving).

What if our culture again held the arts in high regard?

What if, rather than congealing on the couch before the “idiot box”, there was a thriving night scene in the local area?

What if, rather than buying a new computer console for the children, there were interesting / quirky activities nearby or after-school options that combined the arts with play, tailored to a given age group?

Aristotle once said that one learns music not necessarily to become a musician, but rather to acquire an ear able to appreciate good music. One could say the same of any of the arts. Thus, such a hypothetical culture would necessarily treat the arts as fundamental in all education, thereby opening up the door to this new low-carbon market.

Such a culture may also help with expression for those who otherwise suffer in silence with mental health issues. It could also be the antidote to our growing loneliness.

Lifestyle choices

To repeat; we have passively asserted to the “lifestyle choice” claim long before it was said.

We do that through our cultural value preferences.

Do we choose the high-carbon, meritocratic-neo-liberal cocktail that leaves us lonely and uncreative? Or, do we start thinking about other solutions that may be more sustainable, economically, environmentally and mentally?

Antonio Vivaldi himself betted on the favour of a king who, subsequently died soon after. With that preference gone, Vivaldi fell into poverty and died a year later.

I can’t help but find an important life lesson in the life of this musical genius.

Art is not a lifestyle choice, but rather life itself. A life without art isn’t innately human. If it loses preference, we will lose something more valuable than all the smart phones, flat screen TVs – all the mass consumer items combined.

If you doubt me, press play below.

Stockholm Syndrome for ideas: Why environmental and social debates are dripping with hostility

We’re all prisoners of Plato’s Cave.

To give the most brief explanation of Plato’s cave; we’re born unaware and as we reach adult years, we have developed a kind of Stockholm syndrome towards the conclusions we have reached over our lifetime, however poorly informed they may be. And, we will violently protect these conclusions as well.

I disagree with Plato on one point – no-one is ever entirely free from the cave.

For instance, I believe that I endeavour to learn daily from science, literature and history. But I know I remain ignorant to a great many subjects. Learning one subject comes at the cost of the ignorance of others and there are other subjects – such as gender / racial discrimination – which I never fully understand, given my gender and race.

I, we, everyone, remains a prisoner.

Realising this has helped me to adjust my interpretation of how many respond to the environmental and social problems we face.

On topics such a climate change, vaccination, gender / racial / marriage equality, we’ve all witnessed the vicious nature of opponents. It’s not really maliciousness aimed at us, but hostility towards ‘images’ that challenge their ‘shadows’.

I’ll give you an example case, primarily regarding progressive gender equality.

Loss of advantage

Recently, I saw an article appear in my news feed of Gavin McInnes resorting to fairly juvenile name calling in response to Waleed Aly’s comments.

McInnes makes clear his world views with his constant comments around masculinity, chauvinism, feminism / the social status of women and how the actions of the daughter reflect her father.

Further, his noted experience being around wealthy men has clearly exposed him to just one tiny group of people: women who look past men and to their wallets and men who look past women’s minds and to their bodies.

The insults used by McInnes demonstrate all of this in how they hark back to the puffed chest, member measuring masculinity of yesteryear.

Like me, you might find his views abhorrent, but they deserve greater attention.

Stepping back a few generations, being born a white male in the West instantly meant that your chances of success were above average, when compared to all women and other ethnic and racial groups.

Women expected unwanted attention and were taught to tolerate it. Domestic violence wasn’t spoken of and women found it hard to leave a relationship.

Basically, everything was in its place for white men to conclude that he was the master of his destiny.

Social reform over the twentieth century has progressively chiselled away at this pedestal.

Don’t get me wrong, it still exists. However it is not so lofty that, say a man of darker skin or a woman would be excluded from becoming a US president.

Privilege is no longer guaranteed for one subgroup.

This fall from grace is so great that the leveling of privilege feels like disadvantage to some.

The anger too over “political correctness” is very much the same: It’s not actually about what can legally be said, but that our moral values have shifted so much that some, once common points of view, are now deemed offensive. It’s not political correctness, but moral decency. The complaints come from resenting being on the wrongside.

Politically, what we’re experiencing across the west is, in part, a revolt against progressive modernity, where race and gender mean less in success.

The shadows of yesterday were more comforting than the images of today…. for some.

What now?

psx_20161019_195951

Remember, we’re all prisoners of Plato’s Cave.

For me, I hope that McInnes eventually meets enough genuine people who respect him for who he is and not for badges of success. Eventually, it may illuminate more light on how superficial the relationships he seems to glorify actually are.

An anti-vaxxer is often a scared parent who wants to protect their children. The misinformation they have been imprisoned by is terrifying. There is nobility to be found in their actions, even if misguided.

And with climate change, the shadows paint a story that human condition is only improved through growth, carbon emissions and industry. You hear it in the refuting argument; “they want to send us back to the stone age!”

We are on the edge of a new frontier. Our climate, industry and societies will necessarily be different from what we are familiar with. Change is difficult. Any loss, or perceived loss, leads to grieving. A loss of ignorance often means a loss of perceived comfort.

If we can remain mindful of Plato’s Cave, hopefully, we develop productive strategies to help bring everyone along to the new frontier: the Anthropocene.

Bigger ways to lose it all: the climate, natural resources and even what’s ours

“If we develop a global nuclear economy with synthesised hydrocarbon fuels, or truly effective electric batteries for motor vehicles, why the hell not buy a bigger SUV next year?”

This comment by another has since remained with me – even inspiring its own cartoon.

BAUep2low

Because, of course, bigger is better. Provided we can eradicate this pesky climate concern, we’re onto something great (please note my sarcasm).

The trouble with such a linear, dare I say blinkered, perspective is that sustainable energy is not our only concern. If the Nine Planetary Boundaries are taken as a fair indicator of the state our planet, climate change is actually in fourth place, with biosphere integrity (genetic diversity), biochemical flows and land use changes all more heavily modified and/or eroded.

With climate change included, these four represent the major threats to long term prosperity. All are the result of the “bigger is better” mentality.

Bigger cities and farms, and more produce and energy use, equal greater economic activity.

When efficiency is improved, we don’t make savings, we simply make more, exploiting resources more quickly.

Stocks up! GDP up!… up, up, up!!

Growth is the modern god, more tangible than any other before it.

The blessed, after all, are showered in fortune. Those who doubt it deserve their meager station. Oh, how wonderful is the union of neo-liberal individualism and meritocracy.

But how big can a city get before the term “city” loses all meaning? How many hectares can be converted from ecosystems to monocultures before we lose all bio-services (that underpin so much of our economic activity)?

And we openly scoff at the loss of biodiversity when the compounds found in plants, fungi and animals (especially venom) have probably saved each of our life at one point or another.

With another species lost, so too could a lifesaving compound.

But we need to be bigger to stay afloat!

When will we exhaust the resources we dig up in wild places – the metals, minerals and hydrocarbons – and be forced to turn our mining activities to sifting through yesteryear’s junk yards for the same resources?

When will we remove the white lines down our roads, merging two lanes into one to fit the colossal SUV’s just waiting for a primed market?

I’m personally uncomfortable with such naive economic philosophies we broadly celebrate. And I fail to see how we can even start to talk meaningfully about taking action on biodiversity loss, land degradation or climate change, while still holding out on “endless growth”.

Just because it is, doesn’t mean that it should be.

We need to start thinking differently about how we interact with our common natural resources.

Some years ago, Michael Tobis suggested that we encourage much more economic activity towards non-material (or renewable) sources, such as art and entertainment. Given that higher density cities can achieve greater efficiencies, that automation is reducing the need for full time work and the concerns mentioned above, this could develop into hubs of economic activity while reducing such sources of stress.

And then there’s the thinking of people, such as Epicurus who said, “To become rich, do not add to your account, but subtract from your desires.

Materialism brings loneliness and anxiety. We feel a strong want for so many things we don’t actually need and, moreover, are only momentarily fulfilling once they are obtained.

Learning to quiet the inner voice of trivial want makes us richer on a number of fronts: Of course, without spending, one has additional income to spend on more meaningful things (or to work less). And then there is the other side as well; if you desire less, you already have most of what you need and want.

This is the proper outcome of having wealth – the amount accrued to subjective and trivial, the outcome (i.e. contentment with one’s lot) more objective.

We may think we want to be a millionaire, but that is just the tool used to quench our desires. The same thing can be achieved, for a fraction of the cost, through the taming of want, while at the same reducing our anxieties, pointless efforts and vanities.

With our death, material stuff and wealth pass on to others or erode to nothing. We don’t own any of it, but borrow it for a brief speck of time.

The only thing we do own is our time. It’s ours to spend however we see fit. Unlike wealth, once it’s gone, it can never again be reclaimed.

We could waste our fleeting moments, stressing over our desk and work floors on how we can acquire a bigger SUV, house and other soon-to-be-forgotten goods (made more so by planned obsolescence). Or we could treasure the moments we save to hold our loved ones, laugh with old friends and build bonds with new friends.

Before bigger meant better, it was often defined by greed and gluttony.

Spend your time preciously and, in turn, tread a little lighter on our limited resources.

Who deserves equal rights: One reason why so many social and environmental debates fail

Thoughts 2The further you chip away at the essential meaning of any social structure, two fundamental causes appear: guiding regulations must aim (however successfully) to further the well-being and opportunity of its free citizens.

Now, what defines a citizen within the population has often changed within societies – take slaves, gender or race discrimination, for example. Likewise the political and economic philosophies  behind these societies have also been as varied. However, the fundamental causes of such a unified population remains the same.

Recently, I’ve noticed an increase of opinion articles challenging the suitability of the neo-liberal philosophy.

Personally, I don’t hold a preference towards any system, provided it meets the objectives of improved well-being and opportunity for its citizens. In some society neo-liberal philosophies may achieve these ends, but they certainly do not today in any country I’m aware of.

I know I will be challenged on this conclusion.

And, I also know that neither my opponent nor myself would actually be wrong. The fault would be, as it so often is, that we would not be arguing the same thing.

The whole discrepancy starts with the view of the citizen.

Being more equal

Coupled with neol-liberalism is what is known as Meritocracy. The basic idea behind meritocracy is that the better the person, the more they are showered in fortune. There is something special, or it is the result of endless sacrifice, that leads our betters to their natural economic status.

Yet, over time, we find an increasing divide, not only economically, but socially, between the super rich and the rest, as meritocratic and neo-liberal principles couple in new policy.

For the so-called “land of the free,” it was interesting to witness in recent years the hot debate over basic universal healthcare for all US citizens. In much the same fashion, our own Medicare is always under threat of erosion for much the same reasons:

Why should the successful pay taxes so that society’s “losers” can receive free or subsidised healthcare?

The economic “leaners” as they are called in Australia.

This perspective effectively defines two groups within the population and, to return to the premise above about free citizens, I can only conclude that those who cannot afford adequate health care are not truly citizens with equal rights and dignities compared to their wealthy counterparts.

Beyond subsistence

I happen to disagree with this conclusion. Citizenship in my eyes applies to our whole species, regardless of wealth, race, gender, religion, age or ability.

A society I stand for is one that protects all people from cruelty, slavery and discrimination based on physical / cultural attributes (as opposed to one’s choices). It is a society that provides fair opportunity to all members, based on equal access to quality health care, education and essential utilities / amenities, which services as a fair starting platform for all to aspire to grow. Rights and dignities in such a society are universal, with law enforcers fair and balanced.

As has been said in numerous ways before; how many potential geniuses were snuffed out in the slums before they could ever spark? How fickle is fortune who sends so many falling from grace?

Providing a life beyond subsistence for all, provides greater intellectual capital for industry, a safety net from misfortune, and dignity for those of us who could never stand alone, or who time has exhausted.

The bad cocktail

Maybe neo-liberal ideas could work, if the society held strong social values to champion the lives and opportunities of their neighbours over favour and fortune.

“The wise are informed in what is right, the inferior in what will pay,” being such an example of this idea from Confucius.

Maybe Meritocracy could work, if it truly valued the efforts of all members equitably, for no-one is worthless (service providers shouldn’t need penalty rates just to make ends meet while massive profits from the business activity flow elsewhere).

No, neo-liberal and meritocracy are not compatible philosophies unless we conclude that not all members of a population are true citizens, which of course, I don’t.

And it is the latter – meritocracy – with which I most thoroughly disagree.

Social science shows us that wealth, beyond a given point, is superfluous and even potentially harmful – leading to worse outcomes even for the most wealthy among us.

Seneca also adds, “No man, however, enjoys a blessing that brings anxiety; he is always trying to add a little more. While he puzzles over increasing his wealth, he forgets how to use it. In short, he ceases to be master and becomes a steward.”

Forwarding on from my previous posts on loneliness and slavery, here again, I find common fault with our social practices.

The endlessly hot debates over environmental management, climate change, social wealthfare, refugees, wages / taxes and even same-sex marriage have a level of commonality, with the source being this bad cocktail. Who is a citizen, or deserves to be a citizen, with the same universal rights?

Both sides of the debate fail to understand what it is they are actually debating, because they address the symptom and not the cause. Regardless of the topic, we are only trying to define who is eligible for citizenship within our personal world view.

We will continue to fail to answer any of these issues, leading to needless suffering, unless we start with the central cause to them all.

Who deserves to be our equals?

Slavery and Climate Change: the same question we were never good at answering

Carbon slaves

“…[if] the shuttle would weave and the plectrum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves.”
Aristotle, Politics, Book 1, Part 4. (350 BCE)

Aristotle was correct. The day that brute human labour was no longer needed to achieve productive output, slaves would not be wanted.

I don’t believe for a second that there was a sudden uprising in human morality that led to the end of legalised ownership of people. In fact, in the quoted book above, Aristotle himself notes that, more than two thousand years ago, there were some people who thought slavery unjust.

No, our species has never felt entirely comfortable with slavery, but worked hard to justify it while they thought it necessary to reach a given standard of living.

For instance, Aristotle argued in Politics that it freed superior men from brutish toil, allowing them to become upright statesmen.

He wasn’t alone, of course. Many of the ancient thinkers and even The Bible not only condoned slavery, but provided guidance on how to most appropriately, that is, “morally”, master one’s human property.

There’s no surprised that it only went out of fashion with the Age of Enlightenment, the birth of modern science and the accompanying technological revolution. Rather quickly we had machines that methodically completed such tasks without the setbacks of slaves.

Indeed we could finally weave without guiding hands.

The end of legalised slavery was not a win for human morality, but merely a byproduct of changing technology and economic activity. Had advances in thought and technology been a century earlier or later, the results would be much the same, except with different names to the champions in our history books.

How does this relate to climate change?

It’s more than similes and parallels, but entirely the same problem.

For decades, academics have tried to argue the case, from evidence alone, as to why we should be concerned about growing carbon emissions and their impact on our fruitful (and very stable) Holocene climate.

Equally, the moral argument has grown ever louder for the rights of future people as well as the more vulnerable developing nations of today.

Yet, here we are, at 2016, with little more than token mitigation gestures to show for all the education and moral discussion.

The fundamental underlying problem is the same as with slavery: How can we maintain the standard of living we have, and expect to enjoy, without the cheap energy we currently exploit?

With human stock, the answer was only found when machines could fill the gap and business as usual could continue.

The underlying question took thousands of years to answer in the case of slavery. Why should we believe societies today to be any better with, again, answering the same problem, from a different energy source?

We must expect that the answer will be technological, not in education, or through morals or an uprising in, say, a minimalistic culture.

I know that many of us feel uncomfortable in betting on a “techno-fix” but human nature, as illustrated through our recorded history, leaves us with that as the most likely method for success.

To Supercede the Industrial Revolution…

Accepting that research and technological advancement are the only way to meaningfully mitigate carbon emissions and adapt to unavoidable climate change isn’t to handball the problem off to academics and industry so we can sit back and enjoy a cup of tea.

To act quickly requires, no, demands, public will.

Votes and the wallet don’t just speak, they shout.

Who we choose to represent us and what we choose to purchase both influence research and development. This is the democratic power we have in capitalistic countries.

Further, we know that climate change has, and will continue to have, significant impact on our global economy. To Invest in research and technology to replace the current carbon emitting systems is to invest in future prosperity.

We either let future climates make us poor or envision new markets, new niches and new ways of living for future wealth.

Thus the real champions to tackle climate change will come from the same group who led us to the problem – the entrepreneurs. Others might be remembered for great speeches and good policies, but it will be the entrepreneurs who will not only make these ideas reality, but also make them profitable, household names.

Slavery didn’t end because we worked to replace human hands with mechanics, but because of the reverse; new machines were seen to suit these tasks and were cheaper per unit of output.

Because our ancestors justified slavery, it wasn’t addressed until it was rendered unnecessary.

If we take a similar approach with climate change, we will be extremely poor before we face the question and thus be in a position unable to answer it. There’s a strong economic incentive to invest in finding the answer today.

Moreover, the so-called “debate” is rendered mute. We’re no longer pulling the moral or intellectual reins, but instead paving the path many steps ahead. That’s how progress is primarily achieved, as history teaches us.

Wars of ideology have never led us to prosperous futures. They only lead to a loss of life, wealth and intellectual freedom. The dreamer paved the way for the electrical light, radio and the aircraft.

The future is the entrepreneurs’ canvas while the ideologue does nothing but anchor us to the past. Climate change is the problem for the indefinite future.

If the car would drive and the city live without carbonised fossils to power them, the nation wouldn’t want fossil fuels nor the citizen the combustion engine.

Nothing but junk: How we buy up loneliness

A recent Lifeline survey found that the majority of respondents felt lonely. Even more respondents believed that loneliness was on the rise.

For me, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs comes to mind.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs (click for source)
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (click for source)

We live with the endless pursuit of stuff.

Stuff is suppose to make us entertained and more desirable to others. Stuff fills our homes and our spare time. Stuff weighs upon our anxieties.

Yet, to return to Maslow, beyond basic comfort (eg. shelter, warmth etc) and safety, much of the stuff is pointless.

We are sold on the idea that brands provide us with esteem, but does anyone really respect others more because they wear or hold a certain brand?

Even if the answer is yes, is this genuine esteem; after all, its attention is not the result of the person in any way, but only due to the badge they hold? Envy would be a better name for it, but more often, the types of people we would prefer to respect us are not the types of people so caught up in such trivialities as branding.

Brand association also means we spend a lot more on stuff when the generic alternative is just as good or, where the item is actually superfluous, we could live better without it entirely.

Self-actualisation too is not found in stuff. In fact the opposite is often true.

The advertisement shows us the driver cruising on empty roads through forests by sunset, and never the repayment schedule that leaves them pinned to the office desk.

Self-actualisation demands minimal overheads and expensive items that require undue attention and protection. The aim is to have opportunity to learn what fuels the fire in our hearts and minds as well as to provide us with the power to pursue these personal interests.

I entered into the discussion of environmental management from a natural sciences avenue, but the more I’ve learnt, the more I’ve come to realise that the problem is cultural. We are generally unfulfilled and needlessly isolated in a world of abundance and opportunity. We admire people that we typically don’t like and suffer endlessly from buyer’s remorse.

All the while, we churn over resources ever faster, quickly filling up garbage tip after garbage tip. The sigh of disappointment grows, pumping ever more carbon dioxide into our atmosphere and we are left paralysed, unable to stop it.

The valley of lost dreams (click for source)
The valley of lost dreams (click for source)

The problem isn’t new. Thinkers have long recognised that stuff does not bring happiness. Seneca, Epicurus and Lao Tzu are all examples of such thinkers who warned us thousands of years ago.

We are told that we want this stuff, but we fail to listen to the inner self as to what we actually need: The laughter of good friends over lively conversation. The affection of one in particular. To master something for no other reason but the enjoyment of it. To tread on new grounds.

To live.

To achieve a higher level of joy in life, it starts with recognising that the most rewarding goals are not found in material stuff. We need to focus on friendships and pursuing our hobbies.

Rather than a new pair of designer sunglasses, buy a $15 pair of sunnies and spend the rest on a BBQ with mates.

When your mobile plan is up, keep your phone if it’s otherwise fine (or replace it with a reasonable one you can buy outright), move to a SIM only plan and use the money you save to have regular movie nights with close friends once a month.

Reassess the house and car for functionality over prestige.

Make “work less, live more” central to all your future planning.

You’ll feel better for it.