Found this treatise nailed to the door yesterday without an identified author or return address. Someone has been thinking hard and working hard on where to go from here. I leave it without comment.
Climate Change: Do Politics or Do Nothing?
I’ve been thinking a lot about how to address climate change in terms of policy at the local level, at the smallest organized unit of government for my area, which is the County of Hawaii, encompassing the island of Hawaii. I am not an expert on climate change or climate change policy in any way, shape, or form, but this may well be the mother of all situations where we will need to learn by doing, rather than waiting on expertise that does not yet exist. Continue reading “Climate Change: Do Politics or Do Nothing?”
Not Being Heard
The drama that unfolded during the last few weeks over the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court took many of us on a journey that no one could have predicted, and that became a drama about something much bigger than the Supreme Court. Bigger than party politics, or even right versus left. It became about being heard.
It became, for some of us, about memory, history, and the way we understood our own lives. Continue reading “Not Being Heard”
There is a long struggle ahead of us and the outlines of that struggle just got a little more clear this week, when Elizabeth Warren, the Senator from Massachusetts, introduced the Accountable Capitalism Act, which is about nothing much less than changing the game. Her legislation calls for corporations that make over $1 billion a year to be formally responsible not just to their shareholders but also to their workers, customers, and communities – which last concept hopefully extends to the environment. This is important because at present the board of directors and the management of corporations are legally bound to maximize economic return. That is the only criteria – other than not breaking the law – with which they are allowed to make decisions. This dictate is the backbone of capitalism as we know it, which is to say a most predatory, ruthless, and myopic kind of capitalism which sooner or later is going to get us all killed.
Of course the spokespersons for the titans of industry and finance say not only is Elizabeth Warren “batty” but also that she is a Communist who must be shut up or all the businesses in America will move to Switzerland ( I kid you not.) Because heaven knows American Capitalism Will Not Survive being responsible for anything but making as much money as possible! Such a fragile flower cannot be asked to clean up its own room or do the dishes.
As the incomparable Charles Pierce puts it:
This is one of the first complete frontal assaults on the economic theories that have ruled American politics in one form or another for the past four decades. It is one of the first substantial efforts to treat the ascendancy of conservative economic ideas as a thoroughgoing blight that must be reversed, and it does so by turning the achievements of which conservative economic ideologues are proudest back on them. Corporate personhood? OK, then we’re going to have corporate jail, too. A rising tide lifts all boats? We’re going to be sure everyone has a seat.
Elizabeth Warren’s Accountable Capitalism Act is significant – perhaps even world-historically significant – but her legislation is just one point in a change in the air, in the mood, in a growing awareness. She has brought up into the bright light of the national political debate a simmering knowledge that what we do in pursuit of business success has complex consequences and those consequences are not adequately weighed and measured in the quarterly accounting of profit and loss, of Return On Investment, and Asset Liquidity. The long struggle will be to make this point over and over again – that we all must be responsible to a greater conception of the good and profitable – until it becomes common knowledge and the way we do things.
I tell you what…I’m signing on to her team.
Against Complacency: the fierce voice of Patrick Noble
We don’t need more renewable energy to power how we live, but to change how we live so we don’t need that power. – Patrick Noble, https://convivialeconomy.com
There are some writers on the internet that get thousands of clicks and hundreds of comments every week. Generally these writers work hard to build their online community of readers. Their art is that of building a common language.
There are others who don’t have the knack or interest in building their readership. I suspect they are the kind of artist that is fascinated by something on the horizon, something that is not readily visible, and even less readily conveyable. Their art is that of illumination and discovery. Continue reading “Against Complacency: the fierce voice of Patrick Noble”
What story shall we tell?
The community in which Jedek is spoken is more gender-equal than Western societies, there is almost no interpersonal violence, they consciously encourage their children not to compete, and there are no laws or courts. There are no professions either, rather everyone has the skills that are required in a hunter-gatherer community. This way of life is reflected in the language. There are no indigenous words for occupations or for courts of law, and no indigenous verbs to denote ownership such as borrow, steal, buy or sell, but there is a rich vocabulary of words to describe exchanging and sharing.
This is not a fable from a galaxy far, far away. It’s from a study by researchers at Lund University in Sweden. Jedek is spoken by a small community of people in the Malaysian highlands, and the language features described above are not uncommon among cultures not yet swept aside in the civilizational deluge. They are part of our human heritage.
It’s been known since forever that words both reflect and determine how we perceive the world, and what’s more, that it is possible to instrumentalise that tendency of language to determine perceptions. The relevant techniques are routinely learned and applied by advertisers, demagogues, preachers, storytellers and cognitive therapists, to name a few. What is less widely known, though, is the invisible way that a language’s deep-down warrants — what it does and doesn’t permit, what it privileges and what it plays down, what it values and what it disdains — shapes its speakers’ understanding and expectations of other people and themselves.
Now, contemplate for a moment what it means to live within the confines of a language-culture which values ownership and transactional self-interest to the extent that ours does…and wonder what that might do for our capacity to recognise and share our common interests. Our capacity to play, not compete. Our capacity to love.
I’m sure a healthy culture fills minds with a rich vocabulary for sharing, supporting, exchanging, listening and understanding, and offers only a meagre selection of words for those other things, best forgotten. A healthy culture wouldn’t even have words to express esteem for a “great deal”, or for obscene wealth, or for the act of blasting a junk automobile into orbit to attract “likes”, because those would be beyond all possibility of being esteemed.
But back to the speakers of Jedek. Their world is not a utopia and it’s not a new-age fantasy. They’re real people leading normal lives, albeit normal in a way that people from our culture would typically dismiss as less than cultured. But that reflects a deficit in our language and values, rather than in theirs.
As one of the Lund University researchers writes:
There are so many ways to be human, but all too often our own modern and mainly urban societies are used as the yardstick for what is universally human. We have so much to learn, not least about ourselves, from the largely undocumented and endangered linguistic and cultural riches that are out there.
Will the Center Hold?
The photo above is William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
“The Second Coming”
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
the falcon cannot hear the falconer;
things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
the ceremony of innocence is drowned;
the best lack all conviction, while the worst
are full of passionate intensity. Continue reading “Will the Center Hold?”
This is Bunny, the newest member of my animal family. He lost his mama somehow so I’ve adopted him. He is awfully cute and fuzzy, but still I wish I didn’t have to adopt him. Continue reading “Sharing Well-being”
Just Regular Heroes of Peace
This is Napoleon Kaʻiliawa and Albert Scales; these two guys are my heroes. Why are they heroes? Because they worked together to make their community healthier, more resilient, and caring. Continue reading “Just Regular Heroes of Peace”
Seashells by the shore
I once visited a beach deep into Mexico along the Gulf of California. I encountered a group of young girls as I was walking the shore collecting seashells, as I love to do. We neither spoke each other’s language. The girls were probably as interested in an American on their beach as they were in what I was doing in particular. I showed them the pocket full of shells I had collected and then oddly enough they did the same. It seems a universal habit then to pick up shells along the shore and show them off. Humans the eternal collector and showoff!
One of the girls pointed to a particularly nice shell in my hand and I interpreted her expression of sounds/words to mean that she wanted to know if she could have it. I sat down on the sand, spread out my shells, and invited her to do the same. She immediately did so. Amazing how much we communicate without words!
I saw a shell in her pile that I wanted, I drew two lines in the sand between us with a space in between. I then reached over to her pile, picked up the shell I wanted, and placed it in the middle space. I motioned with my hand that she could select from mine. She grasped the idea quickly and did so, but selected a shell with which I was not willing to part. I shook my head no, removed it from the middle, and invited her to pick again. After she had chosen again I felt the one she selected was ‘worth’ more than the one I had chosen from her pile. I made the sound of “hmmm” to indicate I was thinking about it and then I reached over and selected a second shell from hers and placed it in the middle. I looked at her to see if she understood. She shook her head yes and added a big smile, and we each took the shell(s) we had selected from the middle. Our trading was completed.
We both seemed happy with our transaction, perhaps she was simply happy to have had interaction with an American. Difficult to know! But for me it was a pleasant experience because we had done something as complicated as make trade decisions even though we did not speak each other’s language. Later I reflected on trade deals and economics. I realized that in our exchange we were both free to decline. We both agreed to what we exchanged. Neither of us had any power to force the other to trade unfairly. We both knew what we were getting and what we were giving up. We traded fairly.
So what does this have to do with the complex economic system we currently call our global economy? The values of the seashells were arbitrarily chosen and what was valuable to me was different from what was valuable to her. There wasn’t an intrinsic or objective value; we each decided what we were willing to exchange. If it had been food or water and one of us had been hungry or thirsty the other could have held out for more because of the other’s need. I tend to think of this as economic blackmail. Supply and demand would also affect our trade decisions. If the beach had been covered with shells perhaps we would have seen no reason to trade for each other’s. We all individually decide the value of the things we want and need.
Economics is a give and take, exchanging things we value; except we exchange dollars for cartons of milk, or pairs of shoes, or a package of meat. And since we trade with dollars or some unit of currency it creates an intermediary, the ‘job’ where we acquire the dollars. But economies are still about trading. I trade my labor for the dollars you agree to pay me. If you have more power than me I have less position to bargain. The store owner trades dollars for products they then trade for more dollars. The more intermediaries, the more complexity of the trading, the more difficult it is to see all the levels and ramifications of our trade.
Wages earners seem less able to negotiate the value of their labor making us less satisfied as employees. We know less and less about the products we buy. I go to a store and trade some dollars for a bottle of weed spray. I don’t see the factory where it was made. I don’t see how the factory affects the environment around it. I don’t see the number of people who handled the bottle from manufacture to arrival in the store. I don’t see the person who unpacked the container and placed the bottle on the shelf. After using the spray in my garden I don’t see its effects on the microbes in the soil, the insects that visit the plant that was sprayed. I don’t make the connection between the spray and a skin rash I develop later. All of the things we don’t see or don’t make connections to are part of the reason why we’ve lost transparency in the trading system we call our economy. And as trading has become more complex transactions are even less transparent. Our purchases are increasingly affecting people around the world.
Trading seems to me to part of human nature, and it certainly has been important in the development or our civilization. Rather than obsess about what we buy perhaps we should simply pay more attention. Read labels and insist on good labeling and transparency because the more accurate the information the better informed we are as consumers. We should do our best to find out about the product’s effect on users, producers, and the environment. And we can start to think about how trade and economy work, how it affects the world. This is the power of the market; we are the market, we are on both sides of the market because we trade labor for money and money for goods.
We should keep in mind that across every ‘line in the sand’ is a another person. It is much nicer when both parties have some power to trade or not, to walk away satisfied with the bargain. And it never hurts to remember that every resource we trade comes from the earth. We might dig it up, melt it, process it, make it into something with our hands or machines; but we still need the earth to supply the raw materials. Ultimately, everything we trade is traded with the earth itself.