Tag: Community

The book! Part Five: Honesty.

In one very real sense, a chapter about the quality of honesty in dogs is bizarre. Surely, honesty, and dishonesty, are terms that exclusively describe human tendencies. When the term “dishonest” is used to describe a person, most often we are describing an effort by that person to deceive another. It is a description of someone who intentionally is trying to mislead or misinform us.

But in terms of honesty, or dishonesty, what I am about to say probably applies to all animals; I don’t know. Namely, that if there was one animal on Planet Earth that is incapable of guile or deceit, it has to be the dog. There is no doubt in my mind that dogs remain one of the most beautiful gifts nature has bestowed upon us humans.

Now that last bold statement is not to imply that dogs don’t try to manipulate us humans; far from it. Their attempts at manipulation would impress any three-year-old child! But there’s nothing dishonest about a dog trying to manipulate its owner into giving the dog whatever it wants; they are far too obvious in their motives and methods. As I read somewhere, dogs are: “Just scavengers looking for a way to get something with minimal effort.

Thus I think we can take it as a given that dogs are honest; fundamentally so.

OK, dear reader, you have no way of knowing that after writing that last sentence, I sat staring at the screen for a good ten minutes. I didn’t know how to continue the theme. I couldn’t think of anything to add to what every “good person and true” knows, and has known since time immemorial: honesty is a fundamental aspect of being a good person; the enviable of all titles, as George Washington is reputed to have said.

What was exercising my brain was to come at the subject of honesty in a way that offered a compelling reason for being honest; over and above the natural assumption about honesty, that it is so blindingly obvious not to require being spelt out; in a manner of speaking. It struck me that honesty is very different to the majority of the other qualities that we need to learn from dogs.
Different in the sense that the other qualities are open to being embraced as something that may be learnt, with clear rewards from so doing, whereas honesty seems a fundamental, core way of relating to the world around one. Mind you, there was a tiny voice in my head that was nagging away at me that said that honesty may not be so ‘black and white’. For example, the question of ‘white lies’. But, at heart, I was still lost as to how to proceed.

So, I spent another thirty minutes exploring the web looking for clarity; looking for some inspiration. Yet those web searches just ended up confusing me more. About the least confusing item I came across, more or less at random, was a section from an article read[1] on the website The New Atlantis. The full article was entitled: The truth about human nature.

The section that I read, and is reproduced below, seemed to confirm in my mind that honesty; something that, by rights, should be so fundamentally understood, was anything but simple.

Since Nietzsche, the choice of which version of ourselves we identify with has been widely understood as a choice between lying and truth-telling — to ourselves as much as to others. The moral ideal has become authenticity — a particular kind of honesty. Of course, just about any philosophical ideal is grounded in some sort of honesty: the search for Truth requires truth. Yet Aristotle describes honesty as a virtue only of self-presentation — the balance between self-deprecation and boastfulness. And Plato never lists honesty as a virtue at all, and even distinguishes between “true lies” and useful or noble lies. From the modern to the post-modern era, honesty and authenticity shifted to become much of the telos[2] of life, where before they had been but means in our progress toward that end.

Here was me looking for clarity only to find anything but that!

So what to make of all this?

I am going to fall back on the ideas expressed in the chapter on community. Rather on the closing words of that chapter, “… the power of sharing, of living a local community life, may just possibly be the difference between failure and survival of us humans.

There’s a sense of hope in me that we are heading for an era of new localism that will, in and of itself, reinforce a culture of honesty in one’s life. Why such hope? Because there are signs. Such as this one: the growing concern about factory farming, surfacing as increasingly more vibrant local food movements, demonstrating that people are really scrutinising where their food comes from. More than that! There are increasing concerns as to where our medicines are made and the possible side-effects, and a dawning awareness of how we are living on the backs of exploited third world workers (and poorly paid service workers here at home). Possibly all under a global umbrella of awareness that big government is no longer working as it should be; evidenced by falling voter turnout numbers at key elections in the USA and many other countries.

My hope is that this growing ‘honesty’ about the reality of our present world and where it appears to be heading is at the heart, in my opinion, of an expanding local consciousness permeating the hearts and minds of many people, leading them to want to become more “local.”

Should this come about, and I hope that it does in my lifetime, then an honesty of thought and deed will be, nay, has to be, a core attribute of life in a well-functioning local community.

982 words. Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

[1] http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-truth-about-human-nature
[2] As in an end or purpose of life

Is it really the age of loneliness?

Much as I respect Mr. Monbiot’s views, I hope he is wrong in this respect.

I have long admired the writings of George Monbiot and, as often as not, have republished his essays in this place.

But an essay by George that was published in the UK Guardian newspaper yesterday portrays a frightening picture of modern-day Britain.  It was called Falling Apart and is republished, with George’s permission, today.

I want to offer a personal response to the essay, that immediately follows George’s piece.

ooOOoo

Falling Apart

October 14, 2014

Competition and individualism are forcing us into a devastating Age of Loneliness

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 15th October 2014

What do we call this time? It’s not the information age: the collapse of popular education movements left a void now filled by marketing and conspiracy theories(1). Like the stone age, iron age and space age, the digital age says plenty about our artefacts but little about society. The anthropocene, in which humans exert a major impact on the biosphere, fails to distinguish this century from the previous twenty. What clear social change marks out our time from those that precede it? To me it’s obvious. This is the Age of Loneliness.

When Thomas Hobbes claimed that in the state of nature, before authority arose to keep us in check, we were engaged in a war “of every man against every man”(2), he could not have been more wrong. We were social creatures from the start, mammalian bees, who depended entirely on each other. The hominims of East Africa could not have survived one night alone. We are shaped, to a greater extent than almost any other species, by contact with others. The age we are entering, in which we exist apart, is unlike any that has gone before.

Three months ago we read that loneliness has become an epidemic among young adults(3). Now we learn that it is just as great an affliction of older people. A study by Independent Age shows that severe loneliness in England blights the lives of 700,000 men and 1.1m women over 50(4), and is rising with astonishing speed.

Ebola is unlikely ever to kill as many people as this disease strikes down. Social isolation is as potent a cause of early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day(5); loneliness, research suggests, is twice as deadly as obesity(6). Dementia, high blood pressure, alcoholism and accidents – all these, like depression, paranoia, anxiety and suicide, become more prevalent when connections are cut(7,8). We cannot cope alone.

Yes, factories have closed, people travel by car instead of buses, use YouTube rather than the cinema. But these shifts alone fail to explain the speed of our social collapse. These structural changes have been accompanied by a life-denying ideology, which enforces and celebrates our social isolation. The war of every man against every man – competition and individualism in other words – is the religion of our time, justified by a mythology of lone rangers, sole traders, self-starters, self-made men and women, going it alone. For the most social of creatures, who cannot prosper without love, there is now no such thing as society, only heroic individualism. What counts is to win. The rest is collateral damage.

British children no longer aspire to be train drivers or nurses, more than a fifth now say they “just want to be rich”: wealth and fame are the sole ambitions of 40% of those surveyed(9). A government study in June revealed that Britain is the loneliness capital of Europe(10). We are less likely than other Europeans to have close friends or to know our neighbours. Who can be surprised, when everywhere we are urged to fight like stray dogs over a dustbin?

We have changed our language to reflect this shift. Our most cutting insult is loser. We no longer talk about people. Now we call them individuals. So pervasive has this alienating, atomising term become that even the charities fighting loneliness use it to describe the bipedal entities formerly known as human beings(11). We can scarcely complete a sentence without getting personal. Personally speaking (to distinguish myself from a ventriloquist’s dummy), I prefer personal friends to the impersonal variety and personal belongings to the kind that don’t belong to me. Though that’s just my personal preference, otherwise known as my preference.

One of the tragic outcomes of loneliness is that people turn to their televisions for consolation: two-fifths of older people now report that the one-eyed god is their principal company(12). This self-medication enhances the disease. Research by economists at the University of Milan suggests that television helps to drive competitive aspiration(13). It strongly reinforces the income-happiness paradox: the fact that, as national incomes rise, happiness does not rise with them.

Aspiration, which increases with income, ensures that the point of arrival, of sustained satisfaction, retreats before us. The researchers found that those who watch a lot of television derive less satisfaction from a given level of income than those who watch only a little. Television speeds up the hedonic treadmill, forcing us to strive even harder to sustain the same level of satisfaction. You have only to think of the wall-to-wall auctions on daytime TV, Dragon’s Den, the Apprentice and the myriad forms of career-making competition the medium celebrates, the generalised obsession with fame and wealth, the pervasive sense, in watching it, that life is somewhere other than where you are, to see why this might be.

So what’s the point? What do we gain from this war of all against all? Competition drives growth, but growth no longer makes us wealthier. Figures published this week show that while the income of company directors has risen by more than a fifth, wages for the workforce as a whole have fallen in real terms over the past year (14). The bosses now earn – sorry, I mean take – 120 times more than the average full-time worker. (In 2000, it was 47 times). And even if competition did make us richer, it would make us no happier, as the satisfaction derived from a rise in income would be undermined by the aspirational impacts of competition.

The top 1% now own 48% of global wealth(15), but even they aren’t happy. A survey by Boston College of people with an average net worth of $78m found that they too are assailed by anxiety, dissatisfaction and loneliness(16). Many of them reported feeling financially insecure: to reach safe ground, they believed, they would need, on average, about 25% more money. (And if they got it? They’d doubtless need another 25%). One respondent said he wouldn’t get there until he had $1 billion in the bank.

For this we have ripped the natural world apart, degraded our conditions of life, surrendered our freedoms and prospects of contentment to a compulsive, atomising, joyless hedonism, in which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. For this we have destroyed the essence of humanity: our connectedness.

Yes, there are palliatives, clever and delightful schemes like Men in Sheds and Walking Football developed by charities for isolated older people(17). But if we are to break this cycle and come together once more, we must confront the world-eating, flesh-eating system into which we have been forced.

Hobbes’s pre-social condition was a myth. But we are now entering a post-social condition our ancestors would have believed impossible. Our lives are becoming nasty, brutish and long.

http://www.monbiot.com

References:

1. http://www.autodidactproject.org/other/hj1.html

2. http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/hobbes/leviathan-contents.html

3. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jul/20/loneliness-britains-silent-plague-hurts-young-people-most

4. http://www.independentage.org/isolation-a-growing-issue-among-older-men/

5. http://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/threat-to-health/

6. http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/feb/16/loneliness-twice-as-unhealthy-as-obesity-older-people

7. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jul/20/loneliness-britains-silent-plague-hurts-young-people-most

8. http://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/threat-to-health/

9. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/11014591/One-in-five-children-just-want-to-be-rich-when-they-grow-up.html

10. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10909524/Britain-the-loneliness-capital-of-Europe.html

11. http://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2014/05/FINAL-Age-UK-PR-response-02.05.14.pdf

12. http://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/loneliness-research/

13. http://boa.unimib.it/bitstream/10281/23044/2/Income_Aspirations_Television_and_Happiness.pdf

14. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/uk/article4234843.ece

15. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/oct/14/richest-1percent-half-global-wealth-credit-suisse-report

16. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/04/secret-fears-of-the-super-rich/308419/

17. http://www.independentage.org/isolation-a-growing-issue-among-older-men/

ooOOoo

Our lives are becoming nasty, brutish and long.

As closing sentences go, that’s about as tough as it gets.

Nevertheless, I’m going to offer a perspective, something that George doesn’t mention.  That is the importance of community.

Back in 2008 BBC Timewatch screened a programme about the revelations that came from the latest archaeological dig at Stonehenge, near Amesbury in Wiltshire in England.  I wrote about the programme over four years ago: Stonehenge – a place of healing.

Stonehenge is one of Britain’s most famous historical sites, deservedly so because Stonehenge was one of the most important places in ancient Europe.

Stonehenge

But evidence from a dig that was authorised in 2008 has shown that not only is Stonehenge a much older site of human habitation but that it’s purpose is altogether different to what has been assumed.  It was, indeed, a healing place, possibly the most important in Europe.

Professors Tim Darvill and Geoff Wainwright are the world-renowned archaeologists who believe they have cracked the conundrum of Stonehenge’s original purpose.

If you would like to watch that Timewatch episode, and it is highly recommended, then someone has neatly uploaded it to YouTube.

The programme clearly offers evidence from the carbon-dating of seeds buried under the famous blue stones that dates this settlement to some 9,000 years BP. The detailed examination of ancient humans buried nearby indicates they came to Stonehenge with a range of diseases, many terminal in nature.

So back to George Monbiot’s essay and the element that screams out at me.

We have lost sight of the huge healing benefits that come from old-fashioned, shoulder-to-shoulder communities.

Not to mention the healing properties of a loving dog or two in one’s life!

Loving each other: woman and dog!
Loving each other: woman and dog!