Tag: Ian Welsh

Running on empty!

Is it just me?

It is my usual pattern to awake around 5am, sit upright in bed and browse the latest news on my tablet computer. Jean sleeps on most times next to me.

Thus it was last Friday morning that I am sitting in bed reading the latest goings on around the world.

But, unusually, that morning’s wanderings left a bleak mark on me. See if you feel the same way when I share the stories that I read.

From Naked Capitalism.

The Tragedy of the Soma Mine-Workers: A Crime of Peripheral Capitalism Unleashed

Posted on May 16, 2014 by Yves Smith

Yves here. This post explains how the horrific mine explosion in Western Turkey, which has officially claimed nearly 300 lives as the death count continues to rise, was not an accident but the direct result of privatization and circumvention of safety standards. And unlike the West, where industrial and mining accidents are met with short-term sympathy but little if any real change in working conditions, protests have broken out, not just in the mine town of Soma but also in major cities. As Mark Ames has pointed out, American has airbrushed out much of the history of labor’s struggles for safe workplaces and better pay. Violence against efforts to organize workers was common. Henry Ford had a private army of thugs for just this purpose. The tragedy in Turkey should serve as a reminder of what has been won, and how fragile those gains are.

By Erinç Yeldan, Dean of the faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, Yasar University and an executive directors of the International Development Economics Associates. Cross posted from Triple Crisis

One of the greatest work-crimes in mining industry occurred in Soma, a little mining village in Western Turkey. At noon-time on Tuesday, May 13, according to witnesses, an electrical fault triggered a transformer to explode causing a large fire in the mine, releasing carbon monoxide and gaseous fumes. (The official cause of the “accident” was still unknown, at this writing, after nearly 30 hours.) Around 800 miners were trapped 2 km underground and 4 km from the exit. At this point, the death toll has already reached 245, with reports of another 100 workers remaining in the mine, yet unreached.

Turkey has possibly the worst safety record in terms of mining accidents and explosions in Europe and the third worst in the world. Since the right-wing Justice and Development Party (AKP) assumed power in 2002, and up to 2011, a 40% increase in work-related accidents has been reported. The death toll from these accidents reached more than 11,000.

(Read the rest here.)

From the BBC News website:

In just over five years Britain will have run out of oil, coal and gas, researchers have warned.

A report by the Global Sustainability Institute said shortages would increase dependency on Norway, Qatar and Russia.

There should be a “Europe-wide drive” towards wind, tidal, solar and other sources of renewable power, the institute’s Prof Victor Anderson said.

The government says complete energy independence is unnecessary, says BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin.

The report says Russia has more than 50 years of oil, more than 100 years of gas and more than 500 years of coal left, on current consumption.

‘Decisive action’

By contrast, Britain has just 5.2 years of oil, 4.5 years of coal and three years of its own gas remaining.

France fares even worse, according to the report, with less than year to go before it runs out of all three fossil fuels.

(Read the rest here)

Again from Naked Capitalism:

UK Survey Finds High Levels of Depression and Desperation Among the Young

Posted on May 16, 2014 by Yves Smith

If you’ve been keeping half an eye on economic news, the UK has of late been looking pretty spiffy relative to its advanced economy peers, with 2014 growth forecast at 3%. Even though unemployment in the UK is at its lowest level in five years, the young and the long-term unemployed haven’t benefitted to the same degree.

One issue that doesn’t get the attention that it merits is the destructive psychological impact of being out of work. Work doesn’t just provide money, as critical as that is. It provides a way of organizing your time, social interaction, and a place in society, even if that place is not really where you’d like to be. Being unanchored is extremely taxing. Recall that the Japanese get people to quit by giving them a desk and nothing to do. The lack of legitimacy, the implicit shaming of being isolated is sufficiently punitive as to induce workers to give up their pay and being able to tell their families they have a job.

The BBC reports on the results of a survey by the Prince’s Trust called the Macquarie Youth Index, which is based on a survey of roughly 2200 16 to 25 year olds. 13% were what the survey called Neet: not in employment, education, or training.

I will return to the terrible implications of this report after I declare a past interest.  Before I left England in 2008, I was an active volunteer with the Prince’s Trust. My years of being associated with the Trust taught me that helping young persons discover their strengths, enable them to maintain and defend a positive self-image, and offer them real hope for their future lives, was and is the most important role of society; without doubt!

Now back to that report:

The survey found high levels of suicidal thoughts and self harm among this group, and high levels of stress among the young generally. Key excerpts from the article:

The report found 9% of all respondents agreed with the statement: “I have nothing to live for”…

Among those respondents classified as Neet, the percentage of those agreeing with the statement rose to 21%.

The research found that long-term unemployed young people were more than twice as likely as their peers to have been prescribed anti-depressants.

One in three (32%) had contemplated suicide, while one in four (24%) had self-harmed.

The report found 40% of jobless young people had faced symptoms of mental illness, including suicidal thoughts, feelings of self-loathing and panic attacks, as a direct result of unemployment.

Three quarters of long-term unemployed young people (72%) did not have someone to confide in, the study found.

Martina Milburn, chief executive of the Prince’s Trust, said: “Unemployment is proven to cause devastating, long-lasting mental health problems among young people.

(Read the full report here and the BBC report here.)

Then there was the report from the NASA study team that key glaciers in West Antarctica are in an irreversible retreat. First seen by me on the BBC News website, from where the following photograph was taken.

Thwaites Glacier is a huge ice stream draining into the Amundsen Bay.
Thwaites Glacier is a huge ice stream draining into the Amundsen Bay.

To really understand the message that Planet Earth is sending out to us humans, I would recommend reading Antarctica’s Glaciers Disintegrating over on Patrice Ayme’s blog.  Here’s how Patrice finishes that essay:

We imparted acceleration to the biosphere. We are pushing the biosphere around. And we know that the force we are applying is only augmenting. That means the acceleration, and even more the speed of the change, is going to get worse quick. That’s basic dynamics, first quarter of undergraduate physics.

Of course, neither the leaders of France, Great Britain, or the USA has taken such a course: they are basically ignoramuses at the helm (and Angela Merkel, who knows plenty of physics, made a risky bet she seems to be losing).

Clearly, we should instead apply the brakes to the maximum (instead of flooring the accelerator). What would be the price of this cautious? None, for common people: hard work to de-carbonize the world economy would require dozens of millions to be employed that way, in the West alone.

That, of course, is a scary thought for plutocrats, who much prefer us unemployed, impotent, and despondent.

Patrice Aymé

All of this is sending out a message. The message that if we are not very, very careful this could be the end-game for human civilisation on this Planet.

But do you know what really puzzles me?

It’s that this message is increasingly one that meets with nods of approval and words of agreement from more and more people that one sees going about one’s normal life.  Perhaps, because there’s more and more reporting from a wider and wider range of sources. Like The Permaculture Research Institute website recently publishing This Collapse is a ‘Crisis of Bigness’.  Like Grist publishing Walmart is the last place Obama should be making a clean energy speech.

Like Ian Welsh publishing Equal Rights to Profit from Impoverishing People and Causing a Great Extinction Event. Like Patrice in an essay last Friday about the way in which Main Stream Media is Manipulated. Viz:

Main Stream Media (MSM) has been the instrument of control of the People ever since there were oligarchies. It used to be about temples and priests, now it’s more about controlling papers, radio, TV, and the Internet.

and later on:

This crudeness, and vigilance of censorship by the owners [of the New York Times], is why the Obamas, Clintons, Krugmans, and Stiglitzs have to be careful. After all, they are just employees enjoying the perks of the system. Yes, they don’t own it. Ownership is everything. If the servants want to keep on thriving, those “leaders” will have to please the owners. So they “lead” where the real owners are willing us all, the herd, to be led.

Patrice rounds his essay off, thus:

The plutocracy focuses on direct control of the world imperial system, and that means controlling the giants (especially the three military leaders of the West). This is where the propaganda is the thickest.

The New York Times is considered to be the “newspaper of record” in the USA. However, the bottom line is that this is the third century during which it is owned and controlled by a particular family. How can these two elements be compatible? Why is that particular family “of record”?

Even in the Middle Ages, the most absolute kings there were, those of France, actually owned relatively little property. Francois I himself may have worn expensive clothes, but Italian bankers paid for his trips around France. Francois I did not own the media of the time.

What we have now is different. We have an ascending plutocracy that tries to grab the minds ever more. What Putin is doing in Russia is just a particular case, part of a whole.

Hopefully, people will see through this, and get their news from somewhere else than plutocratically owned media, thus bankrupting the MSM (the Internet can support journalists directly: see the successful Mediapart in France).

But I haven’t answered my earlier rhetorical question.  “But do you know what really puzzles me?” Implying that a growing number of people sense there is a problem with today’s world.

That question will be answered tomorrow. Do please return.

Essence of wisdom, page two.

Doing the right thing has power.

Thus wrote Laura Leggett Linney.  Maybe Laura doesn’t fit into the same folder as Confucius (she’s well and truly alive for one thing) but the quote was perfect, hence the connection.

Yesterday, I offered an overview of the human brain.  Today I want to expand on the idea of “how we jumble up how we act with what is best for us” as was put in yesterday’s introduction.

In researching for today’s essay, the power of the Internet quickly found the quotation by ex-President Lyndon B. Johnson that “Doing what’s right isn’t the problem. It’s knowing what’s right.”  Reflecting on the escalation of America’s involvement in Vietnam that was a product of LBJ’s term of office, perhaps his quotation carries a certain pathos that wasn’t intended at the time of its pronouncement!  In other words, it’s not the ‘knowing‘ but the ‘doing‘ that is critical, as LBJ’s legacy so clearly illustrated.  Johnson might have better said, “Knowing what’s right is sometimes hard. Doing what’s right is sometimes even harder.

To illustrate the challenge of converting these fine concepts into the grind of daily life, I’m going to use a recent essay published by Ian Welsh.  Ian is a frustrated author who writes about his experiences in completing a book on Prosperity. It struck me as a fabulous insight into the vagaries of homo sapiens and one that lent itself beautifully to what I am trying to convey today.

Ian very promptly gave me written permission to republish his essay on Learning from Dogs.  So what I am going to do is to add my own thoughts to Ian’s essay in a way that hopefully supports the proposition that we are far from being logical creatures.

To know what to do is not enough

by Ian Welsh – January 2nd, 2013

For the past year I’ve been writing a book on prosperity, by which I mean widespread affluence. It’s been slow going, not because I don’t believe I know the general technical requirements of prosperity (I do, if I didn’t, I shouldn’t be wasting anyone’s time, including mine, writing the book), but because the real problem isn’t the technical details like eliminating bottlenecks, or redistributing income, or setting up positive feedback loops, or avoiding fraud, or stopping financialization, or any of the dozens of other subjects I either visit at chapter length or touch on briefly.  The problem as with, say, stopping smoking, isn’t so much what to do, it is how it comes that we do it.  When do we make the decision we’re willing to do what it takes, sufferer the negative consequences of getting to a better place, and then push ourselves through those consequences?

Let’s dally with that phrase, “isn’t so much what to do, it is how it comes that we do it.”  On the 1st January, I published an article called Why?  It included a film by Simon Sinek looking at the Why, How, and What of human decision-making.  The film supports the thesis that those who succeed act, think and do things differently; the crucial point being that spending time on understanding why you do what you do is very revealing.  You can see the resonance between Simon Sinek and Ian Welsh, can’t you?  If we better understand ‘why’ we want to do something, we can better think 0f what is the best way of achieving that.

Back to Ian’s essay.

This is a huge problem in individuals, as the weight loss, addiction, psychology, psychiatry and self-help industries attest.  There is, generally, more money in  not solving a problem, as drug makers with their palliatives understand, than in solving it.  The people who have power and money and influence in the status quo are not sure that in a new world, with a new economy, and the new ethics which must undergird that new economy, they will be on top.  They are right to believe so.  They are creatures of the current world, and in being created, have created the world they are unsteady masters of.  Their ethics and morals, their way of business, of living, of apportioning power and influence and money must go if there is to be widespread affluence.  Their methods have been tried for 40 odd years now, and if measured against the human weal, have failed.  They will not, they cannot adapt, not as a group. They were not selected for the skills it takes to create a new type of affluent society, they have not even been able to maintain the mass affluence of the old society, and not just because they have not wanted to.  They would be a different elite, made up of different people with different ethics, talents and skills if they did want to.

This paragraph is just laden with powerful ideas.

First, the recognition that millions opt for the palliative rather than the cure.  Second, that these same millions live in present times that are controlled undemocratically by plutocrats.  Thirdly, changing to a new, better order is not going to come easily.  Ergo, for the last few decades there has been a massive failure of wisdom.  Applying that failure to millions does not, of course, avoid the charge that each of us, individual by individual, each in our own tiny manner, has contributed to that failure of wisdom.

Ian amplifies this idea, as you will see by reading on.

Ordinary people also have the wrong ethics, the wrong morality.  Much is written about why consumerism is bad, but the ultimate problem of consumerism is not how it makes us feel but that the consumer passively chooses from a menu created by others, not to fill the consumer’s real needs, but to benefit those who created the menu.  Such a passive people cannot understand that choosing choices without creating choices is not choice, it is the illusion of choice.

So while my book has a lot of general principles of the sort which books on prosperity often have, such as about trade, and productivity and technological change, that isn’t the most important part.  The part that matters isn’t about the technical requirements of prosperity, it’s about why and when people do what is required to achieve prosperity, and when they don’t.  And when, having obtained it, they throw it away.

Such a passive people cannot understand that choosing choices without creating choices is not choice, it is the illusion of choice.”  Pick the bones out of that!

On we go.  Going to let you read Ian’s closing four paragraphs as one piece.

Our society is ours.  A tautology, but one we forget too often.  As individuals we often feel powerless, as a mass, we have created our own society.  There are real constraints, physical constraints on what society we can have, based on the resources we have, the technology we have mastered and what we understand about ourselves and our world, but those constraints are not, right now, so tight as to preclude widespread affluence, to preclude prosperity.

They are, however, tight enough to preclude continuing to do the same thing, led by the same sorts of people, and expect anything but decline, repeated disasters and eventual catastrophe.  We can be affluent and prosperous, we can spread that affluence and prosperity to those who do not have it now, but we cannot do it if we insist on keeping the current forms of our economy, including our current forms of consumption.  This does not mean doing with less, it means doing with different things, valuing different things.  Those new values will be better for us, objectively, they will make us both happier and healthier, just as most addicts are happier once they’ve broken their addiction, or rather once they’ve gone through withdrawal and rebuilt their lives.

We can choose not to do so.  We have, in certain respects, already chosen not to do so, as with our refusal to do anything about climate change until it is too late (the two problems are combined, climate change is a subset of the political and economic problems we have).  We can, also, choose to make the necessary changes, not only to avoid the worst catastrophes (disasters are now inevitable, there are consequences to failure, stupidity and greed), but to create an actual, better, world, a world in which the vast majority are healthier, happier and doing work they care about.

The monster facing us, as usual, is us.  The monsters are always us, our brothers and sisters, and the one in the mirror.  And it is those monsters I’ve been wrestling this past year.

Reflect on those three points that I made earlier: how we don’t put the cure as the top priority, how we are dominated by the greed and power of the relatively few, how difficult changing our present society would be.  Not a pretty picture!

Then look at yourself in that mirror, either literally or metaphorically, and say to the face you see peering back at you: “This is my society. Yes, I do feel powerless but I have to embrace the cold, hard truth that I am part of my society and that change will only occur if I subscribe to the new values that I require.

That has real power!

Essence of wisdom, page one.

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

Thus spoke Confucius, albeit not in the English language!  But, nonetheless, those words from so, so long ago (he lived to the age of 73 – from 551 until 479 BCE) resonate very strongly 2,500 years later.

That was the easy bit!

I’m not entirely clear as to why a variety of items that have crossed my ‘in-box’ in recent days seem to offer some sort of cohesive sense.  But they do to me and I’m going to draw them together. I will leave you to be the judge as to how well it worked!

Thus over the next three days I am going to reflect on three topics.  The challenge of how we humans make sense of the world, how we confuse what we do with what is best for us, surely the essence of wisdom, and the growing gap between the wisdom of millions of citizens and their leaders.

I should quickly add that much of my musings are due to this scribe standing on the shoulders of giants than seeing clearly from his own level.

Today, I shall start with the brain. Your brain, my brain, the brains of humans.  The reason this trilogy starts with the brain is that, ultimately, everything we humans think, feel and do comes from this brain of ours.  Our brain is who we are.

Let me offer you this video made by Bristol University in England.  Just a little over 6 minutes long it sets out the functional story of our brain.

(An animated tour around the human brain commissioned for Brain Awareness Week in 2010)

But there is so much more to this ancient body organ.

The Big Think website has been publishing a series called The 21st Century Brain. The latest episode published on November 6th was called Consciousness: The Black Hole of Neuroscience.  It starts thus:

What’s the Big Idea?

“By the word ‘thought’ (‘pensée’) I understand all that of which we are conscious as operating in us.” –Renee Descartes

The simplest description of a black hole is a region of space-time from which no light is reflected and nothing escapes. The simplest description of consciousness is a mind that absorbs many things and attends to a few of them. Neither of these concepts can be captured quantitatively. Together they suggest the appealing possibility that endlessness surrounds us and infinity is within.

But our inability to grasp the immaterial means we’re stuck making inferences, free-associating, if we want any insight into the unknown. Which is why we talk obscurely and metaphorically about “pinning down” perception and “hunting for dark matter” (possibly a sort of primordial black hole). The existence of black holes was first hypothesized a decade after Einstein laid the theoretical groundwork for them in the theory of relativity, and the phrase “black hole” was not coined until 1968.

Likewise, consciousness is still such an elusive concept that, in spite of the recent invention of functional imaging – which has allowed scientists to visualize the different areas of the brain – we may not understand it any better now than we ever have before. “We approach [consciousness] now perhaps differently than we have in the past with our new tools,” says neuroscientist Joy Hirsch.

Later on is this:

So there’s no reason to assume that consciousness is eternally inexplicable. However, it may never be explained through neurobiology, says David Chalmers, the philosopher who originally made the distinction. “In so many other fields physical explanation has been successful… but there seems to be this big gap in the case of consciousness,” he says. “It’s just very hard to see how [neurological] interactions are going to give you subjective experience.”

The fascinating essay concludes:

It’s no different than any other aspect of the brain that we cannot presently explain, she [Hirsch] says:

For example, we don’t understand how the brain creates colors. That’s a perception that is very private – I don’t know that your perception of blue is like my perception of blue, for example. Smells are another one. I don’t know that your perception of the smell of an orange is like mine. These are the hard problems of neuroscience and philosophy that we haven’t made a great deal of progress on.

What do you think? Is the distinction between “hard problems” and “soft problems” useful, or reductive? Does the brain create consciousness? Will we ever empirically understand where it comes from or how it works?

But it was one of the comments to the piece that jumped off the screen at me. From Beatriz Valdes and slightly edited by me, the comment offered:

Human consciousness happens in the human brain.  The human brain’s functions are rooted in what the human senses relay to it.  Self consciousness, consciousness of what is around us, is the result of thinking.  There would be no thoughts if the brain were a tabula rasa (Latin for blank slate), had no input from the senses. Therefore, consciousness is quite local, quite mortal, quite dependent on the gray matter inside our skulls.

Local and mortal.  Very profound (I think!).

So, if you like me suffer from time to time from understanding oneself, don’t worry.  There are plenty of others – aren’t there?  As Professor Dan Dennett makes it all clear below.

Philosopher Dan Dennett makes a compelling argument that not only don’t we understand our own consciousness, but that half the time our brains are actively fooling us.

Philosopher and scientist Dan Dennett argues that human consciousness and free will are the result of physical processes and are not what we traditionally think they are. His 2003 book Freedom Evolves explores the way our brains have evolved to give us — and only us — the kind of freedom that matters.

Good, glad that’s all clear. 😉

Stay with me for ‘page two’ of Essence of wisdom coming out tomorrow.