Why The Arts Are Vital

Posted on 16 April 2015 | No responses

I helped organise an evening of lectures about the history of Australia and its peace movements around 1915. Given the event was to be nearly three hours, I felt we needed to break the time up with live music between each lecture. Our musicians did an admirable job performing songs relevant to the subject and the era. They brought the events described to life. A few people’s eyes were tearing by the last song. Afterward we shared a meal of homemade sandwiches, cakes, and hot drinks.

The arts are crucial to our well-being and our survival. We are so surrounded by human aesthetic that, like a fish who cannot conceive of water because it takes water for granted, we are unaware of the nature and power of artistry and therefore take it for granted.

Artistic design goes into our clothes, our houses, our offices, the packaging of our food, our cars and trains. Almost nothing is untouched by an aesthetic sensibility. You could say the aesthetics are an optional extra, but we are strongly attracted to aesthetics for good reasons. Sadly, our ignorance makes us vulnerable to the manipulation that is possible when creative expression is misused. Most significantly art has been turned into a commodity and removed from the hands of the populace. People no longer create their culture, but are given it by a power elite.


I would posit that the arts are important for many reasons, but I would like to focus on two in particular: our ability to evolve thought, and our ability to form alliances.

Evolving Thought

Mammals play when they are young. This is a crucial period in a young creature’s existence. Through play they are learning the skills they need to survive later in life. But this isn’t a mechanical formality. Young animals have a plasticity of thought that is less available to them later in life. Every generation is going to be born into differing circumstances. They will be playing within those circumstances honing their skills precisely for the challenges they will face. Changing behaviour in order to survive is much faster than waiting hundreds of generations to grow an extra thumb. Certainly some behaviour will be instinctual, but this is combined with a moment of innovation in an animal’s life.

Neoteny, the continuation of a childlike state, is found amoung creatures who survive by thinking and then creatively manipulating their environment. Creatures who include tool use in their behaviour will tend toward neoteny. Creatures who need to form complex relationships with others of their kind also tend toward neoteny.

Human beings have selected for intelligence as our favoured tool for survival combined with cooperation. As such neoteny and the mental plasticity it brings has been an important part of our evolution. Just as you exercise to maintain muscle strength, you create art to maintain the plasticity of childhood. This is not art’s sole reason for being, but it’s a biologically significant one. Showing your capacity to think creatively by making a partner laugh, moving them with a poem or song, dancing, etc are good mating activities. You show you are someone who can innovate and solve problems that might threaten the family. Another biologically significant role.

I have been a post-graduate supervisor. You only get a PhD for original research. I have known students who are good at remembering facts. I have known students who are good at solving set problems. However, if they have divorced themselves from play and creativity, they have difficulty conceiving of new research. They get too bound up in having “right” and “accepted” answers validating their sense of self-esteem. They have not allowed enough free intellectual play into their lives to access “ah-ha” moments. They have to go beyond worrying about: is my answer “right or wrong”, and focus on all the possibilities no matter how crazy.

Research done with MRIs is showing that all thoughts start as emotions. We then use emotion to motivate thought and action. Emotion is also a significant factor in remembering thoughts, facts, and events. This is why people are conceiving of ways to use the arts to help inform our descendants where nuclear waste may be buried.

Through art we also practise our emotional skills developing the means to widen our thought and prioritise the life-affirming for ourselves and this planet. Caring is a valuable and mature form of thought.

You will note that oppressive regimes regularly reduce people’s opportunities to play and create, only allowing that which they have sanctioned to go out to the masses. No playing or creating means less thinking, fewer alternative solutions conceived, and less emotional resilience to their dictatorial behaviour.

Forming Alliances

As hunters go, humans are terrible! And yet we are clearly omnivores. We don’t have claws, long teeth, or thick skins. We don’t run all that fast, we aren’t exceptional at swimming or climbing trees. Our brains make it possible to defend and feed ourselves independently as adults, but our young have an extended period of dependence. For the human race to survive we are built to cooperate.

Animals that cooperate do a lot of playing that serves to train them in conflict resolution, coordinating activities, and tending to each other’s needs. Self-reflection, the very definition of sapience, is extremely useful for effective socialisation when combined with empathy. It makes it possible to predict actions and needs. Beyond simple empathy we need emotional bonds to help motivate conflict resolution, coordination, and caring. We form those bonds through shared emotional experience such as dancing, singing, joking, storytelling, or group meals.

Not only do these activities increase our bonds they help us to emotionally evolve. We have an opportunity to see ourselves in others and think is that really who I am…is that really who I want to be? Do I want to be more like what I see or do I want to change in some manner? More often than not we want to be more like those around us, because we fear ostracism. This is not wrong or bad: it’s instinctual because we aren’t good at surviving alone. However, a healthy human population allows for greater diversity without fear, since that provides a greater array of tools for survival. We don’t always know what is going to be helpful in the future. A certain amount of tolerance creates greater security. Sharing culture and art helps to build that tolerance.

Of course our cooperative nature goes beyond other humans. We are unique in the extent to which we form alliances with other animals. We are clearly Homo socialis, as well as Homo sapiens and Homo ludens.


Some have posited that we are attracted to animals because their large eyes remind us of human baby eyes. If that’s our primary criteria for forming alliances, why aren’t we more attracted to squid? They have large eyes, they also have large fleshy heads like babies.

A horse doesn’t look remotely like a baby and yet some of the earliest human paintings are of our relationship with the horse.

Lascaux horse

Our ability to empathise and form relationships with animals has been highly evolutionarily viable. We move faster by riding animals, we survive wider climatic circumstances by using animal wool for clothing, we ensure ongoing sources of food by tending to animals for their eggs, milk, and meat. Other animals help us to eliminate pests and assist in managing herds.

Much of our earliest art is about our interactions with animals. Much of our earliest religions involve worshipping certain animals. Not only do we imagine animals as having inner lives like our own and anthropomorphise them, we also like to imagine ourselves as animals, dressing up as various creatures and playing in a way where we are mimicking their behaviours and skills. We are wired to at least see mammals as a continuity of beingness connected to ourselves. Mammals are frequently seen as family at some level. Our arts and our play reflect this—watch nearly any Disney animated feature.

The Problems

Our connections with art and play are strong. People speak of starving artists without thinking about what that means. We have a whole class of people who are willing to go through hardship because they value the experience of creating that much, even when they aren’t always receiving attention from an audience. You have people who are jealous of artists and insist that they should starve, because artists get a certain sort of freedom and joy unavailable to most people. Certainly some people are attracted to the arts because they crave the status of fame and fortune it can sometimes give a few. If they don’t get lucky in their early years, these sorts usually burn out fast and leave.

Our culture has forced many artists into marketing. Transnational corporate states are taking over some of the best minds of our generation in order to direct them toward the creating of consumer propaganda. Advertising is mostly about fear and status. If you are frightened that you will lose status by not smelling right, not wearing the right clothes, not having the right car, etc, you are more likely to purchase these products for a fleeting sense of security. The problem is this sort of constant stream of fear-mongering breaks down social relations because we are constantly fearful of one another.

We are surrounded by stories that represent normalcy: who you need to be to be accepted, who you need to be to feel secure. When our lives do not match the story, we may do ourselves damage trying to fit in or find ourselves isolated because we don’t dare openly express that difference. The people who control the stories can control how you feel about yourself as a person, and how safe you are. People who control the stories can also obscure the past, ensuring only certain stories go out. We then think their version of reality must be true and we do not have the opportunity to learn from our mistakes. This is currently happening with ANZAC events this year in Australia, where stories about the broken soldiers of WWI are being deleted from historical records in Canberra and conveniently forgotten. So much for “Lest We Forget”. Of course by doing this a government can insulate people from thinking about consequences, then with impunity send our children off to war.

We even have stories that cut us off from the reality of our living environment. We see images of happy cows and chickens on wide open farms cared for by happy farmers, insulating us from the poverty farmers often face and the cruelty to which animals are often subjected.

Our culture is being concentrated into fewer and fewer hands through stringent copyright regimes that benefit large businesses. They like to make artists think they are being protected by these laws, so they can trot out attractive poster children for their propaganda as to the “necessity” of their regimes, but it’s a smoke-screen. Artists are not particularly benefitting.

Think about what it means to have only one class of people selecting the stories, the music, the images, even the sports you get to see every day. What you think you are experiencing as real life is mostly a few powerful people’s perspective on life, and they have no idea what it is like to be you.

Some Solutions

This has to change. We have to put arts and play back into everyone’s hands. We have to re-democratise art.

We have to ensure more people can have access to pure art careers without having to commercialise beyond simple sales of their work. We have to ensure everyone has the time to play and to create. We have to encourage people to particiapte in local arts and to go to live events. We need to use our technology to develop more new sources of stories, storytelling, music, images, etc.

Probably the biggest ask is that we must use the arts to help change people’s attitudes and values. We cannot continue in a world which has a price tag written on each person’s forehead, and that is the determinant of how well or ill they will be treated. Industrialised society has turned us into meat machines. We go to assembly line style schools that train us to be cogs in assembly line style work environments, and are taught that the only things of value are work and basic physical survival. You can’t actually survive for long when only food and clothing needs are addressed. Physical as well as emotional survival demands we form emotional bonds with friends and families, and that we have time to rest, play, and create. These are optional to a screwdriver not a person.

We have to use our creativity to build life-affirming alternatives. The goal is not to be rich and famous: it is to experience security, acceptance, and happiness. As artists we can envision that world and help others to envision and create that world. Only in this way will we have a future worth living in.

Peace and kindness,


2015 Melbourne Comedy Festival: Playing to the Young
• Jon Bennett—
It’s Rabbit Night!!!
• Yackandandah Players—Scaredy-Cat

Posted on 12 April 2015 | No responses

This morning I was at a pathology centre having blood drawn for testing. When the nurse asked about my employment, I dutifully spoke about my comedy festival show in order to encourage another bum on my seats. She was a middle-aged woman who had never taken a writing course in her life, and the only performance experience she ever had was playing at theatre as a child. Now many people have begun in the arts from even more meagre origins than this. She told me her family had told her that she should write children’s books or plays. I groaned inside, but wasn’t going to gainsay her when she had a needle stuck into my arm.

Many artists groan inside when people make light of the amount of skill and effort that goes into becoming a good creator, and how much more goes into becoming a financially successful creator. Many people seem unable to grasp that being an actor, comedian, musician, or writer is in many ways no different than being an engineer, risk manager, or programmer. It takes years learning how to execute these jobs, and once you are employed then you have to put in at least 40 hours a week to get by. Even people who respect this much of the equation will put their toe in the water by starting with children’s media, thinking it is easier. It is not.

Children, unlike adults, will only laugh when they think something is funny…not just to be polite. Children are not an amorphous group. What is funny to the primary school children is not funny for the tween-agers, and definitely not the teenagers. If you go into this genre of art making, you either have to be intimately involved with and enjoy children, or have a passion for the style of art that is created for children—preferably both.

Until this year the comedy festival has only had 18+ listings or listings for kids (primary school children). Tween (10-13) to teenagers were only appealed to through the Class Clowns program. I have been listing my shows as 13+ and this year for the first time, my production is one of the first they put into a “family” show designation—which is precisely my target audience.

For the child audience you use a simpler story structure, but it has to demonstrate an understanding of the experiences and psychology of persons at this stage of development. A child’s concept of the world is different than yours. A child’s priorities are different than yours. When they laugh at a poo joke, it’s less likely to be out of transgressive humour and more to do with the effort they still have to put in to control bodily functions. You won’t find that angry edge.

Tweenagers will still enjoy playful, dynamic comedy, but they are already becoming aspirational. They want stories with empowered children or protagonists with whom they can identify. Plots can take a more complex turn.

Teenagers tend to experience humour deficit disorder. They want to be taken seriously and be respected. Straight stand-up will appeal to them more than anything that might make them feel or seem foolish. They are trying to establish themselves in the world. If something playful is highly popular with the university set, such as The Mighty Boosh or Adventure Time, they may let their guard down.

Family comedy is an exercise in socialisation. The comedy needs to be in reach of the children, with some of the trappings of childhood, but aimed smack dab at the adults. This is something I learned when I was a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and again when I was a judge for the Aurealis literary awards. The books may ostensibly be for kids, but it’s the adults who buy them and read them to their off-spring. You have to get them on-side first.

So mom and dad take their kids to a show. They laugh hard. Their primary school children will laugh because their parents are laughing, and will learn what their family finds funny. The tweenagers, who have already learned the family code of humour, will understand when to laugh on their own. The teenagers will look around to see if any other teenagers are laughing before allowing a grin to creep across their faces. I actually believe this sort of family and social bonding can be healthy, provided we give people something worth bonding over.

This festival I have seen two “children’s” shows. Both have people of real talent putting them together. One is struggling from mis-aimed marketing.

It’s Rabbit Night!!! (family edition)

Jon Bennett, the creator of It’s Rabbit Night!!!, is a consummate storyteller. I’ve seen people get utterly lost in his tales, such that they forget where they are. His are humorous and dramatic rip-roarers from his youth.

People have this weird idea that if a story is about a person of a certain age, it must be for a person of that age. To Kill a Mockingbird was written for and originally sold to an adult audience, but because the viewpoint character is a young girl, a story about racism and rape is now seen as for children. I have a feeling Bennett was convinced to do a children’s version of his show because of his subject matter. At least someone was smart enough to put the words “family edition” rather than “children’s edition” next to the title. However the promotional graphic that looks ironic for the adult version, gives the mistaken impression that it is for primary school children in the family version. Bennett’s humour is far too sophisticated for people that young.

He tells tales of the farm and the realities you find there. What he has to say is educational about life when you are forced to face genuine consequences, without the buffer of supermarkets and the media. I believe young people at some point do need to think about what it means to raise an animal for food. I would still recommend It’s Rabbit Night!!! (family edition), but bring your tweenagers to this.


Scaredy-Cat is a rollicking piece of comic theatre. Writer/director Brendan Hogan is clearly inspired by the film Moonrise Kingdom in this story about the Yackandandah Little Troopers. Hogan is a school principal and drama teacher. He also participates in community theatre, helping young people gain experience in performance. He knows his target audience and wisely created a story that is focussed on young people and performed by young people (even the adult parts).

I get annoyed with reviewers who are too soft on children’s media, because when something special comes around, it’s difficult to express how far ahead the particular work really is. I have only a few quibbles with Scaredy-Cat. The performance needs to be snappier. This show has already gone quite a distance beyond amateur panto. If you cut the story to sixty minutes and sped up the scene changes, you would have more professional polish. I would also spend time practising clearer enunciation with the kids. I know they aren’t professionals, and fortunately the plot makes it clear what they are probably saying, but it wasn’t always easy deciphering their lines.

Otherwise I would say, Scaredy-Cat is pure genius. Hogan has created a top-notch ensemble of young performers who each get their moment in the spotlight. They are playing caricatures, but they are loveable cartoon ones that deserve further outings in future productions. The story has a lovely sense of the absurd and derives its humour from understanding the quirks of childhood. This is the sort of thing I really wish ABC2 or ABC3 would produce for television. The Yackandandah Players deserve to be proud of their efforts.

Peace and kindness,


Fear and Comedy

Posted on 30 March 2015 | No responses

Australia has clearly fallen into the Global Financial Crisis. No goverment is going to announce that their country has fallen into a recession, or worse a depression. Couple this with a serious environmental crisis and people are frightened. Frightened people don’t tend to be very rational.

When people are frightened their Amygdala is set off bringing on the fight, flight, freeze, or fawn responses. People in positions of privilege are not immune from these biological responses. When they are frightened they have the power to create the most damage by pointing fingers at people, finding ways to further disempower members of the community, freezing and pretending certain disasters aren’t happening and cocoon themselves from reality. I have seen people do these things on both the right and the left of politics.

I have a girlfriend whose environmentalist boyfriend told me that the world’s problems would be resolved if we removed women from the workforce and keep them from taking men’s jobs. This man is in his late twenties. People are angry with refugees for possibly “taking our jobs”. I find the anti-vaxxers a concern as well, but the sort of hatred people are pointing at individuals is pure harrassment and won’t convince anyone they should change their ways.

I understand being scared. I understand being angry. I also understand that if we don’t recognise our own fears, we can rationalise almost any behaviour: like marching academics and religious leaders off to enforced labour camps. Worse: marching off those with genetic defects and differing ethnicities to death camps. Trust me, the people doing these things have the most sound, if warped, logic: “Surely we want a healthy population? Surely we want to protect our jobs?”

When a comedian makes a hate joke, whether it is based on sexism, homophobia, racism, ableism, weightism…they are normalising that hatred. When an audience is afraid to react out of a genuine fear of abuse or ostracism, then we are dealing with a toxic atmosphere where people are being trained to accept victimisation. The critique of “political correctness” is a quick easy way to focus hatred. Basically the person is saying: don’t judge my hatred, I have a right to my privilege, the audience has a right to their fear, and you must accept it or else.

I dislike enforcers of outdated and harmful social mores. The snifferati who go, “How dare you use that naughty word”…”How dare you use a grocer’s apostrophe” annoy me as well. But I applaud those who call a spade a spade and find the awareness to protest hatred where they see it. But remember Martin Luther King, Jr’s words, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” He did not say these words casually. The African American public faced violence and lynchings while peacefully protesting. We now have an African American president in the world.

Please find a way to use comedy that gives people strength. Find a way to help people to see the problems, see them with less fear, then find solutions. Comedy is a creative act and what we need more than ever are creative solutions. Cooperation and goodwill are the actions that will turn the world for the better.

Peace and kindness,


A Bunch of Pirates: A Transdimensional Adventure!

Posted on 23 March 2015 | No responses

Hello fans of all things piractical and silly!

My new show has a preview this Friday and is opening on Saturday. Should be a good one. Plenty of Mighty Boosh style fun.

You can find more information on the Melbourne International Comedy Festival site.
Or you can check out our own website on Glass Wings.

You can pre-purchase tickets here: http://www.trybooking.com/GKXR
Or buy tickets at the door!

Peace and kindness,


Comedy Basics

Posted on 23 March 2015 | No responses

I may be teaching acting for comedy classes at the Australian Centre of the Performing Arts come this May. As such I am re-examining the basics in order to pass that knowledge on to my students. If you are interested in attending my course, keep an eye out here for further announcements.

A performer is comic in three ways. Often these are combined in a variety of manners, but they can and frequently are worked independently.

1) Saying funny things.

Comedy does not require vocalisation. However, people can be funny by the jokes and stories they tell while standing perfectly still at a microphone. Get a performer like Elliott Goblet or Steven Wright on the stage and people are laughing even with the absence of facial expression.

2) Doing funny things.

Making faces, awkward body movement, strange vocal inflections and noises, pratfalls—basically clown comedy—has always been received well by audiences. Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks is well remembered. Police Academy’s Michael Winslow continues to be a crowd pleaser. Exaggerated reactions, peculiar methods for achieving everyday results, alien behaviour are also well loved. This is the sort of comedy that travels well across cultures. Mr Bean is a favourite all over the world, as is Jacques Tati and even our own Umbilical Brothers.

3) Dropped into a funny situation.

This comes in a number of flavours. You can have funny characters in funny situations: think Austin Powers or Ace Ventura. You can have deeply flawed characters in a funny situation: think Seinfeld. You can have completely normal characters (who are also going to be flawed, but in a less exaggerated manner) tossed into the deep end: think Little Miss Sunshine.

The situations will run from absurd to highly stressful, but not actually disastrous. The humour comes from people trying to cope with their circumstances: how they get it wrong, and the strange and ingenious means by which they may ultimately get it right. An audience will respond either with empathy (I know what that is like) or surprise (that was weird!).

Keeping these three possibilities in mind should make it easier when structuring your comedy. Making conscious choices about the tools you use and how always sharpens the resulting creative work.

Peace and kindness,


Katherine’s Comedy Grouch

Posted on 19 March 2015 | No responses

I am tired of sophomoric humour, transgressive humour, the humour of cynicism, pessimism, and hatred. I turn to humour as a place where I can find joy, relief, upliftment, and reflection upon the state of ourselves and the world.

I am tired of blanket judgements, demonisation, and dehumanisation. I am tired of people taking sides, then tearing the other side to shreds with their “humour”. I want to see a world where more kindness, compassion, and friendship is possible.

I want to see more mercy and forgiveness in the world, as well as more genuine social justice. I want more gentleness, grace, and acceptance of our humanity with all its faults and foibles. Tolerance and acceptance are both important skills. Help others to learn rather than alienating them, then have the patience to keep on doing this.

I want to see insightful humour, humour that brings about a more caring community. Not a piece of trivial clowning that is deeply dangerous to audience members both physically and emotionally for those with sexual triggers.

I want comedy to grow up. Because it is possible. Comedy is deeply important to our well-being…when it is done right.

Peace and kindness,


Vaccination and Comedy

Posted on 6 March 2015 | No responses

Every year the Melbourne Comedy Festival includes thousands of performers who are joking away in front of hundreds of thousands of audience members. With these numbers of people gathering together for four weeks, we are living in germ soup. Invariably the majority of comedians I know come down with a cold, the flu, or some other infection.

Given its topicality no doubt people are going to be making jokes about anti-vaxxers. They will be villainised as the most evil stupid people around. Look at how they are exposing MY child to deadly illnesses. It is completely true that these people are playing a dangerous game. They also feel endangered by their culture which has been regularly feeding them toxins tucked in their foods or hiding in ill-regulated pharmaceuticals.

Before judging these people take a look at yourself. Have you as a comedian booked in to take flu shots before the comedy festival? Or have you assumed that you are young and healthy, no need to bother or spend money on flu vaccination.

Every year 250,000-500,000 people die from the influenza virus, mostly children and the elderly. I worked with an accountant who when she was on the dole, her child contracted the flu. Because they lived in the country and didn’t have the means to bring the child into the hospital for a high fever, he suffered from brain-damage—a permanent injury. Who would this child have been if he hadn’t caught the flu during a difficult time in this woman’s life?

During the American Civil War 620,000 people died in the line of duty, that’s more deaths than any other war in US history. During WWI Australia lost around 60,000 people to military deaths and in WWII around 40,000. During WWI the United Kingdom lost around 800,000 people. The Spanish Influenza in 1918, the Asian Influenza in 1958, and the Hong Kong Influenza in 1968 each resulted in a million deaths world wide.

Before you stand in front of a room full of people do your best to ensure you aren’t spreading a potentially fatal disease. It may be an inconvenience to you, but it could be so much more to someone else in your audience.

Peace and kindness,


Stop Exploiting Yourselves

Posted on 4 March 2015 | No responses

In all of the arts we can be so desperate to “make it” that we not only allow ourselves to be exploited, we exploit ourselves.

Add to this all the people who come to us because they see our field as one of the few remaining places where a rag to riches narrative can come true, and the results are a lot of art that neither moves nor uplifts us in any fashion. People of real talent and dedication are smashed against the rocks of desperate wannabes, who will do all they can to block you in order to ensure their own success.

The wannabes have good reason for wanting. All people should be able to contribute to their community and their culture without fear of want. Ambitions spread out more sensibly when people aren’t terrified of starvation.

The art of digital games…is still infused with the dreams of capital; that you must Sacrifice All; family life…, friends not also in the business, sleep, healthy eating habits, other hobbies, interest in things outside of games; in order to Make It Big. Indie Game The Movie, basically: out of immense financial personal and psychological sacrifice, comes fame, fortune, loved ones, being loved…

Stop exploiting yourselves.

It’s not just destroying you, it’s destroying your capacity to make good work, without the space to be a human, you will burn out, you will make mistakes and never have the time to forgive yourself, you will exhaust ideas, you will never replenish the nutrients you need to make fucking great things.

It’s making people leave making work at all, and it’s stopping a million voices who don’t have the money, time, or narrative framework to access making games. It’s making games worse.

~Hannah Nicklin “(Self) Employment Practices in Games”

Peace and kindness,


Act Without Fear

Posted on 27 February 2015 | No responses

Last year I arranged a Saturday afternoon where a group of my friends who have a photography club and another group of my friends who do comedy came together for a portrait photography day. The photographer friends wanted some practise taking images of human beings, since up until that point most of their work had been with nature and cityscapes. Getting models who were comic performers seemed like extra fun and more interesting than the usual carefully posed pretty people. The comedy friends could always use more promotional photographs and usually live within a tight budget. It was a win-win day.

Typically photographers hire models. Typically comedians pay for stills. If one group felt more desperate than the other, if one group felt fearful that they wouldn’t get what they needed, then it’s possible that group would have been required to pay money, because honestly it could have gone either way. So, the question that comes to my mind is, why do we pay people? How do we decide when numbers need to be passed around to ensure a fair exchange and how much?

Currently, we don’t have enough paid positions for the number of people in this country and on this planet. The number is going to go up with increasing roboticisation and expert systems taking over human employment. However, I would say there is plenty of work, just not enough flow of resources. We need people doing conservation work, caring for the elderly, developing new technologies, creating art, giving birth to healthy babies, etc. These people can be vulnerable enough that it is easy to ignore and abuse them, while they may still be providing essential services. The person who is fearful has to pay.

I remember once thinking that the problem was one whereby people clever at manipulating numbers were locking up currency in the hands of the few. With a community currency that could not be collected in a meaningful manner this problem would go away. I put together the Eastern Group Local Economic Trading System (EagLETS). After running this for a couple years I found some of the same problems that faced the wider community, we were again facing within our community currency group.

We had people join who were fearful that because of a lack of money they would not be able to do the things they loved. They felt so bogged down with the details of survival that they weren’t finding the time to paint, fish, hold barbecues, whatever. So, those willing to offer dishwashing, babysitting, and lawnmowing were in high demand. They could ask for greater pay in our currency because their time was at a premium. Whereas those who could offer handknitted blankets had to work doubly hard to have access to these services. Technically, they could go into debt and just ask for the services. Nevertheless, since we were keeping track of the trades and the numbers were public, it looked to all the world like the knitters weren’t pulling their weight. This generated resentment: the knitters for being valued so little, the rest of the LETS group because the knitters appeared to be a drag on the system.

I now know of LETS groups who make people apply to get in. If you don’t have a skill which the group needs, they will not accept you. So people with no skills, redundant skills, or are too young, old, or handicapped to contribute are left out. We have just re-invented the system as it is.

Keeping people fearful and needy is a good (bad) way to keep them manipulable. You can give fearful people less and less, and they are often willing to accept it. “Dream jobs” are notorious for this. I used to lecture in storytelling for computer game design. I had students who were desperate for jobs in the gaming industry. The poor wages and long hours they were willing to put up with was scandalous. No matter how awesome the job, a company should be obliged to pay people fairly and work people reasonable hours.

My thoughts are that we must stop thinking in terms of exchange. We need to stop thinking about whether someone has earned or deserves a living. We must start with the premise that everyone has a right to their existence. We will do all we can to ensure everyone has what they need. We need to learn how to share resources, then create broad inter-connected systems that make this possible. We also need to learn how to conserve resources, so that they continue to be available for future generations. This would be part of learning how to cooperate.

Cooperation will help us to get beyond just tending to our needs. We would then be able to allocate resources for education, arts, new technologies, and more. Work must become democratised. We are governed as much by our places of employment as we are by a country’s political systems.

When it comes to fairness it’s not exchange that makes what happens among people in a community fair, it’s participation. So long as everyone is participating and everyone is doing their best to ensure the community is surviving and then thriving, it is enough. The expectation of participation should then extend to inclusion…helping all members to contribute without obligation. And that is key: once we fall into obligation and punishment to make this new system work, we are back to more of the old system. We have to eliminate fear from our dealings.

The best way to change our current state of affairs is to learn to care about one another and the planet, then act without fear. Think to yourself, if I didn’t feel frightened or desperate then what would I do? Take that action. It’s the right one.

Peace and kindness,


Not Crossing the Line

Posted on 25 February 2015 | No responses

The more thoughtful comedians will regularly ask themselves with certain jokes, have I gone too far? Have I gone beyond the realms of both good taste and ethics? Am I now part of the problem and not the solution?

Over the last few years we have seen storms flash over rape jokes, racist politcal cartoons, gamer and intellegentsia misogyny. It would be far too easy for people to say that comedy encourages bad behaviour. But comedy is just a tool. You can use a hammer to build a house or to bash someone in the head. Upon each occasion of bad behaviour, regardless of the tool, we need to ask ourselves: how was the tool used and why?

If the tool was used to manipulate, dominate, punish, or control, then we have a big problem.

Emotions are an important part of how we navigate our environment, form relationships, and survive. Anger is part of the emotional tool set. Anger is not a problem, what a person does with it is. Anger is part of our fight or flight response and helps us to act forcefully in the moment to ensure our survival. A person can get angry that a company is endangering our environment by dumping chemical waste, then choose petitions and peaceful protest to see that it stops. A person can also get angry on this occasion, then choose to firebomb a factory, killing workers and stopping the production of those chemicals.

These are very different choices. I would say the second one is wrong. The first method enlists people’s cooperation and provides an ongoing process where further changes can be made. The second method denies the humanity of others and relies on domination and punishment to get its way. Sadly, people of all political persuasions feel it is necessary to use these methods now and again.

Other tools that get used include sex, money, and positions of power. No one should have to feel ashamed of their sexuality, but when sex is used to manipulate, dominate, and worst of all punish…all of a sudden it is very dangerous. The same is true of money and power. People will resort to abusing these tools when they don’t feel safe for some reason: they need emotional validation, they are frightened that their survival is at risk, they feel someone wishes to harm them. This can cause an over-inflated need to control.

If we do not understand why a person has harmfully used a certain tool, if they do not understand why they have wrongly used a tool, we take away the tool and they will just find another one and continue their destructive behaviour. If we punish them without understanding, we are likely to cause a person to feel more insecure and not cure a thing. It has to stop somewhere. It stops with insight and compassion.

As comedians, simply mocking people isn’t going to change the world. We have to look deeper and take aim at the core of each issue. This starts with having better awareness of our own motives and that of our culture, then seeing how that fits into the world picture. Keep questioning yourself, it will make you a more interesting and relevant comedian—someone people will remember and respect.

Peace and kindness,


older posts »

Recent Posts

Tag Cloud


Katherine Phelps is proudly powered by WordPress and the SubtleFlux theme.

Copyright © Katherine Phelps