Posted on 6 May 2016 | No responses
I moved to Adelaide while Australia was still in the midst of a long term drought. Until that time I had not thought much about the Murray River.
The Murray is Australia’s longest river, about two and a half thousand kilometres in length. It forms much of the border between the states of New South Wales and Victoria before meandering into South Australia. Until recently each state managed the piece of the river that went through their lands.
What this meant was New South Wales would grab the lion’s share of the Murray’s waters for their farmers, Victoria would grab the next share, then by the time it came to the state of South Australia, very little was left to ensure the people there had anything to drink. This water grab destroyed the wetlands at the mouth of the Murray, thereby destroying much plant and wild life. The people of South Australia had to build a desalination plant to turn ocean water into something potable. Eventually, the federal government stepped in and managed this resource to ensure a fair division among the states.
Were those who lived near the head of the Murray any better people than those who lived at the mouth? Did they deserve more water than those on the other end? I suppose you could say they were clever enough to live upstream, but I’m betting they were born there and cleverness had nothing to do with it.
The world is facing serious consequences because of our lack of foresight, cooperativeness, and compassion. Within the western world the older we are, the further upstream we have been when it comes to access to resources. My parents have lived wealthier lives than my brother, sister and I. Our children have even less access to wealth.
Many people treat their children as ego-extension legacies. They try to enforce a sameness of outlook to ensure personal perpetuation in lieu of some kind of heaven. Some people who are in positions of power are shoring up their legacies by ensuring their children will be favoured by fate over any other children. Access to higher education is taken away from anyone but the most wealthy precisely because these people can at least see the world is crumbling. However, by their very actions they are aggravating the situation against which they are defending themselves. In California the rich are hoarding water and the farmers are begging for it to grow their crops. Eventually the rich will have to starve like the rest of us or face early deaths from revolt. This is why people throw rocks at the Google bus.
The river of life must be cared for at all points. Its health is our health. The more inclusive we are in protecting it, the more successful we will be in preserving our own lives.
We have to address the three “E”s simultaneously if we are to have any hope of a liveable future: equality, economy, environment.
We are our own best resources. But this only works if we help everyone to achieve their potential. If you have a life threatening illness, surely you want the best doctor to treat you: a doctor with skill, talent, and insight and thereby a high success rate. That’s not necessarily going to be the richest doctor. Who can account for talent? How much insight can a person have when they have always had everything and do not understand suffering…much less your suffering?
We have to stop seeing one another as disposable. If we believe in rags to riches stories, then perhaps we should be kinder to the people who might be our boss, our doctor, our nation’s leader–like Abraham Lincoln who was born in a one room log cabin. I say we should be kind anyway. And what if we are all reduced to eating bugs because we have so devastated the environment? You will want to be best friends with someone who knows how to surive under difficult circumstances.
Places where women have been educated, have access to making a living, and are well treated have a lower birth rate than places where women are poor, abused, and treated as property. A woman’s children become her only protection. However, we live on a planet of limited resources and we are using them up.
With a large rich/poor divide there can be no democracy. With a large rich/poor divide we have more people with fewer resources. Life within a society becomes unstable as more and more people act out of desperation. Life on this planet becomes unstable as we over-consume and devastate the biosphere that sustains us.
Sharing always has been and always will be critical to our well-being and survival. Let’s separate work from wage and give everyone a guaranteed living income and see what happens.
We are not separate from the environment, though we act like it. We must engage with all life. We like to flatter ourselves that we are the most important beings on this planet, which is used to excuse unconscionable behaviour toward other living beings.
Two hundred fifty thousand years ago, Homo sapiens arose. Before that we have primates arising sixty-five million years ago. Mammals arose one hundred to eighty-five million years ago. The Earth is about about four and a half billion years. In the scale of things Asian tree shrews are close family. We cannot mistreat the family of life and expect a future to still be there. Who knows which species will cause an irrecoverable ecological crash with their absence? We should be very worried about the crash in bee populations and its causes. We should absolutely call into account those people who are creating the pesticides which may ultimately bring about the demise of all mammalian life. Don’t you include your cat or dog as family? Increase that circle of care.
The answers to all these problems is more thoughtfulness, kindness, balance, and cooperation, not only with those people who are closest to us but all people, all creatures, all of life. A “grab all you can get and stuff everyone else” attitude is irresponsible and suicidal. We can’t allow people to wander so far from caring. We should have always sought to live simple lives of universal goodwill. We now know that anything less endangers our very existence. The river of life belongs to all of us: start sharing and cooperating.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 27 April 2016 | No responses
People seem to think of knowledge as something pure: something that can be stripped of subjectivity and bias. Some people also seem to think that certain individuals are capable of stripping themselves of subjectivity and bias.
In fact it is important that we remain just as skeptical of skeptics as anyone else. This becomes particularly important when key political players are consulting with think tanks and “knowledge actors”. Politicians do not have the time to understand in depth every issue upon which they vote. When their decisions are swayed by a knowledge actor, our future well-being is on the line. Absolutely we should be questioning these researchers. I’m not talking about a perverse questioning that speaks more of fears and agendas, but thoughtful in depth questioning that ensures we are shaping a future worth living in.
At a university level departments that understand their duty of care when it comes to research emphasize the importance of four questions.
What do we know? (ontology)
This is not simply about previous assertions of knowledge. Previous assertions are always up for debate. This is about questioning the very nature of knowing.
How do we know it? (epistemology)
When working in any form of research we are going to come to our questions using a certain structure for understanding that is in itself reflective of a worldview. For instance we can ask a question and for whatever reason choose to justify an answer to that question by either 1) seeking to disprove the answer and see if it withstands the scrutiny, or 2) prove the answer by gathering sufficient evidence that by its weight we are willing to accept the answer as true. This is the difference between “guilty until proven innocent” and “innocent until proven guilty”.
When written in this manner these methods may appear to be free of personal bias, because I am not using emotive language. This does not mean that emotion was not engaged in determining a position. After those emotions have been processed through cognition, the results made it possible to express these positions in a barebones manner. Emotively I wish to live a life free of suffering. Intellectually, I have decided that the best way to achieve this is to ensure universal wellbeing, which would of course include myself. When one criminal commits one crime, I want that crime to be stopped. However when a government commits a crime, it may cause the suffering of many innocent people. In terms of keeping suffering to a minimum I choose the position “innocent until proven guilty.” This seems logical, it starts with who do I fear most?
In universities it is accepted that you will have a bias. What is important is making sure that your bias is transparent. In that way people can look at your research and determine how to weigh your results, selecting what they think might be worth further investigating and leaving behind anything they think may be too coloured by your position. You are not discounted for your position, you have simply agreed that we will all be open to further debate.
By what means will you be gathering/creating knowledge? (methodology)
Again, transparency is critical to ensure we are confident of the results. Did you use quantitative methods (e.g. counting shells and producing statistics)? Did you use qualitative methods (e.g. interviewing subjects, relying on expert testimonies, etc)? If you are doing a study on the health of the oyster population: where did you sample your oysters, how many did you sample, did you count live or dead oysters, did you disturb the oysters in any way in order to count them? Similar questions need to be answered for qualitative research: who did you interview, who are you quoting, how many people did you consult, under what conditions, etc?
What are the consequences of gathering knowledge in the selected manner and the results of your research? (ethics)
This is not an inconsequential part of research. We do not research in a vacuum. What we do and what we present to the world has consequences. This is where it can get particularly tangled with politics. After the horrific experimentation on prisoners in the death camps of Nazi Germany, many researchers decided that the means do not justify the ends and that the knowledge gained by malignant methods could not be used. Therefore, any results Josef Mengele came up with working in Auschwitz must be discounted until such time as someone can find an ethical means by which to gain that knowledge. It is assumed that if we are smart enough to come up with the answers, then we are smart enough to devise means by which those answers can be found without causing the suffering of living beings. Just as critical is considering the ethics of creating certain knowledge, such as how to commit genocide on an entire species of animal through a particular chemical or biological solution.
There is no such thing as knowledge for its own sake. It is a myth to think knowledge is a higher value than the humanity that created/discovered that knowledge. It is a myth to think that the emotive process can be separated from the cognitive process. Objectivity is a myth. It is a myth to think that certain fields of research are above reproach because they are “evidence based” when both the evidence and the conclusions will always be up for debate because we are not omniscient beings, every single human being is limited and therefore our answers will be limited. Assuming knowlege workers are above personal bias, particularly those in science and technology, is a myth clung to by people desperate for certainty and sources of absolute authority.
The scientific method is an amazing tool, and to be respected. But it is a process not an absolute.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 21 April 2016 | No responses
The inspiration for Heard of Elephants was a connect the dots process.
I had just spent a number of months with refugees at a detention centre. As something of a break I was visiting my parents who both were having their eightieth birthday. During my spare moments at the family reunion I was thinking about what my next musical would be. A number of people were already producing shows about refugees. No one was addressing why the refugee situation is getting worse.
Casually reading a book about Africa had me thinking about how we are complicit in forcing people out of their countries. The global warming we are causing is bringing about the further desertification of the African continent. The farmers are then forced into the cities. People have less food. Civil unrest ensues. Soon people are forced to leave their countries, as in Syria and Burundi.
My grandfather used to help people grow crops in Vietnam. He spoke of how they only had six inches of good soil and that every time they destroyed the forest, they were destroying the very thing that was giving them their farmland. He rode an elephant to work each day. Large frugivores (fruit eating animals) are critical to the survival of forests.
In Africa elephants are a keystone species for the continued existence of the Congo. The forests of the Congo and the Amazon are the lungs of the world. They are the largest carbon sinks for this planet. The decay of their biomass flows from their rivers into the ocean where it provides nutrients for the plankton that produce most of the world’s oxygen. Elephants only digest about 40% of what they eat. The rest becomes the perfect seed packets for perpetuating a forest: poo. Elephant poo spreads seeds around the countryside combined with all the nutrients and insect life they need to sprout and grow.
When chaotic climate events force farmers to take over the forest for new farmland, they start competing with the elephants. When they kill elephants to protect their new farmland, they are destroying the thing that makes their farms possible and the forest that has been protecting them from even worse climate effects. With crime cartels and big game hunters willing to pay big bucks for elephants, people who are in desperation feel it is their right to destroy this animal for their survival. When we ignore what is happening in Africa and do nothing to help its peoples and wildlife, we are digging our own graves.
Elephants I felt were a good way to grab people’s attention, engage their empathy, and get them taking positive action. Because we have to save the elephant. Every day when we take a breath, we are breathing elephants.
Please give to my crowdfunding campaign for Heard of Elephants. It’s cheap and helps to raise awareness which is also important. Thank you.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 20 April 2016 | No responses
The below quote comes from a great article about what it is like to work as a female in theatre, and in particular as a female technician. The situation it describes makes me bleed every time it happens to me, and I still hope our society will outgrow such disrespect.
There’s a problem that needs to be solved. You have the solution and you say it out loud. Nobody hears you. A few minutes later somebody else says the same thing and everyone agrees.
~Emma O’Grady About Being a Female Technician
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 18 April 2016 | No responses
ALL education: daycare, pre-school, primary, secondary, tertiary, re-education, apprenticeships, etc.
An educated public can vote more intelligently. An educated public has more knowledge, skills, and experience to draw from in order to create solutions to major problems. Intentionally keeping things like daycare and tertiary education out of reach of any but the wealthiest is a way to maintain a stratified society. If you can’t afford to put your children in the most expensive schools, if they still manage to succeed but you can’t afford tertiary, then only the weathiest can achieve the education it takes to secure the highest paying jobs.
The justice system.
It’s not justice if only the wealthy can afford having decisions made in their favour. I was once editor-in-chief for a magazine that had a hostile take over by a large company without payment. Our lawyers said we would win the case and recover the magazine, only if we could afford a lengthy legal process. The tactics regularly used by the company was to put a large team of lawyers on the case and just keep the case tied up in court for so long that it would ruin the other party. The founder of the magazine had to let all his work and investment go without a fight. This is minor compared to the innocent lives that have been ruined through imprisonment because their skin is the wrong colour and they can’t afford a legal team.
Everyone should have advocates assigned to them. No one should be able to buy the best representation.
If a society wishes to be genuinely democratic with a government by the people and for the people, then we need to make sure that running for office is within anyone’s reach. No one should be able to buy an office through a sort of electoral auction that goes to the highest bidder.
Yes, this may mean the odd joke party will raise their heads, but they are a sign of a healthy system where people have the luxury of laughing and thinking about their political process. Everyone should have equal time allocated for advertising on television and elsewhere. Everyone should have an equal budget allocated to them for campaigning. Everyone should be required transparency in their campaigns. Truth in advertising should apply to public statements made by parties and they should be held accountable for their campaign promises.
Personally, I also believe some seats in all elected bodies should be made for citizens who are randomly selected for several weeks of parliamentary duty, similar to jury duty. This would help ground these bodies in everyday realities and ensure a means by which a two-party deadlock can be overcome.
When pharmaceuticals are made solely for the profit they will garner investors, then people are rightfully dubious of the value of those medications. We need people’s confidence when it comes to public vaccination. We also need to ensure that all human life is treated with equal respect. Ensuring everyone has access to the medicines they need without financial ruin is of great importance. Cynically jacking up the price of a cure for AIDS or cancer should not only be illegal, but not even possible since something of this nature should be in public hands in the same way that doctors and hospitals should be in public hands.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 17 April 2016 | No responses
The human population currently seems to be in a crisis of control. People are terrified of what the future holds and are therefore scrabbling for all the control they can get.
Cooperation is what’s called for to stave off the effects of a failing economy, and worse, a failing environment. However, cooperation requires trust. Our culture has become one built on distrust, because distrust sells product and makes people manipulable.
What people have been attracted to: absolute answers. The feeling is if you have the answers, you have control.
Religion and spirituality have definitely been used in this way by some people. Some document has the convenient bits taken literally. Life is seen as utterly pre-determined. The good are rewarded and the bad are punished way beyond the degree of their crimes, and it is a simple equation for a Divine Being to determine who is who: your people are the good guys.
Engineering, mathematics, computing and cosmology are appealing to some people because two plus two is always going to equal four. If they can then obliterate anything that introduces chaos like emotions and biology, they feel they have control. Just upload your knowledge into a computer and you’re set. Some people even suggest the elimination of democracy in favour of a technocracy.
I recently read an op/ed article about how Australia shouldn’t have a bill of rights. The argument was that first of all, there’s no way we would get such a document absolutely right. Next, it was argued if two rights came into conflict, both rights would be eliminated in the process.
The author was assuming that such a document must be everlastingly perfect: a biblical document in its own right. He felt such a document should be above question. However the moment it is above question, it becomes tyrannical. Society has no room to be human, compassionate, or to grow. Such a document stops thought and personal responsibility. You don’t have to think for yourself about what is the most compassionate and life-affirming, the document does it for you and you just float along with it not having to care.
The argument about rights in conflict assumes we can create a work where that’s unlikely to happen. The problem is most events where people have experienced negative outcomes are messy. Different rights may have been violated in different ways for different people in the same event. This is why we have courts of law: to negotiate the complexities and nuances of life and justice. Do the courts always get it right? No. But it is still valuable having them ask the questions and search for answers. This does not negate laws or eliminate rights, it merely requires we keep thinking and be prepared to find nuance.
This terrifies people who wonder how are they going to know when they are doing right or wrong? How can they ensure the punishment of those who hurt them? The fellow who wrote the article was terrified that allowing for nuance was just going to ensure only the rich will receive “justice”. For me the answer is we need to socialise the justice system as well, so we are equally part of the journey to ensure public well-being.
We already have examples in democratic societies where rights are taken on thoughtlessly and with religious fervour. The main one is freedom of speech. This has been used to excuse life-threatening behaviour. Few people have stopped to think that we don’t want absolute freedom of speech. We want freedom of political debate and creative expression. We want freedom from harrassment for divergent ideas. We want freedom to speak the truth when it is in the best interests of ourselves, humanity, and the planet. We don’t want under freedom of speech to give someone the right to lie in court. We don’t want freedom of speech to result in cyber-abuse and doxxing, resulting in perhaps assault or suicide.
Nuance is hard to teach children and sometimes just as hard to teach adults, which is why we resort to speaking in absolutes. This doesn’t help in the long run.
If people really want to be as safe as is possible, then we have to give up living in an illusion of knowing and an illusion of control. As messy as they are we have to embrace emotions and learn how to negotiate them in a mature manner. In that way we are better prepared to work with one another. We have to be willing to consider for ourselves what to do in each eventuality that arises in our lives without expectation of easy answers. What comes first is considering the well-being of all parties, and it’s okay to take the time needed to find the best outcome.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 11 April 2016 | No responses
The crowdfunding campaign for my musical Heard of Elephants is off and running!
We need people to donate!
We need people to spread the word!
Even small efforts on our behalf are gratefully accepted: from little things big things grow. Donate $2 (or more)! Pass this article onto a friend or family member! Link to us from your favourite social media! Do what you can to help make this happen!
Here’s me pitching:
Here’s me chatting with the lovely Wem Etuknwa (fun interview, including insights into entertainment wrestling!):
Posted on 9 April 2016 | No responses
Of late I hear young people talking about not being very good at “adulting”. Some of this is because what our culture has come to believe is “adult” is a deeply distorted image that serves our society and has to do with power. And what our culture often worships as powerful is usually pathological.
So, I found myself this morning writing something of a Desiderata about growing up. I hope people find it meaningful and of use.
As you grow up and grow old:
* Don’t lose your capacity for joy—especially the joy that comes from simple things.
* Don’t lose your capacity for wonder, curiosity, and acceptance.
* Keep your ability to try and try and try new things until you have cracked their secrets.
* Let your self-consciousness lead you to being a kinder person, rather than leaving you terrified of engaging with others and the world.
* Keep your faith in the general goodness of the world without letting individual instances of meanness close you from genuine offers of love.
* Love freely and deeply, because what is gained will always be greater than what is lost upon occasion…if you let yourself learn.
Too many things are seen as belonging to childhood when in reality they are gifts we are to nurture, develop, and cherish, because they make of us better human beings and help us to enjoy life.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 5 April 2016 | No responses
I’m launching my own crowdfunding event this Thursday! It’s to help pay for my new musical theatre production Heard of Elephants, a musical about elephant conservation. After we have put this show together, we are going to be releasing it to Creative Commons, so professionals, community groups, schools, and the like can use it to help raise awareness about the plight elephants face and raise funds to see something is done to preserve this magnificent keystone species.
The launch will be happening at Lido Cinemas in Hawthorn VIC. For $15 people will be able to watch the Australian premiere of Disney’s The Jungle Book and use our computers to donate.
You can join us by buying tickets here:
More information here:
On Thursday you will be able to make donations here:
Posted on 22 March 2016 | No responses
On the 26 February the San Carlos Apache celebrated one year of standing strong at Oak Flat Arizona. They have been occupying Oak Flat in order to preserve their ancient sacred grounds from the devastation that would come with Rio Tinto mining the area.
News has just come through that Oak Flat will remain listed in the National Register of Historic Places, thereby frustrating Rio Tinto’s plans to move forward with their mine! This is a fantastic step in preserving this sacred site. Our journey isn’t over, but we are making headway.
It was deeply gratifying last week when in Flagstaff Arizona, Bernie Sanders deviated from his traditional stump speech and instead spoke of the injustices America’s original peoples have had to face. The more this issue is raised in the national and international consciousness, the more likely we are to see positive change.
In peace and kindness,