America has an addiction to punishment.

Posted on 17 June 2016 | No responses

And it’s failing us.

by Matt Haney

Whether in our schools or the justice system, our instinct has often been to punish first, ask questions later.

It is time that we as individuals, as a community, and as country stop giving punishment a free pass.

When I started as a School Board Member in San Francisco a few years back I asked around for our evidence that out-of-school suspensions were effective.

As a school district, we were suspending thousands of children from school every year, disproportionately students of color, leading to countless hours of missed class time, we must have a good reason for it, right?

People literally laughed in my face.

Evidence that suspensions work?

Why would we have that?

Ridiculous question.


There’s no answer because all the actual evidence tells us the exact opposite.

Suspensions make children more likely to misbehave and be suspended again, drop out, and end up in the criminal justice system. Not only do suspensions not change behavior positively, they actually make things much worse.

But that’s exactly how punishment often works within our society. Punishment doesn’t need to justify itself. It is its own justification.

Why do we punish students with suspensions when they misbehave? Because we punish students with suspensions when they misbehave.

That’s just what we do. No further explanation needed.

Instead of the burden being placed on punishment, we allow punishment to place the burden on us: We force ourselves to search for reasons as to why we shouldn’t harm someone when they do something we don’t like.

The assumption is always that we must hurt them.

But hurting doesn’t always help. In fact, it often makes things worse.

For that reason, you would imagine that we would place the highest burden on punishment to justify itself to us.

Hurting someone is serious business, and should always come with high standards for us to meet.

But we’ve got it backwards: We’ve created a world where we have to justify ourselves to punishment; and it’s a high bar. Usually too high.

Our justice system is the worst culprit of this dizzying circular logic that always leads us to more punishment.

Why do we lock people up for long periods of time when they do something we don’t like?

Because we lock people up for long periods of time when they do something we don’t like.

Any evidence that long sentences, particularly for drug offenses or nonviolent crimes, serve as a deterrent?


Any evidence that serving a long prison sentence will make a person less likely to re-offend?


In fact, all the evidence that we have, just like with school suspensions, points to the opposite.

Putting people in crowded cells disconnected from their families and society, without treatment for their underlying problems, surrounded by others who have been convicted of crimes, and then continuing to punish them by labeling them as a felon for the rest of their life, actually makes it more likely that people re-offend.

Who knew?

Of course, not everyone who does something “bad” is punished. Punishment is wielded most harshly for the marginalized, powerless, and demonized in our society. For people of color, and especially children of color, guilt is more often presumed, so punishment is quicker, more brutal, and less forgiving.

So when rich white kids have a problem with drugs, they are called “troubled,” viewed as having an underlying need to be addressed, and are sent to rehab. And often that approach works, with these “troubled” kids heading off to college and on to high paying jobs.

But when black children do similar things, they are demonized as bad kids, apparently only capable of responding to punishment, and are put in a cell. That time in a cell leads to more time in a cell, and so on and so on, eventually punishment becomes the justification for more punishment.

And punishment is not always so intentional and conscious. It can also be found in the economic and social conditions that we accept for some people, who we may or may not think have done something to deserve it.

Very similar logic that leads us to punish intentionally also allows us to accept the conditions that serve as de facto punishment.

Those kids can go to that school because, well, they must deserve it.

Those people can live in those conditions because, well, they can handle it.

There is another way.

And it doesn’t necessarily require us to hold hands and all love one another.

You don’t necessarily have to be a “bleeding heart” to be against blind, irrational punishment.

Everywhere you look blind punishment creates new problems and deepens others, it is short sighted and expensive, and it leaves deep scars that are passed on to future generations.

Creating institutions around the blind belief that we must hurt people, often at their most vulnerable moment, only further alienates and marginalizes them from society.

Hurting someone who is already hurt is one of the least effective things you can do if the goal is to change their behavior.

Show me someone who is deeply damaged, disconnected, violent, angry, and alone, and I will show you someone who has had more than their share of punishment brought upon them, both by individuals and institutions.

Hurt people hurt people.

Punished people punish people.

In the battle between compassion and punishment, compassion just flat out works better.

With 2.3 million people incarcerated in jails and prisons, disproportionately people of color, we are spending $80 billion a year to lock people up in a bloated, broken, ineffective system that gets more money for when it fails. Most people who are locked up are eventually released, and over half of those folks come back within three years. It’s not working.

And every year, there are 3.3 million students nationwide, disproportionately black and Latino, who are suspended from school, denying countless hours of precious instructional time to students who need it most. These suspensions aren’t improving schools or changing behavior in positive ways. It’s not working.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a role for some punishment in society, of course there is.

But let’s be smart about it.

Whenever a society brings intentional harm through punishment, it should be proportionate, measured, purposeful, meaningful, evidence-based, and designed to bring about positive results, both individually and collectively.

Above all, we have to get past this idea that punishment and accountability are the same thing. Pushing someone away, sticking them alone in a cell, or at home on a suspension, does not require them to do the hard work of understanding what they’ve done, make up for it, or change their behavior.

Bringing people in, rather than pushing them away, is true accountability. Incapacitation is not itself inherently wrong, but it must be done with purpose, with intentions to rebuild, reintegrate, and protect.

Why would you want to be a part of a community that doesn’t want you?

In many ways, this is actually how we already behave with people who are close to us.

It is how we expect our own children to be treated if they have a problem or have done something wrong, with understanding, context, support and treatment.

Address the underlying needs, provide support that is contextual, and expect higher behavioral standards.

It’s good for parenting, and good for society.

Our institutions can and should reflect this principle.

What would our institutions look like if they truly reflected the best of us?

In the San Francisco Unified School District, we’ve challenged the “punish first, ask questions later” mindset, and the results speak for themselves.

By embracing restorative practices, evidence based supportive interventions, and positive behavioral incentives, we’ve seen suspensions and expulsions plummet, increasing class time for the students that need it the most.

And in schools that have lowered rates of punitive school discipline, they have also seen corresponding increases in graduation rates, attendance, and school satisfaction.

And I’m also proud to be a part of the #cut50 movement, where we are working to cut the prison population in half by elevating smart solutions that can reduce incarceration while keeping us safe.

This is not just an idea, it’s already happening:

Dozens of states around the country have moved away from an over-reliance on unnecessary, arbitrary punishment, and towards systems that are intentionally designed to change behavior.

In Georgia, where their Republican Governor has championed criminal justice reform, they’ve created new alternatives that address underlying needs, such as drug courts and mental health courts. As a result, they’ve seen their incarceration rate drop, along with their crime rate.

Arbitrary, irrational punishment isn’t just bad for the people who are punished; it’s bad for all of us. By committing to solutions that are intentional, contextual, individualized, evidence based, and yes, compassionate, we can expect better outcomes for those on the receiving end, and a better society for all of us.

There’s an easy, simple place to start.

Next time you’re confronted by the “punish first” mentality

Ask why?

What goals will punishment accomplish and how do we know?

You may be surprised the answers you get, or the lack thereof.

And we should also reflect on our own tolerance, or even conscious support, of punishment. More often than not, our support for punishing others says more about us than it does about them.

Punishment is often a way that we attempt to affirm our own value, and at times, relevance, status and safety within a group. And sometimes, it’s simply because someone did it to us.

But just like when it manifests itself in our institutions, it more often than not brings a false, superficial, if temporary, satisfaction. Sometimes we choose punishment because we feel like we are supposed to, but it will rarely fulfill our deeper need for value and belonging.

Punishment doesn’t work for us either.

Real sense of self worth and belonging comes with the harder, more meaningful understanding of our shared connections, and recognition that all of us are much more than one thing we’ve done.

Even if its the worst thing we’ve done.

Such understanding doesn’t ultimately come at the expense of others.

We are all complex and flawed.

But for the grace of God, there go I.

Without punishment to fall back on, we’re going to have to learn how to be more purposeful, thoughtful, creative, humble and understanding.

Without punishment for punishment’s sake, we are exposed.

Individually and collectively, we can challenge our addiction to punishment, and demand a world where our own behavior, as well as our collective institutions reflect the best of us&hellip:

Empathy, understanding, compassion, humility.

It’s a little scary, but that’s the kind of world that I want to live in.

Hopefully we all do.

CC BY 2.0 Daniel Ramirez from Honolulu, USA

CC BY 2.0 Daniel Ramirez from Honolulu, USA

Matt Haney is the President of the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education and Policy Director for #cut50 and #YesWeCode.

“America has an addiction to punishment.” originally published on Medium.

AJ+: Former Undercover CIA Officer Talks War And Peace

Posted on 17 June 2016 | No responses

Peace and kindness,


We Are All Human, It Is Your Problem

Posted on 16 June 2016 | No responses

It’s because of the… I am (a/an)…so it’s not my problem.
religious atheist
atheists Christian
the lazy poor hard working middle/upper class person
ethnics normal (white)
feminists normal (male)
sexual deviants straight
illiterate/ignorant well-educated
journalists/academics/whistleblowers good citizen
artists in business/technology
unexceptional exceptional

Please note that these dichotomies are formed as much out of ego as right/left wing ideologies. The main point being that whenever people exempt themselves from disastrous behaviour, the problem never resolves itself.

I have seen people in groups decide they are categorically “the good guys”. What then happens is eventually one of their group calamitously misbehaves and the group goes into denial. Some members may seek to punish those who have exposed them, because such things should not be said about “the good guys”. Others may do what they can to cover things up, because we can’t have people thinking we aren’t “the good guys”. Finally, everything spirals out of control.

We have to recognise our shared humanity. Problems cannot be resolved by cutting off whole segments of humanity and denying them their personhood, and their physical, mental, and emotional security. Humility, kindness, and sufficient emotional maturity to take responsibility are called for.

Peace and kindness,


Overcoming Presets for Hatred

Posted on 15 June 2016 | No responses

One hundred years ago much of the world was embroiled in WWI. The war was sparked when Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg were assassinated. A nationalist organisation in Serbia, who were unhappy with the take-over of Bosnia-Herzegovina, took matters into their own hands and one of their members shot down the Austrian royals.

At the time European imperialism was creating serious international tensions. Nations had pre-set plans for dealing with who they expected to go to war with in the near future. A certain fatalism that war was inevitable pervaded the European continent before the first gun was shot. The assassination was used almost as an excuse to settle old scores, as nations went to war with one another simply for having alliances with others who had alliances with either Austria-Hungary or Serbia.

Ernest Hemingway wrote: “World War I was the most colossal, murderous, mismanaged butchery that has ever taken place on earth. Any writer who said otherwise lied, So the writers either wrote propaganda, shut up, or fought.”

In the end you had the peoples of nations fighting other nations simply because they were frightened and coerced. Just point them at an enemy and all their fear and frustration could find vent in murderous endeavours. The pressure to conform and join the bloodbath was tremendous, with people shaming or outright beating and killing anyone who refused to participate.

Today we are also experiencing tremendous pressures which are setting off those who are particularly emotionally and mentally vulnerable. Though many are in denial, they are still terrified that we are living in the end of days due to environmental devastation. The increasing divide between the rich and poor, and all the disempowerment that entails, is creating a swirling mass of frustration.

Racism and classism are rampant within both the left and right of politics.

The right is working to keep you ashamed and under control for not being them. Something is considered wrong with you if you are non-caucasian, non-straight, non-Christian, and non-wealthy. It can look like the power brokers on the right will let you in their club, provided you are wealthy enough. They do an excellent job of marketing that vision, but it is a lie. Nevertheless, fearful people wanting to fit in somehow, in order to physically and emotionally survive, may take desperate action to show they belong.

Many people in the Western world have never met a Muslim or a gay person. And yet, they are ready to harrass and kill these people because they have been told “Muslims and gays are the problem”. Somewhere in their heads they think: perhaps harming these people will make me feel safer, perhaps harming these people will put me in the club of those people who live a more secure existence.

People on the left who are living securely are finding cunning ways to submerge the expression of their own fears in order to appear intellectually in control, and thereby add to the problem. Instead of identifying their fears concerning Islamic extremists, some will choose to be anti-theist in order to disguise racism. Others will send money to the poor in other countries, but make sure their children go to wealthy non-integrated schools. They will justify their treatment of poor whites, because those people are racist, sexist, and violent. The poor are further dehumanised by the label “white trash” and are publicly humiliated by the media as some how deserving of our hatred. If they were smarter, worked harder, had some sense, we are told, they wouldn’t be on society’s lowest rung. But where is the help and where are the steps to pull them out? At least the right give them a dream of escape (while stabbing them in the back). Rationalised fear is still fear. You can make things like eugenics sound logical when its application is wrong, wrong, wrong.

When we hear about mass shootings, we should definitely be sad and upset that so many innocent people were senselessly killed. We should also think about how we were complicit. How did the shooter become so frightened and so angry that they felt this was a solution? Did we do anything to ensure their physical security? Did we do anything to address their emotional distress? Did we show them any compassion or acceptance before things got out of hand? Just like WWI these people hit out at an easy target for hatred, without that target having anything to do with their suffering. This of course keeps us all locked into a cycle of violence.

We have to learn how to care about each other, we have to do some radical sharing, we have to cooperate, and we absolutely have to learn how to co-exist. Otherwise, none of this will stop. Take a long hard look in the mirror and start choosing better.

Peace and kindness,


The Price of Rice in Japan

Posted on 8 June 2016 | No responses

by David Hill

I have a little produce stand next to my house. The guy who runs it is a really good friend of mine. I’ve told a lot of stories about him. How he might have saved me from a car accident with strange astrology. How he’s given me the smartest goldfish I’ve ever known. How he told me about how Ultraman is his god.

I have a less inspiring story to tell about him today.

Right now, he’s concerned. This is a guy who is so painfully optimistic, so bright, so warm. And he’s worried.

He’s in his late 60s. He lives with his parents, who are both in their 90s. They have a little produce stand, and a small farm with a rice field and some other assorted vegetables. It’s spread out over about four plots of land in our city, all about the size of your average home and yard, all within walking distance. His parents’ parents owned this land. It’s been in their family for over a century. He proudly tells me that his grandfather was the first person in Japan to cultivate strawberries – our prefecture is well-known for its amazing strawberries. When his family first started growing rice in this city, rice was still being used as a form of currency.

The three of them work the farm. Just Saturday, I saw his 93 year old mother in that rice field, knee-deep in muddy water, making rice happen. I couldn’t do that at 34. I cannot imagine doing it at 93. But she loves it. She says she loves the field, loves the rice, and loves making food for the community.

If you picture the volume of produce they actually make, and compare it to your average co-op in a Western nation, you could imagine that it’s a relatively small amount. But it’s a comfortable life for them; they make enough money to pay for their land and their needs. They’re comfortable enough that every month, he goes out and picks potatoes to give his neighbors for free.

Small farms are a big deal in Japan. Not everything’s been consumed by massive agriculture business. When I walk down the street, there are vending machines that clean rice. The local farmers take their haul, put it in the machine, and it comes out white. These vending machines mean that the local farmers don’t need to own massive, expensive equipment that they won’t really use that often.

They can do this because Japan has rigid laws in place to protect rice farmers. You’d think that if rice is grown a block from my house, it should be the cheapest available. It’s not. In fact, rice from the United States is actually cheaper. Chinese rice is also, so is Vietnamese rice and others’. But Japan has laws that strictly limit export rice, that way Japanese rice farmers can’t be undercut by foreign markets. If you don’t live here, you might assume rice is cheap because it’s a staple of everyday mealtime. It’s not cheap. We pay for it, and it supports the massive number of Japanese rice farmers.

Right now, he’s concerned because of the TPP. You hear some stuff about it, how it’s the “gold standard” in trade deals, how it will hurt American jobs, how it’ll force Canada into uncomfortable trade, how it’ll… Whatever. But one thing it does is disintegrate many of those protective rice laws. This will introduce rice into the market at immensely low costs, pricing out Japanese rice farmers. They’ll have to lower their prices to match – and thus eating massive amounts of their working class revenue – or they’ll have to go out of business. In many cases, this means neighborhood farmers selling out to bigger business with lower overhead and greater economy of scale.

This isn’t even just an issue of removing limitations: The TPP literally requires Japan to import massive amounts of rice from the United States, the required amount of which will increase every year for a decade. This rice will be imported tariff-free. He showed me the differences, and essentially it’s a matter of rice that could be sold at less than half the price of their locally grown rice.

The thing I tend to hear when corporatist trade deals destroy local business is that the displaced workers should just find other work. They can’t. These are 90+ year olds, and a 60+ year old, who are just working to maintain long-standing family land and use farming as a way to connect with their community. They can’t just go work at Walmart. This isn’t just a job for them. This is their life.

He doesn’t think they’ll be able to keep their farm for long. He says they’ll try. He says they’ll probably keep trying well after it’s no longer viable, because they love that land.

Japan will take care of him. Japan will take care of them. They have pension. They’re not going to starve or go homeless. But they’re not going to have a farm. They’re going to lose property that’s been in their family for over a century. They’re going to lose land that gave them beautiful stories about strawberries. They’re going to lose land that lets them give fresh potatoes to the neighbors.

I hope this can help put a face on the cost of these corporatist trade deals. When the US has a Secretary Of State aggressively lobbying Congress behind closed doors, it’s not just a political debate. It’s people’s lives and livelihoods at stake. And it’s not just localized – these trade deals hit people all over the world. These trade deals are the cornerstone of trickle-up economics; we destroy the small businesses, the individuals scraping to get by, in order to consolidate power in the hands of the unbelievably wealthy.

originally published on Google+.

Welcome to the Country of Living Beings

Posted on 5 June 2016 | No responses


I would like to show my respect and Acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Land, of Elders past and present, on which this meeting takes place: the Wurundjeri people of the Kulinn Nation, Macropus rufus of the Kangaroo Nation, Eubalaena australis of the Whale Nation, and many other living beings who have called this part of the world home and have lived here for thousands of years or more.

It is World Environment Day and I’ve just come from an upsetting conversation with a fellow formerly from South Africa. I mentioned that I was doing a musical about elephants. He immediately asked me what I thought of South Africa selling ivory in order to fund their national parks. I said I was against it and I was against the culls.

The series of rationalisations he gave for killing elephants deeply upset me, but this wasn’t the first time I have heard them. I will have to write more on this subject. When things became particularly dark for me was when he was telling me they had to kill the elephants in order to make more farm land and the only way to do it was to round up families and slaughter them all at once.

These creatures are not merely intelligent, they are self aware, and deeply empathetic. This is a nightmare for them.

Daphne Sheldrick, founder of the David Sheldrick Animal Trust, speaks of the South African use of scholine on the elephants during culls. It is an immobilising drug which makes it possible for clean meat to be retrieved from the elephants. However, the victims of this drug are unable to move and these intelligent feeling creatures must watch their family members being butchered one by one. Imagine being a paralysed mother having to hear your panic-stricken baby crying for help, then watching him or her being killed and you are unable to move.

For centuries we have been telling ourselves that somehow we are separate from animals, that animals do not feel as we feel, and that it is acceptable to use them as we wish, even when that brings great suffering. Science has called it anthropomorphisation when we recognise our emotional similarities, and has actively shamed its own members when they felt empathy. Thomas Huxley was particularly guilty of starting this trend in the nineteenth century.

Dale Peterson in The Moral Lives of Animals writes, “The common habit of creating one thought island for people, the island of who and whom, and a second island, that of it and that, to contain that vast world made up of all animals and all things, suggests an astounding conceptual divide that simply fails to reflect reality. The reality is this: We are far, far more closely related to any animal than we are to any object. And to mammals…we are a good deal more closely related than we ordinarily admit.”

What is telling is when a being is defined as an animal, rather than a human.

Slavery was justified because the peoples of Africa were not seen as human. The slaughter and taking of land from the American Indian peoples were justified because they were seen as not human. A similar slaughter and taking of land from Australia’s Aboriginal peoples were also justified because they were seen as a dying race. The poor treatment of women was justified since they were considered sub-human. Horrific experiments were justified in the name of science and perpetrated on Jewish peoples, people with intellectual disabilities, and more during World War II because they too were stripped of their humanity.

Right here, right now I will say that elephants are people. They may not be human, but they are people. They feel shame, grief, joy, and compassion like we do. They care for one another and at times will show care toward other animals, including humans. They use tools, remember critical information, and make plans. When we take their land because we are too greedy to share among ourselves, and therefore need to grab for more, we are repeating what was done to the Wurundjeri, the Cherokee, the Haratin, and more. This land belonged to the elephants before we took it. They have rights in that land. “Culling” them because they are trying to return to their homes is monstrous. More than that, given the precariousness of their existence, it’s genocide.

The Non Human Rights Project which seeks to protect the rights and liberties of all animals states that, “In Western law, every nonhuman animal has always been regarded as a legal ‘thing’. We can buy, sell, eat, hunt, ride, trap, vivisect, and kill them almost at whim. The reason is that legal things don’t exist in law for their own sakes. They exist for the sakes of legal ‘persons,’ which we humans are. ‘Things’ are invisible to civil judges. They possess no legal rights and no hope of having them…The common law transformation of a nonhuman animal from ‘legal thing’ to ‘legal person’ is a primary objective of the Nonhuman Rights Project.”

In Australia many people seek to acknowledge the injustices done to the original peoples of this country by starting meetings with the “Welcome to Country.” This way we keep in immediate memory the understanding that we are living on stolen land and that these peoples are deserving of our respect and fair treatment. The statement is simple and powerful. I believe everyone everywhere should make a similar statement that also acknowledges the non-human persons from whom we have taken land as well.

Peace and kindness,


Why Does Mineral Soup Want Anything?

Posted on 3 June 2016 | No responses

I wrote the below in my journal November 2013. I frequently try to get a grasp of the bigger picture. Sometimes that picture gets pretty big.

When people think of a singular moment of creation, they tend to think of the Big Bang: that moment when all of the universe exploded into beingness. Physics appears to be neat, mathematical, and ultimately knowable. Therefore, many people find a certain amount of assurance in focusing on this moment.

Another primal moment would be that instant when primordial mineral soup and lightning combined in just the right way to create life—abiogenesis.

When scientists get closer and closer to that first bright spark of universal beingness, what we know about physics and mathematics start to break down and become nonsensical, in particular before one Planck time. The same seems to be true when it comes to life. We can find the building blocks for DNA. We can run lightning like energy through it and recreate self-replicating sequences. We seem to be whittling away on the problem of “how” and mistaking it for the question of “why”.

When an animal evolves an appendage we say that appendage exists in order to fight off predators, or to attract mates, or to better access food. That is the “why” of it. But why does mineral soup need to replicate?

You can argue that it is simply a mechanical process set in motion. Need doesn’t enter into it. Then why does this mechanical process fear its own cessation and seeks self preservation—why evolve more and more elaborate ways to sustain itself? Why develop in ways that seem antithetical to itself? This mineral soup does not appear to uniformly develop. It develops distinct entities that feed off one another’s energy. Why would a mechanical process do that?

Yet another primal biological moment needing explanation: why does awareness even exist? What about mineral soup makes it possible for a loose affiliation of DNA to recognise that another loose affiliation of DNA is nearby and that the correct responses are to either flee, fight, freeze, predate, or procreate. If mineral soup did only one of of these things every time, then clearly we may still be talking about a mechanical process. But to size up another collective of beingness and to make repeatedly successful decisions about whether to run, resist, eat, or get on with a bit of rumpy-pumpy with another is a pretty remarkable thing when you come to think about it.

This leads to questions such as how does mineral soup divide itself up? How does it determine this collection of DNA is a oneness? How does it form a collaborative beingness that is an “I” and not an “us”. Why does the group lose its individual identities and start evolving collectively? Why are parts of this entity willing to sacrifice themselves for the survival of the rest of the entity? Why, when a mistake enters the genes of the entity and creates a new sort of entity, is it at times anathema to others of its kind? Why does the new entity protect itself and any that it recognises as like itself? Remember we are talking about mineral soup here. The system seems rigged for diversity controlled by various forms of biocide. Even the oneness is at odds with itself when upon occasion a cell decides it will become immortal, then starts dividing: that’s called cancer. However, it is an immortality that eventually destroys itself.

Finally, why does mineral soup eventually form, reform, and expand itself until it is capable of reflecting upon itself, its own nature, and the nature of the universe of which it is a part? At some point consciousness becomes logical because it is faster to think of ways to survive than to wait around for a serendipitous genetic mistake to exploit. At another point self-consciousness becomes logical because when combined with empathy it can bring a functioning individual back into collaboration with a new sort of collective beingness, while making the possibility of diversification faster and more robust.

I think there is a whole layer of the universe that we haven’t even begun to properly contemplate or explore. My own crackpot theory is that perhaps consciousness is a thing like light, and elements of consciousness are everywhere and part of of everything. Certain structures facilitate a consciousness circuit better than others…but if you have the structure, you get the consciousness. This of course just opens up a whole new array of questions, if it’s even true. In any case I find thinking about these things a starting place for considering the ethics of human behaviour.

Bonus cool videos to make this journey even weirder:

Peace and kindness,


The Mental Disease of Late-Stage Capitalism

Posted on 1 June 2016 | No responses

by Joe Brewer


I’ve been talking with a lot of my friends recently—in private where they felt comfortable letting their guard down—about the dirty little secret no one is supposed to talk about.

The shame people feel when they can’t find a job…

…or pay their bills.

…or go to the dentist.

…or that they have to move back in with their parents.

…or they can’t afford to have children.

We are supposed to pretend, in this stupendously individualist culture, that it is our fault. The buck stops here. I am responsible for my failings in life.

Of course this is demonstrably not true. We are merely living through late-stage capitalism and our parents lacked the foresight to warn us about it. When a population explodes—as the human one did throughout the last century—eventually all manner of social institutions become over-crowded. From there, it’s simply a numbers game.

Want that awesome job? Stack your resume next to the hundreds of other people applying for it. Hoping to get into college? You’ll have to pay out the nose in student loans (if, that is, you were fortunate enough to get through admissions). Thinking of buying a house? You’re too busy paying rent in a skyrocketing market of housing prices.

But yeah, be sure to blame yourself. It’s obviously your fault.

Seriously though, we should have seen this coming. Build an economic system based on wealth hoarding and presumed scarcity and you’ll get what was intended. The system is performing exactly as it was designed to. That is why wages have stagnated in the West for 30 years. It is why 62 people are able to have the same amount of wealth as 3.7 billion. It is why politicians are bought by the highest bidders and legislation systematically serves the already-rich at the expense of society.

A great irony of this deeply corrupt system of wealth hoarding is that the “weapon of choice” is how we feel about ourselves as we interact with our friends. The elites don’t have to silence us. We do that ourselves by refusing to talk about what is happening to us. Fake it until you make it. That’s the advice we are given by the already successful who have pigeon-holed themselves into the tiny number of real opportunities society had to offer. Hold yourself accountable for the crushing political system that was designed to divide us against ourselves.

The mental disease of late-stage capitalism is shame, the devastating feeling that we failed ourselves in the Land of Opportunity.

This great lie that we whisper to ourselves is how they control us. Our fear that other impoverished people (which is most of us now) will look down on us for being impoverished too. This is how we give them the power to keep humiliating us.

I say no more of this emotional racket. If I am going to be responsible for my fate in life, let it be because I chose to stand up and fight—that I helped dismantle the global architecture of wealth extraction that created this systemic corruption of our economic and political systems.

Now more than ever, we need spiritual healing. As this capitalist system destroys itself, we can step aside and find healing by living honestly and without fear. They don’t get to tell us how to live. We can share our pain with family and friends. We can post it on social media. Shout it from the rooftops if we feel like it. The pain we feel is capitalism dying. It hurts us because we are still in it.

But those billionaires who rigged the game don’t get to tell me what I should or shouldn’t say to my friends. If I am struggling financially it is because the financial system is morally corrupt. This truth is a mantric elixir—repeat it to yourself every time the habits of your mind whisper that it is your fault.

You are not to blame for the wealth hoarding of others. That is one burden you don’t have to carry any longer. Be healed. Find your strength. Speak your truth. And let the cascades of change unfurl across society.

We cannot begin the work of building new economic systems until we take off the mental shackles of the old ones. So let your shame fall away. Remember your pride in learning and growing as a person, loving life and other people, being with friends, and pursuing your dreams. Then hold tight to these feelings as you set clear intentions about how the future must be different from the past.

We can do better. We must do better. It might be true that capitalism as we know it is going the way of history. I say good riddance. Whatever good it might have done is in the past now. Moving forward will be a grieving process—and each of us needs to pay close attention to the feelings inside of ourselves. We are the capitalist system right now. But not for long.

The pain we feel is like that tugging of skin for the serpent as it sheds an outer layer. Deep inside ourselves we are human beings, which is about so much more than the money we have in the bank or the things we buy at the store. As we shed ourselves of the immoral economic ideology of insatiable greed (that has made the elites around the world very sick indeed!), let us remember our true nature and begin to heal.

Onward, fellow humans.

Joe Brewer
I am a change strategist working on behalf of humanity, and also a complexity researcher, cognitive scientist, and evangelist for the field of culture design.

The Mental Disease of Late-Stage Capitalism originally published on Medium.

We Need Stories

Posted on 23 May 2016 | No responses

~ We need stories that speak truth to power, and speak truth to the masses.

~ We need stories that show how things were, how they are, how they might be, and how they can be.

~ We need stories that bind people together, that help us to cooperate for the common good.

~ We need a diversity of stories to represent the diversity of human being, so that we look beyond our differences and learn to care more broadly.

~ We need stories that help us to understand ourselves better.

~ We need stories that reconnect us with our feelings and our humanity.

~ We need stories that move us to care, and inspire us to action.

~ We need stories that bring us joy, and help to give us strength and resilience.

~ We need good solid stories, where storytellers have dug deep within themselves to represent what is truest and most life-affirming.

We need stories!

Ojibwe Storyteller

by Rose Pecos-SunRhodes at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, CC BY SA

Peace and kindness,


The Case Against Equality

Posted on 20 May 2016 | No responses

I can hear you thinking, “Oh, she’s going to talk about equity.” At least those of you who know me may be thinking that. I will be touching on equity. I’m mostly concerned with how people engage with the concept of equality, such that it becomes tyrannical in its own right.

Tall Poppies

In Australia we have a concept known as “Tall Poppy Syndrome”. The syndrome describes the situation as like looking out over a field of poppies and if one or two stands taller than the others, those plants have their flowers chopped off so their stems stand at the same height as the other plants who are allowed to flower. When someone works hard and succeeds or has a natural talent for something, others will knock them down “to size”, so we can all feel comfortable with ourselves. In this country the syndrome is directed more frequently at academics and people in the arts, but not so much toward sports heroes.

Intrinsic Equality

Intrinsic equality is the scale that can never be fully balanced or satisfied. It’s where equality is used as part of the status game. We are taught to value certain intrinsic characteristics such as body-build, intellect, singing ability, etc then when we don’t feel we measure up, some of us might try to knock others down. This isn’t to ensure everyone’s well being. It’s to even up the status score. It may well be wrong that our society values tall people over shorter people, but it’s not the fault of the tall person that they were born that way. They do not deserve our punishment for that point of difference. Rather we need to educate people to show more respect of one another regardless of height. If any individual is deeply insecure, there may never be anything that can be done that will make them feel equal. In fact they may only feel “equal” when they are dominating. Of course kicking “down” (rather than “up”) in this equation is even more deplorable.

Extrinsic Equality

We have more hope of creating extrinsic equality: where everyone has equal access to money, housing, clean water, medical treatment, education, etc. Creating that sort of equality and that sort of general security would go a long way toward giving people the space to resolve issues to do with intrinsic equality. But even extrinsic equality has its balance problems. This is where equity is more valuable. Croatian author Slavenka Drakulic writes about how under Yugoslavian communists the people in her country: men and women, were meant to be treated equally. The results were that giving women feminine hygiene products was seen as somehow giving them more than the men. Clearly the wrong measure was being used.


What we want is a world where everyone has opportunities to participate, everyone shares skills and resources, everyone is treated respectfully, and everyone has what they need to flourish. Some people will need more for this to be possible, such as those who need wheelchairs. Some will need less such as an acrobatic artist may need less than a sculptor to create something of beauty. This will still happen primarily within a range of equality, but it won’t be about sameness since everyone’s needs are unique.

I believe a range of equality will only work when we eliminate both poverty and excessive wealth. I know some will want to only fix the poverty, and feel that will be good enough. Excessive wealth still creates a power imbalance. Respectful treatment goes missing in this equation. I believe those who seek and hold a disproportionate amount of wealth need to be treated for their own form of addiction and emotional disconnection. We are no longer talking about tall poppies here, but mental disorder. You may compassionately treat an alcoholic, but you still take away the alcohol. These people can be treated compassionately as well, but they need to reconnect with the rest of humanity and have limits put on their wealth and power.

I completely agree with Louis CK here, “The only time you look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.” This is a meaningful equality. This is an equality that is connected to compassion not petty squabbling. Let’s give everyone a chance to bloom.

Peace and kindness,


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