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,
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.
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.
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!
Peace and kindness,
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.
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 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.
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,
Posted on 19 May 2016 | No responses
You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know that you can count me out
Don’t you know it’s gonna be all right.
I’m just old enough to remember the 60s. We even lived next to a hippy commune when I was a kid. A lot of amazing things happened in that era. To this day we are benefitting from some of the cultural shifts that time brought on. But make no mistake, it was also a frightening and violent time.
In that era we saw the assassinations of John F Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr, and Malcolm X. We had the Kent State massacre. And just as we entered the 1970s, the Munich Olympic Massacre, thought to be a terrorist act by the PLO. We were all terrified of worldwide obliteration brought on by a nuclear war.
Most Americans are taught a little about the bloodbath that was the French Revolution, because it connects with the US Revolution. Not many are taught about the bloodbaths that were the Russian and Chinese revolutions.
Without a question we need major changes happening around the world. But don’t go thinking it’s about charismatic leaders and heroic fights. The world is still filled with nuclear weapons. A violent revolution will most assuredly push this world beyond the brink of human survivability.
The future is about all of us learning how to take responsibility for ourselves, our communities, and our environment. It will be about dedicated work to bring peace, and to cool the flames of fear and anger. Simply smashing everything up and expecting, “There, that will make things better” is pure foolishness. Learn how to reach out a hand in care and thereby teach others how to care: this must be done now, this must be done tomorrow and the next day: this must become a way of life.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 10 May 2016 | 2 responses
The question I wish more progressives would ask themselves is, why are the right so organised and the left can barely organise a garden party, much less a political one? The right can pull themselves into a frightening lock step and hell march us into oblivion without thinking twice about the consequences. For the left a room full of a dozen people will hold several dozen opinions, and only a few will find enough commonality to cooperate.
Humans are not solitary creatures. We very specifically evolved as social beings. Social animals often ostracise members that are ill, malformed, or tyrannical. This is frequently a death sentence. As such we are acutely sensitive to being socially isolated. The right, for all their talk about being rugged individualists, are very much into social conformity and will agree with their clique’s positions whether or not those positions make sense. They understand strength in numbers and fear being cut off from their friends, colleagues, and families. Nevertheless, they are quick to cut others off who through association might endanger their position. This is why right-wing parents can so easily reject their own children.
Many people on the left were not born into a progressive orientation. Many chose to be left either in response to ostracisation or to cut themselves off from their people in self preservation. They could have chosen to be different types of right. So, here are some reasons why left.
Transgressive left are often people who feel hard done by parents or their society. If parents and/or society are right-wing, then they are left-wing in reaction.
You will find people who are transgressive left in many groups, but they tend to congregate where they can shout the loudest. An edge of vengeance can creep into their behaviour toward a selected enemy.
People who are sympathetic with an agenda that protects the environment and ensures the well-being of humanity, find themselves shying away from environmental groups and social justice groups who seem dangerous in their desire for punishment of wrong-doers, especially when it’s not entirely clear from where the anger springs and how easily at can be aimed at new targets.
The book A Force More Powerful cites the words of Russian writer Maxim Gorkii during the Bolshevic revolution. Gorkii said that:
Instead of social revolution, Lenin and his party had caused a “zoological” outburst of violence. “This is no longer a capital. It is a cesspit,” he wrote his wife. Even justice had been perverted: Mobs tried criminals in the streets–when one thief’s face was smashed and his eye was torn out, a group of children cheered. “These are our children, the future builders of our life,” Gorkii wrote. A revolution unleashing violence was “incapable of changing our lives but can only lead to bitterness and evil.”
~ A Force More Powerful: a century of nonviolent conflict
Peter Ackerman – Jack DuVall – St. Martin’s Press – 2000, pp 457-458)
Transgressive groups often don’t understand their own issues. They can collapse from in-fighting. They can also disempower themselves out of deep cynicism. Worst is when they act out by destroying what they see as bad, without any vision of how to build what is good. When students ran around wearing “Fuck Abbott” t-shirts, I repeatedly tried to explain that it wasn’t good enough to simply remove our current prime minister. The party from which he came would replace him with someone to continue implementing the same destructive policies. Fight the policies not a figurehead.
Shoe On The Other Foot
The Law of Iron posits that positions of power attract people whose sole ambition are positions of power. It’s not that power necessarily corrupts, it simply attracts the corrupt. The left-wing are a niche market for power. Those who are unable to achieve power on the right, perhaps because they weren’t born into a high enough class, may move into the left and exploit transgressive anger.
“Shoe on the other foot” left-wingers not only want vengeance, they want to take over positions of power and enforce lower status on those formerly in control. They can be led by very evil people. Desmond Tutu writes an example of “shoe on the other foot” dynamic.
A year after the genocide of Rwanda, when at least half a million people were massacred, I visited that blighted land…The history of Rwanda was typical of a history of “top dog” and “underdog”. The top dog wanted to cling to its privileged position and the underdog strove to topple the top dog. When that happened, the new top dog engaged in an orgy of retribution to pay back the new underdog for all the pain and suffering it had caused when it was top dog. The new underdog fought like an enraged bull to topple the new top dog, storing in its memory all the pain and suffering it was enduring, forgetting that the new top dog was in its view only retaliating for all that it remembered it had suffered when the underdog had been the master.
~No Future Without Forgiveness
Desmond Tutu – Rider – 1999, pp 207-208
Peaceful revolutions can happen without the need for retaliation against the powerful. It has happened more than once: South Africa, Poland, even US civil rights. Those most willing to use violence are often terrified that the oppressed will turn and do unto them as they are doing to the oppressed. Oppressors may then get caught in a cycle of using more and more violence, creating more unrest, giving them more reason to feel terrified of their own masses.
The US has sold its public and much of the world on the “rags to riches” myth: that they are a country where if you have the ambition, intelligence, and will-power, you too can become part of the elite. It has been clear for a long time that the US does not function in this manner. Rich white males are favoured over any one else. They do not have to prove superiority, because they are born into it.
Nevertheless, the idea of a meritocracy still appeals to people. Some feel they are left-wing because they want to ensure a genuine meritocracy is in place. If schools and businesses were structured such that colour, gender, age, etc were set aside and people were able to move up in society based on their ability, then that would be a fair society. Everyone would get what they deserve.
But would they?
Who decides what is worthy of merit? Is a middle manager within a corporation truly worth more money than a woman gestating then caring for a new born baby?
I think Mark Olmsted from Huffington Post nails the major issue with meritocracy in this quote:
Here’s the problem with “meritocracy.” You can’t have the “excellent” and the “above average” unless you have the “average” and the “below average.” Anyone can make it, but everybody can’t. Most children born into poverty will live in poverty; most people born rich will remain rich…So here’s the question society needs to ask itself: Do the “average” and “below average” have the same right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as the “above average” and the “excellent?” Is it a crime to react unexceptionally to your circumstances? Shouldn’t qualities like a willingness to do your best and kindness to your fellows be valued as much as traits like guile, enterprise and risk-taking? Do those born into money and a good education really “deserve” huge slices of the pie because they picked the right parents?
~”The Trouble with Meritocracy”
The meritocratic game is rigged and always will be. We need to treat everyone with respect.
It always boggles me when someone who is pro-environment or pro-gay rights is also anti-feminism. I am acquainted with many people who only take on one or another aspect of progressive policies, but no more.
In Australia of the two major parties Labor is technically left and Liberal is techincally right. However, it was the labour movement that brought about the enstatement of the “White Australia Policy” in 1901, which prevented the immigration of any but those from Britain and Europe to our country. It was a form of job protectionism as well as racism. This law wasn’t fully dismantled until 1973. Even so the Labor party in their most recent term in Federal Parliament also chose to turn back non-white refugees in contravention of their United Nations agreements.
I find it incredibly sad when people insist on kindness, compassion, and inclusion of themselves, but do not have the grace to turn around and offer these same things to others in need.
Universal goodwill is the only sort of left-wing that will ever work in the long run. The world needs people who peacefully seek the well-being of all living things. We need people who understand that by ensuring everyone’s basic needs are met, we are more likely to forge a liveable future. We all need to understand that when we make sure everyone has the opportunity to flourish, we flourish as well. We reach this future by learning how to coexist and cooperate, even when it was a lack of cooperation that led us out of destructive groups.
This is the sort of progress we need to be building right now. It requires big compassion that seeks to rehabilitate rather than retaliate. I understand the anger, I understand the frustration. Use these to motivate, but do not focus on relieving these feelings through destructive acts. Go out and heal, create, and care until the fires inside subside to a loving glow.
Peace and kindness,
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,