Frog in a Pot

Posted on 21 September 2017 | No responses

I left my family. It’s one of the hardest things I have ever done: worse than divorcing a husband. I feel like I have ostracised myself. A number of family members have and have had narcissistic personality disorder. They have at times married others with their own pathologies. The more I understand about my family’s interactions, the more I feel like I have escaped a cult.

I am constantly terrified of becoming egotistical and manipulative myself, but have had to learn a certain balance where I accept the importance of being self-confident and the need to convince people to help me upon occasion. The trick is to remain thoughtful of others needs, accepting their boundaries and right to say “no”, and to remain respectful of the value of each person’s humanity.

I’m sure many of you have heard the parable about how you can cook a frog alive. If you put a frog into a pot of hot water, it will jump out. However, if you slowly raise the heat, the frog may not notice that it is in grave danger and will not jump before it has already expired in the bubbling cauldron.

I was born into a very hot pot. When people are born into such situations they tend to accept them, because as a child your family represents to you what is “normal”. Of course as a child you don’t fully feel the heat just yet, because interactions are basic between parent and child. A child can have a considerable inner life that a parent knows nothing about and vice versa. It’s when we all start forming independent opinions that the heat is on to ensure you remain in the boiling pot in order to validate the family world view.

Let’s say we are all frogs in pots and on the outside of each pot is a temperature gauge. A dysfunctional family will always want to be “close”, so that you are always looking inward toward the family, not outward comparing yourself to children in other families. When your pot is considerably hotter than most everyone else’s, an empathetic child will be able to make an imaginative leap that perhaps their lives would not be as emotionally and physically in danger if they were to escape their family.

Of course there are layers to this escape. Children are molded to fit into their families. It’s all too easy to leave a bad situation and land in an equally bad situation because you are now a jigsaw piece that fits into dysfunctional puzzles (sorry, now we have two metaphors!). It takes considerable work and self awareness for a person to retrain themselves under these circumstances. My parents raised me for eighteen years; I have been re-raising myself ever since. Who do I want to be? What do I feel is right? What values do I choose to prioritise?

One of the problems with removing the glamours and illusions that were used to bind me to my family is that I am now aware of some glamours and illusions that are binding other less dysfunctional families as well. We seem to have a whole world whose pots are slowly but surely creeping up to the same intense heat I was born into, but people are incapable of seeing it, because everyone around them is about equally in trouble.

We have a culture that has learned to cultivate narcissism in order to use it as a way to manipulate others. I have in no way been surprised by the rise of Donald Trump. Our capitalist society has warped our evolved intellectual tools for self-preservation. As humans we have unique ways in which we fight, flee, fawn, or freeze to survive: this includes a sense of self-confidence which gives us the space to plan and execute our survival strategies. Our society has replaced self-preservation and self-confidence with anxiety and ego. Ask any marketing company what they use to get people to buy, buy, BUY.

We could get rid of Trump tomorrow, but if we don’t change our culture, we will simply face one Trump after another coming into power, because we have allowed ourselves to become the perfect puzzle pieces for this sort of national dysfunction.

What does a child want most when they are in a family where they are dangled on strings and forced to be exceptional in order to boost the status of their parents? They want to be loved for themselves alone. We have a whole world of people who need to be loved for themselves alone. What kind of family uses a meritocracy to dole out affection and support? What kind of nation only serves those who are exceptional because of their privilege? We need the freedom to protect ourselves from people who are deleterious to our well-being. And yet we must never let ourselves become so consumed by fear that we no longer recognise the humanity of others.

My greatest pain is remembering how much I love my family. My greatest salvation is remembering how much I love my family. They have a right to be who they are. As an adult I have a right to object when they support hatred. I accepted their invalidation of me as an individual. I drew the line when they spoke of harming Mexican immigrants and the local Modoc tribe. It had all gone too far and perhaps I should have said “no” earlier. I understand being frightened. I understand what it is to have no familial safety nets and to be alone. Trust me, complacency doesn’t make it better. Courage is called for. But through friendship, perhaps we can hold hands while demonstrating to the whole world the incredible strength to be found in kindness and compassion.

In peace,

Katherine

Wake Up, Humanity!

Posted on 20 September 2017 | No responses

Golden Sun

I had a short sharp first marriage. The man to whom I was married told me after our wedding that he believed in making anyone who hurt him hurt twice as much, so that the person would never mess with him again. At which point I knew I had made a mistake.

The question that came to my mind was how did he determine how hurt he felt and how did he calculate “twice as much”? He could feel endlessly hurt. His desire for punishment could be a bottomless pit.

In the same manner how do we determine who owes whom and how much? When a wealthy person lends money to a poor person whose work has produced the food, clothing, housing that the wealthy person has, is it right that such a person gets to determine what burden the poor person must bear to simply have a roof over their heads? And when the poor person finds, through no fault of their own, they cannot repay that debt then how moral is it to threaten them with violence, destitution, and/or imprisonment?

Both of these behaviours, that of my ex and of wealthy people, come from individuals who are fearful of suffering and desperate for control. Humanity has achieved what it has out of cooperation and pro-social behaviour, but all too often those achievements are turned in on themselves to destroy the very things that made them possible.

As we become more frightened we start threatening and controlling one another, then wonder why we get caught in a cycle of being threatened and controlled. At some point we have to stop and just choose to offer kindness. The sort of evil we are perpetrating on one another is so deep and so obliterating of our humanity. At some point we have to wake up and actively work for better.

Peace and kindness,
Katherine

(originally published 2017 May 29)

Love is the Sun!

Posted on 19 September 2017 | No responses

Yellow Sunrise

1981: My first year at university. Ronald Reagan comes into power and within a year the streets of the Seattle university district are filled with homeless people.

1989: I flee an abusive marriage and end up having to live out of foodbanks. I was homeless and stood in line with those who were sleeping on the streets. I escape by marrying an Australian.

2016: Those sleeping in the streets of Melbourne Central Business District goes up by more than 70% in the last two years. It looks like the US in the 1980s (not to mention how bad it is now). I felt like drawing a line in the sand: this is not happening in Australia on my watch. Then Donald Trump is voted into office. I find myself writing protest song after protest song. I begin research on my new musical Share, about youth unemployment and homelessness. Sadly, I find those people who are transgender are over-represented among those suffering on the streets.

2017: The Australian Federal Government calls a plebiscite about whether queer couples should have their marriages recognised by Federal law. It is being used to beat up support for the right-wing government and, worse, as a means to oppress part of our country’s population.

I have a song I am making freely available in support of our queer community during a time of intense stress and bullying. Please share far and wide!

Lyrics

Simple words. Simple acts.
Fly like birds, our living pacts.
A light inside says I must care,
And a power within will take me there.

Flowers can break stones.
Raindrops melt mountains.
I will go where Love is the Sun.
I may be small, my heart will be mighty.
Love is the Sun. Love is the Sun.

All your fears, all your tears.
Gently now, hold strong my dears.
You be you and I will be me.
Can we be the people we were meant to be.
Find the light that is our shared humanity.
I will be there for you. I will be there for you.

Flowers can break stones.
Raindrops melt mountains.
You will go where Love is the Sun.
You may be small, your heart will be mighty.
Love is the Sun. Love is the Sun.

Love’s time is now!

Flowers can break stones.
Raindrops melt mountains.
We will go where Love is the Sun.
We may be small, our hearts will be mighty.
Love is the Sun. Love is the Sun .

Love is the Sun!

2016 CC 3.0 BY ND

In love and peace,

Katherine

True Heroes

Posted on 19 September 2017 | No responses

It’s not enough to shake your fist in outrage at the obvious villains of our times. It’s not enough to join a march and feel like you have acquited your duties as a good person. Worse is thinking duties have been acquited with a single monetary donation to this or that cause.

We must actively do what we can to make a better world. Join and change parties from within. Put forward petitions for better systems of voting, then vote. Spend time with the people who are being mistreated. Make them a part of your world. Afford them all the help you can. Get your hands dirty. Do all you can to create an equitable world.

Learn how to shake off the glamours of just going along with what your culture or your circle of friends are doing, when clearly it is harmful. Learn how to find sufficient inner peace, so that you have the strength to overcome your fears and stand up for what is right.

Never ever think that standing up against evil just once is enough. If you mean it, you will have to stand up again and again. You will probably know failure again and again, but you do it anyway. Only the privileged can throw their hands up saying, “It’s all too hard and it will never work. I’ve done my bit and nothing is going to change.” Those people are cowards whitewashing themselves and painting the world with darkness.

Spend time raising your awareness of the nature of life around you. Spend time in self-examination. Learn to be a deep well of compassion prepared at all times to give of yourself. And when you mess up, and we will all mess up, pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and choose to do better in the future.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine

(originally published 2017 May 23)

It’s Okay!

Posted on 18 September 2017 | No responses

Reflecting lake

It’s okay to not be the biggest or the smallest.

It’s okay not to be the strongest, fastest, or the most aggressive.

It’s okay not to be the most attractive or charismatic.

It’s okay not to be the wealthiest or the most powerful.

It’s okay not to be any of these things: but are you kind?

It’s okay not to be the same: but are you accepting?

It’s okay not to be different: but are you at peace with just being yourself?

And when you take the weight of needing to be exceptional from your chest, do you feel your heart beating once more?

And when you find you can ignore the headlines:
“10 ways to become successful”
“12 ways to attract a partner”
“100 ways to change who you are”…
Do you feel how the crushed essence of your soul revives?

Shut down the inner dialogue of status.
Tear down the outer prisons of status.
Just love yourself and all living being.
It’s okay!

In peace,

Katherine

We Tolerate Difference (not bad behavior)

Posted on 18 September 2017 | No responses

We tolerate difference.
Not bad behavior.

It is reasonable for people who worship cucumbers to tolerate those who worship smooth round stones.

>>It is not reasonable to tolerate those who throw the round stones at cucumber worshippers.

It is reasonable to tolerate the people who are long-hair-sexual.

>>It is not reasonable for the short-haired to enforce shaving these people’s heads.

The one sort of tolerance is critical for a functioning society.
The other is destructive of the same society.

May we all learn healthy tolerance.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine

We Don’t Need An Economy (srsly)

Posted on 18 August 2017 | No responses

I lveo humanity! Let's figure this shit out together!

Occupy 28 September 2011 by David Shankbone

We need universal social security as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We need democratic, equitable, and sustainable distribution of goods and services.

We don’t actually need either money or financial institutions. These have been used to concentrate power into a few hands, then manipulate humanity through their desperation for status and survival.

Think for a moment at the sheer magnitude of what Google is doing to help people dig through millions upon millions of pieces of information while selling them things. We now have the computing capacity to simply move goods and services around to where they are needed. We can walk around those armored plated knights who take over a bridge and demand money for passage.

The Earth is not a limitless resource. Economies rely on growth, and for humanity to continue this trend now is to behave like an aggressive cancer. It’s not necessary and it is destructive.

Let’s put an end to “the economy”.

In love and kindness,

Katherine

Charlottesville: Stand with Your Family

Posted on 15 August 2017 | No responses

vigil candle

When I was a child my family moved every two to three years. With these moves my parents tried to keep their children away from cities, because those were places where we might be exposed to drugs (as if alcohol isn’t a drug) and gangs (as if a group of privileged football players can’t form their own school yard junta). Small towns were supposedly where all the wholesome people lived.

As the new kid in town I was always low child of the classroom hierarchy. The bullying in small towns can have very little parental oversight and is sometimes even encouraged. Most kids have already formed impenetrable cliques by first grade.

To make friends I had to circulate among the outcast and leftover children. Among these children were those from migrant worker families, the ethnically diverse, and those with disabilities. These were the kids with whom I played. My best friend Michelle had two deaf parents and grew up with vocal difficulties. My friend Gail’s parents were potters living below the poverty line. Another friend was mocked for living in a trailer. I remember seeing the inside of her house and thinking it was awesome! I still think trailer homes are our future.

I learned to be open to finding beautiful people in all sorts of socially unexpected places. I quickly knew that you can only ever judge a person by their actions. Everything else is peripheral and usually unimportant.

Michelle taught me to love comics. I would go to her place and we would read her Vampirella comic books. The sexual element of the stories meant nothing to me. We were just happy to read about such a powerful female character. When I hit university exciting things began happening in the comic book industry. The stories became more real and political: this is the era when The Dark Knight Returns and The Watchmen came out. In one of my first writing classes I spoke about this. I was roundly mocked by the other students.

The lecturer on the other hand, Dr Charles R. Johnson, leapt forward in my defence. He had once been a cartoonist. His students mostly knew him as the author of the beautiful and intricate novel Faith and the Good Thing. His kindness and insights soon made him one of my favourite lecturers. Later he was part of the graduate committee for my masters degree. After graduation I have seen him as a spiritual father.

My biological family are white, privileged, and conservative. I couldn’t wait to leave home in order to re-raise myself. I didn’t want to be the person they wanted me to be. However, reinventing myself is proving to be a lifelong endeavour. And no matter how hard I have tried to root out pernicious attitudes and mistaken understandings, upon occasion I will hear something come out of my mouth for which I am immediately ashamed. I feel like those people who talk about themselves as recovering alcoholics. I am a recovering racist. And yet…I am one hundred percent okay with identifying myself in that manner.

To me the point is to care so much about people that I am willing to embrace humility. If I get something wrong then I apologise, learn from the experience, and do my best not to repeat the error. If I need to make some form of personal restitution, then I do it. In this way I know that my soul is as clean as I can possibly make it.

I know people on the left who call themselves allies to the oppressed and vulnerable, not so much because they care, but because they don’t want to be seen as the bad guys. They feel white guilt. That’s not terribly strong motivation. I want life to be better for people like Michelle, Gail, and Charles because I love them. What stronger motivation can a person have?

I continue to spend time with all sorts of people. I flatter myself that it makes me a better writer. More importantly it makes me a better person. I had a bestselling Australian book about the Internet in the 1990s, and let me tell you, being a caring thoughtful person, even if that means you live in obscurity, is so much better for your heart than being famous. It’s also better for the whole world.

The events of Charlottesville are shocking. I understand being scared that the bullies might hurt you if you are seen standing by our African, Muslim, Jewish, and Gay family. But family they are. Take the time to make friends with a diversity of people. You may well find suddenly you want to rush out and stand by your beloved community, facing what needs to be faced, because your heart tells you to and you have taught it to be mighty.

Sometimes it’s easy to be a hero: it starts with love.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine

Katherine Phelps at Charlottesville Vigil

Charlottesville Vigil at Victorian State Library Australia, 14 August 2017

Cordelia’s Portion: Of Family and Politics

Posted on 10 August 2017 | No responses

Cordelia's Portion by Ford Madox Brown

Cordelia: Unhappy that I am,I cannot heave my heart into my mouth. I love your majesty according to my bond; no more no less.
~William Shakespeare, King Lear Act 1, Scene 1

When things are going disastrously wrong it is always much easier to find someone or something who represents what is felt to be the problem and make a grand public sacrifice in hopes of turning fate. This is the very definition of a scapegoat. We do this when we say: it’s all the fault of religions, it’s all the fault of our political leaders, it’s all the fault of this ethnic group. Yet, when has cleansing the Earth of a scapegoat ever provided a real solution?

What humanity requires more than ever is a serious cultural change. Playing at the edges where a toe is ventured into something new, but we are still largely invested in deleterious ways of living, because we are terrified of what change will bring, will keep us hurtling into oblivion.

I have written a number of articles about how we need to change the nature of work. So long as we are employed within powerful non-democratic systems, we will not be living within a true democracy. Business must be democratic. Schools also need to be structured so as to ensure we live in a more democratic, compassionate and equitable society. It’s why I have been working to create a scholar owned university where students share in its ownership in the same way that members of a credit union own that institution. An even more basic structure of power that we need to address in order to pull ourselves out of this hole is the family.

The First Triangle

Sierpinski's Triangle

Families are our first experiences of both relationships and power. They set our expectations for “normal”. With such an ingrained and particular understanding of social life, many people find it hard to even imagine what life would be like under different family structures.

As a baby the capacity to recognise the faces of caretakers is critical to survival. We have to bond with those who will see to our needs and seek them out for nurture. We also have to recognise differences, and to be shy of those who do not look like our family since they may be a threat to our well-being. Families can take this shyness further and turn it into fear, disgust, and hatred. This will further the outlook that “What my family does is right. Those who do things differently are wrong”. The bias does not have to go this far, but often does.

Those seeking authoritarian power rely on a cultural structure that will bring support to their position. What they are doing will feel familiar, normal enough that their actions will pass without remark. If it is acceptable to beat a child for unwanted behaviour, it seems acceptable to whip prisoners. If you were raised to obey through fear and domination, then you may even support the use of harsh methods to control citizenry over ideological points. After all, isn’t that how life works?

When political groups start talking about “protecting families” and even naming themselves things such as “Family First”, what they are really about is granular dominance. Their model for power is something like a Sierpinski’s Triangle. They enforce a certain sort of family structure, that family structure indoctrinates the next generation to accept a particular world view and power structure, the next generation then accepts and even supports this structure at educational and governmental levels. The whole thing becomes a self-enclosed machine. Those wanting to break out will have to get extra creative to even conceive of different ways of doing things, and often do so in a partial manner (e.g. “Sure, let’s bring in Universal Basic Income, but punish people when they don’t do the work we assign them”).

Comparing Family Structures

The stereotypical Western family consists of a father who holds all the power and provides financial support through outside work, a mother who is expected to birth and raise children and do all in-house work whether or not she has any outside work to supplement the family income, and a child or children who are expected to obey their parents. Christianity has a similar structure: God the father, Jesus the son, and the Holy Spirit — sometimes called the “Paraclete” which means “helper”. In the US and Australia we talk about “founding fathers”. Authoritarian leaders often speak of themselves as the parents to their countries. Joseph Stalin was called “Dear Father”.

Children need loving responsible caretakers. What that looks like has differed through the ages and across cultures. To this day we can still find places where children are raised directly by their community: not just their parents. Among the Mosuo people of China, a woman gives a man permission to visit her at night. If these visitations result in a child, that child is the responsibility of the mother and her brothers, and not the father. The couple continue to live in their separate households with no financial obligations between them. Both parties are free to have intercourse with whoever they like, and fathers of children are commonly not known. This culture has survived hundreds of years.

Western culture has been experimenting with adult relations most noticeably since the 1960s. However, these experiments are more about broadening sexual access and not about methods of care for resulting children. If a group of married couples have agreed to “open” relations, then what is the norm if a woman becomes pregnant? Is the resulting child the responsibility of herself and her marital partner? Is the responsiblity hers and the biological father? Perhaps the responsiblity is hers and her parents and/or siblings. Sadly, these decisions are usually made after the fact through abandonment or governmental intervention. Women end up single parents with children from more than one father. Biological fathers are forced to make support payments. Sometimes children are taken and put into foster homes. Children who are dealt with as an after thought are rarely treated well. Single mothers and their children should have support made available to them by their government without question. However, they are often treated punitively and not given enough to survive.

The family structure as it stands in the US and Australia is a form of imprisonment. Women traditionally have had to marry in order to survive, because the means of financial survival has been put in the hands of the men. Since governments are unwilling to take responsibility for its vulnerable citizens, men are financially responsible for all children with their DNA. Children have little access to escape if they are in an abusive family. Runaways on numerous occasions end up street beggars. Governments use desperation and dependence to keep people under control, so do families.

Family Break Down

The traditional family is breaking down because it is inherently dysfunctional. For centuries women have been treated like chattel and sold to husbands. Younger children have been outright sold as slaves. People are being treated as possessions even now. I remember as a child some kids sassing their parents by saying, “I didn’t ask to be born.” I was taught it was bad to say such a thing, but it’s a fair enough observation. We speak of children owing a debt of gratitude to their parents…but they were born into this debt without choice. To speak of human relations in this way is debasing of our humanity. This is the birth place of our warped sense of capitalism. Who owes who what? Perhaps caring for one another without burdens of obligation is our reason for being. We have to care for one another, but we can’t enforce making it more specific than that.

The saddest family failure in modern society is how the older generation is divesting itself of responsibility for younger generations. I’ve heard my own parents gleefully saying, “I’m spending my children’s inheritance!” They certainly are: environmentally and economically. The older generation have broken from the tradition of attempting to leave the world a better place for their children and grandchildren. A while back the Australian government paid people to have children to ensure those children were the bottom of a pyramid that would comfortably support the elderly and the privileged.

What We Need

We need to create family communities that don’t entirely rely on biological relation. When they are youngest, children cannot be equal and cannot engage democratically with a family, because they don’t have sufficient experience or understanding. However, the objective of every family must be to lift their children up to become equal members of their family and society. We need to teach and value the skills required for interdependence. We need to support our children learning how to share responsiblity and thereby share power.

Children cannot be mirrors to our egos, they cannot be minions in our personal armies, they cannot be insurance policies for our old age. When they become adults they must have the freedom to make their own decisions and launch themselves into the world. If we have done our job well, many will want to maintain the nurturing connection of a family. If we have not, then it is within their right to leave and never return. Other animals do this all the time. Love is about respect. You cannot be said to love your children, if you do not respect them. A culture cannot survive if it does not respect all its members. Let’s start creating change at this most grassroots of levels.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine

Brownies Are Our Future

Posted on 20 July 2017 | No responses

Folklore Brownies

“Brownies are said to inhabit houses and aid in tasks around the house. However, they do not like to be seen and will only work at night, traditionally in exchange for small gifts of food…They usually abandon the house if their gifts are called payments, or if the owners of the house misuse them.”
Wikipedia: Brownie

We should start with an acknowledgement that we really have a pretty wonderful living world that deserves our support and protection. We also need to acknowledge that for every jerk on this planet, there are many more genuinely kindhearted people in all shapes and sizes. We are simply poorly trained in fully recognising these people. Humanity is also in need of our support and protection.

The Problem

We as humans are facing two interrelated crises: one to do with the environment, the other to do with our increasing poverty in both goods and political power. In actual fact these are the same crisis. Poverty is an environmental problem. Among other things it is brought about by environmental disaster and it generates more environmental disaster. It finds its roots in a culture that uses people and all living things as fuel for a vast power making machine that is inevitably destroying us all.

Greater numbers of people are having a difficult time accessing what they need to survive—much less live meaningful lives. This is happening at four levels: the unemployed, the underemployed, the overworked and underpaid, and the volunteers.

The unemployed

Unemployment is set to increase at a phenomenal rate. We have already lost numerous clerical jobs to ATMs, grocery check out machines, and the robotisation of many industries such as car manufacture. 3D printers are ready to take over the production of many plastic and wood items. Self-driving cars in particular will wipe out the employment of a whole segment of our populations.

Honestly, we want to eliminate boring and dangerous work. We want to change how things are made in order to reduce waste and pollution. But who is taking care of the human casualties of these changes? Who is being made responsible for their well-being?

When people are left without support they migrate to where they can get help and jobs. If they are all congregating to the same places without relief, you start seeing civil unrest. Civil unrest frequently leads to civil war. We have seen this in Syria and Burundi. We are seeing it in the US with the mass shootings. This is guerilla warfare and is carefully not being named as such. I may be wrong, but I’m afraid we have more of this in the future.

Underemployment

Underemployment is how government and business are masking unemployment and preventing outright social dissolution. You only have to work thirty minutes a week for the Australian government to count a person as employed. In this way they can fiddle the numbers to show how “successful” their jobs policies are.

In Australia anyone having difficulty finding employment is required to take assigned work for the dole positions. These jobs are not paid to industry standard, in fact the wages are below the poverty line, nor are they held to the same health and safety requirements. This is not work, this is government managed slavery. In the US people are thrown into private prisons and required to work—another carefully disguised form of slavery.

At this level of employment people do not receive various benefits such as medical insurance and superannuation. Whole nationally based businesses have laid people off, then rehired part-time and casual workers in order to reap the savings from not paying worker benefits. This leads to seeking multiple part-time jobs, and yet still making less than government payments. Of course governments have made access to social support intentionally degrading, so that working in poverty is better than coping with government bullying. Governments are in no way offering social security these days—they are offering destitution and abuse. No one at any level has a safety net, and those who can’t imagine losing all they have still sense it, and succumb to the pressure to “behave”.

Desperate people make ideal workers and distracted citizens.

Overworked and underpaid

We covered some of this with the people who are taking multiple part-time jobs. Many sense the precariousness of their position. They are willing to work longer hours for less money to make sure they are the ones who are indisposable to their companies. Insecurity leads to fierce competition and a downward spiral in lifestyle and life balance. People are no longer working to live, but living to work.

This can lead to resentment toward those who are “freer”: the poor and the artists. If these people are really living such easy lives—surely people would be leaving jobs en masse and demanding better treatement. Of course that is what large employers are afraid of. With freedom comes empowerment. With empowerment comes the ability to set terms of employment—wealth would have to be shared. If people gave the poor and the artists the freedom they imagine they have, we would all be better off.

In the meantime we have engineers at Boeing who are terrified of striking due to unusually low industry wages, because they do not wish to lose jobs they love. We have authors and creators accepting lower and lower percentages of the profits from their works, just for the privilege of public notoriety. I remember when every university graduate was given a copy of the book Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow. Its real title should be Do What you Love and Expect To Be Exploited. Work is seen as something which you need to be coerced into doing through money. Otherwise, if various companies can get you to pay them in order to do the work you enjoy, they will.

Volunteerism

Volunteerism is a good thing—it represents the future. Currently, volunteerism is being grossly abused. Traditionally volunteers filled the few gaps in public services that government could not supply. The volunteers were often home workers such as mothers and the retired. Young people would join these efforts as part of their education in cooperation, community building, and civic responsibility. The unemployed would upon occasion use volunteerism as a way to network and find their way to paid employment.

During the US Great Depression the Works Progress Administration (WPA) turned many essential services that were done voluntarily into paid careers. Writers, artists, actors, architects and more were given the opportunity to enrich their communities with original works that created bonding and a community identity. Their creations became a legacy gifted from their generation to ours.

Volunteerism did not begin to wane due to lack of interest (at least not at first). Volunteers disappeared as more of their lives became taken up with simple survival. Mothers, fathers, the elderly all need to take up long hours and long years of work to get by. Volunteerism is also abused by the government.

Shasta County California has a history of problems with providing sufficient funding for public libraries. When a number of years ago they closed the Redding public library, the local branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) stepped in as volunteers to keep it running, in particular for the benefit of nearby public schools. The local government was so pleased with the cost savings from these women providing free services that they decided to cut all funding for library employment.

The AAUW had not put themselves forward to be a free source of work but to ensure people, especially young students, had access to critical information. The project was stopped in order to make certain the government did the right thing by its community. In Australia the Federal Government decided to cut the staffing of their unemployment services and replace them with Salvation Army volunteers—thereby creating more jobless. Why is the government leaning on a religious group? Why Salvation Army and not some other religious group? Why were the Salvation Army willing to use their own people in this way? Both of these are examples of gross abuse of public goodwill.

We now have governments who are leaving it up to non-profits and individuals to ensure everyone has essential services, that the environmental commonwealth is cared for, and medical research can go forward. Each person has to decide which of hundreds of charities to give funding and/or personal time. Lots of work is duplicated, as are the facilities to perform the work. The highest duty of a government is to ensure the well-being of the citizens under its care: that’s why we give them the tax dollars. These organisations shouldn’t need to exist. Where are our governments?

The End of Work

As people have less money to spend corporations are beginning to feel the pinch. Our current economic system is a pyramid scheme that is nearly tapped out. People can’t spend money they don’t have.

Community currencies

One solution to this problem are community currencies—only they are barely a fix. I was the founder of the Eastern Area Group Local Economic Trading System (EAGLETS) in Melbourne. I was excited by the idea of self-supporting communities. I still am. We immediately faced a number of problems.

The first problem was that the only thing we could realistically trade was work and/or skills. Any type of growing or manufacture ultimately needed cash flow for items such as fabric, shovels, electrical gear, etc. Not having to pay for labour certainly reduced costs for the poor, but for those who were working and on the financial edge—they couldn’t take the time out to do barter work, even if it meant they could get services in return.

Worse was the community pressure from a transparent system of credits and debits. No matter how many times we told people that being in debit was okay in this system, people still felt guilty when in debit and resentful of those who were in ever more debit. “Who were these people who were using up our community resources?” To make the group look more successful than perhaps it was, I kept underpaying myself to keep the whole thing running—a sure recipe for burnout.

I noticed one LETS started having people apply for entrance, not based on their character, but on what skills and labour they were bringing to the group. So the old, the young, and the disabled were locked out as unproductive community members. Redundancy of skills also kept people locked out. So much for mutual support.

Universal Basic Income

The new solution people are talking about is a Universal Basic Income (UBI). I prefer when it is described as a Guaranteed Living Income (GLI). With this system everyone is paid a living wage without consideration of deserving or neediness. This reduces bureaucracy, the humiliation and bullying of the poor, and helps return the vigorous circulation of wealth.

The two concerns that come up with this system are: 1) how is this paid for, and 2) how do you convince people to continue working? To a degree both of these questions are furphies disguising deeper fears of the establishment.

UBI has been found to largely pay for itself due to the economies of reducing a system of deserving and punishment. What no one has dared suggest is…tax the rich. We are in this crisis because more and more wealth is concentrating into fewer hands, then not re-entering the system. Instead the world is being gripped by the power that comes with holding wealth hostage. Traditionally the wealthy have contributed more to their country. This is when they saw themselves as citizens and community members. They believed they had a certain amount of civic responsibility. We see this in the Batman stories. It was also expected of them.

Now “greed is good”, competition as to who is at the top of the most wealthy list is ferocious, and the wealthy live in stratospheric multinational fantasy worlds where they are completely cut off from the rest of humanity. We are all encouraged to live in that world through gated communities and home shopping, such that we too are disconnected from those in need and our own capacity for compassion. What we see on TV and film is portrayed as “normal”, and we are living such isolated lives, no one dares admit if this normal is true or not.

The wealthy have screamed blue bloody murder at any suggestion of their taxation. They try to make it sound through news and advertising that to tax them is to tax everyone. “The sky will fall!” they cry.

The argument that people will stop working if not forced to it by necessity has also been repeatedly proven false. People don’t generally like sitting on their hands. If given half a chance, they don’t while away the hours eating chips and watching TV. Ethologists, those who study animal behaviour, speak of a concept called “funktionlust”. Funktionlust is the desire of a creature to do what they do well, because it brings with it a sense of pleasure or satisfaction. Doing such things are important for a creature’s ability to maintain emotional and physical well-being. We are creatures: this concept equally applies to humans.

I’ve heard people ask, “How do you get people to do the yucky jobs if they aren’t forced to do it?” This view of work sees human activity as motivated largely through punishment. Without threat of poverty, no one is expected to do anything. So, how is it possible that so many people volunteer to pick up rubbish at public parks? How is it possible that anyone changes nappies or cleans toilets? I also wonder, if these jobs are so horrible why aren’t we attempting to entice people with greater pay?

The question isn’t really how do we keep people working with UBI. The question is: how do we keep people working under abusive circumstances? With UBI people could leave jobs where their safety is at risk, they are overworked, underpaid, and subject to bullying.

Even so, things have gotten sufficiently bad that the elite are beginning to consider UBI. Unemployment is set to skyrocket with the uptake of self-driving cars, and they don’t want to lose their positions through some form of uprising. People need just enough hope to accept a grinding lifestyle. The oddest thing is hearing people in the upper classes talking about “the end of work”.

Whereas thinkers of the industrial era spoke of the working, middle, and upper classes, privileged thinkers are now dividing the world into an upper working class and a lower consuming class. The only work they can see for the consuming class is art—as if that involves no skill or genuine interest. This is a palliative sop: many people like to imagine themselves rich and the centre of attention through some form of creative activity. However, they do not see themselves as taking up years of training, working through years of anonymity, and living with numerous rejections until the zeitgeist is just right and they get noticed by a broad audience. Are these thinkers jobs so facile that anyone off the street could wear the suit, take the money, and become a wealthy social pedant? Why do they think the work of creators is any less difficult than their own job?

Reasonable employment

We have all been brainwashed into thinking that work is that activity which attracts payment. If you aren’t paid a living wage for an activity, it’s believed not to be actual work. This means companies alone define what is and is not work. Anything they can’t control or is of no monetary interest to them is struck from the list of things that are considered “reasonable employment”. They have also convinced governments to sell off or close down public services for the good of the “economy”, but not for the good of the public. Closing government services means companies can offer the same services for a price. They can also withhold services as they see fit. Think about those AIDS medicines that have exorbitant price tags attached to them. Desperate people are easy to manipulate…up to a point.

So for what are our tax dollars being used: to bail out banks but not the homeless, to clean up environmental disasters which corporations take little to no responsibility for causing, to make sure investors in the military industrial complex get their pockets nicely lined? Our governments may be printing the money, but corporations are making themselves the nexuses through which all money flows. As such they hold undue sway over our lives. Big business is by no means democratic, and through threat of poverty have the power to dictate people’s behaviour.

What would people do if their lives were secure? We have no work shortage whatsoever. We have a lack of security shortage. We need people building sufficient housing for all. We need plastics cleaned from the oceans. We need food grown in environmentally responsible ways that is distributed such that everyone is fed. We need people working to conceive of and build a world where carbon emissions are reduced to safe levels. The list goes on. Universal Basic Income is a good starting place to get these things happening, but it can’t sustain these critical activities.

Proposed Solutions

Science fiction has proposed a number of ways in which humanity could get its act together and rescue itself from self destruction. I am more inspired by these works than the limited thinking of many economists.

Sharing

First, we need to do away with money and money-like systems of accounting. Money is used to facilitate trade, but it is mostly about consolidating power. When you owe a big company even a skerrick, they can use the debt to legally take considerably more than they have been inconvenienced by the imbalance. Our society has been convinced that such punitive measures are reasonable deterrents for those acting in bad faith. However, deterrence is impossible if the debt was accrued due to hardship. The company now owns you. However, when a large company owes you a large sum of money which you are relying on for a living—they equally own you. This was the premise of the film Rosalie Goes Shopping. I’ve also experienced this first hand as a small business owner. You have to learn early how to quickly cut off bad debts and move on. Big companies will take your things, then smile like Cheshire cats knowing they have deep pockets to keep you from suing for the return of or payment for your goods. They make sure that even trying is likely to ruin you.

We have have all been fooled into thinking that specie is necessary to function. Specie is necessary to control masses of people. Certainly people can use it in a generally neutral manner, but it is designed to be open to abuse.

The world is not an infinite resource. Excessive consumption damages the environment and puts all our lives at risk. What we need to do is ration goods and resources at local, state, and international levels. It’s not good enough letting one country use up the water of a river, then dump waste products into what is left as it flows onto other countries. The river belongs to everyone up and down stream, and must be respectfully shared by all. The same goes for all other resources we collectively need. Rationing, though not well loved, worked well in the UK during World War II. Everyone was fed, everyone had all they needed to participate in the war effort. Suddenly each person was seen as a critical resource in themselves.

With modern software it is a trivial matter to create a program that records resources and goods, has parameters for how much can be used at what rate, then allocate these goods and resources. This would be done with democratic community input. People would simply ask for what they wanted and needed. If their request is readily available — it would be delivered to them. If many people ask for the same thing, say apples, then perhaps enough is available to give everyone one apple, so this is done. With what apples are left for those who want two, there might also be enough, they all receive a second apple. Now we don’t have enough apples left for those who want three. The community may now become involved in deciding who and why some people will receive more than others. If all needs are met and the community has a surplus, they may also decide upon what to do with the excess: preservation, manufacturing, trade…

This level of involvement in community affairs means part of everyone’s work is civic engagement. Honestly, this should have always been the case in order to vouchsafe our democracies. With our increasing workload, even when the work is searching for paid employment or begging for food, we have all been disempowered.

When we ration things, rather than trading in abstractions, it’s much easier to stay connected to what the real human consequences are from our decisions. If a government cuts food delivery to a rural community, it’s perfectly clear why those people are suffering. The people making these decisions no longer have numbers behind which to hide.

Service

The next proposed solution has to do with work. Work is ennobling, but not just any work. Otherwise, as I have heard it said, working as a hitman would be noble. When work serves the well-being of a community, nation, and/or the world, as well as yourself, then it is ennobling. Any work that serves needs to be respected, not just work that confers status. Work needs to engender self-respect and respect for the world around you. Children need to be taught this from a very young age. In fact school children in Japan are expected to clean up their own classrooms as a form of respect toward their educational institution. There is no shame and everything to honour when people contribute to their homes and communities through cleaning toilets. Such efforts protect our health. Anyone who feels any sort of work is beneath them, and cunningly finds ways to avoid the hard or icky stuff, has serious attitude problems.

Again software could help with creating bulletin boards of things that need doing, indicating which activities are of highest priority at any time. People could volunteer to do things, or simply make their skills available—recording when they have provided goods and/or services. The main reward for doing these things is simply having a functioning society. Part of the reward for doing certain communal employment, like building a house, would also be the social activities associated with it, such as partying together Friday evenings. Small communities and nomadic peoples have functioned in this manner for thousands of years. Ursula K. LeGuin posited this sort of world in The Lathe of Heaven. She also posited that if someone was not socially engaging, then they were assigned a social worker to help (not punish) by finding them some place to fit in.

This world would not look so different from our present world, but given people would choose activities out of their own volition, they would all be a lot happier and feel more at peace. I remember being the editor for a literary magazine. Because I knew everyone well in the group, when people first raised their hands to take certain roles for creating the magazine, I recognised that not everyone was being honest. Some people were offering to do some jobs because they gave them prominence. Others offered to do jobs they felt no one else wanted. When I then had everyone secretly put their names in for the jobs they most wanted to do: like magic every role was filled evenly. Everyone was able to do what interested them most. I teach a unit on collaborative creation in my course on storytelling for digital media. Usually, things fall into place when everyone is honest about what they want to do in their groups. Whenever there is a shortfall, either through interest or skill, one group is usually able to solicit another group to help them. This is all so much easier than people are willing to believe.

Our biggest stumbling block to creating a peaceful and sustainable world is simply our attitudes toward one another and the rest of life. If we let go of felt needs for dominance and control, we wouldn’t waste so much time imprisoning ourselves in the process. Like those fairy creatures the brownies, we need to be working for the pleasure of it, accepting gifts and refusing the ensnarement of wages. Goodwill and friendship should be the principles upon which our culture holds together. Serving the well-being of life makes a person feel good about themselves and others. We should all try it!

Peace and kindness,

Katherine

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