1511. Manbiot on wilding.

I just really like this fellow. Being reading his articles for quite a while.

A Small and Shuffling Life – monbiot.com

By George Monbiot, published in the New York Times, 19th January 2015

Live free or die: this is the maxim of our age. But the freedoms we celebrate are particular and limited. We fetishise the freedom of business from state control; the freedom not to pay taxes; the freedom to carry guns and speak our minds and worship whom we will. But despite – in some cases because of – this respect for particular freedoms, every day the scope of our lives appears to contract.

Half a century ago, we were promised that rising wealth would mean less work, longer vacations and more choice. But our working hours rise in line with economic growth, and they are now governed by a corporate culture of snooping and quantification, of infantilizing dictats and impossible demands, which smothers autonomy and creativity. Technologies that promised to save time and free us from drudgery (such as email and smartphones) fill our heads with a clatter so persistent it stifles the ability to think.

Public spaces in our cities are reduced to pasteurised piazzas, in which loitering without intent to shop is treated as suspicious. Protest is muted by dozens of constraining laws. Young people, who have no place in this dead-eyed, sanitised landscape, scarcely venture from their bedrooms. Political freedom now means choosing between alternative versions of market fundamentalism.

Even the freedoms we do possess we tend not to exercise. We spend hours every day watching other people doing what we might otherwise be doing: dancing, singing, playing sport, even cooking. We venture outdoors to seek marginally different varieties of stuff we already possess. “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers / Little we see in Nature that is ours,” wrote William Wordsworth(1), and it is truer today than it was then.

We entertain the illusion that we have chosen our lives. Why, if this is the case, do our apparent choices differ so little from those of other people? Why do we live and work and travel and eat and dress and entertain ourselves in almost identical fashion? It’s no wonder, when we possess and use it so little, that we make a fetish out of freedom.

Perhaps we have forgotten the bitter complaint made by Benjamin Franklin in 1753. “When an Indian Child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our Customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and make one Indian Ramble with them, there is no perswading him ever to return.”(2) But when European Americans “have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived a while among them, tho’ ransomed by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet in a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of life … and take the first good Opportunity of escaping again into the Woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them.” In 1785 Hector de Crèvecoeur asked two European refuseniks why they would not come home. “The reasons they gave me would greatly surprise you: the most perfect freedom, the ease of living, the absence of those cares and corroding solicitudes which so often prevail with us.”(3)

We arose in a thrilling, terrible world. The African savannahs on which the first hominims evolved were dominated by sabretooth and false sabretooth cats, giant hyaenas and bear dogs. When human beings arrived in the Americas, 14,000 years ago, they found ground sloths the weight of elephants; a beaver eight feet from nose to tail; armadillos like small cars; giant lions and sabretooths; short-faced bears whose shocking armoury of teeth and claws suggests they drove giant lions and sabretooths off their prey. A bird in Argentina had a wingspan of 26 feet. Fanged salmon nine feet long migrated inland from the Pacific coast.

We carry with us the psychological equipment, rich in instinct and emotion, required to navigate that world. But our survival in the modern economy requires the use of few of the mental and physical capacities we possess. Sometimes it feels like a small and shuffling life. Our humdrum, humiliating lives leave us, I believe, ecologically bored.

At times this sensation has overwhelmed me. It happened in a newly-discovered bone cave in southern England. The walls and floor were encrusted with calcite crystals, that glittered in the torchlight. One of the archaeologists with whom I was exploring it handed me the atlas vertebra of a Bronze Age cow. Then he picked up another bone, this time with both hands: another atlas vertebra, but monstrous. “It’s the same species as the first one. But this is the wild version. The aurochs.” As I turned it over in my hands, feeling its great weight, I experienced what seemed like an electric jolt of recognition. It felt raw, feral, pungent, thrilling. The colour seemed to drain from modern life.

I felt it again when stalking up a tidal channel with a trident, trying to spear flounders. After two hours scanning the sand intently for signs of the fish, I was suddenly transported by the fierce conviction that I had done it a thousand times before. I felt it most keenly when I stumbled across the fresh corpse of a deer in a wood. I hoisted it onto my shoulders. As soon as I felt its warmth on my back, my skin flushed, my hair stood on end and I wanted to roar. Civilisation slid off like a bathrobe. I believe that in these cases I accidentally unlocked a lumber room in the mind, in which vestigial faculties shaped by our evolutionary past are stored. These experiences ignited in me a smouldering longing for a richer and rawer life than the one I lead.

Unless we are prepared to reject civilization altogether and live in the woods, there is no complete answer to this predicament. But I think there is a partial one. Across many rich nations, especially the United States, global competition is causing the abandonment of farming on less fertile land. Rather than trying to tame and hold back the encroaching wilds, I believe we should help to accelerate the process of reclamation, removing redundant roads and fences, helping to re-establish missing species, such as wolves and cougars and bears, building bridges between recovering habitats to create continental-scale wildlife corridors, such as those promoted by the Rewilding Institute(4).

This rewilding of the land permits, if we choose, a partial rewilding of our own lives. It allows us to step into a world that is not ordered and controlled and regulated, to imagine ourselves back into the rawer life from which we came, to discover, perhaps, the ecstasy I experienced when I picked up that deer. We don’t have to give up our washing machines and computers and spectacles and longevity to shed our ecological boredom and recover some measure of the freedom that has been denied to us. Perhaps we do need to remember who we are.

George Monbiot’s book Feral: rewilding the land, the sea and human life is published this month by the University of Chicago Press.

References:

1. http://www.bartleby.com/145/ww317.html
2. Benjamin Franklin, 9th May 1753. The Support of the Poor. Letter to Peter Collinson.

http://www.historycarper.com/resources/twobf2/letter18.htm
3. J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, 1785. Letters from an American Farmer and Other Essays. Letter 12. Edited by Dennis D. Moore. Harvard University Press.

4. http://rewilding.org/rewildit/

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1510. Growth and inequality

It continues to be that people cry ” growth” after hearing “inequality” The problem is that while growth could help get rid of e deep[ inequality, in the real; world growth intersects with climate change on the one side and banking institutions on the other.  Growth is a completely co-opted process as part of making the banks key players and the results increasing returns to those already wealthy.

Growth also is mostly to be done by increasing use of stuff, which means energy and pollution. The only solution to these problems is time consuming if possible. We need to get past one variable defined problems and one variable designed solutions.Her is an article by Danny Rodrick , otherwise quite good, that reinforces this problem

This Challenge Will Determine the Fate of the World’s Market Economies

PRINCETON, N.J. — A specter is haunting the world economy — the specter of job-killing technology. How this challenge is met will determine the fate of the world’s market economies and democratic polities, in much the same way that Europe’s response to the rise of the socialist movement during the late 19th and early 20th centuries shaped the course of subsequent history.

When the new industrial working class began to organize, governments defused the threat of revolution from below that Karl Marx had prophesied by expanding political and social rights, regulating markets, erecting a welfare state that provided extensive transfers and social insurance, and smoothing the ups and downs of the macroeconomy. In effect, they reinvented capitalism to make it more inclusive and to give workers a stake in the system.

Today’s technological revolutions call for a similarly comprehensive reinvention. The potential benefits of discoveries and new applications in robotics, biotechnology, digital technologies and other areas are all around us and easy to see. Indeed, many believe that the world economy may be on the cusp of another explosion in new technologies.

The trouble is that the bulk of these new technologies are labor-saving. They entail the replacement of low-and medium-skilled workers with machines operated by a much smaller number of highly skilled workers.

To be sure, some low-skill tasks cannot be easily automated. Janitors, to cite a common example, cannot be replaced by robots — at least not yet. But few jobs are really protected from technological innovation. Consider, for example, that there will be less human-generated trash — and thus less demand for janitors — as the workplace is digitized.

A world in which robots and machines do the work of humans need not be a world of high unemployment. But it is certainly a world in which the lion’s share of productivity gains accrues to the owners of the new technologies and the machines that embody them. The bulk of the workforce is condemned either to joblessness or low wages.

Indeed, something like this has been happening in the developed countries for at least four decades. Skill and capital-intensive technologies are the leading culprit behind the rise in inequality since the late 1970s. By all indications, this trend is likely to continue, producing historically unprecedented levels of inequality and the threat of widespread social and political conflict.

It doesn’t have to be this way. With some creative thinking and institutional engineering, we can save capitalism from itself — once again.

The key is to recognize that disruptive new technologies produce large social gains and private losses simultaneously. These gains and losses can be reconfigured in a manner that benefits everyone. Just as with the earlier reinvention of capitalism, the state must play a large role.

Note that growth is implied and climate not mentioned.

Consider how new technologies develop. Each potential innovator faces a large upside, but also a high degree of risk. If the innovation is successful, its pioneer reaps a large gain, as does society at large. But if it fails, the innovator is out of luck. Among all the new ideas that are pursued, only a few eventually become commercially successful.

These risks are especially high at the dawn of a new innovation age. Achieving the socially desirable level of innovative effort then requires either foolhardy entrepreneurs — who are willing to take high risks — or a sufficient supply of risk capital.

Financial markets in the advanced economies provide risk capital through different sets of arrangements — venture funds, public trading of shares, private equity, etc. But there is no reason why the state should not be playing this role on an even larger scale, enabling not only greater amounts of technological innovation but also channeling the benefits directly to society at large.

The key words are “larger” and “greater.”

As Mariana Mazzucato has pointed out, the state already plays a significant role in funding new technologies. The Internet and many of the key technologies used in the iPhone have been spillovers of government subsidized R&D programs and U.S. Department of Defense projects. But typically the government acquires no stake in the commercialization of such successful technologies, leaving the profits entirely to private investors.

Imagine that a government established a number of professionally managed public venture funds, which would take equity stakes in a large cross section of new technologies, raising the necessary funds by issuing bonds in financial markets. These funds would operate on market principles and have to provide periodic accounting to political authorities (especially when their overall rate of return falls below a specified threshold), but would be otherwise autonomous.

Designing the right institutions for public venture capital can be difficult. But central banks offer a model of how such funds might operate independently of day-to-day political pressure. Society, through its agent — the government — would then end up as co-owner of the new generation of technologies and machines.

The public venture funds’ share of profits from the commercialization of new technologies would be returned to ordinary citizens in the form of a “social innovation” dividend — an income stream that would supplement workers’ earnings from the labor market. It would also allow working hours to be reduced — finally approaching Marx’s dream of a society in which technological progress enables individuals to “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner.”

The welfare state was the innovation that democratized — and thereby stabilized — capitalism in the 20th century. The 21st century requires an analogous shift to the “innovation state.” The welfare state’s Achilles’ heel was that it required a high level of taxation without stimulating a compensating investment in innovative capacity. An innovation state, established along the lines sketched above, would reconcile equity with the incentives that such investment requires.

The idea that capitalism was stabilized spray paints out that it was a period of huge growth  and climatic catastrophe.

© Project Syndicate

 

 

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1509. Symptom and cause

Near daily drone strikes take out a dozen innocents.

I was with a person a few days ago who grew up as a child among American Indians. If someone acted badly it was a sign to the community to examine itself as the Cause.. We need to do as well. Most people in the west and certainly in the US believe that social conditions generate bad behavior. But it conflicts with our individuality and it is of course easier psychologically to blame the other rather for really bad events rather than examine ones self, the policies we support or tolerate. This approach actually helps us become more stupid.

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1508. Inequality long developing.

From enlightened economist.

This is from Ralph Milliband in The State in Capitalist Society (2009)

“The most important political fact about advanced capitalist societies…is the continued existence in them of private and ever more concentrated economic power. As a result of that power, the men –owners and controllers –in whose hands it lies enjoy a massive preponderance in society, in the political system, and in the determination of the state’s policy and actions.”

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1507. When capital need and labor are not enough.

There is capital, needs and desires, and workers. Why don’t they come together? Because the imaginable arrangement is too complex, too crossed with conflicting designs.

——
Afterthought

Whst can be put together is a smaller economy, workable technology, fewer people – and it can work. But at the cost of leaving many out.

If larger can be put together, something like full employment, we do not know how, if we work only with what people might actually do rather than saying things like “what congress must do…”, because it won’t. Not yet.

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1506. Wealth and conflict.

It is usually thought that increased wealth in society overall leads to a more peaceful attitude to life, more satisfaction, less conflict. . This is deeply felt by many people. What if it is wrong : the more stuff the more angry. the more comparisons we make, the more goods are desired, the more life styles are to be emulated. The very rich and the longer boats, faster planes, more attractive islands,  more viagra and more orgasms.  They hate each other.

Little stuff leads to little conflicts. More stuff leads to bigger conflicts.

_______

afterthought.

There is in economics a positive view of meeting needs and a negative view in scarcity. Economics lacks a tragic view of life. And probably a comedic view as well. It is cold bone sterile. Boring, and worse, unrealistic.

The result is wars, corruption, and narrow egotism.

Obviously there is only scarcity in certain basics and other scarcities we can live with. BMW’s.. But much of life is not scarce. Beauty, art, literature, friends.. The real problem comes when land, water, food and time are controlled by the few for rents.

I think we are moving toward a world where leasing is everything. No ownership. Home, book at Amazon, car, appliances, are all on lease. Cash flow from you out to the corporations.

 

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1505. Equilibrium in economics, for us but not for them

The idea that markets balance seller’s price and buyers’ price is almost universal. But strange to argue for it when income differentials are disequilibria. Imagine a glass of water and it is in equilibrium. now imagine a town with its housing and families. Not in equilibria (unless forces of police power and aquiesence to inequality prevails).

Strange.

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1504. Why should being in business lead to a higher quality of life?

The whole high incomes are earned mostly in business. Sports and entertainment must be seen as part of us as well as the subsidiary support professions of accounting, medicine, and law.

Hi income is fairly well correlated with quality-of-life. Want to shoot those who work in the business do so much better than the rest? Possibly it’s because the work is not very attractive. Would Steve Jobs rather have been da Vinci then a computer designer? The general providing for the material needs of humanity is mostly drudgery. So to get people to do it, they have to be paid more. So far so good. But then those people are able to control the system so they can take an increasingly large part of the whole thereby reducing the quality of life of the rest.

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1503. What we think about is even more important is the weather what we think is right or wrong.

I am reading the papers the current American economic association meeting in Boston. I’m struck by how many of the papers have impeccable logic but about the wrong things, things that either don’t matter, Or that matter in the wrong way. Looking at agriculture in Africa from the point of view of its contribution to GDP without regard to its impact on people and the way they live is an example. Implication is left that policy is that increase in GDP are going to benefit the population, but the logical loop does not close on the consideration of the final point.

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1502. Direction in science snd social thinking

life is moe organic than mechanical, more squishy, intuitive, things bleed into each other, we have multidimensional gradients more than discrete parts. The problem is that the mechanical view leads to researchable fundable projects. But the organic does not. So we have universities filled with micro projects of no consequence,thousands of journals with unread articles.

And the mechanical strips out the human. This is especially true in economics which pretends to be a physics theory and hence immune to social criticism (its just the way it is, don’t interfere) but dominates psychiatry and big pharma, and increasingly sociology and psychology.

The dominant paradigm however supports the strategy of more gdp, growth, and distributable technology and this strategy is ruining the planet on the physical and social side. it means more militarism and security to defend this failing paradigm. Only a return to taking people seriously as feeling, intuitve, intelligent complex loving and spiritual beings who quest for meaning and well being can provide the leverage against the dominant mechanical paradigm.

In the current situation the hope is that more tech can save us. Only a realization that a recognition and inquiry into our psyche of love, envy, hope, imagination, anger, status seeking, compassion oriented dark side and light side humans can save us, because the mechanical strategy is driven by the whole complex of unrecognized human motives of love and destruction.

The idea that all those human qualities except rationality are irrational is nuts: they are the life you have and those aspects of us will act one way or another and cannot be suppressed.

If the only way to employ huge populations is in mechanistic endeavors we are doomed to a race to the finish.

——
Afterthought

From Andrew Feenberg, between rationalization and experience

He very strongly is arguing for a middle way. In Scenarios we also learn that opposed scenarios nevertheless happen at the same time.

dom and individuality.
But the most powerful critiques of modern technological society follow
directly in Weber’s footsteps in rejecting this possibility. I am thinking of
Heidegger’s formulation of “the question of technology” and Ellul’s theory
of “the technical phenomenon” (Heidegger 1977; Ellul 1964). According
to these theories, we have become little more than objects of technique,
incorporated into the mechanism we have created. The only hope is a
vaguely evoked spiritual that is too abstract to inform a new technological practice…

Jan3. Thinking in the mechanical world allows for research methods that I could like a script. One knows exactly how to put together a paper. Or presentation at a conference. In the organic world deeper thinking and feeling is required and this is much more threatening to the practitioner.
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