Stable Sanity

Lead up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development; the environmental timeline

Over the last forty years, the scientific warnings have continued to grow in severity and urgency, but progress on making change has remained painstakingly slow. And new international challenges--terrorist attacks, military responses, and mounting tensions around the world--threaten to derail any momentum to address chronic environmental problems.

Through our governments, local and federal, corporations tell us what we need and deserve. Through entertainment media and news, corporations tells us what we want and think. And in the workplace, corporations tell us, through our bosses, what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and even what we'll be paid to do it. Now, on the face of it that seems unjust to me, but I see something more worrisome here: where, in our daily lives, are we able to develope as individuals so that we can properly engage our world as citizens, as people, as human beings? What I see looks to me like a peculiar sort of slavery. The catch is that, so long as those making the decisions are personally gaining by millions of dollars (the arithmetic is astonishing), they aren't likely to heed even the fact that the planet itself is dieing. But one of the consequences of this death spiral is that we are losing the common sense we need to make the decisions that have to be made.

A better world needs to be built. And a betterworld can be built by our re-creation of human community; not only is that the best way: it's the only way.

There's something I haven't quite worked through: the psychology of self-delusion is fairly complex, and there are a couple of steps that need to be treated with the best of the new science, because they involve the re-entrant dynamical systems that go on when we make a decision in the moment. The point is, all the ideology we are fed that allow us to get away with saying, "There's nothing I can do!" ... none of it is compelleing; the ideology we're fed is actually offered to us, we actually aren't force-fed. We may be submerged in it, but ... when you go swimming, you're submerged in the water, but you don't inhale it! Some people drown, but just the fact of _being in the water_ isn't an excuse, not nearly. So, why do people buy into the ideology, then? Laziness? fear? sloth?

My best guess is that nobody wants to stand out from their friends. My best guess is that the price of authenticity is seen as too high to pay, especially since the "payoff" isn't certain. So it may be partly laziness and sloth (I know a lot about laziness and sloth, from personal experience). And it may be fear, as well. But basically, it's something that combines all of these plus pessimism: it's the dishonesty of the sneak thief. It seems that the majority of our citizens think they can get away with just scamming and faking their way through life and things will turn out ok. And it certainly isn't thought out more than that, because it ain't rocket-science to see that this isn't a recipe for happiness. Material pleasure, perhaps, and some sort of security, but not happiness. Maybe the world is only as good as we make ourselves. Something like that.

Deception and self-delusion came up big in the final part of the Kenneth Hammond Lectures, Sustainable Development: Mandate or Mantra?. (The lectures are available as a book, and the CBC Ideas program RealAudio as well, at least for a little while.) David Lavigne is the science advisor for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and he gave a talk entitled “Ecological Footprints, Doublespeak, and the Evolution of the Machiavellian Mind”. I'm going to try to make the material concerning decetion, politics, and evolution available, somehow. Thinking back over David Lavigne's material, what keeps coming to mind is the idea that a certain self-delusion is required in order for an individual be be taken in by deception ... there's something in there I need to work on. What came horribly clear for certain is how the thinking that underlies globalization is the same neo-liberalism that is gutting our environmental safeguards, in the name of "wise use", a that's a prime example of double-speak if ever there was one.

Basically, my point in all of this is to introduce the buddhist conceptualization of a method to break free of the animal-realm processes that make us suckers in a post-modern hustle, i.e. we need to recognize the real basis of our own potential happiness in order to fight off the compulsive consummerism that is symptomatic of stress and ... and madness, sheer brute madness that destroys ourselves as well as everyone and everything around us.

Rabble-rousers in cahoots -

The other day I sent a letter to a couple of friends pointing to Canada's standing in the world in terms of competitiveness and quality of life, and wondered what was going on during that period that made anyone think we needed to wrench our social and economic priorities around (see below). As a snap-shot of how things are _after_ the adjustments (structural and otherwise), here are a few stories that appear on today's Rabble frontpage.


A Decade of Child Poverty - In 1990, one of seven Canadian kids lived in poverty. So Canada was one of six nations that year that called for a World Summit for Children. And we led participants in promising to give children top priority on resources - in good times and bad. Ten years later, however, almost one five Canadian kids lived in poverty.

Blacklist Blues - She can't get no job. No matter how hard she try. She wouldn't take no guff from that boss-man. Now she got those blacklist blues. (A letter from a single mom who writes, "I'm blacklisted. I lost my last job in a bitter confrontation over my complaint of human and labour rights abuses.")

Feds Shortchange Mental Health Promotion - The Canadian Psychiatric Association has condemned the federal government for cutting its already small national budget for mental health promotion. Not long ago, the government was promising to proritize the issue.

Homeless Squeeze - Secret video from a Toronto homeless shelter shows people packed into spaces tighter than United Nations standards for refugee camps.


So it's pretty clear what our part in their script is: shut up and take it, all in the name of "rationalization and globalization". Seems to me, when the G7 Finance Ministers come to town, folks should tell them what they think of their job performance ... maybe pink slips are in order, on the grounds of corruption and gross mismanagement.

*When the people lead, the leaders will follow.*

Here's the letter I had written:

At the end of this brief is a table entitled Competitiveness and Human Development. Its two columns present results from the Global Competitiveness Report 1997 (World Economic Forum, Geneva) and from the Human Development Report 1997(UNDP, New York).

In the Global Competitiveness Ranking, Canada ranked fourth, immediately following the USA. Singapore held first rank. In the Human Development Index, Canada followed no one; Canada ranked first, was followed by France and Norway and then, in fourth position, by the USA.

What trick of sophistry made of this a call for a set of substantial mid-course corrections? [...]

Perverse Dogmatism

In an essay on Local Agenda 21- The U.N. Plan for Your Community (this comes from Chapter 18 of the UN's Agenda 21), this dogmatically driven writer includes the following:

To many well-meaning people Agenda 21 sounds good. This U.N. document, drafted for the purpose of creating "sustainable societies" and saving the earth from environmental catastrophes, has been welcomed by nations around the world. Political, cultural, and media leaders have embraced its alluring visions of social justice and a healthy planet. Relatively few are willing to consider the contrary facts and colossal costs.

After all, what could be wrong with preserving resources for the next generation? Why not limit consumption and reduce energy use? Why not abolish poverty and establish a global welfare system to train parents, monitor intolerance, and meet all our needs? Why not save the planet by trading cars for bikes, an open market for "self-sustaining communities," and single dwellings for dense "human settlements" (located on transit lines) where everyone would dialogue, share common ground, and be equal?

The answer is simple. Marxist economics has never worked. Socialism produces poverty, not prosperity. Collectivism creates oppression, not freedom. Trusting environmental "scientists" who depend on government funding and must produce politically useful "information" will lead to economic and social disaster.

To see how dogmatic ideology is refractory, just look at this next section to see how things get stood on their head:

Social Justice.

Remember the stakeholders that are defining social justice and preparing its standards?
They include NOW, Beyond Beijing, social welfare leaders, environmental groups - all the voices that demand the abolition of Western culture, male leadership, and biblical absolutes. Look at their vision for Santa Cruz County:

"Desired State: A Paradigm Shift

We envision a community that stretches itself from its historical conditioning and ethnocentric comfort zones to increased cross-cultural empathy and understanding - a community that avoids oppressive hierarchies, but instead passionately advocates for inclusion, respect and cooperation with all members."

Politically correct tolerance sets a new standard for communication and inclusiveness. It immediately disqualifies biblical Christianity as exclusive, hateful, patriarchal, and intolerant. Their list of practical suggestions for change matches their vision:
  • Train facilitators for the "paradigm shift" to be wholistic supporters of the value of diversity

  • Develop an interagency approach to intolerance abatement

  • Encourage the business sector to hold managers accountable for promoting minorities and women into management.

  • Create a design for teaching the principle of universal security

  • Continue with forums, meetings, events, and expand our social justice library with books, tapes, video tapes for community TV, and literature available for interested people...

  • Involve college students and professors in social justice issues

  • Bring in speakers; support individual clubs.

Of course, their utopian plan won't work. People aren't naturally good. Fifty years ago, the Holocaust opened our eyes to human depravity, but many have forgotten its message.

So, it seems, because we have not been caring and kind, we should not make an effort to be caring and good; because we have been violent and cruel, we should not make any effort towards being peaceful and just ... and so, the wheel turns.

My first post to my NewsLog at NewCiv:

NonViolence Web Issues - Conscience and the State

As the first in my NewCiv NewsLog, here's something I wrote tonight, for my local peace mail list. Elad Lahav is a Sargeant in the Isaeli army who refused to do service in the occupied Palestinian territoty, and I had just gotton home from listening to a talk he had given..

Individuality in the service of community; standing alone

Back home after listening to Elad Lahav I remembered back a couple of decades to when I was in the anti-cruise Peace Camp at the airforce base and talked to servicemen in town, sitting in restaurants and pubs, presenting myself as a member of the War Resisters League, as a former serviceman. One of the things we had arranged (with the Friends' Service Committee) was a fund to help anyone transition out of defense-related jobs.

But remembering a decade earlier than, I can remember no such organ of support. I had trained in the infantry (you know the 3rd PPCLI that's in Afghanistan right now? I was in the 4th PPCLI, the 49th Loyal Edmonton Regiment was the reserve unit), and then trained with 1 Airborne (yes, the one that was disbanded in disgrace to sweep away the evidence of what really happened in Somalia) before ending up in communications intelligence. When Allende's government in Chile was overthrown with the help of the western democracies, even though he was well and truly elected, the penny dropped, and this good Canadian boy walked away even from promotion to officer and a career in the diplomatic service. But when I got home, there was no list of "456 others" I could add my name to, no speaking tours, no presentations ... no interest. Since Canada hadn't been fighting in Vietnam, we were on the side of the angels; that was the thinging. But I knew otherwise, even if nobody was interested. And I knew what I lost, how much I lost. I knew I didn't gain anything. But I also knew what I kept whole.

What amazes me about the strength of my conviction that September of 1973 is that nobody gave me a pamphlet or sold me a paper. Nobody had given a speech or gave a presentation. I didn't have a need for any body of received wisdom just then because the situation spoke for itself: I was party to institutionalized injustice, and I wasn't going to do that.

I can understand what moves people in groups, and the books are full of such stuff. But more than that, I can understand what moves people as individuals, and that's what Elad Lahav and I really have in common. Elad, myself, and all other refusniks of whatever description have something in common with former KGB officer, a rising star who, with the directorship in sight, walked away from it all when he came to understand how false was the state to which he had pledged his life.)

There are all sorts of very good and inauthentic reasons for going along with this group or that group. But there are very few reasons to ostracize oneself, and I suspect most of them are authentic. And what is the price of authentic action? and the reward?

As a species we are gifted with the capacity to displace ourselves in time, to imagine the possible consequences of our actions. And we are so social, so gregarious, that we tend to go straight to hell with our familiar company rather than running the risk of standing alone. But sometimes situations arise that are so clear and stark that we are alone even when we are with others, and in those moments we become who we really are, when we act according to the best we know.

If we are to defeat despotism, and elitism, and sexism, and racism, then we might have to, each in our own way and in our own time, dare to take that step back that threatens to leave us starkly alone. Who knows, we might find ourselves, integrity intact, in very good company!

Community ... isn't that the way of doing things that gives us the strength to be autonomous?.

Whether we refer to it as a product of alienation or use the slightly more guilt-tripping phrase "inauthentic presence".the state of mind that comes from living according to nothing more than a conveniently plausible fiction is perverse. The lucidly cynical pessimism of the elite may be more immedately galling, but (memories of collaboration between Patrician and Plebien?) it operates at a societal level only given the less lucid and perhaps less cynical pessimism of those who labour. In such a context, anyone who speaks of virtue is looked upon as either a foor or a hypocrit, and yet (see The Healing Power of the Precepts, by Thanissaro Bhikku) virtue is virtuosity in seeking true happiness, nothing more.

N.B.: This evening I happened onto this quote of Thanissaro Bhikku in a 1995 edition of tricycle magazine: "real dharma practice in any culture, in order to be successful. must be countercultural". The piece goes on to quote Sangharakshita, "A necessary component of monasticism must be its critical edge, perhaps even a conscious anti-establishment stance."

Thanissaro Bhikku's works are listed at Access to Insight; Sangharakshita's work is best seen at Friends of the Western Buddhist Order.