Review: This Changes Everything

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By Enrique Lescure

Introduction

Yesterday, I frequented a climate event in Umea, and had the privilege to watch This Changes Everything, of course streamed from a computer to a cinema screen. All those watching the improvised movie theatre left with sense of optimism and feel-good hope in their bellies.

All except one.

Sometimes, there can be a refreshment in bluntness. So, I would put forth my points in a very rash and frisky manner. I think ‘This Changes Everything’ is basically just stating what documentaries on the subject of Global Warming have been stating for the last twenty or so years.

Technically speaking, it is probably one of the best documentaries on the subject as of yet, filmed with HD cameras and tying together the issues of global warming with the de-facto disenfranchisement of local communities.

Still, I do believe that documentaries like these can do more harm than good, especially as Naomi Klein, one of the two producers and the author of the same book, have failed in defining the real problem with contemporary Capitalism.

Therefore, this entry, rather than being a whole review of the film, will focus on the issue of Naomi Klein’s background and how it can have influenced the film.

No Logo

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Naomi Klein, a journalist and author from Canada, became well-known within the Alt-Globalization Movement of the 1990’s, as a critic of the type of economic globalization which went into a new phase during that decade.

In her breakthrough book, No Logo, she made an ardent work visualising how multinational corporations are exploiting the absence of worker’s rights in third world nations, and how logotypes have turned into mythical symbols within advertisement.

Naomi Klein is highly critical of the economic school of monetarism – most often referred to as “neo-liberalism” by its critics – and generally is positively inclined towards protest movements against austerity, natural resources exploitation and anti-war sentiments.

All this is highly evident in “This Changes Everything”, and if you have read Klein before watching the film, you can be able to predict everything in it. That is not where my critique against Klein lies.

Klein’s thesis and solution

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Klein’s thesis in ‘This Changes Everything‘ is that the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century created a culture where we view nature as a resource to be exploited and the Earth as a “machine” that we have the power over and can manipulate as we want. This is also the reason behind for example the addiction to growth.

According to Klein, growth addiction is an example of a political choice that is ideologically structured and follows the principles of Capitalism, which in itself flows from the Scientific Revolution. As a conflicting principle, Klein presents the aboriginal principle of ‘the Earth as a nurturing mother’ and the principles of democratic sovereignty (hailing back to the populistic practices of Gaius Gracchus).

While not directly mentioned, it is indicated that the Scientific Revolution and Capitalism are masculine principles, while Nature worship and Democracy are feminine principles. For example, most of the proponents for democratic activist movements interviewed in the film are female, while most proponents for the exploitative forces that are interviewed are males.

Klein’s solution to the current problem is that the free market has caused these problems, and the solution should be to increase government interventionism and regulate the market more. Since the governments (according to Klein) do not desire to follow such policies, activist movements would have to protest and stop mining projects and then move on towards advocating public investments in green technology – solar panels and windmills everywhere.

Essentially, the solution is that people should protest to roll back deregulation to the 1970’s, while deepening democracy.

Klein is essentially right, or rather moving in the right direction in her critique of the current system. But her solutions are essentially flawed and (I would claim) build on several misunderstandings and ignorance.

The flaws of Klein’s solutions

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Naomi Klein makes three basic misunderstandings about the reality of the system we are living in, either because she herself has not studied these issues or because she deliberately omits to tell certain things which are essential to know if we truly want to change the system.

The first misunderstanding lies in the nature of the environmental crisis.

Klein focuses very much on climate change, but climate change is only one of five serious environmental challenges that are causing the current mass extinction as I write these words. The oceanic crisis, the soil crisis, the freshwater crisis and the biodiversity crisis are as serious for the well-being of life on Earth. Green energy won’t solve these problems, and emphasising this issue will block out public understanding of the other issues. I believe it is essential to see antropogenic climate change as a part of a wider environmental crisis caused by the current system.

The second misunderstanding lies in Klein’s understanding of free markets contra government intervention.

It seems that Klein has a very binary view on the system, which can be understood as ‘government intervention good’, ‘markets bad’. What that fails to account for is that both governments and private businesses operate as economic actors with the goal of creating economic growth. Keynesian economics have nearly exactly the same goals as monetarist economics, namely the stabilization of the growth curve to ensure stability for investors and economic growth. Keynesians want to focus on low unemployment, while monetarists see inflation as the main threat to the well-being of an economy. To a large extent, deregulation has been caused as much by technological development as by political choices – in an evolutionary process within Capitalism itself.

The third, and most serious misunderstanding, is the idea that economic growth primarily is an ideological choice, and that by consuming smarter and changing the ruling ideology from Liberalism to Green Social Democracy, we will have started to save the Earth.

The core of this lies in that Klein omits to put focus on the nature of money within the framework of modern Capitalism. Ultimately, money today is Debt. Within the banking system, banks only need to keep a part of the money of their clients as deposits, and can loan out the rest – as illustrated by the image above. This means that from an  original deposit of $1000, the bank can create an additional amount of money several times larger than the original $1000.

These loans from the bank have to be repaid with interest. Since both the loans and the interest is created from capital that doesn’t currently exist, this demands that the capital is created. And most of that capital is created from turning parts of the Earth into utilities for the market. This means that the current system both demands a constant growth rate and the continued transformation of the biosphere into linear production units to satisfy the demand for exponential growth as seen in these oil palm plantations in Sumatra.

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For a more comprehensive description, see this entry.

Summary

I hold no doubt that Naomi Klein truly believes that the current situation represents a mortal threat, but I suspect that she also is emotionally invested for other reasons in moving away from monetarism towards neo-keynesianism.

The problem is of course that neither of these two systems are able to solve the current ecological crisis.

Now it is possible to claim that different documentaries should focus on different issues, and that nobody can focus on everything, but by many small groups focusing on different issues, we will together solve the problem and making the world a better place.

The problem is of course that ‘This Changes Everything‘ is claiming to present the path-way to solve the entire problem of climate change, by connecting it to economic growth and questioning its ideological foundations. The thing is, economic growth is not an ideological choice, but a survival imperative for the current system.

Therefore, no matter if it is monetaristic neo-liberalism or green social democracy, the system demands the repayment of debt, and in order to repay the debt more resources would have to be transformed to utilities. If the shark doesn’t swim, it drowns.

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Omitting the ‘shark in the bath-tub’ is a disservice, since it doesn’t correctly informs activists about the true nature of the socio-economic system and keeps them preoccupied with trails of thought that only move around in circles.

I am truly impressed by the engagement of First Nations activists who protest against the tar sands in Canada. I also share Naomi Klein’s sentiments that the reason for our destruction does not lie in human nature. Yet, I think that any failure to mention the problems with fractional reserve banking is going to hurt all those people ultimately, since even if they achieve their political objectives, they won’t be able to change the system if they don’t understand it.

 

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The 15-11-24 Incident and geopolitical ramifications

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By Enrique Lescure

Introduction

Not since the days of the Cold War have we been as close to a direct military confrontation between Russia and the West (represented by NATO) as today. The 2015.11.24 Incident I refer to is of course the event when two Turkish F16 planes downed a Russian Su-24. The graveness of the situation is accentuated by the fact that one of the two Su-24 pilots was killed by Syrian rebels when he landed (which directly contradicts the Turkish claims that the plane was violating Turkish air-space).

Theoretically, Russia could choose to respond in line, thereby activating Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, stipulating that if one NATO member is attacked by a non-NATO member, the other members of NATO have a collective responsibility to defend the attacked party.

Major wars have been initiated by minor incidents like these before. The First World war began due to the murder of the Austro-Hungarian heir. The Second World war ignited because of the status of a League of Nations-administered city on the Baltic Sea coast.

This is indeed a very dangerous situation. In order to understand what will most likely happen, we must understand the likely reason why this happened now, what the motivations are (since I as a political scientist strongly suspect that this was deliberate) and what the various actors hope to achieve.

TL;DR summary

  • Turkey and Russia have almost always since the 16th century, bar from a period during the 20th century, had competing geopolitical interests.
  • Syria, a heterogeneous powderkeg located between Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, has almost always been a region of contention between empires.
  • Russia is ultimately in a status of partial recovery from the hiatus of the 1990’s, while Turkey is an emergent great power.
  • Both Russia and Turkey are governed by de-facto autocrats who are partially building their legitimacy on a strongman image.
  • Russia and the West have supported different sides in the Syrian Civil War since it began.
  • The Bataclan terror attack in Paris has led to an increased pressure for West European powers to respond to the Islamic State, leading to talks with Moscow.
  • The 15.11.24 incident is ultimately an attempt by Turkey to prevent the emergence of a NATO-Russia consensus on the Syrian Civil War.

Background

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The Zaparozhye Cossacks Writing a Mocking Letter to the Turkish Sultan *oil on canvas *358 × 203 cm *signed b.c.: И.Репин 1880-91

The Ottoman Empire, the precursor to the modern Turkish state, and the Moscow Tsardom, the precursor of the various incarnations of the modern Russian state, both emerged during the late 15th century as players in the eastern European periphery, the first one controlling the south-east corner and the second one the north-east corner.

Russia emerged in a state of constant conflict with Turko-Mongol khanates located on the steppes, crushing the Golden Horde and two of its three successor states – the Astrakhan and Kazan khanates.

The third successor state, the Crimean Khanate, was kept in suspended animation by becoming an Ottoman vassal state. With the support of their powerful backer in Constantinople, the Crimean Tartars managed to survive until 1783, when Catherine the Great abolished the Khanate and annexed it to Russia, initiating a colonisation of Crimea with ethnic Russians.

The accession of Crimea to Russia ended the phase when Turkey played offensively. During the 19th century, Russia made inroads in Central Asia, the Caucasus region and the Balkans, contributing to the liberation of Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece, and waging several large-scale wars against the Ottoman Empire.

In 1914 – 1924, following the re-ordering of the world after WW1, the Ottoman Empire collapsed, and the Orthodox Russian Empire was replaced with the Marxist-Leninist Soviet Union, which re-oriented the geopolitical aims of Russia west instead of south.

Turkey found itself as a minor player in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions, desperately oriented towards western powers in order to modernise the country’s military and economy. With the exception of the 1974 intervention in Cyprus, Turkey has pursued a defensive policy engaged to the European sphere.

During the early 2000’s, the fall of the Soviet Union combined with the ascent of the moderately islamistic AKP, spelled room for a reorientation of Turkey’s geopolitical ambitions. Increasingly clear that Turkey would not become a part of the European Union within a foreseeable future (because of resistance from continental powers like France, Italy and Belgium), Turkey instead increasingly came to increase its diplomatic presence in the Middle East, trying to use its status as one of the strongest economies in the region as a way to increase its influence in the Middle East.

For a long while, Erdogan – then prime minister – moved towards improving the relations between Turkey and Iran, as well as the emerging Iranian sphere, partially helped by the 2006 Litani War between Hezbollah and Israel. This closeness between Iran, Syria and Turkey even involved joint military exercises.

All this, of course, was changed by the Arab Spring in 2011…

The Syrian Quagmire

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The Syrian Civil War began in earnest because Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad, instead of negotiating with the protesters demanding democratic elections and reforms in 2011, decided to use force to scare people from protesting – evocating the memory of his late father Hafez al-Assad, who instigated the 1982 Hama Massacre, leaving possibly 20 000 people dead.

While Bashar al-Assad has failed to keep large swathes of Syria to slide out of the grip of the Ba’ath Party, he has managed to keep the Syrian state intact, partially because of the fragmented ethnic and sectarian build-up of Syrian society, where the dictator belongs to a sectarian minority – the Alawites – who predominatly can be found in western Syria. As the Syrian rebellion took on more and more ethnic, religious and sectarian traits, the groups that would be grimly affected under the rule of a more theocratic Sunnite-dominated Syria came to coalesce around the regime, in either outright collaboration or friendly cooperative neutrality.

Internationally, Syria is at the centre of a Cold War between three regional powers, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Traditionally, Syria has also enjoyed good relations with Russia since Russia still was the Soviet Union. The West, having seen an opportunity to get rid of a regime which is both extremely brutal and opposed to the 1979 Camp David peace accords between the Arab World and Israel, also involved, albeit half-heartedly.

In 2013, Russia and the West for the first time confronted one another about Syria, followed the Ghouta Gas Attack, with both parties sending fleets to the Eastern Mediterranean – covered in an earlier post at the EOS Horizon. I already back then warned that if the situation allows to continue with both sides increasing their support for the warring factions, it can escalate until the Syrian Civil War triggers a larger war.

In late 2015, Russia became the first non-regional actor to directly intervene in Syria, officially to strike at the Islamic State positions inside Syria, but de-facto attacking other rebel groups, some of which are supported by the West, Turkey, the GCC, or all of these actors. In fact, Russia’s strikes have been mostly directed against rebel positions near the al-Nusra-controlled city of Idlib in Syria.

One should however remember, that al-Nusra is a part of al-Qaeda, a group reminiscent… or rather nearly identical to the Islamic State in ideology/theology. In fact, the Islamic State was born due to a split with al-Qaeda, regarding conflicts over Syrian oil wells.

The role of the Bataclan Tragedy

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The Russian intervention which began the 30th of September 2015 after a formal request of the Syrian regime, already had changed the playing field. It had virtually ensured that no outside force would intervene against the Ba’ath dictatorship, and also changed the frame of the Geneva peace talks, where the Western line was that for a peace treaty to emerge, Bashar al-Assad had to resign as president, while Russia wanted to seek an arrangement where their influence in Syria would be preserved, seeing the continuation – at least for a few years – of al-Assad, as a precondition for this.

Following the Russian intervention, the West signalled – slowly – that it was ready to accept that al-Assad resigned later. Russia also signalled their willingness to compromise, stating that they did not seek to keep al-Assad in power but to “defend the sovereignty of the Syrian people in the choice of their leader”.

This trend started to marginalise Turkey, which has tacitly approved – during the course of the civil war – the growth of the Islamic State, and consistently seen Syrian and Iraqi Kurds as a greater menace than the Islamic State. Turkey has also stepped up as a patron of groups of rebels in northern Syria.

However, Turkey has not played a significant role as an actor in the Geneva talks between the West, Russia and Iran, and was thus already then marginalised.

The Bataclan tragedy in Paris, which left 130 dead and has shocked the European Union, has led to increased calls from the French government regarding a joint Western European intervention against the Islamic State.

The Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, has used this opportunity to call for a collaboration between the Russian and Western interventions in Syria, partially to help drag West further towards the Russian position in the Geneva talks, and to set pressure on the continental powers to reduce the Crimea/Donbass sanctions against the Russian economy.

In fact, a meeting is planned to occur between Hollande and Putin in this week to discuss a joint strategy against the Islamic State.

The Batman Gambit of Erdogan

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No, I am not referring to the Turkish city of Batman, but to a Batman Gambit. That is a TV tropes reference to a strategic plan which for its success demands that all actors act in a manner consistent with that the machinator of the plan originally has envisioned.

It can of course be a genuine incident, the 15.11.24 incident that is. But that it happens so close to a major potential reapproachment between Europe and Russia talks against it, especially since the Turkish regime does not want to be further marginalised from the Syrian theatre.

Thus, Turkey has done the unthinkable. It has downed a Russian Su-24. It has downed a Su-24 of a nuclear weapons-equipped state with inter-continental ballistic missiles.

If the Turkish military did  – as I suspect – this intentionally, the purpose would be to mar the talks between Hollande and Putin, most likely by provoking a Russian counter-reaction which can lead to a minor conventional military conflict between Russia and Turkey. Since Turkey is a member of NATO, this would effectively then prevent the reapproachment between West and Russia, and serve to help Turkey keep some of its influence in northern Syria.

The problem of course is, what if Putin chooses to ignore this?

What will happen?

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Vladimir Putin has a popular image amongst both his admirers and detractors as a warlike macho leader. What we tend to forget however, is his background within the Soviet Intelligence Network – largely still the same people which surrounds him. Thus, the Russian regime does not think in terms of tankie philosophy but in terms of blocking western incursions into the Russian interest sphere, by freezing conflicts, and then try to gain  or keep influence outside the Russian sphere. The important thing is not military bravado, rather it is considered a measure of last resort.

In fact, the 15.11.24 incident can be utilized by Putin to further marginalise Turkey within NATO, and to speed on the Euro-Russian alliance against the Islamic State, which is contrary to what the original intention of the idea to down a Russian Su-24 was aimed to achieve.

So, most likely, we will see at least a symbolic number of French and other West European jets being allowed into Syria, either from the Charles the Gaulle Aircraft Carrier, or by using the Russian airbase in Syria. If this cooperation becomes formal, then Turkey would not be able to shoot down another Russian plane without becoming even further marginalised than it already is.

There is however a wildcard.

If there is a risk that this incident was approved by the United States, that means that the situation gets more complicated. That could mean that the US could exert pressure on France to not cooperate with Russia in Syrian air-space, leading to an increased risk for “incidents” to occur.

What ought to happen

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The Ba’ath Regime in Syria is truly reprehensible, as is the Islamic State and many of the internationally backed rebel organisations. However, it is clear that the competing geopolitical aims of major powers until now have served to not only keeping this conflict hot, but also to gradually escalate it, contributing to the partial collapse of Iraq, the destabilization of Lebanese internal politics, and the current refugee crisis in parts of Europe.

Therefore, it is absolutely essential that the war is stopped at this point. It can either be stopped by an intervention from a foreign power, or through a peace accord.

It is doubtful if  Russia has the capacity to be that foreign power, and an intervention of the opposing side could lead to a major global conflict.

A peace accord however is possible, and there is only one major source of 200px-Bashar_al-Assad_(cropped)contention, namely the role of one man – Bashar al-Assad. If he doesn’t resign, neither the opposition nor the West wants to accept a peace treaty. If the west doesn’t drop its demand that the president resigns, then Russia and their allies refuse to accept a peace treaty.

Ultimately, the issue of Bashar al-Assad has to be removed from the table, either by his resignation or the resignation of the demands that he resigns. If and when that occurs, it will not spell the end of the War in Syria, since there – apart from the Islamic State – are hundreds of rebel groups that do not comprise the official Syrian opposition. If there is a peace treaty signed in March 2016, large-scale hostilities can (and probably will) still continue for several years, even after the inevitable destruction of the Islamic State.

Nevertheless, what must be done is to prevent an escalation of the war to a regional or global conflagration. Therefore, it would maybe – despite the 15.11.24 incident – be prudent to include Turkey in the peace talks. Either that, or Turkey must be completely relegated away from Syria as an actor.

No war will continue forever, even the Hundred Years War had to stop. The sooner we stop the Syrian Civil War however, the better for the world.

We need to focus on the global ecological threats, rather than on silly geopolitical issues that needlessly serve to kill hundreds of thousands.

The case against advertising in public spaces

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By Enrique Lescure

Introduction

I have previously argued that the current “western” civilization is not older than circa 1950, and that it is mainly characterised by a concept which I have termed “consumeristic individualism” (but it can equally easy be termed “individualistic consumerism“). In most traditional societies, a person’s identity is formed centred between ethnic heritage and family lines, religious belonging and profession (which most often is inherited). In the modern western civilization, identity is formed around consumer choices, which both serve to construct an identity and to create an incentive for people to both produce and consume, since consumption demands access to money, and with little ability to consume goods that signal status (cars, new cellphones, designer clothes, expensive travels, club memberships at exclusive exercise clubs), the social status of the individual is suffering.

Proponents of the current system are claiming that this current system is really what would naturally form when the vestiges of traditional social-hierarchic societies and patriarchal norms are broken down. People then tend to become ambitious consumers who naturally crave the kind of society that for the second half of the 20th century best was exemplified by “the Big Apple”. Thus, it would – according to said proponents – be an infringement on liberty to restrict the “natural development” of the consumer society.

Even when everyone knows that the current society, with its need and focus on exponential economic growth is building up wealth that is unsustainable since it depends on the destruction of the biosphere, the solutions proposed are generally that individuals should conform to other consumeristic patterns, and instead of for example travelling to Mallorca, go to an expensive ecological coffee-shop and drink a cappuchino made from expensive Nicaraguan beans. That could also serve to separate the young middle class, Homo Hipsteriensis, from the behaviour patterns of their parents (since consumeristic individualism is about a permanent distance from the culture even of the immediate forebears), and of the “unwashed working classes”, who enjoy American Idol, fast food and cheap travels to Sunny Beach in Bulgaria.

I would not, however, argue that consumeristic individualism within the context of capitalism, is equal to “human nature”, and that it in fact – like every other major culture and civilization on Earth, is largely artificially formed and then organically evolved. Thus, we need to see it not as a “passive” absence of social control, but as an environment which has been actively engineered to produce certain behavioural patterns.

TL;DR

  • Modern Western Civilization owes its existence to a fusion of psychology and marketing, namely public relations.
  • This means a continuous appeal to reach the subconscious of the public and try to make it susceptible to behavioural conditioning.
  • This conditioning, in the case of our current civilization, aims to make people buy goods and services which they otherwise would not have felt they would need.
  • Another effect is the creation of a sense of inadequacy in people, an inadequacy which can be “cured” through the appropriation of a certain ideal which is available for money.
  • The identity that is formed is also dependent on the adherence to certain consumeristic norms and to the values and fads of the group that the individual in question is trying to “mirror”.
  • We need to start to question whether people without consent should be exposed to marketing in public spaces.

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A short historical background

Advertisement has existed since the foundation of civilization, both in the form of notifying people of the availability of goods and services they crave, and as political propaganda. During the early 20th century, a massive socio-technological transformation occurred with the advent of mass information – in the form of film, radio, TV and telephone communications, making the world far smaller.

It can be said that two new kinds of civilizations emerged from these technologies, namely the “totalitarian civilization” and the “consumeristic civilization“. Even if this is a subject of an article which will come later on, I believe that technology shapes society more than society shapes technology (even if there is a self-enstrenghtening chicken-egg process there). The ascent of mass information technology made possible both the mass democracies and the totalitarian dictatorships of the 20th century. If pre-industrial leaders, such as the emperors of Rome, China and India, or old absolutist European sovereigns as Louis XVI, Charles XII or Pyotr Velikiy had access to modern information technology, their states would soon have started to resemble fascist totalitarianism.

I believe that it was a matter of time, given the way western society was structured during the early 20th century for mass media to being used to improve the market shares of companies. Another recently discovered science – psycho-analysis – was employed to pioneer more efficient marketing strategies. Two of the pioneers were Edward Bernays and Walter Lippmann, who both defined the theories around Public Relations and also engaged in this emergent market as well.

Previously, before the 1920’s, advertising had largely been a question of making consumers aware of the existence of products and then try to appeal to their rational minds with a text purporting to show the alleged health benefits of for example nicotine-related products. After the 1920’s, it became more a question of appealing to the subconscious. Instead of an image of a box with cigarettes, the consumer was presented with a poster depicting an attractive female moviestar smoking Marlboro, with a minimum of text.

What had been a way for companies to gain comparative advantage during the 1920’s, developed into a full-scale MTE1ODA0OTcxNjAzMTAxMTk3civilization during the 1950’s. This was partially due to the expansion of the welfare state, which gave the western working class access to the ability to pursue the attainment of subcultural status items. Combined with the acent of Television, this meant that popular music, celebrities and choices associated with their lifestyles were emulated by millions of youths.

Nowadays, three generations have grown up under individualistic consumerism, and a fourth generation is currently growing up under it. During the 1950’s, with a population still roughly balanced between the countryside and urban centres, subcultural patterns were mostly marked by music taste, age (youths) and certain fashions in terms of clothes.

Nowadays, in the most developed and americanized western countries (the Anglo-American and Scandinavian regions), far more things have become a matter of subculturalization and consumerism. Often, we fool ourselves to believe that consumerism is just a matter of quantity and the individual, when the truth is that it has become a tool for socialization in the contemporary Western world (as well as in the most developed and urban parts of what previously was called the Third World).

Today, subculturalization has branched out to contain musical taste, fashion clothes, what exercise routines you have, what TV shows you like, what news sources you get your news from, what kind of places you travel to when you have vacation, and your political opinions. The ascension of the Internet has served to further compartmentalize reality, allowing people to build self-reinforcing echo chambers and thus homogenize themselves in smaller and smaller cliques. This has also led to subcultures creeping upward in terms of age groups – meaning that today there are entire groups of professionals who largely share the same traits in terms of taste.

The risks with this development

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There are several problems with this kind of development. There is one which is obvious and which has already caused suffering for millions of people, especially young women. Then there is another, which is less overt but which risks affecting the ability to reason and to act long-term. The third challenge is a matter of identity, and is the most subtle of these problems.

The first problem is the overt focus on beauty, youth and (when it comes to women) slenderness. The sexualization and idealization of the young female body, which is existent all over public space in urban areas, creates not only a desire to own new bikinis, handbags or cars, but also a desire in the female viewer to strive towards these ideals. Not all females are however able to conform to these ideals, and this can lead not only to suffering but to mental problems and self-harm behaviour, up to suicide.

The second problem is a matter of information. Nowadays, an average human being is receiving far more information than our pre-industrial ancestors could ever imagine to receive. Even if your awareness doesn’t know of it, our minds register and store all information regardless of its utility. This means that what we are seeing and experiencing around us, no matter if we want to be affected by it or not, is stored as memories and associators. Today, the window for advertisement to catch the conscious attention of the individual has shrunk to a matter of seconds, since people (predictably) have needed to be able to forcefully avoid the kind of information that they will not need. The massive quantity of information has forced through this adaption.

Also, the clutter of information makes it difficult for the ordinary media consumer to build up their ability to see medium- and long-term trends in terms of social development. Rather, reality turns into one giant, fluid “present“, that seemingly becomes more and more senseless. That makes it difficult to form opinions regarding social development and politics.

The third problem connects to the socializing aspects of individualistic consumerism, namely that individuality has become a matter of categories and physical attributes. If human beings are confusing external attributes with any form of inner essence (to external attributes we can count skin colour, sexual orientation and gender), and relate the consumption of particular goods and service to that purported essence, we will soon constrain the ability of human beings to grow and develop character. This uncertainty can stunt human beings and keep them in a permanent state of adolesence.

Ultimately, it also means that when people form their opinions around matters, they often will think of how trendy the opinion is to focus on, how it relates to the group the individual aims to belong, and to the subcultures shaped by mutual reinforcement from the subcultures themselves and mass media, which categorises and helps to market subcultures that originally were authentic. So for example, a Social Liberal may be supportive of actions intended to curb climate change, but doesn’t actually care about the issue itself in any other regard than that it will yield her likes on Facebook and Twitter. Likewise, a conservative might post images that make fun of public healthcare, without even having an idea of how public healthcare works in their own country. This is made possible by the subculturalization of political opinions and the construction of self-imposed echo chambers.

All these three problems, in different ways, are making it more difficult to sustain a rational public discourse (at least regarding the “public” bit). They all are making it more difficult too to focus on what our current civilization is, and why it is problematic in relationship to the planet, since everything turns into an issue about the ego, and the ego’s relationship to other egos.

Sanitizing public space

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The Brazilian city of Sao Paulo recently banned advertising in public space, and it is only to congratulate that decision.

Of course, the decision to ban out-door advertising can be accused of being “authoritarian”, “statist” or “communistic”, but in fact, it is the kind of decision that actually serves to extend the autonomy and liberty of the individual. The reason why is that most of the individuals living and visiting a city have not actually consented to be exposed to massive billboards of public advertising. They may passively consent to it, because they generally have taken it as granted. But the people of middle age European cities generally passively consented to (and cheered) the display to severed heads impaled on poles.

If people want to expose themselves for advertising, they should be able to enter malls or shops. Companies do not however have any right to try to affect the subconscious minds of people and try to condition them to certain behaviours.

This also puts the kind of environmentalism that preaches that we need to change consumer behaviour by consuming in an intelligent manner. That environmentalism is kind-hearted, but is naïve in its relationship to the existing civilization. In short, they tend to view the current world that we have today as a result of the consumer choice, rather than to view the consumer as a concept created artificially within the context of the current civilization.

We need to transition towards a sustainable future, characterised by devotion to Life on Earth, empathy towards all living beings and enlightenment. That means that we need to build up an education system and a society that strengthens individual character and mental resourcefulness, builds on autonomy and ability to understand and master knowledge, and which is centred around an inclusive and life-focused culture.

It takes at least three generations to build a civilization, and in order to save the Biosphere, we not only need to stop the current civilization from devouring it, but also build a new civilization. That requires several pro-active steps and the evolution of a new culture within the context of networks that we build up and support.

But it also must mean political steps in order to curb and restrict aspects of the current civilization. These steps must be designed in a manner that they respect individual choice and autonomy.

I can not however see how limiting clutter from the public view is a breach of individual autonomy.

The beauty of the holonic understanding of reality

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By Enrique Lescure

Introduction

The Universe can be defined in many ways. What is clear is that there are different levels of realities, which are interacting with one another. Matter is arranged in atoms, which taken together turns into molecules. These molecules arrange themselves in larger objects, such as grains of sand, rock, driplets of liquid, single-cell organisms or cells belonging to larger organisms. This diverse symphony of matter forms eco-systems which form a biosphere that constantly develops through evolution – a neverending symphony of beauty and colours.

This way of arranging reality can be described as Holonic. Each layer of reality can be studied as a whole in its own right, but at the same time is but a part of successively larger and larger wholes, eventually binding even the tiniest hydrogen atom together with the Cosmos that creates these physical laws.

Within the Earth Organisation for Sustainability, we believe that human society is profoundly holonic in its characteristics as well, and must be understood from several different perspectives. That shapes our outlook on what principles should be followed when we consciously evolve the human societies of the future.

What we must understand is that we live in a diverse world, and the future human civilization must reflect and build on the positive aspects of that diversity.

TL;DR

  • Ultimately, our understanding of reality is shaped by generalisations which subconsciously are derived from the contemporary society.
  • The holonic philosophy states that reality can be understood as autonomous interacting units on various levels.
  • It has been applied very much within programming, robotics and engineering since the 1990’s.
  • The EOS Director Andrew Wallace suggested that it should be understood as both a way to understand human society and a way to design it.

Understanding reality

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Human brains are very complex organs, but the human mind is not evolved to understand all the details of the world, but to secure the survival and well-being of the human individual. Therefore, humans tend to almost unconsciously generalise their understanding of reality around them, trying to find patterns (this is not characteristic of all humans, many people on the autistic spectrum for example can only understand the world in terms of all individual details, without assigning any meaning or order to the details).

This form of continuous generalisation interlocks our observations of nature and society with our personal experiences, our interactions with others and the culture within which these interactions occur. That means that during every era and in every culture, a unified cosmology tend to be shaped both from the observations of nature and of the social, technological and cultural progress of said society.

During the 17th century, the medieval moralistic views of nature as a mirror of the interior psyche of human individuals was gradually replaced with a mechanistic understanding of reality. The body was just another machine, the cosmos was a giant clockwork and God was – instead of a King-like figure, a universal clock-maker and scientist who had attuned the Universe and shaped natural laws. This view also influenced other aspects of society, some for better, some for worse. The penal code, child-rearing, mental care and education were transformed after this mechanistic interpretation of reality.

It can also be argued that the ascent of Darwin’s theory on natural selection – albeit fundamentally correct – was influenced by the economic orthodoxy of Liberalism in 19th century Victorian Britain. Large-scale collectivist ideologies flourished during the mass-production era of the early 20th century, probably because society as a whole was increasingly understood as a centralised industrial process.

So, ultimately, there will always be many different ways to view reality, and the dominant manner of understanding it is always interlinked with the social, technological, political, economic and ecological realities of the contemporary era.

The case for a holonic understanding

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Like all other understandings, the holonic understanding of reality is popular because it lies in tune with the contemporary era – that is undeniable. While the philosophy itself began to emerge during the middle of the 20th century, it gained popularity as software technology and robotics started to develop into more and more autonomous systems during the 1990’s, moving away from the centralised model and emphasising self-organisations and organic evolution of structural systems.

Moreover, the holonic understanding of reality means the affirmation that central control should not be needed, and that de-centralised and holarchic systems in fact often are more resilient, since you can remove individual units and even entire super-structures, but the smaller entities will regroup and recreate working systems relatively fast, in comparison to systems of government which are so centralised that they strangle more basic units and thus creates atomized and very fragile civil societies.

Holarchic systems are characterised by emergence, in that the interactions of many independent agents serve to build and create eco-systems. In that aspect, holarchic systems are reminiscent of markets. One vital difference however is that markets tend to be characterised by a gradual centralisation of capital and ackumulation into the hands of a few very large and centralised agents, which from then on will dominate the market in question in perpetual competition. Moreover, the current global market system tend to transform nature itself into centralised, linear and vertical structures of mono-cultures which exist to perpetuate exponential growth.

Therefore, when we are engaging the environment in terms of our interrelationships with it, we need to conceptualise it as consisting of multiple agents all striving to survive and thereby creating a dynamic equilibrium which is defined by beauty and diversity. While this creates resilience, it also means that changing one aspect of the system will invariably transform the system itself through a domino effect.

Often, the thinking of our current civilization is structured around quantifiable measurements and a graduation of different agents in relation to their performance and utility from a human perspective. We must realise that this thinking has destructive qualities which are threatening the diversity and well-being of both eco-systems and human socio-systems.

What is a holarchic society?

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All societies are holonic in their character, since they consist of multiple agents – individuals and small inter-linked groups – which are trying to pursue their various interests. In order to ensure the functionality of the system, most larger human societies tend to form states and associations – institutions – which can be said to be both structures and institutions. The structures are the bureaucratic and corporate entities in themselves, and the institutions are the behaviours and norms which create respect for the structures. There are competing institutions in most societies, especially the hundreds of pseudo-nation-states in what was previously colonially exploited territories. These states contend with trying to replace, crush or co-opt existing tribal, spiritual and cultural institutions which prevent the establishment of strong states.

States and similar entities tend to be hierarchic in their structure, and aim to monopolise the use of physical force as well as the right to punish individuals. This supports and creates a by-effect where states strenghten and form elites which are simultaneously isolated from the general population as well as securing exclusive access to the major part of the resources.

The advent of new technologies that have connected the Earth have created a transnational global corporate and financier elite, which is more and more liberated from civic and social responsibilities connected to their various places of origin. This has left a minority of the Earth’s population in command of the majority of the production potential of the human civilization.

This is fundamentally a very destructive process, since the destruction of five life-support systems of the planet are affecting the majority of the Earth’s poor, while the elite that is ultimately in control of the means of production have the resources to shield themselves from the effects of the system which they support.

Also, it is underpinned by the practice of centralisation. Centralisation creates bottlenecks where a small minority gain access to large quantities of resources, which they eventually will use to further their own aims, no matter what kind of economic or social system we are talking about. This practice will also serve to reduce responsibility, since the suffering caused by the effects of failed decisions will not affect the individuals making these decisions. If we want, we can summarize the history of governance throughout the world with that.

A holarchic system, on the other hand, is forming and shaping itself continuously in relationship to the emergent and social structure of the human society itself. That means that holarchic societies generally are small, and consist of close-knit groups of people sharing values and common interests. In general, this tends to foster cohesion, low inequality and a sense of community and civic responsibility amongst the participants.

On the other hand, holarchic societies can be fraught with nepotism, tribalism, vindictive and revenge-based honour justice, xenophobia and social stagnation.

The question is, are such characteristics inherent in small-scale de-centralised communities, or are they a consequence of third factors, such as culture, patriarchy, feudalism, ethnic and sectarian inequalities, poverty, illiteracy and inbreeding? I would argue that there exists a substantial risk that a local culture can develop traits which are destructive and which singles out individuals who are deemed eccentric or morally reprehensible for social exclusion and in some cases physical punishment or even death.

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Given that, there are a multitude of benefits to localism contra the type of globalism we are seeing manifesting today. Societies with a high degree of self-sufficiency and a sense of community are better equipped to handle crises, and are more resilient. It also means that solutions and reforms will be adapted after local economic and social structures. The most positive trait from my point of view, however, is that localism distributes power and civic responsibility across society and give more people influence than in more centralised government- and corporate systems.

The EOS Vision for a holonic future

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The globalists are right in one regard – namely that in order to manage the challenges of the future, we would need a one-world system with the ability and the authority vested in it to answer the challenges of climate change, soil deterioration, freshwater depletion and the destruction of ocean and continental eco-systems. The planet’s biosphere is in peril, and we are risking a mass extinction where three quarters of all species can go extinct (which will eclipse the last great mass extinction 65 million years ago).

The question is, what kind of global system will it be?

The Earth Organisation for Sustainability believes that human beings are incredibly resourceful, innovative and able, if they are given the opportunity to flourish and the knowledge of how their actions affect the surrounding reality. While some issues indeed demand concerted global efforts to curb, decisions ought to be made not only as close to the affected parties as possible, but preferrably by as many representatives of the affected parties as possible.

We also believe that power should be distributed between human beings. Large political entities, like the United States, the European Union, India, China and Russia, cannot possibly achieve the same level of democratic freedoms and accountability as smaller political entities could. Even though the city of San Marino had elected itself a fascist dictatorship in 1923 which was in power until 1944, its amount of repression was minuscule – partially because the captains were neighbours with most of their subjects, and partially because the state did not have the capability to repress people in the same manner as the Third Reich, Mussolini’s Italy or the Soviet Union.

Proximity creates influence. Even in democratic societies like Sweden, inhabitants of the capitol enjoys a closeness with the political and economic decision-makers which other inhabitants do not, thus creating an inequality of access and opportunities. If we instead imagined that every county in Sweden functioned as a state, there would probably be less of a drive for people to migrate to Stockholm, and the decisions would also not favour Stockholm at the expense of the rest of the country.

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Having written that, the EOS envisions the future way of governing the Earth as consisting of an Earth Confederation consisting of thousands of free communes, city-states, arcologies, nomadic seasteding societies and voluntary associations based around principles of direct and distributed democracy. These would join up in confederacies which would administer various aspects of political power on the level that the individual political entities deem the appropriate. For example, thirty states can join up and agree on administering their education system jointly, or agree on mutual regulation of river systems together.

This means that there will be numerous levels of intermediary decision-making entities, local, regional and continental, between the individual statelets and the world confederation – meaning lots of minor confederacies.

For this system to work, it is required that all participatory political entities in the world confederation project agrees on certain conditions, namely a charter (possibly based around the core tenets of the Ideology of the Third Millennium and the Three Criteria) which would stipulate that no community may stop citizens from emigrating and rules that forbids such things that are in violation of basic human rights. This constitution will be centred around ethical principles which all participants must uphold (though principles should not be conflated with active policies).

Of course, we cannot simply think away the current system of nation-states, but what is realistic to strive towards is a process characterised by more localism, direct democracy and distributed power. If we want to build a sustainable future, we must create the conditions where human beings can take control of the transition process and direct it. Information is power, and if humans are given the means to understand and manage their surroundings in relation to the ecological crisis, the responses will also more and more come to represent what the situation demands.

No human being is all-knowing, so the more who are empowered to partake in the transition towards a sustainable society, the more likely it is that we are moving in a more correct direction.