Monday, 6 May 2019

What I've Been Reading, April 2019

Links


Miscellaneous

  • The Barely Hidden Flaws in Jordan Peterson’s Scholarship, by Emily Pothast, Medium—Culture
    "Peterson’s philosophy, while it may inspire motivation at the individual level, is a deadly engine of status quo maintenance and self-justification at the cultural level. It is an ideology that denies it is ideology, hissing insults and flinging lawsuits at those who challenge its god-like powers of complacency."


Collapse

  • The end of industrial civilization, by Nils, Small Precautions
  • In Defence of Inaction, by Dave Pollard, guest post on Damn the Matrix
  • NASA Study Concludes When Civilization Will End, And It's Not Looking Good for Us, by Tom MacKay, Mic.com
  • , by Nafeez Ahmed, The Guardian
  • , by John Beddington CMG FRS, Government Office for Science (in the UK)
    "It is predicted that by 2030 the world will need to produce around 50 per cent more food and energy, together with 30 per cent more fresh water, whilst mitigating and adapting to climate change. This threatens to create a ‘perfect storm’ of global events (Figure 7). The key questions for policy makers and scientists are these:
    • Can 9 billion people be fed equitably, healthily and sustainably?
    • Can we cope with the future demands on water?
    • Can we provide enough energy to supply the growing population coming out of poverty?
    • Can we do all this whilst mitigating and adapting to climate change?"
    To me, it seems extremely improbable that we will succeed n all these efforts. And collapse seems inevitable.


Responding to Collapse,


Peak Oil


Climate Change

  • PBO: Most Canadians To Get More From Rebate Than They Pay In Carbon Tax, byMia Rabson, Canadian Press, Huffington Post
  • Climate change deniers are increasingly angry and hostile, by Michael Barnard, Medium
    "Cognitive dissonance at being forced off of position after position is leading to anger "
  • Why desperation could be the key to tackling climate change, by Cam Fenton, Open Democracy
    Extinction Rebellion, student strikes and the Green New Deal show that desperation is starting to define climate politics. This could be a game changer.
  • We Can Limit Human-Induced Global Warming to 1.5℃, but It Will Be Painful, by Keith Shine, The Wire
    "The report is sensitive to the fact that changes required to meet 1.5℃ must be consistent with the UN’s wider sustainable development goals. Limiting climate change will help meet goals associated with health, clean energy, cities and oceans. But there are potential negative impacts on others (poverty, hunger, water, energy access) “if not carefully managed."
    And that's about the most you're going to find anywhere in the climate change discussion about the consequences of doing something about climate change. I would say we really need to face up to how very painful it is going to be, that the idea that we can maintain and even increase prosperity while solving climate change is bizarre. But realizing at the same time that if we do nothing, it will be even worse.


Hazard and Risk


Agriculture

Before jumping to the erroneous conclusion that this section was paid for by Monsanto, stop for a moment and understand that organic agriculture/food is a multi-billion dollar per year industry that relies on fear to get people to buy its product. Millions of dollars are being spent to convince you that non-organic food is dangerous. In fact both conventionally grown and organic foods are equally safe. Sadly neither method of agriculture is even remotely substainable.


Practical Skills


Debunking Resources

These are of such importance that I've decide to leave them here on an ongoing basis.


Science Based Medicine


Lacking an Owner's Manual

The human body/mind/spirit doesn't come with an owner's manual, and we continually struggle to figure out how best to operate them.


Gender and Sexuality


There is No God, and Thou Shall Have No Other Gods

I don't think I've made any secret of the fact that I am an atheist, but I may not have made it clear that I think any sort of worship is a bad thing and that believing in things is to be avoided whenever possible. Indeed, I do not believe in belief itself. That's what the "Thou shall have no other gods" is about—it's not enough to quit believing in whatever God or Gods you were raised to believe in, but also we must avoid other gods, including material wealth, power and fame.


Refugees and Migration


Puerto Rico, Venezuela


Poverty, Homeless People, Minimum Wage, UBI, Health Care, Housing


Autonomous Vehicles and Artificial Intelligence


Humour

Books


Fiction

  • Red Bones, by Ann Cleeves
    Book 3 in the Shetland mystery series
  • Blue Lightning, by Ann Cleeves
    Book 4 in the Shetland mystery series
  • Thin Air, by Richard Morgan
    Morgan's new science fiction novel, the first one in a long time, set inthe same universe as Black Man.
  • Join, by Steve Toutonghi


Non-Fiction

  • Team Human, by Douglas Rushkoff
    I very much on side with what Rushkoff is suggesting in this book, but I am afraid he uses a lot of outright woo to support it. A pity, since his position can easily be supported without any woo at all. I suspect this is a case of virtue signaling—saying certain things because your audience expects to hear them.
  • The Mismeasure of Man, by Stephen Jay Gould
    I almost didn't read this book, based on what Murray and Herrenstein had to say about it in the Bell Curve. But like so much of what is in the Bell Curve, their comments on The Mismeasure of Man were just plain wrong. Gould's book was definitely worth reading.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

What I've Been Reading, March 2019

Links


Miscellaneous


Responding to Collapse,


Peak Oil


Climate Change

  • Europe is Using Wood from U.S. Forests to Replace Fossil Fuels, Institute for Energy Research
    "Carbon accounting of forest management has long been fraught with controversy, as scientists warn that it does not reflect the true climate impact. They believe that trees should be allowed to mature and store carbon instead of being harvested. The European Union, on the other hand, intends to partially meet its commitment to the Paris agreement by using all forms of biomass, including wood pellets."
  • 10 Myths about Carbon Pricing in Canada, Canada's Ecofiscal Commission


Economic Contraction


Energy


Disaster Mythology


Hazard and Risk


Food


Practical Skills

My little granddaughters (age 6 and 7) were here during March Break and we did some peg weaving.

I've been meaning to study up on how linen is made from flax for some time, and You Tube offered the videos below when I went looking for peg weaving.


Secession

  • The Brexit Endgame, by Amy Davidson Sorkin, The New Yorker
    Brexit is scheduled to take place on March 29th—but the United Kingdom isn’t ready.


Debunking


Science Based Medicine

  • The 5 deadliest habits to avoid as you get older, by Erin Brodwin, Business Insider
    Overall this is a pretty good article. It needs to be a little more clear about what constitutes "processed" foods, about which many people have strange ideas. For instance, I would include honey in this food group—doesn't matter if it was processed by bees, it's still a refined carbohydrate.
  • The Power of the Nocebo Effect, by Shayla Love, Vice Magazine—Tonic
    "Nocebo is the evil twin of the placebo effect—and my constant companion. I set out to find out what it is, and how I could learn to harness the more positive effects of medical mind games."
  • Glyphosate and cancer – revisited, by Andrew Kniss, A Plant Out of Place—thoughts from someone who spends life amongst the weeds.
    The largest data set we have (by far) which does the best job (by far) of accounting for confounding variables shows absolutely no association between handling glyphosate and developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma.


Lacking an Owner's Manual

The human body/mind/spirit doesn't come with an owner's manual, and we continually struggle to figure out how best to operate them.


There is No God, and Thou Shall Have No Other Gods

I don't think I've made any secret of the fact that I am an atheist, but I may not have made it clear that I think any sort of worship is a bad thing and that believing in things is to be avoided whenever possible. Indeed, I do not believe in believe itself. That's what the "Thou shall have no other gods" is about—it's not enough to quit believing in whatever God or Gods you were raised to believe in, but also we must avoid other gods, including material wealth, power and fame.


Refugees and Migration


Poverty, Homeless People, Minimum Wage, UBI, Health Care, Housing

Books


Fiction

Except for Red Moon, all these books are old favourites I pulled from my bookshelves to re-read this month.


Non-Fiction

Non-fiction reading was slow going this month, as I tackled a couple of books that I am finding tough going. So here are some more gems from my bookshelf. I stumbled on The Kon Tiki Expedition in my elementary school library when I was 10 years old. Stayed up most of the night reading it.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Responding to Collapse, Part 8: Pitfalls and Practicalities of that Team Sport

Sunset over Lake Huron, March 26, 2019

The "responding" to collapse that I've been talking about in this series of posts, is largely a matter of adapting to the new conditions that come with collapse. We can't stop collapse from happening, so the question is, "how to cope?" I've spent a lot of time talking about how adapting is likely to be easier in small and fairly remote towns, how to pick a town in a good location and then encouraging people to make their move to such a location while there is still time.

But making that move is only the first step. The point of moving to a small town, rather than a more isolated location, is the relationships you'll be forming with the people in your new community.

In my last post I started talking about the idea that being human is a "team sport". That is, it's in the nature of human beings, and very much to our benefit, to live and work together in groups. Such groups can act as a force multiplier, achieving more than what you would expect from simply adding up the number of people involved. And that's more both in the sense of 1) achieving the group's common goals and 2) enhancing the individual well being of its members. For most of the time that people have existed, we've lived together in small groups (less than Dunbar's number), made decisions largely by consensus, and allocated resources in a sort of "primitive communism"—from each according to their abilities and to each accordito their needs.

During the difficult times that lie ahead of us, I think we will need to fall back on this way of living, in order to successfully meet the challenges we face.

In that post I went on, at some length, about the benefits of group efforts and why we have abandoned the idea in 21st century society in favour of individualism and isolation. Largely because increasing affluence has made it possible and because it has been encouraged by those who are in power who find it easier to control and exploit lone individuals than groups acting in solidarity.

What I want to talk about in this post are the pitfalls and practicalities of actually becoming part of your new community and laying the ground work for the groups you will come to rely on as BAU declines. I wish I could offer a complete and detailed manual on how to do this, but I'm just not to that point myself yet, and I'm not sure anyone else is either. I've added links at the end of this post to a couple of books that I think might be helpful

I should make it clear that I don't expect you to rush out and create your own commune and kiss BAU (Business as Usual) good-bye right away. This is unlikely to be a success. I don't think collapse is going to happen all at once, nor I do think adapting to it is something that can (or should) be done all at once.

As long as BAU is detectably alive and even slightly well, propaganda for the consumer lifestyle and the virtues of individualism will be a distraction blaring away in the background. Most of us have never had the opportunity to learn the interpersonal the skills that make primitive communism work so well. And as long as our economic situation inside BAU is reasonably comfortable, it will be altogether too easy stalk off in a huff when the going gets tough rather than doing the work it takes to make a group effort succeed.

I'd be the last person to tell you that any of this is going to be easy. Indeed there have been many times when I have pretty much given up on the idea. I am sure we've all been involved in some co-operative effort or other that failed because of the disruptive efforts of grandstanders, glory hounds, control freaks and the power hungry. Or even just people who couldn't get along, didn't want to pull their weight or abused common resources like tools and equipment. These sorts of problems can be overcome, but only, I suspect, when there is an overpowering need to do so, and no easier alternative.

Of course, there is one sure way to foster group cohesiveness and that is to encourage group members to focus their displeasure and dissatisfaction on easily identifiable people outside the group. People who group members are encouraged to hate. But the long run consequences are pretty ugly. You just have to look at the last century or so of our history to see what I mean. Unfortunately, this kind of thing does have a strong appeal, and I would advise constant vigilance to avoid getting sucked in. Just ask yourself, if the finger of hate is being pointed at "those people" today, how long before it is pointed at people like you.

Currently right wing, white supremacy hate groups seems to be enjoying a good deal of success and causing a lot of harm. Clearly something to be avoided and opposed.

Another way to bring people together is activism. There are certainly many problems in the world today that need to be solved. When people join groups to tackle these problems they often find a real sense of community and an external problem to focus their energies on. And groups of other people to oppose.

I'd say that before joining an activist group you need to keep in mind that our current world order, what I call BAU, is fundamentally flawed and is itself the cause of the problems we are facing. Trying to fix BAU so we can go on living as we are is not going to work—our way of life is the problem.

Of course, there are causes that even I can't see anything wrong with. Such as forming community groups to adapt to collapse or to work on any of the things that need to be done to prepare for collapse.

Anyway, these are just some of the pitfalls of trying to make a co-operative effort to adapt to collapse. But adapt we must, and we have a much better chance of doing so in a group than as lone individuals or nuclear families. So we have to try, even though we'll be learning the skills as we go along, and all the while our current society will be doing its best to distract and discourage us.

Realizing this, we need to look at the practicalities of living and working together in groups. It would be a really good idea, I think, to start with some baby steps in your new community, to do some gradual adapting before the need gets urgent. Start learning to work together ahead of time, probably first in social groups, then maybe doing some volunteer efforts together, and finally as times get harder, acting together in what I would call mutual support groups. It is one heck of a lot easier, in times of need, to get together with people who you already know and with whom you've accustomed to working.

How people behave during disasters turns out to be very different than we have been led to believe. Rather than triggering social breakdown, the removal of the usual social constraints allows people to stop playing their customary roles as individuals and competitors in the formal economy (the roles society has forced on them), and come together co-operatively and generously as a community to cope with the challenges the disaster has presented.

The fact that responding to the disaster provides a clear common goal, and that the people involved are often family, friends and neighbours, is a big help. But such communities are in fact the default human behavior, rather than the rioting, looting and general social breakdown that the disaster mythology would have us suspect. Our preparations for disaster and collapse should reflect this—that we can expect co-operation rather than conflict. Any organization that we plan in advance should be such that it encourages this behaviour and helps people to rise to the occasion. A little study into what actually happens in such situations shows that people's response can be amazingly positive.

So, your first priority after you've moved into a small town is to get to know your neighbours and make an effort to take part in the things they are doing together.

Here are just few suggestions about how to become part of the community you've moved into and develop a network of friends and acquaintances who will be of help as collapse intensifies.

  • if you're religious, join a church and get involved
  • if you're not religious, join a secular volunteer organization that interests you:
    • a club, lodge or service group
    • a choir or orchestra
    • a community garden
    • a sports team, a gym, a hiking or nature club
  • if you have children...
    • put them into activities that interest them and volunteer to help in the organizations that offer those activities
    • volunteer at their school
  • work hard to network, talk to your neighbors, ask questions
  • invite people to dinner or out for a coffee

Be modest and don't act like you think you're better than the locals, or know more than them, or that where you came from is better than where you are now. Express an interest in their families, interests, and what they do for recreation and entertainment (FIRE is the mnemonic for this aid to small talk). Be eager to listen to what they have to say and patient while they are saying it.

You want to get to know and be known (in a positive way) by as many people as possible, but also to develop a core group of friends who you're quite close to and on whom you can rely in a pinch. That core group should be people you see eye to eye with on most things. At the same time, don't be too particular about finding people who think exactly as you do—cut them some slack and they will do the same for you. Be quick to offer your help when they need it and don't hesitate to ask for their help when you need it. And of course, watch that this doesn't become too one sided (in either direction).

As a kollapnik, a committed enough of a one to leave the city and settle in a small town, you are probably at least a bit of a fanatic about the subject and would love to find some people who you can talk collapse with. This will put a certain spin on your relationships, one that you need to get control of. You don't want to be a pest and develop a reputation as a crackpot, driving people away in the process. On the other hand, you don't want to be secretive and give people the impression you've got something to hide. If they see you making preparations, storing food, gardening, whatever, be open about what you are doing and why.

Among all my friends and acquaintances, there are two (perhaps three) who I would say are fellow kollapsniks, and a small handful of others who are willing to talk about collapse as long as I don't push too hard. I consider myself lucky.

One of those kollapsnik friends is Don Hayward, and I'd like to share with you his wisdom on classifying the people you'll meet in your new community. He says there are four kinds:

  • those who will eventually turn out to be pure poison and should be avoided at all costs (which can be awkward in a small town). If you can figure out how to identify these people quickly and painlessly, let me know.
  • those few gems who you can talk to about collapse and perhaps even start right away working with on adaptations.
  • those who don't want to talk about collapse, but who will make good friends anyway. This is no doubt the largest group of people and where you will concentrate your efforts.
  • and lastly, people from the first three classifications who will change as circumstances change and may well turn out to be great adapters.

Please understand that it is possible to make connections, often close connections, with people who are not yet ready to talk about collapse. It is probably a good idea to make that connection first, before bringing up collapse. There will be times when the world seems to be falling apart, when the news is full of that sort of thing, and then people will be much more receptive.

But people are strange animals and coping with them can be challenging, especially since you are one yourself. You should maintain a realistic expectation that not everyone will react positively to everything or even anything you say or do, that some people won't even want to give you the time of day. Respond politely to such rejection and move on. Don't get discouraged.

You may also frequently find people doing things that seem to be specifically intended to get under your skin, and not in a humourous way. I personally have had much more success in difficult inter-personal situations since I learned the importance of being calm, patient, kind and understanding. And after I finally gained a "strong-ish" grasp of the fact that it's not always (or even usually) all about me. But even at age 65, this is an on-going effort.

Much good advice about this sort of thing can be found on the internet (along with some bad advice, unfortunately). Here are links to several articles that I'd say fit in the "good advice" category.


Hidden variables of Human Behaviour

In brief here is what you should remember:

  • Everyone has a reason for what they do.
  • If we knew that reason, we would be more understanding and sympathetic.
  • If we don’t know the reason, we may as well assume the best.
  • It’s unlikely their reasons have much — if anything — to do with us, so there is no need to take their actions personally.

Three Important Life Skills Nobody Ever Taught You

Again in brief, they are:

  • how to stop taking things personally
  • how to be persuaded and change your mind
  • how to act without knowing the result

It’s harder to be kind than clever

Or as my dear old dad used to say, "It's more important to be nice than to be important." As the article says:

...the central conceit of a dangerous assumption we seem to have made as a culture these days: that being right is a license to be a total, unrepentant asshole. After all, why would you need to repent if you haven’t committed the ultimate sin of being wrong? Some say there’s no reason to care about other people’s feelings if the facts are on your side.

Getting along with people in groups is a learned skill and challenging for those who didn't grow up doing it. Many people have decided it is not worth the effort, but that is something of a self fulfilling prophecy. It can be done, given motivation and sufficient practice.

So far I've been talking about getting together socially, helping out your friends, and taking part in volunteer projects. But as collapse progresses further and we come to rely on our friends and neighbours more, we'll get deeper into living and working together. To wrap up today, I'd like to discuss three aspects of this: working together, living together and organizing those efforts. I was actually surprised, after spending a few moments with Google, to find numerous resources on each of these topics and in each of the sections below I've include a few links to relevant articles.


Organizing Together

Even if we're mainly considering groups of people less than Dunbar's number, say a maximum of 150 to 200, some sort of organization will be required. There are many ways of doing this, all with their pros and cons. I'm suspicious of hierarchical and especially patriarchal organizations because much of what's wrong with BAU seems to be centered on those organizational styles. They seem to be based on a fundamental split within the group between those who are in control and enjoy a lot of benefits they haven't earned, and those who are being controlled and exploited, and whose potential is largely ignored.

So I would recommend trying consensus decision making. It's main disadvantage is that very few of us in the developed world have much experience with it. But like any other skill it can be learned, and promises some real rewards for those who make the effort.


Working Together

Working together is likely the easy part—even big business is aware of the advantages of having people work in teams, so many people have some prior experience with teamwork.

I thought this would be the easiest of these three areas to find information about, but what's out there is mostly about teams working at the bottom of a hierarchy in businesses or educational settings, so it's not exactly what I was hoping for. I haven't included much that material here. You can Google for teamwork, team building, working in groups, etc. if you want to see more of it.

  • Effective Groups—Starting them up and keeping them going, more from Seeds of Change
    This article recommends you first find the right people and then talks about using publicity to attract them. For the kind of core group I've been talking about in this post, I would say definitely you need to find the right people, but I would caution against sending out a public appeal. This would attract lots of people, but most of them wouldn't likely be suitable and rejecting them becomes awkward. Instead meet people in social situations and take your time to size them up before forming a closer relationship.
  • 6 Ways to Empower Others, by Starhawk
    Sometimes you really do need someone to step forward and lead. The important thing is to be able to step back when the need has passed.
  • Teamwork, Wikipedia


Living Together

Living together is something that's going to be forced on many of us in the years ahead, as the economy contracts and affluence decreases. And as we move to small towns and find there is limited housing stock that's suitable for living in when infrastructure starts to fail regularly. So many people will find themselves having to share apartments or houses. Most of us have grown up in small nuclear families and many have had their own room since birth. More crowded and less convenient living circumstances will be challenging to adapt to. But it's being done by the majority of people alive in the world today and has been done by almost everyone who lived in the past. So it seems likely to me that we can learn to cope just fine.

I'll just wrap this up by saying that I think it is important to let other groups try anything they want to, in the hope that someone, somewhere, will come up with one or more approaches that work. I call this "disssensus"—letting other folks go their own way and wishing them well, even offering to help when we can, rather than raising a fuss and trying to force them to do it our way.

So far, I've been talking about what you need to do when you first arrive in your new town and during the following years as collapse intensifies. The gradual and uneven failure of BAU will provide numerous opportunities for you and your new friends to work together and support each other. I'll definitely be doing a post in the near future about how I see that playing out, but first I think I need to talk about the practical, material preparations that you need to be making during that same time period.

If you've chosen your small town well then it will have the resources you need to get by when BAU lets you down. But some advance set up is needed if you are to put them to work effectively. This will be the topic of my next post.

Books


Links to the rest of this series of posts, Preparing for (Responding to) Collapse:

Monday, 18 March 2019

Responding to Collapse, Part 7: A Team Sport

Late Winter (Early Spring?) on Lake Huron

At the end of my first "Preparing for/Responding to Collapse" post , I said that we'd be considering the following subjects in this series:

  • where you want to be—where bad things are less likely to happen
  • who you want to be with—people you know, trust and can work with
  • what you are doing—something that can support you, and allow you to develop the skills and accumulate the resources you will need

I think I've given the first one adequate treatment in the last 5 posts (2 to 6 in this series) so now I'm moving on to the second item—who you want to be with.

So, who do you want to be with? The main thing, I think, is that you want to be with people, rather than being alone—to borrow a phrase from Douglas Rushkoff, being human is a team sport. (Here's a podcast with Rushkoff and Naomi Klein that I found interesting. Of course Rushkoff isn't talking about exactly the same thing as me, but it's still good stuff.)

What I am talking about is this: it is in the nature of human beings, and very much to our benefit, to work together in groups. Such groups act as a force multiplier, achieving more than what you would expect from simply adding up the number of people involved. And that's more both in the sense of 1) achieving the group's common goals and 2) enhancing the individual well being of its members. For most of the time that people have existed, we've lived together in small groups (less than Dunbar's number), made decisions largely by consensus, and allocated resources in a sort of "primitive communism"—from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs, if I can be forgiven for quoting Karl Marx.

During the difficult times that lie ahead of us, I think we will need to fall back on this way of living, in order to successfully meet the challenges we face.

But over the last few centuries this sort of thing has gotten a bad name. People have gone from living in small, close knit communities made up of large, extended families to living in isolated nuclear families or as lone individuals, and relating to other people mainly via the formal, money based economy. During the time when this change was happening, the level of affluence in our society continually increased, allowing us to get by just fine more or less on our own. It seems that many people have come to believe that individualism is at least partly responsible for the progress we have experienced, and that our former way of living probably had to be abandoned in order to reap the benefits of that progress.

I would say that such ideas are a long way from reality. So much so that I think we'd better stop here for a closer look at the advantages of living and working together in groups, and follow that up by considering why we have given up on this way of life. Best to be clear on this before going on to the practicalities and pitfalls of forming and working together in groups within your new community.

It's interesting that while today's corporations are intensely capitalistic and competetive, within them people are often organized in teams or crews whose members relate to each other in a very "communistic" way. I'd say that this is a tacit acknowledgement of what actually works best. For much of my career with Hydro One (Ontario's electric transmission and distribution utility) I worked as part of a crew of maintenance electricians. While it is true that there are some jobs that can be done by one person, most of the work we did went much better when done by a small group of people. Once such a crew gets to know each other and the work they are doing, they can organize themselves to do that work more productively and enjoyably than the same number of individuals could do working separately.

Within a crew there is usually a diversity of skills that complement each other, and allow people to focus their efforts on the parts of the job best suited to them. And of course the nature of most work (be it physical or mental) is such that it can be done quicker and more easily if the people doing it help each other.

Teams like this are an excellent learning environment, where you can pick up a great deal from people with more experience or different experience than you. Not just job related learning, but also contributing to your growth as a human being.

Beyond productivity and training, there are many benefits to the members of the crew which are not an intentional part of the situation or necessarily supported by management, but which certainly make for a better work environment— camaraderie, companionship, support (both in times of difficulty, and in growth and accomplishment), and the ability to make the boring parts of the job go quicker with humour, story telling, singing, etc.

As it happened we were also members of a labour union, which did its best to shield us from the worst predations of management. Unions are a pretty clear case of the use of group solidarity in dealing with a situation where the power dynamics would otherwise be completely one sided.

Co-operative efforts of groups of people in organizations like food co-ops and housing co-ops enjoy the benefits of enhanced bargaining power and economies of scale that are not available to nuclear families or single individuals. A group can also provide a safety net for its members in a way that conventional insurance, provided by a company whose main responsibility is to its share holders, can never do.

People working and living together also get to know each other quite well. Because of this the group can effectively discourage its members from shirking their responsibilities and provide them with a strong incentive to contribute to the full extent of their abilities.

And lastly I'll just note that compared to an isolated existence, living in groups with people that care about you and will help when you need it, has considerable psychological benefits.

So, given all these advantages, why have we largely abandoned our extended families and close knit communities?

Certainly, there is some overhead involved in living and working in close knit groups, and you can see why people who have attained a sufficient level of affluence might choose to exercise their independence and strike out on their own.

But the idea that group life is not worth the effort is somewhat of a self fulfilling prophecy. Living as we do these days, with a big emphasis on individualism and little opportunity to practice working in groups or learn it from experience people, we have forgotten many of the interpersonal the skills that make primitive communism work so well. And as long as things are going well there is little incentive to really try to make co-operative efforts succeed. We can do just fine on our own, without the trouble of getting along with others. Those whose lives are the most precarious, for whom individualism really isn't working, have come to simply not trust other people, and would never think of working together for their mutual advantage.

But even allowing for all that, I think we also need to keep in mind that isolated people are a lot easier to control and exploit, and this is very much to the advantage of the people who are running things in our society.

Whenever I see people making choices that clearly run counter to their own best interests, I've found that I only have to look a little further to uncover a great deal of effort that is being expended to make them do so. Effort that is being made by those who do stand to benefit from those poor choices. This is certainly the case practically everywhere in the world today, with most countries ruled by oligarchies who at best give only lip service to democracy, and are not of the people, by the people or for the people.

So, I would like to suggest that what going on here is rather different from the way we are encouraged to perceive it. Maybe, for most people, the growth of individualism was anything but progress. And while it is true that this happened while a lot of progress was happening, you don't want to confuse cause and effect. If you look closely, you can see that much of that progress was basically economic growth, or very closely tied to economic growth, which was largely driven by our switch over to using fossil fuels as our primary source of energy. So I'd say economic growth and the rise of modern capitalism drove the growth of individualism, rather than the other way around.

A excerpt from David Graeber's Debt: the first 5000 years may help clarify:

By the end of World War II, the specter of an imminent working-class uprising that had so haunted the ruling classes of Europe and North America had largely disappeared. This was because class war was suspended by a tacit settlement. To put it crudely: the white working class of North Atlantic countries, from the United States to West Germany were offered a deal. If they agreed to set aside fantasies of fundamentally changing the nature of the system, then they would be allowed to keep their unions, enjoy a wide variety of social benefits (pensions, vacations, health care...), and, perhaps most important through generously funded and ever-expanding public educational institutions, know that their children had a reasonable chance of leaving the working class entirely. One key element in all this was a tacit guarantee that increases in workers' productivity would be met by increases in wages: a guarantee that held good until the late 1970s. Largely as a result, the period saw both rapidly rising productivity and rapidly increasing incomes, laying the basis for the consumer economy of today.

This was the world into which I was born and grew up. Essentially, "setting aside fantasies of fundamentally changing the nature of the system" amounted to abandoning our communities and extended families, in exchange for individual affluence and economic security. Unfortunately, because of 1) a financial system based on interest bearing debt and 2) a growing population, this world required endless economic growth in order to continue fulfilling its promise. In another reality, where planets have infinite resources, this might have been possible, but not here.

After a few paragraphs about how this relates to Keynsian economics, Graeber goes on to say:

When the Keynsian settlement was finally put into effect, after World War II, it was offered to only a relatively small slice of the world's population. As time went on, more and more people wanted in on the deal. Almost all of the popular movements of the period from 1945 to 1975, even perhaps revolutionary movements, could be seen as demands for political equality that assumed equality was meaningless without some level of economic security. This was true not only of movements by minority groups in North Atlantic countries who had first been left out of the deal... but what were then called "national liberation" movements from Algeria to Chile, which represented certain class fragments in what we now call the Global South, or, finally, and perhaps most dramatically, in the late 1960s and 1970s, feminism. At some point in the '70s, things reached a breaking point. It would appear that capitalism, as a system, simply cannot extend such a deal to everyone. Quite possibly it wouldn't even remain viable if all its workers were free wage laborers; certainly it was never be able to provide everyone in the world the sort of life lived by, say, a 1960s auto worker in Michigan or Turin, with his own house, garage, and children in college—and this was true even before so many of those children began demanding less stultifying lives. The result might be termed a crisis of inclusion. But the late 1970s, the existing order was clearly in a state of collapse, plagued simultaneously by financial chaos, food riots, oil shocks, wide spread doomsday prophecies of the end of growth and ecological crisis—all of which, it turned out, proved to be ways of putting the populace on notice that all deals were off.

I would say that the underlying problem causing this failure of capitalism is economic contraction caused by the reduction in the surplus energy available as we've been forced to tap into ever poorer quality and/or less easily accessible fossil fuels. And sadly this is a problem for all economic and political systems. Indeed, it is a problem without a solution, which is bringing about changes that we will just have to adapt to.

I am not certain if Graber agrees with me that the crises we've faced since the 1970s are quite real, but I do agree with him that those in power have certainly used those crises to "put the populace on notice that all deals are off." He is also quite right that this is a "crisis of inclusion"—as the economy contracts the rich and powerful are not about to be excluded, so a great many other people have had to be, in order for the rich to keep a relatively larger slice of a shrinking pie.

But how, you may ask, does this relate to the problem of diminishing community in our modern society? Well, it seems that all the fixes that are available to the excluded majority involve us being separated from our former support systems (family and community in an informal economy) and striving to perform better as competing individuals in the formal economy.

We are told that to secure a good job we need an education, at least a bachelor's degree. This means (in many countries) taking on a significant amount of debt, so that after you graduate, you'll be desperate to get a job and pay off your student loans. This leaves you very little choice in the job you take and little choice about leaving it if it doesn't suit you.

To get that job it is very likely that you'll have to move a long way from where your family currently lives and set up as a lone individual, in a place where you, at least initially, have no support network.

If you meet the love of your life and decide to live together or actually marry, you will both have to go on working to pay off those student loans and make a start on building a family together.

This is a stressful situation, especially since you don't have any sort of support network and I suspect it contributes to marriage breakup. If you do break up you'll be left as a single mother or a lone individual.

Or perhaps instead of seeking higher education, you could go for a job in the trades. As I said earlier, crews of tradesmen are among the best examples of communistic relationships found in today's world. But in most companies there is a strong push to have people working by themselves whenever possible and to have as little contact with their co-workers as possible, lest they organize a union. Unions are in a desperate situation today, with no effort being spared to break them and leave working people completely at the mercy of management.

All this is very convenient for those who are in power. It is easier to exploit people who are not organized, who see each other as competitors rather than comrades. And in the process you can monetize much work that used to be part of the informal economy and make some additional profit out of it, while keeping people conveniently isolated from each other. I'm not saying this is a conspiracy of any sort, just rich people supporting the kind of politicians who will benefit them the most in the short term, and rest of us taking the path of least resistance through our lives.

Even if you are fortunate enough to have a good, secure job, it is pretty easy to look around and see than many other people find themselves with no support from family or community and working for minimum wage with no benefits in a job where their schedule can be adjusted and their hours reduced arbitrarily and they can be fired for any reason or no reason at all. And if they end up jobless and homeless, there is a definite tendency to put the blame for this onto them, rather than a system which sees workers as liabilities rather than assets.

No wonder many people are starting to express doubts about the current world order. As BAU continues to collapse it will become more and more clear that there must be a better way to live. Many would tell you that things are more likely to break down into chaos and violence but a closer study human behaviour in disasters shows that when there is trouble, people feel a strong urge to work together to help each other pull through.

Well, that was a lot of words expended in support of a proposition that I originally thought was obvious. I do think it was worth it, but now this post is just about as long as it should be. So I'll wrap things up here and continue next time with a look at the pitfalls and practicalities of forming and working together in groups within your new community.

The Disaster Mythology is a subject that keeps coming up on this blog, and to save explaining it again and again in various posts, I've finally created a page about the subject: The Disaster Mythology. Check it out.


Links to the rest of this series of posts, Preparing for (Responding to) Collapse:

Monday, 4 March 2019

What I've Been Reading, February 2019

Links

Collapse

  • Why We’re Underestimating the Risks to Human Civilization, by Umair Haque, Medium-- Eudaimonia
    " We’re Not Taking The Challenges of the 21st Century Seriously Yet. We’d Better Begin, Now."
    "I’m suggesting that a world splintered into nations that resemble a collapsed, fascist America — or maybe worse — each one bitterly contesting its share of dwindling resources, ready to do violence and commit atrocities, is going to be an age in which peace, progress, plenitude, and the survival of a whole lot of people grind to a screeching, lethal halt."
    Mr. Haque seems to think that if we just try hard enough and soon enough we can go on progressing and prospering. I disagree--he's missing the "declining surplus energy" problem, for which there is no solution. But I do think that quite a few of us might manage to survive what's coming, if we actually got to work at it.

Responding to Collapse,

A Paradise built in Hell, The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster
I'm borrowing the title of Rebecca Solnit's book for this section of links. Human beings feel, in times of crises, a deep need to come together to take care of each other. Contrary to the horrific picture of typical reactions to disaster painted by the "disaster mythology", in fact communities often come together to help themselves in the most extraordinarily positive ways.

Peak Oil

Climate Change

Economic Contraction

Food

Politics

Dancing on Graves

The Scientific Consensus

  • How to make mountains, by Marcia Bjornerud, Aeon
    "In living memory, geologists believed that the Earth was slowly shrivelling, little guessing how vibrantly alive it truly is."

Science Based Medicine

Lacking an Owner's Manual

  • 5 Things Every Woman Needs From Her Husband, by Michelle Wuesthoff, from her blog"Live Life Beautifully"
    We've been married for 41 (and a half) years and what Michelle is saying in this article and the one below certainly rings true to me. I had a close look around her website and yes, she is a Christian. But, in these two articles at least, she isn't letting that handicap her too much.
  • 5 Things Every Man Needs From His Wife, by Michelle Wuesthoff, from her blog"Live Life Beautifully"

There is No God, and Thou Shall Have No Other Gods

I don't think I've made any secret of the fact that I am an atheist, but I may not have made it clear that I think any sort of worship is a bad thing and that believing in things is to be avoided whenever possible. Indeed, I do not believe in believe itself. That's what the "Thou shall have no other gods" is about--it's not enough to quit believing in whatever God or Gods you were raised to believe in, but also we must avoid other gods, including material wealth, power and fame.

  • The Science of Miracles, by Barbara Bradley Hagerty, Medium--Science
    Prayer studies are a "wild goose chase that violate everything we know about the universe," Richard Sloan, professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University Medical Center and author of Blind Faith, told me: "There are no plausible mechanisms that account for how somebody’s thoughts or prayers can influence the health of another person. None."
    "Consciousness is a product of brain function. Period." my comments: wishful thinking
  • Why I Won’t Teach My Child to Believe in God, by Mateo Askaripour, Medium--Religion
    "My journey from undoubting faith to disbelief, in four acts."
  • Reasonable Dubt-- How I Lost God, by Kiley Bense, Medium--Religion
  • Atheism Is Not Faith, It’s Reason, by Thor Benson, Medium
    "Let’s not pretend there’s no reason to question if there’s a God"
  • Atheism is not a belief, by Joe Nuxoll, Medium
  • Unbeliever, by Joao Nascimento, Medium--Religion
    " The never-ending war between believers and Atheists — the evildoers — must stop. I am nothing more than an unbeliever, but I am an Atheist. You are no more righteous than me. Believe in that."

Poverty, Homeless People, Minimum Wage, UBI, Health Care, Housing

  • We Don’t Need Private Health Insurance, by Adam Gaffney, The Nation " New single-payer plans don’t need to worry about carving out roles for health-care profiteers."
    Sound like at least some people in the U.S. are catching on.
  • Finding Home in a Parking Lot, by Sarah Holder, City Lab
    "The number of unsheltered homeless living in their cars is growing. Safe Parking programs from San Diego to King County are here to help them."

Books

Fiction

Non-Fiction

Thursday, 7 February 2019

What I've Been Reading, January 2019

Links

Miscellaneous

Collapse

Note the various ways the authors look at overshoot and dieoff, ranging from choosing not to mention it at all, to focusing too much on it.

  • 2018: the tipping point—My year in review— looking back, looking ahead, by Nafeez Ahmed, Medium—InsurgeIntelligence
    Largely a list of what Mr. Ahmed has been and will continue to work on, with many link to articles that will likely show up here in the months to come. And most of it is to do with collapse, so I've included it in this section.
  • Your World Is Going to Shatter—A letter from the future, by Eric Hinton, Medium—Future
  • Collapse? It’s already here, by Surly, Doomstead Diner
  • Does Rebar Rust? By Practical Engineering, YouTube
    In this case "collapse" has a much more literal meaning, referring to the failure of the steel reinforced concrete that so many structures are built of today. Many existing structures were built without using the advanced techniques discussed in the video to prevent rusting of rebar, and they are and will continue to fail earlier than they might otherwise need to. With funds for replacing infrastructure in short supply, this will lead to the very literal collapse of much of industrial civilization.
  • Climbing Everest in high heels, by Tim Watkins, The Consciousness of Sheep
    "Politics matter, of course. In a future of economic contraction it is far better to be governed consensually by people who understand the predicament and who plan a route to deindustrialization that has as few casualties as possible on the way down… one reason not to keep voting for parties that dole out corporate welfare at the top while driving those at the bottom to destitution. That road tends to end with guillotines and firing squads. "For all of its passion and drama, however, the role of politics in our current predicament is somewhat akin to the choice of footwear when setting out to climb a mountain. Ideally you want to choose a pair of stout climbing boots; but nobody is offering those. For now the choice is between high heels and flip-flops to climb the highest mountain we have ever faced. If we are lucky, the political equivalent a half decent pair of training shoes might turn up, but while the world is focussed on economic growth; that is the best we can hope for… and we still have to climb the mountain whatever shoes we wear."
  • How collective intelligence can change your world, right now—An open source toolkit for self and social transformation, by Nafeez Ahmed, Medium—InsurgeIntelligence
    Some good stuff in this one, but a little too much mysticism for me. Getting everyone to agree is way harder than that. So much so that it shouldn't even be our goal.
  • Why American Collapse is Only Just Beginning (Not Ending), by Umair Haque, Medium—Eudaimonia
    "Six Megatrends That Will Shape the Future"

Responding to Collapse,

Peak Oil

  • The Shale Oil Revolution Actually Reflects a Nation in Decline, by Christ Martenson, Peak Prosperity
    "Faster consumption + no strategy = diminished prospects."
  • Is An Oil Supply Crunch Looming? By Nick Cunningham, The Fuse
    "The global oil industry needs to come up with 35 million barrels per day (Mbd) of fresh supply between 2017 and 2025 in order to compensate for rising demand and natural decline from existing oil fields, according to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) 2018 World Energy Outlook. Projects that are already under development could add roughly 11 Mbd over that timeframe, the IEA said in November. Additionally, the IEA said U.S. shale liquids could add another 7 Mbd of new supply, although it would require a heroic effort to achieve – the rate of production growth over the ten-year period of 2015 to 2025 would slightly exceed the ramp up in Saudi Arabia between 1967 and 1977, making it the 'fastest rate of growth ever seen,' the IEA said."
  • The Next Big Threat For Oil Comes From China, by Philip Verleger, OilPrice.com

Climate Change

Food & Agriculture

Genetic Engineering

Before jumping to the erroneous conclusion that this section was paid for by Monsanto, stop for a moment and understand that organic agriculture/food is a multi-billion dollar per year industry that relies on fear to get people to buy its expensive products instead of the more reasonably priced ones of conventional agriculture. Millions of dollars are spent to convince you that non-organic food is dangerous. In fact both conventionally grown and organic foods are about equally safe. Sadly neither method of agriculture is even remotely substainable.

  • Scientists engineer shortcut for photosynthetic glitch, boost crop growth by 40 percent, by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • The 7 Craziest Ways CRISPR Is Being Used Right Now, by Emily Mullin, Medium—Health
    I'll say two things, one con, one pro:
    Many traits we'd like to see bred into plants and animal are polygenetic—they are determined by large numbers of genes in ways that aren't well understood. These sorts of things are out of reach of current genetic engineering techniques, which are still just picking the low hanging fruit.
    Even so, there are lots of very useful things that genetic engineering can do and because these advances can be inherited, they will be a valuable legacy for a future when this sort of high tech may not be available.

Politics

Secession

The Scientific Consensus

Science Based Medicine

Lacking an Owner's Manual

There is No God, and Thou Shall Have No Other Gods

I don't think I've made any secret of the fact that I am an atheist, but I may not have made it clear that I think any sort of worship is a bad thing and that believing in things is to be avoided whenever possible. Indeed, I do not believe in believe itself. That's what the "Thou shall have no other gods" is about—it's not enough to quit believing in whatever God or Gods you were raised to believe in, but also we must avoid other gods, including material wealth, power and fame.

  • Atheists Are Sometimes More Religious Than Christians, by Sigal Smauel, The Atlantic
    "A new study shows how poorly we understand the beliefs of people who identify as atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular."
    But then, religion always has been a matter of making it up as you go along.

Intelligence

Refugees and Migration

Poverty, Homeless People, Minimum Wage, UBI

Autonomous Vehicles and Artificial Intelligence

Books

Fiction

Non-Fiction

  • How to Feed the World, by Jessica Eise and Ken Foster
    "By 2050, we will have ten billion mouths to feed in a world profoundly altered by environmental change. How can we meet this challenge? In How to Feed the World, a diverse group of experts from Purdue University break down this crucial question by tackling big issues one-by-one."
    But... "The book is light on practical and sustainable solutions."