Friday, January 30, 2015

Fact: if it ain’t Growing, it’s Dying




The point to be grasped has been staring Western civilization in the face for the last half century: namely, that a predominantly megatechnic economy can be kept in profitable operation only by systematic and constant expansion.
Mumford (1970:348)

In this post, I examine how the money system is ignored in the mainstream media. I include within “money system” the notion that price measures value satisfactorily and that by extension market-based distribution of goods and services is fundamentally a Good Thing, and further that Perpetual Growth is both possible and desirable. These have become fundamental articles of faith and represent a significant portion of the unseen-but-palpable skeleton of the mainstream narrative. The implication that emanates from the collective voice of mainstream reporting is that the money system is as natural, pervasive and unchangeable as a physical Law. It is therefore just as futile to question the system’s validity as it is to question gravity’s. Worse: the money system is kept out of sight, goes unreferenced lest people realise it is a human design, not a force of nature.

The first quotes come from a CNCB article on European QE (all emphases are mine throughout):

[…] in the hope of stimulating the euro zone economy. However, with consumer prices now falling in the region, the ECB has implied that it is ready to reveal even greater measures to try to boost inflation back to its target levels and provide a fillip for growth in the region.

She [Gemma Godfrey, Brooks Macdonald] believes that the main risk this year could actually be a U.S. recovery failing to lift growth in the rest of the world and Europe, instead, pulling U.S. growth lower. 
[…] “more money doesn’t necessarily mean more jobs” if the stimulus doesn't find its way into the pockets of the consumer.

This is like shooting fish in a barrel. Nowhere is there even a suggestion that growth is unsustainable, or that there could be any reason whatsoever to question the ‘logic’ that growth is “imperative”. As I have pointed out again and again at this blog, constant growth is a systemic requirement rooted in the the money system’s design (more below), not an inescapable Natural Law. But the implications of ending that system and implementing one that operates healthily with steady-state growth are as broad as they are profound. Opening that can of worms is simply too much work for the mainstream media. It is the devil they don’t know. Consumerism is what we do know. Ergo, more and more of it is better than less and less.

These are from a BBC article, also on QE:

[…] the eurozone economy still flatlining five years after its crisis […]

[…] the best it can do is cover up the symptoms and get the blood pumping a bit more energetically.

It is warding off a vicious spiral of disinflationary decline […] But it cannot turn low growth Europe into vroom vroom Europe.

[…] labour and product markets needed to be liberalised and stultifying vested interests crushed, that the costs of doing business need squeezing, that large public sectors need shrinking.

It would help a France or Italy to expand and invigorate their private sector […]

Again, fish in a barrel. Zero and negative growth warrant approbrium and negative qualifiers,
healthy business growth and Freedom to do business deserve praise and positive qualifiers. This is beyond doubt, a fact of life, something we all Just Know.

From the Telegraph (a good article actually):

Those who argue that the US and the UK are growing faster than Europe because they carried out QE early are confusing “correlation with causality”

While this is a good point that needs to be stressed more often, the unstated conviction throughout the article is that robust growth must return to rescue the world. Otherwise there is much in this article that I recommend, as it highlights how much of a quandry the world system is in. Without growth, this system simply doesn’t work. However, unlike the logic displayed in the cited articles, growth is not the solution.

I could of course quote other articles from other sources, but that would be mere repetition in what is already a simplistic post. It is abundantly clear and uncontroversial that the mainstream is most often an uncritical mouthpiece for the mantra that perpetual growth is both Good and Natural, and may not be questioned, even by implication. The unseen-but-palpable skeleton that is the ideological structure behind articles such as the above arises from real, painful phenomena like rising unemployment and its attendant economic hardship when economies are in recession or depression. This is the recent history we all know. And it is indeed bad.

Worse still are ecosystems that fail to support human life.

I am currently in the Philippines, a country of over 7,000 islands that is experiencing something of an economic boom. Cebu, the island I am on, is a case in point. Traffic is often gridlocked, cranes poke out of the skyline erecting the new office buildings, malls, residential complexes, hotels and resorts that are steadily replacing the surrounding jungle. Just two days ago I was on the roof of one such new hotel surveying the surrounding landscape. The view was a sobering confirmation of William Ophul’s quote: “As a process, civilization resembles a long-running economic bubble. Civilizations convert found or conquered ecological wealth into economic wealth and population growth.” A shorter version might be: Civilisation turns ecosystems into economic systems.

The question I always ask is this: Is economic activity more valuable than non-economic activity? If not, why must it grow at the expense of everything else?

One of the many consequences of the state of affairs I am highlighting here is that radical critiques of the system cannot be journalistic. Reports and articles that support The System can rest on a broad base of consensus assumptions that masquerade as Facts of Life. This means a whole lot of information can go unsaid. Mainstream articles can thus stay trim, nimble and brief. This leanness is confused for professionalism, authority and truth.

The opposite is true when The System is highlighted for critical analysis, and especially when radical alternatives are proposed. Articles from folks like me cannot be lean and authoritative precisely because a new story is being told. The new story’s referents are not established; there is no consensus, nor can there be in advance. People tend to be conservative, requiring Proof of Perfection before embracing the devil they don’t know. This is of course the conservatism that is such a vital cultural attribute. Without conservatism, wisdom would not accrue and change would be too haphazard, too volatile. Conservatism tests the metal of new ideas. It is (most often) the healthy cultural skepticism that exposes foolish ideas. Today, as ever, it is up to those of us who want to share the new story to do so in a way that commands respect. The burden is on us.

So: why is growth currently a systemic addiction?

The current system creates money as interest-bearing debt. When money is lent by commercial banks to the private sector, new (credit) money is created and the money supply expands. More money than is created as a loan must be repaid (interest) to settle the loan. Repaying the loan causes this money to vanish from the economy: the money supply contracts (even though the interest ‘earned’ remains with the issuing bank).

Somewhat similarly, when governments want to ‘add’ money to the economy, they borrow from the private sector by selling debt in the form of bonds, gilts, treasuries, etc. They then owe more back than they borrowed due to the compound interest.

In the case of government, it is in fact more complicated than this. The government actually drains money from the economy when it sells debt: money moves from private bank accounts to government accounts, which means there is less money in the private economy. However, this frees the government to e.g. spend more on teacher’s pay, as such largesse should be less inflationary following the drain. The effect is a kind of neutral ‘addition’ (in this example) to the public sector via government spending preceded by a drain.le It's a little like moving a computer file from one location on a hard disk to another: the amount of storage taken up does not change (if we ignore interest!). QE (quantitative easing) is, crudely speaking, buying back otherwise unsellable bonds, gilts, etc., thereby flooding commercial banks with fresh ‘cash’ in the hope they will lend it into the economy. I.e., QE is designed to increase private debt to stimulate growth. Instead, it tends to be used by financial interests to inflate stock and commodity markets, but that’s another story.

However, despite that lengthy excurs, the underlying dynamic is the same in both cases, as both are emergent phenomena of the deeper civilizational project. The money-creation-and-destruction process begins as interest-bearing debt one way or the other (otherwise one is simply printing money), a dynamic that requires constant economic growth to function properly. We’ll look at the differences between the public and private sectors of an economy in the next post by examining the messages contained in mainstream articles on Grexit, Greece’s possible exit from the euro.

Anyway, let’s not get too bogged down in technical details (if you do want to, read this). Instead, let’s look at the underlying dynamic (P < P+I). Money is almost always created as debt (notes and coins for example are not created as debt, but are only about 3% of the money supply). The debt (Principal) bears compound interest (+I, the exponential function), so more money must be paid back than is created. This never-enough-to-go-around, musical-chairs tension can only be kept from implosion by creating ever more money (i.e. issuing more debt). Otherwise the money supply contracts and deflation sets in. Roughly, deflation (and recession/depression) take hold when the amount of money in the economy is falling because of some mix of:

1                    People aren’t taking on new debt,
2                    Banks aren’t willing to lend,
3                    Consumers aren’t shopping as much,
4                    Businesses are ‘rationalizing’, etc.

This is the classic positive feedback loop that fuels the spiral: a shrinking money supply causing increased musical-chairs tension and thus more defaults, more caution, more deflation, and so on. The ‘cure’ is to somehow reactivate confidence in the future, to stimulate growth by encouraging banks to lend and consumers to spend.

(Orthodox economics will tell you that interest earned is fed back into the economy in a closed circle and thus need not lead to the dynamic I describe. To convince, this academic logic must overlook the pattern of history and with it the context of civilizational expansion, among other things. Qualified experts of the late 19th and early 20th century wrote very convincing books on how manned flight was impossible. Qualified experts can be wrong. Indeed, radical discoveries tend to happen outside orthodoxy, as one would expect.)

All the phenomena described are systemic effects of our debt-money system. They are not the consequences of some natural law. Jungles and forests, and non-human populations grow to a certain point then reach steady-state growth. Why shouldn’t the economy?

It should, or it will collapse. To mature to steady state, the money creation/destruction system needs to be fundamentally redesigned. The redesign I find most sound (Infomoney) will be the subject of later posts. In conclusion, it’s not exponential but steady-state growth we need. Understanding why this is so requires thinking far outside the mainstream box, and is thus studiously unexamined within it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Guaranteed Income, or Something Else?



This and my next few posts are going to be somewhat news-houndy. I’m going to select a few ‘mainstream’ articles and highlight what I see as deficient in their reasoning. In a few weeks’ time, subsequent posts will lay out what I believe to be the best alternative to the current money system, an idea – Infomoney – that would require and encourage sufficiently deep change. Absent a sufficiently deep, broad and loving – not fearful – revolution, things will continue to slip away towards the abyss, no matter how well-meaning any particular proposal that only tweaks the status quo.

In a recent post, Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism analyses what she calls a past guaranteed income scheme that failed horribly: the Speenhamland System of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. I had not heard of the scheme, so was interested to read about it. The point of her article is to dissuade readers from supporting the guaranteed income idea, and promote her preferred alternative, a job guarantee programme. This post is my response to her analysis.
It is also intriguing that this historical precedent is likely to resemble a contemporary version of a basic income guarantee. Even though some readers call for a stipend to everyone, that simply is not going to happen, at least in terms of net results. It is massively inflationary, since most of it would fuel consumption.
This is a pragmatic argument, at least on the surface. All we can realistically expect, Yves Smith reasons, is some watered-down “version” of a guaranteed income, which is what Speenhamland was. In other words, not a guaranteed income worthy of the name, but a tweaked welfare scheme that favours existing power structures and vested interests. The powers that be are, after all, very powerful, and will only allow to come to fruition that which serves their interests. Therefore, a guaranteed income scheme worthy of the idea “simply is not going to happen”. Further, the more genuine the guaranteed income, the more it will fuel consumption and thus spur on environmental damage, and nobody wants that.

This is a fair argument if we don’t think outside the box and if we want to accept things are more-or-less fine as they are (as the elite would have us believe). But the faux pragmatism on display above sidesteps what I see as the whole raison d’être of a guaranteed income, which I expand on below. Basically, this opening gambit renders the rest of hercritique superfluous. By its logic, there can be no guaranteed income realistically speaking, so don’t want one. Why there can’t be is not addressed in any detail, so we have to take it on faith. My sense is that Yves Smith believes the money system can’t accommodate it. For example, “Taxes would therefore need to be increased to offset those [inflationary] effects.” The strong implication is that this “is not going to happen” either.

Indeed, taxes would have to be increased to ‘fund’ any basic income guarantee worth its salt, particularly if we don’t revolutionise other key institutions like the money system, Big Government, property law, education, agriculture, etc. Anything less will be an insufficiently deep revolution – if a revolution at all – and would fail to introduce and sustain steady-state economics, a vitally needed change if we are to end our systemic addiction to perpetual economic growth. Perpetual economic growth is in my opinion the most pragmatic consideration we face, far more so than (apparently) having to accept the money system as it currently stands. Such argumentation betrays real wishful thinking: the money system is the main driver of perpetual growth (more below), an impossibility on a finite planet.
The justices of Berkshire decided to offer income support to supplement wages, with the amount set in relation to the price of bread and the number of children in the household, so that the destitute would have a minimum income no matter what they earned.
Speenhamland was a means-tested supplement to wages and was about preventing outright destitution and starvation. It was not about freeing people to contribute to society from their passions, nor was it about dissolving class divisions based on money-wealth. The article is thus comparing apples and oranges while insisting a genuine guaranteed income ain’t gonna happen anyway. A guaranteed income would be guaranteed, or unconditional, and would enable all its recipients to refuse shitty jobs. Arguing that something Speenhamland-like is all we can expect is, in essence, a strawman argument. It is also defeatist in that it echoes elitist TINA reasoning, thus (unwittingly?) arguing for the very system Yves Smith purports to challenge at her blog. Indeed, the whiff of elitism is detectable throughout the article, e.g.:
People need a sense of purpose and social engagement. Employment provides that. [... snip …] Too many of the fantasies about a basic income guarantee seem to revolve around a tiny minority, like the individual who will write a great novel on his stipend. Let’s be real: the overwhelming majority of people who think they might like to write a book don’t have the self-discipline to do so in the absence of external pressure.
Note the judgmental language rooted in elitist ideas about value. Is the insufficient self-discipline alluded to a result of ‘human nature’ and thus insoluble? Are humans ‘lazy by nature’ after all? Yves Smith appears to be propagating an elitist point of view here, siding with Hobbes’ observation that nothing gets done unless the Iron Hand of Big Government or The State is there to threaten the masses to coordinated action. Implied in this argument too is that the only value (a vital word in all of this) in e.g. writing a novel lies in its greatness. Does this mean that we should prevent people from writing unless they produce a Great Work? And who judges greatness? Those academic experts who Know What They’re Talking About? This rhetoric applies to all forms of artistic expression of course. And what of more ‘lowly’ ambitions like learning languages, gardening, permaculture, musical instruments, dancing, etc.? Is all of that a waste of everybody’s time unless ‘greatness’ is produced, or widgets for sale? And are the current delusions of grandeur of a “tiny minority” really an argument against guaranteed income? Surely they are the result of a broadly defunct social system, the very system Naked Capitalism purports to challenge and expose.

Not only “employment” provides a sense of purpose (I’d say employment-as-job distracts from the deep and abiding absence of purpose most strive to ignore until retirement finally exposes it). Passionate interest provides a robust sense of purpose when it emerges from our inner being, and also gives rise to heartfelt social engagement as a calling. To get people in touch with their passions, their loves, to foster durable confidence in them and thus in their calling, we need a deep revolution in education, in city design, in distribution systems, in government, etc. Basically, any sufficiently radical change in one area requires correspondingly radical change everywhere else. Hence a guaranteed income scheme worthy of the idea can only work alongside other fundamental changes. Plopping a scheme of whatever shade onto society as it currently stands will not work, just as Speenhamland did not.

Yves Smith argues for a job guarantee. I’m wary of this idea because I’m wary of the centralised decision making it would require. Further, I could (disingenuously) argue that we tried a job guaranteed programme already. It was called state communism and didn’t work out. Modern proponents of a job guarantee argue that local government would decide what jobs are created based on local needs (a good thing), but where would their budget come from? I assume central government combined with local taxes (a bad thing), otherwise there’d be autonomous local money systems, something I don’t see proposed. If it’s the money system that is doing the ultimate affording, decision making about state-funded jobs will be centralised to a significant degree.

Also, absent other changes, a job guarantee would increase consumption and perpetuate economic growth, as Yves Smith argues of ‘guaranteed income’. In other words, whatever change we introduce, be it a new welfare system or a job guarantee programme or guaranteed income, unless we also end our addiction to perpetual growth we’ll just be rearranging deck chairs on the titanic. Indeed, we’ll probably accelerate towards the iceberg if all we do is give more people more spending power. As William Ophuls argues in Immoderate Greatness, “As a process, civilization resembles a long-running economic bubble. Civilizations convert found or conquered ecological wealth into economic wealth and population growth.” I fail to see how this core, destructive civilizational pattern can be ended unless the money system is revolutionized (alongside other changes). The best alternative I have seen is Franz Hörmann’s Infomoney, and I’ll be laying it out here at Econosophy in a few weeks’ time.

In conclusion, the arguments levelled by Naked Capitalism at guaranteed income (or some roughly similar scheme) can be levelled at all similar proposals. My point here is that there is no silver bullet. The deep driver of perpetual growth – the elephant in the room that Yves Smith, to give her her due, is prepared to address from time to time – is the underlying money system as the expression or sustainer of the state (civilization) project. If money continues to be created as interest-bearing debt that is extinguished from the economy upon repayment (debt-money must thus be continually issued to ensure a sufficient supply into the economy, exponentially more than was initially created to cover interest owed and prevent deflation); if, further, money and money equivalents are viewed at the cultural level as wealth and stores of value that earn interest (grow exponentially); if, in sum, being money-rich is better than being money-poor as a defining property of the system, then we have a system that cannot help but require perpetual economic growth if it is not to collapse. Changing this system fundamentally such that it no longer drives growth requires correspondingly fundamental changes to private property (which undergirds the money system in the form of collateral), to the state itself (which protects private property) and by extension to state institutions like education, law and the market (what is market without private property). Calling for such radical change is only unrealistic and thus pointless if infinite growth is possible on a finite planet.

A guaranteed income fits well into the radical changes I touch on above. It trusts people to make the best choices regarding how they, as individuals, keep society going (we need love-based not fear-based solutions, i.e. people are lazy and have to be controlled or everything will just rot). It would help demote money from its current too-lofty position as primary indicator of social rank, and help shift focus to actual accomplishments that would be valued in more nuanced and humane ways. As such, guaranteed income marries up well with the Demote money, promote wealth direction that, in my opinion, resource-based economics would be. Until we are able to establish cultural institutions, myths, and systems that have as their focus ecological and human health, we will likely allow ourselves to be guided by abstractions thereof, which historically have had to do with simplistic numerical measurements (e.g. GDP, price) of subjective but central concepts like value and wealth. These deep social concepts are pivotal issues in this broad debate, for we cannot be guided by mere numbers towards the richly nuanced and healthy relationships with Self and Other a humane and sustainable future surely requires.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Golden Rule

Every one of us is free to change at least one part of the world: ourselves.
Paul Anton de Lagarde
In a recent post, I suggested that reality acts as a mirror that reflects back at us what we are learning about ourselves. In many ways, this is a corollary of What you do unto others, so you do unto yourself: the Golden Rule. Such sayings and metaphors are designed to remind us that the separation we experience between Subject Self and Object Other is illusory.

It wouldn’t surprise me if visitors to a blog whose banner promises philosophical analysis of economics fail to see the relevance to the site’s stated intent of such (and recent) musings, but I have come to realise that nothing is more relevant. Our relationship with Other or World Out There is in fact our relationship with our self, and this unexamined relationship informs most profoundly all that we do, economics included. This relationship becomes more relevant still when we are confronted with what we hate and fear. Holding us in this stifling space is probably the primary aim of the politics that now holds global sway.

How quickly are we able to feel that our own hated and feared Enemy Other is none other than our shadow self, and with what courage and humility do we traverse this space? Addressing this fully and honestly opens the door to true maturity. If you want to know what kind of a person you are, it helps to look at how you handle what you fear and hate.

Terrorism, Population Growth, Immigration, Money, Sex, Decadence, Hierarchy, Anarchy, Order, Chaos, Religion, Science, Ignorance, Liberalism, Conservativism, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Fanatic, New Age Hippie … How do we handle these symbols and people in our lives, these putative wrongs and rights? How do we handle our passions when discussing them, or when confronted with ‘irrational’ opposition to what we know is right?

This sort of rhetoric stems from a very old wisdom, as old as language no doubt; we all know one variant or other of the Golden Rule. But how does it play out in our day-to-day lives, how do we act on it? By way of a recent personal experience, and with my tongue somewhat in my cheek, that is the subject of this post.

Yesterday I found myself shouting at my image in the bathroom mirror that I disgust myself. My eyes burned with unguarded hatred. I was stunned by the savagery of my loathing, looked down and mumbled a reflexive apology to the floor. But the damage had been done; I could not ignore the ugliness I had voiced. Where had it come from?

I am ona six-week holiday in the Philippines, but this is not a run-of-the-mill holiday. A string of persistent ailments has crippled me to the extent that I cannot be active apart from reading in bed and typing at my laptop, both of which I could equally well do at home. But this holiday was long in the planning and is something of a reunion for my wife’s family. It would have been unthinkable not to come.

The ailments make me feel impotent, trapped, and have done for months. A good night’s sleep is a distant memory. All I can do in reaction to the ailments that have me in their grip is wait. I cannot make them go away with yoga, push-ups, squat thrusts, star jumps, anger, will power, prayer, medicine, anything. All I can do is wait. Experts have not helped, diet makes no difference, pain killers diminish in effectiveness and I do not want to become addicted to them. So I wait. And in waiting I feel impotent. This is a tedious and painful process I cannot change, cannot expedite, cannot resolve with intelligence, wit or will. I am at its mercy.

I am very radical in my thinking, passionate about my beliefs, and impatient to spread the news, to shepherd others into The Light. But I hate (and love) to proselytise, and have put a lot of effort in recent years into restraining my tendency to brow beat conversation partners. Nevertheless, my recurring perception is that Joe and Jane Public have no clue how little they know, do not want to notice anything particularly historic is afoot, that there is such a thing as a money system, that politics is a sham, and that state/corporate propaganda has their thinking gently but firmly in its grip. I want to believe this is a situation I can change for the better with my intelligence, determination, will, compassion, wisdom, etc. But it seems here too I am impotent. All I really do is preach to the choir.

On holiday in the Philippines, I am in the company of a section of Phillipine society that has a worldview fully opposed to mine: conservative, materialistic, bombastic, paranoid, knee-jerk, unquestioning, blindly loyal, viscerally religious. My worst nightmare. My Enemy Other. From where I sit, it spawns All That Is Wrong With The World. With patient and compassionate reasoning surely I can make them Get It.

But from past experience I know that, to them, I am All That Is Wrong With The World. If it weren’t for people like me, the world would be a better place. I’m a woolly-headed, liberal treehugger who has no clue how the real world works, a naïve-but-dangerous meddler and by golly we have no need for any more of them.

What to do? How can I reach these people? How can I help them Get It? Well, I can’t. I’m not patient enough, not calm enough, not knowledgeable enough, not charismatic enough, not handsome enough, not skilled enough. My few forays into introducing even the faintest outline of what I believe quickly founder: I talk a language they seem to be incapable of hearing. Or perhaps they can smell my carefully concealed missionary zeal…

So when certain trigger topics come up in conversation at dinner parties – such as the recent terrorist attack in Paris – I burn to reveal my superior wisdom but bite my tongue instead. I hear views and witness reactions to events that fly in the face of everything I believe. But I bite my tongue. I am a guest here, a weird vegan who is very difficult to feed (animal rights!?), the recipient of endlessly warm generosity and grace in this stunning country, so I bite my tongue. But inside I boil. My impotence, self-inflicted or not, is a deep insult to my pride, my chosen mission, my soul.

This combination of physical and moral impotence had been gathering in intensity, and led inexorably, I suggest, to my outburst in the bathroom. “You disgust me!”

It was a bark, a belch of repressed and poisonous anger, my face a rictus of loathing. My body sagged in front of my eyes, disgusting, unworthy of love, a failure. My worst nightmare.

And it struck me suddenly, as I tried to ignore the sting of my hot glare, that that look is exactly the one I hurl at my loved ones when they disaapoint me, when their way of being contradicts the Beautiful World I know we all ought to be fighting for. When they don’t love a film I love, play too long on the computer, don’t Get It, don’t turn off the bathroom light, are not as deeply moved as I am by something or other, are too excited about something that has no possible value, etc., etc., etc. When they don the garb of Enemy Other. When they are suddenly that which I hate. When they do not merrily subscribe to or fit my oh-so-carefully constructed and elegant programme.

Do I? Am I good enough for me? Do I deserve a place in the coming More Beautiful World?

Charles Eisenstein talks very eloquently about the futility of confrontation, of hot, oppositional argument, of seeing Enemy in Other then attacking it, exposing it to itself as Wrong, of using logic, reason, rationality, compassion, patience, every weapon you have to demonstrate the obvious and divine superiority of Self. I have listened to his talks over and over again and agree. I agree, Charles, I really do and am a good servant of the light, but out there in the Real World people are just soooo damned Wrong, so obviously Wrong! What good has all my studying and writing and patient arguing been if I cannot demonstrate how very Right I am to anyone at all?

You know the answer to all this as well as I do, I’m sure. What surprises me is how often I have to repeat the dance of battling my Enemy Other without realising I am at war with myself, or rather am ignited by my unexamined relationship with what I secretly think of as ugly qualities inside me. Indeed, this is so secret I hardly even know the ugliness is there, so focused am I on Beauty. After all, I’m no zealot! I’m reasonable! I really listen to the other guy. I do! And then I say, calmly, “Yes, but don’t you think that …” and fail to kill him sofly with my well-crafted song.

So when I looked down at my feet in shame, embarrassed by my own savagery, something else hit home, hard and clear. I’m my enemy. Which means I’m not. Which means the ‘problem’ is the battling itself, the fear-based need to control all outcomes. Under the shock I felt the stirings of relief.

Somewhere deep in that realisation is a truly sympathetic way of relating to Other, of embracing all that I am, of celebrating diversity. Somewhere.

I am Universe because I cannot be extracted from it and it cannot be extracted from me. Universe is Toby Russelling through me for some unfolding reason Toby Russell cannot fully discern. My life is not my own. I am a living verb intimately interconnected with all other verbs of Universe, and this unfathomably beautiful and fierce verb-song’s self-exploratory unfolding is Universe (or Multiverse, or God, or All That is, etc.).

What’s not to like. What’s not to love. If I can feel that as self love and return to that feeling, stay in touch with it somehow and on the whole, maybe I will have begun to do what we can all do: change ourselves and thus everything else by changing nothing at all, but by loving self as other, other as self. By remembering how deep love is. This is not admonition, this is not force or power leveraged to some desired end, it is simply allowing love to flow.

Surely this is the beginning of genuine action.