Friday, December 30, 2011

It's Complex Out There

The older I get and the more I study, the more people I exchange ideas with, here and elsewhere, the harder I find it to see clear objectives. Indeed, the process is akin to seeing a once clear objective evaporate. All I am left with is participation and contribution, and both are muddy. It is not that there is no bad deed to battle, no soured system to turn to some ‘higher’ purpose or ‘functioning,’ it is rather that the ‘steps’ and ‘decisions’ to be taken appear more and more arbitrary to me. It is as if all that matters is our wisdom, our consciousness, and our broadest intent, not so much the details of the System du Jour we find ourselves in. And further, that even these vague caveats be qualified by a ‘what will be will be’ philosophy.

Perhaps some quotes from two Pixar films will help explain my ‘position.’ The first is a pivotal scene from “A Bug’s Life”, in which the leader of the bad guys (bad grasshoppers, actually), Hopper, gives a motivational talk to his troops, who kinda sorta wanna chill, quaff beer, and pork out on snacks in the delicious Mexican sun, not go out of their way to Do The Right Thing and quash an ‘upstart’ member of the ant colony they tyrannize to sustain their way of life.
Hopper: But, there was that ant that stood up to me...

Thug 1: Yeah, but we can forget about him!

Thug 2: Yeah ... it was just one ant.

Hopper: You’re right! It’s just one ant.

Thug 2: Yeah, boss! They’re puny!

Hopper: Puny? Say, let’s say this grain is a puny little ant. [Pulls a seed-grain from a jerry-rigged liquor bottle behind the ‘bar’ and throws it at Thug 2. Grain bounces harmlessly off grasshopper’s exoskeleton.] Did that hurt?

Thug 2: Nope.

Hopper: [Takes another grain from the bottle.] How ‘bout this one. [Throws grain at Thug 1.]

Thug 1: Are you kiddin’! [Chorus of thugs laughs uproariously.]

Hopper: How about THIS! [Rips ‘grain dispenser’ from the bottleneck to let thousands of grains flood out, overwhelming the assembled thugs.] You let one ant stand up to us, then they all might stand up. Those puny little ants outnumber us a hundred to one! And if they ever figure that out, there goes our way of life! It’s not about food, it’s about keeping those ants in line. That’s why we’re going back! Does anybody else wanna stay? [Entire group dutifully ‘activates’ its wings as one, ready to ride off and do their duty.]
I’m not interesting in discussing the 99% analogies that leap off the page here. I'm getting at something else. In my mind the grasshopper character “Hopper” is named after Dennis Hopper, an actor gifted at playing spooky bad guys. I mention this because it links us to a film which presents free riding ‘cool’ dudes in a very different light; “Easy Rider”. In “A Bug’s Life”, it is, in a sense, the bourgeois collective (the ants) who are the Good Guys, while the free riding fun lovers are assigned the antagonist’s role. In “Easy Rider” it is the other way around; the bourgeois collective must be rebelled against, escaped, as its cloying grasp limits freedom and smothers creativity. Furthermore, I can easily imagine a Pixar cartoon in which ants were characterless, rapacious drones, and grasshoppers sensitive, musical troubadours with poet souls yearning to create their most beautiful songs. ‘Evil’ is that which challenges us to leave our comfort zone behind, to move ‘beyond’ our current state to something ‘higher’ or ‘wiser.’ Evil is not intrinsic to one mode of life or another. Antagonism is inevitable in a reality which is complex and multifaceted. How we deal with antagonism is, in a limited way, up to us. ‘Evil’ creates the space in which progress can happen.

Good or Evil? The versatile Dennis Hopper challenges us in all his roles.

The next scene comes from “Ratatouille”, one of my favourite films. In this scene the pragmatic Rat Dad tries to show his idealistic son (Remy) the harsh realities of rat life. Dad takes son to see a store selling traps and poisons for killing rodents. The window display is gruesome for a rat; tens of dead rats hanging by their necks from various implements of death.
Dad: We’re here. [ It’s dark, but two flashes of lightning illuminate the rat corpses.] Take a good, long look, Remy. This is what happens when a rat gets a little too comfortable around humans. The world we live in belongs to the enemy. We must live carefully. We look out for our own kind, Remy! When all is said and done, we’re all we’ve got. [Walks off, thinking the lesson is over. Remy stays put.]

Remy: No.

Dad: What?

Remy: No! Dad, I don’t believe it. You’re telling me that the future is ... can only be, more of THIS!? [Points at rat corpses.]

Dad: This is the way things are. You can’t change nature.

Remy: Change is nature, Dad! The part that we can influence. And it starts when we decide.
“Ratatouille” is a better and subtler film than “A Bug’s Life” (in my opinion). It’s as if the two films represent two statements on the same problem, the earlier film taking a standard position (the ‘bad’ guy is defeated), whereas in “Ratatouille” the threat is transformed into a creative partnership. The later film deftly wields multiple antagonists, but the main ‘bad’ guy literally becomes the hero’s business partner. (I hope that’s not giving away too much for those who have not seen this wonderful film.) And for me this is what antagonism (‘evil’) is about; change. We either manage change creatively, or we don’t (though I’m loathe to present a binary!). And of course when we manage change creatively, we set up some ‘better’ situation which itself is antagonistic to some other system. A life without challenge cannot create anything new, cannot evolve. And in that melee, we each perceive (experience) comfort and discomfort, pleasure and pain, in greatly varying degrees.

I am on holiday in Italy with my own family of four, my sister-in-law’s family, and my parents-in-law. Aside from my good self, everyone here loves Christmas, loves the toys, the gifts, the abundance, the drinking, the hedonism and indulgence. Lip-service is paid to ‘being together,’ but every day is about consumption, shopping, spending. And if not that, watching TV. The young ones play computer games. On (what is for me) the plus side, there’s been a fair bit of scrabble, and my elder daughter’s gifts were her own creations for the main part. One was even a piano piece she discovered online and learned with great self-discipline, then played to her aunt. And it is here my duality is highly visible to me (and you I’m sure). At Econosophy I write about deep societal change, less is more, transition to a resource-based economy. Here in Mirano I mention no such thing, stand on no soap box, seize no opportunity to berate my fellow revelers for their ‘mindless’ consumption. I am middle class, so would not enjoy the subsequent tensions, but deeper than that I realize we all walk different paths. There is no such thing as equality, except in the abstract world of mathematics and scientific measurement. There is no pure, clean path we must tread as one, loyally follow to reach one single destination, a city shining on a high hill, best for all, the best that humanity can achieve. Though I am romantic and idealistic, I know deeply such visions are exactly as ‘evil’ and divisive as that which I see as ‘bad’ and ‘wrong’ in the world ‘out there.’ There is not one tune we should march in lockstep to which can possibly be good. Mess is beauty. Mess is mucky. Celebrate that.

And my duality (or hypocrisy) runs deeper than that rendering. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with enjoying Christmas in all its consumerist glory, with singing the Santa Claus-Coca Cola, Good Child-Bad Child song; with playing along with the ‘crowd,’ going with the flow. We are all of us socialized by the ongoing dance of our biology and the events we pass through. For thousands of reasons I become what I become, perceive as I perceive, desire, fear, hope as Toby Russell does. Pride of ‘accomplishment’ is misplaced, totally egotistical. I am the flow of my life, as are you of yours. That I go ‘against’ the mainstream is neither here nor there. If doom-based predictions are right, if our ‘greed’ were to cause civilizational collapse, would that be more or less ‘evil’ than a meteor wiping out life on earth? Or the sun exploding?

And yet none of this moral relativism detracts from my passion to fight for what I see as a ‘better’ system. I still love humanity, life on earth, Universe. Such feelings are expressions of what I am becoming, but have next to nothing to do with what I can ‘control.’ What these tendrils binding me to the mainstream do is humble me. Though I get angry at injustice and short sighted profligacy, perfection is not only an impossibility, striving for it is almost cruel. While I do not want short sighted profligacy to wipe us out, it is not because such would be ‘evil,’ but simply because I do not want that outcome. Fighting for what I want does not mean accusing others of being less Good than I am oh so nobly struggling to be. Such is not only counter-productive, it is short sighted. No one can be handed wisdom by me (however well written or reasoned); there exists no finished ‘wisdom’ that can be handed over. Each of us develops our own, unique wisdom; art is communicating it, sharing it. I would go so far as to say that is what living is, for amoebas, coral reefs, forests, herrings, hedgehogs and humans alike. And all together as Universe too, for life is not a separate or alien phenomenon, weirdly and inexplicably around for a moment until the ‘natural’ pitilessness of Universe can carry on as it was before. Life is as inextricably Universe as ‘barren’ rock drifting the depths of space, or as nuclear forces. And I say that knowing we do not yet understand anything, life most of all perhaps, not to mention time and gravity. So while I do get angry, and shout at Those Idiots, such does not help that fight which has chosen me; it just gets in the way, slows me down.

We are our own worst enemies. But without that defect, could we do anything at all? What would we be without our ‘enemy’ within? And thus, in my round-about way, I get to thank you, dear readers, for keeping me grounded, challenging me, offering me your wisdom in your art, and helping me change creatively, even if it hurts sometimes. And thank you too to those who don’t resonate with my art, who walk very different paths. Whatever we do choose and create, we’re in this together, in ways both great and small, intimate and remote. We would wither to dried flotsam were antagonism not in our midst. We get to try and enjoy it while it lasts.

Peace, pain, change and a good life to all!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Our Augean Stables

Augeas, King of Elis, was proud owner of one thousand divine cattle, all housed in vast stables that hadn’t been cleaned in thirty years. No one knows the exact tonnage of dung those beasts had produced in that time, but it didn’t bother Augeas; the cattle were divine and hence could not get sick. He was a very proud and ensconced king of Elis. Until, one day, a famous hero visited him, and took a shine to his beautiful heifers.

Heracles wanted one hundred of Augeas’ cattle, so offered to clean their stables in one day. Augeas, convinced the task was totally impossible, accepted the offer, not knowing Heracles had a cunning plan; rerouting the rivers Alpheus and Peneus. Heracles ripped a hole in two of the stables’ walls, dug a trench through the stables and to the rivers, rerouted their waters and washed the dung away. Augeas was royally miffed, more so when he discovered Eurystheus had set his heroic opponent this task as one of the famous Twelve Labours (Eurystheus was Hera’s choice in a battle she fought against Zeus, who had chosen Heracles to be his hero—even heroes are pawns to the gods). Augeas refused to pay up, so Heracles, as one might expect, killed him.

Heracles battles the Hydra

Out with the old, in with the new. But of course there is plenty to this myth which is appropriate to all sorts of situations. Zeus and Hera had set Heracles and Eurystheus in hot contest with one another, to determine which of the two would earn the honour of being the hero fated to usher in the long reign of the Twelve Olympians. The victorious hero would kill off the old guard, the old beasts still holding power on earth. So not only are the stables cleansed of accumulated junk in this part of the tale, the deed itself was a task set by an aspiring hero chosen by an ambitious goddess hungry for the honour of backing the right man in fulfilling a long prophesied destiny. What screams out at me in all this is adversarial competition, opposites struggling against one another, producing change and, to some eyes, ‘progress.’ A kind of Hegelian dialectic; thesis and antithesis yielding a higher truth, a synthesis, a ‘progression’ to something new. Competition breeding cooperation, or cooperation as an overarching ‘outcome’ of competition. I think this is how we see reality for thousands of years, as a battle of opposites. While we do, reality ‘complies’ by showing us that of its ‘selves’ our presumptions selectively reveal. This isn’t solipsistic, more of a multi-trillion node tango of infinite counter-influences and caused causes.

At a narrower angle there is the theme of unattended business, or procrastination, perhaps hubris. Because Augeas’ cattle are divine, he can ignore their waste. But the countryside is not divine. While the cattle can remain healthy forever, Augeas’ casual confidence is a threat to the future; the stables are not infinitely big, must overflow at some point, by which time perhaps even a hero of Heracles’ stature wouldn’t be up to the task. The parallel to our modern situation is obvious. Human Progress (now enshrined in GDP Growth) is divine, must go on forever, should go on forever, because it is inherently Good and Right, no matter the finite nature of the environment supporting our ‘ascent.’ We can sustain belief in infinite growth while our stables hold, but if we wait too long, our effluent will overpower the supporting environment and we will be washed away by the resulting collapse.

And yet manure, as we all know, is fertilizer. It is only a problem if used incorrectly, in this case left to accumulate in one spot. And here another parallel emerges; hoarding and desert. Being usury-based, our money system encourages hoarding. Being elitist-based our broader, hierarchical system assigns the largest rewards to those most ‘deserving’ of them. We ‘decide’ who is most deserving of the largest slices of the pie via the so-called ‘free’ market. Because we Just Know this ‘free’ market ‘impartially’ distributes money rewards to the most ‘deserving,’ it necessarily produces, over the long term, the best possible outcomes for all, as long as there is no interference (an obvious impossibility). What we actually experience is stubbornly growing rich and poor divides (hoarding), with the rich fearfully defending their cash cows, because they, as if by divine right, ‘deserve’ them, Market says so; Market says they are kings all. We must not ‘punish’ success, hence things stay as they are, rich-poor divides and all. Muck accumulates, being muck precisely because it accumulates. Sadly, the deeper aspects of what it is to ‘deserve’ a reward are not explored in the mainstream. One of them is of course free will, a concept at least very difficult, if not, then probably impossible to prove, and that’s before we even look at the impossibility of ‘equal’ opportunities.

Daniel Pinchbeck, author, journalist, and writer of the film “2012, Time for Change” describes money as fertilizer, perhaps as a new twist on ‘stinking rich.’ We should put (invest) money there where it will yield the healthiest returns. What “healthy returns” might be needs to be discussed. As readers of this blog know, I am not for mindless consumerism, and support strongly any redesign of the money system which encourages gift giving, stronger community, ‘individual’ health and societal health (i.e., low crime, high ‘freedom’ to live life as creatively and generously as possible), open education systems, maximum political and emotional maturity for all, a prevention-based not cure-based health system, renewable energies, etc. One part of achieving this would be to keep money flowing, to prevent hoarding. I suspect one part of that is losing the casual confidence of King Augeas in believing in our divine right, that simply because we are human, we deserve to multiply infinitely upon the face of the earth, then out into space, forever. I expect a far richer and maturer confidence would emerge if we managed this new humility, and not the barren and system-rescuing ‘austerity’ parroted by the financial industry, and their two stooges the mainstream media and political actors.

On a personal level, we all have our own Augean Stables. In a small way, Econosophy is a place where I share some of my negativity with anyone who cares to comment (I too like to bitch and moan). I am here, at a late stage in my life, growing up in public. There are articles I posted here which embarrass me now, but I will not delete them. I noticed a line I had written of which I am now deeply ashamed; “Bankers are the scum of the earth.” I leave all that crap out there to remind myself how I have progressed through this learning arc I was set on by Peter Joseph’s “Zeitgeist: Addendum”, and to try and teach myself patience with others, and with myself. None of us is perfect. I ‘fail’ again and again. But better to have out with it than let it fester in some dark corner, convinced the Bright Toby, the bits of me I’m proud of, are immortal, divine, forever robust and healthy, unaffected by the dark. There is no separation, no matter how clearly we think we can see it. Dark and light are matters of perception, each suggesting the other, each meaningful in a vast and seamless web we call Universe. And it is beautiful.

So the opposites we perceive are not necessarily opposites. There is something about this stage of our wisdom that needs to see reality this way, split it into good and bad, light and dark, for just while longer. This is changing though, and quickly now I feel. Good and bad guys in our literature, in film, are softening, becoming complex, tortured, blurred. In some films it is impossible to tell which is which. And a growing number of us prefer it that way, welcome that richness. It feels more accurate, more nuanced, human, natural. The clumsy old opposites feel antiquated, childish, obvious, boring. The new song of wisdom emerging through this crisis in part transcends clumsy opposites, and recognises context, perception, history and creativity together determine what levels of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ we can work into existence, perceive into existence, imagine. This is part of what it means to recognise that it’s up to us, that we are as involved in the process of wising up as those we berate for blocking our progress, our ‘freedom.’

In a few days the northern hemisphere will pass through its longest night. Many will celebrate the imminence of spring, of renewal, in a tradition preceding Christianity by millennia. Bob Dylan sung, “They say the darkest hour is right before the dawn.” There’s something to that, but no two dawns are alike, and the same goes for our darkest hours. And though we are always hoarding, always cleansing, always failing and succeeding, I strongly believe we, as a species, are at the crossroads (crisis) of the profoundest change we have known. Staying humble and hopeful, though hard, is wisest. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Saturday, December 10, 2011

On Education

Over at Golem’s blog, under his latest post, I made a couple of comments referencing David Graeber’s perception that we are culturally suffering from a failure of nerve, a failure of imagination. This is the reason our outlook appears bleak. Not because it is bleak, but because we can’t see a way out. Writing for the Guardian about the Occupy movement in September this year, Graeber said:
But the ultimate failure here is of imagination. What we are witnessing can also be seen as a demand to finally have a conversation we were all supposed to have back in 2008. There was a moment, after the near-collapse of the world's financial architecture, when anything seemed possible. [ ... ] Even the Economist was running headlines like “Capitalism: Was it a Good Idea?” [ ... ] Then, in one of the most colossal failures of nerve in history, we all collectively clapped our hands over our ears and tried to put things back as close as possible to the way they’d been before.

Why did this happen? Obviously there are far more reasons than a mere blog post can address, but one of them is surely rooted in the education system. We are not put through that system to become critical thinkers, to question, to carry on learning. We are compulsorily put through that system to have our independence of spirit broken, to be made compliant, obedient, susceptible to advertising, propaganda, to fail to care enough about the indignity of factory-line work and consumerism. Consequently, faced with the challenge of creating a new model, we balked. We don’t have it in us. Not after our ‘education’ knocked it out of us, that is.

Now, those are aggressive and sweeping words, but I suggest they hold generally (there are always exceptions). Before I go on, I’d like to point out I do not believe in ‘control’ by supremely gifted puppet masters of some lumpen mass. I do not believe in Us and Them projections. As far as I’m concerned, it’s “We, the 100%,” at least, as a mode of perception more constructive long term than “We, the 99%,” as important as that perception is right now. Our predicament, our reality, is far subtler than Us and Them. Nevertheless, it does serve to look at broad brushstrokes sometimes, especially by way of guidance and as a process for encouraging critical thought.

John Taylor Gatto wrote a paper back in 2003 called, “How public education cripples our kids, and why.” He has written books too, which I strongly recommend. Gatto thoroughly researched the origins of public education, in particular the sort of thinking behind its design and purpose. He singles out Alexander Inglis and his 1918 book, “Principles of Secondary Education”. For Inglis, public education was to be “a fifth column into the burgeoning democratic movement that threatened to give the peasants and the proletarians a voice at the bargaining table.” Gatto then describes the six core functions of public education as understood by Inglis:
1) The adjustive or adaptive function. Schools are to establish fixed habits of reaction to authority. This, of course, precludes critical judgment completely. It also pretty much destroys the idea that useful or interesting material should be taught, because you can’t test for reflexive obedience until you know whether you can make kids learn, and do, foolish and boring things.
2) The integrating function. This might well be called “the conformity function,” because its intention is to make children as alike as possible. People who conform are predictable, and this is of great use to those who wish to harness and manipulate a large labor force.
3) The diagnostic and directive function. School is meant to determine each student’s proper social role. This is done by logging evidence mathematically and anecdotally on cumulative records. As in “your permanent record.” Yes, you do have one.
4) The differentiating function. Once their social role has been “diagnosed,” children are to be sorted by role and trained only so far as their destination in the social machine merits - and not one step further. So much for making kids their personal best.
5) The selective function. This refers not to human choice at all but to Darwin’s theory of natural selection as applied to what he called “the favored races.” In short, the idea is to help things along by consciously attempting to improve the breeding stock. Schools are meant to tag the unfit - with poor grades, remedial placement, and other punishments - clearly enough that their peers will accept them as inferior and effectively bar them from the reproductive sweepstakes. That’s what all those little humiliations from first grade onward were intended to do: wash the dirt down the drain.
6) The propaedeutic function. The societal system implied by these rules will require an elite group of caretakers. To that end, a small fraction of the kids will quietly be taught how to manage this continuing project, how to watch over and control a population deliberately dumbed down and declawed in order that government might proceed unchallenged and corporations might never want for obedient labor.

And it makes sense to the mindset of that era. Sir Ken Robinson campaigns vigourously for a revolution in the education system, as his talk to the RSA a short while ago attests. In the talk I link to, he says:
It [the education system] was conceived in the intellectual culture of the enlightenment, and in the economic circumstances of the industrial revolution. [ ... ] I believe we have a system of education which is modeled on the interests of industrialism, and in the image of it. [ ... ] We still educate children by batches, we put them through the system by age group. Why is there this assumption that the most important thing kids have in common is how old they are?

Gatto would answer that it serves the interests of industry. Lewis Mumford would point out that the ‘owners’ of the machinery hold the machinery in higher regard than the people it is supposed to serve. Chaplin’s “Modern Times” is replete with imagery conceived and composed in angry reaction to this basic truth.

Buckminster Fuller’s account of a childhood experience demonstrates clearly that mode of thinking (scarcity- and fear-based, mixed with what I think of as paternalistic and patrician pragmatism):
Just before I went to Harvard University in 1913 [ ... ] an “uncle” gave me some counsel. He was a very rich “uncle.”[ ... ] “Young man, I think I must tell you some things that won’t make you very happy. [ ... ] Those few of us who are rich and who really have the figures know that it is worse than one chance in one hundred that you can survive your allotted days in any comfort. It is not you or the other fellow; it is you or one hundred others. [ ... If] you have a family of five and wish to prosper—you’re going to have to do it at the expense of five hundred others. So do it as neatly and cleanly and politely as you know how and as your conscience will allow.”
“Utopia or Oblivion”, pp161-2

If you have the responsibility of keeping things going, if you know for certain there’s not enough to go around, of course you need to control the beast that is The Proletariat. The alternative is anarchy and revolution, a bloody waste of time since the outcome can only ever be the rebuilding of the same system with a different ‘elite’ at the helm.

I see no evil here, only people working with what they have. And that’s what we all do. Only, for various reasons I won’t go into here—apart from to again mention that nothing lasts forever, not even paradigms—we are confronted with the challenge of changing course. Our dying (or dead) paradigm is causing terrible damage to the environments which sustain us, social and ecological, and we need new tools and technologies (I use those words in the broadest possible sense) that were not taught us in a school system designed not only to perpetuate the status quo, but also to prevent critical thinking, as well as retard emotional and political maturity.

At the moment I’m studying to become a teacher (oh, the irony). The coursework has brought me again to my John Holt books. In “Instead of Education”, Holt has this to say:
You cannot have human liberty, and the sense of all persons’ uniqueness, dignity, and worth on which it must rest, if you give to some people the right to tell other people what they must learn or know, or the right to say officially and “objectively” that some people are more able and worthy than others. Let any who want to make such judgments make them privately and in the understanding that such judgments can only be personal and subjective. But do not give them any permanent or official position, or the liberty and dignity of your citizens will soon be gone.

For these reasons and others I often shout that we must self-educate, and support each other in our efforts. This is not an easy undertaking, and of course people will, and must be free to wander different paths. While we are engaged in this stage of our journeys and encouraging others to leave the existing paradigm and join us in creating the new, we must bear in mind that we are like a walking wounded, that self-education is also self-healing; that it must be, in some way, about community, and that we need each other too.

Meanwhile, we need not beat ourselves up about not having a ready plan to kick into gear, that our nerve failed, that our beaten down imaginations are having a hard time seeing light at the end of the tunnel. Nor need we despair (though that is part of growing out of the safety of the devil you know), for we can create, we can think critically, we are intelligent, we can find friends and like minds; wisdom is something we can all develop.

Indeed, there is wisdom everywhere we look. We just need to acquire the imagination to see it.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Given To Dream

The smell of early
punctual morning haze.
Grow out of bed into
your next move. The coffee

of bacon and cheese, orange juice,
the drive. In your movie, graded
to beauty, to best bland,
your next move still far

from the credits, the closing song.
No marketing campaign for you.
(But there is.) No product placement.
(But there is.) You are

on every screen you watch,
an actor, wool pulled over, vacuum packed,
fresh as the front-lawn daisy
your minty-breath dreams.

You are given to dream. Without it
you would not be. With it
you are much less; worn film
of tawdry fabric flecked

with the gold of our imagining;
a tube of toothpaste,
a deodorant, a new oven,
a holiday abroad. Earn it all

dreamed dreamer, and more.
Move on. Move, and move.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

From Here to There

This week I watched an hour long presentation made by two German pioneers (Andreas Popp and Rico Albrecht) in money-system thinking, which laid out the situation we're in, and what we might do about it. My wife, who yawns loudly at all talk of usury, compound interest, bonds, credit money and high powered money etc., found it inspiring and easy to understand. Since we were both of the same opinion, I thought it only helpful to pass on in English the meat of the matter to any and all interested. What is particularly exciting about their presentation to me, was how closely it echoes Charles Eisenstein's plan (which can be read online for free, by the way).

The pair have coined a new word they base on an ancient Greek term for 'usurer' or 'moneylender' (danista) to denote the entire system we suffer under today; "Danistacracy" (Danistakratie in German). I imagine you've already heard of alternative names for our compound interest system, such as Corporatocracy or Kleptocracy, which are instructive enough, but I think this one nails it, since the dynamic that really does the damage is compound interest. Far be it from me to assert this or that term as the best, and Danistacracy is certainly not catchy, but in its meaning the word is accurate and descriptive.

Just as with Charles Eisenstein and Franz Hoermann (and others), the pair are at pains to point out that it's not individual, evil people who are in the way of a Better World, but a system which organizes society along particular lines, with a particular flow and dynamic. To quote Charles Eisenstein once again:
This movement isn’t about the 99% defeating or toppling the 1%. You know the next chapter of that story, which is that the 99% create a new 1%. That’s not what it’s about. What we want to create is the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible.
We can't stay as we are, lop off a few heads, and expect anything other than a 'hello new boss, just like the old boss' event. Until we build from out of our own wisdom and ingenuity a system which transcends and improves on this functionally rapacious Danistacracy we are glued to its inevitable collapse. We have to work on ourselves, do that work, before the systemic and broader social solutions can flower from those efforts. Happily (or frustratingly, depending on your point of view) work on self and work on better systems is more or less the same thing. "The more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible" can only grow out of our intent to build it, and the know-how we learn while trying.

And now on to some graphics:

Popp and Albrecht use the classic pyramid shape to denote the hierarchical and upward flow of wealth to the 'controllers' of the compound interest system. The highest level are the owners and controllers of money themselves, the Danistacracy, who have placed between themselves and the lowest level the dual fogs of "Mainstream media" and "Political theatre", which together represent a kind of virtual reality the producers and doers are surrounded by at the logical bottom.

By the way, I have tweaked their graphic to make it appear more seamless than the original (theirs deploys distinct colours for each segment, and separate blocks to build the pyramid shape), preferring to try to reflect the general oneness of things. Of course there are lines of separation, but I don't believe they're absolute or impenetrable.

Of note is that Media sits above the "Political theatre" segment which, in the Popp/Albrecht presentation, is further subdivided into 'corrupt' and 'stupid' politicians; those who know the game is crooked but play it to line their own pockets, and those blindly loyal to this ideology or that. Either way, the media/politics region is, in its broad effect, a show, a self-sustaining virtual reality to divert attention from what the Matrix film so poetically called "The Real". This virtual reality hides the system's deepest dynamic, which is ongoing extortion of the producers and doers, an insatiable rapacity (how can usury be satisfied?) creating "The Desert of The Real", the destruction of the planet we are not permitted to see. Some figures to that end:
Professor Senf mentions the marriage of a poor boy to a rich girl. The figures are startling: Poor Boy earned 4,600 DM monthly, before tax, Rich Girl earned from interest over 650,000 DM daily (quoted from Bild, 27/7/1990). [snip] I wonder if Ms Quandt and Mr Klatten are still married, and if happily so.

Albrecht informs his audience that a billionaire with a normal investment spread in various stocks and bonds would earn 50 one-family homes every year simply as a 'reward' for possessing that much money. (And no, money cannot 'work for you.' While the money might have been 'earned,' the interest on it most certainly is not.) Whether your earnings on interest are 650,000 DM a day or the money equivalent of 50 houses a year, that kind of money-growth has to be backed by something. In other words, there have to be millions upon millions of not-so-rich producers and doers creating the goods and services that give that 'earned' interest its value. How could it be otherwise? If all of us 'earned' from interest that kind of income, what would we do with it? It would of course be hyper-inflationary. In brief, the Danistacracy system requires, by design, extreme rich-poor divides. And they are stubborn divides, precisely because they are systemically generated and required.

Another factoid or 'data point' Albrecht brings to our attention, is that having some money in the bank, say, 300,000 euros, does not mean you are a net beneficiary of the usury system. The 6,000 or so you might earn a year (gross) does not compensate for the hidden cost of interest repayments passed on by manufacturers, shippers and retailers everywhere. Prices are up to twice as high as they would be in an interest-free money system, according to Abrecht. That is, even if you are a net saver, inflation corrodes your wealth 'invisibly'—as the money supply grows faster than goods and services can—, while the simple passing on of debt-costs to customers, concealed in prices, 'steals' wealth too, hands it over to the Danistacracy. Albrecht tells us it is only those with 1,000,000 or more in relatively liquid assets who actually net-benefit; the famous, symbolic 1%. Again, and very importantly, this does not make them the enemy. As Gandhi said,"Love the sinner, hate the sin."

Also prominent in Albrecht's talk is the exponential function. He cites the German Green Party's demand for 2.8% growth, but points out that such would mean Germany producing twice as much as 25 years from now, four times as much 50 years from now, eight times as much 100 years from now, and so on. Why should we want to do this? Why is economic growth Good Beyond Question? Why aren't we discussing the obvious absurdity of such proposals? Because the usury system—which its beneficiaries will protect at all costs—must be left behind if we are to leave the Perpetual Growth Grave Train behind (yes, I do mean "Grave"!)

So, what to do? Here is their suggested 'solution' in graphic form:

(I have translated "Soziales Bodenrecht" as "The Commons", even though "Allmende" is the proper German word for "commons." Any help from my German readership would be appreciated!)

Econosophy's slogan is, "Demote money, promote wealth", which I see as a description of a direction, not of a goal. The point is of course that the journey is the destination, the means are the ends. There can be no end point we reach where we say, with relief, "Finished! At last we can stop working!" Change is the only constant. However, humans still need 'where we are now and where we're headed' linear-thinking crutches, so graphic representations serve us still, and help focus the mind on the broader points. They are:
  • A money which rewards investment in community, which captures the Piraha saying, "I store my meat in the belly of my brother." Hoarding 'wealth' to protect Me And Mine is actually, seen over the long term, a fear-based addiction which exacerbates itself—self-fulfilling prophecy—while slowly destroying community. Investing in the health of the networks which enable our healthy living makes far more sense. Negative interest money is a way of promoting such a wisdom. It demotes money and promotes wealth.
  • A guaranteed income, which decouples money and work, ends the notion that we must 'earn' a living. If we each receive a share of those fruits generated by the collective ingenuity of humanity and nature, we are notionally freed by these gifts to carry on contributing to that process which sustains us. It demotes money and promotes wealth.
  • Expanding the commons encourages us to recognize that property is a harmful illusion, which can only engender more fear and greed. To promote true wealth, which can only be the health of the broader system—including environment and community—we must be invested in it, 'know' we are components of it, that as we treat it, so we treat ourselves. The commons is the correct domain for encouraging this deep sharing.
  • A free press is part of the open and transparent dissemination of information, which I feel would be an absolute inevitability should we manage to construct a social system based on the other three themes thus far discussed. I would have had "Open education system" (or similar) in its place, but hey, I don't agree with anyone on everything, and a free press is certainly something humanity could use right now.
As to the steps they—Popp and Albrecht—propose to get us from here to there, it starts with legal measures, and proceeds to what I think of as secession should the 'legal' path fail.

First, they will draw up the details for a truly publicly owned central bank with a monopoly on money creation—no more commercial bank money creation. They think of this as a money commons in a left-wing way; a money creation process owned by the state. Now, I'm not a 100% fan of this idea, because it concentrates too much power in one organization, but would support it with reservations; negative interest money, an expanding commons and guaranteed income are part of the plan. I also have not heard Popp and Albrecht state that no other monies (e.g., Ithaca Hours) would be permitted, so my reservations are minor. At least Popp and Albrecht aren't proposing this and only this.

Second, national debts are to be forgiven. Or, they would arrange a pro-actively organized sovereign default. The details here involve buying back bonds from e.g. pension institutions and 'ordinary' citizens who have invested in government debt, by exchanging them for what Albrecht refers to as Bankguthaben. This is, to my English ears, a strange choice of words, since Guthaben can be variously translated as 'credit,' 'assets,' 'balance,' 'deposit,' and even 'money on account.' So in the absence of information to the contrary, I'm going to assume they mean negative interest money, which is what Eisenstein proposes; the targeted buying off of existing government debt with non-debt, negative interest money. In that all pensioners would be the recipients of a guaranteed income, this is nowhere near as draconian as it might seem. As for inflation; yes, says Albrecht, this act would be a one-time inflationary pressure, but considering the current system is suicidally inflationary by design, a short burst of inflation followed by a balancing out is the wiser choice, particularly when the alternative is driving the usury system ever onwards, until there's nothing left but blackened toast to peck at and squabble over.

(A brief aside on 'all money is debt:' When I say non-debt money, I mean money the government prints into existence, not borrows into existence. I believe the distinction is an important one.)

Albrecht then asks, somewhat rhetorically, if the solution is so obvious, how come representative democracy isn't delivering us from the insanity of the current money system? He supposes, for the sake of pursuing the 'legal' path, that the parties might be Too Busy dealing with the humdrum to put together the necessary laws for enacting such a plan. Popp's and Albrecht's institute are, therefore, with the help of constitutional and other lawyers, preparing precisely such a body of law, which they will present to the German government shortly. At least then it cannot be said this 'legal' avenue was not trod.

Should it transpire that the Popp/Albrecht Statute (or whatever such proposals are called) is not greeted with euphoria, they plan, as a necessary second 'legal' step, to write a new constitution for Germany. Such is granted by existing law in the event that citizens feel the government is not acting in their best interests. Again, the likelihood such a new constitution would usher in the sustainable system proposed is vanishingly small, so where they expect to be most active, and where they are investing their real energies, is in building the new system from scratch; secession, more or less.

The virtual reality created by the Mainstream media and Political theatre is very effective. We cannot expect to attract anything close to a majority with such ideas. Indeed, Popp reckons 5% of the population a tipping-point amount. In Germany that would be about 4 million souls. That's a whole bag of bananas right there, enough to include a rich vein of skills such as farming, plumbing, housebuilding, car maintenance, energy production (renewables), doctors, hospitals, IT expertise, lawyers, and so on. The point is to network, pool resources, build, learn, prepare. The act of 5% of the population leaving the existing system behind would collapse it, but there would then be something new to move over to, the requisite experience to take the strain, so to speak. Of course, there are no guarantees, but I don't see Doing Nothing as a reasonable option, and agree with Popp and Albrecht that we are in fact morally obliged to rebel. The system is that decadent and criminal, and obviously so.

I want to close with a quote from Europe's new banking overlord, Mario Draghi (thanks to Charles Wheeler for this):
What is clear then is that any fiscal integration will require fiscal discipline aka austerity and this in turn is the prerequisite for any imminent ECB liquidity and for Eurobonds over the medium-term. Yes, budget cuts will deepen the recessions in the periphery. But, there is no way around it; politically, no solution in Europe will unlock the sovereign debt crisis without fiscal consolidation. All of the political leaders are aware that this is so.
"All of the political leaders are aware this is so." Money is God. Obey, or perish. Price is the One True emissary of value. If a thing does not make economic sense (money-sense), it does not make sense. If it does not make money-profit, if it does not generate Economic Growth, it is not worth considering.

This is the binary thinking we are up against. We are morally obliged to rebel.