Friday, March 30, 2012

Ralph Boes, My New Hero (Part I)

[16.12.2012, corrected first sentence, which stated that Ralph Boes is a member of Die Piraten.]

Ralph Boes is a philosopher, author, was briefly a member of the Pirate Party (Die Piraten), and currently lives in Berlin. He has recently dedicated his life to bringing The System down. This he is doing by touring Germany and lecturing wherever people want to hear what he has to say. He charges nothing for this, but does it full time. The money he needs to financially sustain his chosen path he draws from the state under the Hartz IV programme. This programme does not permit you to work as you choose, but rather forces any type of work, often for €1 an hour, on those in need of its ‘largesse’. If you don’t work, you don’t eat, and the state gets to define, tightly, what is work, and what is not.

Some background on Hartz IV. Peter Hartz is an ex-chief human resources officer for Volkswagen, and a member of the political party the SPD. The SPD introduced the Hartz unemployment reforms in the mid 2000s under Chancellor Schroeder. Hartz IV is the lowest level thereof, Hartz I the highest. And though the idea of helping people back into work is noble enough, Hartz IV is so draconian it actually contravenes the German constitution, the first line of which reads, “Human dignity is inviolable; it is the obligation of all state authority to respect and protect it.” Hartz IV cannot respect human dignity, since it proceeds from the highly dubious premise that any work at all, no matter how poorly paid, meaningless or socially harmful, is better than ‘lazing around doing nothing.’ Working as a sweeper at a sweet factory is work, raising your children is not. Hence, a person who signs on the dotted line of the “Eingliederungsvereinbarung” (“incorporation agreement”—actually, it’s not an agreement at all; refusal to sign incurs sanctioning, whereupon the contract is forced into effect anyway, just as a prisoner is forced to comply with prison rules he has not freely consented to) must take whatever work is given, or be sanctioned (which begins with a 30% reduction of income). Signing this ‘agreement’ also means you forgo your constitutional right to dignity (and other rights) set out in the constitution. Being sanctioned three times typically means becoming homeless and penniless, yet still you must adhere to the ‘agreement’ you may not even have signed. The numbers of homeless are rising in Germany, while, just as in the Great Depression, the stores are full.

Sarkozy and other European countries are impressed with Hartz IV, and want to implement it at home. It appears to keep employment up, gives the oiks something to do at very low wages, and thus keeps one competitive.What’s not to like?

Ralph Boes ‘works’ as a self-employed, full time volunteer, telling any who will listen, all over Germany, that Hartz IV contravenes the German constitution, and that a guaranteed income of €1,000 for adults and €500 for children should be introduced immediately. Hartz IV forbids work as a self-employed, full time volunteer, and also forbids leaving the city in which you are domiciled. As such, Mr Boes is breaking every Hartz IV law, and should be sanctioned. Indeed, it is this he is inviting, but his eloquence—combined with the spirit of the constitution, perhaps—is producing interesting effects. He is (for now) silencing the state, and beginning to generate a following.

Boes’ focus on the German constitution’s foundational principle—that the state’s force must be deployed above all to protect and respect the dignity of each and every individual—is key, and, in my opinion, historically vital at this juncture. The state, thus far, has been an elitist system which operates for its own ends, which have been those of the elite, logically enough. The German constitution can therefore be seen as an anti-state and pro-democracy framework, since it places the individual right at the heart of state concern (not ‘The People’, but the dignity of each individual; no racism possible). That is the core value of democracy, and, as the state need not be democratic, indeed has yet to be democratic (for want of a democratic money system), the German constitution is in fact a threat to the state form as we know it. That Germany is becoming, as Boes says, the China of Europe, tells us very clearly what the money elites think of Germany’s constitution.

(As a side note, on 28 February of this year, the German constitutional court ruled the European Stability Mechanism “in large part” unconstitutional (source), and yet only a fool would bet against the mighty forces of state and money. The ESM grants a single entity financial power which would shame Hitler.)

Boes officially began his attack on June 7, 2011, by delivering an open letter (“Brandbrief”; literally “burning letter”) to: Chancellor Angela Merkel, then President Christian Wulff, Secretary of Labour Ursula von der Leyen, the Director of the Employment Agency F. J. Weise, and the manager of his local job centre, Thomas Schneider (you can read it in English here). The following paragraphs give a good flavour of Boes’ style and thinking:
At first glance, Hartz IV is nothing more than a well-intentioned attempt by the state to help those who have fallen out of employment to both survive and find their way back to work. The attempt is respectable and fully corresponds with the constitution. One could just leave them on the streets.

No less respectable—and at first glance understandable—is the goal of providing just enough support to enable self-help, in accordance with therapeutic principles. And it inspires high regard in an observer to see how much money has been dedicated, not only to ensuring a basic standard of living, but also to financially assist ‘reactivation’ and ‘re-qualification’ for those in need of such help.

But no matter how titanic the efforts, the results therefrom can only be a disappointment. The attempt to encourage self-help is wrong at its base. Our problem is not the unemployed, but rather the changed circumstances of production.

In the 1970s, perhaps even in the early 80s, the sources of the problem of unemployment may well have been different. They were to be found in the individual, since in the old Federal Republic, employees were sought desperately in all work areas.

Had we, at that time, given the unemployed the chance to change or advance their careers, as we offer them today, they would have been helped by such support to get involved in life again, instead of merely stagnating in that stable welfare system. Likely such measures would have delivered much. Then, the step out of unemployment would have been a step into a vibrant, meaningful—and as a rule well paid—working life.

How different it is today. The employment market is more than saturated. Today’s unemployed are not generally problem cases, on the edge of life because they themselves are somehow damaged and in need of therapy. The great majority of them are unemployed due to the enormous productivity of machines. The shelves are full of a great variety of goods, in amounts beyond anything humanity has hitherto witnessed, without need of human labour: that is the problem.
My questions on this last point are these: Why should we demand human labour remain the only way a population may acquire money, and, by logical extension, push on with perpetually growing economic consumption, when neither are necessary, and both are harmful? What good is it to adhere to obviously outdated concepts of work and reward when doing so threatens our existence? Whom does this blind insistence serve?

Ladies and gentlemen, we are stuck in a rut. On the one hand, we have sociopathic beneficiaries of this rut seeking to drive it ever on, come hell or high water. On the other, we have those incapable of imagining human dignity might be found in what they think of as laziness, or in motherhood, or in travel, or conversation, friendship, poetry, music, etc. On this second group history has much to say; multiple human cultures have wrestled with the problem of work and free riders enjoying the fruits of others’ labour. This time it’s different. Instead of slaves, we have machines. We can neither pay machines, nor could they go shopping if we did pay them. We should be demanding more ‘leisure’, not because we are ‘lazy bums’ (we aren’t), but because the circumstances demand it. Boes again:
We are reacting to the wrong time, treating yesterday’s sickness (which we didn’t even treat yesterday), while not seeing today’s. Like a doctor certain a patient has a lung disease whereas in truth there is insufficient air, we treat the unemployed with instruments long outdated, and through their misuse, turn them into instruments of torture.
The crux of the open letter is found in the following paragraphs, which read to me like a declaration of war:
From today, I openly resist every imposition on me by the state to accept any work I consider meaningless, and refuse to obey any absurd rule presented to me by any governmental agency. I reject too the fixation with “gainful employment”, long since proven illusory by reality.

I demand an unconditional right to a free, self-determined life, which I shall dedicate to any activity I myself decide is meaningful, not one exogenously prescribed for me — even if I am forced by economic and political realities to claim Hartz IV support.

I call all work, which arises out of an inner and sincere human wish, holy,
  • regardless of whether it is carried out externally or internally,
  • and regardless of whether it enables “earning”.
This is his declaration of intent, which I find part Paine, part Schiller. Indeed, after I listened to him interviewed, I said to my wife, “In this man, Germany has her second Schiller”; highly educated, fearless, unprejudiced and blessed with the common touch. Schiller, of course, had no Internet. Here’s hoping Ralph Boes can reach more people more effectively and immediately than Schiller managed, as he was hounded from safe house to safe house during his last ailing years.

Anyway, it is obvious, both from the letter and, e.g., his giving unannounced lectures on guaranteed income to staff at various Berlin job centres, that Herr Boes is unafraid of the sanctions he seeks. Not only that, he is also a patiently passionate man determined to take this fight as far as it can humanly be taken. He has buckets of courage backed up with deep training in philosophy and equally deep familiarity with the details of the relevant aspects of German constitutional law.

The state reacted with caution to the letter. Boes had to wait an additional six weeks for his (at that time) imminent interview at the job centre. He arrived to be directed to a pretty and highly competent Hartz IV advisor, whom he had never seen before. She informed him that whatever he writes in the outside world has no relevance in the job centre. A normal interview was to be conducted.

They went through the motions. Boes refused, once again, to sign the “Eingliederungsvereinbarung”. He insisted he was a self-employed, full time volunteer in the services of guaranteed income, booked to give lectures right across Germany to audiences who could not afford to pay him. This status (self-employed, full time volunteer) cannot even be entered into the Hartz IV database, since it breaks all their laws. As the Germans love to say, “So geht’s nicht!” Impossible to translate without losing its stubborn tone, its palpably threadbare imagination, but it means, roughly, “That can’t work!” Boes was then offered the obligatory five jobs, which he summarily rejected. By rights he should have been sanctioned.

Herr Boes and Frau X thus reached the expected impasse. Boes resolved it by offering to draw up his own, more meaningful contract. She accepted, and off he went, unsanctioned.

It took him a while, and he only managed to draw it up with the help of lawyers and others who all drafted and edited the document over the Internet over a period of weeks late last year, but complete the contract he did. It, and the so-far conclusion of this story, will be the subject matter of my next post. Stay tuned!

(Part II)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Reason Not the Need

This morning I was woken from a dream by this line, which an actress spoke to an actor in a film I was somehow involved in:

“I cannot roll the moon because your tongue speaks kindly of Egypt.”

They were the first words I spoke to my wife upon waking. She thought I had uttered a prophecy. My Jungian hat would interpret this missive from within thus: You cannot change human emotional desires and habits just by praising the Arab Spring and Occupy movements. In other words, words are not enough, even though the pen is still mightier than the sword, more than ever perhaps. No, words are not enough because there are too many of us spewing them out. More importantly still, we are obliged to put our money where our mouths are.

We know this, and I know this too; I quit my job to change my habits of consumption, feed the beast far less than before, and find more time to be more human and more of a father/husband to my family. Yet writing is what I do by habit, by ‘nature’, by desire. I love words. I suspect that of all non-human, non-organic ‘things’, I love words the most, am happiest in their presence. That says a lot about me.

But what use is my preference to you, to others? Deeper still, what use are questions on utility? As King Lear put it, “Reason not the need!”

My wife is likewise a lover of words. As I write these, she is in another room writing hers. My eldest daughter is becoming a writer, my youngest loves to draw and write stories. We are a wordy family. Yet we need to earn ‘real’ money to pay the bills. There is next to no money to be made from writing. Not only are writers a dime a dozen, readers are diminishing, and digital content wants to be free. Dear Reader, how much would you pay me to read this rambling? And what of books by unknown authors, not promoted by some slick publisher, available across the internet; how much would you pay to read one? Old news of course, as old as art itself, and I wouldn’t trouble you with any of this if it weren’t for other social phenomena pressing on us now, demanding change hardly any of us have the desire or courage to take on. We will not roll our moons for pretty words. We all still need the beast we feed, just as we are trying to diminish it, so we must, for some while yet, reason the need.

Digital content wants to be free. Machines, more and more, do the work humans used to have to do. Forward-looking thinkers say the future is for the imaginative, the creative, since this is where machines fail and humans shine, but digital content wants to be free. I do not see how this circle can be squared (unless we all go back to farming, but what a transition that would be!).

I believe a negative interest money coupled with guaranteed income is very necessary right now, since it would free us up to offer society what most inspires us. However, how many of us would then have the time to absorb the content of billions of humans creating to be noticed, to feel they are contributing, all needing feedback of some kind? If I spend half my time creating, maybe the other half could be used to absorb (and respond to!) the output of a handful of other people (or groups of people) at a time. My own wife does not have the time to read all that I write. In an important way, a future of billions of creative people is hard to envisage, economically speaking. Perhaps the human economy of the future will have little to nothing to do with any explicit reward which has any purchasing power. Must we learn, then, not to need each other, or to need each other more? I suspect a new hybrid of the two.

As work for a wage becomes obsolete, money becomes obsolete for the vast majority of human activity. Perhaps the very idea of contribution I have dwelled on for so long becomes moot. The challenge of the future may well be learning not to care about meaning, about contribution, about success, about value, at least not as ‘objectively’ measured by money or something money-like. Isn’t that what abundance would entail, in a world where human economic work is hardly necessary at all?

The job I gave up required of me an hour’s journey to a chair, in which I then sat for about nine hours, before being allowed to go home again. Every now and then there was something to do. My colleague and I had so automated our responsibilities, the only thing we had to do was turn up, a legal requirement, not a practical one. And I hated it. It made me feel guilty. I wasn’t needed, was earning money for something I saw as stupid and pointless; 19th century regulations for 21st century realities. The vast majority of the work done at my old place of work dealt with billing. Were the company to give away for free the energy it generates, they could shed over 80% of their staff. I imagine the same applies to most other companies. Imagine that. Imagine the mayhem of billions suddenly with nothing to do. We employ people because we dare not develop another method of getting money to them. When we make that cut, when we put our feet on a path which includes such things as guaranteed income, what a slippery slope it will be.

How useful are you? How useful am I? I have no idea; it is a childish and narcissistic question. Measuring value (reasoning the need) is money’s job, and though money does it terribly, at least it does it. Remove that now vital crutch, and we enter cultural territory we have no experience of whatsoever. Negative interest currency and guaranteed income are close enough to the moneyless future which seems so inevitable to me, to bring down on us the enormous challenges I’ve outlined here. And yet for unstoppable reasons, this is the path we must choose to tread (contradiction intended).

We cannot roll the moon, no matter how sweetly we describe our visions. Thank you, dream, for bringing that to my attention.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Consider the Lilies

I am not attached loyally to this or that religion. I grew up in the Christian West though, and English is my mother-tongue, so with that combination am therefore something of a de-facto Church of England Christian in my deeper sensibilities, slightly—due to my family’s Scottish bent—to the protestant side. So for all my pontificating here at Econosophy, despite my passionate (an appropriate word, don’t you think?) support of demurrage money and guaranteed income, I believe in hard work. Reflexively. On the other hand, the part of my being which ponders and contemplates deeply, appreciates simple yet rich lazing around, simple interbeing, with no protestant notions of productivity or contribution, no fear or fawning respect of The Great They, muddying the water. I can’t really do that kind of lazing around for very long without feeling guilty, but I respect it nonetheless. In that vein, I have recently been considering the lilies.
“Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”
Jesus of Nazareth
A modern man, I read these old words and see: Nature is self-organising, there is nothing which is not nature, that the efforts of the ‘great’, such as Solomon or Einstein, barely compare to flowers growing ‘effortlessly’ in a meadow. And here I chose the word effort. What is effort? An African saying says, if memory serves, “Grass does not grow faster if you shout at it.” How true, and yet we have an education system shouting at children for years, trying to get them all to develop at the same speed in the same uniform way, failing them if they don’t, passing them if they do. A topic for other posts, yes, but very related to effort and work, and our ancient ideas of productivity and utility.

Lilies work. They process sunlight, water, minerals, carbon dioxide, and egest oxygen. They process and transform energy into food and waste. Is it, then, that they do not work for a ‘boss’, is that why we moderns should consider them?  Well, they are lilies, and thus are constrained by their nature, cannot grow into mango trees, or sprout wings to fly off like birds. They develop as lilies, their very nature being their boss. Each is unique, yes, because each has a unique biological-environmental trajectory it will ‘follow’, a unique dance of interbeing to interbe, but always as lillies. Eggs is eggs, lilies is lilies.

Should we consider them at all, then? We ‘special’ humans all interare and interdevelop uniquely for the same reasons each lily develops uniquely. And if lilies are relaxed, happy beings—another reason we might want to consider them—, what about industrious ants? They are equally children of nature, why shouldn’t we consider them? Or chimpanzees, with their warfare and blood feuds, their hierarchies, politics and complexities. (As a side note, I remember reading alpha baboons suffer more stress-related illnesses than their less powerful male troop members. Food for thought?) What about humans, shouldn’t we consider them? They are children of nature just as much as lilies, ants, chimps and sunshine, and they grow, do, react, perish, etc., just as every other living thing.

Well, for what it’s worth, I think we should consider the lilies, because we humans of today’s ‘industrious West’ have too binary, too dualistic notions and concepts of work, effort, productivity, utility, waste and value. The discipline of economics serves as the gatekeeper of these dualistic notions, but, as a semi-living thing, economics is much like the lilies of the parable; it too emerges out its supporting idea-soil as naturally as lilies grow out of their supporting soil. Unless and until its supporting cultural soil changes profoundly enough, economics will continue to be the gatekeeper of hard work, productivity and Endless Growth. And, sweet irony, one of the primary ideological sources of the hard work ethic economics emerges from and is still fed by is of course the Bible.
“In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread, till you return unto the ground; for out of it were you taken: for dust you are, and unto dust shall you return.”
Old Testament
According to the Bible, Man shall enjoy and develop increasing dominion over the beasts, is Special, has a Divine Destiny, has been given the Earth to work, to manipulate, to make use of. Some humans—we call them primitives—don’t treat the Earth that way, don’t see it as inert matter to manipulate to human ends. They appear to remain embedded in nature as unconsciously as other ‘animals’, in a fluctuating yet essentially unchanging and non-productive harmony with their environment. They produce no civilisational marvels to honour God. From the perspective of that corner of Christian tradition I am drawing on here, they are unworthy of God’s grace since they laze too much, produce too little. Economics is that intellectual dynamic of our broader culture which idolises productivity, work and the growth of its domain, Market Trading. The wild is tamed via ingenious human industry, idle resources transformed into useful goods and services, ‘useful’ because people are willing to buy them. Money, you see, as a medium of exchange, as measure and store of value, is evidence of the utility of goods and services. The movement of money reflects our desires. We don’t part with money to purchase things like leaves or blades of grass from a meadow, because no ‘effort’ or labour was used in their making. They have no economic value. (There’s far more to it than this, but I’m concentrating here on one part of this very complex equation.)

Enter machines and automation. In a way we could call automation a new soil which grows fridges, washing machines and televisions like meadows grow lilies; without much (human) effort. In a way, we can at last start saying, money grows on trees, and mean it. Sure, there was lots of human effort involved in creating these machines, but we have them now, and consequently the proportion of humans needed for the production of the basics of life has dropped dramatically over the last two hundred years or so. What has not changed in that time is our cultural attitude to money, labour and value, or, in other words, to effort and productivity.
“For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.”
Isaac Watts
Idle is Bad, yet we are forcing ourselves in its direction by honouring our destiny and being inventive, creating machines to do our labour for us. We are caught between the devil and the deep, blue sea, precisely where we wanted to be (leisure!), precisely where we don’t want to be (idleness!).

When it takes a good proportion of us to create the goods and services we buy and sell to live and enjoy life, the money-circulation system we have is quite good. When there is plenty of room for growth, even the much maligned positive interest debt system we have is ok. But when we have no room to grow and very low need for human labour, when Consumerism is increasingly seen as a hollow and unsatisfying rat race going nowhere, the money circulation system we have breaks down.

That’s the easy part.

Breaking down our millennia-old ideas about value, work, utility and productivity is far harder. And that is the trap we are in.

Currently, money is circulated via labour and positive interest bearing debt. Humans work hard in a way considered by money (the market) as useful—the more useful the more money earned—with the most valuable workers being able to save money which serves as the leverage for investment in new production at positive interest cost, a process which ‘wisely’ cycles money, via investment-supporting institutions such as banks—whose job it is to pre-sort the wheat from the chaff—back into the economy. That there is always less ‘money’ in existence than ‘debt’ is ok while labour participation rates are high, people are unquestioningly enjoying consumerism, and there’s plenty of ‘idle’ nature left to convert into new goods and services, to 'pay for' or back the new debt-money injections. (I’m leaving aside the very important issues of sticky and harmful social stratification, tax and the other state-related difficulties.) But this system won’t work anymore for the reasons mentioned, and is taking more social and environmental energy to prop up than it is yielding in return. Return on investment has turned negative, with a now almost totally parasitic investment function gone into a feeding frenzy, turning to bloody foam what’s left of the money system.

To paraphrase Einstein, new conditions require new solutions. Wages for work make less and less sense the less we need human labour to produce wanted and needed goods and services. Positive interest debt money makes less than no sense when our rates of consumption must increase beyond unsustainable and into suicidal. Consumerism makes less than no sense considering the preceding points, and on top of them when its glittering charm fades in the face of the new circumstances and the new, still freshly emerging relationship with environment.

In short, we require new money circulation processes.

Guaranteed income is like the air in which birds fly. Birds did not ‘earn’ the air in exactly the same way humans did not earn any of the Universe. We cannot stop development, and technology is as natural as weather. Nature is technology; perceiving, solving and creating problems in infinite inter-influencing spirals. So instead of rewarding people for their labour, we enable people to reward society with their work, like the air enables birds to fly. We reverse our thinking. Birds-flapping-wings does not ‘earn’ or ‘create’ or ‘work for’ air and subsequently flight; flight is an ‘unearned’ miracle, a beautiful dance of necessary conditions, each of which emerges from Universe ‘unearned’. A guaranteed income is truer to this mutually-supporting and inter-related reality than waged labour.

Demurrage or negative interest is a pump keeping money flowing. Positive interest is likewise a pump, but it requires endless growth, and, causing us to see money as a permanent store of value, dangerously dissociates us from the law of decay, while pumping money increasingly towards itself, towards those who already have ‘too much’. Elsewhere in nature, beyond the oddly resilient walls of economics, there is no waste, no idleness. Waste is food is waste, life and death are work. Grass does not grow faster if you shout at it. Negative or reverse interest bearing money ‘decays’ the money supply, creates the ‘waste’ then recycled via guaranteed income back to all parts of human society, as blood to all extremities of the social body. It prevents coagulation, blockage, stagnation, cancer.

If it is true not one of us asked to be born, we are nevertheless born into gratitude for the richness of Universe that makes each of us possible. That feeling of gratitude (a kind of intuited and unending indebtedness) is a beautiful thing. Reverse interest money combined with a guaranteed income waters the entire economic meadow, reflects the law of decay, encourages cooperation without squashing competition, and fosters a healthy perception of abundance while demoting money’s current overbearing power. Together they recreate the mutually supporting cycles of growth and decay, of gift and debt, we see all around us.

So we should consider the lilies, though perhaps with new eyes, new science, new religion, new faith, new doubt. And as we do, we might be able to address questions such as why money stands between us and supporting the environment which supports us. Why money moves towards and supports destruction of ‘idle’ resources, chopping down forests, blowing up mountain ranges, yet away from community, gift, mutual aid and most perversely, away from diversity. We might find new ways of dealing with that most stubborn of false dichotomies, the work-play split. We might begin to want a richer and subtler set of interrelated processes for generating an ongoing and ever-shifting sense of what value is, rather than the money-based price-system which so encourages uniformity in today’s value assessments. How stifling and destructive to be bound to a situation in which not making money-sense means making no sense at all.

Now please watch Charles Eisenstein.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Freedom and Free Will

I don’t believe in free will. We are not, in my opinion, free agents enacting Power of Choice decisions as sovereigns in a world of discreet and separate objects. That is an immature, solipsistic perception.

I believe in free will. Free will is the most beautiful thing. It emerges from bondage, necessarily. A fully isolated ‘person’ or ‘thing’ can do nothing; unsupported by the infinitely complex networks of environmental systems and subsystems, no system can be, or, as Charles Eisenstein puts it, inter-be. Nothing makes sense in isolation, and there is no such thing as nothing. No ‘thing’ can ‘be’ in isolation; existence is and can only be interbeing. And as you can see, we need new words to speak this new language, to tell the new story. Our language, which has us by the throat (pun intended), is too immaturely dualistic to sing the new tune emerging now all around us. The transition involves in part the acceptance and embracing of paradox. Opposites unite. Division is illusion. Illusion is reality. All interbeing.

Freedom stems etymologically from friendship. The taproot of freedom is therefore bondage, debt, obligation, embededness, necessity. Unless you are bound to the network which enables you, that is, unless you inter-are, you cannot inter-be, cannot exist or act, in which case freedom is utterly moot. ‘Free will’ is an expression for chance, or wriggle-room. The future is not predictable, not controllable, just like (what we call) the present (I do not know what time is, or ‘inter-is’). Unpredictability and uncontrollability are what free will is. It is not sovereignty. Free will is an emergent property operating at the level of a meta-self, a supra-agency no ego can perceive. It cannot be owned, it cannot be controlled, though the real illusion of control emerges from it. I could not be writing these comprehensible words were that not the case, though they emerge from me beyond my control. There is no sovereign Toby Russell autonomously doing this, despite what my ego-experience tells me. Toby Russell is the embedded vehicle enabling the emergence of that which emerges from him. 

Totalitarianism, or purity, which is about controlling all possible outcomes in the name of some ideology or other, impedes ‘freedom’ by fearfully refusing to allow ‘chaos’ and ‘anarchy’ to upset, spoil or otherwise make ‘messy’ some preferred vision of How Things Should Be. This possibility, this Dream of Human Ascent is as natural as rain, emerged by ‘chance’ out of chance, e.g., with ‘inventions’ such as the Taming of Fire (though other animal tool-use precedes this, is a ‘preparation’ of sorts, as is all prior evolution, in a way). Control is born by ‘accident’, totalitarianism its unforeseen descendant. All forms of the state tend towards totalitarianism because they are fundamentally about control, and as such must get ‘better’ at it to survive. This is a great paradox, since the anonymity of The Wild seems to beckon if we relinquish our grip, our control. Slippery, slippery slope!

We must feed the beast, for the beast is necessity. It is our relationship with it which determines how bound-free we are. There will always be debt. There is no freedom but that it arises from necessity and bondage as the wriggle-room in which creativity and change can occur. Carl Jung said, “Free will is doing gladly that which one must do.” Bondage is embeddedness in and emergence out of the environmental network of systems which enable us, which paradoxically yield freedom, or chance, which we might think of as the space for change, which yields suffering and joy, ‘opposites’ united by their interbeing.

I talk of chance as if it were fundamental, and yet deeper still there is design. The very fact we have the word and ‘understand’ it is evidence enough. Universe has birthed the concept, the perception. Therefore design is of Universe, of its fabric, is no new, accidental and separate epiphenomenon of ‘matter’. Intelligent design unknowing, blind. Blind, intelligent design, Dawkins’ worst nightmare; the intelligent, blind watchmaker interwoven into everything. There is nothing which is not god. There is only god. All horror and beauty ever perceived included, and everything else too. This is the bitter sweet pill. 

Woodie Guthrie sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” When you let go of the illusion of control, fall backwards into whatever embrace nature has in store for you, accepting, then you know ‘freedom’. It is the heady and liberating air of necessity. In a world of fear, control and ‘ownership’, freedom becomes the worst kind of rigid bondage. Today we have Consumerism, dying for any number of reasons. We are drenched through with its fear, and its fear of demise. Our systems of propaganda, which we each feed and sustain as we are fed and sustained by them, paint my definition of freedom as shoddy poverty, ‘raw’ nature as idle resources “red in tooth and claw.” My position here is (partly) from Rousseau of course, except that I can no longer be ‘against’ any of that which I disparage. Being against the state or the market or the corporation is like being against solar flares or hurricanes or the human orgasm. Does this mean I no longer have the will to battle for a better life (whatever that is)? Yes. And it means also I have more desire than ever. Good is bad, everything is natural, and I can’t not fight for the love of life I feel. Love is the liberating bond freeing me to inter-be.

Charles Eisenstein:
“I want you to listen to this paradox, really not with your mind or your reason that tries to figure it out, but I want to just kind of let it sit in the atmosphere, and for you to feel. So the paradox is this:

The more beautiful world our heart tells us is possible is inevitable. It is going to happen. 100% sure. And it will only happen through the exertion of our full efforts and the application of all of our gifts. If you don’t apply all of your gifts to this, then it’s not going to happen. Yet it is inevitable that it will happen.”

Julian Jaynes:
“The critical problem with most of these studies is that if the subject decided beforehand to look for such contingencies, he would of course be conscious of what he was learning to do. One way to get around this is to use a behavioral response which is imperceptible to the subject. And this has been done, using a very small muscle in the thumb whose movements are imperceptible to us and can only be detected by an electrical recording apparatus. The subjects were told that the experiments were concerned with the effect of intermittent unpleasant noise combined with music upon muscle tension. Four electrodes were placed on their bodies, the only real one being the one over the small thumb muscle, the other three being dummy electrodes. The apparatus was so arranged that whenever the imperceptible thumb-muscle twitch was electrically detected, the unpleasant noise was stopped for 15 seconds if it was already sounding, or delayed for 15 seconds if it was not turned on at the time of the twitch. In all subjects, the imperceptible thumb twitch that turned off the distressing noise increased in rate without the subjects’ being the slightest bit conscious that they were learning to turn off the unpleasant noise.”

Friday, March 2, 2012

Feeding the Beast

It’s been frantic. Clusters of obstructions mushrooming up in front of us every way we turn; multiple friends and business contacts losing loved ones, breakages and breakdowns, and money flowing away from us far too quickly. Panic attacks followed by elation followed by panic attacks, while trying to maintain mature equilibrium, you know, for the kids.

Our ambition is to establish a simple, quiet life. Not to feed the beast. To do more of the Right, less of the Wrong Thing. To contribute healthily, sustainably, with passion and love. But the world around us is cloaked in beast hide, head to foot. All its interfaces demand of us the opposite of what we want to give. The beast is insatiable, only leaves you alone if you do its bidding. It cannot love you, it cannot be happy about what you offer, if can only want more.

Money, its blood, is disappearing. Out there, in that virtual reality we mistake for the world, figures are massaged, slick media outfits pump out their 24/7 monkey music, and the show goes grindingly on. Stepping out has never been easy. Today, the state apparatus (I include The Market in that) is all pervasive, confronts you at every turn, wants its cut, badly wants More because Growth is not happening. Desperate, the organ grinders play any song to Restore Confidence, to bully, to cajole, to get people spending. It isn’t working. The collapse is in full swing, and spring will bring people onto the streets again. Then what?

In a usury system, the economy must grow forever if it is not to collapse. The beast will tell you that there’s plenty of Growth left, but it would say that, wouldn’t it. In fact, everything has to grow; money supply, buying and selling, speed of consumption, amount of consumption, government control, school testing and standards, tax revenues, white goods, restaurants … everything. We are in a Growth paradigm. We have come to associate Growth with health, decay with disease and dilapidation. The momentum of our wisdom as it has accumulated these last millennia retches us on upwards, always towards More, away from Less. The momentum is enormous, global, manic, and impossible to stop by choice. I want less, and I know growing (ha ha) numbers of others do too. But the beast can only offer more, by demanding more. Do more, produce more, give more. Less does not compute. Unstoppable force and immovable object; Growth, meet End of Growth.

Back down to the micro scale of me. The practical necessity of earning money, in Euros, enforces interaction with the beast that is dying, poisoning us all in its death throws. The amount of energy I must expend keeping the beast off my back and out of my life recreates the beast in my rooms, in my heart. In seeking to withdraw, I have drawn it into my house deeper than before. This is quite the paradox, quite the disappointment. I’m sure things will settle, but this early phase of my project is instructive in one brilliant way. Change is difficult, profound change profoundly so. Multiply my small experience by billions, you begin to get a sense of the scale of this.

This question resounds: How do we stop growing on purpose, in a managed way? It’s all we’ve known for thousands of years, with civilisational collapse bringing on unwanted de-growth, followed by resurgence. But this is no mechanically repeating pattern, with a billion or so souls triggering collapse and restart. We are now at seven billion and rising. Doomers predict Armageddon, and so do people like James Lovelock, who knows more than I do about the earth’s carrying capacity. Oil, sanitation, mechanisation and hygiene ballooned us to these numbers; the end of growth, peak oil and peak everything else will burst that balloon. It’s an easy and persuasive argument. Indeed, all I have by way of counter-argument is hope, and a strong sense that as an embedded part of Universe, we are learning, we are organic, we are not a machine. We are learning we are not a machine. There are no machines. We are and therefore Universe is creative. Universe is creative.

I think I have a fairly good intuition about what a steady-state society and economy might look like, but wanting to bring it about in our billions, reaching consensus on that process, is impossible to picture. Too much is invested in its immature form; Growth. The enormous momentum of Growth is too strong, and o, how the mighty fall! This is a theme oft repeated at this blog, and elsewhere of course, yet I feel recording the details like this is important. This is a key period in history, through which the new interconnections of the Internet magnify and elucidate, baffle and overwhelm. Being an optimist, I detect the weak beginnings of new harmonies emerging from the cacophony. Keeping my focus on them, keeping our focus on them, as we dance with the dread beast, is as vital as it is difficult.