How to change the world

I wrote this essay just before 2000, and although some of the examples are dated, it is more relevant today than it was then.

The Problem

Two millennia ago, a Revolutionary expelled the money-changers from God’s Temple.

They are back. They now own the temple, which is God’s earth. They own the trees, the denizens of the deep, the beauty that draws admirers from across the globe, the wealth within the soil, and the wealth beneath it. They own the very genes that define life, and above all, they own us, the people.

If they were good shepherds, responsible managers of unlimited power, this would not matter. But are they?

No. They indulge in a game of Monopoly with six billion tokens, controlled by a few thousand players. As in Monopoly, the aim is to own all, achieved by any means. Questions of ethics and ecology are ridiculous in a cardboard and plastic game. But the game of real life has our planet as its board, the survival of real people as its cost, the future as its stake. And another difference is, Presidents and Chairmen, Generals and Magnates, Wall Street sharks and Multinationals, all are tokens as well as players. Whatever they do to us, they do to themselves.
plutocrat
In California, you can buy a cup with the inscription:

THE WINNER
IS THE ONE WHO DIES
WITH THE MOST WEALTH

Even stupid jokes can embody wisdom.

The Revolutionary Whose 2000th birthday approaches was fond of parables. Though not His style, here is a parable for the present:

I offer you a million dollars. What could you do with a million dollars! No more drudgery or hardship. Think of all the luxuries you could have! All the good things you could do!

Of course, there is a price. Tomorrow, I’ll deposit the million dollars in your bank account. Exactly one year later, you must kill every person you love, then commit suicide. Will you do it?

Surely not. Yet, we are doing it. The Faustian bargain is a perennial theme that has become reality. For present wealth, we are destroying all that humanity has ever cherished.

  • We are denuding the sea of life.
  • We are destroying the forests.
  • The wonderful variety of Nature is under attack. How many species are no more?
  • Our cities are spreading cancers, replacing fertile soil with asphalt and concrete.
  • Our farming practices are turning topsoil into barrenness.
  • Our sewage, potentially a precious resource, poisons rivers, estuaries and coastal waters.
  • Even our history, the magnificent buildings of the past, is being eaten away by the poisonous breath of commerce.

And when we have killed all the things we love, then we will have committed suicide. For the Book of Genesis is wrong: Man was not given dominion over the earth, but stewardship. We are not apart from Nature, but part of Her.

On the cosmic scale, our passing may be immaterial. The real tragedy is the destruction during our passage.

***

Even now, at the turn of the Millennium, some may say: ‘Hysterical Greenie propaganda!’ And yet, the evidence is overwhelming. I will limit myself to one example, termite control.
termitemound
Termites are essential members of the ecosystem: recycling wood, aerating the soil, being at the bottom of several food chains. Unfortunately, our buildings are some of the wood they recycle.

Buildings can be designed to minimise termite damage. Monitoring systems exist, allowing early detection and environmentally safe control. Nest-specific baiting techniques were devised before 1907, and the 1950s saw the development of several physical termite barriers.
Until the late ‘80s, for 40 years, all such approaches had faded into disuse, in favour of barriers of cyclodienes, which are organochlorines related to DDT.

Cyclodienes cause a horrendous list of health problems to humans, including birth defects, developmental problems in babies, cancer, damage to the liver, the nervous, immune and endocrine systems. They cross the placenta, contaminate breast milk, persist in soil over 20 years, penetrate a house’s air space even through concrete, migrate in ground water, accumulate in food chains.
spraypoison

Research, kept secret by the manufacturers, had demonstrated these facts years ago, and was made public only in a US Government Inquiry in 1989. For 40 years, the manufacturers encouraged the yearly reapplication of cyclodienes to homes, schools, hospitals. Pest-controllers, building workers, house occupants, and consumers of food were poisoned, to maintain profits.

Thousands of such examples exist. The conclusion is inescapable. There are only two kinds of people: Greenies and Suicides.

This is not a question of Capitalism versus Communism. Communist China is the worst polluter in the world — now that the USSR is no more. Marxists and economic irrationalists agree over an essential fallacy: that there is an ever-growing pie to be shared. They merely disagree over the way to divide it.

Rather, the Club of Rome was right. We have reached, and passed, several of the limits. As their Reports emphasized, a complex system responds to the reaching of a limit by compensating. Texas no longer flows with oil? Extract it in Alaska, at much greater cost, and frightful environmental risk. Are noxious emissions and greenhouse gases from coal-fired power stations unacceptable? Dam up valleys clothed with forest or farm, expel mountain tribes from their homes, and use ‘clean’ hydroelectricity — until the dam silts up, as the Aswan High Dam has. Or opt for the crazy choice of nuclear power, the djinn of millennial pollution that’s best left in its bottle. How do you treat a ‘decommissioned’ nuclear facility?

Australians and Americans are fortunate to occupy two of the few remaining mountains of prosperity. They stand on a plain, much of which is already under the rising flood of destruction. Desperate wars of genocide, famines, the resurgence of savagery in the name of God, the emergence of new diseases, the tide of addictions sweeping the world, the loss of life and property to natural disasters on a scale never before seen, all are linked to global crowding, to massive environmental degradation. There are limits, and humanity has passed them.

Tim Flannery has persuasively argued that early man is responsible for the extinction of ‘the huge, the fierce and the strange’: animals that provided a lot of meat for the effort, or were our competitors, or were so specialised that habitat change exterminated them. Over and over, we entered paradise, then destroyed it through overuse, through explosively rapid breeding. His best-documented case is New Zealand. The ancestors of the Maori arrived perhaps 800 years ago, to a land teeming with birds, including the gigantic moa. There are great heaps of remains of wastefully used bird bodies dated to those times, but no indications of war. A mere few hundred years later, Europeans found warlike cannibals subsisting on scarce resources.
moa

Flannery focuses on fossils, but history shows the same lesson. The great desert of the Indus Valley is man-made, by the ancient, irrigation-using civilisation of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. The Sahara was once the grain supply of Rome. When Europeans came to America, it was said that a chipmunk could go from ocean to ocean, without once touching ground. By the 1930s, in less than four centuries, the American Midwest had become a dustbowl.
mohenjodaro
Time and again, in place after place, people have reached the limits of their local environment, and severely damaged it before coming into some kind of equilibrium with the remnants. Only the wilfully blind can ignore the evidence.

Pre-technological people had the excuse of ignorance. Also, the damage they caused took hundreds of years to manifest itself, and usually there was somewhere else to go. But, since the Industrial Revolution, knowledge has grown exponentially. We now know what we are doing to our planet. Our power to cause change has also increased exponentially. We are now an ever-increasing rush towards extinction, not on a local scale, but globally.

The Reasons

We are an intelligent species, who appreciate beauty, create marvels, care for one another and for entities as different as frogs and ferntrees, elephants and eucalypts, mountains and minarets.

We have produced a Chopin, a Mozart, a Beethoven… a long list of musical geniuses, and millions whose emotions are stirred by their music. Painting, sculpture, architecture, dance, and even the needlework of unknown peasant women attest to the nobleness of the human spirit.
folkart

People have made amazing sacrifices for the sake of their loved ones, or for a principle. Certainly, some seem to act unredeemably evil, and most of us have evil within us, but also there is generosity, love and creativity in the billions of people inhabiting the Earth.

And yet, as a species, we are destroyers. Why?

My reading, reflection and a thousand debates have suggested three reasons.

1. In the cultures now dominating the Earth, all of us are players in our local Monopoly games. Only magnitude of consequences distinguishes the great and powerful from the rest of us. Life on this planet is not threatened by the acts of evil people, them, but because each person makes a myriad daily decisions that add to a mighty avalanche of destruction. The problem is us. The powerful have reached their position not because they are evil, but because luck and skill have made them better at the game that we all play. If one of them quits the game, hundreds will fill the breach.

Nor is the game precisely for money, any more than Monopoly is. In the dominant cultures, the meaning of life is defined not only in terms of wealth, but also as the level of status, power, and fame a person has achieved. Ask: “What do you do?” The answer may be “I’m an engineer,” “I was an executive, but got retrenched,” “I’m only a housewife.” You don’t get “I go bushwalking whenever I can,” “I sew when housework leaves time,” or even “I do a lot of volunteer work now that I’m unemployed.”

The Presidents and Chairmen, Millionaires and Megastars are those who have achieved the dreams others envy. They have arrived, and yet must still maintain meaning within their lives. Prue Acton built up a business worth millions, then retired. She was far-seeing enough to change her game, becoming an artist, but a more typical human response is to continue along the same path. If a million dollars was an achievement, how about a billion? Money then merely becomes something to strive for, because those who have suffered success have no meaning without striving for something.

Life is a road, not a destination. We are at a crossroad, but the great and powerful are unlikely to choose the path of survival. For if they do, they risk being great and powerful no more, but ‘has-beens,’ relegated to obscurity.
raplhwaldo

2. We are blinded to the consequences of our actions by the processes of adaptation. This is what allows life to function in wildly varying circumstances, and influences perception, thought, even memory.

At its simplest, adaptation is a physiological response: changes in muscular tension within ear or eye, or pigment changes in the retina.

It also affects judgment. Make up a set of boxes of identical appearance but varying weights. A 1 Kg (2 lb) box will have its weight overestimated, if it is lifted after a series of 100 to 200 g weights; underestimated after 2 to 5 Kg weights. The same is true of judgments in every other sense-modality.

This holds even for memories. I’m a child, terrified on top of a ladder. As an adult, at work, I happily eat my lunch sitting on the edge of a partly built roof. Experiences with heights have taken the terror out of them. Then one day I accidentally fall from that roof. I become tense and afraid in high places. The cure? A graduated series of safe experiences with heights, until the fear disappears.

Humans can adapt to almost anything: heavenly bliss, constant terror, any climate on earth, being either the victim or perpetrator of cruelty, the finest cuisine and the greatest adventure. The battle that terrifies a rookie leaves the veteran calm. Viktor Frankl could carry on his life’s work, a prisoner in a concentration camp.
viktor

Joy is when life is better than usual, though it might be another’s hell. Unhappiness is when things are worse than the current norm, although far better than others could hope for.

Like an animal, an infant lives in the forever-present. When she is miserable, life has always been terrible, and always will be, an unending, terrifying vista of woe. When she is happy, everything has always been wonderful, and happiness is a sea of joy. As adults, intellectually we are far beyond this, with an appreciation of past and future, change and progression. However, our automatic reactions to our surroundings are still that of the baby, of the animal. Change is perceived, judged, remembered in comparison to the norm of the moment.

I’d moved interstate years ago, and now return to the scenes of my childhood. How it has changed! A freeway has replaced an entire community. Where is the garbage dump that was my source of treasure? A large shopping center occupies the space of the drive-in theater, and the park with its stately trees is now a jumble of American-style fast food outlets, office buildings, shops disguised as warehouses. But when I talk to the locals, it’s “Nice to see you! Nothing much has changed here.” Oh, they will have noted every individual change, welcomed some, been distressed by others, but in time each has sunk into the normal. Incremental change feels like no change at all. This is how aging affects us too.

Of course, we are not the prisoners of adaptation. We do perceive change. However, we see it as either linear or discontinuous. In fact, however, change is often exponential. In 1972, I made a series of predictions. I was substantially correct in content, but wildly optimistic in terms of time. The changes in environmental degradation, health, and social disintegration I expected in my grandchildren’s time are already history. The same is true of everyone who has tried to predict the future: rate of change is always underestimated.
expobreak

Even our ways of expressing change deify the linear. Divorces in Australia increased by 2.9% from 1994 to 1995, but by 5.4% from 1995 to 1996. The rate is itself increasing, for the disintegration of society is one of the spiraling exponentials: a child brought up in a broken family has a poorer chance of learning the skills of social intercourse. As in the computer world, so it is with statistics. Any statistic is obsolete by the time it is published.

How does this relate to the problem facing humanity? Now, at the turn of the Century, at the end of the Millennium, we live in a drastically different world than 100 years ago, 50 years ago, even 10 years ago, and the rate of change is ever accelerating. And yet, at any one moment, we see ourselves as living a more-or-less steady-state existence. Oh, people do see change, as if it was sudden jumps, relating to some discrete experience: a treasured old building demolished, a fishing fleet going bankrupt, 10,000 bank tellers losing their jobs. But, on the whole, those not personally affected go on with their lives as if the particular change was an isolated event.

We can be comfortable in the midst of self-destruction, because we adapt so well.

3. There is a positive force that distorts our thinking.

Some people may work in the tobacco industry, yet refrain from smoking on health grounds. If so, they are evil. However, the overwhelming majority of them are ordinary, decent people who earn a living by supplying something others want. They can believe this, despite the evidence of research. Industry apologists are sincere, for if they accepted the evidence, they would have to see themselves as drug pushers.

People imbued with the noble motivations of patriotism can make nuclear bombs or biological weapons, destroy churches in acts of terrorism, lie, steal and blackmail.

All of us are subject to the process that allows them to live with themselves. It has been well understood since the work of Festinger and his colleagues, 40 years ago. They called it cognitive dissonance.

It is intolerable if the basic, underlying assumptions of life are disconfirmed in some way by reality. Joe sees himself as a good man, yet he’s hit his wife, something he disapproves of in others. He can live with it by thinking: ‘I’m not a violent man, but she shouldn’t nag me.’ Bill wouldn’t dream of stealing, but can say: ‘I’ll take cash. They use the tax for bloody politicians’ perks!’ A uranium miner once said to me: ‘If I didn’t do this job, someone else would.’ The examples are endless. Once alerted to the process, any person can think up dozens from personal experience.

So, the Pope can feel holy while inciting Catholics to continue overpopulating the earth. The people of India and Pakistan can cheer in the streets in response to nuclear weapons tests. The Iraquis can stockpile dreadful biological weapons that have the potential of backfiring, and destroying all life in Iraq. The Japanese can continue to exterminate whales, ‘for scientific purposes only.’ George Soros can see himself as a benefactor, by donating half his spoils to ‘good causes,’ although that money was gained through wrecking the economies of entire countries. And on the local scale, each of us can engage in a myriad acts known to contribute to intractable problems. ‘I need this job, and owe it to my employer to work the long hours required (although my children are strangers to me, my marriage is in trouble, and my health is suffering).’ ‘One more fag won’t kill me.’ ‘It’s not really theft.’

Even now, in the information age, some people may act in ignorance of the inevitable consequences of certain of their actions. They wreck their own life support systems unknowingly, unthinkingly, like the ancestors of the Maori did when they happily exterminated the moa.

At the turn of the Millennium, in the over-developed countries, we live in an educated society. It is far more common for people to have the information, but to distort their perception of it through cognitive dissonance. ‘There is none so blind as those who will not see.’

The Solution

Who can change the world?

Edward Goldsmith once wrote that a leader is someone who sees a rushing crowd, and runs ahead of them, shouting, “Follow me!” He leads only while running in the direction chosen by the crowd.

In his monumental A Study of History, Arnold Toynbee studied the life cycle of civilisations. He showed that civilisations are born through the influence of people peripheral to the centers of power within an existing civilisation. Two examples are the Christianisation of the Roman Empire, and the birth of what Toynbee calls Western Civilisation: the now-dying technological society.

Later-day Rome was being conquered by two competing foreign religions: Mithraism, which was favored by soldiers, and Christianity, the religion of the powerless. Both came from the periphery, not only geographically from Persia and Palestine, but also in terms of influence. Christianity eventually won, partly by incorporating some of the more attractive Mithraist rituals (e.g., Christmas, the Midwinter Fest). This was not because Christianity was True, for Mithraism was also a noble religion, but perhaps because soldiers were not peripheral enough.

According to Toynbee, Western Civilisation was born in the Monasteries. The Church was corrupt: supposedly celibate Cardinals’ sons received preferment, gifts bought salvation. Decent Christian men and women voted with their feet, and established devout rural communities on the degraded soil of the abandoned latifundia (previously slave-worked plantations). Their rule was: five hours’ prayer, five hours’ work, five hours’ study each day. They raised children, rejuvenated the land, studied and prayed. They were the direct precursors of the celibate monastic orders, which arose after the ascendance of St Paul’s misogyny in their philosophy.

Hundreds of years of work and study made the Monasteries wealthy and innovative. They reinvented water power, improved the plough, found the lost treasures of Classical knowledge in the Arab writings, and became influential when Royalty sent their sons to study among the Brothers. So, the peripheral, powerless, pious voluntary peasant communities of Dark-Age Italy led to space travel, the Internet — and the hydrogen bomb.

It took 400 years for an Emperor to espouse Christianity. We don’t have 400 years, or even 40. The first book warning of the environmental consequences of technological society appeared in 1949. Since then, the conservation movement has grown exponentially, but always too slowly, and always subverted by commerce: for example, revulsion with excessive packaging turned into the ‘Keep Australia Beautiful’ campaign; ‘don’t wrap it’ became ‘put it in the bin’.

But, whatever can be done, can only be done by ordinary people, acting as individuals. By me. By you. And if it’s too little, too slow, then we are doomed.

Certainly, the famous wield disproportionately more influence than the rest of us. People like David Suzuki, David Bellamy, Noam Chomski and E. F. Schumacher have swung public opinion away from hate, waste, destruction. But they can have an effect on the course of history only insofar as they have an effect on us. On me. On you. They can lead only those who are already following.

The illimitable ocean consists of drops of water. Each drop of water counts. When a myriad drops of water move in the same direction, there is the irresistible tide that destroyed Hitler, stopped the Vietnam war, saved the Franklin river in Tasmania from damming, and on a local scale, time and again confounded the powerful.

The cliches of the alternatives movement can teach us:

  • Think globally, act locally.
  • The New Age is now.
  • Cooperation not competition.
  • Make love not war (but with a condom please!).

What must change?

Clearly, people’s attitudes and thoughts need to change, not merely our actions. When only actions change, they are subverted by the dominant culture, yielding bizarre results, like the Australian Labor Party’s pathetic ‘three uranium mines’ policy, or a paper recycling facility for Melbourne and Sydney, in Albury-Wodonga. (Post World War II, Europe was thickly scattered with small paper-recycling businesses. It is an ideal decentralised, labour-intensive industry. Yet now, ‘efficient’ means ‘big’, and Sydney was deemed too small to feed a single factory. So, recycling contractors are buried in paper the factory cannot take. Huge loads are transported long distances at great environmental cost.)

I am not arrogant enough to claim to have THE answers, but reading, thought and discussion since 1972 have led me to a plausible position. Surprisingly, I have found only three seriously pathogenic attitudes:

1. The Pursuit of Happiness. Most people’s life purpose is to seek happiness. Gilbert Ryle  has demonstrated that words like ‘happiness’ are misleading. They seem to refer to ‘something,’ but in fact are adverbs rather than nouns. I enjoy reading a book. I’m doing one thing, reading, not two, reading and enjoying. Rather, the activity of reading has pleasant effects on me. Ryle’s main example is ‘Unpunctuality is reprehensible.’ It means that I dislike people to be late, not that there is an entity or process ‘unpunctuality.’

A recent magazine article titled A Simple Truth About Happiness grabs the eye because it speaks to everyone’s preoccupation. It makes the same point: happiness is something to work at, by living in a certain way, not by directly seeking it. The advice is: avoid comparisons, accept the limitations of reality, find the good in what you have.

Viktor Frankl’s advice is: seek meaning and purpose, and you will be happy.

2. Happiness is bought. The advertising industry lives on fostering this illusion. Every product, every service, is presented as necessary for happiness, and people have bought the lie. ‘If only I had a new car…’ ‘When we go on holiday…’ ‘If I could just win enough through gambling…’

It is economically necessary that people should keep yearning, that they never become more than transiently satisfied. If my old car works well enough, and if I’m unmotivated by status and fashion to exchange it, then I won’t buy a new one. So, consumer society is built on unhappiness. Through planned obsolescence, deliberately shoddy design, fashion, identification with media heroes, false linking with sex, people must be made to be unhappy with what they have, or they’ll stop buying. Then they won’t be motivated to take part in the desperate scramble for money that keeps the treadmill wheels spinning ever faster, grinding up the future.

One tragedy is that consumer attitudes have generalised to personal relationships. Others have become tools in the chase after happiness, to be acquired with great joy, found wanting, then traded in. For all too many people, the concepts of compromise, tolerance, growing together have been replaced by comparisons with idealised images of True Love.

3. The emphasis on ego. We act as if Donne’s ‘No man is an island’ were false. Genetically, we are identical to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. They lived in groups of 10 to 30, with widespread links to many others, ensuring genetic diversity. As animals, we are territorial and competitive, but also, necessarily, cooperative. Among hunter-gatherers, the individual survives only through belonging to the group, and must subsume self to affiliation. Our reversal of this is a cultural, learned stance, one which causes untold harm.

The proper balance between self and society is:

WHO doesn’t matter.

How well — that’s another matter.

Competition for excellence in the service of the group is the rightful role of ego.

All the great religions teach this. The world would be transformed if enough people gained their personal satisfaction from achievement in service, not achievement in acquisition. Jesus, Buddha, Mother Theresa, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela are better role models than Stalin, Bill Gates, Aristotle Onassis, Elle, Sinatra.

Who can teach us?

1. Sustainable cultures Throughout the existence of humankind, there have been sustainable cultures that stayed in dynamic balance with their environment over many generations. Their existence proves that another path is possible. A few still remain: Australian Aboriginal cultures, the Bushmen of the Kalahari, an isolated group in the Philippines. However, contact with aggressive, expansionary cultures has inevitably either destroyed or transformed most such people.

Expansionary and sustainable cultures are so different that a person from one finds it hard to imagine how a person from the other feels. We have an expansionary culture, where a person’s well-defined ego is independent of the group, and personal identity, power, and the desire for wealth are considered basic needs. Nature is dominated and exploited by such cultures, and conflict is inevitable. Laws need to be enforced because of the constant clash of selves.

A sustainable culture is utterly different. A person has identity only as a member of a group. Isolation from the group can kill. (There is a high risk of death among jailed Australian Aboriginals, although many are urban people.) In a sustainable culture, possessions do not indicate success, because success as compared to others is unimportant. They are appreciated only in terms of their function or beauty, and are readily shared. Even modern, city-dwelling Aboriginals share their possessions with their family, often a large group.

Several sustainable cultures have no chiefs or underlings. People may be admired for their abilities, and may have specialist roles for which they are well suited. This gains respect and acknowledgment, status but not power. Elders are respected for their wisdom, but need to gain consensus to achieve action. Society’s rules are not seen as laws imposed by people, but as ‘laws of nature:’ unavoidable, fixed, divinely controlled. The only need for external discipline is for children until they are trained.

Tim Flannery argues that the ‘future eating’ now destroying our global life support system evolved in Australiasia, then conquered humanity’s homeland in Eurasia-Africa. There, prey and competitor alike had co-evolved with humans, in a millennial arms race that prevented any one species from gaining overwhelming superiority. Even Java has yielded hominid remains. New Guinea and Australia evolved without humans, until perhaps 60,000 years ago. Animals and plants had no defenses from the invaders, who therefore developed a new culture, the frontier mentality: Migrate, devastate, breed beyond the carrying capacity of the land, then move on. This lifestyle has swept the world, being particularly successful in Europe during the end of the last Ice Age, when people followed the most successfully invasive plants and animals north. Flannery aptly calls the ecology of Europe a ‘weed ecology’. Not surprisingly, this led to a ‘weed culture’ that has now infested the globe.

However, in Australia, conditions have pushed cultural evolution toward cooperation, copying an ecosystem that evolved to survive soils poor in nutrients, and the recurring climatic disasters of the ‘El Nino Effect.’ It is time for us to learn from native Australians again. By cooperating, by limiting their population, by caretaking nature rather than abusing it, they survived in a difficult land for 60,000 years. The wisdom of their cultures may help us to survive beyond a few decades.

2. Buddhism also has much to offer. Here are a few Buddhist gems:

  • Contentment is through ceasing to want, not through satisfying desires.
  • The golden middle: too much is as bad as too little.
  • Suffering is a learning experience; we live to learn something in each cycle.
  • Strive to do no harm.
  • Small steps go far.

***

Perhaps it’s an example of cognitive dissonance, but I remain an optimist. I believe that humanity has some chance of seeing the end of the third millennium, if only enough of us change our beliefs, and therefore our actions, and lead sustainable lives. Exponentials have the most surprising way of suddenly taking off, and the exponential towards sanity might just do that.

Living a sustainable life has an unexpected side-effect: it feels good . Striving for the survival of humanity and its wonderful life support system is a more satisfying game than seeking power and wealth. So, even if we fail, if in fact we have already killed Mother Earth and ourselves with Her, the effort is worthwhile.

So, join me! Like those ancient Italian peasants who walked away from the corrupt Church, walk away from the corrupt Economy. The New Age is now. It is up to you to create it for yourself.

References


Verkerk, R. Building Out Termites: An Australian manual for environmentally responsible control. Leichhhardt, NSW: Pluto Press, 1990.

Meadows, Donella H. et al., The Limits to Growth: A report for the Club of Rome’s project on the predicament of mankind. New York: Universe Books, 1972

Masarovic, M. D. Mankind at the Turning Point: The second report to the Club of Rome. New York: Dutton, 1974.

Laszlo, E. Goals for Mankind: A report to the Club of Rome. London: Hutchinson, 1977.

Flannery, T. The Future Eaters: An ecological history of the Australasian lands and people. Chatswood, NSW: Reed Books, 1994.

Frankl, V.  Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy. New York: Pocket Books, 1963.


Family Court of Australia, Annual Report, 1996-1997.

Festinger, L. Conflict, Decision, and Dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1964.

Edward Goldsmith, Editorial, The Ecologist, July 1974.

Toynbee, A. A Study of History. (Rev. ed.) London: Oxford University Press, 1972.

Tansley, A. G. Britain’s Green Mantle: Past, present and future. London: Allen & Unwin, 1949.

Since writing this essay, I have come across writings by ‘Grey Owl’, who used fiction and pseudo-nonfiction to advance strongly environmental views in the 1930s. He was truly a person ahead of his time, and should be honored.

Ryle, G. The Concept of Mind. Penguin 1963.

Prager, D. A Simple Truth About Happiness. Readers’ Digest, July 1998, 11-13.

Advertisements

33 Responses to How to change the world

  1. Pingback: How to change the world | Bobbing Around

  2. Pingback: How To START Well by Dr. Bob Rich | The Learning Center

  3. Ralph says:

    Thanks Bob for informing me better than I thought I had been about all of this. 🙂 Ralph

    Liked by 2 people

    • bobrich18 says:

      Thank you Ralph. I’ve been thinking and writing about these issues since 1972, because I had young children then, and wanted a good future for them.

      Instead, we got the current craziness. That’s where Buddhist acceptance comes in so I can stay sane, and even contented.

      🙂
      Bob

      Liked by 2 people

  4. pendantry says:

    This is all good stuff. Too much to take in at once, though: I shall have to return.

    I would make one comment, though:
    “Communist China is the worst polluter in the world” — currently true, but why? (Clue: ‘Made in China’ labels on everything everyone else buys.) Mitakuye Oyasin.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Oh, I fully agree. I do my insufficient best to avoid things made in China. Well, actually, I do my best to avoid buying anything.

      Every time I spend a dollar, I am subsidising the multinationals, one way or another. So, I earn as little as I can, and spend as little as I can. Unfortunately, they haven’t yet noticed the damage.

      🙂
      Bob

      Liked by 2 people

      • pendantry says:

        My second reading of your fine article prompts me to offer you a poem:

        Gaia, swirling heaven.
        Mankind blossoms, then explodes;
        The end: just deserts?

        PS Typo alert:
        LaterLatter-day Rome…”

        Liked by 1 person

  5. pendantry says:

    Hello again, I do hope you’re well, Bob 🙂

    I’ve been away from blogging for a while. I’ve read this through again, and am astonished to find that over a year after my first visit here, it is apparently only ‘liked’ by me. What do you think might be the reason for this?

    I’ve been looking for the ‘reblog’ button, thinking to republish on ‘Wibble’; but I can’t find it. Perhaps there’s a good reason for that (I remember that, when using ‘reblog’ before, I was thinking “hmm… this seems a rather poor way to highlight a good article — content duplication misses the whole point of hypertext.” And yet, though it’s a rather long read (by today’s low attention span standards) your words here cry out for a larger audience.

    Hmm… I’ve just discovered what that ‘Press This’ button does. Just call me a newbie! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Pingback: How to change the world | Wibble

  7. Veronica-Mae Soar says:

    Bob you put things so well and have sufficient knowledge to speak of relevant things which others might not.
    If I may comment. This whole writing constitutes, and is the length of, a “paper” and for that reason may well only be read all through by those already committed. One thing you did not mention is that 1) We live in a world of information overload, the response to which is to switch off and go back to what we were doing, the way of life we have slipped into which feels comfortable as an old jumper. 2) We are used to “sound bites” everywhere, We find them quick and easy to assimilate, to agree or disagree = and to move on.

    People will hardly ever change unless 1) they are forced to by a dictator, who they will hate until such time as they can remove him by fair means or foul. or 2) those around them are changing and they have the urge to join in. In a crowd, people will do what they would not do individually. Sadly this often means riots, fighting, destroying. But it could also mean getting together to take aid to stricken families, clubbing together to fund medical care for a sick child.

    When it come to our present situation there are still far too many folk who have not been directly affected – in other words there is not an identifiable common enemy or threat. Even those under several feet of water in our northern counties blame the government for insufficient defenses. The link to what is happening in the world to destroy our life support system is seldom made.

    Over the years I have been involved in numerous activities in which I was the one whose job it was to disseminate information – and it is the hardest thing in the world to actually get through to people however important your message might be. Newspaper and magazine articles, advertisements,, leaflets, posters, e-mails, blogs, short stories, poems – I have tried them all (and still do) But what is read today – if it is read at all, and not passed over – is forgotten tomorrow, and it is back to the comfortable jumper of customary activity.

    Everyone feels themselves to be “busy” despite all modern conveniences which should make life simpler and easier. “I am too busy” and “I haven’t got time” are heard constantly. They fill their lives (even if it is only with TV) because nature abhors a vacuum and stillness, contemplation and reflection are alien to them. Yet mindfulness is growing in popularity by leaps and bounds – so many ARE finding themselves looking for “something” – and we know of course that it is the spiritual (not religious) element of man which has been brushed aside and which many now unwittingly yearn for.

    I am doing just what I have said is not a good thing – writing at length, So I will stop now, as I COULD go on for ages. .

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Veronica-Mae, THANK YOU for the long and thoughtful comment. I certainly have the attention span to read it!
      I fully agree with everything you’ve written. This essay was an entry into a contest with a 4000 word limit — so I used about 3998. 🙂 But also, I’ve been pushing this message in many other ways. All we can do is the best we can do.
      Thankfully, people still read fiction. For the past several years, I’ve clothed my message in stories that are entertaining in their own right, so, without preaching, I can hopefully lead people to think and question.
      I hope you might contribute the occasional 500 word essay to my newsletter Bobbing Around?
      🙂
      Bob

      Liked by 2 people

    • pendantry says:

      I think you’ve hit several nails squarely on their heads there, Veronica-Mae.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Veronica-Mae Soar says:

    Thanks. In fact I do produce short stories with a “message” but when I entered one for a short story competition I was told it was “too didactic” !! 🙂 I also write “eco-poetry. I think sometimes that whereas people will not read a long involved and often (as they perceive it) dry article, they will read a poem and nod. To what extent this changes their attitude, or whether they are already converts I do not know.
    There is an intriguing paper available on why people switch off when you say “Climate Change” I have not yet downloaded the pdf. but if you are interested I will seek out and send the url (if I am able.)
    Understanding Public Complacency About Climate Change:
    Adults’ mental models of climate change violate conservation of matter
    John D. Sterman MIT Sloan School of Management 30 Wadsworth Street, Room E53-351, Cambridge, MA 02142 jsterman “at” mit.edu
    Linda Booth Sweeney Linda_Booth_Sweeney “at” post.harvard.edu
    Citation: Sterman, J. and L. Booth Sweeney (2007). Understanding Public Complacency About Climate Change: Adults’ Mental Models of Climate Change Violate Conservation of Matter, Climatic Change 80(3-4): 213-238.
    Abstract
    Public attitudes about climate change reveal a contradiction. Surveys show most Americans believe climate change poses serious risks but also that reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions sufficient to stabilize atmospheric GHG concentrations or net radiative forcing can be deferred until there is greater evidence that climate change is harmful. US policymakers likewise argue it is prudent to wait and see whether climate change will cause substantial economic harm before undertaking policies to reduce emissions. Such wait-and-see policies erroneously presume climate change can be reversed quickly should harm become evident, underestimating substantial delays in the climate’s response to anthropogenic forcing. We report experiments with highly educated adults-graduate students at MIT-showing widespread misunderstanding of the fundamental stock and flow relationships, including mass balance principles, that lead to long response delays. GHG emissions are now about twice the rate of GHG removal from the atmosphere. GHG concentrations will therefore continue to rise even if emissions fall, stabilizing only when emissions equal removal. In contrast, results show most subjects believe atmospheric GHG concentrations can be stabilized while emissions into the atmosphere continuously exceed the removal of GHGs from it. These beliefs-analogous to arguing a bathtub filled faster than it drains will never overflow-support wait-and-see policies but violate conservation of matter. Low public support for mitigation policies may be based more on misconceptions of climate dynamics than high discount rates or uncertainty about the risks of harmful climate change.
    You can download the full document in PDF format by clicking the link below.
    Download full paper (PDF)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Veronica-Mae, thanks for this. I am aware of the evidence about attitude change. In fact, I run an occasional workshop on how to move attitudes.

      I used to think that all we are experiencing is due to wishful thinking, not active evil, but writing my Doom Healer stories has revealed to me that there is a positive force pushing us toward deliberate extinction.

      You are welcome to submit a poem to Bobbing Around. Send it by private email to bob at bobswriting dot com
      🙂
      Bob

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Veronica-Mae Soar says:

    You may well be right. If you study the past it is quite clear that nothing lasts forever. Think Ozymandias. We are a global nation of Ozymandiases. In our arrogance we think we are invincible and that our creations will last forever. Tell that to those nations of the past which rose to great heights only to disappear into the dust.

    How many folk do you have who come to read what you write ?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Hi Veronica-Mae.
      Got your poem, and it’s going into my February Bobbing Around. Thank you.
      Bobbing Around has a subscription list of about 670, and I know several recipients share it. Others respond to my bulk notifications without subscribing, and the list of “followers” of this blog is increasing.
      As for other posts — I know I could deduce things from the site statistics, but am too busy to bother. Writing is much more fun. 🙂
      You are of course right. All things that had a start have an end. The evidence indicates that humanity’s existence as a species is nearing its end. Because I love children, and have several related to me, this threatens to get me down, which is when I use Buddhist equanimity, and rely on evidence validating the concept of reincarnation. Those children will have further chances, as many as they need, in other schools for souls when this one becomes uninhabitable.
      Meanwhile, all we can do is the best we can do.
      🙂
      Bob

      Liked by 1 person

  10. colinc says:

    First, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your entire essay, Mr. Rich, despite the few religious overtures, in one sitting. Took me a little over an hour, I’m not the fastest reader and I read EVERY word (some more than once) since most(?) authors include each one for a reason. This time also included a few sojourns to the kitchen for an initial filling of my wine glass and a couple subsequent refills. It may surprise(?) you that I’ve also taken a few “notes,” aka copy/pasted (into Notepad) certain passages, which I plan to elaborate on later. (It’s getting near supper-time.) This elaboration will be (I hope) shorter than your essay but will almost certainly be longer than the “too long” comment admitted to by Ms. Soar on 11-Jan. When I complete that, most-but-not-all of which will be complementary and, quite likely, complimentary, would you prefer I just post it here or that I email it to you, “privately,” first so that you can include it here, or not, at your discretion? In case you may wonder, I found this essay from “pedantry’s” blog after taking a gander at his website linked in a comment at witsendnj.blogspot.com. So, mostly kudos but a few “quibbles” require(?!) elaboration. (Note, it may actually take me a day or two to complete as it will not be my only “obligation.”)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Colin, thank you for your visit, and for the seriousness with which you’ve treated my ideas.
      For your reassurance, I am not at all religious. All religions are human-made. If you must put me into a box, it’s ritual-free Buddhism, which in any case is a philosophy, not a religion.
      At the same time, I do admire Jesus’s message, and only wish we all lived by it.
      I am looking forward to your thoughts. If they are of the order of 500 words, I can put them into my newsletter Bobbing Around if you wish, or they can go here as a comment.
      🙂
      Bob

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature says:

    This is a great post. Thank you so much!
    Mary

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you Mary. I had a brief look around your blog, and love it. (Don’t have time for more at the moment because I’m judging a contest).

      Please look around at my other offerings.

      🙂
      Bob

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: How to change the world | Industrial Civilization - A Cult of Death

  13. Andrew says:

    Hi Bob
    Thanks for your writings I really appreciate and agree with most. As a non denominational Christian how can you explain the prophecies in the Old Testament about the coming of Christ and his sacrifice for humans to have a chance to be forgiven of there sinful nature and look forward to a afterlife. Do you believe in a after life (heaven or hell). Do you think the bible is the word of the creator written through inspired men. Do you agree it has stories and poetry that in no way man can write to that standard of wisdom today and it was written over several thousands of years with no contradictions. Jesus said there is no other way to go back home to our father other then through him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment, Andrew.
      Well, first, I am not a Christian. If you must put me in some sort of category, it’s a Buddhist Jew, but I don’t practice any ritual. My choice is to take the beautiful and wise messages, wherever I find them.
      Jesus’ message of universal unconditional love is something I set as an aim for myself, to try and achieve as best I can.
      Both the Torah (old testament) and the new testament are human creations, but they embody wisdom and inspiration. I don’t accept either of them as the Word of God. The Torah is full of internal inconsistencies and contradictions, and the new testament was written by Constantine’s synod of 365 AD, given the somewhat confused information they had then, and it was in part a political document that ignored some of the evidence of Jesus’ time they knew about.
      But what matters is the message, which is inspiring. I think they did a magnificent job.
      Your words are a little bit of synchronicity, because I am currently writing the fourth volume of a series. One of the characters, an old lady called Gretchen Ubleck, is a prophet, and the reincarnation of past prophets including Samuel. She has told me where “I am the way” and “only through me” have come from. It wasn’t from Jesus, but from her in a previous incarnation.
      🙂
      Bob

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Interesting, well thought out and written piece Bob. Thanks for some thought and education.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. MathePeter says:

    Dear Bob,

    I agree with all you’ve written, thanks a lot for your excellent work. I’m also a so called “old man” (significantly over 70) and I too have fought a long fight (about 15 years only) trying to awake our still deep sleeping co-citizens.

    We’ve now almost come to the end of this fight.The bright burning signs and letters at the wall behind make it clear. It’s been in vain when measured by the reaction of our co citizens. But we’ve tried and we can at least look at ourselves in the mirror when shaving, without having to vomit, when looking into our own eyes. That was worth the effort, we’ve at least tried.

    Let me point out to the situation in Fukushima: After what I’ve heard about that – not in our public media of course – it’s far from beeing over. First the Pacific is hardly concerned but it won’t stop there. It will creep all over our precious and most unique globe and settle everywhere like fine dust.

    What I fear most at the moment is, that there will be another terrible war in Europe, for some so called “human beeings” it might be the last resort to resolve this trouble at the costs of humanity.
    What let’s certainly hesitate them is, that the “other side” expressed quite clearly that a dog beaten by a stick does best not to bite the stick, but to go to the throat of those who handle the stick. This might well be the end of the human race and the human race will then have deserved it, to get to the sink of history. It’s a most terrible suspicion, but nature and our globe might be better and safer without mankind. Let’s hope for the best or in my words:

    Whatever the domination evil on our wonderfull and precious globe wants to do with us:
    Let’s stay human and decent.

    with my best wishes to you from the deepest South of Germany ( near the Austrian and Swiss border, Lake of Constance).

    Peter

    Like

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Peter, thank you for the honour of your visit and thoughtful comment.
      I agree, we are past the tipping points, and are racing toward extinction. As you say, that’s just. Unfortunately, we are taking the rest of the ecosystem with us: we are now officially in the 6th extinction event of this planet. It promises to be as bad as the one that ended the Permian period 250 million years ago. 96% of species died out. That was due to the release of methane and carbon dioxide in the volcanic event that formed Siberia. Now, the cause is us.
      While I don’t shave (grin), I agree that if we are doing our best to act with compassion and rationality, at least we don’t need to feel guilty.
      The basic problems are greed and aggression. If by some magic every human were to change to acting with compassion and cooperation, we could delay, and barely possibly even reverse disaster.
      So, Peter my brother, keep up the fight.
      🙂
      Bob

      Like

  16. Veronica-Mae Soar says:

    It is so easy to feel that things are hopeless. Yet there ARE thousands of thoughtful people, especially youung ones, around the globe doing their best every day to make things a little better. Sometimes it takes something dreadful to wake up those who have been sleepwalking – a different sort of tipping point – and I see evidence that this point may have been reached.. The only thing we must believe is that we are not alone. Every day I read or hear about good people everywhere, some of them doing extraordinary things, all of them looking for something better

    Consolation
    In a wondrous country far, illumined by the morning star
    There abide the sisters three, Faith and Hope and Charity

    When we cannot find the way, fear besets us day by day,
    When upon the brink we stand, Faith is there to take our hand.

    When we see our fellows fall, no-one there on whom to call.
    How to help them ? what to say ? Charity shows us the way.

    When the mountain seems too high, troubles mount up to the sky.
    In the darkness of the night, Hope holds up her shining light.

    @ anti-copyright: Veronica-Mae Soar Sept 2000

    (Under “Creative Commons” you may copy this anywhere it might be useful,
    provided I get a credit, it is copied accurately and that it is copied for free.
    A copy of where it appeared would be appreciated)

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Thank you, Veronica-Mae.
    Charity is the one most lacking in our world. Fear and hate of “the other’ makes me want to cry. So, your call for a better way is most appreciated.
    🙂
    Bob

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s