Friday, 14 June 2013

Optimism for a Change!

I have a pile of books by the bedside that I've especially selected in alternate order, dismal and depressing followed by upbeat and optimistic to try give my psyche a chance to recover from 'The Most Dangerous Animal' and other assorted trials by guilt and disillusion.  

First up is Kwame Anthony Appiah a Ghanian philosopher who lives in America. The Honor Code, How Moral Revolutions Happen, is not, to be honest, the most entertaining of reads. What could have been a fascinating book ended up being a perseverance test, albeit a test well worth it. In 1800's Wilberforce was attempting to eliminate slavery in the West Indies sugar trade. According to him time spent appealing to lower class citizens was never wasted as "more than 9 out of 10 families would cheerfully adopt the resolution." (to not consume West Indian sugar.) It was thought to be a result of the 'humbler classes' being able to identify with issues of slavery.   Wilberforce states in capitals, 'SLAVERY COULD NOT LAST A YEAR IF THE MIDDLE CLASSES ONCE EXPRESSED A DECIDED OPINION AGAINST IT'.

I read that and think, if only we can get enough people to stand up and say, 'Enough!' we could even end slavery all over again (there are 27 million people in the world currently being used as slaves, more than at any other time in history, despite it being illegal in every country. Wilberforce would be dismayed. )

Kwame covered historical precedents for change in cultural practices such as footbinding, duelling and slavery and looked at how they became unacceptable.  Very briefly, it's a process of shaming, different in each context, it may be other countries call your practice barbaric (footbinding), which helps, but also a change in the honour system. When lower classes also began to bind their daughters feet the practice was tarnished for the upper classes, who no longer saw the practice as being exclusive to them, and they dropped it. Within a decade or so of a practice that had existed for over 1000 years it had dissipated by 94%.

I wonder how this applies to the environment and our current capitalist culture... do we mock and embarrass poor practice? Bring shame on it? but also build up a new honour code. I'm all for positive reinforcement, so I played around with creating the image above and set it free on Facebook. Not sure if it went anywhere. But as a result of reading the book I often think about how to use these kinds of techniques to shape change. 

Mark Stevenson's book, An Optimist's Tour of the Future was entertainingly written, but after the first two chapters I had difficulty not using it to prop up the leg of a table, or violently stuff cushions with it. The themes were of human evolution of the engineered kind, things like transhumanism, where with technology we bio-engineer humans to live forever. The supposedly logical next step; consider the example provided.

In the past you were deaf, so you used a hearing trumpet, then hearing aides, then cochlear implants. Obviously now we should be going further and regenerating or regrowing our own tissues and even going further in bio-evolving humans so we are better than we were originally designed. 

My anger stemmed from a number of sources, 1. We already have a major population problem and we want to make people live for thousands of years? Doh! 2. The inequality, we still have around 30,000 children dying every day of starvation and disease. 1 child every 45 seconds dies from diarrhea or dysentery. Wouldn't our time be better spent reducing the inequity between average life spans, rather than dramatically increasing the life spans of a select few?   It bought to mind some mindless lifestyle show I saw on Australian TV years ago where a middle aged wealthy woman was discussing the wonders of having a reconstructed vagina so she could enjoy sex more. It was ludicrously expensive and could have saved thousands of lives. I hope she thinks her .... was worth it. Grrr!

In an advanced state of grumpy I skimmed through chapters making disparaging noises till I came to the environmental section and was rewarded. 

I read through the third of the book in which I raced around the world with the author looking at what people are doing to reduce our impact, create alternatives and potentially a vision for a viable future. From an underwater cabinet meeting in the Maldives, to the Zippy Bling and Black Phantom in New Zealand (where incidentally he met up with a heap of very nice people - of course.) To the outback of Australia where farmers were utilizing a grazing method that was substantially increasing their profit margins while radically increasing soil carbon levels (I attended a workshop on this a while back and we're going to implement a similar strategy on our block).  I met, vicariously, Klaus Lackner and his artificial trees that could, with funding and resources, reduce CO2 levels to pre-industrial levels, and nano technology and solar cells, algae fuel...

It seemed as though these incredibly hard working people were able to see a better future than I can in my current state of solastalgia, and for once I closed the book feeling like maybe we do have a chance.


Jo said...

I would absolutely vote for whichever party used your manifesto as its platform... it is wonderful!

Wendy said...

Hi Linda.
I was directed to your blog by someone else, quite by coincidence because I had been trying to find a copy of your book Living the Good Life and couldn't remember your name or the title, only that when I read this when first published it inspired me greatly. I now have a blog about growing our own food.
I have been reading your posts on the state of the planet, humanity and I agree we're in a sad, sad way. While my husband feels we are a plaque and doomed because of what we are, I however remain optimistic (most of the time!)In the past 5 years there has been enormous growth in the numbers of people feeling the same way. In another post you spoke people like us thinking we are doing something productive but not really doing enough to bring about change. I believe we are little people ARE bringing about change) We are doing what people need to know how to do for the future, we can be the teachers, the exciters, the eccentrics in many ways. For I DO believe things will get alot worse before they get better.... I sincerely believe a back to the basics life will be one that is inevitable but necessary and many will struggle with this. I am not a Christian but the saying "The meek will inherit the Earth" often runs through my mind and I honestly think that this is on it's way to happening, a gentling of man and man's treatment of each other and our world needs to happen in order to exist here. In 500 years time we will be a primitive people, a period in history which was not nice but part of the evolution of mankind. My thoughts!! :)

Linda Cockburn said...

I agree Wendy. We will end up a far more primitive people. At least technologically. The futuristic wonderland we have been depicting since before the Jetsons has already happened. It's a failed paradigm. My problem is that the meek will inherit the earth... I worry it will be like a sinking ship full of rats. I know, you're not supposed to be so negative, but history shows us that humanity seems to exist in times of plenty, when we are forced to compete for survival... civilisation will be stripped away. I met a Dutchman once who lived through the second world war as a 15 year old POW. He told me the difference between civilisation and anarchy was three days without food. Your husband is not alone, more and more people are living without any hope of a positive future. Unless we address it now. And addressing it now requires change beyond what most of us would tolerate.