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Links and Tweets for the Month: October 15, 2010

PREPARING FOR CIVILIZATION’S COLLAPSE The Revolution Will Not Be Blogged (or Tweeted): Sharon Astyk on our overuse of computers and the folly of technophile thinking:

[Citing Jared Diamond] “All of our current problems are unintended negative consequences of our existing technology. The rapid advances in technology during the 20th century have been creating difficult new problems faster than they have been solving old problems: that’s why we’re in the situation in which we now find ourselves. What makes you think that [now], for the first time in human history, technology will miraculously stop causing new unanticipated problems while it just solves the problems it previously produced?

The computer… is not lasting, is complex, often needs to be thrown away and cannot be fixed – or is more costly to fix than replace… Overwhelmingly, it isn’t making us smarter, or know more, saving us energy or changing the world. It is just another technology, doing some good and some bad…

I hear more and more from people who say they can’t get along with the people they actually live near, who are on an endless quest for people just like them, to spend their future with the mythical community of perfectly like-minded people. I hear more and more that someone can’t have a relationship with their neighbors and the people near them, and need to move somewhere else… Perhaps that’s an unintended consequence of the internet, no? Now that we’ve experienced the joy of little clubs filled entirely with people focused on X or Y shared thing, we’re less able to get along with the people whose common connection to us is a place, or a history or a more formal relationship?

Unless we are willing to ask “is this really good for us, now and forever?” we are likely to be trapped in the assumption that the next thing will magically set us free. And it won’t. The next thing will further invest us, and move us a little closer not to a solution, but to a collapse.

[Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker concurs, but for a different reason: Despite the strength of social networks’ weak ties (giving us access to essential information and critical connections), the social network form of “activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice.” And that’s not really activism at all.]

The Spectre of Deflation: Economist Mike Maloney tells a bankers’ conference he is predicting chronic deflation, to the point banks collapse, tax revenues drop, governments cease functioning, defaults soar, currencies collapse, stock markets tumble, even commodities collapse in value, as money supply seizes up and capacity to spend plummets toward zero. It’s all due to unrepayable debt levels — in the US $60T when you add it all up, and $180T if you add in the deficiencies in current value of pensions, medical and social security liabilities, that also need to be funded (and cannot possibly be). I’m not sure that he’s right about $10/bbl oil in the near-term, or about gold’s value soaring by additional factors of 10, but Ilargi has persuaded me his logic is mostly sound. What he’s missing is that, when people run out of money to spend, they won’t be able to buy gold either, so its price will also fall. [As Dmitri Orlov says, “the ultimate commodity in which to invest is not gold or shotgun shells but people you can trust”.] It’s compelling viewing nevertheless, even though he stomps off the stage at the end when he’s told he’s run out of time. The video has 2 parts; the link above is to the first half. LIVING BETTER Living Intentionally in Ethiopia: Awra Amba, a small intentional community in Ethiopia, where religious observance is prohibited and everyone’s work is equally valued, is a model for both struggling and affluent nations. As in many communities worldwide, because the soil is now so poor, it’s not self-sufficient, but they have found ways to live comfortably through local trade. Thanks to Tree for the link, and the one that follows. Worker Co-operatives: The Natural Form of Business: Once the domain of artists, credit unions and tradespeople, the co-operative movement is shifting to the service industries. [And speaking of co-ops, Dwight Towers writes about co-op movement founder Robert Owen and his Equitable Labour Exchanges, that used a local currency denominated in hours — where everyone’s time was valued equally.] Practicing Presence: Richard Moss struggles to explain in an hour what he says can take thousands of hours of practice: To know that we are not our thoughts and feelings, get beyond our brain’s controlling ego, let go of stories and just be in the present. This video gets better at the end. Thanks to Paul Heft for the link. The Benefits of Natural Burial: Natural burial is greener than cremation. Thanks to Beth Patterson for the link. POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL financial share of profits “This is Very, Very Bad”: Paul Krugman in the NYT sums up the foreclosure mess as the simple continuation of a massive and ongoing government-backed fraud perpetrated by US and global financial institutions against homeowners and taxpayers. Why is it allowed to continue? Because as the chart above shows (from, financial services make up 1/3 of US profits (and GDP). Only the war industry is comparable in size. Without banks and wars, there simply is no US GDP. Without these two industries, and rising housing values and consumer spending, there is no US economy. We Can’t Even Be Bribed to Eat Well: New research suggests we are now so addicted to food that is processed, chemical-laden and saturated with fat, salt and sugar, and so frightened to actually prepare foods ourselves, that even when good food is easy and inexpensive we choose junk food instead. Pipeline Safety Hazards Highlighted: We know (thanks to BP) about sloppy construction and lax safety in oil and gas exploration, and last month I highlighted the dangers and hazards in Alberta Tar Sands oil pipeline construction and operations. The NYT reveals that construction and operation of gas pipelines is equally lax. Profit before people and our environment. Obama’s Bloated Run-Amok Security Machine Gets Worse: Glenn Greenwald explains that, out-Bushing Bush, Obama is now justifying secrecy about his assassination program against alleged enemies of the US (even US citizens) on national security grounds. He’s essentially saying that if the US government decides it wants to kill you, you don’t even have the right to know of that decision, or that it was involved, or why it made that decision, or to appeal that decision or charge them for their action. Madness. Big Pharma Gets Medicinal Herbs Banned in EU: Intensive lobbying has paid of for Big Pharma and Agribusiness which successfully pushed the European Parliament to make its only competitor, small medicinal herb producers, meet staggeringly expensive registration and testing rules that effectively put them out of business. Thanks to Tree for the link, and the one that follows. Monsanto Kills: Their “safe” Round-Up herbicide is now connected to birth defects. Nature Conservancy: Just Another Front for Mega-Polluters: Take a look at the Nature Conservancy’s “Leadership Council” — talk about a rogues’ gallery of the world’s worst corporate citizens. Thanks to Keith Farnish for the link. Google Amps Up the Echo Chamber: The president of MoveOn warns that, now that Google automatically customizes our search results based on past search history and other information in our profiles (at one point you could choose to opt out of customized search and see what ‘everyone else’ would see as search results), there is an even greater risk that we will only be presented with information and viewpoints that conform to what we already believe. (whew, that was a depressing round-up; bet you’re ready for some…) FUN AND INSPIRATION This Is a News Website Article About a Scientific Paper: A brilliant parody of modern-day science reporting. Falling-down funny, and a bit scary. Thanks to Karen Hay-Draude for the link. [In the same vein: Robert Neuwirth’s Circle of Caveats — thanks to Brian Hayes for this link.] Imagining What’s Possible: A lovely post-peak-oil animation by Anita Sancha. Thanks to Dale Asberry for the link, and the one that follows. If Jealousy is Biological, Why Do Gays Get Jealous?: Author Christopher Ryan dissects a study showing that jealousy is independent of sexual orientation, and concludes that jealousy is a conditioned, learned behaviour. It stems, he argues, from endemic abandonment issues in modern societies where babies are deprived of natural, constant touch and attention from parents, and reinforced by a society that promotes heterogeneity, jealousy and monogamy as a means of psychological control. He supports his argument by referring to the pro-hetero, pro-monogamy, pro-partner-as-possession messages in popular media (exemplified by the nauseating song When a Man Loves a Woman). The Suck Fairy: Ever noticed how, just sitting on your bookshelves, the books and films you thought were wonderful when you were young, are, on rereading or reviewing, pretentious, unbearable, awful? Jo Walton blames the “suck fairy”. Hilarious. Thanks to Bowen’s Corbin Keep for the link. Continue reading the full article at How to Save the World. Dave Pollard is the author of Finding the Sweet Spot.

Dave is now probably best known for his weblog How to Save the World, where he writes about understanding how the world really works, and how we might create better ways to live and make a living. Dave is currently VP of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, where he is responsible for research and thought leadership, and more specifically for helping the accounting profession and entrepreneurs in general become more innovative, resilient and sustainable. Prior to this he worked with Ernst & Young for 27 years in many different capacities as CKO and Global Director of Knowledge Innovation, and as Director of Entrepreneurial Services. Dave speaks and writes prolifically on knowledge management, business innovation, and sustainable entrepreneurship. His first book, Finding the Sweet Spot: A Natural Entrepreneur's Guide to Responsible, Sustainable, Joyful Work, has just been published by Chelsea Green. He lives on a natural wetland on the Oak Ridges Moraine northwest of Toronto.

Why We Cannot Save the World

This article is an attempt to respond to those who say they see me as a defeatist, a ‘doomer’, a dogmatically negative person. I have described myself of late as a joyful pessimist, and will try to explain why. This article draws on various theories about complexity, and the phenomenological philosophies of several writers, poets, […] Read More..

What Does Presence Look Like?

Since my retirement, I’ve been attempting to practice being more present. One of the obstacles, I’ve discovered, is that I’m not entirely sure what presence ‘looks’ or ‘feels’ like. I think meditation is a worthwhile practice, but it doesn’t quite capture the full sense of ‘being present’ — that rare and remarkable feeling of being […] Read More..

Preparing for the Unimaginable

One of the lessons of Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan is that the events that have caused the greatest changes (and collectively most of the substantive change) to our civilization and our way of life were completely unexpected, unpredictable “black swan” events. His new book argues that rather than trying to plan and prepare for […] Read More..

Gangsters and Banksters

The Occupy movement has focused public attention on the vast and growing disparity of wealth and power in the US, and increasingly in other affluent nations. You’ve all seen the statistics — essentially all of the increase in real wealth and income over the last 40 years has accrued to less than 1% of citizens, […] Read More..

The End of Strategy

I spent much of my professional career developing and implementing Strategic Plans. The hardest part of this was that most people didn’t (and still don’t) know what ‘strategy’ is: the choice among alternative courses of action, not the determination of goals and objectives. It’s about how, not about what. Most of the ‘strategic’ plans I […] Read More..