A weblog with random thoughts and reflections on society and ecology.
Tuesday, July 29, 2003
Process vs. Positions
We have gained a good deal of experience with our current democratic system. A system where typically two or more factions are in adversarial positions to each other, and where one faction gains power for a while, creates changes, which are reversed when another faction gains power shortly after. We all know it is an imperfect system.
Over the years, I have come to feel that most of the time it does not matter much who is in power. It is the same game of changing policies which then are reversed at next election. A solution to this is a more deeply democratic and participatory system - a system that focuses more on process and less on positions. One example is the citizen juries in Denmark, composed of a representative sample of the population, which examines in depth a particular issue - interviewing witnesses from all sides - and then comes with a recommendation to the government and the Danish people for how to approach the issue. As the juries are composed of a wide range of people and the process is solid, the solutions are typically perceived as balanced and wise by the general population.
The Co-Intelligence Institute describes this and similar approaches to participatory/process oriented democracy on their website, and in the book The Tao of Democracy.
Thursday, July 24, 2003
We have national leaders who accept, encourage and applaud the murder and assassination of leaders of other nations. Bush with Iraq's leaders - as now with the two sons of Saddam Hussein, and Sharon with Palestinian leaders.
In the western world, the principle of ethical universality is strong and at the core of our philosophical and religious traditions - traditions they both claim to uphold and promote. I truly wonder if they would applaud and encourage this particular principle if they were on the receiving end.
It becomes only more obvious that the so called "war on terrorism" is used to excuse inexcusable behavior - to further US global cultural, economic and military dominance (a goal directly stated by many US leaders). If they truly wanted to diminish terrorism, they would make sincere efforts to withdraw culturally, economically and militarily from around the world, and aid countries in strengthening their own cultural traditions and economics (on their terms). This will not happen soon, due to the trinity of multinational corporations (where short term profit is the main guiding principle), US politicians fully dependent on the same corporations for funding to be elected, and mass media owned by the same corporations.
Sunday, July 20, 2003
Our experience of the world is shaped and influenced by a multitude of factors:
(a) The structure and characteristics of this particular universe. The natural habits ("laws") as we know them.
(b) Being a planet-based creature.
(c) Our size. About 5-6 feet - enormous from the perspective of molecules or ants, tiny from the perspective of solar systems, galaxies and the Universe as a whole.
(d) Our life-length. About 50-100 years - long compared to the lifespan of a lightning, a bubble or a fly, a glimpse compared to the lifespan of planets and suns.
(e) Our evolutionary history. Our experiences is filtered through our evolutionary history - traits and patterns that helped our ancestors survive.
(f) Our biology. We perceive with senses that opens up for some impressions and experiences, but leaves a vastly larger number out. We hear in a very limited range (compared to for instance bats). We see in an equally limited range (compared with gold fish). Our sense of touch functions on a limited scale (we cannot sense molecules or even quite significant collections of molecules).
(g) Our culture.
(h) Our personal experiences.
(i) Our mental and physical state at the moment.
It has many benefits to be aware of this. It helps us detect our own bias and that of others, and take it into account. Our experience of the world is always limited and biased. The world is always infinitely more than and different from our experience of it. And our *ideas* of the world are in turn rigid and limited expressions of our fluid experiences... Our views and theories express our particular relationship with the world.
I was reminded of this when I read that an archeologist from Brigham Young University theorized that the Mayan culture disintegrated due to the "loss of the royal court and the erosion of public faith in the hierarchy" (National Geographic, August 2003, p. 99). Of course, Brigham Young is the University of The Church of the Latter Day Saints (aka Mormons), which place a very strong importance on faith in hierarchy.
Saturday, July 19, 2003
We are doing yardwork at our co-op today, which mainly involves lawn maintenance. The lawn will eventually be replaced with something else, but that is still somewhat in the future.
The history of lawns shows how many seemingly insignificant factors combined to have a large impact - on the look of our communities and how we spend much of our time.
The precursors of our modern lawns were the grazing areas around the manors in Great Britain. Following the industrial revolution, maintaining a lawn required hiring gardeners or having significant free time, and they became a symbol of wealth and disposable resources. As Great Britain was the main superpower of the day, this particular status symbol was adopted around the world.
[Possible sequence: (a) The few wealthy graze sheep around their manors. The poorer use the commons. (b) The wealthy shift their investments from livestock to factories during the industrial revolution. They are used to short grass around their manors, and hire gardeners to mimick the effects of grazing sheep. (c) Short grass/lawns become a status symbol, also for the growing middle class. (d) Great Britain is the main superpower of the day, and people around the world adopt this particular British status symbol.]
Today, lawns are partly a status symbol, but more than that - they are a sign of our lack of imagination. We plant, or inherit and maintain, a lawn because we don't know what else to do with it.
There are currently about 30 to 40 million acres of lawn in the US (estimates vary), which makes it the largest crop in North America. We spend $17.4 billion dollars, 300 million gallons of gas and 1 billion hours to maintain our lawns.
A look at biology gives us the reason for lawns being such resource sinks.
All ecosystems evolve towards greater diversity and maturity, and lawns are a prime example of immature ecosystems (a monoculture). Through growing long grass and "weeds" they move towards increased diversity and maturity. In maintaining lawns, we work against natural processes which - not surprisingly - requires an investment of large resources (time, money, gas, chemicals).
There are fortunately many attractive alternatives, ranging from low to high maintenance, and having few to multiple functions. Some examples are rock gardens, meadows and prairie (good insect and wildlife habitat), xeriscaping (plants thriving on regular rainfall in the area), and a flower and herbal groundcover.
Friday, July 18, 2003
I read "Lord of the Rings" as a teenager, and enjoyed it at the time. Now, I find it difficult to relate to the main premise of the story: The battle between "good" and "evil". It is a premise that seems to be at the core of what is unhealthy about our culture. It is the George W. Bush view of the world: The battle against good and evil. Sacrificing oneself for the sake of the higher truth... It is also the view of all caught up in a blindly dualistic view of the world - identifying people with abstract notions of good and evil, right and wrong. Some are "evil"/"bad" and "deserve" to be eliminated. Others are "good" and heroic.
The alternative is to recognize in ourselves what we see in others (shared humanity), and realize that the world is always more than and different from our perceptions of it. Our ideas of the world is just that - our ideas.
Saturday, July 12, 2003
Media & Hindsight
Media these days (especially in Europe) focus on Blair and Bush misleading the public about (a) the threat from Iraq (minimal or nonexistent) and (b) the ease of the war and occupation. The threat was known to be minimal even at the time, and the difficulties were predictable. It is astonishing that it takes so long for it to be a topic of conversation...
Of course, it is a typical pattern: First commit atrocities under the cover of false (often seemingly ethical) excuses to gain power and resources. Then gradually admit the pretense after it is too late to undo the situation. The situation for the First Peoples in North America is a prime example. First committing genocide and stealing their land and resources, then slowly elevate them after they are no longer a threat or in the way.
Here are some examples of what I wrote about the Iraq situation in March, four months before these issues became the focus in media:
Iraq posed no immediate threat towards the US or any other nation, according to their neighboring countries, the UN weapons inspectors and the CIA. There was no reason to not allow the UN weapons inspectors to continue their inspections for a few more months, as they asked for. With more than 200 weapons inspectors in Iraq, and a close scrutiny by the world community, the situation was well contained. "
The US government has systematically misled the public and lied about the Iraq situation. They have insinuated that there is a link between the Iraqi government and past, current or future terrorism, and there is none (again according to CIA and other intelligence sources). There is also no indication that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, according to among others the UN weapons inspectors. Hans Blix has expressed it clearly, and the Norwegian weapons inspector Jørn Siljeholm, said that the US systematically lied on this topic. ("Asked if the Americans lied, Siljeholm said: "Lie is a strong word - but yes, the information Powell presented about Iraq's nuclear program was simply incorrect," Siljeholm said.") "
It is likely that the invasion and occupation of Iraq will run into a number of problems. The main one may be a persistent guerilla warfare. The history of the Iraqi people gives them strong reasons for resenting and opposing an invasion and occupation by the US and the UK. Some examples: [...] To believe that the Iraqi population will welcome them with open arms is remarkably naive, and publicly expressing that assumption must be a willful deception or coming from a surprising lack of insight in human nature in general and the Iraqi history in particular. The Iraqis, no matter their view of Saddam Hussein, will most likely defend their country with any means available against what they see as an illegitimate invasion and occupation."
"Occupation and new government
Any attempt to install a US controlled government in Iraq is likely to run into massive problems, for some of the same reasons as mentioned above. The invasion, occupation and "nation building" process is likely to be long, tortuous, and expensive (in terms of dollars, lives, suffering, and loss of goodwill)."