There is More to Corrosion Than Getting Rusty

I took a break from Thomas Friedman’s “Hot, Flat and Crowded”
to read through a small book—”The Corrosion of Character” by Richard Sennett, described by Studs Terkel as “A devastating and wholly necessary book”.

Sennett’s book is sub-titled “The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism” and it deals with the ways in which current work environments in the industrialized world undermine the moral and ethical behavior of individuals and society in general. For instance, trying to reconcile the bringing up of children to honour long-term commitment and loyalty while working in a world which routinely “downsizes” the workforce by getting rid of the longest-term employees and values only those workers who can accommodate major changes in direction on a moment’s notice causes many people to become disconnected from the reality of life. Teamwork, one of the tenets of the new capitalism ideology is shown to be based on superficial co-operation and held together by fear; failure to be a “good” team worker will often lead to dismissal so workers feign co-operation and belief in the ideology only to prevent termination of employment.

Rather than assigning value to long-term experience, corporations look at older workers, perhaps still in their 30’s as being averse to risk and behind the times in technology and knowledge so they are the first to be “downsized” when the business feels it is necessary to become leaner (and meaner). Even youthful appearance is valued over experience in many enterprises so the work experience tends to be shallow, fleeting and incoherent.

Perhaps those who vote for the party that promises “jobs, jobs, jobs” should take a look at themselves to see if they fit the narrow and superficial requirements to be hired for those jobs as well as how many of those low-wage, long-hour and soul-deadening jobs they would need to survive and support their families.

The last words of the content are – “. . . a regime which provides human beings no deep reason to care about one another cannot long preserve its legitimancy”.

Truth in [Free] Marketing — does this have to be an oxymoron?

I am currently reading Hot, Flat and Crowded by Thomas L. Friedman, a Pulitzer Prize winning foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times. In the chapter titled “The Stone Age Didn’t End Because We Ran Out of Stones” this quotation appears:

“Socialism collapsed because it did not allow the market to tell the economic truth. Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow the market to tell the ecological truth.” – Oystein Dahle, former president of Exxon for Norway.

“What he meant, of course, is that the basic paradigm of modern, industrial-age capitalism, which flowered in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, treated things like pollution, waste, and CO2 emissions as essentially irrevalent “externalities” that could be ignored. As any economic textbook will tell you, an externality is any cost or benefit resulting from a commercial transaction that is borne or received by parties not directly involved in the transaction . . .”

“. . . We have been fooling ourselves with fraudulent accounting by not pricing these externalities. As [Ecologist] Lester Brown put it, we as a society ‘have been behaving just like Enron, the rogue energy giant, at the height of its folly.’ We rack up stunning profits and GDP numbers every year, and they look great on paper ‘because we’ve been hiding some of the costs off the books.’ Mother Nature has not been fooled. That is why we are having climate change. That which is not priced is not valued, and if our open lands, clean air, clean water, and healthy forests are not valued, the earth, when it is this flat and this crowded, will become a very hot, no-cost landfill very fast.”

So, add “Change the direction of the Free Market and the mindset of all those involved in it” to the list of things to do in the next few years in order to save our species and our planet. One more in a long and growing to-do list, each of which would be described by almost anyone who considered themselves rational as “IMPOSSIBLE” . . . but all of which have to be done, and quickly, if our descendants are to have a chance at being born.

Climate Wars – Gwynne Dyer (2008)


Does that sound scary enough? It sure as hell does to me. Canadian geopolitical analyst and syndicated columnist Gwynne Dyer doesn’t pull any punches in this work which illustrates a number of plausible outcomes of the now-well-advanced effects of anthropogenic climate change. Here’s an excerpt from the dust jacket:

“Now that the “debate” about whether human activity is affecting the Earth’s climate is over, the urgent question is what kind of future awaits us?

According to the world’s experts, the more the climate changes, the more everything will change, from everyday questions of what, or indeed whether, we eat to shifting geopolitical alliances.

Governments around the world pay their senior military officers to identify and counter threats to their security, and climate change scenarios that not long ago would have been considered the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters are already looming large in the military planning process.

In other words, if our civilization’s greenhouse gas emissions push global temperatures 2 degrees past pre-industrial levels, not only will we have reached the point at which a series of “feedback” loops trigger further change, we will in all likelihood be headed towards war: war over access to water, over arable land, over dwindling resources.”

Here is a short piece from the book that says it all about our chances:

“But the political, economic and strategic variables are even harder to calculate, and it is they that will decide whether human beings manage to contain [Anthropogenic Climate Change]. The proposed remedies are numerous, but they don’t all match up, and they almost all require that scarcest of commodities—political will.”

Skeptics, Delayers (and millions of other deniers)

My current read is HOT AIR – Jeffrey Simpson, Mark Jaccard and Nic Rivers (2007). Like many other books on the crises currently facing the Earth, the Human and all other species, this book has a section about our individual and collective failure to understand and/or face reality.

Below is an excerpt from this section of the book:

“Beyond the skeptics and delayers are millions of citizens for whom climate change has been an abstract problem divorced from their daily preoccupations. Part of the problem in attracting their attention concerns timing. Acting seriously against climate change would impose short- to medium-term costs on companies, governments, and individuals; not taking action will result in costs and risks over a much longer term. The immediate costs tend to be traceable and measurable; the long-term gains tend to be diffuse, and the long-term costs, by definition, remote and uncertain.”

“Even if people feel that doing something about climate change is important, their attention is easily and understandably diverted to more immediate concerns about health care, taxes, jobs, personal security, education. Most people are likely to display only a passing interest in problems lacking a direct link between action today and results tomorrow. Traditionally, cynical politicians count on this.”

“There are also uncertainties about climate change — fewer and fewer with each new study, but nonetheless estimating risks is a challenge. Critics therefore have argued that we should not act until we are certain about the precise dimension of the risk. More study before action has been a constant refrain of climate change skeptics and delayers for two decades in Canada.”

“Curiously, that is not how we address other risks. We follow rather a standard procedure with other hazards in our daily lives and businesses. If many independent experts tell us that a risk is significant, we do not usually pretend that we know more than the experts and act as if the risk were zero. We put on seat belts in case our car crashes, or the police detect us without one — two kinds of risk. We spend money on fire alarms, fire extinguishers, fire insurance, heat-activated sprinklers. We take these precautions even though we are far from certain that our house will catch fire.”

In the past insurance underwriters have charged reduced premiums for those who have done their best to mitigate (the underwriters) risk. Good drivers get a preferential rate on car insurance, those who protect their homes with fire resistant materials and systems that reduce fire risk reduce the premiums they pay for house insurance. Perhaps its time to start lobbying for reduced premiums for policy holders who can show that they are acting in a range of ways to reduce their overall carbon footprint. Since the same companies underwrite all classes of insurance, anyone who reduces carbon emissions will save such companies money – so why should they pay the same premiums as those who do not? This would get the public’s attention!

The Great Enemy of Truth

“The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive and unrealistic”.
This was John F. Kennedy speaking to the Yale graduating class on June 11, 1962.

I am currently reading “Smelling Land” by David Sanborne Scott and the author opens a very good explanation of human reluctance to changes in the way we think with the above quotation.

Below is an excerpt from the book:

“It seems to me there are three ways we acquire knowledge—by accretion, integration or substitution. Depending on which route we’ve traveled to knowledge, new information sometimes requires that we pay an emotional price for the insight, understanding and comprehension we’ve found. So let’s try to anticipate how the route influences the emotional price.”

Accretion is the process of gluing additional information to the body of knowledge we already have. It can be fun. Usually the new information is accepted willingly and without stress. A single, easily understandable factoid is added to our brain’s immense memory capacity—disturbing no embedded knowledge, demanding little intellectual effort, requiring no emotional price. Everyone has their own examples—a new football scoring record would suffice.”

Integration is the process by which we come to appreciate a new and better way to link together the knowledge we already have, to place bits and pieces within a clarifying pattern. Since integration requires refitting many data chunks, to test how they fall within a new template, the process often needs a little more thought, more reflection. Still, although the effort may be greater, the resulting synthesis can be joyous compensation. We seldom need to pay an emotional price. Indeed, we often get an emotional high. An integration experience for a student mechanical engineer could occur when, in a moment of revelation, she suddenly realizes that the vector calculus equations she’s been applying to fluid mechanics can be wonderfully applied to the electromagnetic field theory that her electrical engineering roommate is studying, so that, together, they understand both fluid and electromagnetics a lot better.”

Substitution is different. New, discordant. white-knuckle information crashes in upon long-held beliefs, upon our convictions. We first scurry about looking for counter-arguments. for rationales that will undermine the new information, allow it to be set aside. But if all defensive arguments fail, and if we’re willing to push aside pre-existing flawed perceptions, then substituting new knowledge can be a painful process. None but the courageous will tread here. A childhood substitution, a few days before Christmas, in your parent’s cupboard, the train set you’d asked for from the North Pole—and you suddenly realize there really isn’t any Santa Claus. Or even tougher, because we’re older with beliefs more solidified, might be when we come face to face with implacable flaws in political or religious ideologies we’ve held for as long as we can remember.”

Which path should I travel through life? Do I have a choice?

In his 1989 book “The Seat of the Soul”, author Gary Zucav talks about the world as witnessed by human personalities and that same world as lived through the human soul. He describes these alternate journeys through the same time and space by the same individual as being horizontal (personality) and vertical (soul).

“Each human soul has both guides and Teachers. A guide is not a Teacher. Guides are what might be thought of as experts in a certain field that are called in for consultation. If you are writing a book, for example, or creating a project, or organizing an event, a guide that has the quality of warmth, or creativity, or insight that you wish to incorporate into your work is available to you.

Teachers work on a more personal plane of involvement, so to speak, although they are impersonal energies that we personalize, that we feel a personal relationship with. A nonphysical Teacher brings you ever closer to your soul. It draws your attention to the vertical path, and to the difference between the vertical path and the horizontal path.

The vertical path is the path of awareness. It is the path of consciousness and conscious choice. The person who chooses to advance his or her spiritual growth, to cultivate awareness of his or her higher self, is on a vertical path. The vertical path is the path of clarity. The potential for the creation of clarity and the experience of interacting with your nonphysical Teacher are one and the same.

The horizontal path is the path that satisfies your personality. A businessman or a businesswoman, for example, who devotes his or her life to the accumulation of money is on a horizontal path.No matter how diverse his or her ventures may become, they are essentially identical. If they make money, they please the personality, and if they lose money, they distress the personality, but they do not serve the higher self. They do not serve his or her spiritual growth.

A person that seeks relationships only to gratify his or her own needs, such as his or her own emotional or sexual needs, will find thay each relationship is essentially identical, that the people in his or her life are replaceable, that experiences with the first and experiences with the second are essentially the same. This is the horizontal path. Each new experience in not really new. It is more of the same thing. To experience relationships of substance and depth requires approaching and entering into relationships with consciousness and concern for the other. That is the vertical path.

This does not mean that learning does not occur in all situations, and that when a horizontal path is no longer appropriate to a soul’s learning, that soul will not leave it behind. Sooner or later, each soul will turn toward authentic power. Every situation serves this goal, and every soul will reach it. The vertical path begins with the decision to do that consciously.”