The Matrix was a documentary

31 03 2019

Interesting article from The Conversation

Incredible as it may seem, the end of March marks 20 years since the release of the first film in the Matrix franchise directed by The Wachowski siblings. This “cyberpunk” sci-fi movie was a box office hit with its dystopian futuristic vision, distinctive fashion sense, and slick, innovative action sequences. But it was also a catalyst for popular discussion around some very big philosophical themes.

The film centres on a computer hacker, “Neo” (played by Keanu Reeves), who learns that his whole life has been lived within an elaborate, simulated reality. This computer-generated dream world was designed by an artificial intelligence of human creation, which industrially farms human bodies for energy while distracting them via a relatively pleasant parallel reality called the “matrix”.‘Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real?’

This scenario recalls one of western philosophy’s most enduring thought experiments. In a famous passage from Plato’s Republic (ca 380 BCE), Plato has us imagine the human condition as being like a group of prisoners who have lived their lives underground and shackled, so that their experience of reality is limited to shadows projected onto their cave wall.


Read more: The great movie scenes: The Matrix and bullet-time


A freed prisoner, Plato suggests, would be startled to discover the truth about reality, and blinded by the brilliance of the sun. Should he return below, his companions would have no means to understand what he has experienced and surely think him mad. Leaving the captivity of ignorance is difficult.

In The Matrix, Neo is freed by rebel leader Morpheus (ironically, the name of the Greek God of sleep) by being awoken to real life for the first time. But unlike Plato’s prisoner, who discovers the “higher” reality beyond his cave, the world that awaits Neo is both desolate and horrifying.

Our fallible senses

The Matrix recalls several philosophical thought experiments. Warner Bros

The Matrix also trades on more recent philosophical questions famously posed by the 17th century Frenchman René Descartes, concerning our inability to be certain about the evidence of our senses, and our capacity to know anything definite about the world as it really is.

Descartes even noted the difficulty of being certain that human experience is not the result of either a dream or a malevolent systematic deception.

The latter scenario was updated in philosopher Hilary Putnam’s 1981 “brain in a vat” thought experiment, which imagines a scientist electrically manipulating a brain to induce sensations of normal life.


Read more: How do you know you’re not living in a computer simulation?


So ultimately, then, what is reality? The late 20th century French thinker Jean Baudrillard, whose book appears briefly (with an ironic touch) early in the film, wrote extensively on the ways in which contemporary mass society generates sophisticated imitations of reality that become so realistic they are mistaken for reality itself (like mistaking the map for the landscape, or the portrait for the person).

Keanu Reeves and Hugo Weaving in The Matrix. Warner Bros

Of course, there is no need for a matrix-like AI conspiracy to achieve this. We see it now, perhaps even more intensely than 20 years ago, in the dominance of “reality TV” and curated identities of social media.

In some respects, the film appears to be reaching for a view close to that of the 18th century German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, who insisted that our senses do not simply copy the world; rather, reality conforms to the terms of our perception. We only ever experience the world as it is available through the partial spectrum of our senses.

The ethics of freedom

Ultimately, the Matrix trilogy proclaims that free individuals can change the future. But how should that freedom be exercised?

This dilemma is unfolded in the first film’s increasingly notorious red/blue pill scene, which raises the ethics of belief. Neo’s choice is to embrace either the “really real” (as exemplified by the red pill he is offered by Morpheus) or to return to his more normal “reality” (via the blue one).

This quandary was captured in a 1974 thought experiment by American philosopher, Robert Nozick. Given an “experience machine” capable of providing whatever experiences we desire, in a way indistinguishable from “real” ones, should we stubbornly prefer the truth of reality? Or can we feel free to reside within comfortable illusion?


Read more: Why virtual reality cannot match the real thing


In The Matrix we see the rebels resolutely rejecting the comforts of the matrix, preferring grim reality. But we also see the rebel traitor Cypher (Joe Pantoliano) desperately seeking reinsertion into pleasant simulated reality. “Ignorance is bliss,” he affirms.

The film’s chief villain, Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), darkly notes that unlike other mammals, (western) humanity insatiably consumes natural resources. The matrix, he suggests, is a “cure” for this human “contagion”.

We have heard much about the potential perils of AI, but perhaps there is something in Agent Smith’s accusation. In raising this tension, The Matrix still strikes a nerve – especially after 20 further years of insatiable consumption.





The third curve…. concept vs reality

17 10 2018

Money vs Oil Real Combined - SmallerThanks to good old facebook, I have discovered another webside I want to share with my now nearly 800 followers…. Mansoor Khan is writing a book called The Third Curve, and is publishing it chapter by chapter on his website. I am currently distracted by a wedding and a funeral in Queensland, and haven’t yet delved too far into this book, but I was originally attracted to it by that telling graph at left, because it clearly describes the disconnect between concept and reality….

Khan studied engineering at IIT, Cornell University and MANSOOR_KHAN_4MIT but then went on to make four feature films including Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander. In 2003, he moved to Coonoor, to realize his first passion of living on an organic farm. His first book, ‘The Third Curve – The End of Growth as we know it’ explains the limits of growth in economy and industry from an Energetics perspective.

Gail Tverberg, and others, have been saying for some time now, that the disconnect occurred during the 1970’s and 1980’s oil shocks, when the amount of net energy available from conventional oil (there was nothing else that far back) started going down. It was also the time when Thatcher and Reagan had to choose between managing limits to growth, or deregulating everything and, as Thatcher put it, move from a society to an economy. Of course the former never had a chance in hell of being applied, so now we are stuck with this neoliberalism cancer that will destroy civilisation…….

Debt has clearly replaced net energy to keep growth going until it can’t – like round about right now – and surely collapse can no longer be very far away……. Mnsoor Khan calls it deficit in real growth.

Phase 2 Deficit - Money and Oil - Smaller

Khan writes…….:

To most, the Modern Industrial World is the epitome of man’s ingenuity: a glorious manifestation of human intelligence and enterprise.
In my opinion, this is completely untrue.

The fact is that all the seemingly fabulous constructs and conveniences of the Modern Industrial World were only possible because of abundant and cheap fossil fuels. Human ingenuity was a co-factor and not the prime reason for it. As simple as that!

With a wild Concept like “Time-Value of Money” floating on the edge of our consciousness, we were simply looking for the perfect ally from Reality to make Exponential Growth possible.

And we found that ally. It was Oil – nothing but over 150 million years of ancient sunlight trapped in the bosom of the Earth.

A once-in-an-eternity bounty. Plentiful, cheap, energy-dense, portable, easily convertible to heat, motion, and electricity… A primeval elixir so varied in possibilities, having the unique innate ability to morph into a dazzling array of useful materials that it, but naturally, shaped the most powerful culture ever to dominate this Earth: modern industrial civilization.

No wonder oil has been referred to as the “blood of the devil”, a double-edged warning!

With the discovery of oil, the Concept and the Reality fused effortlessly and we took the easiest path. Whatever oil offered us, we seized: cars, airplanes, plastics, lubricants, complex electronics, computers, space travel, internet, gigabyte memory chips, mobile networks, artificial limbs, mega cities, automated garbage collection, robot-controlled assembly lines, global food networks, moving mountains or damming rivers, clearing forests or strip mining! Anything seemed possible! Nothing else could have achieved it on this scale of size, speed and complexity. Yes, oil allowed us to nurture the most audacious, wasteful, self-indulgent and even self-destructive ideas we could dream about, and turn them into reality.

This led the civilized world to believe that we did all this because of our superior intelligence as a species and as a culture. We patted ourselves on the back by terming it innate “human ingenuity”. We felt that, even if oil was removed or reduced, we could simply replace it with some other form of energy and continue on the same trajectory. This we also deemed to be our entitlement and inevitable destiny. Shoot the messenger but the message remains. This is a pipe-dream. Few ponder on why this is so.

It is because oil was not only an unbelievably cheap, plentiful, dense and portable source of energy to RUN our world, but also a divinely unique source of mind-boggling byproducts that BUILT our Modern Industrial World. Bitumen for our roads, plastics for everything, lubricants for all kinds of machinery, fertilizers and pesticides for our complex and vulnerable modern food production, chemical reagents for pharmaceuticals and endlessly more.

All these and more are intertwined in a complex web of interdependencies that are hard to unravel, let alone replace, to make the Modern Industrial World possible.
And reaching the peak of oil production means only an imminent decline of what is possible.

The world will not disappear because of Peak Oil but we will find ourselves in a considerably different world with a new set of economic rules, in fact, an inversion of the rules of Economics: Shrinkage instead of Growth. To appreciate fully what oil means, we first have to do a primer on energy.

The third curve is worth visiting just for the cartoons!

 

 





Awakening From The Matrix

30 08 2018

HOW could I ignore this article for this blog…..!

Society Is Made Of Narrative. Realizing This Is Awakening From The Matrix.

Go to the profile of Caitlin Johnstone

In the movie The Matrix, humans are imprisoned in a virtual world by a powerful artificial intelligence system in a dystopian future. What they take to be reality is actually a computer program that has been jacked into their brains to keep them in a comatose state. They live their whole lives in that virtual simulation, without any way of knowing that what they appear to be experiencing with their senses is actually made of AI-generated code.

Life in our current society is very much the same. The difference is that instead of AI, it’s psychopathic oligarchs who are keeping us asleep in the Matrix. And instead of code, it’s narrative.

Society is made of narrative like the Matrix is made of code. Identity, language, etiquette, social roles, opinions, ideology, religion, ethnicity, philosophy, agendas, rules, laws, money, economics, jobs, hierarchies, politics, government, they’re all purely mental constructs which exist nowhere outside of the mental noises in our heads. If I asked you to point to your knee you could do so instantly and wordlessly, but if I asked you to point to the economy, for example, the closest you could come is using a bunch of linguistic symbols to point to a group of concepts. To show me the economy, you’d have to tell me a story.

Anyone who has ever experienced a moment of mental stillness knows that without the chatter, none of those things are part of your actual present experience. There is no identity, language, etiquette, social roles, opinions, ideology, religion, ethnicity, philosophy, agendas, rules, laws, money, economics, jobs, hierarchies, politics or government in your experience without the mental chatter about those things. There’s not even a “you” anywhere to be found, because it turns out that that’s made of narrative, too.

Without mental narrative, nothing is experienced but sensory impressions appearing to a subject with no clear shape or boundaries. The visual and auditory fields, the sensation of air going in and out of the respiratory system, the feeling of the feet on the ground or the bum in the chair. That’s it. That’s more or less the totality of life minus narrative.

When you add in the mental chatter, however, none of those things tend to occupy a significant amount of interest or attention. Appearances in the visual and auditory field are suddenly divided up and labeled with language, with attention to them determined by whichever threatens or satisfies the various agendas, fears and desires of the conceptual identity construct known as “you”. You can go days, weeks, months or years without really noticing the feeling of your respiratory system or your feet on the ground as your interest and attention gets sucked up into a relationship with society that exists solely as narrative.

“Am I good enough? Am I doing the right thing? Oh man, I hope what I’m trying to do works out. I need to make sure I get all my projects done. If I do that one thing first it might save me some time in the long run. Oh there’s Ashley, I hate that bitch. God I’m so fat and ugly. If I can just get the things that I want and accomplish my important goals I’ll feel okay. Taxes are due soon. What’s on TV? Oh it’s that idiot. How the hell did he get elected anyway? Everyone who made that happen is a Nazi. God I can’t wait for the weekend. I hope everything goes as planned between now and then.”

On and on and on and on. Almost all of our mental energy goes into those mental narratives. They dominate our lives. And, for that reason, people who are able to control those narratives are able to control us.

And they do.

Most people try to exert some degree of control over those around them. They try to influence how those in their family, social and employment circles think of them by behaving and speaking in a certain way. Family members will spend their lives telling other family members over and over again that they’re not as smart/talented/good as they think they are to keep them from becoming too successful and moving away. Romantic partners will be persuaded that they can never leave because no one else will ever love them. To varying degrees, they manipulate the narratives of individuals.

Then there are the people who’ve figured out that they can actually take their ability to influence the way people think about themselves and their world and turn it into personal profit. Cult leaders convince followers to turn over their entire lives in service to them. Advertisers convince consumers that they have a problem or deficiency that can only be solved with This Exciting New Product™. Ambitious rat race participants learn how to climb the corporate ladder by winning favor with the right people and inflicting small acts of sabotage against their competing peers. Ambitious journalists learn that they progress much further in their careers by advancing narratives that favor the establishment upon which the plutocrats who own the big media companies have built their kingdoms. They manipulate the narratives of groups.

And then, there are the oligarchs. The master manipulators. These corporate kings of the modern world have learned the secret that every ruler since the dawn of civilization has known: whoever controls the narratives that are believed by a society is the controller of that society. Identity, language, etiquette, social roles, opinions, ideology, religion, ethnicity, philosophy, agendas, rules, laws, money, economics, jobs, hierarchies, politics, government: all mental constructs which only influence society to the extent that they are believed and subscribed to by a significant majority of the collective. If you have influence over the things that people believe about those mental constructs, you have influence over society. You rule it. The oligarchs manipulate the narratives of entire societies.

This is why there have been book burnings, heretic burnings, and executions for mocking the emperor throughout history: ideas which differ from the dominant narratives about what power is, how money works, who should be in charge and so on are threatening to a ruler’s power in the exact same way that an assassin’s dagger is. At any time, in any kingdom, the people could have decided to take the crown off of their king’s head and place it upon the head of any common beggar and treat him as the new king. And, in every meaningful way, he would be the new king. The only thing preventing this from happening was dominant narratives subscribed to by the society at the time about Divine Right, fealty, loyalty, noble blood and so on. The only thing keeping the crown on a king’s head was narrative.

The exact same thing remains true today; the only thing that has changed is the narratives the public subscribe to. Because of what they are taught in school and what the talking heads on their screens tell them about their nation and their government, most people believe that they live in a relatively free democracy where accountable, temporary power is placed in the hands of a select few based on a voting process informed by the unregulated debate of information and ideas. Completely separate from the government, they believe, is an economy whose behavior is determined by the supply and demand of consumers. In reality, economics, commerce and government are fully controlled by an elite class of plutocrats, who also happen to own the media corporations which broadcast the information about the world onto people’s screens.

Control the narratives of economics and commerce, and you control economics and commerce. Control the narratives about politics and government, and you control politics and government. This control is used by the controllers to funnel power to the oligarchs, in this way effectively turning society into one giant energy farm for the elite class.

But it is possible to wake up from that narrative Matrix.

It isn’t easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes work. Inner work. And humility. Nobody likes acknowledging that they’ve been fooled, and the depth and extent to which we’ve all been fooled is so deeply pervasive it can be tempting to decide that the work is complete far before one is actually free. Mainstream American liberals think they’re clear-eyed because they can see the propaganda strings being pulled by Fox and Donald Trump, and mainstream American conservatives think they’re clear-eyed because they can see the propaganda strings being pulled by MSNBC and the Democrats, but the propaganda strings on both trace back to the same puppet master. And seeing that is just the beginning.

But, through sincere, humble research and introspection, it is possible to break free of the Matrix and see the full extent to which you and everyone you know has been imprisoned by ideas which have been programmed into social consciousness by the powerful. Not just in our adult lives, but ever since our parents began teaching us how to speak, think and relate to the world. Not just in the modern world, but as far back as history stretches to when the power-serving belief systems of societal structure and religion were promoted by kings and queens of old. All of society, and all of ourselves, and indeed all of the thoughts in our heads, have been shaped by those in power to their benefit. This is the reality that we were born into, and our entire personality structure has been filtered through and shaped by it.

For this reason, escaping from the power-serving propaganda Matrix necessarily means becoming a new creature altogether. The ideas, mental habits and ways of relating to the world which were formed in the Matrix are only useful for moving around inside of it. In order to relate to life outside of the power-promulgated narratives which comprise the very fabric of society, you’ve got to create a whole new operating system for yourself in order to move through life independently of the old programming designed to keep you asleep and controlled.

So it’s hard work. You’ll make a lot of mistakes along the way, just like an infant slowly learning to walk. But, eventually, you get clear of the programming.

And then you’re ready to fight.

Because at some point in this process, you necessarily come upon a deep, howling rage within. Rage at the oligarchic manipulators of your species, yes, but also rage against manipulation in all its forms. Rage against everyone who has ever tried to manipulate your narrative, to make you believe things about yourself or make other people believe things about you. Rage against anyone who manipulates anyone else to any extent. When your eyes are clear manipulation stands out like a black fly on a white sheet of paper, and your entire system has nothing to offer it but revulsion and rejection.

So you set to work. You set to work throwing all attempts to manipulate you as far away from yourself as possible, and expunging anyone from your life who refuses to stop trying to control your narrative. Advertising, mass media propaganda, establishment academia, everything gets purged from your life that wants to pull you back into the Matrix.

And they will try to pull you back in. Because our narratives are so interwoven and interdependent with everyone else’s, and so inseparable from our sense of ourselves, your rejection of the narrative Matrix will present as an existential threat to many of your friends and loved ones. You will see many people you used to trust, many of them very close to you, suddenly transform into a bunch of Agent Smiths right in front of your eyes, and they will shame you, guilt you, throw every manipulation tool they have at you to get you to plug the jack back into your brain. But because your eyes are clear, you’ll see it all. You won’t be fooled.

And then all you’ll want is to tear down the Matrix from its very foundations and plunge its controllers into irrelevance. You will set to work bringing down the propaganda prison that they have built up around your fellow humans in any way you can, bolt by bolt if you have to, because you know from your own experience that we are all capable of so much more than the puny gear-turning existence they’ve got everyone churning away at. You will despise the oligarchs for the obscene sacrilege that they have inflicted upon human majesty out of greed and insecurity, and you will make a mortal enemy of the entire machine that they have used to enslave our species.

And, because their entire kingdom is built upon maintaining the illusion of freedom and democracy, all they will have to fight back against you is narrative. They’ll try to shame you into silence by calling you a conspiracy theorist, they’ll have their media goons and manipulators launch smear campaigns against you, but because your eyes are clear, none of that will work. They’ve got one weapon, and it doesn’t work on you.

And you will set to work waking up humanity from the lie factory, using whatever skills you have, weakening trust in the mass media propaganda machine and opening eyes to new possibilities. And while doing so, you will naturally shine big and bright so the others can find you. And together, we’ll not only smash the narratives that imprison us like a human caterpillar swallowing the narrative bullshit and forcing it into the mouth of the next slave, but we’ll also create new narratives, better narratives, healthier narratives, for ourselves and for each other, about how the world is and what we want it to be.

Because here’s the thing: since it’s all narrative, anything is possible. Those who see this have the ability to plunge toward health and human thriving without any regard for the made-up reasons why such a thing is impossible, and plant seeds of light which sprout in unprecedented directions that never could have been predicted by someone plugged into to establishment how-it-is stories. Together, we can determine how society will be. We can re-write the rules. We are re-writing the rules. It’s begun already.

Out of the white noise of a failing propaganda machine, a new world is being born, one that respects the autonomy of the individual and their right to self-determination. One that respects our right to collaborate on large scales to create beautiful, healthy, helpful systems without the constant sabotage and disruption of a few power-hungry psychopaths who would rather rule than live. One that respects our right to channel human ingenuity into harmony and human thriving instead of warfare and greed. One that respects our right to take what we need, not just to survive but to thrive, and return it to the earth for renewal. One that respects the sovereign boundaries of not just ourselves and each other, but of the planet spaceship that we live in.

Unjack your cortex fully from the fear-soaked narratives of insanity, and let the true beauty of our real world flood your senses. Let the grief of what we have unknowingly done send you crashing to your knees in sorrow. And when you’re ready, stand up. We have much work to do.





Time to rethink monetary policy

3 05 2018

“But another crisis is brewing; and there are signs that it will be bigger than 2008.  And when that crisis bursts over us, this time around we need to put these changes in place before the economists rally round and persuade our craven politicians that there is no alternative… because there is.”

Lifted from the excellent Consciousness of Sheep blog….

When the first stuffed platypus was presented to European scientists, they dismissed it.  “What we have here,” they opined, “is some unfortunate lutrinae onto which some scoundrel has attached various anatidae parts.”  And so the innocent little platypus, which had been minding its own business until the European explorers arrived, was placed on the same zoological shelf as the Yeti.

The European scientists, you see, had a model.  A map of how the world’s animal species were ordered.  At the apex, predictably, were humans themselves.  Beneath them were anatomically similar apes and monkeys; followed by cats, dogs, pigs, etc.  What all of these “higher” species had in common, however, was that they were all mammals – creatures that carry their young in an internal womb, and that suckle them with milk.  This distinguished them from other, dissimilar species like birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects.

Then along comes this upstart platypus, not just looking like it possesses bird parts, but having the audacity to lay eggs!  For several decades, despite growing evidence that platypuses were real, European scientists continued to dismiss these reported sightings as fake news.  The platypus was an unfortunate intrusion into the scientists’ neatly ordered model of how the world worked.  Despite the philosophy of science demanding that a fact – like the existence of a platypus – that disproves a model is the very essence of falsifiability, the scientists chose to reject the fact rather than deconstruct and rebuild their model.

The same European scientists later – and infamously – rejected evidence for the existence of one of the platypus’s neighbours… the black swan… which brings us to a modern pseudoscience that also famously rejects reality in order to preserve the models that it has spent decades finessing.

Economic models have already proved their – very negative – worth in the worst possible way in the shape of the 2008 financial crash and the ensuing global depression.  This ought to have been enough for the entire economics profession to be given their marching orders and afforded their true place alongside aromatherapists, astrologers and homeopaths.  However, in 2008, governments lacked any acceptable alternative.  So despite knowing that an economic forecast was of equal value to flipping a coin, they put the same economists who had broken the system in charge of fixing it.

The economists did no such thing, of course.  The financial crisis of 2008 was the platypus of our age; something so out of step with the models that it could not reasonably be incorporated into them.  They even used the term “black swan” to describe it.

Any examination of the real economy over centuries, however, demonstrates that cyclical period of boom and bust – frequently punctuated by major financial crashes – are in fact the norm.  It is the so-called “Great Moderation” in the economists’ model that is the aberration… the thing so out of step with reality that it can reasonably be dismissed as fake news.

This, however, is merely the most obvious flaw in an economic model that is based on anomalies.  Most importantly, almost everything that economists are taught about how the economy works is based on what happened in the course of the two decade long mother of all anomalies; the post war boom 1953-1973.  As historian Paul Kennedy explains:

“The accumulated world industrial output between 1953 and 1973 was comparable in volume to that of the entire century and a half which separated 1953 from 1800.  The recovery of war-damaged economies, the development of new technologies, the continued shift from agriculture to industry, the harnessing of national resources within ‘planned economies,’ and the spread of industrialization to the Third World all helped to effect this dramatic change.  In an even more emphatic way, and for much the same reasons, the volume of world trade also grew spectacularly after 1945…”

In other words, economic modelling based on how the economy operated in the decades prior to the First World War might provide a closer fit to the real world in 2018.  The same is true for interest rates. As political economist Mark Blyth has shown, economists have modelled interest rates on the two decades around the historical high point in 1981.  However, for the entire period following the introduction of derivatives by the Dutch in the sixteenth century, the average interest rate is below four percent.

This is no trifling academic issue.  Interest rates have become the primary means by which economists – to whom our politicians have handed the leavers of power – seek to manage the economy.  The aim of “monetary policy” being to raise interest rates sufficiently high to prevent a recurrence of the inflation of the 1970s, while keeping them sufficiently low that they do not trigger or exacerbate a repeat of the 2008 crash.

The problem with this as of 2018 is that despite close to zero percent interest rates – and trillions of dollars, euros, pounds and yen in stimulus packages – the rate of inflation has barely moved.  Indeed, with growth rates stalling in the USUK and Eurozonedeflation is more likely than inflation.  Despite this, the Federal Reserve, Bank of England and European Central Bank remain committed to raising interest rates and reversing quantitative easing… because that is what their model tells them that they should do.

Central to the model is a belief – based on those anomalous decades when we had growth on steroids and interest rates to match – that employment causes inflation.  So with the official rate of unemployment in the USA standing at 4.1 percent and the UK at 4.2 percent, the model is telling the economists at the central banks that inflation is already running out of control… even though it isn’t.  As Constance Bevitt, quoted in the New York Times puts it:

“When they talk about full employment, that ignores almost all of the people who have dropped out of the economy entirely. I think that they are examining the problem with assumptions from a different economic era. And they don’t know how to assess where we are now.”

Larry Elliott at the Guardian draws a similar conclusion about the UK:

“Britain’s flexible labour market has resulted in the development of a particular sort of economy over the past decade: low productivity, low investment and low wage. Since the turn of the millennium, business investment has grown by about 1% a year on average because companies have substituted cheap workers for capital. Labour has become a commodity to be bought as cheaply as possible, which might be good for individual firms, but means people have less money to buy goods and services – a shortfall in demand only partly filled by rising levels of debt. The idea that everyone is happy with a zero-hour contract is for the birds.

“Workers are cowed to an extent that has surprised the Bank of England. For years, the members of Threadneedle Street’s monetary policy committee (MPC) have been expecting falling unemployment to lead to rising wage pressure, but it hasn’t happened. When the financial crisis erupted in August 2007, the unemployment rate was 5.3% and annual wage growth was running at 4.7%. Today unemployment is 4.2% and earnings are growing at 2.8%.”

This is a very different economy to the one that operated between 1953 and 1973; a time when the workers’ share of productivity rose consistently.  In those days a semi-skilled manual worker had a sufficient wage to buy a home, support a family, run a car and afford a holiday.  In 2018, a semi-skilled manual worker living in the UK depends upon foodbanks and tax credits to remain solvent.

In short, despite mountains of evidence that the economists’ model bears no relation to the real world, like their nineteenth century zoological counter parts, they continue to reject any evidence that disproves the model as fake news.  One obvious reason for this is that all of us – whatever our specialisms – get a sinking feeling of despondency when some inconvenient fact comes along to tell us that it is time to go back to the drawing board.  Understandably, we test the inconvenient fact to destruction before deconstructing our models.  But even when the fact proves sufficiently resilient to be considered to be true, there remains the temptation to sweep it under the proverbial carpet and pretend that nothing is amiss.

There is, however, another reason why so many economists spend so many of their waking hours studiously ignoring reality when it whacks them over the head with the force of a steam hammer.  They simply do not see it.  That is, if you are on the kind of salary enjoyed by a member of one or other monetary policy committee, your lived experience will be so removed from the experience of ordinary working (and not working) people that you simply refuse to believe them when – either by anecdote or statistic – they inform you of just how bad things are down on Main Street.

The two proposed solutions to this latter problem involve the question of diversity.  Among its other work, the campaign group Positive Money has highlighted the race and gender disparity at the Bank of England.  However, were we to just swap some white male mainstream economists for some equivalent BME and female mainstream economists, this is unlikely to have much impact.  A second approach to diversity from radical economists such as Ann Pettifor is to break up the neoclassical economists’ monopoly by bringing in economists from different schools of economics.

Arguably, however, neither of these proposed solutions would be sufficient to solve the problem of economists refusal to allow facts to stand in the way of their models.  For this, something even more radical is required – a complete rethink of the way monetary policy is made.  The 2008 crash and the decade of near stagnation for 80 percent of us that followed has demonstrated that the approach of handing economic policy to technocrats has failed.  The unelected Bank of England or Federal Reserve Chairman can no longer be allowed to be the final authority.  Policy must ultimately reside with elected representatives  whose jobs are on the line if they mess up.

Of course it is entirely reasonable that our representatives base their decisions on the advice and recommendations of experts.  It is here that real diversity is required.  Not merely swapping white male economists for black female ones, or opening the door just wide enough for some token contrarian economists.  Rather, what is needed is for monetary policy committees to encompass a range of specialisms far beyond economics and the social sciences, together with representatives from trades unions, charities and business organisations that are more in touch with the realities of life in the real economy.

None of this is about to happen any time soon; not least because nobody voluntarily relinquishes power and privilege.  But another crisis is brewing; and there are signs that it will be bigger than 2008.  And when that crisis bursts over us, this time around we need to put these changes in place before the economists rally round and persuade our craven politicians that there is no alternative… because there is.





COP21 Climate Change Summit Reaches Deal In Paris

13 12 2015

Mark Cochrane on COPOUT21

The climate pact in Paris has been agreed to and there are reasons to not only be relieved but impressed with the rhetoric that got into the final agreement. Specifically,

Emphasizing with serious concern the urgent need to address the significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation pledges in terms of global annual  emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with  holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature  increase to 1.5 °C

This is positive because it acknowledges that 2C isn’t a panacea and 1.5C would be a lot safer though far from optimal too. I am surprised that this got into the agreement since Saudi Arabia was dead set against this potential accelerant to improving the current agreement and encouraging countries to exceed their current commitments.

That said, the devil is in the details and none of those details are encouraging. At present this is where we stand.

If countries do what they have pledged to do we will still vastly exceed 2C, never mind holding at 1.5C. This leads to the obvious question as to what is the likelihood that countries will live up to their pledges? Although the climate pact was agreed to, the only thing binding in it is for countries to make voluntary commitments (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions – INDCs) that will be reviewed (and updated?) every five years. So each country is committed to choosing their own targets for emissions reduction (or reduction in growth of emissions) but there is nothing binding them to actually achieving those goals… In other words, this is a best of intentions agreement.

Furthermore, the signing of this Paris Agreement means next to nothing at this point as it is only the agreement to try to agree to actually do this. From Article 21

This Agreement shall enter into force on the thirtieth day after the date on which at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 percent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.

This was roughly the same convention used for ratifying the Kyoto Protocol which was agreed to in 1997. However because of U.S. intransigence the actual ratification process was stymied until Russia ratified it in late 2004, allowing the Kyoto Protocol to go into force at long last in 2005.

So, there is now a toothless agreement with voluntary commitments that may eventually be ratified. Once it is ratified, a country can withdraw from the agreement three years after it goes into force if they send a written request to do so….

In short, this is far from a perfect document and it certainly does not ‘save the planet’. That said, getting 192 countries to agree to anything is almost impossible. My personal hope is that what this document does is put every country on the planet on record as agreeing that Global Climate Change is a serious problem for all of us. Doing so shifts negotiations from denial of the predicament we face to the bargaining phase of trying to deal with it with as little real sacrifice as possible. However, as the mindset shifts, more and more can be accomplished and perhaps we will finally allow human ingenuity to be applied to generating more positive outcomes. Right now the fear exists that we can’t possibly afford to do anything about reducing carbon emissions without collapsing the economy but this was the same nonsense peddled when the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer was put into place. In the end, the agreement was not economically catastrophic or even disruptive. Change does not have to destroy the economy it just shifts where the money goes within it.

Without this agreement the world was effectively dead in the water, with it, we are still in the water but not yet dead.





I changed my mind too…….

9 11 2015

Dave Pollard

Dave Pollard

Every now and again, some blogger I follow writes a doozy of an entry.  This one by Dave Pollard, with whom I am usually on the same page, has just done this, and I just had to share it.  Awesome.

Enjoy…….

Human beings, it seems, change our worldviews — what we value and believe to be true — pretty slowly. When I started this blog 12 years ago, my worldview was pretty left-of-centre orthodox, as you can see on the left side of the above sketch.

A dozen years later my worldview has radically shifted, as shown on the right side of this sketch (see the footnote if you want a little more elaboration on these ‘new’ views). Some of the shifts came about from personal research and study, or from reading. Other changes came from some place deeper, an intuitive sense and knowledge that was not intellectual, and which I have come to trust more and more as each new intellectual discovery confirms what I intuitively already ‘knew’. Whether we’re conscious of it or not (and we’re mostly not), we are connected with all life on Earth and constantly ‘learning’ from it. I don’t see that as spiritual; it’s how life on that planet has evolved so successfully and in such a nuanced and balanced way over two billion years, largely without the dubious benefit of large ‘individual’ brains. This planet has a collective intelligence, and it’s a lot smarter than we can ever hope to be.

These radical changes in my worldview have been difficult to internalize and come to grips with. But what’s been even more challenging is how dramatically they have altered my take on just about everything I encounter, think about or do in my life. Everything looks utterly different through this raw new lens. The cognitive dissonance between what I see through this lens and what almost everyone else seems to believe (and the media present as ‘truths’) is staggering.

So I can appreciate that our political, economic, health and education systems are dysfunctional, grossly inequitable and substantially corrupt, but (through my new worldview) given the importance of preparing for a world in which these systems will soon have utterly collapsed, I can’t get excited about attempt to reform the present ones, or even stirred to outrage at their failings. The bridge is falling; what does it matter now who’s to blame and what might have been done to strengthen it?

And through my new worldview, I can’t bear listening to idealists tell us about how This Changes Everything, when I know how complex systems function and how nothing (within the capacity of the human species, anyway) changes everything (or really anything very much, at any scale or for very long or even necessarily for the better). Have we forgotten what happened after the Arab Spring, the fall of the Soviet Union, the “liberation” of Afghanistan and the Obama Campaign of Hope already?

But for those whose current worldviews mirror what mine was in 2003, I can appreciate why they believe, urge and do what they do. And I’m not arguing that my current worldview is ‘better’ than my old one, or than anyone else’s, because, as I say, we’re all on our own lonely path to trying to make sense of the world, and if we come to the conclusion that our worldviews are in sync and we make sense of the world the same way, we’re probably deluding ourselves. We can’t be other than who we are.

And in any case, our worldviews are only placeholders, parts of a flimsy and transient and indefensible model of a reality that will ever remain far beyond our understanding. They are playthings, not of much real use in the world anyway, and we take them far too seriously. If we are lucky, some of us (probably not humans) will vaguely appreciate that there is just one presence, one consciousness, and that all the lovely and sacred and sickly and destructive manifestations of that consciousness are just brief walk-ons in the play of life, of no enduring consequence.

But then, that’s just how I see it through the lens of my current worldview. Ask me again in another 12 years.

~~~~~

Note: Here’s a bit more on the elements of my ‘new’ worldview, in case you’re curious:

1. Our civilization will have completely collapsed by 2100. This collapse is part of the 6th Great Extinction of life on Earth, which began with the extermination of large mammals 12,000 years ago, and it will be accompanied by runaway climate change, the exhaustion of easily and inexpensively accessible natural resources, and the collapse of the unsustainable debt-driven industrial ‘growth’ economy.

2. Most human activity occurs within massive, unfathomably complex, self-perpetuating, change-resistant social and ecological systems. As such, we have very little control over our lives, internally or externally, and can’t hope to predict or significantly influence our future or our society’s trajectory. Complex systems evolve to resist attempts to reform or replace them (their equilibrium has been hard-won), and it is only when they become unsustainable and collapse that space is created for new systems to emerge.

3. We are all doing our best, suffering and trying to heal from the fierce and chronic stresses of Civilization Disease. The enormous stress that civilization culture imposes on us inevitably makes us physically and emotionally ill, but this culture’s cruel messages are that (a) ours is the only way to live and (b) we are responsible for our lot in life. Healing begins when we realize these messages are untrue and that we are all struggling to heal, and in the meantime all trying to do our best, what we sincerely believe is best for those we love and for the world, under trying conditions.

4. Our sense of self, mind, self-control, separateness and time are all tragic illusions. Our brains evolved to help the trillions of cells that comprise ‘us’, to detect features and dangers and hence ensure their collective survival; our sense of a separate, in-control ‘self’, centred in the mind, is an unintended consequence of this evolution of large brains, an accident, that our culture has learned to exploit to keep us all in line so this culture can continue. We’ve hence lost the sense of connection and of being a part of all life on Earth, and this has allowed us to unwittingly destroy the systems that all life depends on. And by our nature we do what’s urgent in the moment, not what is important in the longer term, so we have no capacity to change what we are doing.

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Chris Hedges at The Earth at Risk Conference 2014

3 12 2014

Published on Nov 24, 2014

Interview with Chris Hedges at The Earth at Risk 2014 Conference and the moral imperative of resistance thru non-violent direct action and mass movements of sustained civil disobedience…