Insight : Desire : Resistance : Momentum : Pressure : Change : Effort

The incredible events of January 2011 in North Africa and the Middle East show us the natural passage of real change. Change is not easy, it is not painless, and we all have a certain resistance to it. Whether it is in our personal lives or on the political and social sphere, we recognize the need for change long before we act to actually bring about that change.

The result of our natural resistance to change is that, when it does happen, it appears to happen quickly. It looks like there is a sudden turn around, a dramatic change of character that seems to precipitate out of nowhere. It does not come out of “no where”, it is just “now here”. Real change is preceded by many steps before the step we call the “change”. First there is insight into the condition that transforms unconscious acceptance into a conscious desire for something different. Then there is resistance as the conscious mind evaluates the consequences to everything else that will result from this change. There is natural caution and wariness that mitigates against disruption that might not justify the benefits of the change. If the value of the change is sufficient, the desire for it builds momentum internally against the bulwark of resistance and starts to build up pressure. Finally when the pressure is high enough, some random event appears to trigger a rapid progression of actions and awakenings. This is the moment we call “change”; in fact, this moment is the culmination of a process.

There are two important facets to this process that are best consciously recognized in advance for the change to be both lasting and as free of collateral damage as possible. First, that there is time to prepare; second, that after the change event there is still lot of work to do.

The change event is often so seemingly spontaneous and rapid that developments occur in quick succession, and there little, or no, time to develop processes or plans in the moment. This is the reason why it is “the ideas lying around at the time” that become the modus operandi immediately after the event. In our personal lives the change event often comes to us without an opportunity to consciously perceive its imminent arrival, and so we are necessarily at the mercy of the tools that we have immediately to hand at the time. But in political and social change there is usually a developing consciousness that affords some the opportunity of foresight, and they can prepare the ground in advance of the event by evaluating and developing the options and alternatives. This preparation, by those who can, is valuable and important work, performing a significant service to others and the greater good.

After the change event(s), the translation of insight and desire into a lasting and credibly different path forward requires real effort and focus. To a certain extent, the drivers that lead to change happen unconsciously and spontaneously, but a new reality must be forged consciously out of the present conditions. Prior preparation can help just by recognizing the amount of work that will need to be done after the event, and how long it will take. Change is for the best when it is backed by determination and effort – history is littered with the stories of post-revolutionary reversion.

All this is the reason for developing The Standards of LIFE. A recognition that significant pressure is building in societies across the world and that the coming decade will see resistance overcome in many places, in many hearts and in different conditions. We are working to develop alternative models for our societies, our freedom and our prosperity that will serve us well when we decide that the time is right for us to change our status quo. Join us! Start preparing for your change!

We Know Better

Bottom up or top down, which way is best?

We know better than you. That’s the basic message we hear nowadays – from captains of industry, diplomats, politicians and humans with a claim on the mind of god. But the truth depends on where you’re standing and who’s saying it.

Are you a Monsanto executive talking about how to feed the world? Or are you a farmer talking about what works for your land?
Are you a Western diplomat talking about Middle East peace? Or are you a Middle East citizen talking about your community?
Are you a banker talking about sovereign debt? Or are you unemployed in a capitalist democracy?
Are you an executive responsible for 10,000 employees? Or are you one of those employees?
Are you a pontiff? Or a victim of rape?

Who knows better than you?

Well, you know that no one knows better than you, about you. It is an inevitable facet of being alive that we are the experts on our own experience. This leads us to develop a certain confidence about the veracity of our perspective that we bring unconsciously to our opinions about other things, things that are not actually our own, personal experience. This false confidence is why the useful development of our selves passes inevitably through humility. Humility is a process by which we learn to distinguish between we can really know, because it is our own experience, and what we are deducing, based on the combining of facts we have access to and our experience with similarities. Without an intentional effort to develop awareness and humility, we are mired in a thoughtscape of certitude that serves our perspective but does nothing for the common cause. In other words, no one need know better than you, so long as you are not making decisions for anyone else; if you are making decisions that affect others, it is supremely important that you understand who knows better than you.

So “who knows better” is defined by both access to facts and access to humility. Those with access to facts but without humility are subject to arrogance and self-deceit that depreciates the value and quality of their opinion. Today power is centered around a “top down” approach, whether that be in the form of major multi national corporations or the political elites of industrialized societies, that is substantially lacking in humility – as is demonstrably proven by the Wikileaks revelations. This need not be a bad thing, in and of itself, because many decisions made for the good of the majority are best made at a high level; but if humility is missing from the atmosphere that those decision are made in, the quality of those decisions becomes disastrously poor. And poor decisions made at the top, for vast constituencies, are potentially catastrophic for everyone – witness the quality of current decision making about climate change.

Successful leadership in a successful society brings together facts and humility, often in the position of a ‘public servant’: an acquirer of knowledge who acts on behalf of the greater citizenry to enable high quality, effective and empathic decision making. But even a public servant cannot be a knower of all things and there is bound to be tension between the goods of overlapping constituencies, and that is why we also have politicians. Politicians are supposed to take the informed knowledge and opinions of multiple public servants and fashion policy, meaning that they make the decisions arbitrating between competing ‘goods’. The entire decision making process in advanced and complex societies is substantially dependent on the quality of the public service that feeds information into the decision making process in the first place. That leads us to another very worrying development of the last few decades in many powerful democracies: the public service has, all too often, been co-opted by the private sector. Through a combination of devaluing the work of public servants and attempting to honour the unbridled right of every individual to seek the opportunities that reward them the most, we have corroded the boundaries between public and private service so much that there is now, in many countries, a revolving door between the two.

The best decisions would be taken by those informed by the best knowledge of the issue, steeped in humility and the pursuit of the greater good. Instead we have decisions taken by the supplicants of the rich and the powerful (privately funded politicians), informed by a public service that always has half an eye on the best interests of the private sector for whom they may wish to work in the near future. Humility is not even regarded as a quality worth having, and quite possibly it is seen as a weakness.

So who knows how to fix this?

It is helpful, and important, to recognize the multi-layered truth about decision making and the source of useful knowledge. It is unlikely that any one person is the exclusive holder of the truth, it is more likely that there are a few truths dependent on perspective, and that the best decisions will come from reconciling these to fashion a ‘best possible’ solution. The better version of decision making will incorporate this multi-layered reality in its foundation and structure, such that decisions are made at appropriately different layers for different issues. A decision making process that incorporates this reality will best serve the greater good in more cases than either a single top down or bottom up diktat. While today’s power structures are undoubtedly top heavily and need of radical adjustment, we would do well to consider this nature of the problem, and the best possible solutions before simply electing to turn the hat upside down again. (I say “again” because we have had revolutions before, inspired by a desire to turn the power structure upside down, but they quickly run aground on the rocks of practical realities, and revert to upside up in pretty short order.)

Thankfully, we are already fairly well equipped to make this transition because we have already adopted two important building blocks for better decision making: defining the multiple layers and establishing voting systems. Layers are geographically concentric segmentations of our lands; where continents contain countries, countries contain regions or states, and states contain counties or communities. All this is already practically implemented and established, albeit in need of a large dose of citizen choice in the form of self selection of association. Furthermore many places around the world already have voting systems set up in each of these constituencies, and many also have distinct layers of government at each level of constituency.

So what do we need to add or change?

Ironically, the biggest flaw in today’s democracies is that we have “bottom up” ways of electing politicians to our “top” layers of government. Inherited from our tribal, non-technological heritage we send local representatives up to regional, national and international decision making bodies; where they are quickly overwhelmed by the scope and size of the issues and the large interest groups formed specifically to operate successfully at that higher layer. The exception to this is the presidential model whereby an “executive” is voted for by all the members of the total constituency. However, keenly aware of the potential for corruption in an individual, we make that executive’s decision making power dependent on the support of the elected assembly of local politicians. This has been the “state of the art” structure for politics for over 200 years, and is often lauded for its incorporation of a “balance of power”, or system of “checks and balances”. In our modern world however, this structure is failing us, and fails to deliver the quality of decision making that we could have with a modernized structure that incorporates the advances in our technological capacities over the last two centuries. Modern communications and transport mean that now we can know about and vote for candidates over vast geographies – witness our existing presidential elections as an example of this in practice already.

Instead of a bottom up electoral system to generate top down government, a “layered” electoral structure, with a direct line between every citizen in that constituency and their representative for that layer of government, will yield better decision making by politicians specifically focussed on the issues best addressed at that layer of government. The citizens not only decide who makes decisions on their behalf, but also at which level or layer those decisions are best made. In a multi-layered democracy every citizen votes for a candidate from exactly the same slate of candidates as every other citizen in that same constituency. For instance, for a national assembly: every citizen in the nation votes for a candidate standing for election by all the citizens in the nation; the candidate is not going to the national assembly to represent a local district, they are going to the national assembly to make decisions about national affairs, and only national affairs. That same citizen votes for representatives in local and regional assemblies, who decide which issues are better decided at their level or promoted for decision by a higher layer.

Neither strictly “top down” nor “bottom up”, multi-layered representative democracy generates higher quality decisions by locating the decision making in the appropriate layer of government best able to “know best” (in the opinion of the citizenry) about that particular issue. In the end we know best and we need to structure our decision making bodies to allow us to define the best place for different decisions. We still need humility and quality public servants, but those will be easier to come by when we reform our political systems to disperse our power over appropriate constituencies.

To find out more about how all of this works visit www.standardsoflife.org/mlr

Open letter to the Basic Income community

Dear Citizen

The purpose of this open letter is to invite you to consider whether the goals of Basic Income can be attained more effectively and more sustainably through the provision of Universal Services.

First, let us say that we heartily agree with the basic objective of moving forward to the next evolution of social organization, and that we find the historical precedents that you cite in support for Basic Income are indeed the very same that support Universal Services. There is not the width of a hair between our visions of a peaceful society, in which each individual can fulfill their potential and use their unique skills and abilities to contribute to the whole in a way that honors their freedom. We both recognize that the empowerment of the individual is the basic fabric of our common society, and that it provides the foundation on which to rebuild a new economy.

Furthermore, the distinctions between our mechanisms for achieving the same goals can be seen as quite subtle, even muted. The basic mechanism of providing a structure within which each and every citizen is guaranteed the bare necessities to sustain life is common to both of our approaches, and it is this commonality that drives us to believe that we are sufficiently of one mind as to be able to bridge our differences and join forces in the pursuit of our common goals. Our differences do not separate our intentions, our commonalities define our opportunity to work together.

The primary difference between Basic Income (BI) and Universal Services (US) is whether or not money is provided to citizens. This is not a difference in intention or objective, it is a distinction in the mechanism used to reach the same goals, based on the same principles. We have studied the fundamental economics of modern, monetary systems and concluded that the most important rebalancing that must occur is to return to the social sphere those costs that are social, and that this is necessary to develop a sustainable economy. If we do not socialize our social costs we cannot make the books balance and we cannot preserve the value of currency.

We recognize that the development of our societies and commerce over the last centuries has left us with an unconscious assumption that monetary instruments are the appropriate, and often only, way to measure and account for value. It is a natural extension of this assumption that we think of welfare and opportunity in terms of monetary values. However when we use money to pay for what is actually a social cost we are both devaluing the currency and creating unsustainable accounting, because we cannot monetize the social benefits that would be necessary to balance the books.

In the US model the same objectives of BI are achieved: every citizen is availed of the basic necessities to sustain life, and the opportunity to develop their contributions to themselves and their society. No one is obliged to “work” to receive the services, and they can use the services as they need them. The level of universal services provided is dependent on what that society can afford, in the same way that the size of the BI grant varies based on the wealth of the society. Many of the enhancements to the functioning of the labor market as well as the environmental benefits are the same with both US and BI. However there are important differences in both the practicality and the impact of US versus BI.

The biggest advantage of US over BI is that it is affordable (and therefore more practical) because it “pays” for the “cost” of the services by socializing the labor portion of the cost of delivering the same services. BI does not change the fundamental accounting practices at the base of the modern capitalist system, which are crumbling under our feet as we speak. US removes the subsistence portion of labor costs from the monetary transactions in the economy, and in so doing balances the economic accounting by constraining the use of money to value only economic assets. The impact of BI is the reverse, it encourages the fallacy that monetary accounting can balance the world, that social good can be paid for and that social costs need to be measured in currency.

The second most important reason why US is preferable to BI is that it enables the development and growth of a microeconomy that can supplant capitalist enterprise as the primary economic fabric of our societies, and this is a fundamentally more sustainable foundation for our society. By removing cash payments from the social support system US effectively enables the provision of micro services rendered for micro payments. When citizens seek to supplement their US in order to afford “luxury” items that are not included in the US they can meet those needs by providing services, products or labor according to their skills and abilities at prices that are effectively the marginal value added. This creates a rich ecosystem of micro transactions that creates a micro economy that meets needs more directly and accurately at lower cost and with less waste. With BI the transactional value of any service, product or labor is increased to a level that is defined by the value of the BI grant more than the value added by the service, product or labor.

Admittedly BI is presented as a supplement to social security, not a replacement, but it is inevitably perceived as an alternative and in practice it would be almost impossible to separate the two. This problems leads to many of the structural issues that BI has difficulty addressing, such as:

  • the incentive gap
  • abuse
  • effectiveness (size of BI grant)
  • appropriateness (differentiated needs)
  • and finally the most significant: we still need a social safety net.

The BI community has been extremely inventive and diligent in working to overcome these objections and problems by developing mechanisms that seek to redress these issues through different implementation processes, however this has led to overly complex constructs that further detract from the practicality of BI.

We are fundamentally of one mind regarding the necessity of moving forward to a better socio-economic model that incorporates the unassailable truths of freedom and individuality, and we share the same heritage and the same goals. We hope to unite with such a caring and thoughtful community as you have built around BI, and we would hope that this letter can serve as an introduction to the possibility of uniting forces around a cohesive vision for our common futures that will bring your and our communities together to fight for a better future.

Please consider this an open invitation for engagement and discourse that will yield a common platform incorporating the best of both of our approaches. Check out the framework described in a fair degree of detail at www.standardsoflife.org and let’s get moving forward together.

Yours faithfully,

The Standards of LIFE Community

Forest-re and REDD

The lazy lack of principled rigor in the immature scheming of self-infatuated Westerners and fin-dustrialists needs to be confronted with straight forward thinking based on simple principles, before we all disappear down the evolutionary chute of stupidity.

“Poor, ignorant natives are cutting down our forests and if we expect them to stop we need to start paying them to leave the trees alone.” That is the reason given by the good and the white to introduce a forest-carbon trading program (REDD) that will allow us to buy their forests from them, so we can stop them from destroying their forests, while we continue to destroy the planet. Because this brings “markets” in to the solution (“the way the world works today”) it is automatically brilliant and practical while being eminently sensible.

The reality is that the forests are being destroyed by commercial concerns and need to be protected by the people who live in them from those that would commodify them. The way to save our forests, and all their attendant flora and fauna, is to charge commercial interests an appropriate surcharge for their use of our common resource: the planet. Money raised from these taxes could be ploughed back into the indigenous communities to sustain them as Mother Nature’s protection force, and remediate the damage caused.

The incredible short-sightedness of well meaning but imperially minded white people like Saros and Goodall should not distract us from the obvious illegality of claiming someone else’s land and resources as our own, to do with as we wish. The forests belong to the people who live there and if they want to exploit them then they will have to pay the surcharges necessary to remediate the damage caused to our common habitat: the atmosphere. The politicians at the head of a nation cannot make agreements in their capitals to sell the contents of the trees growing on the land in their communities to some far off entity, and then pocket the money and impose restrictions on the lives of those who live in those communities.

Much better would be BLUU (Bluddy-well Leave Untouched and Uncommercial). The lazy lack of principled rigor in the immature scheming of self-infatuated Westerners and findustrialists needs to be confronted with straight forward thinking based on simple principles, before we all disappear down the evolutionary chute of stupidity. Stop painting the planet REDD and let’s have some BLUU sky thinking – that’s the way forward!

See www.standardsoflife.org for details on principled self-determination and practical carbon loading.

The Honesty and Courage of “system change”

Only those prepared to admit that we are fundamentally on the wrong course can help show the way to a different destination.

To proactively engage in change requires a reassessment of current motivations and norms. If the change has not occurred spontaneously up ’till now, it is because there are supporting mechanisms, rationales and motivations for the status quo.

Did you believe that late 20th Century mankind had reached a peak of civilization? That peace was upon the world, times were good and the economy was functioning properly? That democracy was producing quality leadership and decisions? That the economy was floating all boats? That a modicum of religious morality was a healthy guide? Because everything you see today is the result of those times, you might want to ask yourself how clearly you were seeing then and how clearly you can see now.

Change means admitting we were wrong. Until we can admit the flaws in what was driving us, we cannot have a different direction or a different destination. Reaching a different destination necessarily requires accepting that what has directed us thus far is flawed. If our politics is not representing us, if our economy is not serving us, if we are are destroying our environment, then we have to admit that the way we are doing things is not right. Our political system is not working well, our economy is not working for most people and our relationship with our environment is not working at all for our planet – which of our reasons for carrying on the way we are stands up in the face of these facts?

This is the honesty and courage at the heart of the ‘system change’ movement, to admit that we have not been getting it right. We cannot have a different outcome if we continue to harken after some golden age when what we are doing now was working, or if we continue to believe that we are basically on the right track and that a few simple adjustments will yield a different result. The courage to admit that we have got things wrong in a big way is the precursor to meaningful change.

Lets start with a short list of some the more obvious things we have been getting wrong.

  • Fundamentally wrong that top down is better than bottom up.
  • Fundamentally wrong that our society is a child of our economy.
  • Fundamentally wrong that religious morality is a decent foundation for law.
  • Fundamentally wrong that philanthropy is a replacement for taxes.
  • Fundamentally wrong that responsibility for long term profits motivates short term corporate decision making.
  • Fundamentally wrong that money is speech.
  • Fundamentally wrong that secrets are a good thing.

Only those prepared to admit that we are fundamentally on the wrong course can help show the way to a different destination. Beware the inside job, the man on the inside, the person in the know; for you are gambling with time, and time waits for no man.