Psychiatry and Witchdoctors.

by Quentin Cockburn Esq.

I’ve got a beef about psychiatrists.  This is broad and subjective, and I know everyone out there can find the exception from the rule.  But as I’m going to be shamelessly subjective I’ll start with the observations that Psychiatrists are ‘paid friends’.  I will also go further and let you know that from my personal experience, the kids I knew at school who showed little empathy for their fellow inmates either became Clerics, Politicians or Psychiatrists.  I believe their deficiency in human emotional capital was displaced through psychiatry.   As psychiatrists, they could vicariously enjoy the entire gamut of human psychology, the catharthis, the hair pulling, the voyeurism and the gross self indulgence of patients to go on and on and on and on about what went wrong in their lives, and their non problems.  You see that’s what mainstream psychiatry is about, a paid friend to the neurotic.  But there’s another field, the hard psychiatry.  Of dealing with serious psychiatric problems.

This is harsh, but I’ll let you know why I believe this.  My two brothers were barking and  tiresomely mad.  More looney than Clive Palmer, and as tiresome members within our community, often had to contend with the police as first compassionate enforcers of  reality.  After they were incarcerated, they endured a succession of public health psychiatrists, and depending upon whim, established practice, dull routine or empirical evidence, their medications and treatments reduced them to the status of zombies.  If they were too troublesome, a psychiatrist could not be found.  Psychiatrists are troubled by the seriously deranged. They are really hard work.  As pliant zombies, they breezed through the out tray and around the circuits, pliant, brain dead, and suffering. Their loss of close friends enforced the isolation, and the paid friend, who wasn’t really a friend, ensured the routine would continue. You see they had a vested interest, as a cure was beyond question, to ensure the system worked.  There was never an alternate wisdom with how to deal with these problems, and when as if by some miracle the medication stopped, a person would emerge briefly, take a furtive glimpse at a future and with the crystalline truth of the seriously mad, kill themselves.  A patient’s last throw to ensure lasting of personal dignity.  Such a relief.

It’s no fun watching a person you once loved rot from within.  The zombie genre is very popular.  I suggest visiting an institution or a half way house and you don’t need the elaborate face blood and make up, these people are literally rotting from inside.  In the old days we’d just lock em up and they’d wobble along in a sub-community, and establish a fellowship with their co sufferers.  Nowadays we’ve moved beyond insitutionalisation, and realised the true value of real estate.  Mont Park, Willsmere, Larundel were decommissioned and the ‘clients’ consigned to ‘normalization’, where they can feel truly isolated as outcasts within a community that despises them.  I agree with the community.  Living with loonies taxes your patience, does your head in, it’s bloody hard work.  I feel sorry for the cops who have to shoot them, but it saves the psychiatrist from being actively responsible for the poor bastards’ welfare, because as “valued clients”, they need nurturing of a different sort, to keep up the payments on the Jacuzzi, the Porsche and the hobby farm.  We’ll always have loonies in society, it’s what makes us tick, and for poor bastards who willingly serve in Afghanistan the wounds may never heal.  But for psychiatrists, I believe they should turn away from Cogentin, Stelazine, Modocate and ECT and look to the tradition of the witch doctor.  The witch doctor was an established part of the community.  Bit like the publican or the corner milk bar owner.  The witchdoctor was all powerful, his treatments unorthodox, but condoned by all in public view.  What he establishes is that his ‘clients,’ and disciples are members of a community.  The community is full of odd balls and misfits that are accepted firstly as human beings.  It fulfills an age old desire to be treated as such with some dignity and compassion.  And to be left alone as loonies in the community.

Poetry Sunday 30 March 2010

Homecoming by Trey Tanner
They say you can never go home again
but don’t we?
don’t we all go back,
bit by bit,
to where we came from,
into that vortexbetween the scylla of hope
too far for poor memory to recall
that moment
younger than time
taking place without location

and the charybdis of regret
the total recall of a space
deeper within
the ephemera of a womb
than neutrons in an atom

as if an iota of hourglass sand escaped
and sunk for aeons, suspended
like a thought
beyond the depth of submarine abyss
to hit the rock
of that which is without form

right where it enters the cell
a permeable mystery
with the assurance of an eternal return
and all the sweaty joy of a meat-clock
beginning to wind
from the remembrance of creation
encoded within the mechanism
of body upon body
and all the pleasure of sex

we all go back
and we keep going back
because we never left home

you’re it, love
in the end
that’s all there is

MDFF 29 March 2014

This dispatch was first published on 28 Oct 2010.  Today we publish the first part, part two  next week.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”

Bore da fy ffrindiau,

Eduardo Galeano in “El Fútbol (A Sol y Sombra)” quotes historian Arnold Toynbee: “La más consistente característica de las civilizaciones en decadencia es la tendencia a la estandarización y la uniformidad”.(“The most consistent characteristic of civilisations in decay, is a tendency towards standardisation and uniformity”). Galeano was writing about football (or as it is known in Australia: soccer), football as metaphor.

Many years ago some of Yuendumu’s streets were sealed. Many Yuendumu residents (including myself) liked to walk around barefoot, and still do.

Bitumen roads and gravel paths are therefore no great source of delight to many of us, but we have far more important axes to grind to let it upset us unduly.

All the same I recall asking one of the Alice Springs based “service providers” who was purchasing diesel from us what he thought of our new bitumen roads. His answer: “A bloody waste of taxpayer’s money”. Now this was a man who earned a living by going to remote communities doing something- I can’t recall exactly what, but it must have been important- that the road sealing crew (also Alice Springs based non-Warlpiri) would probably regard as a “A bloody waste of taxpayer’s money”.

All of these Alice Springs based people and the Darwin and Canberra people they are answerable to, have bitumen roads in front of their houses. There are bitumen roads in front of the Canberra porn shops. The police stations, court houses and gaols all have bitumen roads in front of them. The Centrelink offices have bitumen in front of them. The Yuendumu GBM (Government Business Manager or Ginger Bread Man, in case you’ve forgotten) has a sealed road in front of it AND a coarse gravel driveway. I’ve been there twice, I drove on both occasions.

Never have I heard anyone say that all these bitumen roads are “A bloody waste of taxpayer’s money”. Like so much in the western world, they’ve been elevated to a taken for grant human right.

Over the years the sealed roads were maintained by Yuendumu Community Council in conjunction with CDEP (“Community Development Employment Program”) an innovative  form of workfare that preceded “work for the dole” that kept local people usefully occupied and involved.  CDEP has been closed down in urban and regional Australia and in Yuendumu will finish in June 2012. Since CDEP was “reformed” last year more and more participants are on Income Management (whereby 50% of their Income is quarantined and subjected to a bureaucratic quagmire). A myth is being created that such programmes as CDEP are being replaced with what Mal Brough following Noel Pearson called “real jobs” when he sprung the Intervention on us. In reality locals are increasingly rendered irrelevant, things are done for them and to them but not by them. Another myth is the farcical so called “community consultation/engagement” initiative that gives the imprimatur for all ethnocentric assimilationist activities.

Recently some contractors came to Yuendumu and re-sealed the sealed roads. Bitumen on bitumen. A fresh stratum of sealing aggregate and bitumen was put there for archaeologists of the future to date. The roads are now much darker, and thus absorb heat more efficiently. The surface is rougher thus increasing traction. Except for some seriously damaged corners (which have been left seriously damaged- Heritage Corners?) the potholes have now been filled and resealed, thus relieving the CDEP gang of getting involved probably for as long as the gang’s existence.

Us barefoot walkers are overjoyed.



by Cecil Poole

Ross Gittins is a journalist whose opinions and writings I find invariably interesting.  He writes for Fairfax, one of Australia’s less reactionary media outlets.  One of his  recent articles was a review of criminologist Don Weatherburn’s new book Arresting Incarceration.  Gittins begins by pointing out that we imprison members of the indigenous population at a rate 18 times that of the white population.  That compares somewhat unfavourably with the US who jail African Americans at a rate of 12 times the white population.  (Native Americans are jailed at a rate roughly 20% below that of African Americans.)

It costs around $275 per day to keep a person in prison in Australia, or just over $100k a year, so there are economic reasons to be concerned.  Westherburn points out that despite significant expenditure and policy initiatives the rate of incarceration of indigenous people just keeps rising.  He identifies what he sees as the reasons, and contends that these reasons are not racially based, that they underly most offending across the whole population.

”The four most important of these are poor parenting (particularly child neglect and abuse), poor school performance, unemployment and substance abuse,” he says. ”Indigenous Australians experience far higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, child neglect and abuse, poor school performance and unemployment than their non-indigenous counterparts.” 

Weatherburn also contends that “more Aborigines are in jail because more Aborigines commit crimes, particularly violent crimes.”

It was about this time that alarm bells started ringing in my head, I found I do have reservations about the article – the whole tenor of the article is so Western, it seems to be an evaluation from our white perspective, to be ethnocentric.  It seems to be saying “When they become like us they will be free and not so incarcerated”.  The whole article (and the book?) has a strong assimilationist undercurrent.  (This assimilationist undercurrent is gaining strength throughout Australian media)

Which brings me back to bigotry.  Bigotry, it seems, is not so far from ethnocentrism, in that ethnocentrism has come to embody the belief in the superiority of ones own culture.  Hence the push for assimilation.

Waleed Aly, also writing for Fairfax explores the ethnocentricity embodied in “Free Speech” legislation proposed for Australia.  This legislation weakens the protection currently afforded minority group against racial vilification, and “(u)nspoken at the heart of this debate is a contest over the way race relations works in this country – and on whose terms.”  This is where Aly provides grist for our mill.  He demonstrates that these proposed laws will be based on white values, white feelings as if these stand for all Australians.

Aly goes on to say “This matters because – if I may speak freely – plenty of white people (even ordinary reasonable ones) are good at telling coloured people what they should and shouldn’t find racist, without even the slightest awareness that they might not be in prime position to make that call”

Gradually I begin to understand Rosalie Kunoth-Monks’ claim that in Australia we have a white problem, not a black one, and Kim Beasley Snr statement that “only when their (Indigenous Australians) right to be distinctive is accepted, will policy become creative”.

As Gittins said there are moral reasons why we should care.

*Bigoted: having or revealing an obstinate belief in the superiority of one’s own opinions and aprejudiced intolerance of the opinions of others: a bigoted group of reactionaries | a bigoted article.


Google? Evil?

 You have no idea.  Brace yourself for an exhaustive rundown of Google’s master plan and the company’s ultimate goal

The Web abounds with conspiracy theories, like the guy who thinks Comcast is sabotaging its own DNS servers to limit our contact with secondhand Chinese furniture sellers. For the last decade and a half, most of our tech-oriented secret plots were aimed atultrarich Microsoft or scheming telecom giants. Those petty thinkers have been eclipsed. When it comes to the dark shadow of the Illuminati, they’ve been passed over for Google.

Check your geek headlines any day of the week, and Google’s name will be there … somehow. But the headlines always seem to lack a cohesive strategy. This week, for example, we learned that Google is buying into a mobile game console controller, its fiber service is gathering steam, it’s investing in an online credit service, and it’s apparently building a Big Brother-style municipal surveillance silo in Oakland, Calif.

From Android to AI: Google’s bot plot revealed | For a humorous take on the tech industry’s shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely’s Notes from the Underground newsletter and follow Cringely on Twitter. ]

They can’t be part of the same plan, right? I mean, it’s grown so big that the left Google can’t possibly know what the right Google is doing, correct? News flash: That’s exactly what the company would have you believe.

I can now reveal that after at least one hour of intense investigative journalism fueled by dedication and scotch while bravely using Google’s own search engine against the company, I’ve been able to discern a method to Google’s madness, a clear line that leads directly to Google’s endgame. It’s the mother of all conspiracy theories: Google wants to own it all, starting with you.

Humble beginnings
It began with the simple benevolence of tracked search and a slogan sign, now pockmarked with virtual bullets that read “Don’t be evil.” Was it evil to turn tracked search into Google Ads and Google Analytics? That’s for future, post-Googlepocalypse generations (if they exist) to decide. But it established an engine whereby Google knows what you’re looking for, moves you toward more of the same, and offers merchants a crack at us — though, merchants and customers alike, we’re all pawns in Google’s grid.

That’s a short and natural hop to e-tailing, and Google jumped in immediately, developing shopping technology alongside its search empire. Witness Google Wallet, Google Catalogs, and most recently Credit Karma, soon to be renamed Google Credit (probably). The timeline might be off, but these plots are constantly evolving — and why screw up a perfectly good rant with precise information anyway?

From e-tail, it’s an easy leap to content: Google News, Google Finance, YouTube, and the rest — bread and circuses, albeit bread and circuses as programmed by Google. That proceeds today with what looks like a push into console gaming. Which games do you like? Check. Where are you buying them now? Check. Can we sell them to you instead? Check. Where are you playing them and can we own that, too? Check.

Direct connection
Google knew us in the abstract, but it needed direct, firsthand, brain stem access. It set its sights on what we’re working on; what we’re writing to friends and family; what we’re talking about; and what files and data we’ve squirreled away on our computers. Enter Google Apps, Gmail, Google Drive, Google Voice, and the seemingly unavoidable G+. Now Google had access to all of it, from our love notes to our vacation photos to our phone calls with Mom. It’s all part of the database and about as benign as dropping a kitten in a Cuisinart.

A wrinkle arose when consumers started moving away from PCs and onto mobile devices — a new platform with new interfaces, new content formats, and a new app model. We definitely need to own that, Google cried, and let’s not stop at top-level software. Let’s drill down to the silicon and develop a mobile OS and offer our own hardware: phones, netbooks, USB dongles. We’ll not only influence all mobile users in some way, we’ll have a huge and growing swath of them where it counts.

But Google can’t glean dreams from fingertips. Let’s strap an industrial device directly to their heads. Thus, Google Glass was born. It knows where you are; it knows whom you’re talking to and in what language; it knows what pictures you’re snapping; it knows when you’ve been bad or good; and it knows when you are sleeping. Santa works for Google now.

Luddites, get in line
You may ask: “But what about folks who are still off the Web or can’t afford Cylon headgear?” Easy fix, we’ll bring the Internet to them through Google Fiber. If that doesn’t work, we’ll use powerline technology to track them through their fuse boxes via our new, benevolently named Google Energy division. Burning wood in upstate Vermont? No problem, we’ll co-opt the technology we developed in conjunction with the U.S. and European intelligence community (military-industrial complex to you hardcore theorists) and track your backward, hillbilly butts via Googlesats, which power Google Earth and Google Maps. Whew, all bases covered.

To govern the growing empire, Google would need a lot of secured manpower and infrastructure, preferably based in a slick-looking, isolated, and secure site that could easily secede from the Union to form its own techno-corporate state unburdened by the U.S. legal code, morality, and marriage conventions. Up went the Area 51-style Googleplex, equipped with housing, human testing labs, and hidden, Maginot-line machine gun nests.

But the nearby populace cramped Google’s style, so an idea was born: Why not buy the town? Bit by bit, Google’s real estate and municipal interests consumed Mountain View and spread around the bay, all the way to Oakland, now subject to real-time population and activity monitoring. Google had an eye on San Francisco too offering a fleet of Toyota Priuses to ferry Whole Foods snacks around town behind Google Shopping Express’s socially acceptable veneer. Meanwhile, corporate-owned, isolationist buses whisked Googlers to work with the goal of never letting them leave the compound, lest they be poisoned with non-shuttled citizens’ subversive thoughts.

There it is: a clear path to total worldwide domination radiating outward from Northern California. With this nefarious plot, Google owns you, me, and, more important, politicians from world leaders down to the local constabulary — anyone with even a shred of power or influence.

Beyond the Googledome
If you’re one of the few remaining rebel fighters sitting in an unmarked, unconnected, no-power cave wearing a tinfoil hat and writing your True Non-Googled Account of History for future generations with charcoal pencil by earwax candlelight, while occasionally talking to trees, Google will leave you alone for now. But as soon as the technology is semi-stable, a Google drone will strafe your Oregon yurt and a grinning Googlebot will drag you kicking and screaming to a black site re-indoctrination center masquerading as one of the new Google retail outlets.

Take that Satya, Tim, and all you other small-time billionaire hicks: It’s a brave, new, Googleworld.

This article, “Google? Evil? You have no idea,” was originally published at Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely’s Notes from the Field blog, follow Cringely on Twitter, and subscribe to Cringely’s Notes from the Underground newsletter.

How progressive forces can win the Culture Wars

The right’s deafening hysteria is a symptom of their insecurity.

Australia’s reactionary culture warriors are amateurs compared to their British and American counterparts. Sack the ABC Chairman Jim Spigelman, screams News Limited columnist Piers Akerman. Privatise the public broadcaster, shouts the Institute of Public Affairs (a think-tank that refuses to disclose its funders, though the ABC still allows its spokespeople to appear). Former Liberal party employee Chris Kennydemands respect for the military and tweets like a man possessed about #theirABC and its supposed leftist agenda.

In Britain and America, where Australia’s brave keyboard warriors find their ammunition and snarky lines, the daily drumbeat towards a deregulated, privatised and militarised society continues apace. The commercial interests in neutering competition to this agenda is ignored – who can forget James Murdoch railing against the BBC’s “chilling” size and commercial ambitions in 2009, just before his company was engulfed in the phone-hacking scandal? Yet, despite their massive megaphone, I have long believed that these attacks are the cries of a frustrated minority.

In America an extreme version of the culture wars has life and death consequences. The battle for gay equality and marriage, while not won, is well on the way to being achieved. This is why American Christian fundamentalists are looking further afield to fight for the right to discriminate according to their twisted reading of the Bible. Witness the horrific recent anti-gay laws in Uganda and the clear involvement of US evangelicals. This is a culture war on a global scale, the logical outcome of a perverse belief that homosexuals should be punished or killed for their actions. Thankfully, Australia’s prominent culture warriors aren’t promoting such outrages.

So listen closely. Don’t confuse a loud voice with strength or an aggressive tone with confidence. Insecurity is the mainstay of ideological culture warriors (see the hilarious lead opinion article in the Australian this week about the evil of tattoos, as if a “civilisation collapsing” is occurring because countless men and women enjoy body art. Seriously).

There is no doubt that globalisation has negatively affected the economic well-being of the lower and middle classes, just one explanation for the success of the Tea Party movement. Now Fox News amplifies these grievances, offering a steady diet of stories that leads to many American whites claiming they’re suffering from racism.

The predictability of the attacks, the co-ordinated nature of countless shock-jocks just happening to all agree every week that the ABC, climate change, indigenous rights, gay marriage, asylum seekers or Islam must be abolished, imprisoned, ignored or silenced should be treated with contempt. Tribalism is the language of the hour, mates stick with mates, though it was little different under the previous Labor regime. Our media class prefers an insider culture that rewards favouritism.

And yet the left can’t ignore it, and must find far better strategies to deal with the onslaught. Far too often progressive voices are on the defensive, arguing on the terms set by the opposition, guaranteeing a loss. The culture war isn’t just about point scoring or winning an argument but how a society is taught, ordered, shared, viewed and expanded. We have the right to want a country and community that believes in truly equality and free speech for all, whether we’re Muslim, black, white, anti-Zionist, conservative, green or radical.

The hypocrisy of the right’s position – beautifully articulated by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show last week when he unsurprisingly found Fox News more concerned with some poor people abusing the welfare system than corporate government subsidies – must be exposed and a new, more enlightened framing introduced. The Australian government and its ideological soulmates across the world like to attack the culture of entitlement of the general population while still happily enriching their mates in business with overly generous tax breaks. It’s good to be rich.

A recent case study shows the effectiveness of lo-fi campaigning to address an injustice. Take the controversy over the Sydney Biennale and the apoplectic, elite response to artists and asylum seeker activists campaigning against the sponsorship of Transfield, a company running offshore detention centres. Most media ran countless articles all in furious agreement with the idea that the boycott was misguided. Attorney General George Brandis joined the party and communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull railed against the boycott (thankfully some in the general public showed more sense and Transfield remains in the sights of ethical campaigners).

This was a classic misfire from the critics and an unqualified success by the boycotters. Culture warriors, of the faux-left and right, damned the campaign for not achieving the abolition of offshore processing. That was never the goal, but rather to highlight the supply chain complicity of companies, such as Transfield (and across the arts by Santos and Crown Resorts Foundation, amongst others) who claim to be good corporate citizens and then bleat when challenged on their role in prolonging refugee (plus gambling or climate change) misery. The boycott is the start of a conversation, not the end of it. Moral practices matter and apparently it takes non-politicians and non-journalists to point this out.

The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel isgrowing globally for precisely the same reason, despite false accusations of anti-Semitism, because citizens are refusing to accept a brutal and illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine and BDS is a legitimate and non-violent to resist. Likewise the Biennale boycott. Two campaigns that refuse to cave to cultural gatekeepers who prefer to operate within the system rather than acting to challenge the toxic nexus between culture, corporatism and human rights.

The culture wars aren’t solely about intellectual issues, fought between competing elites, but the effect of business and government policy on people’s lives. This is why most culture warriors prefer pontificating from the safety of their embedded, well paid bubbles. People are suffering, in Afghanistan, on Manus Island or under the Northern Territory Intervention, while shock-jocks express outrage over the latest confected scandal.

It’s necessary to include a wide variety of voices in public discussions – the BBC news presenter John Humphrys recently accused his broadcaster of ignoring more skeptical views on the EU and immigration though the BBC’s pro-government stances are clear – and the ABC could undoubtedly have far more challenging perspectives across the political spectrum.

We have to fight the tendency to ignore these battles because they’re too hard or tiresome; a more just and transparent world depends on us engaged in these arguments and gaining support from ordinary people because without them we’re merely arguing with each other.

first published in The Guardian 18 March 2014

At the Slaughterhouse Gate, part two

In todays post George Monbiot shows how the conservatives from Thatcher onward have dictated the debate, and drawn progressive forces into their lair. He then proposes a way forward for the progressive side of politics.

The sharp rightward shift which began with Margaret Thatcher and persisted under Blair and Brown, all of whose governments emphasised the virtues of competition, the market and financial success, has changed our values. The British Social Attitudes survey, for example, shows a sharp fall over this period in public support for policies which redistribute wealth and opportunity(2). This shift has been reinforced by advertising and the media. The media’s fascination with power politics, its rich lists, its catalogues of the 100 most powerful, influential, intelligent or beautiful people, its obsessive promotion of celebrity, fashion, fast cars, expensive holidays: all these inculcate extrinsic values. By generating feelings of insecurity and inadequacy – which means reducing self-acceptance – they also suppress intrinsic goals. Advertisers, who employ large numbers of psychologists, are well aware of this. Crompton quotes Guy Murphy, global planning director for the marketing company JWT. Marketers, Murphy says, “should see themselves as trying to manipulate culture; being social engineers, not brand managers; manipulating cultural forces, not brand impressions”(3). The more they foster extrinsic values, the easier it is to sell their products. Rightwing politicians have also, instinctively, understood the importance of values in changing the political map. Margaret Thatcher famously remarked that “economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul.”(4) Conservatives in the United States generally avoid debating facts and figures. Instead they frame issues in ways that both appeal to and reinforce extrinsic values. Every year, through mechanisms that are rarely visible and seldom discussed, the space in which progressive ideas can flourish shrinks a little more. The progressive response to this trend has been disastrous. Instead of confronting the shift in values, we have sought to adapt to it. Once-progressive political parties have tried to appease altered public attitudes: think of all those New Labour appeals to Middle England, which was often just a code for self-interest. In doing so they endorse and legitimise extrinsic values. Many greens and social justice campaigners have also tried to reach people by appealing to self-interest: explaining how, for example, relieving poverty in the developing world will build a market for British products, or suggesting that, by buying a hybrid car, you can impress your friends and enhance your social status. This tactic also strengthens extrinsic values, making future campaigns even less likely to succeed. Green consumerism has been a catastrophic mistake. Common Cause proposes a simple remedy: that we stop seeking to bury our values and instead explain and champion them. Progressive campaigners, it suggests, should help to foster an understanding of the psychology which informs political change and show how it has been manipulated. They should also come together to challenge forces – particularly the advertising industry – which make us insecure and selfish. Ed Miliband appears to understands this need. He told the Labour conference that he “wants to change our society so that it values community and family, not just work” and “wants to change our foreign policy so that it’s always based on values, not just alliances … We must shed old thinking and stand up for those who believe there is more to life than the bottom line.”(5 <> ) But there’s a paradox here, which means that we cannot rely on politicians to drive these changes. Those who succeed in politics are, by definition, people who prioritise extrinsic values. Their ambition must supplant peace of mind, family life, friendship – even brotherly love. So we must lead this shift ourselves. People with strong intrinsic values must cease to be embarrassed by them. We should argue for the policies we want not on the grounds of expediency but on the grounds that they are empathetic and kind; and against others on the grounds that they are selfish and cruel. In asserting our values we become the change we want to see.

An orderly queue at the Slaughterhouse Gate

Some time ago George Monbiot wrote of the flaws in the argument and approach of many progressives in the way they put their case.  He argues that research shows this to be counterproductive. 

by George Monbiot

So here we are, forming an orderly queue at the slaughterhouse gate. The punishment of the poor for the errors of the rich, the abandonment of universalism, the dismantling of the shelter the state provides: apart from a few small protests, none of this has yet brought us out fighting.

The acceptance of policies which counteract our interests is the pervasive mystery of the 21st Century. In the United States, blue-collar workers angrily demand that they be left without healthcare, and insist that millionaires should pay less tax. In the UK we appear ready to abandon the social progress for which our ancestors risked their lives with barely a mutter of protest. What has happened to us?

The answer, I think, is provided by the most interesting report I have read this year. Common Cause, written by Tom Crompton of the environment group WWF, examines a series of fascinating recent advances in the field of psychology(1 <> ). It offers, I believe, a remedy to the blight which now afflicts every good cause from welfare to climate change. Progressives, he shows, have been suckers for a myth of human cognition he labels the Enlightenment model. This holds that people make rational decisions by assessing facts. All that has to be done to persuade people is to lay out the data: they will then use it to decide which options best support their interests and desires. A host of psychological experiments demonstrates that it doesn’t work like this. Instead of performing a rational cost-benefit analysis, we accept information which confirms our identity and values, and reject information that conflicts with them. We mould our thinking around our social identity, protecting it from serious challenge. Confronting people with inconvenient facts is likely only to harden their resistance to change. Our social identity is shaped by values which psychologists classify as either extrinsic or intrinsic. Extrinsic values concern status and self-advancement. People with a strong set of extrinsic values fixate on how others see them. They cherish financial success, image and fame. Intrinsic values concern relationships with friends, family and community, and self-acceptance. Those who have a strong set of intrinsic values are not dependent on praise or rewards from other people. They have beliefs which transcend their self-interest. Few people are all-extrinsic or all-intrinsic. Our social identity is formed by a mixture of values. But psychological tests in nearly 70 countries show that values cluster together in remarkably consistent patterns. Those who strongly value financial success, for example, have less empathy, stronger manipulative tendencies, a stronger attraction to hierarchy and inequality, stronger prejudices towards strangers and less concern about human rights and the environment. Those who have a strong sense of self-acceptance have more empathy and a greater concern about human rights, social justice and the environment. These values suppress each other: the stronger someone’s extrinsic aspirations, the weaker his or her intrinsic goals. We are not born with our values. They are shaped by the social environment. By changing our perception of what is normal and acceptable, politics alters our minds as much as our circumstances. Free, universal health provision, for example, tends to reinforce intrinsic values. Shutting the poor out of healthcare normalises inequality, reinforcing extrinsic values.

Poetry Sunday 23 June 2013

Rumination byTrey Tanner

June 6, 2012 at 1:01am

The padded feet of nocturnal animals
are not to be heard here, inside
nor what is nuzzled in the dark night,
what is touched with whiskers or tongues
curiously is not given to me to know,
whereas the sound of dust settling in halls
is not audible, but I hear the clamor
of its abrupt stillness speaking to me
over the cadence of sleeping dog’s breath,
as the deafening rustle of a tuft of pet dander
like tumbleweed speeding across a desert
chased by cold air in front of a thunderstorm,
nothing else moves, except a torrent of rain
the eaves spill a metronome of water drops,
tears fall in time, salting a tell-tale heart
that beats beneath my floor speaking of murder,
a metaphor for what cannot be put to rest,
the ache of dreams, the innocence I have dismembered,
thunder rumbles until its distant weeping cracks my
ears open, wide awake, a sudden strobe of lightning flashes
into eyes glistening with a chiarascuro of shadow and illumination

MDFF 22 March 2014

In this dispatch from three and a half years ago we hear of underground mining rescues and things that are hidden – or is that deliberately unseen?  First published 19 October 2010.  

Hola amigos, (please persevere, it’s all translated below)

En 2006 hubo un milagro en Beaconsfield Tasmania. La semana pasada hubo un milagro en Chile.

Treinta y tres hombres enterrados vivos a setecientos metros de profundidad fueron rescatados.

Siendo el Australiano que hace tiempo me hice, me da orgullo de saber que una de las máquinas que usaron en el rescate fue hecha en mi patria.

Más orgullo que cuando un Australiano patea una pelota entre dos palos.

Con la ayuda de unos dos mil periodistas que acudieron a Copiapó, el mundo entero fue testigo a ese triunfo estupendo de la tecnología y de las comunicaciones modernas.

Varias veces en mi vida yo me metí bajo la superficie. Es maravilloso ver a esas rocas desnudas con sus minerales que brillan bajo la luz del farolito puesto en el casco. Pero siempre fue un alivio salir al aire libre y ver al cielo. El mismo alivio que mi abuelo sentía cada vez que salía de la mina de carbón en el Ruhrgebiet de Alemania al comienzo del último siglo.

En cambio, yo nunca estuve en Chile. Todo lo que sé de ese país es lo que leí en libros y lo que me contaron amigos Chilenos.

Los Mapuches para mí son casi invisibles, como sospecho también los son para la muchedumbre en Santiago.

Aunque no los conozco ni sé mucho de ellos,

me cabe poca duda que así como los Warlpiris, que son los aborígenes de donde yo vivo, los mapuches están sujetos a la misma injusticia: el no dejarlos vivir sus propias vidas.

Ojalá haya otros milagros en Chile y Australia.

Triunfos de la humanidad:

– Que a los Mapuches y Warlpiris los dejen ser ellos mismos,

– Que les devuelven su dignidad y derechos humanos,

– Que se dejen de joderlos.

Translation: (musical links repeated)…

In 2006 there was a miracle in Beaconsfield Tasmania. Last week there was a miracle in Chile.

Thirty-three men buried alive at a depth of seven-hundred were rescued.

Being the Australian I became long ago, I was proud in the knowledge that one of the machines used in the rescue was Australian made.

Greater pride than when an Australian kicks a ball in between two poles.

With the assistance of 2,000 or so journalists, the whole world got to witness this magnificent triumph of modern technology and communications.

On various occasions in my life, I’ve gone underground to marvel at the naked rocks with their minerals that shine in the beam of a miner’s lamp. But always it was a relief to resurface into the fresh air and behold the sky. The same relief my grandfather felt every time he emerged from a coal mine in the Ruhrgebiet in Germany at the beginning of the last century.

On the other hand I was never in Chile. All I know of that country I’ve read in books or was told by Chilean friends.

(I can recommend “Travels in a thin country” by Sara Wheeler)

The Mapuche Indians are almost invisible to me, and I suspect this to be the case for the people of Santiago.

Although I don’t know much about the Mapuches,

I have little doubt that they suffer the same injustice as the Warlpiri: they are denied the opportunity to run their own lives.

One hopes there will be more miracles in Chile and Australia.

Triumphs of humanity:

-That the Mapuches and Warlpiris will be allowed to be themselves.

-That they are given back their dignity and human rights.

-That they stop f*cking them around.



Y ahora a celebrár con unas lindas canciones:  “…you’ll never break my spirit….”

¿Que les parece? ¿Valió la pena, esos quince minutes de musica, no es cierto?

Ngurrju nyayini mayi?

Google Translate will help with unfamiliar language  (Although it may not help with what I suspect is a Walpri phrase at the very end)