The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Thoughts on the Year that Was and the World to Come

Looking back, last year’s writing that hit big was mostly about the Ukrainian crisis. The year before had been about ideology.

Though I intend to write about technology and its effect on society this year, I find I’m slightly at sea.

There is a tendency, when writing about society (either analytically or from the viewpoint of improving–not reforming– it), to fall into one of two camps: “Everything Is Specific” OR “One Ring to Rule Them All.”

Once upon a time my stance was that the US, and the world, had very few problems that were conceptually difficult. They might be technically hard, but what to do was well known.

I haven’t come to disagree with that stance: The sardonic comment that everyone knows that the US needs real universal healthcare remain–it produces better health and costs less. Only the corrupt, the stupid, or the propagandized think otherwise. The same is true of many other problems, from climate change to plastic clogging the seas to fracking, to marginal tax rates, and so on.

We know what would produce a world which was better for the vast majority of people (and animals) living on it. We don’t do those things, except when it becomes profitable. (Solar will start replacing coal because it is cheaper, but it should have and could have been cheaper at least fifteen years ago.)

What I have come to understand is that explaining what needs to be done, and why, is brutally difficult. Getting people to a position where they both want to act on it, and will, is nearly impossible.

You explain one thing (climate change), but it means nothing if you do not link it to other things (industrialization, globalization, financial production incentives, the history of post WWII trade, development economics, inequality).  The problems are, in that tired word, “interconnected.”

Most people will never commit to doing the necessary learning to understand how the world works in any meaningful way.

Worse, even if they do, they will likely be mis-educated.  They will go to existing intellectual systems like economics and they will be taught theories that are at best partially true and at worse are outright lies.  Disciplines, especially academic disciplines, exist because someone is willing to fund them, and whoever that someone is, they have expectations.  Business theory; economics; organizational theory, produce what those who are willing to pay for them want.  Most of the time, what they want is rationalizations for why they should have more, and let everyone else rot.

So you spend 10 years studying economics, get your PhD, and then get most of everything wrong.  Your neo-liberal prescriptions make those parts of the world that take them worse off.  (Note, poverty reduction is due to China, China’s success is due to old fashioned mercantalism, not neoliberalism.)

You have an entire discipline based on clearly wrong propositions like humans being utility maximizing machines (and can’t even define utility in a way that doesn’t make it a metaphysical entity).  And, applying these theories, you go wrong.

And looking on this edifice; looking on all the ways that people fool themselves or are fooled, is like looking at a jungle and holding only a machete.  You aren’t going anywhere without a lot of sweat, and the jungle is just going to close in behind you.

So people turn to one off solutions.  If only everyone participates in the gains of an economy it’ll do well. (Well, mostly, but how do you get to that nirvana?  This is saying “the world is good if the world is good”.)  If only everyone obeys contacts freely entered into, life will be good. (Let’s just completely ignore power imbalances).  If only we let markets set prices, the market will produce what we need (but what type of market, we’ve never had free markets setting prices?)  If only we have more and better education everyone will be prosperous (so, if everyone has a PhD the economy will be great?  What about the half of the population who is below-average intelligence?  Fuck’em?  And would it work anyway?  (No.))

Feel free to insert any “one thing” theory above.  They don’t work, or they beg the question.  If we had better people, for example, we’d have a better world.  But how do we get better people, and what does better even mean?

There have been many attempts to get around these issues.  Confucius, Buddha, Jesus, Smith, Marx, Keynes and so many many more have tried.

Some have succeeded for a time: Keynesian economics of the type practices after WWII produced about 25 good years for much of the world (even Africa saw better real growth in that period.)  Confucianism, as run by the early Emperors really did make China better till the State co-0pted it.  Christianity was the religion of slaves and foreigners and outcasts for centuries, giving their lives meaning, before it became a regressive scourge used to increase the power of Chieftains who wanted to be Kings, take away the rights of women, and be used for justification of mass murder in Europe and the New World.

The solutions which have been effective (which doesn’t always mean making the world a better place) have all spoken to how people should act.  We don’t recognize that in modern theories like those of economics, but be clear, homo ec0nomicus is a prescription.  The idea that we should act primarily on self interest was not something that was respectable for most of history and the idea that markets should be the primary price setting mechanism and effectively the primary policy mechanism was also considered insane.

The industrial revolution is not old.  A little over a couple centuries, for England, a lot less for most other countries.  In the course of human existence, this is nothing.  The outcome of it, whether it is good or bad, is not yet clear, despite what most believe.  If industry and capitalism kill half the population of the world in avoidable climate crises, hunger and drought, while causing a great die-off of non-human plants and animals, can it be said to be good?  If, as there is some evidence, it leads to material affluence while increasing rates of depression and unhappiness, is it successful?

The hydraulic revolution, and to a lesser extent the first agricultural revolution (which did not occur along the river valleys) lead to shorter more disease ridden lives and a massive rise in chronic disease and afflictions like having your teeth rot out of your mouth by the time you were 40.  In exchange, we received great monuments and lots of things, but I doubt that peasants on the Nile under the Pharoahs were as happy as their ancestors who had lived on the Nile as hunter-gatherers, as close to the Garden of Eden as one can imagine.

I do not believe in going back to technology from before industrialization: it’s not possible or desirable, and if it were, we’d have to reduce our population by two-thirds to three-quarters.  Feel free to volunteer to be among the dead.

Pandora’s box is open, and we must deal with the results.

The irony is that we have, again, produced a cornucopia.  We have the potential to create an abundance society, the world over and eventually off this world.

We have much of the technology necessary, and we could direct our research and development towards the remaining technology we need.

Instead, we rely on markets controlled by oligarchs and central banks captured by oligarchs to make most of our decisions about our future.

We have systematically dis-empowered ourselves. Going from mass conscription armies and industrial warfare and mass markets driven by relatively egalitarian citizen-consumers in democracies, to oligarchies with unrepresentative armies increasingly filled with drones (and effective ground combat drones will be here in 10 to 20 years), surveillance states bordering on police states, and democracies which are hollow, where we can choose from Oligarchical faction one, two or maybe three.  The differences between them, while real, are within the broad agreement to keep giving the rich more.

And so, we come back to, how do we change the direction of our societies?  Our society, for the world is more and more one society.

How do we even explain what is wrong, and present a solution, or solutions?

I will posit here that while we may have problems with Confucius’s solution in terms of specifics, in general he was right.  We create a new society based on a new ethics (not morality, but ethics); and that ethics is attached to a way of creating a people who can create and maintain that society; and a way of picking the people to run that society who will do so in the interests of everyone else, and not mainly in their own interest.

The thousand and one specific solutions to each problem (housing, energy, health care, climate change) are important, but they are technical questions guided by ideology.  A people led by those who do not want to do these things (or not more than they want to do other things), never will.

So is this my “one thing”?

No.  It is backed by an understanding of real world power dynamics; an understanding of human nature and how it is and can be shaped; and it is backed by an understanding of the field of ideas and how those ideas are created by the environment and technology: how that tech and environment creates us.

That grouping of ideas is where I believe a solution lies.

Like all solutions, it will not last.  The best we can hope for from any solution set, so long as human nature remains as it is, is perhaps a hundred and fifty years.  Sixty to eighty is far more typical, and as with the post WWII solution, you may only get two to three decades.

During that time any solution needs to do two things.  It need to fix the environment, and it needs to get us off the planet so we don’t have a single point of failure. Doing so will best be done by a system which produces real prosperity, because both of those projects will require vast productive surpluses.

We have or can reach the technology required for both these projects.  The challenge of mastering our destiny is the challenge of mastering ourselves, and that challenge is, as it has always been, both the hardest thing anyone can do, and the most worthwhile.

In the New Year I will continue the project of discovering how to do it. I hope you’ll join me.

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Armed forces should not interfere in politcs


On Prostitution


  1. Robert

    A nice vision for the future but sadly I see more a further acceleration of a drive to build the Galt’s Gulch so many seem to want…and not just those in power.I mean so many will fight to the death just to have a very slight chance to join into the ripping off and exploitation of others. I don’t get it and frankly what I see makes me wonder if such critters should exist at all, I mean what is the point. Please understand Mr.Welsh I much prefer the future you suggest and the humanity you suggest but sadly it’s hard for me to even visualize at this point. Anyway, a happy New Year to all.

  2. George Hart

    Perfectly stated: “The challenge of mastering our destiny is the challenge of mastering ourselves”

    You make a good point that we master ourselves individually and collectively through an overarching system like Confucianism.

    I wonder sometimes though about the evolutionary story we’re part of, and what kind of options we really have, as another episode within a trajectory of life-on-earth we don’t begin to understand contextually.

    Reg Morrison raises the question nicely–

    “Our timebomb is mysticism. Its delivery system is language. And its hiding place? The unfathomable coils of our DNA.” (Reg Morrison, The Spirit in the Gene, 1999)

    –and this is an important aspect of self-awareness, and potential, if unlikely, species-level self control.


  3. Ian Welsh

    Mysticism is part of where the solution lies, though the hard core atheists hate the idea. (Which doesn’t mean belief in God or any such thing, just that mysticism has learned, over the millenia, much about what humans are, need and can be.)

  4. Yes, this is good.

  5. A partial transcription of the introductory video Ted Nottingham has posted at the Inner Work for Spiritual Awakening website and at YouTube.

    This video is intended to offer you introductory teachings so that you may begin on this path through the methodologies that we are working with here in this group, methodologies based on the 4th way teachings which are rooted in Eastern Christian mysticism and other universal teachings of humanity.  

    The first step to initiate you into what can be discovered here is what we call self-observation—and that is the discipline of will and attention to become aware of your inner activities.  That is to say, when you get impatient, or irritated—be AWARE of that occurring, don’t just BE the negative emotion that you’re feeling. So that you begin by this simple focus of attention to SEE what is going on within you more objectively. And in so doing you begin to create an inner space, an inner separation, where something within you, some higher quality of awareness which we name Observing I, as in ‘I am’, the Observing I is watching the habitual reactions that each of us has in life and has developed unconsciously, in the lower state of consciousness that we take for granted and which is called, in this system of thought, ‘sleep’.   So—simply begin to become aware of yourself.

    And in doing that you’ll find that you have to divide your attention.  You have to be aware of the world outside of you, the people, the circumstances, AND be aware internally.  So, as you’re listening to this video, you are aware of yourself sitting in a chair.  You’re aware of your state of mind, of your mood, AND you are listening to these words.

    We are able to split our attention. Imagine one arrow going out, and one arrow going in.

    So you have self-observation, divided attention, inner separation.

    These initial steps, these ‘baby steps’ actually have tremendous power, because they begin to make possible the awakening process, the expansion of consciousness into a higher state of consciousness, where the more authentic Self resides and ultimately where our connection with Spirit, with God, can be found.

    When we are lost in ourselves, in our automatic functioning, in our imitations, and acculturations, and environmental influences that  have created this ‘lower self’, we are unable to even HEAR those whispers from the world of spirit.  We are ‘locked in a basement’.  The idea is to come out of that dark basement into the light.  The light is consciousness.  So with the simple energy of attention that we so take for granted we have a great powerful tool that is more mystical than we can imagine. 

    So as you go about your day, REMEMBER to divide your attention, to observe objectively WITHOUT judgment—that’s very important—and to begin to have a separation from feelings and passing thoughts and circumstances that would otherwise generate a knee-jerk reaction, put you in that momentum of dissatisfaction, boredom, anger, imagination, worry—all of those things that are poisonous and pollute our soul. 

    So as you begin to organically experience this phenomenon of self-awareness, of observation, as you begin to experience an inner sanctuary of peace that is not flooded with the passing thoughts, with the incoming emotions, with the reactions to everything, you are creating a center for yourself from which everything else will come.

  6. alyosha

    Awake is a movie that came out recently about the life of Yogananda. There’s a quote in the trailer: “the man who can reform himself can reform the world”. It’s spoken against scenes of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and tank man.

  7. tatere

    I’ve always thought that the first test for a human society is, what options do you leave for your successors? (Maybe the zeroth test is, are there any successors to begin with? Extinction = fail.) Have you used up or wasted irreplaceable resources? Have you ruined the habitat? Have you embedded toxic ideologies

    To take a cartoon example, a global dictatorship that was politically and socially repressive, but that took seriously mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, and ensuring that generally everyone at least had food to eat and water to drink, wouldn’t necessarily be great for the people living in it, but it would be far preferable for those who came after it.

    I don’t know, though. As you say, things are connected in unexpected ways. Like, you probably can’t seriously do anything about climate change without also doing something about improving the capabilities of women globally.

  8. nihil obstet

    I’m looking forward to this.

  9. VietnamVet

    Mankind has to find a way to grasp reality and influence the future for good to survive.

    This last year was quite a shock for this old nerd. Watching live; the Cold War restart in Ukraine, instigated by the West, without a whimper or protest, is unfathomable.

  10. JJ

    It need to fix the environment, and it needs to get us off the planet so we don’t have a single point of failure.

    With high expectations, human beings leave Earth to begin a new life in space colonies. However, the United Earth-Sphere Alliance gains great military powers, and soon seizes control of one colony after another in the name of “Justice” and “Peace”…

  11. LorenzoStDuBois

    For starters, I haven’t met the Ian Welsh post I didn’t enjoy, so let’s get that out of the way off the bat.

    Personally my favorite are the “rapid reaction” posts, i.e. when something is happening in the world, chances are that Ian’s take on it is more illuminating than anything I can find anywhere else online, so I hope you don’t stop posting those in favor of more long form stuff.

  12. Linda Amick

    If we strive to contribute something positive and constructive to every person, situation and undertaking we endeavor, we can leave the world a tiny bit better than before we were here.

  13. Tony Wikrent

    Lucid, concise, pithy, and deadly accurate. As always. Thank you, Ian, for maintaining this one, lonely outpost of intellectual sanity and moral rigor in a world that appears hopelessly drifting toward the abyss.

    I have a plan. I will be presenting it to a group in Asheville NC in two weeks. It will cover:
    1. Historical role of government in economic development
    2. US economy since Reagan – financialized, deindustrialized, decapitalized
    3. The problem is usury, not debt
    4. $100 trillion rebuilding of world’s economy to stop climate change

    If the Asheville group likes it, I’m going to need money to live on to work on this full time. The idea is to use our modern technology to replicate the system of lecturers that the Farmers Alliances used to build itself in the 1880s and create the populist movement. Chapter Three of Lawrence Goodwyn’s book, “The Cooperative Vision: Building a Democratic Economy” has been scanned and put into pdf, and should be up on Real Economics within a day or two. Oh, the title of Goodwyn’s book, for those not familiar with it: The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America.

    One of the Alliance lecturers, up in Minnesota, was Ignatius Donnelly. And if you don’t know who he was, you really need to do some homework if you have any desire at all to be useful in the coming crucible of crises humanity is rushing into.

    Anyway, the idea is to make this presentation available to anyone who wants it, to study it, and accompanying material, such as an ebook (which is why I’ll need money), and to give the presentation to their local Democratic Party organization, church, rotary club, whatever. My bet is that people are desperate to see some real solutions presented that have not been mediated and mutilated by oligarchically controlled institutions.

    At the very least, I think we can shape the national debate going into the 2016 elections.

    I also think we can get 10 or maybe even 20 true, radical progressives elected to Congress in 2016. Getting people who were not politicians elected is what the populists did – and they may have lost the fight in the 1896 election, but they laid the foundation for challenging and defeating the oligarchs during the New Deal. My challenge to any group that wants to pick this up, is to turn their back entirely on whoever has been their Congressman or Senator up til now, and choose someone from among them to run.

    I was happy to kick 2014 in the ass as it headed out the door. But there is no one working to make 2015 any better. We have to do it ourselves.

    Happy New Year to all!

  14. Ian Welsh

    A good idea, and sorely needed. I hope it works Tony.

    Lorenzo: assuming I have something to say about a situation rapid response posts are the easiest to write, so I expect I will keep doing them.

  15. LorenzoStDuBois

    Thanks! What can I say, I’m a 21st century hamster-wheel news consumer, needing instant commentary Andrew Sullivan style, only, you know, not for idiots.

  16. JustPlainDave

    I fear that if you go down this path using the pervasive implicit mental schema that sees technology driving culture (e.g., “technology and its effect on society” and “how those ideas are created by the environment and technology”), you will find the product to ultimately be derivative and unsatisfying.

    I am extraordinarily wary of prescriptions for large scale social and political change that depend on technological drivers (and/or technologically dependent positive/negative feedbacks) – particularly new technologies. That the number of better social and political configurations we *could* adopt using quite low level technologies differently – but don’t – is so vast says to me that any system configuration reliant on significantly different technology use as motivator is very unlikely to work or to even be stable.

    We’re frankly too constrained in our options to tolerate much in the way of significant “unintended consequences” from radically different use of technologies – and I don’t see that changing very quickly, unless climate modification is a lot less risky and resource intensive than I think it’s going to be. Practical, applied ways of making desired social and political configurations more attractive inside existing technological systems, now that I think would bear more fruit.

  17. Ian Welsh

    Technology creates constraints and also possibilities. Failure to understand can lead to foolish action—or inaction.

  18. sanctimonious purist

    Doesn’t technology still need massive amounts of energy, rare earth metals and other real resources that we can’t really afford to dig up? Wouldn’t there be a way to manage society the other way–I guess it’s called degrowth?

    (I’m really asking–not being snarky, in case it comes out that way when written.)

  19. Ian Welsh

    Tech still requires tons of resources, yes. Though solar is a vast improvement on hydrocarbons, it too has issues with rare earths etc…

    But technology influences productiveness and violence and how it does must be understood to know what can work, and survive, and what can’t.

  20. Tony Wikrent

    Re sanctimonious purist,

    Actually, as the technology developed during the last half of the 20th century was implemented and diffused, the energy content per unit of GDP fell, meaning it cost less energy to produce each unit of economic activity. Now, there are a number of problems with the way GDP is measured, as well as the concept of GDP itself. (I have no idea how energy use is measured, as I never looked into the issue, as I have looked into GDP and how it is measured.)

    But, the increasing energy efficiency as technology advances is very apparent, even just anecdotally. One area I am very familiar with, is agricultural tractors, because my livelihood (up to now) has been to sell manuals and literature for antique tractors and engines. This is something I’ve wanted to write up for years, but have never gotten around to.

    The mechanization of agriculture began almost two centuries ago, with the reaper. But the shift from animals as “primary movers” to steam engines, then tractors did not begin until the 1860s. Steam powered tractors only became practical and accepted in the mid 1870s, and remained in use until the 1940s. (They were called steam traction engines). The application of internal combustion engines to replace steam engines on farm tractors did not occur until the 1910s.

    It took a farmer an hour and a half to till an acre of ground with five horses and a gang plow.

    Here is a picture of an American-Abell steam traction engine, and it weighed over 44,000 pounds, or 22 tons. “It was used for breaking land, pulling a 12-bottom plow. The mammoth engine, which burned up to 5000 pounds of coal a day, could reportedly turn over four acres of prairie sod in an hour.”

    Here is a picture of a 165-horsepower John Deere 4650. It weighs 16685 to 18585 pounds, or about nine tons – less than half the weight of the American-Abell steam traction engine. That’s a lot less steel and iron to produce, cut, and shape. Over 16,000 Deere 4650s were built from 1983 to 1989. It will turn over one acre in less than five minutes, or over three times the efficiency of the steamer. It burns just under ten gallons of diesel an hour, or probably around 100 gallons a day.

    What’s better to burn? 5000 pounds of coal a day, or 100 gallons of diesel a day?

    I think the history of human technology can be roughly placed on a scale of energy density, from simple open flames of burning wood, with massive loss of energy wasted, to the still highly inefficient burning of coal, then burning of petroleum. Once you get to electricity, there is a dramatic shift in energy densities, but this does not mean much at first because generation of electricity still involved burning fossil fuels. Nuclear power of course blows energy density off any chart which does not use logarithmic scaling. What we’re getting now with lasers and particle accelerators is also off the charts.

    Eventually, I dream, we – humanity – will get to the point that we have energy technology dense enough and controlled enough that we can extract and change minerals and elements from almost anything we want. I do not expect to see that in my lifetime, but I think toddlers and infants today may see it in theirs.

  21. Jessica

    @Tony Wikrent,
    That sounds like a good effort to attempt. Do please post up about it here as your progress.
    About the Populists, my reading of Goodwyn’s book, the Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America, is that the Populists did not become a political movement and start running candidates until they had been a social movement running cooperatives for 5-10 years or so. The political movement grew out of the social movement.
    Also, according to Goodwyn, it was not that the Populists lost in 1896, but that the Populist Party was taken by the same group of pseudo-reformers that had taken over the leadership of the Democratic Party. The Populists had stood for going off the gold standard (which was a kind of automatic austerity). They were taken over by forces that wanted to just replace the gold standard with a gold+silver standard and that were funded by the silver mining industry. It is easy to imagine something similar happening to us (probably courtesy of some “friendly” billionaire) if we are not aware of this pattern beforehand.
    I am not implying that a political movement must wait for a social movement to emerge and develop for some years, but I think it is useful to notice the differences from our situation now and that of the Populists in the run-up to the 1896 election.

  22. Jessica

    I agree that mysticism can be part of the solution, both by providing insights into how people work and through practice, providing an individual with insights into and greater control over how she or he works. I sometimes find dealing with political groups quite frustrating when a group is being driven by some personal immaturity that a spiritual group could easily recognize and do something about.
    On the other hand, in my personal experience, mysticism as a social phenomenon, organized groups of practitioners, are oddly blind about political and social structural realities. Even mystics who are pro-intellectual rather than anti- and who have enormous learning and understanding about ordinary psychology and about beyond-ego psychology are often clueless when it comes to how social power works. So clueless that mere not knowing can not explain it. So form of (unconscious) deliberate not seeing is required. Often the dominant ideology is a kind of wooly feel-good liberalism. “If only those Republicans wouldn’t get in Obama’s way.” With perhaps a dose of traditional conservatism that does not see the huge gap between traditional conservative values and modern “conservatism”.
    This contrast between wisdom about individuals and willful ignorance about social power has been a personal koan (question to gnaw on) for me for at least a decade because the deepest mystical teachings are profoundly liberatory. In fact, they are so liberatory that they arose in unique social conditions (for example, when elitist Buddhism in India came in contact with low-caste and tribal people). Such teachings survived in Tibet precisely because so much of Tibet was not really governed. (See “The Art of Not Being Governed”, another of the books I would put in the 5 or 10 most important for understanding how societies function.)
    No governed society until modern democracies could let such teachings loose among ordinary people. In Buddhist terms, if all beings have Buddhanature, why exactly do you get to be King and I have to be an illiterate, half-starving latrine cleaner?
    Yet somehow, these teachings, now spread more widely in the West than ever before elsewhere, have thus far produced no social movement.
    I think this fact is worth explaining. Similarly, the difficulty in getting people politically involved, even politically literate, is also worth explaining, rather than taking as a given. I do not think a lack of accurate information plays so large a role in the process. One of the weaknesses of many left, liberal, progressive, or whatever groups is a tendency to act as though people view politics the way a college student views the text for a course that they want a good grade in.

  23. V. Arnold

    Jessica PERMALINK
    January 4, 2015

    …Yet somehow, these teachings, now spread more widely in the West than ever before elsewhere, have thus far produced no social movement.
    Conditioning/propagandizing, forced education, and mythologized origins history…

  24. Ian Welsh

    We should talk sometime Jessica.

    It’s worth nothing that Tibet was, er, not a nice place for many of the people there, and had a torture problem, shall we say.

    There are some technical reasons for enlightened leaders being problematic. The Hindus go most wrong after the Mughal conquest (castes become much more rigid, for example), but note that their system produced enlightened people by the boatload and wasn’t always a great place to live.

    OTOH for a long time you’d sure rather have lived there than Europe.

    Accurate information is not the issue because “accurate” is a questionable term when it comes to ideology. Knowledge and belief are what matter, and they matter precisely so that good impulses don’t get hijacked.

  25. Jessica

    @ V. Arnold
    Thank you.
    I have a theory about why liberatory spiritual practices have not produced any liberatory movement in the first world.
    Since about “The Sixties”, there has been a profound mismatch between the main power in the economy and the rules by which that power is organized. Specifically, the most crucial productive power now is knowledge, but the rules are for producing things. The near-infinite replicability of knowledge compared to, let’s day steel beams or concrete or automobiles, creates this mismatch.
    As a result, the oligarchs and the rest of the elites are obsolete in the first world. Those who produce and distribute knowledge have together the capacity to create immeasurable abundance. However, these social strata currently exist as the highest level servants of the obsolete elites. The main task they are assigned by the elites is to strangle themselves, to foot-bind themselves so that they can stay within the bounds of the obsolete (pro-elite) forms of organization.
    The result of this is a class turned upside-down. Those at the bottom, for example adjunct professors, are underpaid to actually do socially constructive work, while those at the top, for example college presidents, are overpaid for parasitic and destructive work.
    Most people in these social strata are conflicted by their work. Either there is the way they want to do their job (the doctor who wants to heal) versus the way they must do their job (let people die to satisfy insurance companies) or there is the socially meaningless or even destructive job they can be well-paid for versus the job they want to do and that would benefit society but that they can not be paid for (or are underpaid for).
    This is the social context in which mysticism has spread in the West. Most Western mystic practitioners nowadays live in social contexts where deliberate social ignorance is highly cultivated. To really look with clear eyes at how society works is disorienting, painful, and socially risky. On top of that, it undermines your individual competitiveness and can mark you as a crank or a loser.
    So it is natural to meditate more to try to cope with the hyper-alienation of the current age and to channel one’s efforts either into a subtle form of resume building or into quietist social withdrawal.
    On the other hand, nothing can change the fact that the current counter-evolutionary system can not help but turn abundant potential into lack and suffering. And that liberatory spiritual practices are one place where the humane future for which we have already built the necessary material foundation sneaks through into visibility.

  26. Jessica

    Thank you. I would very much welcome that.
    You are right about Tibet. Not everything the Chinese commumists say about it is lies or propaganda. Some of the social practices were cruel and barbaric. It is important though to keep in mind that Lhasa (and to a lesser extent Shigatse) were very different from much of the rest of the country, especially Kham. In Lhasa, the climate allowed enough agriculture to support an actual government. Thus, it is not a coincidence that the Gelukpas (the Dalai Lama’s one of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism), who ran the government in recent centuries, mostly stayed away from the highest teachings and greatly restricted which teachings were accepted as canonical. At the other end of the spectrum, there seems to have been rhizome-like “street-level” practitioners who were independent of all the monasteries. The non-Gelugpa monasteries and these independents seem to have had a symbiotic relationship, with the monasteries providing continuity during hard times and the independents keeping the teachings alive and vibrant despite the bureaucratic and ossifying tendencies of the monasteries.
    I am interested in what you wrote about India. Is there a book you can recommend that covers this aspect of Indian history? (On Tibet, the best book I know is “Civilized Shamans Buddhism in Tibetan Societies” by Geoffrey Samuel.)

  27. My problem, with, and normally I am a fawning idiot over this man’s work, Ian Welsh’s view point in his article, “Thoughts: On the Year that was and The World to come.” Found here:
    We have systematically dis-empowered ourselves and new or more ethics seems wrong.
    I don’t know, that we need, any new ethics, we seem to have plenty of, those, already, demonstrably immoral in their application, though, they are, yes and indeedy, ethical. I think morality, is, the point. Self, restraint, that which; in the past, kept business and CEO compensation to high but arguably fair rates. Self-restraint is predicated and built on ones morals, Seems taking self-restraint away took morality, with it, as well.
    This, taken in consideration, with, the presence of Unions and the hopeful, as at that time; even, then, we were fast losing our social memory, and destroying Unions, we still hoped for the continued, future, growth of Unions.

    Depending on which, number, you want to use from, 1968/1969, the highest paid executive was: James M. Roche or Charlie Wilson, as, Chairman, of General Motors 795,000/663,000, I used the lower figure in my calculations.
    The average General Motors Assembly line worker’s pay was 16,575, seniority, experience, being the difference and hence average at 40 times the salary of GM Chairman Charlie Wilson, as GM stated for the time was the difference between the two. The, average worker’s pay in the country was: $5,602. Right away, we can see, what a Union was doing for, its members, but, to attract people away from Unions, pay went up for, non-union people, too.
    Now we run that average GM pay through the CPI calculator, lo and behold, it is discovered that in 2012 standards $16,575, has the buying power, of $157,568.
    To tie it something recent in pay, how about $5 an hour, in 1968, that would be, the equivalent of, $47.53 an hour, today, or 91,257 a year. (Rounded down)
    So when I look at the race to the bottom, wage wise, we have created in this country, I see, that it was all done, on ethics, without a shred of morality in the picture.
    I posted on my Facebook page “The All Stick Policy Review”
    “Interest is loss, a way to understand this, is you can create principle, but interest is never figured into the equation, but for and as a feature; it’s loss, by someone along the trail. The Federal Reserve System is, merely, a high stakes gambling casino, at the people’s expense, in more ways than one.
    Money spent on suppliers, labors receipt of payment and so on, do not, equate to more than the actual principle, in circulation at the time; in, any way you figure it. So any gain is another man’s loss, no matter, how you spell it. A cycle, of, booms and busts facilitates the illusion, of a healthy system, thus providing the money to pay interest. A system of ups and downs that serves to give the impression the market is for everyone, and, everyone has the same chances.
    One action puts money into circulation, booms, one collects it back along with assets, these being busts, therein serving as the conduit to pay savers, then the other winners of the game, on, Wall Street, and then the, croupiers, of this Casino, the Banks.
    Which would be, a reason, that savers are being discouraged, from, being such, with, negative interest rates, because, savers aren’t part of the game, but as a casualty, a savings account is a silent accusation, of, the systems immorality. One can accrue interest on animals and seed but one cannot attain interest on sterile inorganic money.
    It’s a race to the bottom with the Federal Reserve, who only accepts gold and property in specie, and those who play this rather sick game of resources, there to accept the proceeds. The reason no one can model it, and have any accuracy for any time, is all the models are built on this, misguided perception, people have, that, the system they work with, is neutral.
    When, in fact, it is a predatory rents, asset/property, wealth, extraction system and is immoral. Economists fail to demand or postulate, that, a moral component, should be a part, of, any economic model and therefore, a, lack of said, will never show up on their radar, as, the reason for the current shape of things and apparent bad decisions on the Banks part. Therefore “Gresham’s Law” is unfettered in its effects.
    The sooner you figure this out and design a more, fair, system the better off you will be. Doesn’t really require a fancy theory or a lot of work to understand. If you have no demand for moral behavior as a component of your models, of, expectation, then, moral behavior and a moral result will, never, be a part of any result.”
    So, again, I say we have plenty of ethics running around and a drinking and whoring and such not, so I leave you, the brothers Connor and Murphy MacManus, with a quote from, “The Boondock Saints” to emphasize my point on morality and self-restraint.

    While a violent ending to the movie; and not all what I am suggesting, though in today’s world increasingly becoming the reality, it is a point made in, the speech, which resonates with any who hear or read it. There is a code, we all know it, and there must be a punishment for those who break that code. If, we do not, punish the wicked, then my, friends we become the wicked.

    “CONNOR Now, you will receive us.
    MURPHY We, do not, ask for your poor or your, hungry.
    CONNOR We, do not, want your tired and sick.
    MURPHY It is your corrupt we claim.
    CONNOR It is your evil, who will be sought by us.
    MURPHY With every breath we shall hunt them down.
    CONNOR Each day we will spill their blood till it rains down from the skies.
    MURPHY Do not kill, do not rape, do not, steal. These are principles which every man of every faith can embrace.
    CONNOR These, are not polite suggestions. They are codes of behavior and those that ignore them will pay the dearest cost.
    MURPHY There are varying degrees of evil. We urge you lesser forms of filth. Not to push the bounds and cross over into true corruption… into our domain.
    CONNOR For if you do, there will come the day when you look behind you and see, we three. And on that day you will reap it.
    MURPHY And we will send you to whatever God you wish.”

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