The language that we choose to utter to ourselves in our thoughts is so very important. It affects our moods, our mental and physical health, and the very path that our life takes.
For me, it has been a journey of many small steps.
Step 1 - Learn to listen to your thoughts instead of just thinking them.
Step 2 - Learn when to challenge your thoughts and when to just accept them.
Step 3 - Change your choice of language. Use less emotionally charged and negative words.
Step 4 - Practice, practice, practice. It takes years to challenge the patterns of a lifetime.
Step 5 - Be patient and gentle with yourself.
Hello Rambling Masses,
Long time no post. Haven't had a reason to, as this blog used to be about me venting my spleen. I don't do that anymore. It's too soul-destroying. It drags me down into depression. I'd much rather be happy than sad and angry. I look back at all of my angry posts over the years, and I pity the person that I was. So much negativity, so much mis-directed energy, so much eating myself up inside.
I think I am there, where I want to be now. From now on, anything I post will be nothing but positive. We each affect the world by adding to the great pool of energy. I now choose to add positive energy. I want to contribute to the happiness and joy in the world, not rail at things I have no control over.
I have learned much in the past year. I look forward to learning much more.
Stay happy people, and enjoy life. That's what it is there for.
Forgive me Rambling Masses, for I have sinned.
It has been over a year since my last ramble.
Do you know the wonderful thing about hitting rock bottom? It's quite liberating, and in a strange way, a very positive experience, albeit a painful one. I recommend it to everyone to try at least once in their lives. You learn a lot about yourself and about those closest to you. As long as it doesn't break you, you come out the other side a wiser and stronger person.
You also realise a great truth when you are sitting on your bottom on the bottom - there is only one way from here, and that's up.
Another thing that I always kind of knew but which I now feel deep within my gut is that life, and the world around us, does not exist as an absolute reality. It is all just layers of perception. For many years now, I have raged and railed at the world of humans for not living up to the great potential that lurks in the wings. I have been offended to the core of my being at the petty injustices and lack of reason. I have hated mankind as a species because I felt that we are a blight on this world.
I have expended emotional and intellectual energy to try and change that which I now see I have no power at all to change, except in minute increments on a local scale. And yet, I have continued to put my happiness in jeopardy by continuing this fight that can never be won, much to my own detriment. Impotent rage has no other path than to eventually turn inward.
My rock-bottom epiphany has begun a positive change within me. One of my favourite sayings has always been "do not worry about those things you have no control over", but I have never truly accepted that ideal until now. As I said before, life is all about perception - primarily our own perception. So now, I will worry about the things that I DO have control over. What happens to us in life is often beyond our control or outside the sphere of our influence. What we can control is how we perceive it.
As far as life-changing epiphanies go, it's a very simple one. But those simple truths are often the most important and the most overlooked. I have it within me to change my outlook on life and the way it affects me by making a shift in my perceptions.
So, bottoms up to you, dear Rambling Masses. Look for the positives - they are much easier to find if you stop focusing on the negatives all the time.
Of course, this won't get in the way of a good old fashioned rant from yours truly every now and then. Helps to clear the bile out once in a while, don't you know.
Stay beautiful, people.
One of the greatest problems facing mankind's future existence and the wellbeing of our planet is one of attitude. The sooner mankind reins in their rampant arrogance the better. We tramp our way through our lives, believing both individually and collectively that we have a divine right, a universal mandate, to exist. By rising to the top of the food chain on this planet, we have become blind to the fundamental facts as they are.
Here are a few of my thoughts on the matter...
- Just because we have the ability to take what we want from the Earth does not mean that we should. We see the world as a big pile of resources without end, to be used as we see fit. There are little or no long-term considerations for sustainability and management of our devastating effects on all of the myriad delicate and interconnected ecosystems on the planet.
- We consider ourselves a law unto ourselves, above and beyond the laws of nature. We continually distance ourselves from the natural rhythms, ebbs and flows of natural cycles and systems.
- Way back in the dim dark past of pre-history, our ancestors were much more in tune with nature, and able to live as part of the world around us, not apart from the world around us. This must count as one of the greatest losses that we have ever encountered.
- We have been incredibly lucky to balance on the knife edge of survival in the evolutionary game. This has made us arrogant, and we assume blithely that we will continue to exist as a species on this planet, no matter the odds or self-destructive behaviour that we engage in.
- We should see ourselves as custodians of this planet. The continued existence of this world, and the maximising of its potential (not just for our sake alone) should be our primary goals.
- In our superficial modern lives, 90% of what we believe matters, doesn't.
- We seem to be squandering the gifts that we have been given, gifts such as the ability to rationalise, reason and empathise. Properly applied, these gifts can save us and our planet.
- People don't generally take the time to sit down and think about things for a while. If we did, the realisation of our true position would surely switch on billions of light bulbs above our heads, illuminating our way forward.
- Rarely do we consider more than just initial consequences before we act.
- Peace and harmony are not ideals, but essentials.
- No matter how naive it sounds, there are no conflicts that cannot be resolved.
- Money does not make the world go round.
- The industrial revolution set us on a path to greatness and mastery over the world around us. What a crock! We should sit down and have a good hard look at the simple equation of what we have gained from it versus what it has cost us. I believe that the world has lost out in this particular transaction.
- The free market will not regulate itself and settle into a best-fit position where the interests of all people, the environment and the world in general are guarded and balanced.
- A planned market economy will also not deliver a cure to our rampant destructive ways.
- There are at least 3 billion too many people on this planet. We do not think twice about culling rampant destructive populations of pest animals and plants when we see an obvious imbalance or problem, but the population issues of mankind are left to grow unchecked.
- The very nature of modern economies, whether capitalist or planned, relies on constant growth. We are locked into a dangerous spiral wherein we need more people to fund the people we have, and we need more funds to keep the ever-increasing peoples at the standard of living to which they have become accustomed. Thus the cycle continues ever onward, and the rape of the planet goes on unchecked.
- Governments of the world, whether democratic or autocratic in nature, will continue to put self-preservation of power first, to the detriment of the hard decisions that should be made to ensure sustainable and ethical existence.
- Science alone cannot hope to save us, nor can religion or philosophy alone. A combination of beliefs and endeavours is required.
- The clock is ticking. We can't expect to continue on our merry way and let the following generations take care of it.
- Whilst the boffins argue about the validity of the science behind climate change, there is still no denying the basic facts that chopping down old growth forests, pumping pollution into our ecosystems and depleting the world's resources are bad things.
- Temporary job losses in major industries that greatly damage our ecosystems are no excuse to do nothing. If the solutions to our problems were easy, we would have fixed things generations ago. Inaction is not an option.
Hello Rambling Readers,
I thought that it was time for a bit of a detour into the positive side of life for a change. Yeah, I know - not exactly what you have gotten used to with me, as I've been kind of focusing on the negative aspects of existence that bring out the rant in me...
Anyhoo, I tried to write something flowery and sweet, but, as you will see below, it just didn't pan out that way. So, I guess, more of the same from your favourite ranting psychotic...
It can be very hard for even the most rudimentary intelligence alive on this planet to keep positive, since the more you know, the more you tend to hate the self-imposed destruction all around us. The vast, vapid majority of mankind is too busy caught up in the day to day, the materialistic pursuit of an elusive happiness that, were it properly thought out and defined, is actually within us all, to bother with the eternal verities of life.
Happiness is fairly easy to achieve, so long as you are a shallow meat robot that requires little more than gluttony, greed and sexual gratification to get your rocks off. However, if you are a reasoning being with a questing mind and a spirit that refuses to accept the horribly deficient status quo, then happiness is a little harder to find and, once found, keep a hold of.
Many people find it in religion. Good for them. I am happy for them that they have found solace in their faith. However, that avenue is closed to me, as I cannot bring myself to believe in fairies, pixies, little devils with forked tails, a "God" who imposes some ridiculous concept of original sin and divinely granted grace, or (for that matter) any "God" who speaks through the words of a bunch of fat old men with beards who sat around a camp fire a couple of thousand years ago wondering how they could wrest power from the bully of the day. And don't even get me started on the whole modern christian revival Hillsong thing - the hills are alive with the sound of music (and the ringing of cash registers).
Others find it in materialism - money buys happiness. That maxim has become so much a part of our every day existence in this capitalist world that it is rarely even questioned by the masses. Those countries that have been lucky enough to wrest resources from the rest of the world, to carve out a bigger slice of pie than they deserve, do not question their position of priviledge, nor do they give more than lip service to a worldwide equality, because the pie is only so big, and there really isn't enough to go around. Thankfully, my things do not own me, nor do I aspire to contribute to the capitalist system that I have so much vitriolic hatred for.
Yet others find it in family. Nice. I have heard many espouse their views that their lives and values were so meaningless until they pumped out a couple of little miracles. Through their children, they find a sense of worth and meaning that eclipses all that came before. How wonderfully biological for them, but I can't help but think that the last thing this overtaxed planet needs is more resource hogs, eating their way through the forests, oceans, plains, mountains and deserts.
Unfortunately, I do not have a deep desire to "live on through my children" or to aspire to any kind of immortality, if that were even remotely possible, so that avenue, too, is closed to me.
So, what is left? Yeah, well, I'm still working on that one. I have a small group of family and friends that I love dearly, and that give me great pleasure. I even hope that, during my less moribund moments, I give them some form of happiness. I hope to write something that I personally am truly happy with. One day I will. I hope to be around long enough to see the beginning of the end of the great capitalist mistake that really took off with the industrial revolution. I also hope to eventually provide a fine meal for some worms.
Can one really hope for more?
Long time no post. Been kinda busy, living life, getting caught up in the whole capitalist slavery thing, as you do, whether you like it or not. The whole concept of capitalism is rather complex, and quite a subtle trap for all of us (those that live in the developed chasing-the-carrot western world, that is). For the rest of you, survival is still one of the main battles...
I was thinking a bit about my post a while ago about universal values, and I kind of got to tackling the whole issue of the existence of the Internet. I forgot to mention at the time that the advent of the Internet is one of the great developments for mankind in the modern era. Once again, I need to mention that this is only the case for those countries where the Internet is readily available, and where mere survival has become more of an academic problem than a practical one.
My thoughts on the Internet are as follows - I believe that it has the potential to save us. However, it is fraught with danger. Let me explain...
Firstly, let me point out that any worldwide cultural change takes time to manifest itself. The effects of the Internet are far-reaching, and are only just beginning to filter through to our day-to-day existence. With the time-lag effects of generational change, and the inertial effects of existing power bases, it is realistic to assume that any truly significant changes will take some time to reach critical mass and break through the barriers of existing power bases.
It is already a rather exciting phenomenon that rapid technological change has become part of our every day lives. What would once have been considered impossible in the space of generations is now taking place in mere decades or years. This acceleration of change affects us in every facet of our existence. It would be an extremely dangerous act to simply embrace this acceleration without questioning it, despite the many perceived advantages that it may have.
What we are facing is a very interesting time. We are perched upon a precipice, with major advancements in multiple fields of endeavour bombarding us from all sides. One of the criticalities of this is that we need to remember our past to ensure that we do not make the same mistakes again and again.
A difficult proposition, considering the ever greater body of knowledge that is accumulating, and the continued abstraction of the reality that surrounds us. One of my main concerns is that we are climbing further and further up the ladder, without realising that we need to maintain a firm footing on the ground in order to survive.
Who amongst us is able to say that, given a catastrophic failure of the systems around us (the systems that we so take for granted), we would be able to apply basic survival techniques to live out the next few days without easy access to the fundamentals of life (food, water and shelter)? We may still have survival instincts hard-coded into our animalistic nature, but have we not become so far removed from the real world that we would struggle to stay alive given a removal from our comfortable lives of takeaway pizzas, water at the turn of the tap, and a safe warm house at the flick of a switch?
Safety in the modern world is merely an illusion, and has always been so. Anyone who believes otherwise is deluding themselves. The whole concept of the modern world is that mankind is king, that we are able to control everything in the material world, and that no catastrophe can touch us. The danger that faces us is that we are a spoiled couple of generations who have never known real hardship, have never known the cold, hard edge of survival at its rawest. The spoiled generations will come crashing down to earth with an incredible bang when the systems that we rely on are no longer able to cope with the harsh realities of existence.
A great universal quote from some nameless genius states that mankind is only 2 or 3 meals away from total chaos. We can manage skipping a couple of meals, sure, but when a major catastrophe or challenge disrupts our day-to-day existence to the point of destroying our essentials (food, water and shelter), then the thin veneer of society will break down, and we will be left fending for ourselves without any recourse to all that we once placed our faith in.
Whether that threat comes from disease (antibiotic-resistant strains, etc.), peak oil, global climate change or other unforeseeable factors beyond our control, the illusion of safety will be stripped from us in mere instants. The undeveloped world will most likely fare better than the fat, spoiled developed western world, because they are used to the daily struggle for survival. We will have to relearn this valuable skill, and quickly, to avoid extermination.
So, where does the Internet lie in all of this? I see the Internet as a possible saviour - through the dissemination of knowledge to the masses. But for as long as it remains an irrelevant source of porn, peer-to-peer piracy, proprietary products and a great new marketing tool for the monied powers of the capitalist machine, I fail to see how it can possibly achieve its true potential of informing the masses and preparing us for the fall that inevitably lies before us.
I only hope that we are ready for what I personally believe will come to pass - a cataclysmic event from any of the hundreds of possible timebombs, happily ticking away. Call me a pessimist, if you like. I choose to think of myself as a realist. When the shit hits the fan, come and see me. I'll be ready, and looking forward to the challenge of day-to-day survival. Let's face it, when all of the veneer of modern living is stripped away, that is what life is all about.
Till next time, oh ramblers, your humble servant is calling to you from the wings of the wasteland...
Hi Rambling Masses,
Ani DiFranco, an American independent singer/songwriter/guitarist, is an inspiration to many feminists. To me, however, she is an inspiration because of her views concerning artistic freedom. She has consistently refused to sign to a major label, instead building (with help from friends) a small indie label of her own.
She wrote the following open letter to Ms. Magazine (an American-based feminist magazine), pointing out that her success should not be viewed in purely financial terms, but rather in artistic terms. She says it very eloquently, and I have taken the liberty of reproducing her open letter without alteration below. It rings true to much that I believe about art, capitalism and integrity.
November 5, 1997
Marcia Ann Gillespie
Editor in Chief
135 W. 50th Street
New York, NY 10020
So I'm poring through the 25th anniversary issue of Ms. (on some airplane going somewhere in the amorphous blur that amounts to my life) and I'm finding it endlessly enlightening and stimulating as always, when, whaddaya know, I come across a little picture of little me. I was flattered to be included in that issue's "21 feminists for the 21st century" thingybob. I think ya'll are runnin the most bold and babe-olishious magazine around, after all.
Problem is, I couldn't help but be a little weirded out by the paragraph next to my head that summed up her me-ness and my relationship to the feminist continuum. What got me was that it largely detailed my financial successes and sales statistics. My achievements were represented by the fact that I "make more money per album sold than Hootie and the Blowfish," and that my catalogue sales exceed 3/4 of a million. It was specified that I don't just have my own record company but my own "profitable" record company. Still, the ironic conclusion of the aforementioned blurb is a quote from me insisting "it's not about the money." Why then, I ask myself, must "the money" be the focus of so much of the media that surrounds me? Why can't I escape it, even in the hallowed pages of Ms.?
Firstly, this "Hootie and the Blowfish" business was not my doing. The LA Times financial section wrote an article about my record label, Righteous Babe Records, in which they raved about the business savvy of a singer (me) who thwarted the corporate overhead by choosing to remain independent, thereby pocketing $4.25 per unit, as opposed to the $1.25 made by Hootie or the $2.00 made by Michael Jackson. This story was then picked up and reprinted by The New York Times, Forbes magazine, the Financial News Network, and (lo and behold) Ms.
So here I am, publicly morphing into some kinda Fortune 500-young-entrepreneur-from-hell, and all along I thought I was just a folksinger !
Ok, it's true. I do make a much larger profit (percentage-wise) than the Hootster. What's even more astounding is that there are thousands of musicians out there who make an even higher profit percentage than me! How many local, musicians are there in your community who play gigs in bars and coffee shops about town? I bet lots of them have made cassettes or CDS which they'll happily sell to you with a personal smile from the edge of the stage or back at the
bar after their set. Would you believe these shrewd, profit-minded wheeler-dealers are pocketing a whopping _100%_ of the profits on the sales of those puppies?! Wait till the Financial News Network gets a whiff of _them_!
I sell approximately 2.5% of the albums that a Joan Jewelanis Morrisette sells and get about .05% of the airplay royalties, so obviously if it all comes down to dollars and cents, I've led a wholly unremarkable life. Yet I choose relative statistical mediocrity over fame and fortune because I have a bigger purpose in mind. Imagine how strange it must be for a girl who has spent 10 years fighting as hard as she could against the lure of the corporate carrot and the almighty forces of capital, only to be eventually recognized by the power structure as a business pioneer.
I have indeed sold enough records to open a small office on the half-abandoned main street in the dilapidated urban center of my hometown, Buffalo, N.Y. I am able to hire 15 or so folks to run and constantly reinvent the place while I drive around and play music for people. I am able to give stimulating business to local printers and manufacturers and to employ the services of independent distributors, promoters, booking agents and publicists. I was able to quit my day job and devote myself to what I love.
And yes, we are enjoying modest profits these days, affording us the opportunity to reinvest in innumerable political and artistic endeavors. RBR is no Warner Bros. But it is a going concern, and for me, it is a vehicle for redefining the relationship between art and commerce in my own life. It is a record company which is the product not just of my own imagination, but that of my friend and manager Scot Fisher and of all the people who work there. People who incorporate and coordinate politics, art and media every day into a people-friendly, sub-corporate, woman-informed, queer-happy small business that puts music before rock stardom and ideology before profit.
And me. I'm just a folksinger, not an entrepreneur. My hope is that my music and poetry will be enjoyable and/or meaningful to someone, somewhere, not that I maximize my profit margins. It was 15 years and 11 albums getting to this place of notoriety and, if anything, I think I was happier way back when. Not that I regret any of my decisions, mind you. I'm glad I didn't sign on to the corporate army. I mourn the commodification and homogenization of music by the
music industry, and I fear the manufacture of consent by the corporately-controlled media. Last thing I want to do is feed the machine.
I was recently mortified while waiting in the dressing room before one of my own shows. Some putz suddenly takes the stage to announce me and exclaim excitedly that this was my "largest sold-out crowd to date!" "Oh, really?," I'm thinking to myself, "that's interesting...too bad it's not the point." All of my achievements are artistic, as are all of my failures.
That's just the way I see it. Statistical plateau or no. I'll bust ass for 60 people, or 6,000, watch me.
I have so much respect for Ms. magazine. If I couldn't pick it up at newsstands my brain probably would've atrophied by now on some trans-Atlantic flight and I would be lying limp and twitchy in a bed of constant travel, staring blankly into the abyss of the gossip magazines. Ms. is a structure of media wherein women are able to define themselves, and articulate for themselves those definitions. We wouldn't point to 21 of the feminists moving into the 21st century and define them in terms of "Here's Becky Ballbuster from Iowa City, she's got a great ass and a cute little button nose..." No ma'am. We've gone beyond the limited perceptions of sexism and so we should move beyond the language and perspective of the corporate patriarchy. The Financial News Network may be ultimately impressed with me now that I've proven to them that there's a life beyond the auspices of papa Sony, but do I really have to prove this to _you_?
We have the ability and the opportunity to recognize women not just for the financial successes of their work but for the work itself. We have the facility to judge each other by entirely different criteria than those is imposed upon us by the superstructure of society. We have a view which reaches beyond profit margins into poetry, and a vocabulary to articulate the difference.
Thanks for including me, Ms., really. But just promise me one thing; if I drop dead tomorrow, tell me my grave stone won't read:
Please let it read:
I doff my hat to you Ani. Thank you for your sanity in this world at-times-gone-mad.
Greetings and Salutations, oh Rambling Masses,
Here I am on a Saturday morn, having just seen my wife off in her 5:30 AM taxi to the airport. I am not tired, so I flick the teev on and see what it has to offer. After getting the latest blast of gangstas rapping about hoes and bling on early morning Rage, and wondering why in Australia we have this fascination with all of this American crap, I decide to flick through the stations and see what else is on.
Being in Sydney, I get the local independent station TVS (station 31). We often tune in just for a laugh at the sometimes amateurish content, but every now and then there is a diamond in the rough.
Prem Rawat is just such a diamond. For those who don't know him from a bar of soap, let me tell you a bit about him. Also known as Maharaji, he is a 50 year old Indian man who tours around the world talking about peace, love and understanding. He is not associated with any religious movements, and in my humble opinion, his philosophies are indeed a thing of beauty that should be heard by more people.
When you mention philosophy, people usually think about the egghead "If a tree falls in the forest and there's no-one there to hear it, does it still make a sound" stuff. However, philosophy is all this and much more. Philosophy is about investigating and defining our place in the world, and about the path towards better understanding of ourselves, others, and the universe at large. Prem Rawat's philosophical discourses are approachable, palatable and practical, and for that I applaud him and have the utmost respect for him.
Also, when he talks, he sounds like The Late Show's parody of Desmond Tutu - "What we neeeeeeeeed..."
I would like to share with you the transcript from the show that I caught. It is all about peace and happiness - things that we should all be striving for with all of our energy. It is not pie-in-the-sky stuff, but real and practical words of wisdom. For those who would like to know more about Prem Rawat and his lectures, you can visit his website. Without further ado, here is one of his lecture transcripts.
The Fundamental Need - by Prem Rawat
We talk about peace, but do we ever stop and wonder, "Where did this idea of peace come from?" Why do human beings across the face of this earth even want peace?
If peace is a luxury, then you can say, "Well, it would be nice to have peace." But it's an innate and fundamental desire, a need, a necessity that gets acknowledged in a human being. Something stirs from within and says, "Without peace, the whole equation is incomplete." Throughout the world's civilizations, peace has always been something that has been acknowledged.
The importance I am giving peace is that it is just as important as being able to breathe, just as important as being able to see, just as important as being able to exist. Something within each human being stirs every single day and says, "Let me feel, let me experience the state in which I am not burdened with conflict. It is important for me to feel that simplicity in my life."
Whether we live in what we call a free society or in prison, we need to feel something. What is so fundamental to us is not the boundaries of countries or even our ideals, for in the midst of the ideals, we have forgotten the fundamental human thing.
In this existence, we forget what the primary purpose is. What is the most important thing to you as a human being? To welcome that and not find it mysterious because it isn't mysterious, not to find it routine because it is not routine. To acknowledge that the life I have is an exquisite gift, and I need to make the most of it.
An empty pitcher, an empty well, cannot fill other vessels. A dry well? You can throw 10,000 buckets into it, and all that will come out is sand. And that's if you're lucky. For a lamp to light other lamps, that lamp has to be lit. For a candle to light other candles, that candle has to be lit. Peace is a noble objective; helping mankind is noble. But it has to begin with a lit lamp. First and foremost, peace has to be recognized in a person's own self.
Everybody's requirements are different when it comes to this world: somebody likes a blue car; somebody likes a green car; somebody likes a white car. I'm not passing judgment on that. That's fine. But there is one need that is the same for all. The name for water is different in different languages, but water in itself is not different. Its ability to quench thirst is not different.
We are free to understand the gift that we have been given. That is a freedom no one can take away from us - not another government, not a terrorist. There is a peace that resides equally in the heart of every human being. It is not a peace that somebody hands us on a platter, because that peace can be taken away some day. This is a peace that no one can take away from us.
This is a peace that can be felt even in a battlefield - the innate peace, fundamental to everyone. The fundamentals of every human being: freedom, understanding, peace, joy, happiness.
Feel that peace in your life. Feel that joy in your life. Feel that understanding in your life. Come from that place, and there will be no end to how much you can be filled with beautiful understanding and gratitude. Make it real, make it practical. Make it the way it is supposed to be - every life, everywhere touched because a lit lamp came by and was able to light the unlit lamps. This is the possibility for all of us, but first we need to be lit.
Is it asking for a lot? Probably. Is it impossible? Absolutely not. It is very, very possible. It will take a lot of effort, but then effort is one thing we can make. And it is up to us.
Such a weighty title for this day's post. Perhaps a little pretentious, maybe somewhat overbearing, but I have a few concepts to present to you all that I certainly consider exciting (well, I am a creature of the mind, and intellectual constructs tend to excite me).
This essay came about as a result of the aforementioned conversation with my friends Paul and Dave. The reason it has taken so long to write will become apparent as you, the long-suffering reader, notice the length of this essay. Bear with me, though. I am hopeful that the effort on both your part and mine will be worth it in the end.
The general aim of this essay is to break apart and study the basic structure of societies, with the particular aim of trying to define Universal Values that should be adhered to by all of humanity. I am expecting to fail in the aim of defining Universal Values, as it is a problem that has vexed the greatest thinkers of our world for millennia, but at least I hope to draw attention to the fact that said definition should be paramount in the continued evolution of society. I further postulate that continued evolution of human society can only come about through the establishment of a world society.
I would like to quote one of my favourite poets (myself) when I say that "I am an empty vessel, into which are poured my own thoughts and those of others, to ferment the broth of understanding". As such, I would be the first to admit that I know little, and can gain a better understanding of the universe and our place in it through engaging in discussions with others.
Humans build communities. That is a universal fact. We, like the bees and ants, are social creatures. We crave it and create it, and live in it every day.
Society is the underlying structure of these communities that we build. It is too large to be noticed most of the time. We don't think about it, absorbed in that miniscule part of society that is our lives (I have this image of Morpheus standing in front of me with those cool nose-glasses, holding a blue pill and a red pill out to me and saying "You cannot be told what Society is...").
What we often fail to see is that our lives are shaped in a large part by the society in which we live. What we must never forget is that our society of and by itself is not perfect, in fact nowhere near it, and the reciprocal relationship is completed in that we have an obligation to effect changes in that society to help improve it for everyone.
Another important point to consider is that the world is still a much-splintered entity, and while some steps have been taken to unify disparate structures towards a greater whole, much work still needs to be done before a world society can be established. Important steps to this end in the modern age include the formation of the United Nations, the European Union, and the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague (though the legality and mandate of this is disputed).
As always seems to be the case, the movement towards a world society has met with much speedier progress in the fiscal arena than in the legislative, religious or ethical arenas. Globalisation has, as a result of abuses by greedy corporations, become a tainted and much maligned term. However, it should be noted that, in this humble blogsters opinion, true globalisation towards a world society (not just in the business sense) needs to take place for human beings to be able to continue their evolution, and for the betterment of the whole planet.
Society values are a crucial part of the structure that binds us all. They define the principles by which we live. Why is it then that we do not have a clear idea of what these values are? Perhaps it is because we do not give them the attention that they deserve.
Society values are sometimes talked about (and should be talked about more). Every now and then, "Australian Values" comes up as a blip on the media radar, and politicians will be asked about them. They'll dredge up a few tried and tested words like "Mateship", pre-approved by their spin doctors and speech writers. They'll visit Gallipoli or walk a few steps along the Kokoda trail, to prove that they embody these values, and then they'll go back to what they were doing before, which is worrying about securing the next term in office. Well, there it is – it stands as a self-evident fact that we can't rely on modern politicians to guide us on the path of defining society's values and making sure we live by them.
So where do we turn to define the supposedly indefinable? Well, the answer to this is fairly simple in the first instance – we should turn to each other and discuss, for only then can we explore what is important to each of us and to others. Only then can we start to reclaim society in that quaint old fashion of "by the people for the people".
Values are more than words on a page. They have to be lived and breathed each and every day of our existence, otherwise they stand for nothing. Token gestures will not do.
A (not-so)-Brief History Lesson About the Development of Society Values
The definition of societal structures and society values has made some major steps forward throughout history. Quite often, these are inextricably linked with the development of democracy, as this is the primary form of mass governance where the masses have some form of representation, and a forum for their voices to be heard. Some of these are covered below (with a nod to Wikipedia for some information).
- Many Sumerian city-states in Ancient Mesopotamia (Iraq) are believed to have started with a form of democracy, but elected dictators in times of war that later kept power to become permanent monarchies.
- One of the earliest instances of civilizations with democracy was found in ancient India, even during the times of the Rigveda, probably the earliest Indo-European literature and one of the most sacred books of the Hindus. The states mentioned are mostly monarchies, but with two democratic institutions called the Sabha and the Samiti. The Sabha (lit., Assembly in Sanskrit) is widely interpreted to be the assembly of the elect or the important chieftains of the tribe, while the Samiti seems to be the gathering of all the men of the tribe, convened only for very special occasions.
- Athens is among the first recorded and one of the most important Western democracies in ancient times; the word "democracy" (Greek for "rule by the people") was invented by Athenians in order to define their system of government, around 508 BC, after the proposals of Cleisthenes. In the next generation, Ephialtes of Athens had a law passed severely limiting the powers of the Council of the Areopagus, which deprived the Athenian nobility of their special powers. Athenian democracy was based on selection of officials by lot. The assembly of all male citizens in Athens voted on decisions directly. Elected officials did not determine decisions — giving decision-making power to elected officials was considered by the ancient Athenians to take away the power of the people, effectively making the state an oligarchy.
- The founding of the Roman Republic in 510 BC, though with a flawed constitution. After years of conflicts between the leading families and the plebeians, the plebs forced the senate to pass a written series of laws (the Twelve Tables) which recognized certain rights and gave the plebs their own representatives, the tribunes. By the 4th Century BC, the plebs were given the right to stand for consulship and other major offices of the state.
- The Magna Carta is an English charter issued in the year 1215. Magna Carta is arguably the most significant early influence on the extensive historical process that led to the rule of constitutional law today. Magna Carta influenced many common law and other documents, such as the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights, and is considered one of the most important legal documents in the history of democracy.
- Renaissance humanism was a cultural movement in Europe beginning in central Italy (particularly Florence) in the last decades of the 14th century. It revived and refined the study of language (first Latin, and then the Greek language by mid-century), science, philosophy, art and poetry of classical antiquity. The "revival" was based on interpretations of Roman and Greek texts. Their emphasis on art and the senses marked a great change from the medieval values of humility, introspection, and passivity.
- Many countries have a constitution, written by their "founding fathers", to guide the societal structure.
- The Geneva Conventions were set up to define standards for international law relating to humanitarian concerns. These four treaties primarily cover the treatment of non-combatants and prisoners of war. The adoption of the First Convention followed the foundation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1863. In the modern age, 194 countries have ratified the Geneva Convention, which requires all signatory states to enact sufficient national laws to make grave violations of the Conventions a punishable criminal offence. Unfortunately, recent actions by the United States in particular has brought into the spotlight the difference between living the law and merely paying lip service to it.
- Interpol is the International Criminal Police Organization. It was established in 1923 to facilitate international police co-operation. 186 countries are members of Interpol. In order to maintain as politically neutral a role as possible, Interpol's constitution forbids its involvement in crimes that do not overlap several member countries, or in any political, military, religious, or racial crimes. Its work focuses primarily on public safety, terrorism, organised crime, war crimes, illicit drug production, drug trafficking, weapons smuggling, trafficking in human beings, money laundering, child pornography, white-collar crime, computer crime, Intellectual Property crime and corruption. Whilst not having any direct responsibility for the definition of society values, it is an important step towards a world society police force, and provides a model for the crucial requirement of law enforcement on a global scale.
Guiding Forces Within Society
There are certain guiding forces within our society that stop it from splintering into anarchy and chaos. Not all of these forces are positive. As far as I have been able to determine, these forces fall into the following categories:
- The rule of law
- The Constitution (for those countries lucky enough to have one)
- Civic responsibility
- An often undefined and unspoken set of values
- Empathy and altruism
- The natural human urge to form communities
- Common goals
- Racial dynamism
- Social dynamism
Positive Guiding Forces
The rule of law
The rule of law is the principle that governmental authority is legitimately exercised only in accordance with written, publicly disclosed laws adopted and enforced in accordance with established procedure. The principle is intended to be a safeguard against arbitrary governance.
The contrast between the rule of men and the rule of law is first found in Plato's Statesman and Laws and Aristotle's Politics, where the rule of law implies both obedience to positive law and formal checks and balances on rulers and magistrates. As defined by Plato, the rule of law is grounded in divine reason and so inherent in the natural order. It continues to be important as a normative ideal, even as legal scholars struggle to define it. Thomas Aquinas (an Italian Roman Catholic priest in the 1200s) defined a valid law as being one that:
- Is in keeping with Reason
- Was established by a proper authority
- Is for the purpose of achieving good
- Was properly communicated to all.
In my opinion, the rule of law should exist to enforce a well-defined value set, and to protect the members of society from anti-social and illegal activities. One of the most important parts of the rule of law is that there should be provision for constant vigilance, self-checks and the ability to reform laws by society members in order to ensure that legislative acts do not transform into prejudicial or authoritarian tools. As such, the rule of law should be adhered to, but constantly questioned to ensure its validity.
A Constitution defines the fundamental political principles, and establishes the structure, procedures, powers and duties of a government. Most national Constitutions also guarantee certain rights to the people.
As with the rule of law, Constitutions should be adhered to, but constantly questioned to ensure their validity.
The concept of civic responsibility at times borders on some of the socio-political ideals of communism and socialism. As a member of a civil society, it is the responsibility of those members to ensure that their actions or inactions do not run counter to the continued well-being of the society at large.
There are essentially two models for civic responsibilities – voluntary and forced. Depending on the nature of the responsibility, the importance to and impact on societal structures, and the willingness of suitable numbers within the community to take up the responsibility, either one or the other model should be applied.
For example, it is my opinion that if you are able to work, you should do so. I consider this to be a civic responsibility. Either through the direct fruits of your labours or through the taxation of income derived from those labours, you help to support the society that supports you and people who are unable to work.
If you are unable to work, then provision should be made through welfare structures to support you until such a time (if ever) as you are able to contribute in a meaningful way to society. It is my opinion that a vast majority of people who claim to be unable to contribute are incorrect in this assumption, and are doing so only because of laziness or some other personal defect. If you are able to work and choose not to do so, that is okay, just don't expect the public purse to pick up the tab. In this instance, I see no problem with a forced civic responsibility model being applied, as shown in the "Work for the Dole" scheme currently in place in Australia.
Volunteerism is also a major part of civic responsibility, for there are many services and structures in society that rely on donations of time, money and labour from people "out of the goodness of their hearts". The nature of the voluntary work can be as diverse as forming or joining a community group to bring arts and craft to the masses, becoming a volunteer fire fighter, or helping out in a soup kitchen for the homeless.
Major motivations for volunteerism include the following:
- To help others in the community
- To do something worthwhile
- Personal satisfaction from doing something good
- A way to be active
- To learn new skills
- To gain work experience
- To use existing skills or experience.
Religion is a very complex guiding force in society. To a great many people, it provides a fundamental (and for a few, a fundamentalist) view on moral issues of right and wrong, rights and responsibilities.
Some of the most important guiding principles of morality can be found in the holy books of the religions of the world. As such, they are an essential part of the societal structure that holds us together, despite the friction between the major monotheistic religions that constantly seems to see us teetering on the edge of oblivion and fracture.
Problems can also often arise in the interpretation of the written word, no matter how well intended the original principles were. For example, the conflict between Sharia law practised by Muslims in non-Muslim countries has led to much trouble and misunderstanding. A full discussion of the issues related to the interplay of religious and societal forces is outside the scope of this essay, so I will refrain from delving too deeply into this. Frankly, it would double the size of this already long essay, and I am scared to dig too deeply into something that I personally do not ascribe to, being an agnostic individual who believes that to question is much more important than to blindly accept the status quo on faith alone.
To be harshly analytical, I believe that religion is often more about mass population control and power than it is about the guiding light of virtue illuminating our path through life. Radicalisation and fundamentalism in the three major monotheistic religions of the world seem to be on the rise, adversely affecting the stability of societies everywhere.
An often undefined and unspoken set of values
As alluded to in the section on society values above, there seem to be an often undefined and unspoken set of values that guides out societies. These have been evolving for as long as the first two people decided to stick together in the mists of antiquity. They continue to evolve, and what one generation sees as the right and proper values to live their lives by is not necessarily that which other generations see (or even recognise).
One of the biggest gripes I have about the Political Correctness movement of the past 20 years or so is their blind assumption that the past should be sanitised and history rewritten to fit the current age. Well, I say that this is one of the greatest evils in society, since we can never measure where we are or map out where we wish to be if we do not acknowledge or have knowledge of where we came from.
By recognising the skeletons in our closet, we move that one step closer to ensuring that we do not endlessly repeat the mistakes of the past. Another way to ensure continued evolution of societal structures is to engage in open discussion and investigation of these often undefined and unspoken value sets.
The Scientific Method, which underpins all of science, is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena and acquiring new knowledge, as well as for correcting and integrating previous knowledge. It is based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning, the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.
Although procedures vary from one field of inquiry to another, identifiable features distinguish scientific inquiry from other methodologies of knowledge. Scientific researchers propose hypotheses as explanations of phenomena, and design experimental studies that test these hypotheses for accuracy. These steps must be repeatable in order to predict dependably any future results. Theories that encompass wider domains of inquiry may bind many hypotheses together in a coherent structure. This in turn may assist in the formation of new hypotheses, as well as in placing groups of hypotheses into a broader context of understanding.
Among other facets shared by the various fields of inquiry is the conviction that the process must be objective to reduce a biased interpretation of the results. Another basic expectation is to document, archive and share all data and methodology so it is available for careful scrutiny by other scientists, thereby allowing other researchers the opportunity to verify results by attempting to reproduce them. This practice, called "full disclosure", also allows statistical measures of the reliability of these data to be established.
A true scientist is every bit as happy regardless of whether a properly conducted experiment disproves his life's work or proves it. The search for more accurate hypotheses and theories, for more complete knowledge, is the paramount goal.
Now, I am a man of science. There is no denying that. I wholeheartedly embrace the basic defining principles of the scientific method, which value the constant quest for greater understanding. Through questioning everything around us, rather than making blind assumptions, we slowly and painfully improve our body of knowledge. This is the greatest differentiator that I see between religion and science.
There is some pressure in modern society because of a gradual move away from religion by many societal members. One criticism of science is that it has bred a godless horde of people who have nothing left to believe in. This is a short-sighted and incorrect view in my opinion.
I am however enough of a sceptic and realist to acknowledge that science does not hold all of the answers. A world without magic and mysticism is indeed a cold one, and as with everything in life, it is all about balance.
Empathy and altruism
The dictionary says it best – empathy is the ability to enter fully, through imagination, into another's feelings or motives, into the meaning of a work of art, etc. Altruism is the unselfish devotion to the interests and welfare of others, especially as a principle of action.
Through empathy and altruism, we are able to transcend the borders of our selves and identify with other people. They act as a foil to the inherent selfishness that exists within us all. As such, this is one of the most fundamental driving forces of society. Without empathy and altruism, a collective of high-mental-function creatures would be impossible
The natural human urge to form communities
As alluded to in the introductory section above, humans have a natural urge to form communities. Whatever the psychological or biological drivers behind it, this is an irrefutable fact. "No man is an island" describes it well.
An important part of forming communities is to come to some agreement about the societal rules and structures that must inevitably exist to ensure continued togetherness.
Even vastly disparate peoples can come together and form a societal structure if they have common goals that require the combination of people, knowledge, resources or other elements to achieve them. This can be particularly important in the early stages of society formation, but should not be discounted in any established societal or sub-societal structures.
The principles of freedom and opportunity are important forces in any society. As a driver for change or revolution, there is nothing like the lack of either to wake the masses from their slumber and force change, hopefully for the better. Depending on the interplay of other forces within the society in question, the drive for change can come quite quickly or take generations to gather momentum.
As shall be outlined later in this essay, the right to freedom and opportunity is a core Universal Value that should be codified and defended at all costs.
Racial dynamism & Social dynamism
Racial dynamism and Social dynamism are important factors not to be discounted. Different racial and social groups have differing levels of what is referred to as either racial or social dynamism. Some groups have a natural tendency to laze about in the sunshine, whilst others have a natural tendency to strive for their goals. These important differences should never be ignored when considering the underlying structure of societies.
It should further be realised that knowledge of racial and social dynamism is stereotypical in nature, and should not be applied blindly without consideration of individual factors, nor should it be applied blindly without consideration of other societal forces.
Negative Guiding Forces
The negative forces that hold society together are every bit as powerful as the positive forces, and are often used by unscrupulous societal governmental structures to ensure compliance when values are being eroded. A fine case in point is the current campaign of fear mongering amongst the Coalition of the Killing, justifying erosion of our personal liberties by constantly reminding us that the terrorist wolves are at the door, baying for our blood.
Apathy is the lack of interest or desire for activity. The general malaise of people when confronted by obstacles or societal problems (which may or may not be greater than themselves) is directly attributable to apathy. Too often as individuals, we become so entrenched in our ways of thinking and in our self-centredness, too indifferent to the state of affairs, that we neglect to care as much as we should about the big picture or those around us. "Ah well, there's nothing I can do about it, so I may as well not bother" is one of the greatest injustices on the face of the planet, for we should all realise that, given just the slightest latitude of freedom, we are empowered to affect the world around us and effect change.
Ignorance or lack of education also holds sway as a guiding force for society. In an ideal world, a society would be peopled exclusively by members able to apply knowledge, reason and wisdom in the formation and application of the rules that govern it. In the real world, the complex decisions required to ensure the health and fairness of a society are too often governed by misinformed and self-seeking motives, to the detriment of all.
In both democratic and undemocratic societies, unimportant issues are often brought to the fore in order to mask the more difficult issues that governing bodies fear to tackle, and people are deliberately kept ignorant in order to retain the governing bodies' unrivalled power.
Those in the know are all too aware that the last 3 or 4 elections in Australia have been fought on issues totally unimportant or beyond the realistic control of the political parties engaged in their usual triennial tussle for power. Whether or not John Howard will still remain as Prime Minister after the election, and whether or not Interest Rates would be higher under a liberal or labor government are absolutely trivial issues that act as a smokescreen when no real policies of note exist. Elections should be fought with clear policies that constructively address problems within society, not with hyperbole, invectives and trifling issues. The unfortunate truth is that ignorance allows governing bodies to get away with it.
Ignorance has a wider role to play as a guiding force for society than just during election times in democratic nations. An ignorant populace is not able to clearly identify and voice objections to unjust society structures, and so, as Shakespeare's Iago says – "...will as tenderly be led by the nose as asses are."
Fear is one of the primal driving forces within us all. People living in fear are easily subjugated by careful manipulation of the understanding and application of that fear. Authoritarian governments use fear directly as a bludgeon to keep people under control. Surely Hitler's Nazi regime would not have continued to hold power for so long, were it not for the absolute power to spread fear that the SS and the Gestapo were able to wield on their own people and their enemies. Communist governments, as with all forms of authoritarianism, used fear in a similar fashion.
A more subtle use of fear as a driving force in society has reared its ugly head in modern times, though it has always been used in one form or another to keep the masses under control. During the Cold War, the democracies of the world touted Communists as the great boogieman, and were able to carry out misdeeds of epic proportions in order to "protect" us. When the Cold War ended, much thought was given to finding a new boogieman. With the events of 9-11, the new boogieman was served on a silver platter to the propaganda machines of the world – Terrorists.
As the "clear and present danger" of terrorist threats continues to loom like a dark cloud over our heads, our fear is fed by devious governments to justify the on-going erosion of our liberty and other society values. Keep them scared, and they will let you get away with such blights on society as the Patriot Act in the United States, or sedition and anti-terrorism laws here in Australia.
When (or if) the terrorist threat is ever neutralised, a new boogieman will be sought by the governments of the world, to justify their blatant shredding of society values.
Another of the driving forces within society is that of greed. It is responsible for a great conflict between the haves and have-nots throughout the world, both on an individual level and on a global level.
Gordon Gekko, in the 1980s film Wall Street, states the following:
"Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms, greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind."
Gordon Gekko is wrong – greed is not good. However, whether we like it or not, it seems likely that it will never be eradicated from our collective psyche. It is an oft-presented maxim that if you were to redistribute all of the wealth in the world equally, it wouldn't take long before the same old inequalities re-established themselves, and this is perhaps not too far from the truth.
However, for as long as greed is such a powerful driving force in society, for as long as the developed countries of the world continue to live beyond their means, for as long as unsustainable practices are engaged to ensure obscene profits, no lasting peace can be achieved.
Individual Guiding Forces Within Society
There are also individual guiding forces that drive each and every one of us, usually in concordance with the societal forces, but sometimes in opposition to them. These guiding forces fall into the following categories:
- Personal philosophy/ethics and morality/life view
- Religious beliefs
- Values of right and wrong learned throughout an individual's life
- Biological and psychological feedback from pleasure/pain circuitry
- Empathy and altruism
- Personal drive (or dynamism)
- Quest for Wealth and Power.
All of the individual guiding forces are shaped by a complex interplay of forces both internal and external to the individual.
I will not deal with the above individual guiding forces within society in a detailed manner, as they should be self-explanatory, and also in order to keep this essay short (yeah right!).
Countries of the World, Unite!
Let me first start with what my definition of a country is. A country is an artificial construct that hinders the continued evolution of the world community.
The natural evolution of communities starts with a small group of people, who then go on to form a village. This village grows to be a town, or even a city. Support structures develop to keep pace with the growth of the community. Eventually, a number of separate town communities will join to form a province. This evolution continues until the community has grown to be a country.
It is my considered opinion that the evolution of society should not stop there. The countries of the world should unite to form a world community, for we are all one people.
Flag-waving nationalism can be a force for great harm in the world, where the interests of one group are held to be more important than the interests of another. Too often, it is used as an excuse to wage war on others. The inertia of the status quo and the resistance to new ideas are holding us back. The rich and developed countries of the world continue to live beyond their means, cutting ever larger slices out of the pie.
This is a fundamental problem and stumbling block. The pie (or world, to really drive home this particular metaphor) is only so big. It cannot grow beyond certain physical limits. When some parts of the world community continue to glut themselves on pieces of pie too big for them, then the rest of the world community suffers. This inequality must be addressed in order to ensure the betterment of all.
The evolution of the world community does not mean that we must give up all that we are, nor does it mean that we must forget the path that has been followed through history to get us to where we are. We should be proud of our differences, enshrining them in our hearts, but these differences should never be seen as a justification for the repression of others.
The establishment of a Universal Value set is in my opinion the one and only thing that will safeguard the rights and responsibilities of individuals and composite communities in the slow and painful evolution of the world community.
One of the greatest challenges that lays ahead is not just in the definition of Universal Values, but in gaining worldwide acceptance of them. Without the power to enforce the Universal Values, they will not mean anything, and for this to happen, the plethora of independent societies within the world must give up their sovereign rights and accede to the greater power. This is a difficult undertaking, fraught with much danger and many obstacles, but one well worth the effort.
An Attempt to Define Some of the Universal Values
It is my belief that there exists a Universal Value set that can be applied to all humans, regardless of sex, race, creed, beliefs, orientation or circumstance. Certain Universal Values are beyond discrimination and preferential treatment. I further postulate that it is our obligation to try to explore and develop our conceptualisation of these Universal Values, and then to work towards having them enshrined in our societies.
Any attempt to define Universal Values must recognise that there are two sides to the coin – rights and responsibilities. Any societal structure worth its salt must have as its basis the provision of human rights to all human beings. For this structure to be stable, these rights must be paid for with responsibilities.
Unfortunately, the cynic within me looks at the list of Universal Values below and sees them as somewhat naïve and unrealistic. However, I would like to counter that by kicking the cynic in the balls and showing him that defining and living by our principles is all-important if we are to progress in our evolution as social creatures. It is not naïve to believe that we can become more than we currently are.
The world society should have, as a minimum, the following Universal Values:
- To engage all society members in the definition of Universal Values
- To clearly communicate the Universal Values to all
- To question continuously the validity, fairness and application of the Universal Values
- To uphold and protect the rights of all
- To ensure responsibilities are met in a fair and equitable manner
- To mediate in matters of conflict and effect a resolution
- To apply knowledge, wisdom and fairness in all its dealings
- To act as custodians and protectors of this planet and its diverse ecologies
- To manage the needs of society and weigh this against the costs
- To spread joy, happiness and fulfilment
- To set goals
- To lead by example.
Every human being should have, as a minimum, the following rights and responsibilities:
- To claim their rights and pay for it with their responsibilities
- To live free and with opportunity
- To explore and develop their own consciousness
- To pursue their dreams
- To believe as their conscience requires in matters of faith
- To address wrongs within their own society without fear of retribution
- To question
- To voice objections
- To respect the rights of others to believe differently
- To take responsibility for their actions.
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