2022-11-20

Continuing with my reading and reflecting on J.B. MacKinnon’s The Day the World Stopped Shopping, this morning’s excerpt has to do with the relationship between materialism and wellbeing.

“A fundamental characteristic of consumer culture is that it muddies and befogs the line at which wealth ceases to improve wellbeing and begins to detract from it.”

He’s quick to mention that it’s not an exact science but more of a broad pattern in society; however, the consensus seems to be that once our essential needs are met, income and wellbeing stop rising together and begin to have a negative overall effect. Earlier in the book he mentions that highly developed nations rank lower on the Happy Planet Index because of their high rates of consumption.

I’ve also read in other places (notably Post-Growth by Tim Jackson) that visible and large gaps of inequality play a significant role in society’s wellbeing. So even when the overall wealth of a society is up, noticeable disparity will make everyone more miserable. This relates to the psychological desire to live around people within the same income bracket; you won’t feel as bad.

2022-11-19

Been (slowly) making my way through The Day the World Stops Shopping by J.B. MacKinnon and came across this section on deconsuming that really stood out:

“When we know that a person is consuming less as a deliberate choice, and not out of financial need, we attach greater status to that action. It becomes an act of conspicuous deconsumption.”

This idea that it’s not about not consuming, but massively scaling back and becoming intentional about the things we do consume; choosing to buy items that last longer, for example.

I also love the way he ties a form of ‘de-marketing’ to this as well, opening up the role that marketers and advertisers might play in helping reshape people’s relationship to consumption. Rather than using their skills to convince people to buy more stuff more often, leveraging them to promote a lifestyle of deconsumption, volunteering, and environmental engagement.

2022-11-14

Got this great - and timely - email on parenting a child with death anxiety from Cindy Brandt.

Because I had death anxiety, I have been fascinated by the topic of death for as long as I can remember. Now that I’m more resourced to manage my anxiety, I still love talking about death, because this beautiful, natural thing we all universally experience infuses our lives with meaning. If your child wants to talk about death, or is processing the deaths of loved ones or pets, by all means engage with them. Normalize conversations about death, about loss, grief, and spiritual beliefs of the after-life. Because death is human, and so are our kids.”

Lately, our youngest (6) has been going through moments of death anxiety before bed. Worried because she doesn’t want to die, doesn’t want us to die, doesn’t want the dog to die. I found this advice helpful because I think it simultaneously addresses our (N. American, white) culture’s avoidance of death as a whole. This idea of normalizing these conversations should hopefully also help forge a healthier and more open perspective on this fundamental aspect of being alive.

2022-11-11

Really enjoyed this interview with author Haruki Murakami. When asked, if he believes that humanity has any chance of righting itself, Murakami responded,

“I want to believe so. Since it’s also the reason that stories exist.”

Love that.

Humans tell stories to inspire hope. A hope that calls us to be better than we have been because it truly believes that we are capable of change. Stories that call us to work together, to sacrifice, to overcome; even when the evidence isn’t always there.

A mentor of mine once told me that it is the job of each generation to dig through the rubbish heaps of history and pull out forgotten or abandoned stories and reclaim them for themselves. It seems that stories that can inspire that sort of hope are what we need most of today.

2022-11-09

As a contrast to the article I’ve been reflecting on over the past two days, today I’d like to share this amazing essay by Rebecca Solnit: Why Climate Despair is a Luxury. In it she describes hope as the antidote to both optimism and pessimism because it does not assume a fixed outcome.

“What motivates us to act is a sense of possibility within uncertainty – that the outcome is not yet fully determined and our actions may matter in shaping it. This is all that hope is, and we are all teeming with it, all the time, in small ways.”

Whether you believe the future to be good or bad, both can cause a similar sort of inaction in the present. Why bother trying if the end is certain? Hope stands in contrast to both because it suggests that what we do today actually matters to the future. It also compels us to keep going even when we can’t see the immediate results of our actions because it keeps us rooted in the future. We struggle and fight today for the sake of those who come after. We do not know what will happen and so we cannot give up.

It seems to me that hope becomes a potential antidote to the ark-head thinking I wrote about previously. Where ark-building embraces a me-centric view (saving me and mine), hope calls us to not give up on those the flood is most threatening. As Solnit writes,

“You shouldn’t mourn those who aren’t dead. Doing so stuffs the living into coffins, at the very least in your imagination.”

2022-11-08

I wanted to reflect a little bit further on that Ark-Head post from yesterday. The author - Venkatesh Rao - makes an interesting suggestion that part of what is feeding this mentality is that people who try to offer world-saving solutions now come across as naive:

“One way this growing apathy at universal/global scales (as opposed to ark scales) is manifesting is that the insight economy is dying. The thriving world of discourse that went from Aha! insights about how the world works all the way to TED talks and “ideas worth spreading” is all but dead now. Those who pursue global insight-peddling ambitions seem oddly anachronistic and tone deaf to the zeitgeist today, and wonder why the world is paying less attention to them than they’d hoped. The more tuned-in insight peddlers have gone domestic cozy. They’ve gone ark-scale in their ambitions, even if they don’t admit it.”

This made me think about the somewhat recent rise of systems thinking in response to problems. As the interconnectedness (or, intersectionality) of things has become the more dominant way to understand the world, it has forced us to grapple with the question of whether or not good intentions are good enough?

There was a time, not too long ago, when big, world-saving ideas were celebrated for their simplicity: “buy a pair of shoes, a child in Africa gets a pair of shoes!” Today, those sorts of ideas are scrutinized under a more complex way of understanding the world and the rippling consequences of our (often) careless good intentions. And, let me be clear, they deserve to be! Those of us who have benefitted from the privilege and power of this system have too often naively believed that the tools of this system could be used to somehow fix its failures (to borrow from Audre Lorde).

That being said, I think what is worth considering is the relationship between the wide-spread criticism of good, yet misplaced (or destructive) intentions and the rise of this ark-head mentality. I see this a lot in older, mostly upper class people who seem to be feeling that society has turned against all the good that they thought they had done in their lives. (An example of this is the current conversations around missionary work in the evangelical church) It seems to be, at times, breeding a sort of bitter ‘Fine, I’m taking my ball and going home’ sort of sentiment. That is - turning their resources, energy, and concern towards causes and solutions that still fit within their values.

I’m not really sure what to make of all of this, but it seems pertinent as we stare down a global crisis that will require massive changes from those who are doubling down into ark-head mentalities.

2022-11-07

I stumbled across this article recently on the concept of Ark-Head (as in Noah’s ark) as a common way in which people are responding to the growing number of catastrophes we hear about:

“We’ve given up on the prospect of actually solving or managing most of the snowballing global problems and crises we’re hurtling towards. Or even meaningfully comprehending the gestalt. We’ve accepted that some large fraction of those problems will go unsolved and unmanaged, and result in a drastic but unevenly distributed reduction in quality of life for most of humanity over the next few decades. We’ve concluded that the rational response is to restrict our concerns to a small subset of local reality–an ark–and compete for a shrinking set of resources with others doing the same. We’re content to find and inhabit just one zone of positivity, large enough for ourselves and some friends.”

This is definitely one of the most common responses that I hear from friends and family these days; there’s too much to hold and we can only handle so much, so let’s just focus on something within our control. It basically narrows our concerns down to a hyper focus on single issues that matter to me.

I think what is most interesting is that this seems right or reasonable. People are tired, have limited capacity, and problems seem too complex. There’s also a whole section in the article that talks about how world saving solutions now come across as too naive or idealistic and I believe this is a really important point (maybe I’ll jot down some thoughts about that later). But right now I just want to notice that this ark-head approach has really become a dominant reaction and that I think that’s a problem.

2022-07-28

Recently, George Monbiot wrote a scathing post about the failure of the climate movement to be clear about what is actually needed for change to happen:

“The problem was never that system change is too big an ask or takes too long. The problem is that incrementalism is too small an ask. Not just too small to drive transformation; not just too small to stop the tidal wave of revolutionary change rolling in from the opposite direction; but also too small to break the conspiracy of silence. Only a demand for system change, directly confronting the power driving us to planetary destruction, has the potential to match the scale of the problem and to inspire and mobilise the millions of people required to generate effective action.”

I’ve existed in a lot of spaces where those in power always talk about incremental change as the way to see progressive changes take place. Yet, those changes never truly materialize and the people pushing for them usually burn out. Monbiot is 100% correct; systemic overhaul is the most effective way forward, it always has been, and it is a threat to those benefitting from the status quo. Which is why they resist it.

2022-07-12

James Dyke on how we need to stop thinking there is still time to limit warming to 1.5°:

“The safest, sanest thing to do right now is to stop using fossil fuels as quickly as we can. This will limit warming to as near to 1.5°C as possible. At the same time we need massive investment in adaptation to protect those most vulnerable.”

2022-05-06

Karen Hao from MIT on three ways a user can protest the data that big tech is collecting:

  1. Data strikes, inspired by the idea of labour strikes, which involve withholding or deleting your data so a tech firm cannot use it—leaving a platform or installing privacy tools, for instance.
  2. Data poisoning, which involves contributing meaningless or harmful data.
  3. Conscious data contribution, which involves giving meaningful data to the competitor of a platform you want to protest, such as by uploading your Facebook photos to Tumblr instead.

I’ve been drawn to the idea of data gaps, where I ensure I’m not using one service for all my needs, in hopes of creating large gaps in a company’s data collection attempts. I really like these other ideas though and I would love to see more large-scale, coordinated efforts.

2022-05-03

Oliver Burkeman on how medieval farmers would have understood time management:

“Workers got up with the sun and slept at dusk, the lengths of their days varying with the seasons. There was no need to think of time as something abstract and separate from life: you milked the cows when they needed milking and harvested the crops when it was harvest time.”

This idea of just doing things when they need doing is interesting. I’m trying to find more ways of connecting into natural rhythms and paying attention to what’s going on around me. Maybe I need to liberate my concept of time.

2022-01-04

Some thoughts on guilt and broken systems.

Something I’ve noticed over the last two years (gestures in global pandemic) is how guilty so many people feel all the time. Guilt that they’re not doing enough, guilt that they’re stretched too thin to perform well, guilt that they missed that deadline, guilt that they’re ruining their kids by giving them extra screen-time, guilt that they’re getting a booster shot when other countries haven’t even had access to first doses, guilt that they saw their extended family over the holidays even when public health advised them not to, etc…

Non. Stop. Guilt.

To them I say, you should stop.

You should stop because guilt is an unproductive feeling that an already broken system wants you to feel in order to avoid structural repair. As long as you feel guilty, the system never has to change. Its brokenness becomes your burden to carry.

Overworked employees, underfunded healthcare or education settings, unpaid and undervalued childcare, our most vulnerable populations abandoned by the system and the burden of their care falling on already burned out PCWs. These are the people (most often women) the system unloads its burden on.

Unhealthy, abusive systems thrive on guilt.

Guilt is the domain of governments who strip essential services bare in the name of fiscal responsibility. It’s the way of employers who cut costs by rewarding overwork rather than hiring more people to carry the load. It’s the weekly reminder from a church that tells you’re not giving enough, doing enough, or trying enough. It’s plastic straws as opposed to dealing with fossil fuels.

These broken systems want you to feel guilty because it keeps you looking at yourself.

If you’re looking for a more productive feeling, my suggestion is anger. Anger - directed at the broken system, on behalf of those who have been exploited and oppressed by it - is how we change things.

The system, and those who benefit from it, fears your anger because it gets you pointing fingers. And I know that many of us were raised in settings that taught us not to point fingers in blame. But have you ever noticed how often that is used to avoid critique? Also how those same settings had no problem with you blaming yourself?

The system fears your anger because it knows that if enough people get angry at its brokenness or abuses we might actually hold them accountable.

Imagine what we might build in its place.

Thanks for reading to the end.

2018-03-16

Yesterday I watched my wife grieve.

She found out that an older man that she knew from her work had passed away and throughout the demands of motherhood and daily life she processed her loss quietly.

I’ve never been good with knowing how to act around grief - my own or other people’s. It always feels like I’m watching the situation from a distance, as though I should be doing or saying certain things that normal people would. I think some might see me as callous or unaffected; but the truth is I just feel things later, on my own terms. I remember a while back when a puppy that my family had had for a relatively brief amount of time was hit by a car and died. My sister phoned to tell me while I was leading a youth retreat. A day later, in the privacy afforded by a morning shower, I cried over the absurdity of it all. Such a brief and pointless life, barely leaving an impact. Yet I cried anyway.

A few years ago I found out that my grandmother had suddenly died while I was at a friend’s wedding. Driving between the ceremony and the reception I had about 20 minutes or so to process it. Then I had to go DJ a big party party and celebrate the happiest day of my friend’s lives with them. It was a mixed bag.

It’s interesting to me the way that in other times and places people wore their grief. They put on certain clothes, shaved or covered their heads, set up shrines, sang ballads and told stories in public spheres. Maybe that’s because they knew better than we do that death is an inescapable part of life. You don’t get one without the other.

This awareness doesn’t minimize pain and loss, it normalizes it for everyone.