Talking Down to People Won’t Convince Them

How elitism cripples the Left

                           Elites in London Image: Ed Jackson

Insulting and shaming

How the Left became elite

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How the Left used to be (Image:

More concerned with racism than health

The Right is not better, just different


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9 Good Questions About UBI – And one great answer


Universal Basic Income (UBI) sounds a great idea in a time of mass unemployment. Though it will not come close to solving our economic, social, and environmental problems, it is a start. It might be a necessary stopgap to keep people and economy alive while we make deeper changes toward a better world.

There is still a lot of confusion about how UBI would work. Here are some valid questions about UBI, with some possible answers (and one great one) from experts like Andrew Yang and the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN):

1. Is UBI an addition to food-stamps, social security, Medicare, and welfare programs, or a replacement for them? 

According to 2020 Presidential candidate Yang, social security and social security disability (SSDI) would be in addition to UBI. Medicare wouldn’t change.

Other means-tested welfare programs like SSI, which goes to disabled poor people who haven’t worked much, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) could go either way. Some on the Right want to use UBI to replace existing welfare programs, which would mean a huge cut in income for many poor people.  Most advocates see it as an additional layer to strengthen the economy and reduce poverty. Cutting welfare would defeat the purpose. A lot will depend on how hard people fight to protect the neediest among us.

2. Will UBI change the power relationships in society?

This is a critical question. UBI is basically a way of saving capitalism from itself, as the New Deal did in the Great Depression. UBI puts a “floor under capitalism” as Yang puts it. It will support a basic level of demand to keep the economy from collapsing. It will not change the power dynamics that create mass poverty and environmental destruction in the first place.

UBI is a market approach; it allows people to decide what to do with their own money. This has advantages: people can start businesses, create, try new things. But social relationships will not change. There is another approach for that, a federal jobs guarantee (FJG). See Question 7.

3. Would the amount of UBI be fixed or adjustable? Who would administer it? 

According to the BIEN site, the payments would be regular and a stable amount. I think of it as social security for all — it would probably be best run by the social security administration, not controlled by whatever party happens to be in power. Changes in the payment amount would have to be agreed by elected officials, as happens now with Social Security.

4. Will immigrants, documented and undocumented get UBI?

 Unquestionably, UBI would attract immigrants, unless it were implemented in other countries as well, which it ideally will be. Under Yang’s plan, only citizens would receive UBI payments. Others say legal immigrants should receive UBI, perhaps after a waiting period.

5. Will amounts vary depending on different locales’ cost of living?

 Probably not. Under Yang’s plan, “Every eligible UBI recipient, regardless of location, would receive $1,000 a month. Varying the dollar amount by location would add expensive layers of bureaucracy. Plus, UBI would actually help many more Americans live where they want to. UBI would lead to a revitalization of many communities as people take advantage of lower costs of living in certain areas instead of piling into expensive metro areas.”

UBI working groups

6. What’s the evidence that UBI works?

 Studies from all over the world have shown that even small basic income stipends lead to better health, mental health, reduced crime, more jobs, and new businesses. The BIEN site posts hundreds of studies and papers from around the world and within the USA. I saw studies on their site from Kenya, Finland, Scotland, Germany, Canada, China, Taiwan, and others.

7. Wouldn’t free money corrupt people, lead to more laziness and drug use? 

Those moralistic objections have been repeatedly disproved by studies. Unhealthy behaviors are actually reduced when people have more money. Think about it: when life seems too hard or too hopeless, aren’t you tempted to use drugs that make you feel better? Or if you’re broke, tempted go out and steal what you need? Having more money can improve social behavior, especially when it comes reliably every month.

8. How will we pay for it?

 Andrew Yang wants to fund UBI through a value added tax (VAT) on every phase of a product’s production. Paying for UBI in this way would prevent money from losing its value, because no additional money would be added to the system to pay for UBI. It would just be redistributed. VAT itself would cause some prices to rise, but not too much because of competition among producers.

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) says we don’t need to pay for UBI through taxes. We just create the money and give it out. As long as total money in circulation matches up with goods and services to be bought, there won’t be price inflation. But this article from Canada explains why MMT economists mostly don’t support UBI; they prefer more government intervention in the economy, like through a jobs program. (BTW, Read That Article. It explains everything.)-

9. Is UBI better than a jobs program? 

As Senator Bernie Sanders says, people want to work, and much work needs to be done. UBI doesn’t teach anyone job skills or life skills, or connect them with other people, like a jobs program might. It won’t get important environmental and social needs met. “The only advantage to UBI over a federal jobs guarantee (FJG),” wrote Medium reader Charlie Silva, “is simplicity.”

Mr. Silva may be right, but simplicity is a big deal. People are desperate now. We’re in the beginning of the greatest Depression ever, and an effective jobs program will take years to roll out. Why is this either/or? Why not start UBI now, and phase in a jobs program as it’s developed?

Where UBI supports capitalism and strengthens markets, an FJG is more socialist, because governments would decide what jobs would be available. Both are good. We’ve seen the power of capitalism to create enormous wealth, and we’ve also seen too much of the environmental harm and social suffering that unlimited capitalist growth can bring.

We need UBI and an FJG. We need a mixed economy and a mixed social order. Start with UBI now; work toward an FJG.

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Zoom School Is Like Regular School – Only Worse

Because of the COVID-19 shutdown in San Francisco, I’m learning to be a school parent again, and I hate it. A neighbor family in our building has four children distance learning, too many for their apartment, so two of them are taking classes in our apartment.

Not our Jasmine

One, Jasmine, is in kindergarten, and I sit with her during Zoom sessions and help her use the other platforms. Jasmine is a high-energy kid, smart and strong, but with some learning glitches. Here is what I have learned:

The first thing kids have to learn in school is to sit still

Keep watching the teacher, even when you already know the material, aren’t interested, or are bored. School prepares children for work life by teaching them to tolerate boredom.

Although the children are encouraged at times to draw pictures, nearly all the content is letters and numbers. I know kids need to learn to read, but some younger ones like Jasmine aren’t ready. She wants to understand the meaning of words but finds letters irrelevant. Because she’s an artist, she goes along and tries to make her letter “b”s as perfect as possible, but resists doing line after line of them like the teacher wants.

Children’s comfort doesn’t matter

Jasmine’s 11-year old sister Shauna sleeps poorly and is tired in her morning classes. A couple times she has tried to lie down with her computer during class. The teacher saw her, called her disrespectful, and told her to sit up or leave. Of course, her behavior would be too disruptive in a classroom, but at home, why not?

Distance learning sucks

For most kids, online learning is way worse than in-person. Jasmine loves other children and used to be excited to go to preschool to play with them. Without social contact to engage students like her, it’s up to the teacher to keep 23 children entertained and engaged, and it’s too much. Most kids and parents seem frustrated and bored, and teacher looks exhausted and stressed.

I’ve talked with a few other teachers at middle school level, and they are all struggling with learning and different ways of teaching. Older teachers can barely use them at all; younger ones do better, but they all hate it. Seeing students only on a screen, it becomes much harder for a teacher to identify when a child is floundering and to give them 1:1 attention when needed.

The tech industry and its political representatives such as Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York have been , but it doesn’t work very well. All the education in virtual classrooms is top-down; the students have little opportunity to learn from each other. Shauna’s sixth-grade classes include breakout sessions where students can talk, but mostly they just listen. They don’t see each other between classes.

For parents, grandparents and surrogates like me, virtual classes are time-consuming and tiring. We have to try to keep kids focused, when most of us would be working, keeping house, learning, or doing for ourselves. I realize older students might not need as much supervision, but many families can’t afford to give hours of school-time attention to little kids. School has been day care for them and socialization (and sometimes meals) for their children.

Update — this is worse than I thought

Today, Monday, was the worst yet. When Shauna came over, she was crying, because she desperately didn’t want to come. She’s exhausted by 7 hours of class online each day. She managed to break her computer by dropping it, which really says to me, ‘I don’t want to be here.’ Where she was a straight A student before shutdown, she’s failing half her classes now. She struggles with the technology and with organizing her work.

I remember when I got a bachelor’s degree at age 48 from State University of New York online. I noticed that nobody under the age of 40 finished the program. Younger students had too much else to do or weren’t organized enough. So, the idea that children could manage virtual learning seems ridiculous. After four weeks, my wife and I believe that most younger students would need 1:1 all-day help from an adult to succeed.

I also think closing schools isn’t mostly about public health. Very few kids get COVID-19, and of those who do, very few need hospitalization. This feels like part of a longstanding agenda to cripple public education, a long-term goal of the right wing and tech sectors. This shutdown is like a war on kids (and through them, on parents.)

Kids need to move

Kids are physical and need to move. Most schools, real or virtual, do not include nearly enough movement. I have read that schools that ed hours have lower suspension rates, better academic performance, and less problem with fights.

Jasmine’s kindergarten includes five minutes of dance each hour, and we let Shauna and Jasmine jump on a trampoline between classes, which seems to help. Sometimes my wife shuts down the computer and takes Jasmine on a long walk or bike ride.

We need social contact

Virtual school has also revealed how important social contact is in learning and development, and probably in the rest of life. Kids live in a physical reality, of which other people are the primary part. Our tech overlords’ dream of a virtual world does not fit their needs.

I recognize that some children are bullied at school and actually prefer learning by themselves from home. Perhaps virtual school might be an option for those children, but in my opinion, not for most.

Likewise, outside of school, the maximum separation of people from each other during Corona shutdown does not fit who we are. It doesn’t serve anyone’s health or quality of life. People can zone out in front of screens to get through a day, but for happiness and growth, we need social connection.

My takeaways so far, and it’s only been a few weeks, are these: the school shutdown needs to stop ASAP; it’s hurting a whole generation. And schools need to become less rigid, places where children can learn the wonder of the world, move around, connect with each other, not just memorize things and tolerate boredom.

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The Blessings of Capitalism — and How they’re killing us

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Last week, I went to Costco, the warehouse retail store. I wasn’t there to buy anything, just filling a prescription. While waiting, I went up and down the aisles, lined with 20-foot high floor-to-ceiling shelving, filled with food, clothing, electronics, personal care, and hundreds of other products.

I was awed by the wealth on display. Shoppers could choose from exotic packaged foods in huge bags (seaweed tempura snacks! Frozen shrimp skewers!), huge bottles of delicious sounding condiments (eight kinds of relish!), 10-pound racks of meat, organic fruits and vegetables, baked goods, clothing from functional to fashionable, computers, camping equipment, four kinds of charcoal, vitamins, chocolates, and a thousand other enticing items.

The shoppers did not appear wealthy. They were ordinary people, buying high-quality stuff that royal families of the past could never have bought, because they didn’t exist. And this was just one store. As of October 2019, there were 782 Costco stores worldwide, 537 of them in the USA, along with thousands of Walmarts, Targets, and other mega-retailers. Where, I wondered, has all this wealth come from?

We could name many sources, but the best answer is: capitalism produced this wealth. Capitalism is much more than the economic system analyzed by Karl Marx in the 19th Century, meaning private ownership of the means of production. It’s a philosophy, a way of life, of looking at the world and ordering societies around private property, competitive markets, and money.

No other way of life ever devised by humans has created so much wealth. Harnessing the problem-solving power of science and technology, liberating the creative energies of entrepreneurs and inventors, scouring the natural world to extract ‘resources,’ driving the labor of working people, capitalism creates a new and richer world every year. In 2020, we have far more people, living longer lives, with more stuff and more entertainment than anyone could have imagined on planet Earth.

How does capitalism create all this wealth? Mainly by turning money into a God-like force that drives human activity. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF,) capitalism comes in many forms, but all of them mold society to center human interaction on core principles including: accumulation of wealth, private property, competition, constant progress, and reliance on markets to make economic decisions. Based on what we can see at Costco, it works, but the natural world, which has no money, is left out of that evaluation.

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Capitalism’s core principles are not universal or scientific. They are cultural and philosophical. Max Weber wrote 115 years ago, in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, that the belief system of European Protestantism became the core beliefs of modern Western capitalist cultures. People are sinful. Work is good. More is better. Wealth is a sign of God’s favor.

It’s not conservative, it’s not liberal; it’s a religion. A Costco store is a capitalist temple. The shelves are altars; the checkout lines are our communion. It’s not exactly that money has replaced God. The religion of wealth fits right into modern faith, as we can see in the popularity of the Prosperity Gospel, one of the largest evangelical Christian movements. Secular or religious, everyone can worship at Costco.

Religion or death cult

But, there’s a slight downside to this religion. Unrestrained capitalism kills everything. Not by its occasional breakdowns into war and depressions, but through its daily successes. When acquiring wealth becomes the greatest good, the profit motive drives decision-making. Other values are ignored and often subverted if they interfere with accumulation of wealth.

Those ignored values include community, health, and beauty, and all who have no wealth: the air, the water, plants and animals, indigenous people, and workers. Every tree on the hill, every fish in the sea is expendable. Blogger Adam Idek Hastie wrote, “When you understand that under capitalism, a forest has no value until it’s cut down, you begin to see the root of our ecological crisis.”

The wealth on display at Costco was produced at great cost to Nature. Looking at the world’s depletion of water, extinction of species, rising temperatures, spreading deserts, we can see the costs not calculated in capitalism’s equations.

People ignore those costs, because believing that wealth is the greatest good is the mental box in which we all grow up. It’s the water we swim in, the air we breathe; few can break out of it. It’s a box that prevents even basic self-preservation for those who live in it.

In 1977, according to a report in Scientific American, Exxon corporation knew about the dangers of global warming, now usually called climate change. They actually did much of the research themselves. Exxon leaders chose not to prevent global warming but to hide it, so they could keep selling oil, a major cause of climate change.

Their disinformation campaign worked. To this day, even as the planet literally burns, millions of people think global warming is a hoax, thanks to the oil companies’ propaganda.

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                                          California on fire (Image/

People frequently compare Big Oil’s coverup to the cigarette companies’ denying the cancer-causing dangers of tobacco smoke, which kills hundreds of thousands every year. But big tobacco’s victims are only its customers. One hates to see them go, but one can always get more. Big oil’s victims include their own children and grandchildren. It staggers me that people could value profit over their own family, but their behavior shows us the powerful hold the religion of capitalism has on our minds.

It’s not only oil companies; it’s the whole system. Mining companies routinely displace indigenous people, excavate and pollute land and water in search of profitable minerals. Rainforests are logged for expensive timber; they are converted into coconut plantations to produce palm oil, they are burned to make room for cattle ranching. The people and animals who live there die or move into urban slums. Some of those forest-killing companies’ products can be bought at Costco.

It’s not that oilmen, mining executives, and rainforest loggers are evil people. Well, maybe some are, but no more than the average successful person raised inside the capitalist box, where wealth is the ultimate good. They can’t think outside it. And if they can see a bigger picture, they quit and are replaced by others who can’t. That’s why it’s called a system.

Are capitalism’s values our values?

Capitalism claims accumulation of wealth, competition, and private ownership of property as core principles. What’s wrong with these values? Aren’t they natural human desires?

They must be natural, or there would be no capitalists, but they are not our only values or our best ones. Most people also value community, Nature, peace, and the future of their children. We care about others and don’t want mass homelessness, incarceration, and war. We don’t want to live on a desert planet.

So, we are torn. As consumers, we benefit materially from capital’s endless progress, with its new products, its convenience and lower prices. As workers, as human beings and living things, we suffer. We can see that unrestrained capitalism is deadly, but what about the wonderful benefits it provides? Can we get the blessings without the curse?

People are working on it. Books are being written. Indigenous people have been trying to teach industrial societies to consider the impact of all our actions on all of life.

To move away from rule by wealth would require profound change in the way we are governed and the ways we live. Several forms of democratic socialism might be improvements. Cooperatives like Mondragon in the Basque region continue to thrive without capitalism. Perhaps we can attain what James Hurd Nixon calls a True Market Economy, which values all people and Nature, not only material wealth.

At least, we can strive to embody such a path in our personal lives.

Two links to alternatives to capitalism:

The Mondragon Cooperative Movement in Spain. Though they have now incorporated for tax purposes, they still commit to workers, environment, social

Forms of capitalism trying to be sustainable —

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Science Is A 4-Year Old Playing With The World

It needs adults to set limits.

Image courtesy: the

John von Neumann (1903-1957) was one of history’s greatest mathematicians.  His equations helped create both computers and the atomic bomb. He is known as the prime developer of game theory, giving scientists new tools to model social, political, and economic decisions. He published over 150 papers in physics, math, and other areas.

Von Neumann also spent years working to get the USA to launch a ‘preventive war’ against the Soviet Union, to destroy it with nuclear bombs. Based on his study of games like Prisoners’ Dilemma, which models how non-cooperating people make choices, Von Neumann concluded that if two enemy countries both had nuclear weapons, self-interest would drive each of them to use those weapons first. He thought the only scientific, rational thing to do would be to take out the USSR before they had nukes of their own.

This is the kind of thing science comes up with if not restrained by non-scientific thinking or by faith.  Von Neumann described himself as “fiercely anti-Communist,” but didn’t seem to consider how that belief system might affect his thinking. He thought he was advising what was objectively best for the USA. But if nuclear winter theory – which didn’t exist at the time — is correct, the smoke, dust, and radioactivity set off by Von Neumann’s preventive war would have killed all large life-forms on Earth.

Fortunately, Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower refused to launch the preventive war. A few years later, both the US and USSR had developed ‘second strike capability,’ meaning that even if their enemy destroyed their country, they would still have enough remaining nuclear firepower to destroy the aggressor.  This is the strategy called “Mutually Assured Destruction,” and it has prevented all-out war between nuclear powers ever since. Politicians, and not particularly brilliant ones at that, had saved the world from science.

Science does worst when it does well

It’s hard to deny that science, technology, and capitalism have dramatically raised humans’ living standards. Human population has gone up from about 0.6 billion in the year 1600 (when science started) to over 7 billion today. People are living longer; they’re traveling, expressing themselves in amazingly creative ways.  Rulers still start wars and impoverish billions of people, but decade by decade, violent deaths decrease and the numbers not living in poverty increase.

But for the natural world, of which we are a part, the cost of those advances has been enormous, incalculable. Continents have burned; at least half of the Great Barrier Reef has died, according to Australian researchers. Numbers of birds, insects, and other wildlife are down by at least a third, and about 1000 species become extinct each year, according to  The world is getting hotter and hotter, and there is no known way out of that lethal temperature rise.

                               Air pollution EU’s #1 health hazard   Image:

Capitalism’s need for growth and profit may be the force driving the world over a cliff, but science designed the train. As one of 10,000 examples, 19th Century British scientists discovered how to get gold from dirt by pouring poisonous cyanide solution over it. Using this ‘cyanide heap leaching’ method, mining corporations pile up mountains of dirt, derive a tiny amount of gold from it, and leave behind a poisoned landscape and polluted rivers. The people who live there suffer or move away, and the corporation pays a nice dividend to shareholders.

Absent the power of racial capitalism to run the world, this process would not be happening so widely. But it wouldn’t exist at all if chemists and geologists hadn’t invented it.

Making science work for all of us

When indigenous cultures ran the world, mining in general was extremely limited. Not because they scientifically calculated the environmental costs of mining, but because they worshipped the Earth and thought mining an assault on their Mother.  They thought the veins of metals that explorers sought to dig up were the literal veins of Earth, and without them, Nature was crippled and unable to provide as it had before.

But those beliefs weren’t scientific. They were pagan religion which capitalist believers in science thought meaningless.  And, though they were right about the effects of mining, the people who held those beliefs had no power against the capitalists’ guns.  So, the veins got dug out and the land poisoned. Now they’ve gone beyond the veins to mine the whole Earth.  Von Neumann would have been pleased.

My point isn’t to get rid of science or subordinate it to religion. But science is only beneficial when wise people look at the bigger picture beyond knowledge for its own sake, beyond profit or the solution to an immediate problem. The internal combustion engine, which powers most cars and buses, was a brilliant idea, but anyone could see it dirtied the air. So, wiser people might have asked, ‘What will 1,300,000,000 (the current number of cars driving in the world) of these things do to the plants, the animals, our health? Maybe we shouldn’t do this.’

But capitalism doesn’t ask those questions. Corporations see potential profits and they go for them, and anyone in the way is likely to be pushed out or destroyed. When the environmental bills come due, society and Nature, not the capitalists, have to pay them.

So, if scientists, capitalists, and corrupt politicians won’t ask of science, ‘Is this something we should be doing’, who will ask? We’ll need science to have a chance of surviving as a species on a living planet, but what kind of science?

We need people of wisdom to outrank the smart people. Scientists need adults in the room to set limits on their boundless desire for knowledge. We need philosophers and faith leaders, especially indigenous leaders, to make decisions about what to do with scientific advances, technological development and capitalist expansion.

At a time when indigenous people can’t even control what is done to their own land by capitalist science, it’s hard to imagine their having control over science and technology in general. But maybe other non-scientists such as religious leaders could join them. Maybe scientists themselves could come to endorse caution. That’s the kind of revolution we need if humanity and Earth are to survive. Science, yes, but in the service of wisdom.

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Jonah in the 21st Century

Shows us our possibilities today

Jonah in Nineveh

If the Book of Jonah were not over 2500 years old, I would think the author wrote it on an LSD trip. But despite its age, bizarre events and extreme brevity – only 1200 words – Jonah teaches lessons still relevant, maybe crucial today.

Religious teachers usually boil Jonah’s message down to, ‘Just do what God tells you,’ but, as with other Bible stories, you don’t have to believe in God to learn from this book. You can see the whole book as metaphor and still get the point.  Here are three other powerful themes in Jonah, chosen because they hit me personally in this crisis time. Maybe later I’ll write about the whale.

  1. Do what you are called to do, which may not be what you like to do. If you have a calling, a reason for being on Earth, a quest that your heart wants, don’t shy away. The world needs your gifts and your service; holding back isn’t helping anybody.

Jonah was at home in Israel, just chilling, when God told him, “Arise. Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim judgment upon it; for their wickedness has come before Me.” (Jonah 1:2)

But that was a huge ask. Nineveh (near what is now Baghdad) would have been a trip of over 500 miles, requiring a month’s journey, risking death by bandits the whole way. Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, was the biggest, most powerful city in the world at the time, an enemy of Israel, and Jonah didn’t even speak their language.

Quests are often intimidating; whether it’s starting a new career or stopping police violence, or most other things worth doing. They may be difficult; they may be uncomfortable or dangerous. They may require daunting amounts of work for long periods of time, with low probabilities of success.

Your calling may even appear impossible, but if you run away from it, it will torment you for life. In Jonah’s case, he ran the opposite direction and got on a boat headed to the farthest reaches of the world.  It didn’t help; God created a huge storm that threatened to sink the ship – another metaphor –so that the sailors had to throw Jonah overboard to save themselves. Refusing his calling almost cost him his life.

  1. Impossible things can happen – Jonah survived the sea thanks to a giant fish, and he learned his lesson. When God told him again to go to Nineveh, he went.

Now, preaching to the Ninevites was not likely to have much effect. Of the 16 prophets named in the Hebrew Bible, none of them succeeded in getting people to change their bad habits. That’s 0 out of 16, and Jonah had the added handicap of being a foreigner with language problems. What were the chances the 120,000 residents of the richest city in the world would listen to him?

Jonah kept it simple. His only words recorded in the book are: “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4)

But to Jonah’s surprise, the Ninevites believed him. “They proclaimed a fast, and great and small alike put on sackcloth” (Jonah 3:5). Then a miracle happened. The king heard about Jonah and declared that all of Nineveh, even the animals, should fast and wear sackcloth and ashes, and cry out to God for mercy. The whole city repented, and God relented. Jonah succeeded where all the other Bible prophets failed.

Are we in Nineveh yet?

When we look at the enormous challenges involved in transforming our cruel, corrupt, environmentally-destructive modern societies into loving, sustainable ones, Nineveh’s transformation is a source of hope. As philosopher Charles Eisenstein, author of The Ascent of Humanity said in this TED talk, looked at objectively, it’s almost impossible to imagine society changing so dramatically. From a scientific point of view, it’s hard to see how we’ll be able to stop global warming.

There may be no way it could happen, but perhaps it will happen anyway. It happened in Nineveh. As jazz great Sun Ra said, “Everything possible has been tried and failed. Now it’s time to try the impossible.”

Sun Ra image

  1. The Ninevites are just like you. The MAGA -hat wearers are just like me. When Jonah leaves Nineveh, its walls still standing, with its people reformed and alive, he is not happy with his amazing accomplishment. He’s angry that God didn’t follow through on his threat to destroy the city. God has to show him that the Ninevites are people, too.

Just as God forgave Jonah for his disobedience and sent the fish to rescue him, they – (I don’t know God’s preferred pronouns, so I’m going with they/them) — would forgive the Ninevites, and Jonah would have to accept it.

In his song The Ninevites songwriter Will Fudeman illustrates the problems with Jonah’s typically human desire to feel superior to the people he seeks to change. If we start out with the belief that we are better, smarter, or more enlightened than those with whom we disagree, we will not change anyone or come to peace with them.

If we do not realize that to change the world or change other people, we also have to change ourselves, we will not be effective. We might make things worse. By making people feel attacked or disrespected, we may drive them away from our perspective.

What does Jonah have to say in the 21st Century? How about this: take on the world’s need that calls you, no matter how hard it is. At least you’ll have an adventure. And who knows, seeming miracles do happen.  Maybe they will happen for us, if we learn to treat everyone as if they were people like us.


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When We See Through the Narratives

A better world will come into view

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           photo Michael Easterling

         “We construct a cubicle for ourselves and think that is our life.” Zach Bush MD

We believe that the world as we see it is real, but what if it isn’t? What if our society, our economy, our values, and all the structures we live by are only narratives, stories we tell each other? What would we do without the stories — most of them untrue — that control our lives?

We’re about to find out. As UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres world leaders, “Covid-19-has been likened to an X-ray, revealing fractures in the fragile skeleton of the societies we have built. It is exposing-fallacies-and-falsehoods-everywhere: the lie that free markets can deliver health care for all, the fiction that unpaid care work is not work, the delusion that we live in a post-racist world, the myth that we are all in the same boat.”-

Covid-19, the Depression and the rebellions against police violence, are indeed waking people up. All the old narratives, like , and individual ess no longer make sense. How can we believe wealth is based on merit and hard work, when workers classed as are paid minimum wage, while billionaires get free government bailouts? How can health care, housing, and food depend on jobs that don’t exist?

         Stories are Shackles

The old stories have been revealed as shackles that more powerful people put on us. The rules that leave some people in the streets, others in prison, others in mansions; the ideas that bound our parents, their parents, and everyone for 1000 years are going down in flames. As travel writer Kristin Wilson “The pandemic has obliterated our old societal paradigm and shattered what we thought we knew about life.”

Many folks are terrified, because we all need some order in our lives. But scary as it is, when we see through the narratives, we will be free. What will that be like: chaos, anarchy and poverty, or a new future with new narratives that bring us together?

Can you imagine living without scarcity, without enemies or greed? It might not be as radically different as it sounds. of narrative shackles, we’ll probably do a lot of the we do now. We’ll still have to farm, make and fix things, and take care of each other. We’ll just work in a happier, saner, gentler way.

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                             Photo Alicia Eler Minneapolis Star Tribune

Lynne Twist, author of The , says there are three myths about wealth that distort our lives: scarcity, more is better, and the permanence of current social relations. She says the opposites are true. “There is enough. More is not better. Our drive to enlarge our net worth turns us away from discovering and deepening our self-worth…Our behavior is not permanently fixed; we can choose to act differently.”

When we recognize the the world is trying to give us, we won’t have to work so hard or consume so much. We could relax, work to make the world better, and enjoy life.

Crisis Leads to Opportunities

Secretary-General Guterres said, “COVID-19 is a human tragedy but has also created an opportunity to build back a more equal and sustainable world.” Can we take the opportunity this crisis forces on us, and rewrite our society’s stories? It will be hard, but not that complicated, perhaps only two steps:

Step 1: Recognize that the social structures we take for granted: like who , how money is distributed, who owns land and , and how we should relate to each other are only narratives. They don’t come from Nature or from God. People created them, and people do them differently in different places and times.

Step 2: Create new narratives like distributing to everyone. Mr. Guterres called for a New Global Deal “based on the rights and dignity of every human being, living in balance with nature, respect for the rights of future generations, writing off unfair international debts.” Other starter stories could be defining and as human rights. And who knows what other brilliant liberated people might create?

A year ago, such scenarios would have sounded like a cannabis dream. How will the bankers, generals, lords and ladies of our world ever be persuaded to give up the narratives that bring them so much wealth and power? How could ordinary people, however many billions of us rise up, overcome the massive military force and institutionalized power of the ruling classes?

But COVID has enabled us to see past the invisible walls that imprison us. We can see that we don’t have to fight on their battlefield. All we have to do is change the narrative. When people see the that is possible, some of them will drop their guns, take off their helmets or their three-piece suits and join a new narrative that brings more love into their lives.

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Do people really change like that? Individuals can. Psychologists tell me that therapy is the process of helping people to see their own narratives and let go of them. Therapists have so much work because people rarely let go of the stories that make them miserable, until they reach a level of pain they can no longer tolerate.

Could the same be true of a society, of a culture or all humanity? It sounds a huge project, but look around. Our social narratives are not only causing us pain; they are literally killing us. Every day, more people disbelieve the constant fear stories they are told about China, Russia, terrorism, crime, etc. We have been lied to for so long, about so many things, that ever-fewer people take our rulers’ word for anything.

When nobody believes the old stories, they will die. And we will have a chance to live. So, speak up. It’s not enough to mumble truth to power. Shout it out to everyone.

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More on the society coming into view:
The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible and
Sacred Economics
by Charles Eisenstein

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life Barbara Kingsolver

Reading, Writing, and Rising Up: Teaching about Social Justice and the Power of the Written Word Linda Christensen

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Who Would You Be Without Yourself?

Who would you be without yourself?

If you took off all your coats

Of identity, of history, of trauma

The stories you were taught,

Those you invented and

Stood naked in the world on a warm day?

How would you see your life

Without the narratives of money

Of education, of success and failure?

If you had no nationality, no race

No gender, no age, or if those things

No longer mattered?


How would the world look

Unmarred by expectation

By judgment, fear, analysis?

Would you be overwhelmed by its beauty?

Don’t be afraid – you are beautiful too.

You will fit right in.


How would you move,

Without the weights you carry

The braces and splints you wear

To protect your broken places

The narratives that bind you

The need for others’ approval


How would it feel to be free?


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Gaslight for America

Letter received from a US intelligence agency:

Dear Patriot,
Thank you for defending your government and your corporations from disinformation and fake news. Each day, our shared understanding of reality is being challenged. Each day, new stories and facts undercut our approved narrative. We need good citizens like you to make sure alternative information is not seriously considered by any except a lunatic fringe.

One way to control information is called ‘gaslighting,’ meaning to push people to deny their own experience and believe things for which they have no evidence. The term comes from a 1944 movie called Gaslight, in which a man (Charles Boyer) plays a series of tricks on his new wife (Ingrid Bergman) to convince her she is crazy. Some of the tricks involve the gas-powered light system.

Boyer torments Bergman to get her into an insane asylum, so he will have the house to himself. Sometimes, your government has to do things like that, too. The USA is our house, and we need to protect our American way of life, even if it means making a few people crazy.

Gaslighting is not easy, though; people don’t readily disbelieve their senses or embrace ideas without evidence. That’s why we prepared this handy list of strategies you can use — the same ones we use — to maintain your narrative.

  1. Insult people who don’t believe the approved story. Call them conspiracy theorists, crackpots, Covidiots, or come up with your own name. Ask them how their tinfoil hat is fitting.

2. Yell ‘Science’ at anyone who disagrees. Although science normally involves evaluating all sides of an issue, we define science as whatever evidence supports the government’s story. Claim “mountains of evidence” to support the official position, or call those who disagree ‘science deniers.’ Example: Follow the science that says hydroxychloroquine doesn’t work for COVID-19; ignore the science that says it does.

3. Use terms like ‘discredited,’ ‘disproved,’ and ‘debunked’ to describe noncompliant beliefs, without providing any evidence of where they are wrong. Example: claims that 5G wireless radiatio causes health problems are ‘debunked,’ even though there has been little or no research.

4. Don’t be afraid to change your story, and never acknowledge that you’ve changed. Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda were our friends in Afghanistan, then our enemies in the War on Terror, now our friends again in Syria. Truth can change; people forget. President Trump changes his message every day, and nobody seems to notice.

5. Don’t be afraid to be absurd or ridiculous. Look at what we convinced people to believe on September 11, 2001. A hijacker’s passport miraculously ‘found on the ground’ near the World Trade Center. Three steel skyscrapers crashed straight down, which no other skyscraper in history ever has done without a controlled demolition. An airplane ‘crashed’ in Pennsylvania, leaving virtually no wreckage. It doesn’t matter how absurd our story is: just keep acting like it’s completely rational and call disbelievers conspiracy theorists.

image: architects and engineers for 911 Truth

6. Repetition — The more often people hear something, the more likely they are to believe it. That is why we tell the same story in 100 different ways on multiple media platforms. Remember that a story can be disproven many times, and people will still believe it if it’s said often by an authoritative voice.

Example: liberal media kept repeating Russia collusion narratives about the 2016 election, despite every single specific claim being shown baseless. After three years and several investigations, when all the charges fell through, these platforms acted like those years were no big deal. Our media still blames Russia for everything and attacks President Trump as a Russian puppet, and people still believe them.

7. Cancel the skeptics — Point to something they have said in the past, on any topic, that can be used to make them seem ridiculous, racist, or some other disqualifying trait. Or point to some other person they have associated with who is so disagreeable that mere association disqualifies the speaker. Example: when Rep. Tulsi Gabbard appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox TV show, liberals immediately said her antiwar message was now out of bounds, because “She went on Fox!”

8. If you’re in a position of authority, sympathetically tell people you approve of their demands and understand their position, while doing nothing at all to address their grievances. They must be crazy if they can’t see you’re on their side.

9. Remember, the goal isn’t to convince people of your position. It’s to make them doubt themselves, doubt reality, and ultimately to give up and say, “Whatever.”

We can’t overstate how important this work is. Facts in specific cases may clash with our stories, but we must uphold the larger truth — that America, our government, and our corporations are good and our opponents are evil. Winston Churchill said, “Truth is so precious it must be attended with a bodyguard of lies.” You are part of truth’s bodyguard. Thank you for your efforts on behalf of America!

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Without Stories

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And hardest of all

See yourself as you are

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