Social Distancing

change

This year we’ve stumbled into a yawning abyss called society. There are approaching eight billion of us here on Earth, in various stages of individualisation. Departure. Uprooting. Alienation. Social distancing.

It’s partially a cultural issue and partly to do with urbanisation. Urbanisation is the largest movement of people in the world today. All the world’s population growth is in cities – rural population is declining, paradoxically creating more space for nature. Stranger still, one of the biggest pandemics of today is loneliness.

Yet we’re suddenly facing each other. Saturn and Jupiter are passing into Aquarius, the sign of society, membership, belonging, ideas, plans, principles and ‘how things ought to be’. When Pluto moves into Aquarius in 2024-5 for eighteen years until 2043, well, we enter a social process. Since 2008 we’ve been in a systemic process, and what matters next is people. Last time Pluto was in Aquarius, we had the French Revolution.

Some people give up on humanity, dedicating themselves to the natural environment, or wishing they could or would do so. But if we people don’t change, environmental issues won’t get resolved. We’re transitioning from exploiters to guardians of nature. To do that, we need also to transition from exploiters to guardians of our fellow humans. The main variable is the destruction we permit ourselves to go through to get there. Humanity’s crimes against itself rest on omission and commission.

Uranus and Neptune went through Aquarius in 1996-2003 and 1998-2011 respectively. That took us through globalisation and the social impacts of the economic crisis, which began with food riots, through to the Arab Revolutions – and it didn’t stop there.

No politics or religion were involved in the Arab revolutions: young, marginalised people just wanted to get a life. This matter is still pending. The current frontline is Sudan, with Iraq and Lebanon close behind. And Hong Kong, and Chile, and the emergent ramifications of Covid.

Many issues are pending and our planet has grown anxious. Angst about anything and everything. Partially this is psychological, a winding up of tightening hearts and minds, and partially it is circumstantial, since the world is getting crazier, more complex, polarised and dangerous.

We’re facing up to each other. My freedoms aren’t your freedoms, those people over there aren’t like us, and yet we’re all in the same crowd, utterly dependent on each other.

The world is cleaving into thoughtful and inconsiderate people, empathics and libertarians, public and individual priorities, matters of control, influence and freedom, with surprisingly large sub-surface reservoirs of social schism lurking underneath. “Who’s going to die first?”, “Who can I blame?”, “Who’s going to get the last loaf of bread?”, “How much do I care?”.

Not that anyone really knows what’s going on, and that’s a key part of the training. We’re out of our depth. This is bigger than we can see.

It’s not exactly a disaster. Change always looks like a disaster when we’re plummeting into it. Then it becomes crisis, and then transition, then a stunned quietness, then relief, revival and a new reality. It’s a question of the extent of pain and loss we humans must go through to get there, but get there we shall, by fair means or foul.

What’s wrong is that some people bear this burden of change far more than others – this is a fundamental issue of principle, of sharing. You can’t have privilege and deprivation when, like it or not, you all sit in the same boat.

It’s also about inner resilience – the capacity to make something good out of a bad situation. And social resilience – the capacity to change our social and community ways to meet whatever life throws at us, and regardless of whatever went on before. How to make life as easy as possible in the circumstances we get. How to feed and look after each other, and how to organise that.

It’s a big shock. Things have been going the other way in recent decades – or was it centuries? Humanity is meeting itself. This is the planetarisation of consciousness, the deeper aspect of globalisation. The bit we’ve stumbled upon is the horrifying realisation that we’re all so profoundly different. Yet, just somehow, we’re all part of a human family. And we’re in danger of making a mess of it.

Some of us run forward to change things while we have the chance, and some run back to safe territory to try to keep things the same – and there’s a bit of both in all of us. The bit of ourselves that we don’t like, we blame on others. If we are to survive, the twain must meet. We must get along with people we disagree with. But wait, they’ve got kids and grannies too – they’re just like us.

This is what’s emerging in the collective psyche, and it’s the big theme for the coming years. Is the system here to serve the people, or are the people here to serve the system? And what tribe do you belong to?

Until recently we were focused on climate change and a plethora of issues that all confusingly melted into a soup of horror – sub-surface political angst.

And now, this, this thing that we all wish we could get control of and cannot. How much it’s a virus and how much it’s a miasm, an epidemic of the psyche, is open to question.

If we dig a level deeper, we’re faced with a test of faith. Not my faith or your faith, but faith.

When the chips are down, how much are we prepared to sacrifice ourselves for what we believe to be good and right? Or is it safer to withhold, let others take the strain and see what happens?

There’s some good news too. But that awaits another day.

With love, Palden.

And if you want a bit more, try this.

Willful Ignorance

Bethlehem, Palestine
The Church of the Nativity and the Omar Mosque, Bethlehem, Palestine.

Not many things make me angry, but some do. Working with conflict has, strangely, helped me come to peace over many things, mainly by forcing me to face facts.

And anger transforms. I’ve got a deeply smouldering Mars-in-Scorpio righteous kind of anger. I get steamed up over indifference, mindless groupthink-compliance and willful ignorance – sadly flourishing syndromes in our day. Mercifully, society’s covidisation process is seemingly beginning to change things.

Groupthink indifference gives rise to all sorts of situations. Here’s one. It’s the very British ‘perhaps you should…‘ hyper-suggestion syndrome. It appears helpful but actually it is obstructive, a discreet withholding strategy. I get roughly five requests for financial help every week, mainly from Asia and Africa but even from Britain. These sincere requests come from people who genuinely are hungry or destitute, right now, and feeling it. Many of them don’t deserve to be in this situation – they were caught on the hop.

In many countries the lockdown is weighing heavily on people lower down the pile who, in turn, battle with their self-esteem and dignity over asking for support. When you’re hungry, patience is not easy and the end of your life lurks before you like a stealthy ghost that’s coming to take you away.

I have cancer and sit in the needy and vulnerable group that everyone makes so much fuss about. And, in the default Western way, my friends, who do genuinely care for me, recommend me to pull back from helping people and to ‘look after number one’. Well, yes, I agree. This isn’t news to me!

But there’s a problem. If I step down, few step up to take over. The consequences are systemic. It means that a person like me unwittingly takes on a responsibility: the burden of consigning a person to possible death by saying ‘No’ to them. Because I’m busy ‘looking after number one’ and doing what most people do. The burden doesn’t go away by ignoring it.

And, a footnote. I’m not so hot at fixing money, but I do always try to assist a person magically, if I can. In many cases it’s a matter of helping them overcome fear, or fixing them a good contact, or helping them go through an inner change that unlocks solutions, or dropping them a quick tenner for some food. It’s necessary to do something – not just to turn away. I’m much better at magic solutions than fixing funds. But it does require sticking with people in spirit, praying for their souls, giving them full attention, standing in their flipflops. In some respects, such solidarity of the soul can be a greater boost than money.

Server syndrome has subtle ways of presenting itself. In Syria in 2013 I had one of my premonitions, waking up in the night with a feeling that a neighbouring village was in danger. I reported this and was told, “No chance – that village is safe – don’t worry“. I raised it again next evening, getting the same response. So I did my polite Englishman bit and went quiet. Next week, back in Jordan, I heard that around 100 people were killed in a regime attack on the village.

It was the biggest humanitarian failure of my life. Yes, I know, everyone will say, “It wasn’t your responsibility – don’t take it on yourself“. True. In a way.

But if I had made more noise and fuss, those people would probably be alive today. I landed up an inadvertent killer. We do this. We commit crimes against humanity through simple omission.

Even in the pursuit of good intention, things can fuck up. Here’s another issue that sets me smouldering. In Bethlehem, where I’ve spent a lot of time, the world’s Christian churches have been rescuing Palestinian Christians. I would not begrudge a Christian the right and need to move to USA, Sweden, Germany or Chile (their main destinations) and I completely understand their reasons for leaving. They want to get a life!

But this has consequences. Bethlehem is increasingly binary-polarised. A century ago it had three faiths and now it has two, Judaism and Islam, with a wall between them. This is fatal to basic peacebuilding. Bethlehem’s Muslims are lovely, hospitable people, and they don’t want the Christians to go either. The Muslims keep the Christmas Pilgrimage going, not only to swell Christians’ numbers and keep Bethlehem on the map, but also because Jesus is a prophet of Islam.

But in all their intended goodness in rescuing Christians, the churches are sabotaging Palestine and the multifaith, multi-ethnic nature of the Middle East. The Israelis exploit this as part of their longterm takeover strategy. Europeans and Americans aid and abet it, quietly supporting the Israelis partially out of WW2 guilt, partially to control the oil-soaked, geostrategic Middle East, partially to keep trouble and refugees at arm’s length, and partially to create a market for armaments.

I really think the Christian churches should look long and hard at their part in this. This said, I support and admire the brave and radical work of a small number of activist Christians – Italians, Irish, Basques and Greeks particularly – who go to Palestine to rebuild demolished houses, accompany women and children past aggressive settlers, minister to refugees, help on farms and run services for the needy.

This is not a blame game. It’s a serious collective issue that we all need to own up to and change. We avoid facing such moral dilemmas by ‘looking after number one’.

As it happens, I do reject most appeals for money support. It’s a fact of the game and the philanthropist’s nightmare – we have to say ‘No‘ 90% of the time. Why? Because money and energy are finite and everything always takes twice as much and twice as long as first reckoned. You can’t just scatter funding and support everywhichway. Aid is karmic and, to create positive outcomes, everything must be carefully engineered and monitored.

I learned this from Richard Branson in the early 1990s. I asked him for funding for the Hundredth Monkey Project. He wrote back, saying “Looks interesting. Do it. No time. Good luck“. Just like that. It said it all. And I did find a way forward, utilising an algorithm called going forward in faith.

But the main problem here is that giving, sharing and helping are done by insufficient people insufficiently. So it falls on those who have large dollops of the necessary empathic foolishness to carry the world’s load, sometimes at risk of criticism, jail, bullets or, at minimum, continual admonitions to ‘be sensible’.

The big paradox here is that the best way to pursue self-interest is to practice altruism. But for the energy to circulate, everyone must do it.

This is why we have extremes of wealth and poverty on our home planet. It’s societal, national and global, not just personal. It’s ‘one planet, different worlds’. In Britain, even benefits claimants are in the world’s wealthiest 30% (on GDP terms).

The power lies mainly with the affluent: a country like Britain needs to reduce its consumption by a whole 60% to achieve some sort of sustainability. But the drift of Covid events is suggesting that we relatively rich gits are likely to make this change more by necessity than by choice. Unwise, but that’s the way it goes here on Earth.

In the end, such a reduction of consumption will properly be achieved not by regulation and decree but by a psycho-emotional transformation across society. It’s a matter of the heart, and how to catalyse such a change has vexed progressives for centuries.

Reduction of the desperate need to consume. Reduction of the need to cushion our pain through avocados, ice creams and indifference. Discovery that a simpler life brings a smile to our faces and a dawning relief in our hearts. Revelation that things will work out okay.

To achieve this, we need to share. That’s what lies before us. The agenda concerns cooperation and sharing as a pragmatic response to evolving events.

Greetings and love from The Lookout.

Paldywan

NovaCovidity

Gurnard's Head, Cornwall
A sign at Gurnard’s Head in West Penwith, Cornwall.

I’m not in the habit of giving speeches at seven in the morning on a Sunday. But this happened this morning – I spoke at an online medical conference in India about the potential social and economic outcomes of NovaCovid19.

There was quite a lot of academic waffle, but it was interesting. There were dogs and children in the background and a nice lot of chaos too. I’m so glad that I am extra-academic in my work, not least because, in my experience, academics have a problem stretching beyond their current viewpoint. Right now we see a truimphal science riding high, but the problem is that science is in partial denial of the full scope of the issue.

To give an example, one of the speakers mentioned that susceptibility to NovaCovid is related particularly to air pollution – evidence of this is now emerging. Yes, true, and there’s more. It is related to internal pollution by antibiotics, vaccines, chlorine, poor diet and a modern cocktail of toxins. This is partially why Africa is not as badly hit as Europe and USA.

This narrowband approach I found when compiling my Possibilities 2050 report on the future – all experts and available reports to draw on avoided many of the big questions, particularly psycho-social issues, holding fast to to the data, to knowns, to what is held important now and in the past, not in the future – which is valuable but it is not everything. And then of course there are those with an agenda, seeking to reinforce convention or to impose ideologies or questionable perspectives, however redemptive, on others.

I was the only speaker to stay within my allocated eight-minute slot. That says something about an aged hippy thinker amongst a load of academics! A German scientist gave a long ramble about the use of the Hindu Agnihotra ritual in reducing susceptibility to Covid – yes, interesting, but it deserved two, not twelve minutes.

I was looking at the longer term effects of NovaCovid (which is what they call it in India, the pharmaceutical and Ayurvedic centre of the universe). The first is the reality shake-out that has hit us, loosening up people’s thoughts and feelings which, in the end, will improve psychosocial resilience – inasmuch as societal resistance to change and the urge to re-normalise is harmful and constraining. I mentioned how this is the first of possibly three or four crises that are likely to come in the next 15 or so years.

Covid is not primarily a health crisis – the primacy of the virus will fade. The core issue is ecology, economics and human society, and Covid is the catalyst. This is one of the evolving ecological crises of our time, caused primarily in this case by deforestation and human encroachment on nature. Future crises will similarly be catalysed by specific events and causes, but they will still mainly concern wider, deeper issues.

This is about the rehumanising of society, particularly in the West. This is the third crisis adding to the West’s decline in global influence – the first was around 1990, the second around 2008-9 and the third is now. The next is to come. Each time, the West declines by 10% and, relatively, The Rest rises. A key reason why the West is declining is that it has prioritised business over society and, in truth, continues doing so – as in Maggie Thatcher’s much-vaunted statement “There is no such thing as society”. Well, we have found otherwise in the last few months.

Longterm revival is more likely in Asia, Africa and eventually Latin America than in developed countries, since there is a global readjustment going on in which Western consumption levels, production and geopolitical weight are reluctantly in decline. This reluctance is mainly because of our vested interests and the addiction of us Westerners to our comforts and excess consumption. We need to cut consumption by over half in order to achieve sustainability. We are being overtaken on the outside by The Rest, the majority, who are more resolutely oriented toward change and who have less to protect and more to gain from change.

I see this amongst contacts in East Africa, who are now more advanced in such things as permaculture than we – they are beginning to lead the way and the West is running out of steam and initiative, no matter how wonderful and deserving of leadership we believe ourselves to be. This is important.

I was impressed by the degree to which Indian researchers were following international research, especially from Asia. But in Britain, when we talk about ‘scientific’ we don’t read others’ academic papers since we define ‘scientific evidence’ to be valuable only when it’s British, American or, at a push, European. But the people who know their stuff most are the Indians, Chinese, Koreans, Taiwanese and Singaporeans. It shows up in the evidence.

One of the key issues of the 2020s will be sovereign insolvency – state and systemic bankruptcy, especially in countries borrowing heavily to maintain economic levels through the pandemic. This insolvency will be bad for Brexit, bad for nationalism, bad for Great America, bad for Hindu nationalism, bad for Bolsonaro. This growing indebtedness and artificial money-creation is a fatal move, bringing up the next question.

This NovaCovid issue will define a new globalism, since increased national self-sufficiency and resilience, while apposite, only go so far, and then we’re back to global issues. Viruses, people, money and ecology know no boundaries, and many boundaries are obsolete anyway. When the world economy stutters, only something akin to a new Bretton Woods economic reform will allow nations truly to revive.

Yes, the World Bank, the IMF, financial hubs and particularly the shadow and offshore banking sectors. Many nations will go down, either to be taken over, break up and regionalise or to reconstitute in other ways. This is likely to happen by the early 2030s. Sovereign insolvency will be the agent of this change.

How much will things actually change after NovaCovid? Probably by 10% initially and 20% in 5-7 years. I think we’ll see a ‘VU’ recovery. That is, a quick initial bounce-back, then another fall owing to systemic structural weaknesses, followed by a slow and incomplete revival, though not to previous levels. Then other crises will follow to prune things more. Next one 2024?

Here I’m very aware of the symbolism of the bone marrow cancer I am experiencing. It’s a disease of the life-blood, the very life-giving essence that keeps me alive, and it leads to a rotting of the bones, which become shot through with cavities, weakening the bones and the structure of what holds me up. If I fall, my bony frame’s resilience to impacts will be the big question.

Which goes to show, yet again, it’s not what you do (since falling down will happen), it’s the way you do it. This is what’s happening in society – a collective bone marrow cancer. We don’t have a tumour – although top-level structures in society could be regarded as tumorous – we have a condition of the life-blood and a big immunity issue. Lack of immunity to the inevitable, to the passage of change and transformation.

We have a collective blood condition – not just economic but infusing the psychosocial and motivating structure of society. A lot of people are using NovaCovid to think again about their lives. A disadvantage of this will be that many of the best people for engineering change will leave the heart of the system to bring change to their personal lives, leaving behind people inside the system who are less able to bring about change – this was one of the causes of the fall of the Soviet system around 1990. The people who create the problem cannot resolve it.

Universal, comprehensive healthcare in those countries lacking it and increased global equality have been global priorities for years, but they have only now come properly into focus. However, the capacity of governements, investors and the system to invest properly in these is in question, owing to the probability of sovereign insolvency and economic downturn. This means a deeper social transformation if the care and health crisis that has been revealed by NovaCovid is to be acted upon.

We shall need to stop leaning on and looking to governments for leadership: we’ll need social consensus and collective self-discipline if top-down governance is going to weaken and if social healthcare and care in general are to grow. Back in the 1970s a bumper-sticker used to say, ‘If the people lead, the leaders will follow’. Well, now the people need to lead, but we are also very inexperienced in that, we lack solidarity, consensus and social steadfastness – what the Palestinians call sumud, the capacity to hang in there regardless.

This is all very well, but it means a voluntary sacrifice of individualism, exceptionalism and personal freedom. Many of my friends won’t like this bit – it constrains their oh so important personal freedom. Well, get over it, because it’s coming. This is why countries like Sweden and Palestine are doing quite well with the virus – they already have this mutualised societal self-discipline. They do it despite government, not because of it. It also means that volunteerism will be on the rise.

The core issue here concerns strengthening society and its psychosocial resilience. There’s more to go on this question. An initial majority urge to restore normality will obstruct progress until we lurch into the second Covid-related downturn, which is likely to be U-shaped, slower to sink and slower to rise. And the bounceback will rise only to about 80% of previous levels. Structural change is afoot too.

There’s going to be a humdinger of a social and political crisis in coming years. Existing political parties and leaderships are not sufficiently up to the job of good, effective governance. As people realise the full implications of the personal and community changes they are undergoing, a proportion will not wish to return to the good old days. They don’t want to race rats any more – they want to Get A Life. But there’s also the question of social disagreement – it does not work to look at the folk over there and say they’re wrong. They aren’t wrong, they are themselves, fully valid humans who are part of the social process. Blaming those over there for our situation is weak, weak, weak, to quote our dear old friend Tony Blair.

Much now depends on people at the top. But it depends greatly on the mass of the people. Especially in one area: social control, particularly digital. A battle is afoot: our lives will either be controlled by corporations like Amazon, governments and background powers, or we increase social freedoms. But into these social freedoms we must incorporate collective self-discipline.

In other words, people need to learn how to form a consensus incorporating everybody. Without this, goodbye democracy. Democracy isn’t the answer to everything and, to quote Churchill, it’s the least worst option of all those that have been tried, but two qualities of democracy do hold true: the people need to be able to express an opinion when we have one, and we need to be able to change our leaders when necessary. Authoritarian systems have a succession and duration problem and, in times of change, this is critical.

This is perhaps the biggest question of our time. Getting through the 21st Century and its challenges will be done either through increased top-down control or through collective consensus and social strengthening, and it looks at present as if the former is winning. But the matter is not yet decided. It gets decided in the late 2020s and the 2030s, and it’s big. And, guess what, some of the biggest potential contributors to this new phase, owing to their long-established collective experience in making something good out of a bad situation, are Palestinians. Followed by Africans, Iranians, Cubans, Vietnamese…

And now I’m going back to bed. I’m active only a few hours each day – my energy is lower than it was, and I’ve begun wondering how much willpower I have to continue holding myself up and looking after myself in this care-poor nation of ours. Here you can be awarded a grant for hiring home help but it is not delivered at the time when you actually need it. My house is slowly becoming a wreck and I need help with it. Is anyone in St Just or Penzance interested? I am rung weekly by social service types who give me lists of phone numbers to ring but say they cannot help. Ah, thanks.

This is one microscopic aspect of the decline of the West, and also of the decline of Paldywan Kenobi. I do hope my family will come visit me while I’m still alive. I’m dead glad I didn’t take the blood transplant route I mentioned a few months ago – this was intuitively inappropriate and it would have meant I’d have needed 3-6 months extra care. Which is not available. So it’s back to bed for me. Byee!!

Love from the ancient realm of Cornwall, Palden.