Tribal power: The strange world of us and them.

All human beings belong to one tribe or another. We search for common goals that bring us together be it; a sports team, a political party, a religion, a type of music, our nation, a geographical area, the colour of our skin, sexuality or maybe just our age. We are all apart of some larger entity and often more than one. It’s also reasonable to acknowledge that some factors bind us together more than others. A tribe can unify people forming an in-group and by definition everybody outside of this are apart of the out-group. In a book by Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Minds: Why good people are divided by politics and religion, he suggests that “our minds were designed to unite us into teams, divide us against other teams, and blind us to the truth”. Weirdly, I started to ponder this idea shortly after New Zealand’s defeat to England in the Rugby World Cup semi final.

Alas, this is not a tale of another Kiwi crying into his beer after a comprehensive loss. It’s slightly more complicated than that. I was born in Manchester, England and lived there for 40 years. Notice how I stopped short of calling myself English. I started typing English, but I felt uneasy about using it as a descriptor. I’ll be honest, I was never someone who sang “here we go” at the top of my lungs in Ibiza, nor did I go searching for a “full English” the morning after a hangover. In contrast, I did commit to 8 years in the British Navy travelling to the far flung corners of the earth. I also suffered the collective deep pessimism each time England took penalties during a major football tournament. No, I don’t have 3 lions tattooed on my arm or any other part of my anatomy, but I have supported England in varying sports around the globe

So what happened? Put simply, I moved. I left England in 2011 and have now lived in Whangarei, a largely forgotten part of New Zealand for the last 8 and a half years. At first I continued to follow England in many sports, after all I still knew many of the players. But increasingly, I kept an eye on how New Zealand were doing, be it the Olympics, Rugby, League or Cricket. It must have crept over me like a shadow, but I suddenly realised during the one day cricket final against England (another heroic loss) that I was a fully fledged Black Caps supporter. There was no doubt in mind, second thoughts or even guilt. Was I traitor? Is this treason? Did I care? The answers in short are no, no and no. By the time this years rugby world cup rolled around, England seemed less like my home country and more like the enemy. What happened? What kind of animal had I become?

army buddies

It is well documented through many studies performed after the Second World War and more recently in Afghanistan and Iraq that one of the main reasons soldiers keep going despite the stress and danger is for their buddies. It is certainly not for king and country as gets suggested in black and white war movies. From an evolutionary standpoint it makes intuitive sense, sticking together can help save lives, in particular your own. However, moving beyond major events we can be very easily divided in the most arbitrary of ways, quickly developing in-groups and out-groups.

In 1968 on the day of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination Jane Elliot, a teacher from Iowa conducted a little experiment and split her class based on eye colour. She showed that the “better” blue eyed children ridiculed brown eyed kids almost within minutes. While she observed the same treatment meted out when brown eyed kids were the “chosen ones”. This study has been subsequently repeated by psychologists thousands of times in a myriad of different ways. Further to this, a study by the University of Missouri highlighted that, in-group identification became even more intense if members were made to feel threatened. It is thought that during these times we rely on our group members even more, especially if we feel at risk of physical harm.

Although being a part of a group may keep us safer by gravitating towards people who might seem most like us, we inadvertently build metaphorical walls which prevent us from bonding with our fellow human beings. One result of this is groupthink, this can ultimately lead to the group being irrational and dysfunctional. In this state, critical thinking can be diminished as raising an opposing view, arguing or discussing controversial topics can be perceived as dangerous. With no opposing ideas, members are more likely to feel uniformed in their beliefs leading to black and white thinking, and the stereotyping of others. This behaviour can occur as much with the KKK as it can within ANTIFA, with Remainers as often as Brexiteers, this even occurs pretty equally between Manchester Utd and City fans (believe it or not).

Amy Chua in her book “Political Tribes” offers that allegiance to a nation is not as strong as for example, ethnic or religious factors. But at its core, belonging to a group or tribe is still linked around the concept of identification. Groups members congregate with one another, directing their love towards the same object, shared leader or a cherished cause. This creates a unified feeling of identification, reciprocated by other members of the group. Collective identity is thought to work in two ways; firstly all members relate to and are loyal towards their focus (goal, leader, ideology etc.), secondly there’s a recognition of this devotion among other members.

Vlad Lenin

Social psychologist Erich Fromm described these as primary ties, giving people security and a sense of belonging. Development of this solidarity prevents the individual from being morally alone, providing more confidence and increasing the certainty of their convictions in the larger social arena. With all this in mind and returning to the original question, am I a traitor for abandoning my nation of birth, in exchange for the country I’ve lived in for almost 9 years? I would suggest not, but I guess it should be down to someone else to decide this.

If as suggested, I was seeking an identity in a new country, choosing the All Blacks or New Zealand sport in general to support would make sense. Sport in New Zealand generally speaking is a uniting force. Citizens regularly follow the escapades of this small nation, the plucky underdog that always manages to punch well above its weight. It is also a relatively benign group to attach oneself to. Most of the time that is. Although, as a member of this group I can quite easily feel all the trappings of us versus them. Demonising the opposition, taking a bias view on refereeing decisions or even the irritation of watching joyous England fans celebrate victory.

This was palpable, especially when Owen Farrell crumpled to the ground clutching his face after being mildly pushed by Sam Whitelock (although for mere mortals that’s probably an oxymoron). My overriding response was to yell at him in my suddenly rejuvenated northern accent, “get up yer girl” or “I bet yer dad’s proud of yer, writhing around like a bloody football player” (his dad incidentally is Wigan rugby league legend Andy Farrell, who I’ve seen in action on numerous occasions). Oh how quickly we bond with the people we live and work with day to day for a common cause. On that day, however, we commiserated with one another as any slightly battered tribe would.

 

 

Infinite growth on a finite planet: The ecological case against capitalism.

In light of the hysteria provided by both sides surrounding Greta Thunberg, questions have started to formulate in my mind; “can we get out of this environmental mess by primarily using market solutions or is this, as I strongly suspect, just wishful thinking”? These thoughts permeated my grey matter predominantly because many people supporting and backing Greta seem to think or certainly indicate that this is the most viable way. Or do they, as some people have suggested, simply consider this is as an opportunity to re-boot capitalism?

One of the first questions we need to tackle is, what are the conditions necessary for capitalism to be successful and is one of these a fundamental requirements continual growth, as suggested by adversaries of the status quo. In opposition to this view, there is a group of environmentalists who suggest that the end of growth doesn’t necessarily mean the demise of capitalism, these can loosely be termed as “steady staters” and are supported by environmentalist titans such as; Bill McKibben and Prince Charles. So does capitalism need perpetual growth or is this a spurious myth purported by those ‘nasty’ socialists?

Let us start with the basics, money becomes capital when it used as a fund for ongoing investment designed to increase itself, rather than being spent or saved. What makes a capitalist system is when the entire economy becomes dependent on the investment of capital. Both trade and production are financed in this way, with the production of goods and services chiefly created to generate profit to be reinvested in further production.

Marx simplified this using M-C-M’ (M=money for investment C=commodities & M’= money from the selling of commodities), this stated that money is used to invest in commodities which is subsequently sold for more money. The whole point of a business is to make more money than you started with, therefore, the economy in it’s entirety must continue to grow.

Growth predictably has a huge impact on the environment as the system and economy must keep increasing, thus taking its toll on our natural resources. Total growth/wealth must be backed up by the overall volume and the value of goods and services to be exchanged by it, thus representing an increase in wealth. Defenders of capitalism will argue that as consumption switches from goods to services economic growth can be separated from the use of materials. However, recent studies suggest that an increase in consumption of resources so far in the 21st century has matched or exceeded the rate of economic growth.

black friday

Another reason why capitalism is compelled to grow is competition. Marx suggested that this factor is probably the most important driver for ensuring expansion. The central feature in capitalism is the mythical “market”, here all bets are off and anyone can be outflanked or undercut to get an edge on their rivals. This world consisting of fundamentally volatile, economic agents tend to react quickly, continually seeking ways to lower costs while increasing sales. Historically speaking, there have been periods of stability, such as during wartime efforts and post war rebuilding. However, since the 1970’s the market has become more fierce due to the arrival of international competition particularly from Asia.

Another factor that compels capitalism to expand is credit. As well documented banks create credit out of thin air, providing loans and overdrafts injecting new money into the economy. Ordinarily, this would end up increasing inflation, however, banks lend money for businesses who seek finance for initial production. If capitalist production starts in debt, it must require an expansion in the overall value of goods and services that can be exchanged for money, due to the loan being made with the promise of additional sales income returning as a result. If the entire economy is in net debt, then it must increase in size to afford to pay it back. In effect, the economy is continually playing catch up. This issue was first posed by Rosa Luxemburg.

It doesn’t end there, another problem whether we care to admit it or not is, between 1950 and 2000 the global population grew from 2.5 billion to 6 billion. Over this period, consumption of major natural resources increased sixfold on average, and much quicker for other resources such as natural gas (12 fold). Additionally, half the world’s great forests have been destroyed and it is expected that a similar fraction of the Earth’s animal and plant species may be extinct by the end of the century. So, are corporations inherently evil? Some certainly are, but on the whole they are simply doing the job they are designed to do, which is to benefit their shareholders.

Fossil fuel companies continue to extract oil regardless of any damage, cost to the land or the people, in places as diverse as Nigeria and the Arctic. IKEA the 3rd largest consumers of lumber in the world, continues to level forests in Siberia and Malaysia to feed Chinese mills, in order to build cheap flimsy furniture for it’s western consumer hungry market. Apple are compelled to destroy the Congo to extract “rare earth’s” all to construct the next iThingy, so first world activists can use them to organise climate change marches. Massive corporations such as Monsanto, Bayer Crop Science and DuPont wipe out bees, butterflies, birds and small farmers, while extinguishing crop diversity to control the worlds food supply. These are just a few reasons highlighting why capitalism and sustainability simply do not go together.

deforestation

Here are 4 unofficial laws of ecology and 4 laws of capitalism. It doesn’t take too much reasoning to conclude that these two sets of values are diametrically opposed;

  1. Everything is connected to everything else. Ecosystems are complex and interconnected.
  2. Everything must go somewhere. This summarises the second law of thermodynamics; in nature there is no waste, matter and energy are conserved, waste from one process is recycled in the next.
  3. Nature knows best. This proposes that any man made intervention in a natural system is likely to have a detrimental effect upon it.
  4. Nothing comes from nothing. This law offers, that the exploitation of nature always carries an ecological cost.

Now for capitalism;

  1. The only lasting connection between things is the cash nexus. Thus expressing the point that all social interactions between people and relationships of humans to nature are reduced to mere money relations. A good example of this is GDP, which is invariably used as a measure of how a nation is doing, which in effect is a sum total of financial transactions.
  2. It doesn’t matter where something goes as long as it does not return to the circuit of capital. This reflects that capitalism is linear as opposed to nature which is a circular system.
  3. The self-regulating market knows best. In capitalism the market governs all life. As an example this turns the idea that food is for nutrition into a means of earning profit, sacrificing nutritional value for bulk.
  4. Nature’s bounty is a free gift to the property owner. This proposes that ecological costs associated with the appropriation of natural resources and energy are rarely factored in to the economic equation. Marx suggested that classical liberals saw nature as a “gratuitous” gain for capital.

What drives these continued contradictions between ecology and capitalism is simple, profit. So while there may well be new sustainable forms of technology that would help to a degree the environmental problem, these decisions are made by capitalists under the system of capitalism. Thereby, the primary motivation regarding any future technology is profitability. “Big Green” supporters more accurately could be labelled “Green Capitalists” such as Bill McKibben and Al Gore, who generally suggest little more than we should leave fossil fuels in the ground. Which is of course is true, but not the entire story.

This message gives the erroneous impression that climate change is caused primarily by fossil fuel driven electrical power plants. Therefore, if we switch to renewable energy and usher in the “green new deal” (GND) we can all return to normal. The problem with this is, fossil fuel powered electricity only accounts for 17% of greenhouse gas emissions, with other big players including; industry 14.7%, transportation 14.3%, agriculture 13.6% and land use changes (primarily deforestation) 12.2%.

Alas, the GND will not be our saviour and nor will Greta Thunberg despite her recent impassioned plea. Greta’s corporate backers and her supporters from the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (NPIC) have unsurprisingly the same goal, this is not about saving the planet, but saving capitalism. As the global economy is experiencing stagnation, this movement is more interested in uncovering new financial markets. For the ruling elite, this is a golden opportunity to seize unprecedented growth and profits, estimated to be around $100 trillion. As briefly mentioned one of the main strategies to preserve capitalism is the GND.

The “green new deal” will not rescue us or the planet if it is implemented under the current system. With this in mind, let us review some of the proposals under the “green new deal” to uncover what it would consist of, it’s limitations and who would benefit from it. Firstly, for those who are unaware for whatever reason, the original “new deal” was a period of time consisting of democratic reforms and massive investment in infrastructure within the US. It began in 1933 and was designed to stabilise an economy destroyed by the “Great Depression”. Capitalism had stalled, leading to a distinct possibility of mass starvation and revolution. Millions of people were either unemployed or employed under terrible conditions.

Although this period has been romanticised by the like of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, make no mistake this was less about supporting the needs of the working class and much more about protecting capitalism. Firstly, the banks were bailed out. Sound familiar? While big business was subsidised in an effort to provide the infrastructure and backbone for the US to become a major developed capitalist nation and eventual superpower. The President of the day Franklin D Roosevelt wanted market based solutions, using the housing crisis to bolster the banks, by inventing new markets for capital, in the form of the modern mortgage system, which eventually led to the 2008 economic crash.

Of course, there were benefits for working class people, thousands of parks were built, plus museums and schools nationwide. Other notable victories were social security/unemployment insurance, however this didn’t apply to all workers unlike similar schemes in other developed nations. The payments were just enough to hold back mass starvation, but they were temporary and not distributed evenly. The whole period of the “New Deal” has been vastly exaggerated, partly to prove that transformative change can be achieved within the system of capitalism. In effect it was an elite driven project manufactured to stave off a revolution and to push the population to war, which FDR had been preparing for since about 1937.

As stated earlier, the premise of the “green new deal” is to secure the future of capitalism rather than the planet. The GND claims that it would create “green jobs” in order to kick start the economy. But the GND might not provide long term employment and could actually cause the planet lasting damage. It’s probable the GND will not provide full employment or anywhere near to it, as green production fails to completely replace non-green production. Green production could conceivably lead to wars in a desperate fight for “Green Territories”, in fact land grabs are already occurring in Africa and Latin America.

On a planet wide scale, the “global green new deal” has been proposed by the UN. We need to be mindful of who some of the collaborators are; the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). This list alone should sound alarm bells inside any mind who seeks long term sustainability on the planet. What we are witnessing is a powerful merging of multi-national corporations and the non-profit industrial complex (NPIC), who are pushing similarly to the original “New Deal” for market solutions to a deeply complex crisis.

Thunberg herself has stated that the climate strikes will continue until Sweden is aligned with the Paris Agreement. But this recommends the expansion of nuclear power, the financialisation of nature and further privatisation on an enormous scale. Technologies such as carbon capturing equipment and “sustainable investments” are seen as the way forward to ‘save’ our beleaguered planet. In 2018 Al Gore proclaimed that sustainability is history’s biggest investment opportunity, while disclosing that “climate wealth” is not for the many but rather the few.

These elite ‘opportunities’ are offered by entities such as Generation Investment, a firm who lists approximately 125 companies which they use, but offer that they are not chosen based on sustainability rather on “the quality of their business”. Some of these multinationals have terrible ethical track records and include names such as; Amazon, Colgate, Nike and Mastercard. So let us explore this “green revolution”, to figure out how it plays out in real life and uncover the winners and losers. The chosen company for this little case study is M-Kopa Solar “power for everyone”.

m-kopa solar

M-Kopa Solar is a pay per use solar power provider, in the form of solar kits that has been lauded for providing their services to impoverished African communities. Incidentally this is a company run by rich white capitalists for rich white capitalist. Countries that have been targeted up to this point are; Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. While they have been funded by such liberal luminaries including; Richard Branson and in particular Al Gore.

M-Kopa estimates that about 80% of its customers live on less than $2 per day. By 2015 M-Kopa had made $40 million (USD), but this company accrues the bulk of their money not through selling solar products, but through credit. M-Kopa charges poor Africans high interests rates for the use of their products, with even higher dividends returning back to the pockets of the rich.

Customers must pay a deposit, while paying off the rest of the loan on a daily basis. If they fail to make payments they are swiftly punished, the device can be shut off remotely meaning a loss of electricity. On a continent where 600 million people are without electricity, 300 million are without clean sanitation. What exactly is M-Kopa offering? The answer, Televisions, a 24 inch solar kit TV at an astronomical $648.88 (USD) on finance or $546.61 (USD) for cash. This for someone living on less than $2 a day is extortionate, especially when considering a similar item can be bought on Amazon for $157.99 (USD). Clearly this has less to do with providing a service, rather a plan revolving around psychopaths making money out of a shitty situation, while exploiting the most vulnerable in society, as per usual.

One of the scariest prospects in all of this is what’s called the “New Deal for Nature” which lays the foundation for payments for ecosystem services (PES). This in affect is the commodification of nature and is created by an intricate web of NGO’s and corporations, sold to us under the guise of environmental protection. The result of this is the financialisation and privatisation of all nature throughout the entire planet. Capitalism and the markets are so much in control, while being thoroughly disconnected from reality that economic growth is considered more valuable than our planetary ecosystems.

However, for all of these grand plans and schemes to materialise changes in legislation are required. NGO’s such as those already mentioned plus many others who are involved in this global scam are designed to create popular demand from the citizenry to support legislation required to benefit industry and the ruling elite, rather than the planet. This is cunningly re-packaged and named climate change solutions, while Greta Thunberg’s carefully cultivated persona is being used to manufacture consent. In this way, corporate power and the ruling elite do not have to directly impose its will on the people, we will impose it on ourselves, accepting false solutions to climate change, which are the very ideas the elite have been working on for years, all to benefit the few.

This ‘magic trick’ is performed through the idea of emotional investment. The more emotionally invested you are, the less critical and objective you become. This can be witnessed by the knee jerk reactions people are displaying when even the most mild of criticism is levelled at Greta or the movement she represents. The whole plan is to mobilise the public into emergency mode and was first presented in 2016 by “The Climate Mobilization” NGO in 2016, through a paper called, “Leading the public into emergency mode: A new strategy for the climate movement“.

Greta Thunberg’s well documented message, “I want you to act as if your house is on fire. Because it is”, was designed to encourage the public to recognise and accept there is a life threatening situation in order to go in to emergency mode. Once this occurs on global scale, it will enable the release of “a huge amount of resources toward solving the crisis”. This crisis will rapidly become the main priority for society. The whole point for “The Climate Mobilization” and psychologist founder Margaret Klein Salamon is to create something akin to “war-time mobilization”, however, rather than saving civilization which it claims as its mission, it will in truth bail out the corporatocracy.

MKS

In contrast, while we are in non-emergency mode there are clear budget restraints, with less access to capital. Effectively “emergency mode” will trigger a social and industrial revolution and the construction of a modern industrial economy. Of course, as discussed earlier certain individuals in particular regions of the globe (western corporations) will benefit more than others.

Besides leading the public down this faux activist cul de sac and re-booting capitalism, it also provides the added bonus of derailing any radical ideas regarding climate change outside of the realm of capitalism. Anyone who dares to question the gospel according to St Greta of Thunberg is considered a climate change denier, a frightened white old man, a conspiracy theorist or even prejudiced against people with autism and sometimes accused of all of the above at once. As expressed earlier, any strategy that has the protection of the planet and the people at its core while striving for sustainability, is compelled to look outside of capitalism.

As mentioned many times before, a system supporting infinite growth on a finite planet is simply impossible. To conclude, yes there is such a thing as climate change, yes it is one of the biggest challenges we face as a species and no this current pathway will not help us in the long run. To use an old English saying, “you can’t have your cake and eat it”. Meaning, we can’t continue to live in a consumer led society and expect everything will turn out rosy. Other ideas such as those put forward by Eco Socialists may prove to be of more value, especially if we really are trying to save the planet.