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Rethinking 2020: We should never forget it

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 04/01/2021 - 9:14am in

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For millions of people, 2020 was the worst of years. But it also showed humanity at its finest. At times, I find it tempting to want to wish away all memory of 2020. It was a sorrowful, depressing year. Tempting – but wrong.

It was, tragically, a year of illness, death and suffering; a year of separation, isolation and loneliness; of lost jobs and ruined livelihoods; of stress and mental strain; of drinking and domestic violence; of wariness and weariness; of the devastation of bushland, homesteads and homes.

Turn the card, however, and we see a different year – a time when humanity stepped forward at its finest.

Think of the awe-inspiring work of uncountable numbers of people in protective, helping and healing professions who risked, and sometimes gave, their lives to save others from suffering.

Firefighters as 2020 began; nurses, doctors, hospital and aged-care workers as Covid became the new threat; medical scientists who learned how to treat this baffling, new disease and those who developed vaccines at a previously unknown speed; the health department teams who worked around the clock to track and trace the spread of the disease to help bring it under control.

Think of the day-by-day heroes who worked from home while home-schooling their children; the delivery riders who risked exposure to poor weather, and perhaps to Covid 19, so that we could stay safe at home; those who went to work while governments told us it was too risky for us to do so: bus and train drivers, supermarket and pharmacy staff; garbage and recycling collectors; hospital and health staff; cleaners; cooks; police officers cast into unfamiliar roles.

Most of all think of our families and friends who helped, supported and sustained us, those who reminded us, when we lived in a society that needed reminding, that status, possessions and bank balances are not important in our lives.

Friendship, concern, compassion, kindness, dedication and love made the world go round in 2020.

If we let them do the same in the year just beginning, we can look forward to 2021 with optimism – and even hope that a better society will emerge.

A process that would be encouraged if our political and corporate gatekeepers were to push aside their Meccano-set view of society and listen to the heart that kept our society and, yes, our economy, together and ticking through the worst of the pandemic distress.

Things you learn along the way

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 27/12/2020 - 5:50am in

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Occasionally friends suggest to me that I should write my autobiography.  Ruefully I explain that I wrote ‘Things you learn along the way’ 20 years ago. The book sold about 8,000 copies but as far as I know is no longer available. 

The book covers many aspects of my life: The early days as a footloose son of the Methodist manse;  seven years in the ‘wilderness’ working for Gough Whitlam in Opposition;  working for Rupert Murdoch in his better days;  Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet to both Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser, including the Dismissal;  enjoyable family days in Japan as Ambassador;  the most meaningful job of my life as Secretary of the Immigration Department during the Indochina Refugee Program;  and a few years at Qantas where I found that Directors and my views were not necessarily the same.

See link below if you are interested in reading.  (link also on home page ‘about John Menadue’.)

‘Things you learn along the way’.

2020: a year in review for Pearls and Irritations

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/12/2020 - 6:30am in

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Despite the turmoil of 2020, Pearls and Irritations almost tripled in size. Perhaps 2020 was a year where independent comment and analysis was needed and appreciated more than most.

Monthly readership has grown from roughly 140,000 page views this time last year to more than 300,000 this past month.

This equates to an audience of almost 100,000 individual readers turning to Pearls and Irritations every month. This is up from roughly 35,000 last year.

Our growth as a community and a platform has seen a steady stream of highly appreciated writers join the ranks of our established authors. We have also been met with growing attention from the major news outlets in terms of mentions.

P&I has even had the honour of being translated by the Chinese publication Reference News, though perhaps the translation, Pearls and Stimulations, leaves a little to be desired!

On any given week you can find up to six people working to deliver P&I’s daily offerings and keep all the balls in the air. We are all astonished that John and Susie were able to forge ahead for so many years on their own.

2020 has been a most trying, yet wonderful, year, and we on the Pearls and Irritations team are honoured and astonished to be a part of this community. Built on the values of resilience and truth, I think P&I community is best summed up by an old saying of John’s: “Don’t complain. Do something about it.”

We look forward to next year and all that it may bring. Thank you to all readers and supporters of P&I and best wishes for a peaceful holiday break.

There will be no posts from December 25 – 27. However, we have prepared some enjoyable reading for the holiday period.

Worse Than Betsy DeVos: Outside Money Swamps 2020 School Board Elections

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 15/12/2020 - 11:00pm in

Photo Credit: hxdbzxy/Shutterstock.com When a Biden victory in the 2020 presidential election became certain, supporters of public education gleefully took...

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That’s all she wrote

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 02/12/2020 - 5:59am in

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I never thought I’d say it, but I can no longer go on working.

It takes all my effort to breathe and I’m not managing that too well. And now my mind is getting wobbly – hard to think, let alone concentrate.

So I am afraid there is not much point in continuing to push the rock up the hill. I shall retire to my Lazy Boy recliner and doze over the television watching (or not) old sporting replays, propped up by drugs, oxygen, and the occasional iced coffee. I am rapidly winding down

I am sorry to cut and run — it has sometimes been a hairy career, but I hope a productive one and always fun. My gratitude for all your participation.

So a seasonal Hallmark message:

Christmas is coming and Australia is flat

Kindly tell us ScoMo where the bloody hell we’re at.

And when we’re certain that you know that you don’t haven’t got a clue

Then join in our Yuletide chorus as we sing: FUCK YOU!

Thank you and good night.

Cheers, Mungo.

Something to think about other than that election

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 15/11/2020 - 5:54am in

In the past 75 years, there have been two authors who have profoundly demonstrated the effects when language is mangled and distorted and, conversely, how to write clearly and powerfully.

Now both of them are dead. George Orwell is the obvious first but Harry (AKA Sir Harold) Evans has also been important.

Orwell’s essay, Politics and the English Language, was a compelling dissection of how the corruption of language is a key part of the corruption of political processes. It is as relevant in the 21st century when democracy is under threat again as it was in the 20th age of dictators.

Orwell’s advice on clear writing was simple: never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print; never use a long word where a short one will do; if it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out; never use the passive where you can use the active; never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent; and, break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.

Writing in the 21st century the FT journalist, Lucy Kellaway, turned Orwell on his head to describe much business and managerialist speak as ‘fluent in flannel: a guide to mastering the method’ which produces claptrap.

Her guide’s rules to being fluent in flannel are: never use a short word when a long will do; everyday euphemisms are the way forward; disregard the grammar you learned at school; there is no such thing as too much emotion; if you produce something simple, rebrand it so no-one will know what it is; do not limit yourself to words that are in the dictionary; there is no such thing as too much metaphor and cliché in one sentence; and, ignore rule number one.

If the last is confusing just think of all those people who use short well-known words but with a totally different meaning.

Harry Evans was a brilliant Sunday Times and Times editor before falling out with Rupert Murdoch after which he went to New York and achieved a very successful publishing career. He died in September aged 92.

He was one of the great editors in both senses of the word and published the definitive books on newspaper style and editing and writing including Editing and Design: A Five-Volume Manual of English, Typography and Layout (1972); Essential English for Journalists, Editors and Writers (1972); Newsman’s English (1972); Newspaper Design (1973); Editing and Design (1974); Handling Newspaper Text (1974); and, News Headlines (1974).

The ‘Newsman’ titles are uncomfortable for modern readers but the reality 50 years ago was that there were few to no females on sub-editing desks. Some of it is no longer relevant to a digital media era but all of it is relevant to anyone wanting to write clear, effective prose.

A simple Evans’ example epitomises his approach. Someone wants to open a fish shop and is thinking about the sign he wants to put on the shop. His first idea is ‘fresh fish sold here’. Evans says the response should be as follows: drop the ‘fresh’ because you would hardly be selling fish that wasn’t fresh; drop the ‘here’ because there’s fish in the window; and, drop the sold because it’s obviously a shop.

His last book Do I make Myself Clear? was published in 2017. It ranges widely and the first line is appropriate: “The year 2016 was the seventh anniversary of George Orwell’s classic polemic Politics and the English Language indicting bad English for corrupting thought and slovenly thought for corrupting language.”

Evans’ book ranges over basics: how to fix your ugly over-burdened sentences; how to avoid zombie words and pleonasms; rigorous focus on meaning; how to tell both long and short stories; ugly contortions to evade responsibility such as ‘steps were taken’ and other passive formulations and deflective devices; why much writing about money is so bad and so misleading; and, to illustrate it all he includes a number of case studies where he cites particular texts and then demonstrates how they could be edited to make them clearer and more effective.

Evans might have approved of the punctuation in the last sentence, but not of its length or structure.

In perhaps the most valuable chapter – Ten Shortcuts to Making Yourself Clear – he effectively follows Orwell’s advice, but also provides examples of writing sins and then shows how the sins can be remedied.

The first shortcut – Get Moving – focuses on active and passive voice constructions but outlines exceptions to the subject, verb, object approach to writing. They are: when the doer of an action is unknown; when the receiver of the action merits more prominence than the doer (a rhinoceros ran over Donald Trump today); when the doer of the action is known but tact or cowardice imposes reticence (legal inhibitions or the pussy-footing passive are examples of this); when the length of the subject delays the verb’s entrance; and, when the active voice creates ambiguity.

Other shortcuts focus on rationing adjectives and adverbs; cutting fat and checking figures; organising for clarity; being positive; avoiding being boring; putting people first; avoiding circumlocutory propositions; and ‘monologophobia’.

The last was coined by Theodore Bernstein a New York Times assistant managing editor. He defined a monologophobe as “a guy who would rather walk naked in front of Saks Fifth Avenue than be caught using the same word twice in three lines.”

The book concludes with a quote from Sir William Haley, a former Times editor, who said: “There are things which are bad and false and ugly and no amount of specious casuistry will make them good true or beautiful.”

To that, Evans added: “the fog that envelops English is not just a question of good taste, style, and aesthetics. It is a moral issue.”

……which of course brings us right back to that election again.

Noel Turnbull is retired and blogs at http://noelturnbull.com/blog/

Let’s honor YSI’s outgoing coordinators!

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/09/2020 - 12:50am in

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We are so grateful to YSI’s outgoing coordinators! They were the first ever cohort, and they made the community into what it is today. Let’s acknowledge their invaluable contributions and celebrate their next moves! Take a look at their warmest memories, best advice, and what they’re up to now. Please join us in thanking them, and keep an eye out for them in the future! They might be a young mentor soon. Written by Mariana Campos Pastrana

Africa

Richard Itaman  | For Richard Itaman, YSI’s ongoing commitment to highlighting African scholars remains an important pillar of our community. Attending the Decolonizing Economics conference in South Africa and the  Economic Transformation and History of Economic Thought conference in Nigeria made him proud as he witnessed the brilliance of young African scholars being showcased at both events. We’re just as proud of Richard!

Ushehwedu Kufakurinani | Let’s say thanks to Ushe! The Zimbabwean scholar lists the Africa Convening hosted in his city, Harare, as one of his favorite memories as coordinator for the Africa working group. His advice to new members, “your response is key to your destiny. Participation is key to reaping maximum benefits.” We appreciate all the love Ushe has poured into our community.

Tinashe Nyamunda | For Tinahse, helping other young scholars has been a big motivation for his work. As coordinator, Tinashe has helped grow YSI’s membership in Africa significantly. If he had one piece of advice for new members, it’s to remember how your work will help others in theirs. We wish Tinashe good luck in all that’s ahead!

Alden Young | As coordinator, Alden organized multiple events in Africa, including the continent’s first big YSI conference at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Alden has just been appointed as a Senior Assistant Professor at UCLA in a joint appointment between the African American Studies Department and the International Development Studies department. The latter was inspired by his work with YSI! We are so happy for Alden.

Behavior and Society

Malte Dold | The ability to exchange ideas with other young scholars around the world opened Malte’s eyes to the many ways in which economic research can be conducted and was liberating for him as he gained new creative tools to perform his research. Malte believes that YSI has the power to change how economics is taught. The next step in his journey is to join the Economics department at Pomona College as an Assistant Professor. Congrats Malte!

Gerçek Çiçek | Gerçek is the true embodiment of YSI’s interdisciplinary spirit. She completed her Ph.D. in Economics at Istanbul Technical University while simultaneously doing a second master’s in Neuroscience. Her goal is to use Cognitive Neuroscience to redefine Microeconomics decision-making models so that they reflect real people and real life. We wish Gerçek nothing but the best!

Complexity Economics

Mary Kaltenberg | Mary’s biggest piece of advice for YSI newbies is to get involved in projects you are passionate about so that you can learn from scholars at all stages of their research and expand your global network. Mary will soon be starting as Assistant Professor at Pace University. Good luck, Mary, your students will be lucky to have you!

Danilo Spinola | Danilo’s biggest advice for new YSI’ers is to think of the community as a part of yourself, and of yourself as a part of the community. In YSI, there is no trade-off between the individual or the group. It’s simple – if the community thrives, the individual develops. Get involved and immersed in this organization and see where the magic takes you. We know Danilo will make magic happen! 

Johannes Tiemer | In 2012, Johannes joined YSI’s first-ever reading group on Alan Kirman’s “Complex Economics.” Together with two others, he ended up attending all the sessions, and the three became the coordinators for Complexity Economics; the first-ever YSI topical working group! Through his time at YSI, Johannes has enjoyed grappling with the big questions in society, for which there are no simple answers. His advice for new members is to remember that the work might be difficult at times, and that is ok. Now that’s a piece of good advice.

Nils Rochowicz | Nils has enjoyed seeing how YSI and its members have grown together. Members from way back are now professors, and able to mentor the newer young scholars coming in. It’s a beautiful thing to see people come in, find their way, and then grow to guide others.  Nils is now based at the University of Oxford. They’re lucky to have you, Nils!

Economic Development

Collin Constantine | “Stay hungry, stay foolish,” says Collin. This outgoing coordinator continues to push boundaries and paradigms and advises all newbies to YSI to do the same! His time with the Economic Development working group pushed his research agenda towards the direction of inequality and critical institutional economics. The next step in his journey sees him starting as a Lecturer with the Faculty of Economics at the University of Cambridge. We’re so proud!

Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven | The ability to meet people from all corners of the world with similar interests was one of the highlights for Ingrid in her time as coordinator. YSI almost became like a second degree for her because the debates she organized and participated in influenced her research and thinking a lot. Even though she may no longer be a coordinator, she continues to collaborate with fellow YSI members. We’re so grateful for that!

Jenny Tue Anh Nguyen | As coordinator for the Economic Development working group, Jenny’s interest took her to projects on energy policy, public services, World Bank loans, structural reforms, and economic growth, to name a few. She shaped YSI with unbounded energy, strengthening the community’s reach with the Asia Regional Convening in her native Vietnam! We are so grateful to Jenny, and thrilled for what she’ll do next.

Economics of Innovation

Besiana Balla | Besiana is one of the co-founders of the Economics of Innovation working group, which launched in 2014! Since then, she’s helped the group grow and flourish. Currently serving the innovative start-up world from Berlin, Besiana continues to advance the field of economics, not in the least by promoting diversity and representation in the field via D-Econ. We’re rooting for you, Besiana!

Olga Mikheeva | Olga’s interests lie in governance of innovation policies, financing thereof and financial bureaucracy; comparative financial history and financing of development; national political economy of finance. Currently a Research Fellow in Public Banking at the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, we wish Olga all the best!

Laurène Tran | Laurène is one of the founding members of the Economics of Innovation working group. She is now Executive Director of ACTIVE, a trade association that advocates for policies around broader access to cannabinoids. Laurene enjoys building communities and launching new ventures, which she certainly helped us with at YSI in her time as a coordinator. We are so thankful for all of her hard work!

Economic History

Peter Bent | Through his time in YSI, Peter Bent has built many great friendships with people from all over the world. Seeing all the work people put into organizing events, and seeing new connections and projects come out of that has been so inspiring, he says. Peter will soon be starting as an Assistant Professor of Economics at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. We’re so thrilled for that new chapter!

Marc C. Adam | Marc’s favorite thing in YSI? The bright young scholars with full hearts. Marc has experienced the community as a group of friendly and tolerant individuals who welcome new members as they are to learn and grow with YSI. We’re so thankful for all that Marc has done!

Laura de la Villa | Laura served as coordinator for the Economic History group, but holds diverse interests within economics, including financial history, sovereign debt, capital markets, political economy, and law and globalization. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the Paul Bairoch Institute for Economic History at the University of Geneva. We wish her all the best!

Finance, Law, and Economics

Aleksandar Stojanovic | Looking back on his time as coordinator, Sasa points out that “we’re all embedded in one mainstream or another that can lull our curiosities to sleep; YSI is the best antidote to that.” We can’t agree more and are grateful to Sasa for having shaped the FLE group with that approach.  He’s just begun teaching at NYU in Shanghai – congratulations!

Maria Cecilia del Barrio Arleo | When we asked Maria Cecilia what her favorite YSI memory was, she said she’d have to pick the unofficial YSI party at an Edinburgh pub. Members had seemingly endless conversations about their working groups while drinking cold beer. So what’s next? Maria Cecilia will be stepping into the 2020 European Central Bank graduate program this month. Amazing!

Financial Stability

Céline Tcheng | “I owe YSI my whole intellectual growth in Economics and Finance,” says Céline. When she was studying for her masters in economics, she explains, the content in her program left her underwhelmed and left her second-guessing her interest in the field; it was a crisis of faith. But joining YSI opened her eyes to a whole new world of economic thought and reconciled her with economics. We’re so glad we found you, Céline!

Miriam Oliveira | Miriam is grateful that YSI has connected her with an open community of scholars. The teaching of economics has a long way to go, but YSI is filling the gap for a whole generation of new thinkers. With a Ph.D. in Economics from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), and experience in financial stability, macroeconomics, and macroprudential policy, we can’t wait to see where she’ll go next! 

Gender and Economics

Erica Aloe | Recent PhD grad, Erica, feels proud to have been a part of YSI’s mission. She credits the community with having helped her grow her academic network, and encourages all members to participate in activities, to ask questions, and to get involved! We wish Erica amazing things for the future!

Giulia Porino | Being surrounded by scholars with similar research interests helped Giulia feel supported and understood, even on the days she was struggling. YSI always helped her find the motivation to come back to her research with a renewed sense of energy and determination, she explains. “Its a support network that I feel lucky to call my friends.” We feel lucky to have you, Giulia!

Giulia Zacchia | Giulia still remembers the nerves she felt ahead of the YSI Plenary in 2016 when she was tasked to represent the Gender and Economics Working Group. She was worried about the ability to attract young scholars and researchers interested in feminist economics within a YSI framework. But as soon as the meeting started, pride took over. The room was packed with scholars ready to discuss! It proved to her that nothing is impossible if you believe in your ideas. So true!

History of Economic Thought

Jérôme Lange | As a young scholar interested in the History of Economic Thought, Jérôme felt isolated and noticed that other scholars in the field did as well. He realized that they struggled to receive support from their home institutions to conduct research. This motivated him to get together with scholars in similar situations, and he became the first coordinator for the History of Economic Thought Working Group. We wish him well in all that’s to come!

Juan Acosta | The biggest piece of advice that outgoing coordinator Juan has for new YSI members is to get involved in organizing events for your working group. “It’s such an enriching experience, he says. “You’ll learn a lot while helping out other young scholars at the same time.” We’re grateful to Juan and all he’s done for YSI.

Inequality

Tahnee Ooms | Tahnee Ooms is proud to be part of a community that has been able to bring together scholars and mentors from all over the world to learn from each other. Her advice to the rest of the community is to meet as many scholars as possible and learn from the different perspectives YSI has to offer while identifying your own biases. Tahnee is now based at the London School of Economics. They’re lucky to have you, Tahnee!

Keynesian Economics

Guilherme Magacho | Guilherme Magacho’s favorite memory was being able to build bridges between distinct economic views and learning from people from different nationalities, with different backgrounds and perspectives. For Guilherme (and YSI!) this was a crucial way to develop new economic thinking. We’re excited to see how Guilherme will spread that approach in the rest of his career!

Rafael Ribeiro | Rafael is currently a professor at the Faculty of Economics at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil. His research interests are in growth theory, income distribution, fiscal and monetary dynamics, dynamical systems, and empirical modeling. We wish Rafael the best in his future endeavors!

Latin America

Julia Torracca | Julia feels grateful to be a part of a community that is made up of members from so many different backgrounds, hailing from all corners of the globe. In her time at YSI, it became clear that having a diverse community fosters stronger learning. We’re so excited for what she’ll do next!

Daniel Munevar | Daniel is a post-Keynesian economist who hails from Bogota, Colombia. He is the former advisor to Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Vorufakis, advising him on fiscal policy and debt sustainability. He is currently based at Uppsala University in Sweden and we wish him all the best!

Political Economy of Europe

Francesco Nicoli | Francesco encourages young scholars to use YSI as a way to facilitate joint research. For him, there is great value in having a community with which to exchange views and co-produce scientific work. Francesco is now based at the University of Ghent; we wish him only the best! 

Philosophy of Economics

Melissa Vergara Fernandez | For Melissa, there are too many favorite memories to just pick one. But all of them revolve around the people she met in YSI. “It’s a project with heart,” she says. Melissa is currently based at Erasmus University Rotterdam as a Postdoctoral Researcher. We wish her only the best!

Mads Vestergaard | For a lot of us, our time in YSI inspires the research we do. Mads was inspired to explore the ways in which ideology fuels economics, and how that may be criticized. Now that he is moving on from his time as a YSI coordinator, he is shifting his focus away from academia and towards art projects and philosophical writing– a truly multidisciplinary approach. We can’t wait to see what comes out!

States and Markets

Cecilia Rikap | Cecilia Rikap became a coordinator soon after completing her Ph.D., which coincided with a challenging time in her career to reformulate research questions. All the YSI events she participated in this time balanced the need to be a generalist and a specialist, which inspired her to reorient her research and focus on why she originally became an economist, which was to understand and transform capitalism. We know Cecilia can move mountains!

Urban and Regional Economics

Igor Tupy | Igor is currently an Associate Professor at the Federal University of Viçosa, UFV in Brazil. His interests are in Urban and Regional Economics and Post-Keynesian perspective with a focus on the regional impact of crises and the role of money and finance on regional economic resilience. We are so excited to see what Igor does next!

Jakob Sparn | “Seeing so many people coming together and sharing ideas in a very inclusive and caring way was truly inspiring and moving,” said Jakob of the YSI Latin America Regional Convening. If the outgoing coordinator could have one piece of advice for new members to the community, it’s to soak up as much as you can from your time at YSI. Good luck with all that’s to come, Jakob!

Renan Almeida | Renan was one of the founders of the Urban and Regional Economics working group and in his time as coordinator, he was involved in lots of YSI events around the world, ranging from Budapest, Sao Paulo, Edinburgh, and Los Angeles to Belo Horizonte, Buenos Aires, and Washington DC. He is currently a Professor of Economics at the UFSJ in Brazil. Thank you for all your hard work Renan!

Curious who the next cohort will be? Meet them here!

The post Let’s honor YSI’s outgoing coordinators! appeared first on Economic Questions.

There’s No Time Left Not To Do Everything

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 15/09/2020 - 11:36am in

‘Does anyone here think that’s actually going to happen?’ 

We’d just spent two days at the National Climate Emergency Summit in Melbourne in February, discussing the need for governments to declare a climate emergency and act on it. This was after the horrific summer of fires and smoke, but before we realised that a pandemic was on its way, and before the murder of George Floyd and the explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement. There had, over the weekend, been vociferous discussions about the need for climate emergency action, what such action might look like, and to what extent emergency declarations might be anti-democratic, inequitable and otherwise problematic, with a worrying lack of concern by some of the speakers about that last question. 

I was speaking on a panel about citizen action, arguing for a focus on community-building projects that construct grassroots democracy as a critical path to urgent and deep climate action. The question was put to me, as it often is: ‘Do we have time for the deep change you’re talking about? Isn’t it too late? Don’t we just need governments to declare an emergency and get on with it?’ 

So, perhaps a bit heatedly, I put it to the room: ‘Does anyone here think that’s actually going to happen?’ Does anyone think that there is any realistic chance that the current federal government, or the next one, will actually declare a climate emergency and act on it with the seriousness and urgency that that requires? 

There was a bit of nervous tittering. One or two shouts of ‘No!’ Not a single person raised their hand. Among the 250 or so passionate climate activists in the room, nobody—not even the questioner—said yes. 

Afterwards, I chatted with people who had a sense of flailing desperation in their eyes. I’ve seen the same desperation in the eyes of numerous people leaving the huge School Strike for Climate rallies, inspired by the event and the turnout, but hearing already the rejection from government and alternative government, and not knowing what to do next. It’s the same desperation I saw among so many after last year’s federal election. ‘But we have so little time.’ ‘We’ve missed another opportunity.’ ‘Another few years will go past with nothing to show.’ 

We don’t have time any more to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We don’t have time not to rewrite the rules. We don’t have time not to change everything. 

*** 

Australians, or at least most of us, like to think of our democratic systems as robust. In a country that prides itself on larrikinism and counts Ned Kelly among its cultural heroes, it’s perhaps odd how much we seem to trust authority. Until 2007, confidence in Australia’s democratic systems was astonishingly high, floating around 80 per cent. After a plunge in confidence matching global trends over the next decade to a low of 30 per cent in 2019, trust has risen dramatically in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching 54 per cent for the federal government and far higher for some state governments. When times are scary, it seems we might be willing to invest our trust in those in power to do what’s right to keep us safe. At least at first. As a second wave of the pandemic arrives, there are signs that that trust is weak. There has been a return to the panic buying that, alongside a swift rise in mutual aid, revealed the lack of trust that characterised the early stages of the first wave. 

Of course, as a settler-colonial nation built on the genocide of the continent’s original inhabitants, it’s fair to say that our democratic systems have always been, at best, incomplete, exclusive and fragile. Despite hard-won reforms expanding the franchise—to women ahead of most of the world, to Indigenous people horrifyingly late—structural inequities and systems of entrenched power that undermine that franchise have always lurked beneath the surface, occasionally becoming visible. The lockdown of public housing flats with armed police ahead of broader quarantine measures in Melbourne, and the role of the aptly named Neville Power in facilitating his own private profit through a federal ‘gas-led recovery’, are recent examples. 

But it’s worse than that. For some time now, around the world, democracies have been quite directly under attack and various forms of authoritarianism on the rise. In countries such as Hungary and Poland, the step away from democracy is explicit. In Australia, suppression and criminalisation of protest and advocacy, prosecution of whistle-blowers, raiding of media organisations, and corporate capture of political parties and regulatory processes are the tip of the iceberg. The situation for First Nations people, refugees, culturally and linguistically diverse and gender diverse communities, and the ever-expanding group of unemployed and working poor is far worse than for the well-to-do dominant minority. But we share a common, dark future if we fail to address this very rapidly. Because we have to introduce the failure to address the climate crisis into this picture. And when we do, entangling power, inequality and ecology, two things become clear. 

Firstly, our current democratic institutions and norms are simply incapable of tackling the immense, overwhelming and interconnected crises we face. 

It’s not just that we haven’t yet succeeded. It’s not that we need to fight harder, shout louder, to convince those in power to act, on the climate crisis, on Aboriginal deaths in custody, on intimate-partner violence, on economic inequality and on so much more. The systems we are working within are built on, and structured so as to enforce and buttress, the fundamental interlinked inequities—capitalism, patriarchy, colonialism, resource extractivism—that are the cause of these crises. As such, they cannot enable the solutions—certainly not in the time frame we have. The interplay between the major parliamentary players, the executive government, the media, and corporate power, as well as the adversarial system itself and the culture of our politics—the common sense of our political discourse—make the necessary changes inconceivable. 

It has ever been thus, in the modern world at least. But here’s the kicker, at this particular historical moment: these systems are spectacularly ill-suited to enabling human survival in the far less hospitable world that they have created. 

In the years ahead, as climate disruption worsens, as ecological collapse introduces more pandemics into human society, as food supplies teeter, as desperate governments lean more towards authoritarianism to hold onto control, political systems based on adversarialism, individualism, narrow efficiency, the primacy of money, and brute force will only increase the chaos. They only make human extinction, taking with us so much of the precious and beautiful diversity of life on this planet, more likely. What we will need is more networks of support, more social cohesion, more layers of redundancy, so that when one safety net fails another several remain, and more cooperation and generosity—all aspects of society that are currently unvalued, indeed erased, by our political norms and institutions. 

In order to both turn around ecological collapse and generate the collective resilience that our societies need to survive and thrive in the decades ahead, we need to cultivate new democratic norms and institutions, based on the principles of ecology itself. We need to cultivate complex, adaptive political systems, embracing interdependence, appreciation for diversity, and the certainty of change, turning our adversarial, antagonistic, gladiatorial politics into a space for agonistic, deliberative, creative discussion. And we need to grow it from the grassroots up, pushing through cracks in the pavement, sprouting from the trunks of rotting trees, ready to flourish as the monocultures break up and the old edifices come tumbling down. 

*** 

This situation raises vital questions for environmental and social campaigning organisations, and for Greens parties worldwide. We have all, throughout our history, had a complex and ambivalent relationship with the existing democratic systems that have continued to facilitate massive environmental destruction, ongoing abuses of power, and increasing inequality. From the earliest days, the Greens’ place in parliaments has been a strained one, pulling between advocacy and negotiation, legislative amendments and deep change, revolutionising the system and reforming policy. Greens parties have always trodden a delicate line, critiquing the system while operating inside it. Similarly, there’s been a constant tension among, between and inside campaigning groups of all kinds. This is often characterised as choosing between being inside the tent or outside it. But, of course, where you see the walls of the tent is very much in the eye of the beholder. The most inside-game campaigners are still kept away from the true inner sanctums of power. And, problematically, the most outside-game activists are still playing inside the tent of the system itself. 

Climate campaigning has already evolved substantially over the past two decades, from very instrumentalist activities aimed at directly lobbying governments and corporations to change specific policies into a more sophisticated social-change movement, interweaving its demands with broader efforts towards social, economic and racial justice. Imperfectly, of course. But the progress has been tremendous. Nevertheless, at essentially every level, it is still aimed at asking governments and corporations to act—even if it is framed as ‘building a mass movement’ to ‘demand’ action. The movement still operates within a supplicant politics, seeking to build the maximum possible influence over those with the real power. The same could be said of Greens campaigning and advocacy, which, while presenting the option of voting Green as an alternative, tend to fall back on demands for governments to act, for oppositions to change policy, for those in power to work with us towards change. 

When we know that this won’t happen, as all those in our citizen-activism panel recognised, and as so many attending rallies and campaigning at elections realise, this is an inherently self-defeating and demotivating approach. It can even be dangerous. 

For example, currently, ‘climate emergency’ campaigns targeting governments at various levels, and often using ‘war mobilisation’ language, are seemingly blithely unconcerned that the standard response from government at times of declared emergency is to suspend democracy. If we give credence to the idea of governments declaring emergency, do we realise what we’re opening the door to? Yes, in fact, we do. At February’s National Climate Emergency Summit, more than one keynote speaker, from a position of immense privilege, explicitly stated that this was a Faustian bargain that they were willing to make. Other speakers, and many attendees, pushed back hard against that view. But, if that type of emergency action isn’t what we want, what do we want? And how do we intend to achieve it through a government-declared emergency? 

At the same time, Extinction Rebellion has arrived with the explicit goal of disrupting the status quo so deeply as to trigger crisis. The absence, however, of a concept of what might follow that crisis beyond an undefined proposal for a citizens’ assembly should scare us in the same way that government-led emergency declarations should. In the paraphrased words of one of the most important philosophers of political change, Antonio Gramsci, ‘when the old world is dying and the new is struggling to be born, there will be monsters’. If we aren’t actively building the new institutions to replace the old ones, the answer is ready and waiting for us: authoritarianism. A brief glance at the Queensland (Labor) government’s response to Extinction Rebellion (introducing new laws to suppress protest) and the Victorian (Labor) government’s response to protests at the International Mining and Resources Conference (sending in mounted riot police to clear the way for mining executives) shows how real that danger is. 

Meanwhile, many are mobilising around ‘3.5 per cent’, a figure drawn from Erica Chenoweth’s research, as the proportion of a population needed to reach a tipping point that forces change.1 But the number is quoted, generally, within a goal of driving policy change, when in fact it’s the threshold Chenoweth and colleagues identified as necessary for overthrowing oppressive regimes. Which is our goal? What change are we mobilising for? 

The rapid growth of Extinction Rebellion, long-term sustainability activist Michael Mobbs’ declaration of survivalism,2 and the desperation in the voices of school strikers all reveal a community searching for answers, seeking a way forward, and finding precious little in contemporary politics and activism to give them real hope. 

There is, however, a tremendous amount to give us hope. And it can be seen in the extraordinary and exciting experiments with different forms of collective organising, innovations and rebirth of old forms of democracy, across the globe over the past decade, as confidence and trust in existing democratic forms has collapsed. From Zuccotti Park to Syntagma Square, from Barcelona en Comú to London’s Participatory City, citizen-led, grassroots democracy has taken root and sprouted. From the Next Economy bringing communities in coal regions together to imagine a different future to Voices for Indi building a new constituency for progressive politics in regional Victoria, from the growth of neighbourhood sharing groups and repair cafes to the advent of welcome dinners for refugees, people around the globe craving community cohesion are refusing to wait for someone else to do it. In 2019 we saw massive pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, Chile and Lebanon. In 2020, with the arrival of the pandemic, we saw an explosion of mutual-aid projects, as communities chose not to wait for government to act but to take matters into their own hands and support each other collectively. And then, following the police murder of George Floyd, millions of people around the world became aware of the reality of community protection as the idea of defunding the police took hold. 

In this context, continuing a supplicant politics, where we beg or demand of governments that they act, is both destined to fail and underplaying our hand. At this moment in history, with the pandemic forcing social, economic and political changes unlike anything any of us have ever seen, with the rise of extreme right anti-politics, and with the failures of the current system exposed for all to see, we urgently need to consider this relationship afresh. While, of course, the urgency is such that we must keep constant pressure on all actors, our strategic goals should reach far beyond such pressure and into cultivating the new democratic systems and institutions we need in order to survive and thrive—grassroots-driven, multilayered, polycentric institutions based on ecological principles of interconnection, diversity, flexibility, and the recognition that we are all part of and entirely reliant on the natural world. 

Looked at in this light, we could embrace this terrifying moment as an opportunity to evolve our campaigning and advocacy towards cultivating deep, regenerative democracy that will benefit all of us and all of our causes together. 

*** 

The centralised, dominance-based, adversarialist power structures of our current system, in government, business and civil society, and in the relationships between them, are the heart of the problem. Through them, we can only see power, like everything else in our late-capitalist world, as linear, as transactional, as a zero-sum game. Within this world view, the only option for those seeking social change is to organise as supplicants, to build influence over those in power, or occasionally seek to change who holds this power. While there is a temptation for those seeking change to attempt to take control of centralised power to drive swift transformation, the structure of that power makes that impossible. In addition, in the highly unlikely event of success in taking control, the exercise of such power is deeply problematic, and unhelpful in the task of enabling survival. 

One of the reasons campaigning organisations and the Greens have always been ambivalent about involvement in existing political institutions is that we are sceptical of dominance-based power and of adversarialism. The principle of grassroots democracy that underpins modern environmentalism, and the (not always successful) practice of consensus decision-making that much of the movement works with, means that we seek to practise power very differently, emphasising cooperative and creative modes of ‘power with’ and ‘power to’ rather than ‘power over’. 

It is ironic, then, that our campaigning and advocacy have a tendency to emphasise the existing model. When we demand action of governments and ask people to demand action with us, we are effectively buttressing the dominance-based power structures. This is both a structural process of effectively abdicating our own power and also a values-based process, emphasising dominance over cooperation. 

But we don’t have to accept and abide by that model of power. Like everything else in our ecological world, power operates at many levels, in different ways, intersecting and interwoven, sometimes mutually reinforcing and sometimes in cross-currents. Power both inhabits and determines the structures of the system. Only by changing power can we change the system. 

It was Gramsci who developed the idea of hegemony—world-defining power—as a combination of institutional power and cultural power. Control of institutions (parliaments, executive government, media, the economy) exists in interplay with control of the common sense—shared understandings of how the world should be. If those who hold the institutional reins lose control of the world-shaping narratives, the whole edifice can disintegrate. 

From our historical vantage point, we might add another layer: an extra-human layer of ecological power. When human powers reach ecological limits, both cultural and institutional power begin to crumble. 

Welcome to 2020. 

Ecological reality is making itself felt, with fire, flood and plague. The common sense of capitalism—that the invisible hand of the market will take care of things if we all follow our own self-interest; that eternal growth on a finite planet is possible; that we are separate from and superior to the natural world; that we are all individuals and there is no such thing as society—cannot withstand that reality. Those whose power depends on that common sense are holding onto their institutional power as hard as they can, while also scrambling to adapt to an emerging, new common sense. 

In this context, the true struggle is between those who want ‘power over’ others and those who seek ‘power to’ effect change for a better world. 

*** 

Although the citizens’ assembly demand of Extinction Rebellion remains largely unexplained and unexplored, its presence in the discourse provides an opportunity. It’s the first pointer to the climate movement embracing the radically different, citizen-led politics that is growing around the globe, involving the active participation of the people in determining our own common future. 

Citizens’ assemblies are not, of course, the beginning and end of the story. A true citizen-led approach encompasses a wide array of projects that involve living more sustainably and cultivating social cohesion and social justice while not just building political power but distributing power as widely as possible. In essence, it aims to pivot the broad but shallow community mobilisation around specific goals that environmental and social movements and the Greens have become experts at into deep, community-building projects. What’s the difference? 

Sophia Burns, in a 2018 blog about social organising after Trump’s election, wrote: 

It begins with dropping conventional activism and finding ways to build institutions that can weave into working and unemployed people’s daily lives. It begins with taking on small projects that win credibility and expand capacity (then using that expanded credibility and capacity to take on larger and more daring projects, repeating the cycle and growing a base). It begins with strategy.3 

Community mobilising primarily sees Greens and campaigning organisations reaching out to large numbers of community members, by email or social media or at their doorsteps, and asking them to vote for us, or to back our calls for governments to take certain actions. Everybody involved knows that, while we might get occasional discrete wins, our chances of delivering the necessary deep changes are vanishingly small. This can risk contributing to disenchantment, making it ever harder for us to engage people in our campaigns. It also adds to the already high levels of climate anxiety and depression, as people lose still more hope. In addition, with these campaigns often being inherently adversarial, it drives us further apart from one another. 

In real terms, right now, in the context of the arrival of the era of climate consequences, this style of community mobilising won’t help us succeed, and it won’t help us survive. Community building just might help us succeed, and it will definitely help us survive. 

Community building creates hope for people by actively involving them in building our common future together. Instead of recruiting people to our ‘mass movement’ to ‘demand’ policy change, failing to get that change, and having to reach out again to ask for the next thing, community building recruits people to get involved long term in fun, creative, mutually beneficial activities, projects that make people’s lives better while also benefiting the community and the environment. It then, subtly and gently, cultivates those separate and diverse projects as the seeds of a new set of democratic institutions, grown from the grassroots up. 

For some, it might start with walking school buses or local ‘last-mile’ transport initiatives that help elderly people get their groceries; the introduction for others might be community gardens or communal food preparation, with meals set aside for struggling members of the community; it might be repair cafes or renewable-energy co-ops, dinner discussion forums, nonviolent direct-action groups, or formal citizens’ assemblies that bring another group of people in. Professional groups might be involved by imposing green bans, residents by converting streets to parks, or groups of small businesses by establishing a local non-monetary currency. The projects could be interlinked in appropriate ways with Indigenous, refugee and multicultural groups, sports associations, community arts projects and much more. All these diverse, grassroots, citizen-led projects might overlap with party branch meetings or meetings coordinated by established campaigning organisation, or they might be at arm’s length or entirely separate. Over time, with the right approach, they will combine, cohere and intertwine to form new, deeper, longer-lasting forms of power. 

Because people enjoy being active participants, they stay involved, are willing to commit more to political and electoral campaigns, and become effective ambassadors. If their electoral campaigns and political demands don’t succeed, participants know that their local projects are making a real difference regardless. The diversity of approaches makes involvement more accessible for a wide range of people. Learning by doing, they develop expertise in democratic practice, taking part in and facilitating creative disagreement and collective decision-making for common benefit. By building social cohesion, growing food, and sharing stuff, they are creating care, connection and resilience in their community in the face of climate disasters, economic disruption, or the next pandemic. They push through the sense of impending doom into an ‘apocaloptimistic’ attitude: although we know collapse is coming, it doesn’t have to mean the end of the world. 

The movements we will build together through this approach will be stronger, deeper and broader than anything we have done before, because they will be truly intersectional, understanding that all our causes are as inextricably intertwined as our lives are. They will be more capable of shifting public opinion, of bringing potential allies on board, and of creating the major systemic changes we know are needed, because they will hold ‘power to’, distributed among them, rather than still needing to beg governments with ‘power over’ them to act. 

*** 

The keystone of this approach is the shift from alternative to transformative, connecting diverse projects into a collective whole that is bigger than the sum of its parts—an ecology of projects that grows from random ideas at the margins into genuine new, distributed democratic institutions of the commons. For this to work, it must be collective and coordinated but not dominated by centralised power. That is a major challenge, but there’s been a tremendous amount of work done by Elinor Ostrom, Murray Bookchin, Abdullah Öcalan and others, learning from Indigenous governance, around how to facilitate and support distributed, interconnected, polycentric models. It is difficult but entirely possible. The Greens, Friends of the Earth and others, having practised a distributed model more or less successfully for thirty years, have pre-existing structures and expertise to help make this happen. Newer groups such as the school strikers are building on the same model. And, of course, we must step back and learn directly from Indigenous people, who have brought their ancient shared-governance structures into current operation through locally controlled models such as Community Controlled Health Organisations. 

One important path will be to parlay existing centralised outreach into open-source community building. What if we used doorknocking and letterboxing, which we already do so much of, to let people know about local sharing groups and community gardens, repair cafes, co-ops and sports associations, and invite them to community meetings to co-design their own local climate-positive, social-cohesion projects? What if, where we had the capacity, we used elected office to provide resources to communities for such projects, and invited community members to help inform our decision-making? What if branches, volunteers, and elected representatives supported communities to hold formal and informal citizens’ assemblies, or whatever form of community planning meeting they were interested in, perhaps connected through those local groups, through unions, creating space for Indigenous leadership, actively embracing culturally and otherwise diverse community members, connecting over distance among communities of interest, or just gathering around a group of streets, to discuss what each community could do to confront and prepare for the climate crisis? 

What if each of those assemblies and gatherings sent representatives to regional assemblies, and shared what they’re doing through online clearing houses, so they could learn from and inspire each other, and so they could consciously envisage their actions as vital pieces of collective action that, together, are cultivating the new, ecological democratic alternative? 

That’s starting to look like a new set of democratic institutions, similar to Bookchin and Öcalan’s ideas. It’s starting to turn those fun, life-improving projects at the margins into the foundations of a new civic space, venues for debate and discussion, the basis for a new democracy. 

If this is to happen, it needs to be led from the grassroots up. But it also needs to be enabled and resourced properly, with resources made available by many currently in the space, such as larger NGOs, open-minded philanthropists, and supportive elected representatives. There may even be opportunities for forward-thinking local and even state and territory governments to actively encourage and enable the kind of community-building work that underpins this approach. For all these groups, it will take a shift in focus—a radical vision, a willingness to let go of control, or at least to collaborate more deeply and openly with others who have a dramatically different approach to change-making. 

This will be hard. But it’s well past time we admitted to ourselves that the current path is a dead end. Working within the system that created this crisis, or at best attempting to tweak it closer to what it was a generation ago, will see us continue to fail to address spiralling inequality and social injustice, or to avert catastrophic ecological collapse. Worse, it will leave us living in a system spectacularly ill-suited to enabling our survival in that world. 

But, if we take the citizen-led path, embracing the different modes of power we already believe in, the opportunities and possibilities are extraordinary. At the very least, we will create a serious grassroots counterbalance to existing power. At the most, we will lay the groundwork for radically transforming, if not replacing, state and corporate power. 

We won’t just be building a movement to demand change of those in power. We will be building our own power, distributing it widely, and creating new, regenerative democratic institutions and norms that will enable us to not just survive the coming storms, but thrive. 

Notes 

1. International Centre on Nonviolent Conflict, The Success of Nonviolent Civil Resistance, November 2013.

2. Tim Hollo, ‘As the climate collapses, we can either stand together—or perish alone’, The Guardian, 4 October 2019.

3. Sophia Burns, ‘Strategize, Don’t Moralize’, Gods and Radicals, April 2018.

Veteran Poetics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/06/2019 - 7:35pm in

Book at Lunchtime: Veteran Poetics: British Literature in the Age of Mass Warfare, 1790–2015 In this first full-length study of the war veteran in literature, Kate McLoughlin draws new critical attention to a figure central to national life. Offering fresh readings of canonical and non-canonical works, she shows how authors from William Wordsworth to J. K. Rowling have deployed veterans to explore questions that are simultaneously personal, political, and philosophical: What does a community owe to those who serve it? What can be recovered from the past? Do people stay the same over time? Are there right times of life at which to do certain things? Is there value in experience? How can wisdom be shared? Veteran Poetics features veterans who travel in time, cause havoc with their reappearances, solve murders, refuse to stop talking about the wars they have been in, and refuse to say a word about them. Through this last trait, they also prompt consideration of possible critical responses to silence.

Autonomy, Community, Destiny: Re-Imagining Disability

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/12/2017 - 11:28pm in

The second seminar in the Disability and Curriculum Diversity series at TORCH The second seminar in the Disability and Curriculum Diversity series at TORCH with Elizabeth Frood (Associate Professor of Egyptology, Oxford), Dom Hyams (Producer and Editor-in-Chief, Power100) and Marie Tidball (Research Associate in Law, Oxford) .
Professor Elizabeth Frood speaks on the way her own acquired disability has had an impact on re-framing how she does fieldwork and how this has led her to adapt the methodologies she uses as an Egyptologist. Entrepreneur, Television Presenter and Editor of Power 100, Dom Hyams speaks on the potential role of the AssistMi app and other assistive technology you work with, could have on revolutionising research, which not only makes fieldwork more accessible for disabled people but enables them as researchers to access important data which benefits academia more generally.
This event was chaired by Dr Marie Tidball.

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