Meandering thoughtstreams, clouds in my coffee: A miscellany
Why I write
A friend asked me about this column. What is the topic, theme, etc.? The best I could come up with, in summary of my intention: “I try to explore the question, ‘What is a good way to live, in these times and in this world?’ We are conscious of the magnitude of human and physical challenges in this moment. Our knowledge seems large, but mysteries persist. We wonder what is worthy, valuable, and good, in a human life now.
Pope and Purgatory
Follow the pope on Twitter, and get credits (“papal indulgences”) for a shorter time in Purgatory. If you “do it in the right spirit,” says the Vatican, you can get out of the afterlife purging-stage sooner, and move on to Heaven.
Globe writer and catastrophe
Jonathan Bland, The Globe and Mail books editor, wrote a think piece on the floods and volatile weather, and signs of a catastrophic future for humans. He found cause for good feelings in our greater compassion under the threats of death and destruction that attend floods, fires etc. We act more humanely and more compassionately, we love our fellows more effectively, in a crisis. Odd to me, he said nothing about how that is one of the ways people remember a war in a favourable way.
“In the war with Hitler, Canadians all pulled together as one, nobody was egocentric, because we had a great unselfish purpose;” so say the old folks. I’d rather skip the crises and go straight to the compassion, but apparently, we first have to bring our planet to the edge of mass death. Will humans evolve to love one another without first experiencing heinous pain?
I’m not the only one wondering, as heat-wave cycles move north from American territory, what happens when Canada’s wildfires start? See above.
Racism and Canada
You must have heard in recent news about the starvation experiments conducted on Native children in our residential schools by Canadian “scientists,” during our lifetimes? I was born in 1951. Does anyone reading this still feel morally superior to Americans, the perfect model of racists we’ve always despised? Wake up and feel the shame.
What mania is this? Who said we care about Prince Newborn? The media decided we must. If you needed any more proof of media uselessness for worthwhile knowledge, it’s this. Changing channels is no help; it’s everywhere.
Stephen Pinker’s 2002 book The Blank Slate brilliantly asked why we accept the prejudice that humans have no nature. All we are is taught; culture makes us what we are. There are no flawed children; just bad parenting. No one is responsible for horrid behavior – their experience while growing up makes them act badly. Men and women? No natural differences, just “gendered” cultural ones. Why have we been swallowing this kind of crap as if it were scientific? Neuroscience is finding innate traits, refuting the blank-slate paradigm.
Uplifting Words from Julian Assange
Wikileaks genius Julian Assange says when everyone can access all hidden information, justice wins, humanity flourishes. Such lovely innocence! Since when did knowledge change human behaviour? See the Club of Rome’s 1974 publication, The Limits to Growth. We knew enough then to change course for the future; catastrophes were avoidable but we couldn’t use the knowledge. It was not enough. Saved by education, Julian? No. Humans err. It’s our nature.
The middle class and the overlords
If you are middle class, you’re living on a small-family income of, say, $40,000 to $140,000. Upper-middle incomes go up to a quarter-million annually. The ruling class (a.k.a. 1%) are Canadians with net worthin the tens of millions, i.e. they own capital that continuously earns more in interest than a middle class individual or family earns by any form of productive labour.
Can the rulers thrive without the middle? Does a boat need barnacles? An historic moment of a century or two is passing.*
Next time you hear about the “disappearing middle class” please contemplate what this class has been doing while it was numerous. We (yes, I’m a middling sort) have been allowed by historical fortune to shave slivers of wealth from the rulers’ gargantuan property, just enough that we had a modicum of leisure, created all sorts of cultural products, and were the backbone in democratic governments and information media. I trust our short era of flourishing middle-class society leaves a historical legacy.
Now, rulers need fewer of us. Why pay comfortable wages and salaries to a white-collar layer in society, to provide numerous professional sectors and government civil service, to manage capital as lawyers, CEOs and bank executives? The overlords see ways to substitute electronic tools for humans. Tech-enserfed proles will manufacture the machinery at dirt wages. Good employment prospects? — policing the hordes. There was never a middle-class era like ours before 1830, and another is highly improbable.
Full moon mini-Stonehenge; England’s crop circles
I was recently in a field outside Nakusp under a full moon. A state of magic seemed to visit, where someone had piled and arranged several massive boulders into a Stonehenge-like structure. A friend of mine is visiting this year’s spate of crop circles, and says the private-property rights of English farmers is colliding with the urge of so many to see these mysterious phenomena, all appearing in the same counties where Stonehenge and other ancient megaliths are.
Property, owning the earth, is such a quaint human conceit. It is fascinating to hear how owners deny anyone else the right to see a mystery because it has appeared on private land. Such a bizarre species, humans, eh? Cosmic freaks.
Neutrinos, anti-matter, dark matter
News about the attempt by materialist science to probe the mystery of the “Big Bang” origin of everything: scientists were able to watch a muon neutrino transform into an electron neutrino. Now they will try to do the same with anti-matter muon- and electron-neutrinos. Then they might know more about why there is so much matter, and much less antimatter.
As for dark matter, of which there is a great deal and we are not part of it, no one knows why it’s there.
Does this help you know why you are alive? Probably not. Religion still tries to help with that question. You may not need a purpose for your life, you may not need meaning, but it’s great to have the freedom to choose. Whatever.
*In a study for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives [website], researcher Armine Yalnizyan uses tax file data to track the richest 1 per cent of Canadians; that is, those whose income was higher than 99 per cent of Canadian tax filers.3
She found that this group—the 246,000 people whose average income was $405,000—took home almost 33 per cent of all growth in incomes from 1998 to 2007, a decade that saw the fastest economic growth in this generation. She notes that: “The last time the economy grew so fast was in the 1950 and ’60s, when the richest 1 per cent of Canadian took only 8 per cent of all income growth.”4
The phenomenal growth in incomes of the super-rich is not due to the assets they own. Yalnizyan points out that, while it is true that historically the super-rich relied mostly on unearned income from assets, “the income of the richest 1 per cent is due mostly to the lavish sums they are paid for the work they do.”5
Average incomeis not necessarily a good measure of how the majority of people are doing. Some analysts suggest using median income instead. Median income is the amount that divides the income distribution into two equal groups—half having income above that amount, and half having income below that amount. The average income can be distorted by the highest and lowest values. The median—the middle value of the group—is not affected by the actual level of the highest or lowest values.
Charles Jeanes is a Nelson-based writer. The previous edition of the Arc Of The Cognizant can be found here.