Remember me? This blog and interactions with the people who have engaged with me over the past few years about what I’ve been exploring has changed by life and my perspective immeasurably. I am still deeply committed to the conversations I attempted to have (and was successful in having) by starting this blog, and still maintain a burning desire to write and learn more and more.
However, in reality and honesty, I feel so incredibly overwhelmed at the moment, with world and personal events and feeling pulled in multiple directions with how I might best contribute to dismantling oppressive global systems of neoliberalism, patriarchy, white supremacy and neocolonialism and allowing beautiful, life-giving alternatives to flourish. I am working as part of /The Rules collective (www.therules.org – new website needed and on its way soon!), am feeling guilty about how much work there is to do on British Empire State of Mind (http://www.britishempirestateofmind.co.uk/), writing poetry (my first 🙂 and more to come I hope: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9IW4c9VNRYM), taking direct action, and supporting others on a number of other projects related to publishing, the arms trade, racism, domestic violence etc etc…AND subject the tyranny of technology, which has become somewhat of an unwanted addiction 😦 And I realise that I need to start being honest (to honour both myself and those I have committed myself to and to preserve my health which has suffered) about my capacity and how much I am able to do. I so want to do everything, but obviously that’s impossible – so I want to be more intentional, present and clear about what I can and want to spend my time doing.
Essentially, that has led me to take the decision to put this blog on hiatus for the foreseeable future, until the day when perhaps I will return to it and give myself the time to do it justice, instead of having it hanging over me – which it is – I still take copious notes about articles I’d like to write, but don’t give myself time to complete them. I’d also love someone else to continue to write if the idea speaks to them and they’d like to continue with the conversation (get in touch). I will continue to address the issues discussed here through my work with /The Rules, through my poetry and with British Empire State of Mind and, of course, in daily life.
For now, I just want to thank everyone who has visited the page, read and shared posts, got in touch and supported me in any way in this endeavour – I’m more grateful for the ability to explore the way the world has been ‘working’ with you than you can ever know. Please continue to get in touch with me as I’ll still be receiving messages from the page and I do hope to return to this in future (or that the death of neoliberalism will come quickly and I won’t have to!).
Here’s to continued questioning, listening and learning.
“The propaganda of ‘British Values’ is a distortion of history.
What does it mean to be British? Many things have apparently come to define British values Winston Churchill, the monarchy, Empire, received pronunciation, aristocracy, whiteness.
But some of the people of this island have a much more interesting, subversive, countercultural set of traditions buried beneath the surface. These traditions don’t fit the elites message that they alone are responsible for everything that’s good in society. Therefore it’s no surprise that most of us learn more at school about Henry VIII’s marital dramas that we do about the Peterloo Massacre. These are the traditions embodied by striking miners, peasants revolting against private tyranny and by the suffragettes. Also embodied by William Cuffay (Kofi) the disabled black man from Kent who lead the 19th Century Chartist movement for free speech.
A tradition embodied by the John Brown Women’s society from Sheffield, who refused to make manacles for factories that supported slavery, but because they were poor and women to boot, their names have vanished into history.
A tradition whose legacies include Notting Hill Carnival, Europe’s largest street festival, which was born out of multicultural, anti-racist activism in what was, 50 years ago, one of London’s poorest areas.
Today these traditions are embodied by activists, youth workers, school teachers and nurses that go that extra mile for the people they are trying to serve.
These traditions have often been persecuted and even labelled anti-British or anti-state until they bear fruit that the state then wants to claim for itself, such as poor people getting the right to vote or the abolition of child labour. These gains are then presented as the result of inherent British values rather than as the results of serious political struggle that they in fact were.
Whilst I’m not a nationalist, how national peoples and cultures see themselves undoubtedly has real world implications.
The question in these tumultuous times, is which of the traditions of the people of this island will you be drawing on and identifying with? The one that promotes and reinforces race and class oppression and explains away the genocide of Empire as a civilising mission? Or, the one of relentless activism that secured for us the very fragile freedoms that we have today.
Last week marked two years since I first started this blog – which seems almost unbelievable to me.
I never really had any particular plans for Development Truths (ugh what a name) and I certainly didn’t anticipate it developing into something like this. But along the way I had grand plans to be more consistent (anyone with a blog will tell you that consistency is key to a successful blog ;)) and to be more thorough and to talk about this and that and investigate more and to do incredible amounts of in-depth research and to build a proper website and to stop ranting and to host regular guest posts and many other things besides.
I think it’s quite clear that the vision has yet to become reality, and perhaps it never will- and I think that’s ok. Starting work with The Rules (which feels like an equally valuable use of my time) and life and health and travelling and ‘busyness’ and British oppressive concepts of time got in the way. I’ve been beating myself up about it for months. You have no idea how many times I wanted to write a post or to research or write about this and that: my hard drive is bursting with half-written posts and folders of articles and research. Today however, I feel peaceful. Today I’ve realised that it’s ok. It’s ok to not be where I’d told myself I should be. It’s really ok that this doesn’t look like what ‘success’ looks like – it was never meant to be about ‘success’, or targets, or numbers of visitors, or me. Sure it’s great when people visit and read and engage, but two years ago I began this blog with the intention of having a conversation I couldn’t, at the time, see the ‘mainstream’ having, asking questions and de-learning/learning . Happily, on those terms, i’d say its been a success.
So I’m not going to promise anything today, or revisit articles or posts or moments from the past year. I’m not going to talk about the things I’ve learnt or reconsidered – there have been many. Today I’m simply incredible grateful for my faith in putting one foot in front of the other always and trusting that those little actions move you on. I’m grateful for patience and unfolding. I’m grateful for the ability we humans have to un-teach ourselves many of the things we have been taught and for all the many wise and inspiring seekers, rebels, writers, artists, activists, co-conspirators and inquisitors around the world who I have met along the way who have shared their knowledge and questions and critiques and beautiful alternatives with me. And finally I’m deeply, deeply grateful to you and everyone who has followed or visited the blog and humoured me, even just for a minute – the support, challenges and knowledge that there are many of us with shared feelings and perspectives on the world have been lifesaving.
Written by Jason Hickel, originally appeared on FastCo on 15/03/16.
Scholars are still trying to figure out why the society on Easter Island collapsed, ending the people famed for their construction of towering stone heads. One interesting theory holds that it had to do with the heads themselves. Somehow, the islanders decided that the giant heads represented power and success, so different groups competed to build as many heads as possible. But because there was only one quarry, to move the stones around the island required felling trees to use as rollers. To feed their lust for heads, they felled the trees so eagerly that, over just a few generations, what was once a tropical forest was reduced to barren scrubland.
The islanders must have realized that their obsession with heads would quickly spell their doom. As the project wore on, they no longer had sufficient wood to build fishing boats or houses, nor trees from which to gather fruits and nuts. They must have seen this disaster unfolding—slowly starving to death and forced to live in caves for shelter—right up until they felled the last palm. It was all because of a myth, but a myth so powerful that, despite knowing its madness, they could not resist it.
Humans are strange creatures. We create our own myths and then we live by them almost as though we didn’t create them at all, as if they were handed down to us by the gods. And this is not just a characteristic of small societies. Our global civilization has its fair share of powerful myths, one of which is remarkably similar to that which destroyed Easter Island. Just as multiplying heads became the sacred rule of Easter Island economics, so there is one sacred rule that underpins our global economic system: namely, that GDP must grow, and must grow at all costs. Why must GDP grow? Because GDP growth is equivalent to human progress.
We tend to take the GDP measure for granted as though it has always existed. Most people don’t know that it was invented only recently. It has a history. During the 1930s, the economists Simon Kuznets and John Maynard Keynes set out to design an economic aggregate that would help policymakers figure out how to escape the Great Depression. Kuznets argued for a measure that would help us maximize human well-being and track the progress of human welfare. But when World War II struck, Keynes argued that we should count all money-based activities—even negative ones—so we would know what was available for the war effort.
In the end Keynes won, and his version of GDP came into use. GDP was intended to be a war-time measure, which is why it’s so single-minded—almost violent. It counts money-based activity, but it doesn’t care whether that activity is useful or destructive. If you cut down a forest and sell the timber, GDP goes up; GDP does not count the cost of losing the forest as a habitat, or as a future resource, or as a sinkhole for carbon. What is more, GDP doesn’t count useful activities that are not monetized. If you grow your own food, clean your own house, or take care of your aging parents, GDP says nothing. But if you buy food from Tesco, hire a cleaner, and send your parents to a nursing home, GDP goes up.
Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with measuring some things and not others. GDP itself doesn’t have any impact in the real world. GDPgrowth, however, does. As soon as we start focusing on GDP growth, we’re not only promoting the things that GDP measures, we’re promoting the indefinite increase of those things. And that’s exactly what we started to do in the 1960s. GDP was adopted during the Cold War for the sake of adjudicating the grand pissing match between the West and the USSR. Suddenly, politicians on both sides became feverish about promoting GDP growth. GDP growth became a sacred rule. And we remain in thrall to it today.
The imperative for growth is incredibly powerful; probably the most powerful force in our world. When the entire global political establishment puts its force behind this goal, human and natural systems come under enormous, overwhelming pressure.
What does this pressure look like in the real world? In India, it looks like corporate land grabs, which leave peasant farmers dispossessed. In the U.K., it looks like privatization of public services—with corporations eager to exploit untapped markets. In Brazil it looks like deforestation, which is eating the Amazon at a rapid clip. In the U.S. it looks like fracking, backed by a government desperate for cheap energy. Around the world it looks like trade agreements that strip away regulations that protect workers and the environment. And for all of us it looks like longer working hours, expensive housing, depleted soils, polluted cities, wasted oceans, and—above all—climate change.
We normally think of these as separate crises. But they are not: they are all connected. They all proceed from the same deep logic of GDP growth, the collective madness at the heart of our economic system. To fight them as separate issues is to mistake the symptoms for the disease.
People who spend their lives pushing against these destructive trends will tell you how futile it feels. It is futile because our governments don’t care. They don’t care because according to their most important measure of progress, destruction counts as good. Indeed, under the tyranny of GDP growth, the destruction must continue at all costs. The problem here is not that humans are inherently destructive. The problem is that we have created a myth that encourages us to behave in destructive ways, and have given that myth the power of a sacred rule. As Joseph Stiglitz has put it, “What we measure informs what we do. And if we’re measuring the wrong thing, we’re going to do the wrong thing.”
Why does GDP growth retain such a hold on our imagination? Because we assume that when GDP goes up, it makes our lives better: it raises our incomes, it creates more jobs, it means better schools and hospitals and so on. This may have been true in the past. But unfortunately it no longer holds. In the United States GDP has risen steadily over the past half century, yet median incomes have stagnated, the poverty rate has increased, and inequality has grown. The same is true on a global scale: since 1980, global GDP has grown by 380%, but the number of people living in poverty has, according to World Bank numbers of people living on $5 a day, increased by more than 1.1 billion. Why is this? Because past a certain point, GDP growth begins to produce more negative outcomes than positive ones—more “illth” than wealth, as the economist Herman Daly has put it (if “ill” is the opposite of “well,” “illth” is the opposite of “wealth”).
GDP growth might make sense on a planet with endless room and endless resources. But we don’t live on such a planet. In fact, we’re already overshooting our planet’s biocapacity by more than 50% each year. There are no longer any frontiers where accumulation doesn’t directly harm someone else, by, say, degrading the soils, polluting the water, poisoning the air, and exploiting human beings. At this point in our history, GDP growth is creating more misery than it eliminates. And the problem is not just that the growth is inequitably shared, although that it is a major issue; the problem, rather, is aggregate growth itself. In our era of climate change, even sober scientists are pointing out that growth is leading us down a path that that has widespread famine and mass displacement just around the corner.
Yes, some try to reassure us that our economy is gradually “decoupling” from material throughput, and that soon we will have growth without destruction. Butstudy after study has proven that it’s not true. In fact, global consumption of materials has nearly doubled over the past 30 years, and accelerated since 2000.
The rule of GDP growth may seem sacred, but it is not. As quickly as we created it, we can pull it apart. And pull it apart we must—it’s time for the giant stone heads to roll. There are already movements in this direction. A number of states and countries have adopted much more sensible alternatives, like the Genuine Progress Indicator, which seek to promote human and environmental well-being. There are many others we might consider, and it doesn’t much matter which we choose—indeed, each city or country could pick a different measure, or no measure at all. The important thing is that we shake off the tyranny of GDP growth and open up a creative, democratic conversation about what kind of world we want to live in.
The most checked-out book was entitled Immunity of Heads of State and State Officials for International Crimes.
This isn’t exactly great news for proponents of international justice and, in particular, the principle of universal jurisdiction.
Weirdly, the UN Library sort of bragged about the book on Twitter – despite the institution’s mission to, you know, fight global impunity. As Hayes Brown rightly chirped: “…Guys. Why would you brag about this [-] this is not good.” There is a silver lining, though. Clearly diplomats are taking international criminal justice seriously and evidently some (rightfully, we should add) see it as threatening. Like it or not, the possibility of heads of state being prosecuted for international crimes is indelibly part of the world of diplomacy.