All posts by Graham Peebles

Change and Decay: A Time of Transition

It’s the beginning of autumn in the northern hemisphere, a beautiful and refreshing space between the heady days of summer and the chill of winter, a transitional time. And collectively we are living through a time of global transition; a shift from one civilization, colored by certain influencing qualities, to a new time, growing out of the old but infused with a different energy, with distinct unifying qualities and evolving modes of living.

Inherent in this natural movement is the promise of change, but also resistance and tension, resulting in conflict and fragmentation. Ancient divisions are being strengthened, new divisions fermented, injustices highlighted; under the action of cleavage all are being drawn to the polluted surface of human affairs.

With every day the weight and impact of the new intensifies, the forces of the old, the forms and systems, institutions and structures decline, fragment and decay. Despite this disintegration, attachment to the familiar is strong, and change in any direction, particularly when it threatens to weaken the control of the controllers, evokes a strong opposing reaction. Broad lines of demarcation between people desperate for a different way (the majority in many cases), for social justice, environmental action and freedom, and those fighting to maintain the status quo have become increasingly stark.

Resistance is fierce among those groups that are wedded to the existing unjust, dysfunctional ways, many of whom hold the reins of power – political and corporate; believing in the doctrine of greed, which has served them well, and defining life in narrow materialistic terms, they refuse to see any alternative to the ideology of money and nationalism, and will fight to the bitter end. But transition to a new way of living is beginning and will accelerate, impacting on all areas of society. Some transitional trends have been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, including working practices, transportation (particularly in cities) and the shift to online shopping.

The old is established, its modus operandi defined, institutions and systems, ideologies and values well known, imbedded in the minds of all. The shape of the ‘new’ is not known. Forms need to evolve, but its qualities are becoming clear. It speaks of unity, cooperation, tolerance and understanding, social justice and freedom. Universal perennial principles held within the hearts of many for generations, which under the ideology of division, have been ignored or buried, at best partially honored, selectively demonstrated; broad principles that will increasingly determine the tone of the new civilization.

Modes of living, systems, institutions and values are formal reflections, or constructs, of the consciousness of those within society, local and global; the nature of this consciousness is the underlying cause of the interconnected crises facing humanity and constitutes the fundamental crisis; we are the real crisis. All proceeds from this murky source, and, for the required transitions to take place a much needed shift in attitudes is needed; a move away from actions motivated purely by selfish gain or reward to a growing sense of social and environmental responsibility; a transition from fear, desire and division to unity, love and compassion. This is a process that has been building in momentum over the last forty years or so, leading to the unprecedented global protest movement (including the passionate response to the environmental emergency) among other positive developments.

As transition becomes more widespread and momentum builds, it is crucial that in those areas impacted most (the energy sector, for example, and, with the expansion of artificial intelligence, all forms of manufacturing), the changes be just, and in order to be lasting, are made with the broadest possible consensus. Of the many changes needed a radical transition in consumer habits is foremost: Like many areas of contemporary life consumerism is an integral part of the socio-economic system, an immoral paradigm sitting at the core of many, if not all of our problems, that must be radically overhauled if social justice, and indeed peace (for there will never be peace without justice), is to be brought about.

Consumerism, including the consumption of animal food produce, is the underlying cause of the environmental emergency; a change in lifestyles and movement away from excess to sufficiency is imperative if we are to reverse centuries of environmental vandalism. Changes in education are also key – a transition (already underway in some countries, and theoretically prominent) away from a system of propaganda and conditioning, with schools and colleges functioning as little more than feeding grounds for employers, to creative centers of learning that encourage independent thinking, freedom from sociological and psychological conditioning, and self-enquiry. Creating social justice – something again that is conditional on changing the economic model – facilitating freedom for everyone everywhere, and bringing about an end to prejudice of all kinds are other key areas of change. And while there is a growing awareness of the need for acceptance and understanding, ignorant flag-waving groups bent on violence still soil our streets, defame our shared humanity.

Tolerance and acceptance in opposition to division and bigotry is one area of many in which polarities of views can be seen, the environmental emergency is another, as is immigration, education, and state support for, say, health care. Differences, which often find a focus in political allegiances, but differences which run much deeper and are broader in tone, between those who are in tune with the rhythms of the age and backward-looking fearful groups attached to old ways of thinking and living, who are determined to obstruct any progressive movement for change. Change that cannot be stopped, but change that can be delayed, and given the intense need – the crippling poverty, armed conflict, displacement of people, and, the major issue, the environmental emergency – delay is something neither we nor the planet can countenance. The house is on fire, our house is on fire, and urgent sustained action is desperately needed.

The post Change and Decay: A Time of Transition first appeared on Dissident Voice.

No Going Back: It’s All Got to Change

It’s been a weird time, the last six months, and so it continues; perhaps it always was.  It’s certainly been an unjust violent mess in varying degrees of severity, for as long as most can remember. With selfishness, division and pleasure firmly in the driving seat, and the planet beautiful, slowly choking to death under the weight of human greed and stupidity.

After Covid-19 erupted, widespread lockdowns like a blunderbuss were enforced in many countries, and for a brief interlude hush descended on towns and cities across the world. Whole populations from Europe to New Zealand and most points in between were forced to desist from ‘going out’ and socializing, made to curtail their habitual shopping urges and change their work patterns. A strange and uncertain time, aggravating pre-existing anxieties, triggering depression, threatening economic meltdown.

A rare space opened, is still available, creating the opportunity to reflect on how life was and is being lived, individually and collectively; an opportunity to redefine what is important, and for those so inclined, to ponder life after the virus. A feeling of post-pandemic hope circulated among the hopeful. Could, will, ‘things’ change for the good at last?  Would corporate governments emerge with a new attitude towards public services, ‘key workers’ – who had suddenly become heroes – the environment and national health care systems (where they exist, and where they don’t with a recognition that they should), refugees and migrant workers.

Will the many acts of community kindness foster lasting social responsibility, can the pause in consumerism, manufacturing, and travel, ignite a major shift in political and social attitudes, leading to a change in policies and collective behavior rooted in environmental and social responsibility? Many hope for such a long overdue bonanza, but as countries tentatively begin to emerge from the shadow of Covid the political rhetoric and corporate talk is depressingly predictable.

Saddled with huge national debt, the prospect of an economic ‘slump’, or ‘slowdown’ and mass unemployment, anxious politicians lacking vision, and business leaders (understandably) concerned with survival and profit, repeatedly, and desperately talk about getting back to ‘normal’; re-starting the economy – the very economy that has polluted the air, the oceans and the land – and speedy recoveries. It is predictable lunacy; no, no, no, not business as chuffing usual, many cry. This is a chance to think outside the existing foul paradigm, to creatively re-imagine how life could be. If we are to face the most pressing issues of the day, there must be real change.

The term ‘new normal’ is routinely bandied around by politicians, business leaders and commentators these days; it’s often used to describe the changes to working methods – Zoom meetings for example, education bubbles in schools, one-way systems and hand sanitation in shops, face coverings on public transport. Cautionary health care measures, but nothing of substance; nothing that will save the planet, mitigate the ecological vandalism being perpetrated by humanity; create social justice, end violent conflict, racism and starvation; banish malnutrition, reform education, offer justice and support to migrants, and house the homeless in every land – for example.

We do not need a ‘new normal’, referring as it does to the old, decrepit, inadequate, poisoning ‘normal’ that has cast a cloak of misery and insecurity everywhere it is found, and it’s found everywhere.  99.9% of people around the world, and the natural environment require revolutionary change. Fundamental socio-economic change, true and lasting shifts in attitudes and behavior, not simply Covid-19 enforced adjustments encased in the existing structures and values – manipulations of an inadequate socio-economic model, which needs dismantling. As author Phillip Pullman put it: “It’s all got to change. If we come out of this crisis with all the rickety, flyblown, worm-eaten old structures still intact, our descendants will not forgive us. Nor should they. We must burn out the old corruption and establish a better way of living together.” And if you take a walk through a shopping area, an industrial site or office island, it’s clear; the old is dying before our very eyes, not due to the pandemic, but because it is devoid of vitality, totally and utterly. It’s finished, let it go, and let’s turn our attention to re-imagining society and the systems under which we all live; allow the transition into the new to creatively and harmoniously take place.

Save Our Planet (S.O.P.)

For months Covid-19 has stolen the headlines and dominated mainstream media programs, but within a burgeoning list of interconnected crises, of which the current pandemic is one, it is the complex environmental emergency that screams out as the single greatest issue facing humanity. And if humanity is to rise to this greatest of challenges, wholesale change is needed. Under lockdown the environment appeared to be given a respite, the air somewhat cleaner, rivers lighter, but, perhaps surprisingly, greenhouse gas emissions have been barely affected. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) expects this year’s annual emissions to be reduced by just 6-8%. This, they make clear, will have no measurable impact on carbon concentrations, or climate warming. In fact, 2020 is on track to be hottest year on record, on the back of subsequent hot years. According to the UK Met Office, a 10% drop is needed “to have a noticeable effect on the rising CO2 concentrations, but even then concentrations would still be rising.”

The principle cause of the environmental catastrophe is consumerism, insatiable ignorant human consumption of stuff, most of it unnecessary, and, crucially, animal-based food produce, and if we are to Save Our Planet (S.O.P.) and provide a viable world in which our children and grandchildren can live and grow, radical changes in our modes of living are needed, alternative values encouraged. Changes that move humanity in a new direction completely, that negate totally the urge, tempting or inevitable as it may appear to many to be, to resurrect the terminally sick economy and pursue the Growth Genie. Rooted in endless consumption, greed and competition such obsessive behavior has, in addition to strengthening nationalism and division, pushed the planet into critical care and, if we continue to be hypnotized by the pursuit of transient pleasures, will lead, if we are not already there, to irreparable climatic disorder and chronic ecological disease – and soon.

Returning to ‘normal’ means re-igniting the consumer-based economy, encouraging consumerism and affirming negative, habitual patterns of behavior. That’s what the politicians and the corporate voices are concerned about, and, while they may include the words ‘green’ or ‘alternative’, ‘renewable’, or ‘eco’, in their rousing duplicitous rhetoric, their principle goal is not salvaging the environment, changing behavior and encouraging simplicity of living; it is generating profit, perpetuating ‘growth’. And the way that’s achieved is by populations consuming, irresponsibly and in excess. An economic system based and reliant upon limitless consumption, in all its facets, including animal agriculture, is completely incompatible with the health of the planet, and the well-being of people.

Instead of excess, simplicity and sufficiency need to be the goals; responsible consumerism, in which goods and services are bought based on need, and choices/decisions are determined by the impact on the natural world. This requires personal effort and worldwide education. National public education programs, run by governments in collaboration with environmental groups, are needed to make people aware of the impact of their behavior on the environment, including animal agriculture; cutting out all animal food produce is the single most significant step individuals can take to help reduce their impact on the environment.

Changes in behavior are essential, but governments, long-term political policies and corporations have the biggest impact; while the rhetoric from some in office may be resonant, it is difficult to see any politicians within the current crop who have the breadth of vision and the will to enact the radical measures needed if the environmental emergency is to be overcome. All are married to the existing structures and appear to believe in the pervasive socio-economic ideology. Intense public pressure then, like the actions undertaken by Extinction Rebellion, Greenpeace, the Schools Strike for Climate and others, is crucial and must be applied, consistently and forcefully if, and it is a loud and deeply troubling if, the needed actions to Save Our Planet and heal our societies – for the two are inextricably linked – are to take place within the time frame required.

The post No Going Back: It’s All Got to Change first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Plight of Refugees and Migrant Workers under Covid

In a world where nationalism and social division is increasing, bigotry growing, are the words refugee, asylum seeker, migrant worker, derogatory labels triggering prejudice and intolerance? Such terms create an image of ‘the other’, separate and different, strengthening tribalism, feeding suspicion, our common humanity denied.

Under the shadow of Covid-19 those living on the margins of society have been further isolated; the refugees and migrants of the world, those displaced internally or in a foreign land, people living in war zones, and the migrant workers in the Gulf States, India, Singapore and elsewhere.

Refugees/migrants and migrant workers are among those most at risk from Covd-19, the economic impact of the pandemic as well as xenophobic abuse linked to the virus. Migrant workers (who universally have few or no labor rights) from Qatar to India have been discriminated against, discarded and ignored. Migrants, particularly those of Chinese or Japanese appearance in the US and elsewhere subjected to violence and abuse, and in refugee camps across Europe and the Middle East, including Gaza, thousands have been left in unsafe camps without medical support.

Homeless, hungry and at risk

Even before the pandemic erupted, to be a refugee, migrant, or migrant worker was commonly to be mistrusted, marginalized and in danger. Whether working as a maid in one of the Gulf States, an internal migrant worker in their homeland or living inside an overcrowded refugee camp these men, women and children are amongst the most vulnerable people in the world. In Europe, where thousands of refugees (many from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan) are packed into camps, their lives already swamped by uncertainty, the fear of the virus hangs heavy. Lacking sanitation and essential services these overcrowded tarpaulin cities are unsafe; the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, for example, was designed to accommodate 2,840, but now has 19,000 people; 40% are under 18, self-harming and attempted suicides are widespread. Compounding the heightened risks Covid has created, since July 2019 asylum seekers throughout Greece no longer have free access to the healthcare system, other than emergency support.

Meanwhile, in countries with large populations of migrant workers Covid-19 and the economic impact of the pandemic is adding additional layers of suffering to already arduous lives, not just of workers, but the families migrant workers support. According to the UN, round 800 million people globally are supported by funds sent home by migrant workers. Families depend on such payments to pay rent and buy food; when this flow stops, as is the case for many now, poverty and the risk of starvation is made more acute. The World Bank is warning of huge drops in global remittance payments of around 20%, resulting from the economic downturn triggered by the pandemic, which they say has impacted on migrant communities particularly hard.

In the Gulf States, which depend on millions of workers from Africa and Southeast Asia, Covid-19 is intensifying discrimination and increasing abuse against migrant domestic workers, including abrupt termination of their contracts. In Kuwait suicide among migrant workers has surged; Saudi Arabia has deported thousands of Ethiopian workers (A total of 2,968 migrants were returned in the first 10 days of April, UN state), without any medical screening, which the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Ethiopia said, is “likely to exacerbate the spread of Covid-19 to the region and beyond.” And in Lebanon (where the majority of migrant workers are Ethiopian) and elsewhere across the region, lower income families unable to cover salaries, cover food costs or provide accommodation have laid off domestic staff; resulting in migrant workers being at high risk of forced labor, including prostitution.

Worse still is the case of freelance (‘live out’) workers, whose work has stopped, leaving them with no income, no food and nowhere to go. In Qatar, (one of the richest countries in the world, with over two million migrant workers) which has one of the highest rates of infections per capita, many of those suffering from the disease are migrant workers. Foreign workers from Nepal, Bangladesh, the Philippines are being laid off or remain unpaid, as the economic impact of the virus hits. Some domestic workers (women) have been made destitute. In Singapore, widely thought to have responded well to the pandemic, migrant workers, employed mainly in the construction industry, were thrown to the wolves. And in India following the hasty decision by Prime Minister Mahendra Modi to lock the country down on 25th March, (giving people four hours warning!) tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of internal migrants working in cities were forced by their landlords to vacate their homes and had no choice but to head back to their native village. Without funds and with transportation suspended, huge numbers were forced to walk the hundreds or thousands of miles home.

Homeless, hungry and at risk of contracting coronavirus, migrant workers were ignored by the Modi regime. Reacting to this wholesale neglect, the UN Special Rapporteurs on the right to housing and on extreme poverty said (4th June), “we are appalled at the disregard shown by the Indian Government towards internal migrant laborers, especially those who belong to marginalized minorities and lower castes…..the Government has failed to address their dire humanitarian situation and further exacerbated their vulnerability with police brutality [which is commonplace in India] and by failing to stop their stigmatization as ‘virus carriers’.”

Contemporary Slavery

Covid-19 has highlighted a raft of social inequalities and destructive practices throughout the world. As such issues float to the murky surface of human affairs an opportunity presents itself for reform, for changes in attitudes and practices.

There needs to be a fundamental overhaul of employment rights for migrant workers throughout the world, with migrant workers receiving the same protections as native employees, including access to health care, limits on the hours of work, rates of pay, days off etc.

The Kafala System is used throughout the Gulf States, where the UN estimates there to be “35 million international migrants in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, and Jordan and Lebanon, of whom 31 per cent were women.” Under Kafala a migrant worker, many of whom are domestic staff and therefore out of sight, cannot resign if an employer is abusive, the work exploitative or the conditions unacceptable. Amnesty International relates, that it “ties the legal residency of the worker to the contractual relationship with the employer.” The system enables employers to essentially own workers, giving them total control of workers’ movements. This legitimization of modern-day slavery must be brought to an end immediately.

Refugees and migrants are human beings fleeing violent conflict (are often traumatized), persecution and economic hardship. The journey into an unknown future is often treacherous, always uncertain. In the vacuum left by governments and regional authorities like the EU, that should be processing asylum applications in designated centers and offering safe passage, criminal gangs control migration routes and methods of travel, which are unsafe and extortionately expensive. Deaths are commonplace, abuse and exploitation widespread. If they survive the dangers and arrive in their destination country, all too often they are viewed with distrust and antagonism, instead of being warmly welcomed. They are pushed into the shadows, the margins of society, offered little or no state support and made to feel unwanted.

This must change; all should be embraced, not only those with skills in short supply.  The idea of judging who can and cannot enter a country based on some discriminatory points system related to national need (the Australian way – a country with a shameful immigration record), as the UK government is proposing, reduces human beings to commodities, some of which are more valuable on the ‘open market of immigration’ than others – and is completely abhorrent.

Deal with the causes of migration, help construct a world at peace by cooperating, sharing and building relationships; reject competition and nationalism in favor of unity and tolerance and see a dramatic fall in the numbers of people forced to leave their homeland, whether in search of safety or opportunity.

Prison: Therapeutic Centers Or Academies of Crime?

We may know where one is, we may regularly pass by one, but most of us will never go to prison. Dark Islands of Confinement, existing in a space separated from the rest of society, where men, women and youths are locked up, often poorly treated, seldom rehabilitated.

Black men and people from Asian and minority ethnic groups including tribal peoples, make up a disproportionate percentage of the prison population in many countries. In America, where incarceration based on race is routine, Prison Policy found that “Black Americans make up 40% of the incarcerated population despite representing only 13% of U.S. residents.” In Britain, Government statistics show that, “people of minority ethnicities made up 27% of the prison population compared with 13% of the general population.” This figure increases further in young offenders’ institutions (YOI), where about 51% of boys aged 15–17 and young men, aged 18–21, are from black minority ethnic backgrounds, nearly four times the BAME proportion of the wider UK population. In addition between 2018/19, black people were eight times more likely than white to be stopped and searched, and police are five times more likely to use force against black people than white people.

Globally there are around 10.35 million people in prison (World Prison Population List), half of who are held in just three countries – the USA, China and Russia. With 2.2 million people behind bars America has the highest number of prisoners in the world; 655 people per 100,000, in Russia its 615 per 100,000.

At the other end of the scale is Norway, a world leader in prison reform. The total prison population is 3,207, equating to 60 people per 100,000 – over 10 times lower than the US and Russia and five times lower than Britain (87,900 behind bars – 148 per 100,000). Norway also has among the lowest re-offending rates in the world at 20% – by comparison in the US 76.6% re-offend and are re-arrested within five years; in the UK it’s almost the same.

These stark statistical differences reflect alternate approaches in the judicial system, the prison environment and in the nature of the society, the values and ideals, as well as levels of wealth and income inequality, which are much lower, and the overall atmosphere in which people live.

Prison officers are well-trained professionals, not merely ‘guards’. The Governor of Norway’s maximum security Halden Prison told the BBC “We make sure an inmate serves his sentence but we also help that person become a better person. We are role models, coaches and mentors.” Staff and inmates take part in activities together: “they eat together, play volleyball together, do leisure activities together and that allows us to really interact with prisoners, to talk to them and to motivate them.”

Prisons are well designed, well resourced and properly maintained, humane places in which inmates can study, learn skills and prepare themselves for a new life on release; centers of rehabilitated and education, rather than hostile places in which retribution is sought and punishment meted out. This rather crude, but widespread approach is based on the misguided belief that tough sentencing and a rigid penal system will act as a deterrent.

Is fear a deterrent?

The idea of prison as punishment posits the power of fear to change behavior. It is part of a broader ideological approach that believes in competition, together with reward and punishment as effective means of motivation, of manipulating behavior to achieve the goal, whatever that may be – obedience and conformity for one thing. It is a common technique in the world of business, is widely employed by parents and to a lesser degree teachers when faced with ‘difficult’, children, usually meaning children who won’t conform.

It is an approach that ignores, disregards or has no time for underlying causes – social, psychological and behavioral, and determines, that criminals should be punished. And while this approach appears justified, and commonly has public support, all the evidence suggests that not only does this method not deter criminals or, as re-offending rates show, change behavior, but it feeds into a societal atmosphere of intolerance and judgment, strengthening embedded divisions.

Instead of institutions of retribution, prisons should be refashioned as Therapeutic Centers for Change in which the criminal takes responsibility for their actions but is not made to feel guilty, or despised. An approach that looks at the range of influences that lead a young person into crime and to joining a criminal gang. Communities in which inmates are offered educational and therapeutic support; the whole focus of activity should be to rehabilitate, educate and heal, with the aim of releasing people back into society better educated and (psychologically) better equipped to deal with the demands of life. As in the Norwegian model, prisoners need to be shown respect and compassion and prisons need to be well resourced, funded by the state – private companies have no place in prisons or anywhere else in the criminal justice system – and staffed properly with trained personnel.

Wealth, crime and confinement

The underlying causes of crime and anti-social behavior are complex, but study after study shows that poverty, poor education and lack of parental guidance (specifically a stable father), are key factors. Education is consistently hailed as key to release from poverty and social deprivation, and therefore crime. The education a child/young person receives, however, including extra tutoring, access to the Internet, parental support, exposure to the arts, freedom to travel, is conditional upon their social/economic background. Varied levels of opportunity are one aspect of a world defined by inequality.

Inequality is an issue of social justice. It is not simply a financial issue. It is inherent in the socio-economic order and impacts on all areas of life (including political influence – with wealth goes power), enabling broader social imbalances to prevail. Restricting social mobility, condemning those born into poverty, to, by and large – there are always exceptions – remain there. Interestingly there is a correlation between levels of inequality and crime. Homicides, suspicion and fear of others are higher in countries where differences in wealth/income/opportunities are most pronounced, as are child pregnancies and mental illnesses in addition to a range of other social issues.

Operating under the same socio-economic model all countries suffer from inequality. Comparing levels of inequality is not straightforward. South Africa often tops the list, with China and India close behind but according to inequality.org the US, is the “most top heavy, with much greater shares of national wealth and income going to the richest 1 percent than any other country.” America is also the prison capital of the world and has more people serving life sentences than anywhere else: 30% of the estimated global number.

All is interconnected; prisons and crime are consequential elements within a societal structure of injustice and prejudice, which requires fundamental change. The current outdated, habitual and in many cases shameful methods need to be reviewed, the interconnections revealed and alternate approaches developed.

Such an examination must seek to understand the psychological impact that certain habitual methodologies and relentlessly promoted values have; the widespread use of competition, reward and punishment; the impact of fear, its relationship with desire and comparison; the reductive construct of the self. It must also examine the social conditions people are exposed to. Education and housing, the lack of access to the arts and the impact of materialistic values relentlessly promoted by corporations and governments, as well as the behavior such ideals encourage and the focus on material success. Probably not everyone can be rehabilitated, but many can and all deserve the chance.

A radical shift is needed, rooted in the recognition that humanity is one, that prejudice has no place in our consciousness or society and that the seed of all that is good rests within each and every human being. In order for that to flourish the creation of environments free from competition, judgment and hatred is required; stimulating spaces (home, school/university, the workplace, prisons and society as a whole) built on compassion, understanding and tolerance.

Racism: Are We All Prejudiced?

Loud acts of racism, like the atrocious killing of George Floyd by a US police officer; the disproportionate number of black men incarcerated in American prisons or the high percentage of young black or minority ethnic (BAME) men subjected to ‘stop and search’ by police in Britain are blatant and ugly. But an individuals ‘unconscious bias’ and the institutionalized racism festering deep within organizations is subtler, perhaps harder to recognize.

Racism is prejudice against BAME people/groups, it has deep historical roots within ex-colonial cultures (particularly in countries with large migrant populations, like Britain, France and the US), it is vile and abhorrent and it must be driven out of society. It is one of many forms of prejudice that exist all over the world. Prejudice against women, or LGBT individuals and groups, people with disabilities, tribal people and other minorities, prejudice against religious groups, certain nationalities and people of various ages. No matter how liberal minded and ‘progressive’ we believe ourselves to be, are any of us truly free from all forms of prejudice?

Learning to hate

Prejudice in all its foul forms, including racism, is not innate  – nobody is born a racist – it is learnt. It results from psychological and sociological conditioning, which is absorbed unconsciously from birth and for the most part is acted on habitually, without thinking or awareness. Decisions, choices and actions that proceed from this position are in some way or other limited, colored, and distorted by dogma, motivated by desire and fear.

Such actions take place all the time; most are petty and relatively limited in their impact. But when prejudice is involved and the action is constantly repeated or exercised from a position of power – an employer, government official, a parent, someone in uniform or education then the effects can have long-lasting detrimental effects. Worse still, when racism has seeped into the fabric of the perpetrator and turned to blind hate, allowing for abuse (like kneeling on a defenseless man’s neck while arresting him for a petty incident) to occur the results can then be much more serious: recurring mental health illnesses, physical injuries, and sometimes death, of an individual, or in the case of genocide (the organized expression of hate) the systemic annihilation of a whole community.

Prejudice then is a form of conditioning; it is discrimination or bias unconsciously expressed in varying degrees, fuelling hurtful destructive patterns of behavior and social division. This does not in any way legitimize or excuse acts of racism and prejudice, but if such actions are the consequence of conditioning we have a key to eradicating this poison from society.

Young children do not on the whole exhibit signs of prejudice. They see other children simply as children, they don’t see black, white, brown, Asian etc., children. That is, until they are conditioned into seeing ‘difference’, into dividing people based on race, gender, religion, nationality etc., and encouraged to make judgments based on that prejudice. The agents of conditioning are (most commonly) ignorant parents, peers who have already taken the poison, government policy (on immigration, for example) and the media.

In 1968 an exercise in racial conditioning was famously demonstrated by the schoolteacher and campaigner Jane Elliot (credited with inventing the concept of diversity training): On 5th April, the morning after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jnr, she segregated the 28 children (eight/nine year olds) in her classroom based on eye color, with one group adopting superior status to the other. The following day the roles were reversed. It was a brilliant exercise that aimed to show what it would feel like to be discriminated against and also to discriminate.

Once the seed of prejudice and division is planted, false notions of superiority and inferiority are fed and the belief that some people are ‘like us’ and some people ‘are not’ is adopted. The idea of ‘the other’ separate from me, potentially a threat to me, takes root, and this, if reinforced by competition and fear (as is commonly the case) leads to distrust, further division and hate. Allowing for the creation of a violent minority, and, in extreme cases the birth of a flag-waving, swastika-bearing racist or bigot. In the majority prejudice leads to what is commonly called ‘unconscious or implicit bias’.

How unconscious is Unconscious Bias

In October 1998 social psychologists from the University of Washington and Yale conducted the ‘Implicit Association Test (IAT)’. An online research tool designed to “measure implicit or unconscious evaluations and beliefs that spring from strong, automatic associations of which people may be unaware.” The study found that 90-95% of people held such unconscious prejudices. The researchers, including Mahzarin Banaji, professor of psychology at Yale, stated that unconscious prejudice “results from the culture they [people] live in and the culture’s attitudes towards stigmatized groups …a culture leaves an imprint on the mental structure, and most people have more or less the same mental imprint.” This is sociological conditioning.

Various studies since have revealed that unconscious bias affects a range of everyday decisions impacting on people from minority groups. Job prospects, education opportunities and health care, as well as prejudicial treatment by criminal justice systems. While it may be unclear just how ‘unconscious’ an individual’s bias is, what isn’t in dispute is that it exists, impacting on almost all of us, creating division and injustice. But, as Professor Banaji said “the same test that reveals these roots of prejudice has the potential to let people learn more about and perhaps overcome these disturbing inclinations.”

Action not words

As Jane Elliot said, ‘there is only one race, the human race’: humanity is one, brothers and sisters of one humanity. This has been proclaimed many times, most famously perhaps by Mahatma Gandhi. Yet, like peace, brotherhood and justice, equality is nowhere to be found. It remains a noble ideal, but ideals, which are not made manifest become tools of deceit, feeding complacency and apathy, allowing destructive attitudes and behavior to remain intact, and to proliferate.

In the years since the introduction of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in March 1966 attitudes have changed and much progress has been made. But there is a long way to go if we are to create a world that is completely free from all forms of discrimination. To rid society of racism and prejudice a number of things need to take place simultaneously.

Education, inclusion and awareness (de-conditioning) are key, together with the introduction of urgent practical steps within all areas where institutionalized racism exists. The essential element to individual liberation from prejudice is awareness; the unconscious impulse of discrimination needs to be brought into the light of awareness where, when seen, it can be rejected. Institutionalized racism collects out of the individual prejudice of people working within a particular organization, whether a police force, government department, school, university, corporation or small business. Eradicating prejudice from all such organizations and encouraging diversity and greater representation of minority groups must become a priority; more support needs to be given to children from BAME families (often among the poorest in society) to ensure equal education opportunities and, in order to limit prejudice by employers, schools, universities etc., the mandatory introduction of ‘blind CVs’ (without personal details concerning the applicant’s gender, age or ethnicity) should be brought about immediately.

The global response to the appalling killing of George Floyd and the widespread calls for fundamental change must not be ignored or the focus lost by distracting arguments about statues and artifacts. Certainly, following community debate, some statues should be removed – not torn down – and placed in museums, and items stolen by colonialists and now held in western museums returned.

But the primary issue is not what happened in the shameful past, it is changing existing attitudes and behavior. The momentum for change must not be lost as the mainstream media turn their attention elsewhere and politicians ruminate and set up yet more committees. Action is needed now, not endless speeches by duplicitous ambitious politicians. The rise of racism and all types of hate crime parallels the increase in political populism and tribal nationalism; these ideologies of division have stoked racial tensions and fed hate among the hateful. They are of the past and must be collectively rejected. The path to equality, social harmony and peace will come about through unity not division, cooperation not competition, tolerance not bigotry. It is these qualities that need to be adopted and cultivated, not as ideals, but as living principles animating and pervading all aspects of life.

Global Issues Require United Action and a Reinvigorated UN

Whatever corner of the world one happens to live in, the most pressing issues of the day affect everyone. Pandemics/epidemics and the environmental emergency; war and terrorism; poverty and food insecurity; overpopulation and the displacement of persons. Such crises cannot be limited by borders or controlled by nation states; no government or corporate power can manage them. They are interconnected global issues and they require a coordinated global response.

Drawn together by economic interest or shared geo-political concerns various allied groupings and regional alliances exist in the world. While such assemblies present the possibility of nations unifying, self-interest, ideology and partisanship dominate the approach of many governments to global problems: achieving consensus is rare, and consistent implementation of agreements even more so. And with the rise of tribal nationalism in recent years, led by major nations like America, Russia and China, the space for cooperation and unity has been further eroded, the major issues of the times ignored, or in many cases enflamed.

The United Nations: What now?

In addition to highlighting a range of social inequalities the Covid-19 pandemic has emphasized the need for nations to work cooperatively in response to global issues, under the coordinated stewardship of an international body. One that is free from political ideology is non-partisan and works to build the broadest level of consensus.

Established in 1945 at the end of World War II, The United Nations (UN), with its range of 15 specialized agencies is the obvious body to take on such an expanded, essential role. Not by adopting powers of governance over member states but by being invested with a new status based on the recognition that certain issues demand unified strategic action and the understanding that the future of individual countries rests upon the health and stability of the whole.

Like all global organizations the UN is imperfect and reforms are needed, but it represents a high point in human achievement and the world is a richer place for its existence. Since its inception million of people have been fed, educated and cared for by UN agencies. Its overall aim is, “the maintenance of international peace and security.” However, with member states pursuing their own ideologically fuelled agendas and with limited or no influence to tackle the underlying causes of conflict, this has proven impossible. One of the most significant accomplishments in the history of the UN is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed in 1948. It includes the right to not be enslaved, the right to free expression, the right to food and shelter and the right to seek asylum from persecution.

Despite the fact that many of the rights expressed remain unrealized the existence of the UDHR is crucially important, establishing a clear set of rights for every human being in the world. And, as we move into a new time, the UDHR could serve as a guiding template for systemic change, in particular the rights outlined in article 25, which states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

Within the UN there are a range of relevant departments concerned with the global issues outlined, agencies that are overflowing with expertise and people of goodwill. But whether it’s the UNHCR (working with refugees), the WHO or the UN Environment agency, all too often their efforts to act for the benefit of those they serve are inhibited by the power exerted by the 15-member Security Council, in particular the permanent five (P5), by the self-centered short -term approach of member states, lack of funding and a somewhat ambiguous world role.

Agents of Change

At the forefront of the Covid-19 pandemic, the WHO works to bring about “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health… physical, mental and social well-being.” And much has been achieved in the 70 years since it was set up. But in developing regions (where nations cannot fund health care adequately) access to medical support is extremely limited and, as in countries where health care is not (freely) provided by the state, the quality of treatment received by patients is conditioned by their economic status. The agency has been criticized by some, most notably President Trump (who has now withdrawn US funding), for failing to act quickly enough over Covid-19. Certainly mistakes were made. The worldwide response to the virus, however, should have been coordinated by the WHO; consistent methodologies followed – while being adapted to specific populations – with clear messages and detailed scientific information. Instead, nations turned within and formulated their own approach.

Together with the IPCC, UN Environment has potentially the most important role of any UN agency. But their aim to encourage partnership in “caring for the environment” is frustrated by the forces of commercialization and the consumer obsessed way of life relentlessly promoted by corporate governments and followed by the mass of humanity. Governments are fixated on ‘growth’, and ‘caring for the environment’ is a secondary consideration, if considered at all. “Reducing food insecurity and rural poverty” is the concern of the UN food agency (UNFAO). Around 2 billion people in the world are estimated to be ‘food insecure’, of which, just under a billion ‘don’t have enough to eat’. The world is vastly overpopulated; common estimates suggest that the planet can comfortably support 3.5 – 4 billion people, but currently the global population stands at 7.8 billion. There is, however, food enough for everyone; starvation and malnourishment are fundamentally problems of poverty and distribution, not over-population, although this is a significant issue which is having a devastating impact on the natural environment.

Peace, hunger, displacement, environment, health care, every issue is interconnected, one impacting on the other. All arise from, and are intensified by, the all-pervasive unjust socio-economic system. Everything and all areas of life have become commodified and commercialized, including the natural environment, food, health care and education. No money no food, no cash no health care, no income poor or non-existent education and sub-standard housing. As a means of organizing the socio-economic life of humanity, promoting human wellbeing and environmental health it is utterly deficient, detrimental, in fact. And whatever bailouts and stimulus programs are concocted to mop up the Covid economic spillage it is a system in decay; a vessel running on empty, propelled only by the momentum of the past.

Renewed UN

Key to overcoming the global issues here outlined and bringing about socio-economic change is the introduction of sharing, together with a reinvigorated expanded United Nations. Most people and many nations are poor, or poorly off, but the world is rich, overflowing; it is an abundant world and everyone is entitled to benefit from its collective riches.

Sharing as a principle of living needs to be planted in all areas of life, a unifying seed of goodness infusing all systems and modes of living. This will require the establishment of a new UN agency (‘The United Nations Office for Sharing (UNOS)’ perhaps) and eventually the dissolution of the Security Council, which is currently the most powerful arm of the UN.

The new agency would design systems of sharing and oversee the equitable distribution, firstly of food and water, then, through a massive volunteer program, of other resources that are held collectively, including knowledge, skills, creativity. Sharing is an extraordinarily potent quality, both an action and an attitude of mind. It is an expression of trust and an acknowledgment of our oneness, it encourages cooperation and cultivates trust, and when there is trust much can be achieved between individuals and groups. It a vibrant force for good and its time has come.

All countries are deficient in some areas, but as humanity begins to function as a World community, the needs of everyone can be met; all that is required is that we acknowledge the needs of all and learn to share. And although the current systems work against such commonsensical ways, through the application of creative thinking and goodwill, coordinated by a revitalized unifying UN, much can be achieved.

Air Pollution, Mental Illness, and Covid-19

Lockdowns imposed in response to Covid-19 forced millions of people to stay at home, businesses closed and a widespread hush descended. The major beneficiary of the controls has been the natural environment; in particular there has been a dramatic reduction in air pollution everywhere. But as countries begin to lift restrictions, road traffic levels are once again increasing, air and noise pollution rising.

Changes to working patterns and daily living have created a unique opportunity to re-imagine how we live and work. Central to any new pattern needs to be the environment; many people recognize this and the importance of not ‘going back’. Some cities in Europe are already responding positively (Milan, London, Bristol e.g.), proposing pedestrian only areas together with an increase in cycle lanes, and the results of a recent survey by the Automobile Association (AA) in Britain are encouraging. “Half of those polled said they would walk more and 40% intended to drive less…to maintain the cleaner air of the lockdown and protect the environment.” In addition around a quarter said they planned to (continue) to work more from home, as well as flying less.

Death by Breathing

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 90% of the global population breathe filthy toxic air. The bulk of air pollution is the result of burning fossil fuels for heat and power generation (e.g. oil and coal power plants and boilers) and fuel combustion from vehicles – cars, motorbikes, lorries etc. All of which not only throw toxins into the air but also generate enormous levels of noise pollution.

Worldwide, air pollution is said to kill around nine million people a year, making it the fifth leading risk factor for death in the world. Children are particularly vulnerable; they inhale more airborne toxins than adults, tend to spend greater periods of time outside and are more active. The detrimental effects can be long lasting, affecting their physical and mental health as well their education.

Contaminated air is also a significant factor in a person’s susceptibility to Covid-19. Air pollution, particularly Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), as well as Particulate Matter (PM) – both of which are released by vehicles burning fossil fuels, causes and exacerbates respiratory complaints.  A university study conducted in Germany found that of the total number of coronavirus deaths in 66 administrative regions of Italy, Spain, France and Germany, “78% of them occurred in just five regions, and these were the most polluted.”

The results of the research “indicate that long-term exposure to this pollutant may be one of the most important contributors to fatality caused by the Covid-19 virus…poisoning our environment means poisoning our own body, and when it experiences chronic respiratory stress [Covid-19 e.g.] its ability to defend itself from infections is limited.” A separate study in the US shows that even small “single-unit” increases in particle pollution in the years prior to the pandemic is linked with a 15% increase in deaths. Cleaner air in London or New York; e.g., in the past could have saved hundreds of lives.

Air pollution affects everyone but predictably the poorest members of society, including people from black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups, are the most severely impacted, they appear also to be the most at risk from Covid-19. In multi-cultural Britain; e.g., people in deprived areas have been dying of coronavirus at double the rate of those in affluent areas. And those from BAME backgrounds –making up around 13% of the UK population – account for a third of virus patients admitted to hospital critical care units. Similar patterns have emerged in other European countries with large minority populations as well as the US. Black Americans represent around 14 per cent of the US population but total 30 per cent of those who have contracted the virus. In Norway people born in Somalia have infection rates more than 10 times above the national average.

The social causes behind the figures are complex. Many people from BAME groups live in overcrowded housing in extremely polluted areas and work in high-risk low paid jobs. Diet among some BAME communities is poor and (in part as a result) there is a propensity to underlying health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and respiratory illnesses, all of which make people more vulnerable to Covid-19.

Poverty is the world’s biggest killer, and Covid-19 is, it seems, the most recent addition to the symptomatic causes of death for the poor, the vulnerable and people from minorities, which, in many cases are one and the same.

In addition to causing millions of deaths and a variety of respiratory conditions, air pollution is increasingly being linked to a range of mental health illnesses, including depression, bipolar, and, according to a study in the UK, psychotic experiences in children.

An estimated 300 million people in the world suffer from depression, a similar number are plagued by anxiety. Many aspects of contemporary living contribute to mental health illnesses. Various studies in recent years show that air pollution is one of them. The finest particle pollutants are known to reach the brain via the bloodstream and the nose, The Guardian reports, causing increased brain inflammation, “damage to nerve cells and to changes in stress hormone production, which have been linked to poor mental health.” Air pollution has also been shown to quadruple the risk of depression in teenagers and is being linked to dementia.

Together with noise pollution, studies show that filthy air feeds sleep apnea symptoms and may disturb sleep by exacerbating asthma, COPD, or other respiratory or chronic diseases. This, in turn, creates greater vulnerability to depression and anxiety, as well as the current Covid-19 virus.

Changing behavior

Air pollution is poison. We are literally breathing in toxic compounds that are making us ill, physically and mentally. Urgent and lasting steps are required to reduce to an absolute minimum the levels of air pollution. This requires humanity to drastically reduce its dependency on fossil fuels.

For this to happen there needs to be a major shift in attitudes, triggering a change in behavior and greater levels of environmental responsibility. Consumerism (including consumption of animal food produce) is the principle cause of the environmental emergency, including air pollution. Excessive, unnecessary consumption needs to stop, sufficiency not excess promoted and adopted as the guiding principle. Meat and dairy diets reduced and the trend towards plant-based diets encouraged.

At the same time investment in renewable sources of energy generation and supply needs to be increased throughout the world. All unnecessary travel should be eliminated (including air travel), and (where practical) a strategic movement away from the car onto public transport – reliable and clean, cycling and walking. Public transport needs to be state-owned and run as a service, not for profit. China, with 99% of the world’s total electric fleet, leads the way in the electrification of public transport.  In addition, the Chinese government has invested heavily in electric cars and has set a target of 40% electric vehicles by 2025.

The beautification of our towns and cities (where over 50% of the world’s population now live) goes hand in hand with the reduction in traffic and the promotion of clean modes of transport. Bold imaginative initiatives are required that prioritize the environment and human welfare over corporate concerns. Whole sections of cities and towns, major streets and abandoned sites could be redesigned as peaceful green spaces. And while many fear the closure of retail outlets and the slow death of shopping streets, the possibility of converting these areas to parklands and gardens, present itself and should be embraced.

All flows from a shift in thinking. The environmental emergency is the greatest crisis facing humanity; with every new report published the scope and depth of the crisis becomes increasingly stark, the need for action more urgent. To date the complacency of governments and corporations, as well as large tracts of the public, has been astonishing and shameful; this must now change.

Covid-19 forced governments to act (albeit in many cases inadequately); the same sense of urgency needs to be applied to tackling air pollution, which, I say again, is responsible for at least nine million deaths a year, and the wider environmental emergency. The pandemic has given the natural environment a brief respite from human abuse; as countries ‘open up’, we have the chance to adopt a new responsible approach to living and not revert to old destructive ways.

The Spiritualisation of Culture

Much like socialism or love, ‘spiritual’ is a word that through overuse and misappropriation has been diluted to the point where it has lost virtually all meaning. Although commonly understood to allude to something separate from the material world, according to esoteric literature that which we regard as ‘spiritual’ – referring to spirit, and its opposite, form, exist in duality and are but the positive and negative polarities of one energy, which we broadly think of as ‘life’. Spirit then is the highest most refined form of matter, and matter is the lowest, or grossest form of spirit.

Helena Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society described this expanded structure in The Secret Doctrine (Vol. 1 p.79/80):

Life we look upon as the one form of existence, manifesting in what is called matter; or what, incorrectly separating them we name spirit, soul and matter in man. Matter is the vehicle for manifestation of soul on this plane of existence, and soul is the vehicle on a higher plane for the manifestation of spirit, and these three are a Trinity synthesized by life which pervades them all.

Under the prevailing doctrine of our current civilization – a form that has evolved over the last two thousand years or so and is now collapsing – the understanding of what constitutes ‘reality’ is limited largely to that which can be perceived via the sensory apparatus. If you can’t see, hear, touch or smell it, if the physical sciences, the God/s of the age, cannot quantify and qualify it, well, then (chances are) it doesn’t exist. Conversely, if you can and do experience ‘it’ through the senses, then it must be real.

Despite the large number of people in every country who are trying to live a life that is not dominated by materiality, it is nevertheless a materialistic era, ignorant and cynical; society and the systems that control is organized along lines consistent with the dogma and behavior is encouraged that conforms to the stereotype.

Wonder, the unexplained and the mysterious are laughingly indulged, flippantly disregarded or outright trashed. Miracles – ‘impossible happenings that happen’ –, which incidentally have been witnessed in unprecedented numbers over the last forty years or so, and continue unabated are largely ignored. Death, which is perhaps the leading example of ‘the unknown’, is regarded as something separate from life and the end of existence. It is thought of with dread as that awful thing that one day is going to tear us away from loved ones and from daily living, with its endless turmoil and conflict, pleasures and delights – all of which we are deeply attached to. As such death is widely regarded as inherently bad, something to be feared, not talked about and avoided for as long as possible.

This particular chapter of the belief system is much more common in western, so-called developed nations (most Americans e.g. are terrified of death) than in the east, India, Tibet, China, Japan and so on. In such ancient civilizations a more enlightened view of life and death is found, part of teachings of great wisdom and depth, aspects of which over the last hundred years or so have been circulating with increasing force in the west, bringing about a shift in attitudes among many. Stimulating growing interest in eastern practices like Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga and meditation – another distorted and widely misunderstood term, and as such, one that is increasingly difficult to use with any real meaning.

Within such a reductive view, the physical body, including an endless stream of thoughts, within which ideologies and conditioning live and prosper, emotional feelings, and desires, become all-important. Collectively they form the construct of the self, and through unswerving, largely unquestioned identification, the notion of who we are as a separate individual ‘I’ is born and sustained. Sensory pleasure in its various forms – hedonism and the attainment of security – emotional and physiological, become the paramount aims, the purpose of life, the goal of all endeavor.

Association with such basic urges is encouraged and the image of the self as separate and isolated thereby strengthened. Consumerism in all its glory including the diverse world of entertainment is dependent upon the insatiable longing for stimulation and satisfaction being maintained, impulses that bring with them discontent, depression and anxiety, among a range of mental health illnesses, as well as a plethora of social issues.

It is an extremely narrow definition of life and self, and one that contradicts the teachings of the wise throughout the ages. Its divisive values and belief in separation have saturated every corner of civilization, dividing humanity, stamping on open-minded enquiry and common sense, feeding behavior that has led to endless wars, needless poverty and the environmental catastrophe, among other calamities.

Like all totalitarian ideologies, it is rooted in ignorance, and yet, like isms of all kinds, perhaps suspecting this, tolerates no opposition. All ideologies are limited and therefore false, all move along an ever-narrowing path of deceit and must result in crystallization: all imprison the mind, and if mankind is to be free, all must be rejected totally. Such confinements are totally incompatible with the times and should be among the first Casualties of Release.

Enthralled within Plato’s cave we stare into the shadows and believe them to be real, we have disregarded the wisdom of the ages, abandoned unified ways of the long, largely forgotten past, and collectively reached false conclusions about the nature of life and of ourselves. We fail to recognize and/or understand that there are basic laws that underlie all life. As a result, we consistently violate those laws setting in motion unstoppable, negative, consequences. Virtually all human thinking and behavior is motive-bound and therefore dishonest and polluting. It is the cause of all that is chaotic in our world, including the systems that imprison us, as well as every aspect of environmental disruption and ecological breakdown.

Transitional Times

As we clumsily and, for many, reluctantly, transition into a new time, a time colored by different qualities, encouraging alternate values and ways of thinking to the prevailing ones, tensions are created. Conflict between the old and dying and the incoming new, a clash between the prevailing materialistic dogma with its divisive ideals and a movement towards inclusiveness, responsibility and freedom is at the forefront.

It is a clash of values and understanding. Broadly speaking one set grows out of a decaying, but powerful identification with existing ideologies and forms. This approach proceeds from and strengthens the materialistic viewpoint, together with the belief in separation and its bed-mate, tribalism. The other senses an underlying unity to life, is curious and drawn to look within, to explore self-identity and discover meaning. We might legitimately describe this outlook as ‘spiritual’. It points towards an inherent and unchanging aspect of our nature and recognizes that humanity is one.

As awareness of this essential core, this ‘life within the form’, grows, it tends towards contentment because the mind is not as agitated by desire as it is when the focus is only external, something the current systems demand – contentment and peace of mind are the enemies of Neo-Liberalism. A mind thus oriented is a less ruffled mind; it cultivates values that we would readily recognize as good, fostering inclusivity and compassion.

With each day that passes we move ever more deeply into The New. As the past decays and its ideological grip weakens, as it must, what we might call The Spiritualization of Culture will intensify, stimulating a transformation of attitudes and the creation of new forms, breaking down divisions – within the individual, between peoples and between people and the natural environment.

Although commonly understood to allude to something separate from the material world, according to esoteric literature that which we regard as ‘spiritual’ – referring to spirit and its opposite, form, exist in duality and are but the positive and negative polarities of one energy. Spirit is the highest, most refined form of matter, and matter is the lowest, or grossest form of spirit.

Only the Poor Starve: Hunger in the Time of Covid

Additional to the global health crisis and the coming worldwide economic collapse, Covid-19 is fuelling a humanitarian crisis. The World Food Program (WFP) warns that, “millions of civilians living in conflict-scarred nations, including many women and children, face being pushed to the brink of starvation, with the spectre of famine a very real and dangerous possibility.” The WFP’s view that the biggest impact of the pandemic will not by caused by the virus directly, but the hunger that flows from it, is in line with other concerned groups.

In a recent statement the WFP warned that “unless swift action is taken”, by the end of the year we “will see more than a quarter of a billion people suffering acute hunger…in low and middle-income countries.” This is made up of 135 million already facing food shortages, plus an estimated 130 million people (it could well be more), as a result of Covid-19. This would take the total number of people who go to bed hungry every night to over a billion – approximately, for all such statistics serve as a guide only; inevitably they miss the hidden hungry, people living on the fringes of society in every country, rich and poor.

In addition to the ‘130 million’ there are the tens of millions of casual workers who can only eat if they work. “Lockdowns and global economic recession have already decimated their nest eggs,” says Dr. Arif Husain, chief economist at WFP, “it only takes one more shock – like Covid-19 – to push them over the edge.”

Countries dependent on food imports and the export of oil are particularly at risk of increased levels of hunger, as well as communities that rely on remittance income from overseas, and tourism. In addition there is the uncertainty around foreign aid as donor countries face the prospect of recession. Those in greatest danger are in 10 countries affected by conflict, economic crisis and climate change – all of which are interconnected. The 2020 Global Report on Food Crises highlights Yemen (where two deaths from Covid-19 have already been reported), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ethiopia, and South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Nigeria and Haiti. Drought and the worst locust infestation for decades (triggered by climate change) have already caused food shortages in South Asia and the Horn of Africa, where according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, 12 million people are living under the frightening shadow of food insecurity.

Unless we prepare and act now – “to secure access, avoid funding shortfalls and disruptions to trade,” the WFP statement state, “we could be facing multiple famines of biblical proportions within a short few months.”

If the virus takes hold in locations where war is raging, in countries which have weak health care systems, the UN has warned that it would be impossible to limit the impact and/or deliver much needed humanitarian supplies, including food. In an attempt to safeguard these countries the UN Secretary general António Guterres has called for a global ceasefire. While some 70 member states, regional partners, non-state actors, civil society networks and organizations,” have so far endorsed his plea, “there was”, he said, “still a distance between declarations and deeds in many countries.”

If a ‘Pandemic of Hunger’ is to be avoided, in addition to peace and humanitarian access, supply chains, which have been disrupted, must remain open and fluid, allowing food to be transported easily. And, as WFP makes clear, states must not introduce export bans or import duties, which would lead to price rises.

These are urgent steps that must be taken to meet the immediate threat. But these measures will not feed the 800 million or so suffering from chronic hunger. The primary cause of hunger in our world is not conflict or access to food, it is poverty – there is nowhere in the world where the rich go hungry. To banish hunger for good, lasting fundamental change must be introduced. Systemic change and behavioral change, and the two are inextricably connected.

A perfect storm

Even before Covid-19 the head of the WFP forecast “2020 would be facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.” He cites wars in Syria and Yemen; the crisis in South Sudan, Burkino Faso and the Central Sahel region in Africa, where UNICEF says, “4.3 million children are now in need of humanitarian assistance,” the economic crisis in Lebanon, as well as countries like Ethiopia, the DRC and Sudan. The list, he says, ‘goes on…we’re already facing a perfect storm.’

The ‘perfect storm’ is an extreme consequence of a series of interconnected causes; many, if not all of which flow from the all-pervasive socio-economic order and the divisive values and attitudes that are promoted. Crystallized as it is, the system is a construct of the consciousness of the past. It is not of the now or the time we are moving into, nevertheless it dominates all life. Like many of our structures and forms it needs to change, many know this and Covid-19 is highlighting the need for change and presenting an opportunity. It is acting as a mirror, an agency of revelation, bringing issues into focus and pouring fuel on already simmering fires, insisting we attend. With businesses closed large numbers of people are being forced to slow down, to stop consuming, stop travelling. A space has opened up in which to reflect and examine how we live, individually as well as collectively.

A range of festering issues, known but either ignored or inflamed, are being brought to the surface; interrelated crises that have been percolating for decades demanding attention and a new approach. The man-made environmental crisis, which is the pressing issue of the age, and the outdated economic structure, inadequate or non-existent public services, the crisis of wealth/income and power inequality and social injustice among a number of other pressing social wounds.

After the pandemic has retreated and lockdowns are released the world economy is, by all predictions set to crash. The IMF estimate The Great Lockdown, as they are calling it, will result in the “worst recession since the Great Depression, and far worse than the Global Financial Crisis.” But as the head of the body, Kristalina Georgieva admits, it could be worse, they don’t know. If the coming crash is met, not with desperation and despair, but with creative imagination and compassion, it may, indeed could, bring about widespread liberation, allowing for a new and just, long overdue, reorganization of the socio-economic and political spheres.

The Age of Reason

Consistent with the new time we are moving into, a shift in collective consciousness is taking place among large numbers of people all over the world. To accommodate this shift, this new awareness that is slowly emerging, new ways of thinking, new institutions and structures are badly needed, including crucially a radically overhauled socio-economic system. A flexible evolving model anchored in certain Principles of Goodness: Unity, sharing and justice.

This common-sense trinity is interdependent and encourages values of cooperation and understanding, responsibility and tolerance. By the expression of one quality the other is strengthened, reinforced, expanded. Key is unity, the recognition that all of life is interconnected, whole, that humanity is one and that all have the same and equal rights. That we all have a responsibility to one another and the natural world and our actions should proceed from a position of awareness. Any new system must have sharing at its core. Sharing would end for good the abomination of men, women, and children dying of starvation – with or without a pandemic –, or living stunted crippled lives due to malnutrition in a world overflowing with food. Acknowledging what each nation has to offer the world at large (natural resource, including food and water, knowledge and skills, etc.) and what it lacks, what it needs from others. And thirdly, Justice, – social and environmental justice –, under the doctrine of the present order there is neither. The system is inherently unjust and cruel, benefiting these that have, punishing and abusing those that are vulnerable and have not. The natural environment – forests, rivers, oceans, habitat, all are sacrificed or exploited for profit. All need to be protected, nurtured, and allowed to heal, as does humanity.

Through the introduction of sharing as the primary organizing principle underlying the socio-economic order and animating widespread change, trust would be created, relationships built, divisions eroded, allowing for peace to come into being. Peace and freedom are perennial ideals held within the hearts of mankind. Sharing, unity and justice are the means of entry into a world in which they become not just hopes and  unrealized dreams, but vibrant qualities animating all modes of living.

Covid-19: The Rich, the Poor, the “Other”

‘We’re all in this together,’ chant the duplicitous politicians, meaning the Covid-19 pandemic. The official language around the crisis is consistently hypocritical and disingenuous; – ‘trite and misleading’ is how the BBC described the UK government’s slimy rhetoric. World-wide the script is much the same – ‘we’re at war…. we’re fighting an invisible enemy and we will prevail together,’ and soon, very soon, we will come out of this and get back to ‘normal’ — God forbid. For most people in Western nations ‘normal’ is stressful, full of uncertainty, exhausting; for the hundreds of millions living in dire poverty or stifling economic insecurity in developing countries, it is a kind of agony in which simply surviving constitutes living, and for the planet, ‘normal’ equates to wholesale vandalism. Spare us what constitutes present-day ‘normal’, let normal be re-imagined, let it evolve to become something humane and just.

Covid-19 is a “health issue with huge ramifications for social welfare and it’s a welfare issue with huge ramifications for public health.” The impact and consequences of the pandemic (for health and the economy) are much worse for the poorest sections of society and could devastate developing nations. It is making social inequality even more acute and while many communities are uniting, where a coordinated political response is called for, divisions predominate.

Nations, none more so than America, have become increasingly introverted, putting their own needs first. To the surprise of nobody, President Trump has refused to cooperate with international bodies and has completely failed to show any global leadership. He repeatedly downplayed the threat from Covid-19, and then, (like other countries – the UK for example, where the government has met the crisis with serial incompetency) failed to initiate testing and contact tracing early enough, banned flights from the EU overnight without discussing it with any European government, and among other alleged underhand acts, Die Walt reports the President “offered large sums of money” to get exclusive access to a coronavirus vaccine being developed by a German company…[and] to move its research wing to the United States and develop the vaccine “for the U.S. only.”” His nationalistic approach has made cooperation impossible; calls by the G7 to form a Global Taskforce were ignored. As the German magazine Die Spiegel says, “it appears that the coronavirus is destroying the last vestiges of a world order.” The EU as a body that could fill the leadership vacuum created by Trump’s ineptitude and arrogance has also been found wanting.

Social divisions, who cares?

Alongside the crippling impact of long term austerity on public services (including health care), the pandemic is exposing the stark levels of social division that exist throughout the world; in developing countries we need a different more extreme term to describe the gaping chasm between the rich or comfortable, in India or Nigeria say, and those that have little or nothing – social apartheid perhaps.

Around half the world’s population is under some kind of government lockdown; restrictions forcing people to stay at home and to limit social contact impact on everyone, but the effect of such laws vary enormously depending on an individual or family’s circumstances. Over and above the fact that all are constrained, and to varying degrees at risk of contamination, there is little or no shared experience between the rich, well-off, comfortable and those struggling to get by, or those who cannot manage. Not now anymore than there was before Covid, not within developed nations, awash with social divisions based on hereditary privilege, wealth/income inequality and racial/gender discrimination, or globally between the rich ex-colonial industrialized masters and the poor, under-resourced and un-prepared – Sub Saharan Africa and South-East Asia, regions where the greatest concentration of poor people are to be found, many of whom live in crowded slums, and where the weakest health systems exist.

Everywhere in the world the cushioned and comfortable are more or less, insulated, both from pandemic inconvenience and to a degree from the coming economic tsunami. Annoyed at the disruption the virus brings perhaps, but without any real financial worries and a life of relative ease, their ‘normal’ is fine thank you very much, the ‘lockdown’ more akin to an extended holiday than an imprisonment. Yes, confinement may be irritating, but the children have their own rooms, plenty of toys, devices and games, and there’s probably a garden to romp in, more expansive grounds in some cases, so less need to go into public places. The rest, the majority, are confined to small flats, tower blocks or houses with no outside space and limited light; overcrowding is a major issue in many countries with families of five or six living in inadequate properties. Then there are the men, women and children who, for one reason or another, don’t have a home – ‘the homeless’. And the world’s refugees, hundreds of thousands of people living in tents in densely populated camps where social distancing is impossible and health care, where there is any at all, is rudimentary.

The divisions in our world are stark and the coming economic crash, which will perhaps prove fatal, will further accentuate them; inequality is at unprecedented levels, within countries, and between regions; concentrations of wealth and with it power, become more intense and narrow year on year; social injustice is rampant: in fact, within the current socio-economic order there is no social justice at all. And without social justice there will never be peace.

But who cares about such things? Beyond the everyday acts of community kindness and warmth evoked by Covid, who cares if there’s social justice and peace or not? Beyond the charity worker or the good neighbor, the idealist, the man and woman who share a common pain, who really cares?  Does the politician in his corner office or country retreat truly care? Does corporate man/woman? ‘Yes, they would answer, of course I/we care, look we give money to charity, provide employment and try to trade ethically’ but while they may sing the song of sincerity, such ‘caring’ is always conditional, limited, ideologically constrained. If caring means loss of any kind – less profit or less privilege, less influence, less status, less comfort, ‘caring’ and those in need of care are sacrificed. If ‘caring’ means sharing what I want for myself or my family with those who I don’t know, those that have less, nothing maybe, if caring involves self-sacrifice of any kind, if it inconveniences at all, do they, do we, care? If caring is limited is it caring or is it simply selfishness loosely wrapped in a cloak of generosity?

And when ‘caring’, unconditional and spontaneous, is consigned to the shadows and an atmosphere of selfishness and greed is fed and nourished the gaping chasm in society and between nations continues to fester and grow; rancid it is, ugly and violent.

Why are some rich and others poor (nations and people), why are some privileged and most not, why are there such huge divisions? Yes, the socio-economic and political systems are unjust, designed to perpetuate rather than eradicate division, and they must be changed, but more important is the ground from which the systems grow, the Mind of Mankind, the collective consciousness that allows such dysfunctional, cruel modes of living to come into being and to be maintained. This polluted spring must be purged of all poisons (selfishness, tribal nationalism, ambition, greed, etc.) so that ‘caring’ for the other, serving the needs of the other, putting the ‘other’ first, becomes the natural inclination, the driving impulse for action. As the teacher, Maitreya has said (message number 52), “the problems of mankind are real but solvable…take your brother’s need as the measure for your action and solve the problems of the world.” It’s so simple; all that is required is a shift in attitude, a reorientation away from self-centered thinking and activity, and recognition that ‘the other’ is oneself. Perhaps, just perhaps, the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic melt down will be the trigger for such a seismic, but essential, change in the way we live.