Category Archives: Finland

Pompeo’s Arctic Shipping Lanes

America’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking at the prestigious Arctic Council biannual meeting in Finland, christened the Arctic meltdown: “A wonderful economic opportunity for international trade.” In a nutshell, here’s a critique of the Secretary’s advice: An ice-free Arctic reduces travel time for shipping lanes between Asia and the West by three weeks, which qualifies as one of the biggest transport revolutions since cargo planes first crossed the Atlantic in the early 20th century.

Additionally, more goodies are at stake, as highlighted by the portly stout Secretary in his address to the biannual in Finland:

Arctic sea lanes could become the 21st century Suez and Panama Canals. Pompeo also called the region, which has lost nearly 90,000 square miles of sea ice since last year, the forefront of opportunity and abundance. It houses 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil, 30 percent of its undiscovered gas, an abundance of uranium, rare earth minerals, gold, diamonds, and millions of square miles of untapped resources, fisheries galore, he said.1

The Arctic is the newest frontier for commercial interests, drilling, mining, and fishing galore, with remarkably little concern for spills or accidents in one of the harshest yet most sensitive ecosystems on the planet. The Secretary also emphasized American supremacy, by putting both China and Russia on notice for their “aggressive behavior.”

Surprisingly, there is a silver lining within this exercise of pomposity and heavy-duty bombast by Mr. Secretary ignoring, rejecting the inherent dangers of global warming and clearly stating a preference for complete meltdown of the Arctic. Thereafter, the most powerful forces of nature will be un-leashed much sooner than would otherwise be the case. Still, there is a surprising silver lining to all of this nonsense.

Counter-intuitively, Pompeo’s blatant push for celebration of an ice-free Arctic helps the world community to avoid the gravity of circumstances. Further to that point, for the first time ever, the Arctic Council did not issue a joint statement after the Finnish summit concluded. The sticking point was U.S. insistence upon “watering down the climate change statement,” in turn, disrupting worldwide efforts to wholeheartedly address the issue in proper forum.

Not surprisingly, upon leaving the summit, Secretary Pompeo mysteriously, on very short notice, canceled his scheduled meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, wondering whether she might slap the daylights out of him, until his beetling jowls turn pink.

Again, the silver lining within Pompeo’s pomposity is the inescapable conclusion that the world needs a wake-up call, a kick in the shins, or a hard knock on the head that an ice-free Arctic could be absolutely devastating. So far, the world community doesn’t seem to take the risks seriously, as CO2 emissions are ready/set for all-time records in 2019.

Therefore, the sooner that rising sea levels hit uncomfortable levels, as an ice-free Arctic serves to hurry up Greenland’s big melt, and the sooner that weird weather patterns destroy more agricultural crops, like the damage done to Upper Midwest Floods (2019) in the U.S., the sooner people will get the message loud and clear that something needs to be done on a coordinated worldwide basis. Therefore, in a weird twisted fashion, Pompeo does the world a favor by helping the climate crisis cruise along uninterrupted by any human influence to reduce or ameliorate, instead knocking the world in the head with a strong dose of reality.

Henceforth, at the very least, as that reality of iceless Arctic-related problems in the Northern Hemisphere hit in a big way, nation/states will be forced to prepare their citizens with infrastructure projects like building seawalls around every major coastal city, storing additional grains, closing down or moving nuclear power plants away from coastal flood-surge zones and other preventative measures in anticipation of all hell breaking lose.

In that respect, Pomposity Pompeo will have served the world well by opening its eyes much sooner than otherwise would be the case to a major existential threat so that people are forced, for the first time ever, to deal with the harsh reality of upcoming bigger threats.

Scientists know that an ice-free Arctic could take the world down to its knees via (1) Amplification of the big Greenland meltdown, but alarmingly rain is already melting Greenland, even in winter – Ouch! (2) Worldwide grain-production will suffer extreme havoc as loopy jet streams over the Arctic force tropical weather north, Arctic weather south. Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska (2019 record snow and record flooding) already have experienced loopy jet streams influencing weird, harsh, record-setting damaging weather, and (3) A massive 50gt burst of methane clathrates out of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, kick-starting Runaway Global Warming… the end game.

Regarding the end game, the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, similar to a growling creature in the back of a dark cave, is in waiting, eerily similar to the circumstances behind the Permian Mass Extinction, when pretty much every living creature got bumped off, dead as door nails, according to the science:

The release of methane… from permafrost and shelf sediment methane hydrate is deemed the ultimate source and cause for the dramatic life-changing global warming… and oceanic negative-carbon isotope excursion observed at the end Permian. Global warming triggered by the massive release of carbon dioxide may be catastrophic, but the release of methane from hydrate may be apocalyptic.2

Repeating the scariest sentence of the 21st century: “Global warming triggered by the massive release of carbon dioxide may be catastrophic, but the release of methane from hydrate may be apocalyptic,” caustically, Pompeo’s epitaph, lest ignoring the rapidly thinning layer of underwater permafrost that barely covers the massive deposits of methane hydrates in shallow waters (easily warmed up w/o ice cover) in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf warrants some kind of final recognition.

Postscript: Mauna Loa CO2 emissions, as of April 2019 @ 413.32 ppm versus 410.24 ppm in April 2018, or an increase of +3.08 ppm. That rate of increase is nearly twice the rate +1.61 ppm in the year 2000. By way of contrast, in 1960 CO2 increased +0.54 ppm (see a trend?) As more CO2 emits into the atmosphere, global warming heats up more and more.

And, as for the celebrated 2015 Paris climate agreement… Where’s Waldo?

  1. Mike Pompeo: “Reductions in Sea Ice Will Open Up Trade Opportunities”, The Daily Beast, May 6, 2019.
  2. Uwe Brand et al, “Methane Hydrate: Killer Cause of Earth’s Greatest Mass Extinction”, Paleoworld, Vol. 25, issue 4, December 2016.

The Anti-War Autumn Is Here

Last weekend, we participated in the Women’s March on the Pentagon, a successful action designed to build on the women-led movement against militarism and imperialism. Cindy Sheehan, who called for the march, stated explicitly that this was not a get out the vote event, as the last Women’s March was, and condemned both major parties for their support of war and militarism. She explained that war is a women’s issue because of the rape, violence, displacement and murder of women in countries that are occupied by military forces.

We have been referring to this fall as the Antiwar Autumn as there have been and will be many activities opposing war. This is a critical time to rebuild the peace movement because US foreign policy is headed in a dangerous direction by antagonizing the great powers, Russia and China, as well as continuing military and economic war in the Middle East and Latin America and increased military presence in Africa and Asia. At some point the US and its allies may cross the line and incite a nuclear or world war. We must work to prevent that and guide the US toward a foreign policy grounded in respect for international law and the self-determination of peoples and nations.

Largest NATO Military Exercise Since End of Cold War Begins

As relations between the United States and Russia further deteriorate, the US and allies from 28 other countries begin a month-long military exercise near the Russian border, “Trident Juncture.” Billed as a test of NATO countries’ ability to respond rapidly, this exercise includes troops from Finland and Sweden, which are not NATO members. It is the largest mobilization of NATO troops since the end of the Cold War.

The location of the exercise is designed to send a message to both Russia and China. NATO Naval ships will enter the Baltic Sea, where Russian military planes fly, and be placed off the coast of Norway where they could cut off the transportation of goods between Russia and China and the European Union though the Arctic, called the Northern Passage.

Further antagonism of Russia exists in the push to expand NATO to include Ukraine and Georgia, which are both on the Russian border. The US is already conducting joint military exercises with the Ukrainian military and has stated support for adding Ukraine and Georgia to NATO despite concerns raised by NATO members France and Germany that this would be too provocative and might trigger a response from Russia. The US expanded NATO to Colombia, which borders Venezuela.

The new book, “The Russians are Coming Again,” chronicles the long history of US antagonism toward Russia. In his review of the book, Ron Ridenour points out that Russia has more to fear from the US than the US does from Russia and that historical amnesia results in successful demonization of Russia in the media. The authors write:

Russia helps to reaffirm US national identity and visions of exceptionalism and righteousness at a time of escalating domestic crises, and helps rationalize the expansion of NATO and maintenance of huge military budgets. The result is that we are again threatened with the outbreak of a Third World War, with the United States again bearing considerable responsibility.

Sarah Lazare points out the dangerous “Russiagate” rhetoric of the Democrats that is being used to justify their support for massive increases in military spending. Funds are included in the new budget to bolster militarization in countries along the Russian border and for more nuclear weapons. Trump’s support for withdrawal from the intermediate-range nuclear treaty with Russia could spark a new nuclear arms race.

Anniversary of AFRICOM and the Murder of Gaddafi

October marks the tenth anniversary of AFRICOM (the US Africa Command) and the seventh anniversary of the murder of Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi. These are both manifestations of US imperialism. African countries are rich in resources that the United States seeks to control and to prevent China from having access to them.

Netfa Freeman, of Black Alliance for Peace, calls AFRICOM the modern colonization of Africa. Countries that sign military agreements with the US give up sovereignty over their land where the bases are located. Freeman also explains that AFRICOM exists to prevent the existence of “any independent African influence or force,” which is why Gaddafi was killed and why the US supported coups in Mali and Burkina Faso in recent years.

Black Alliance for Peace has a petition calling on the Congressional Black Caucus to investigate AFRICOM and for the closure of US bases in Africa. CLICK HERE TO SIGN IT.

We interviewed Ajamu Baraka, the national organizer for Black Alliance for Peace, about AFRICOM and why it is critical to understand and oppose US imperialism if we are to achieve peace on the Clearing the FOG podcast this week.

Protest the War Machine

There were multiple protests against militarism this week. In addition to the Women’s March on the Pentagon, seven people were arrested protesting the drone program at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. The Stop Banking the Bomb campaign had actions outside PNC banks in three cities to call attention to the hundreds of millions of dollars they provide in loans for corporations that make weapons. And, hundreds of students protested Henry Kissinger’s speaking event at New York University.

There are upcoming opportunities to protest and to build the anti-war, anti-imperialist movement.

November 3 – Black is Back is holding a march to the White House to protest wars in Africa.

November 9 – 11Full weekend of events in Washington, DC and Philadelphia. The coalition that opposed the military parade is organizing a full weekend of events including veterans occupying the VA, concerts in McPherson Square, a Peace Congress to End US Wars at Home and Abroad, a veteran and military family-led march to reclaim Armistice Day and a vigil in Philadelphia where Joe Biden will give former president Bush an award.

November 16 to 18SOA Watch Border Encuentro in Nogales, Arizona/Sonora.

November 16 to 18No US NATO Bases conference in Dublin, Ireland.

November 17 – “Two Minutes to Midnight” – Conference to prevent nuclear war in Maryland.

We will participate in the No US NATO Bases conference in Ireland. Popular Resistance is a member of the No US Foreign Military Bases coalition. After that, we will head to the Netherlands to deliver a letter to the International Criminal Court calling for a full investigation of Israeli war crimes. Please sign the letter as an individual or organization. CLICK HERE TO SIGN.

On April 4, 2019, NATO will hold its 70th anniversary meeting in Washington, DC. Organizations are starting now to call for and plan actions. Here are calls to protest NATO by the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) and World Beyond War, which Popular Resistance has endorsed. We will keep you updated as plans unfold.

The anti-war movement is growing at a critical time. We can reverse this path towards war and build a peace economy and a peace culture. To do that, we must recognize the many connections between militarization at home and abroad and myriad aspects of our lives from oppression of Indigenous Peoples to police violence to militarization of children to climate change and ecological destruction to capitalism, colonization and austerity. We are committed to building a movement of movements to create transformative change.

Sauli Niinistö and Vladimir Poutine joint news conference, by Vladimir Putin, Sauli Niinistö

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, We have just finished talks with the President of Finland. They were held in a constructive atmosphere. Recently, in mid-July, Mr Niinistö and I had a meeting in Helsinki, and today we continued to discuss topical issues on the bilateral and international agendas. Russian-Finnish relations are traditionally neighbourly and mutually beneficial. This includes trade and economic ties, most importantly. At the end of (...)

Education and the Mental Health Epidemic

Across the western world June is exam time; in Britain, written tests taken in halls of silence and tension have triggered a mini-epidemic of anxiety rooted conditions. Pupils have reported mental exhaustion, panic attacks, crying, nosebleeds, sleepless nights, hair loss and outbreaks of acne.

Over the past 25 years, depression and anxiety amongst teenagers in the UK has increased by 70%. This pattern is repeated across the developed world, and is the result of a cocktail of pressures, pressures that result in 10% of under 18-year-olds in America being dependent on mental health medication.

In parts of Asia things are just as bad or worse: the pressure to achieve high marks in exams in Hong Kong is driving some students to suicide: “71 students took their lives between 2013 and 2016,” reports The South China Morning Post. In Singapore, which produces children who excel in standardized tests, an 11-year-old jumped to his death from the 17th floor of an apartment building in 2016 because he was afraid to tell his parents his exam results. The inquest heard that the boy’s parents relentlessly pushed him to achieve at school: his mother would cane him for every mark he received under 70%. In 2015 a record 27 suicides were reported amongst children between 10 and 19, which was double the previous year’s total.

Suicide or attempted suicide is a raw scream revealing the internal agony a child is living with; pain that he/she feels suffocated by, and unable to openly acknowledge. In most cases children don’t kill themselves, they just become ill, some, chronically. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that neuropsychiatric conditions are the primary cause of disability in under 25-year-olds worldwide and says that globally between 10% and 20% “of children and adolescents experience mental disorders,” feeding what are often long-term conditions. Research shows that 75% of all mental health issues begin before a person reaches 18, with 50% taking root before age 15.

Engines of conformity

There are various interconnected reasons for this mental health epidemic; the burden to conform and the relentless pressure to succeed are primary causes and are present throughout institutionalized education. For many young people education has become a bi-word for competition and anxiety, school or university a place where uniformity is demanded and individuality denied: a hostile place in which pressure and stress dominate.

Despite the best efforts of teachers, many of whom are doing wonderful work, the goal of academic institutions in many countries has been reduced to passing exams and achieving good-to-high grades. This is anathema to what education ought to be. At the heart of education should be the aim of creating happy human beings free from fear. This requires establishing environments that allow an individual to discover innate talents, to explore him/herself and slowly, perhaps clumsily, give expression to that; a stimulating, nurturing space where mistakes can be made, failure allowed, independent thinking fostered and responsibility for society and the natural environment engendered.

Like all aspects of contemporary life, education has been tainted by the values of a particular approach to life, a materialistic methodology that fosters negative tendencies instead of feeding the good and liberating the spirit. Competition is encouraged instead of cooperation, placing people in opposition to one another, cultivating division instead of unity. Individual success is championed at the expense of group well-being and life is reduced to a battleground ruled by desire and the pursuit of pleasure.

The focus within this paradigm of misery is on material success and the accumulation of status and things. Hedonism is sold as the source of all happiness, feeding perpetual discontent. It is an extremely narrow approach to life that denies mystery and wonder, pours cynicism on the miraculous and attempts to crush self-investigation and silence opposition.

Whilst the majority of humanity suffer and struggle to live healthy fulfilling lives within this mode of living, there are those who, economically at least, profit handsomely. As a result, and failing to recognize that they too are trapped, they do everything to maintain it; they are the wealthy and powerful, the ‘ruling elite’. Money begets power and political influence under the pervading paradigm; such influence is used to shape (and draft) government policies that strengthen systems, which maintain the existing unhealthy order.

To uphold the status quo, freedom of thought and true individuality is curtailed, social conformity insisted upon. The major tools of conditioning are the media, which is commonly owned by corporations or controlled by governments, organized religion, and education. The policies of schools and colleges are set by central government, and, consistent with the pervasive ideology politicians ensure that conformity and competition are built into the working methodology.

Students are set in competition with one another, with established standards and with themselves, and are regularly forced to sit written examinations to evaluate how much they can remember or know, about any particular subject. Taking exams dictates the passage of a child’s education and establishes the benchmark against which young people are judged, and by extension often judge themselves. Using tests as a way of assessing a person’s ability and knowledge is archaic; sitting exams exerts colossal pressure, and although some may be able to cope and ‘do well’ the majority feel suffocated.

In Britain, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) relates that in 2016/17 Childline delivered “3,135 counseling sessions on exam stress – a rise of 11% over the past 2 years.” Children aged between 12 and 18 reported that exam stress was causing “depression and anxiety, panic attacks, low-self-esteem, self harming and suicidal thoughts.” This pattern is common in many developed and developing countries, where ideologically-driven corporate governments obsessed with trade, continue to pursue methods, that are, by design, detrimental to the well being of children.

Instead of policies rooted in competition, cooperation and sharing need to be encouraged in all aspects of education and standardized exams consigned to the past. The educational environment needs to be one in which children are encouraged to support each other, to share their own particular gifts with the group and build a sense of social responsibility. Many teachers naturally employ such inclusive methods, but working within divisive systems, which promote individual success, conformity and competition, their efforts are often frustrated.

An Alternative way

A more enlightened approach to education is found in Finland. Here, children don’t start school until they are seven, there is no streaming or selection in schools, so children of varying abilities work side by side, no homework is set, school holidays are long and there is only one standardized test, administered in the final year of high school. The result is happier children than in countries where testing, homework, selection and competition reign supreme. Not only are children happier (according to the World Happiness Report, Finland is the happiest country in the world), they achieve higher academic marks than students in many other countries; according to The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) organized annually by the OECD, Finland ranks fourth for reading and 5th for Math in the world; 93% of students graduate from High School, compared to 78% in Canada and 75% in America.

Teachers in Finland are well qualified – all have a Master’s Degree – and are highly valued. They are not dictated to by misguided politicians who come and go, but are trusted to do their job independently, and the country has a long-term approach to education policy, which “means plans remain in place for a significant amount of time, giving them a chance to work, ” says Russell Hobby, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers.

An education system is part of a society’s overall approach to living. As well as being a happy place to live and having a relaxed attitude to education, Finland has some of the lowest levels of wealth and income inequality in the world and the highest level of community trust. In contrast, Britain, USA, Singapore and Hong Kong have some of the highest levels of inequality. The Finland education system is inseparable from the culture, which it serves. Saku Tuominen, director of the HundrEd project says that Finland has “a ‘socially cohesive’, equitable and efficient society, and it gets a consistently reliable school system to match.”

Systems of education built around the ideals of the market that use competition, selection and examinations are contributing to a collective atmosphere of division, injustice and anxiety. Such methodologies need to be fundamentally changed, replaced by creative environments in which children and young adults can simply be, without pressure to achieve or become anything in particular. In such an atmosphere, true intelligence, which is beyond the limitations of knowledge, can flower.

Inequality Social Dysfunction and Misery

Year on year the economic divisions and sub-divisions in the world deepen, and the associated social ills increase: The rich, comfortable, and the very extremely rich keep getting richer, and the rest, well, whilst some may be raised up out of crippling poverty into relative poverty, the majority of people continue to live under a blanket of economic insecurity and largely remain where they are.

Straddling the global ladder of economic and social division sit the Multi-Billionaires (there are now 2,208 billionaires), 42 of whom (down from 61 in 2016), according to a recent report by Oxfam, own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of humanity combined. Together with their lesser cohorts this coterie of Trillionaires sucked up “eighty-two percent of the wealth generated [in the world] last year…while the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world saw no increase in their wealth.”

The defining challenge of our time

Income and wealth inequality is not simply a monetary issue, it is a complex social crisis that supports and strengthens notions of superiority and inferiority, and was described by President Barak Obama in 2013 as “the defining challenge of our time.”

Today’s obscene levels of inequality are the result of the Neo-Liberal economic system. This extreme form of capitalism took hold first in America and Britain in the early 1980s when Reagan and Thatcher ruled, workers’ rights were trampled on, ‘society’ was a dirty word and community responsibility was abandoned to selfishness and greed. With the aid of the World Bank and the IMF, Neoliberalism swiftly spread throughout the world, polluting life in every city, town and village with its divisive, cruel ideology. Commercialization and competition are key principles and have infiltrated every area of contemporary life; everything and everyone is seen as a commodity, and the size of ones bank account determines the level of health care, education and housing available, as well as one’s access to culture and freedom to travel.

Social injustice is inherent in the system, as is inequality, which is itself a major form of injustice. Inequality strengthens deep-seated social imbalances based on class and social standing, and in a world where everything is classified, commercialized and priced; i.e., attributed value, external wealth and position have become the common criteria for determining the internal worth of a human being. Comparison and imitation follow, individuality is perverted and fear fostered; fear of inadequacy, fear of failure, fear of not being loved, because not ‘deserving’ love, not being able to ‘afford’ love. Resentment, anger and self-loathing are fed, leading to a range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and drug and alcohol addiction.

Happiness and inequality

The impact of financial inequality on the health and well being of society has been extensively studied by Richard Wilkinson; British co-author of Spirit Level, Professor Emeritus of Social Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham. In order to establish national levels of inequality Wilkinson and his team used a benchmark based on how much richer the top 20% is to the bottom 20%: Japan and Scandinavia (Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark) came out most equal, and now, Slovenia and the Czech Republic have moved towards this group. Israel, New Zealand, Australia, Britain, Portugal and USA were found to have the greatest levels of inequality, and by some margin. Recent data suggests that Russia, South Africa and Turkey should now be added to the most unequal pile. Germany, Spain and Switzerland sit somewhere in the middle.

Data relating to a range of social issues was examined: The most unequal countries were found to have lower life expectancy than more equal societies, higher infant mortality, many more homicides, larger prison populations (by 10-15 times), applied longer sentences; had higher teenage pregnancies, lower mathematic/literacy levels, more obesity, less social mobility, and, according to The World Value Survey, a great deal less trust. In more equal countries, like Sweden and Norway, around 65% of people trust others, whereas in unequal societies like America a mere 15% admitted to trusting their fellow citizens.

In all areas, countries with high levels of inequality did worse, in many cases much worse, than more equal nations. Mental health, for example, (figures from the World Health Organization): In Japan around 8% of the population suffers from some form of mental health issue, compared to 30% in America. Children are considerably healthier in more equal countries – based on UNICEF’s Index of Child Well-Being – and feel a good deal happier. Wilkinson concludes, “What we’re looking at is general social dysfunction related to inequality. It’s not just one or two things that go wrong, it’s most things.”

Look to Scandinavia

If one of the primary purposes of any socio-economic system is to create environments in which human beings can grow and live happily together, then the nations suffering under the shadow of inequality need to learn from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, which are not just the least unequal, they are also the happiest countries in the world. Throughout Scandinavia public services – education (which is probably the best in the world), health care and housing, are valued, and taxes levied in order to fund them properly; there are greater levels of social justice, this allows for trust to develop, and where there is trust relationships flower. The extremes of staggering wealth and stifling poverty don’t exist as they do in the more unequal parts of the world; social mobility is greater and the dream of betterment more realistic, as Richard Wilkinson says, “if Americans want to live the ‘American dream’ they should go and live in Denmark.”

The first duty of government is to protect the people; this involves not only dealing with terrorism and the like, but requires the development of socio-economic policies that contribute to the creation of a healthy harmonious environment. By supporting extreme inequality (which has been shown to fuel a range of social issues) governments in the more unequal countries are totally failing in this fundamental duty. Politicians, who in many cases rely on big business and wealthy benefactors for their funding, are either blind to, or negligent of, the inherent faults of the current system, and the unhealthy, negative way of life it supports.

The case for fundamental change in the economic order, and a shift away from the destructive values it promotes is becoming irrefutable; however, change occurs only gradually and resistance is great. In the meantime, governments (particularly in the most unequal states) need to acknowledge the connection between the dysfunction and disease within society and their socio-economic methodology, which is literally making people ill, as well and poisoning the natural world. They need to invest properly in public services, address wage differences, ban bonuses, introduce progressive tax reform, and, unlike America and France which are taking retrograde steps by designing tax codes which will fuel inequality, look to the Scandinavian countries and learn from their example.

For too long socio-economic systems have been designed and maintained to cater to the desires and interests of a privileged few, while the majority live inhibited lives under the shadow of financial uncertainty. For harmonious societies to evolve this long-standing injustice needs to be addressed and a degree of balance found. This requires that those whose table is full to overflowing share some of their bounty, so that all may have enough, not excess, enough.

As a wise man has said, “The rich must give up what they want, so that the poor can have what they need.” What the rich and comfortable must give up is greed (another car, another house, more designer clothes, etc.), what the rest need is freedom from economic insecurity and the fear of destitution, freedom from exploitation and dependency; secure, comfortable, and well-designed accommodation, and access to good education, health care and culture. Such essential needs are the rights of all; when made manifest they go a long way towards establishing social justice, and where there is social justice, functional, compassionate communities do evolve, conflict is reduced and collective harmony is cultivated.

On Direct Democracy and Demarchy

The following is an interview by Jana Turk (from Moniheli) to Pedro Aibéo, on Direct Democracy, Demarchy, political activism and Architectural Democracy.

*****

Jana Turk: in your opinion, what are the best ways of participating and influencing?

Pedro Aibéo: The good and bad thing concerning your question is that there is no magic formula. There are many unpredictable ways of having a voice in the decision-making processes. It can be associated with the originality of it, the quality of one’s argument or simply due to perseverance. In my view, the voice one holds within society reflects the process on how one has achieved it. Meaning, if I am advocating violence, I will excel by BEING violent – let’s say, for example – by killing people right here at the World Village Festival! But if my message is one of wisdom, rationality, education, discussion, diversity, etc. it must therefore be delivered in the in the same way as I expect the outcome to be. These qualities are products of an enduring process of self-improvement.

JT: Self-identifying as an anarcho-syndicalist, how did you end up running for elections in the first place?

PA: The short answer is that somebody has to be the last professional politician!…

I think it is important to briefly explain what anarcho-syndicalism means. Anarchism is the absence of archy, meaning, the absence of power. Combining this word with syndicalism, which is, a system of economic organization where industries are owned and managed by workers, then we would have anarcho-syndicalism, which would roughly mean, a lateral, or horizontal process of decision-making among the workers. In other words, the cleaning lady and the engineer have both a direct voice in their workplace. They are both heard.

Owning the means of production goes back to the famous central Marxist ideas. So an anarcho-syndicalist would not believe in the misuse of power. But let us not go to extremes here, power over somebody can be sometimes fundamental, but it must be clearly justified. A good example is the use of authority of parents to children. If my kids – I have two – want to cross the street without looking right and left, I will use force to prevent a possible mishap. This is justified use of power.

Why then would a self-proclaimed anarcho-syndicalist run for office, which is a clear power structure inflicted to a majority? We will not improve the way we live together through more revolutions. Revolutions are much fun, but not in the morning after. After the revolution is done, the same problems arise. So we need to improve and learn from history. In using the current structure to bend it step by step, to gradually eliminate the need for power structures.

My campaign was all about Direct Democracy – and if elected – my voice would be as valuable as any other citizen’s, despite holding office. Direct Democracy goes hand in hand with anarcho-syndicalist principles. Now, I didn’t run for the city council out of my own initiative, I was invited early this year by two political parties. They did so due to my previous and very successful campaign against the Guggenheim franchise in Helsinki – which some people call, wrongly, a museum. I thought long about the invitation and went for it on my own terms, which from there the Left Alliance party came to agree with.

JT: One of your aims was to gradually introduce direct democracy, either through technology (e-voting) or by gradually modifying our representative system into one where local citizens are randomly and temporarily elected for office (Demarchy). Can you tell us more about demarchy?

PA: My terms for the political campaign were dually dealt. The short term issue concerned Direct Democracy and the long term goal was to end political careerism. My campaign was the only one in Finland ever to be done in English only. This was fundamental, to alert the fact that fifteen percent of the citizens of Helsinki, who vote and pay taxes, neither understand Finnish or Swedish. How can it be a democracy if participation is undermined in such a high level? It can’t. To address this, I proposed Direct Democracy, not as a solver of all problems, but as a trial for innovation in our political structures. Remember, the political participation currently is at an all-time low since the 1920s. So, by posting online all City Council decisions in English and by letting citizens vote in these outcomes, case by case, it would keep them alert to issues and best of all informed! So my vote in the City Council would be the result of the e-voting, not of my own opinion.

If taken further steps down the road, this would show that the process of electing representatives is not needed at all. Our current method of election, of Representative Democracy, dates back to the twelfth century, a totally outdated system invented by a seventeen year old king! We can do better than this in the age of ubiquitous technology, one which could introduce demarchy (also called lottocracy, allotment, aleatory representative democracy or sortation). Basically, my proposal is that political representatives are selected randomly from citizens from our communities, to serve in a limited amount of time in office. This diminishes corruption from political careerism and increases political participation of citizens and a more reality-attached sense of the problems of which to tackle.

JT: Can you tell us some examples where demarchy has been implemented?

PA: Ancient Greeks practiced the system, as did the Venetian Republic to some extent. It’s still operational today, most notable in jury processes. We all have seen Hollywood movies where the lay jury decides the fate of a person’s life based on expert’s accounts. These juries are randomly selected people, to avoid anyone planted or biased influencing the outcome. But there are more examples: the same process has been carried out to write laws, for instance in Canada at the British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly, or regarding the “Convention on the Constitution”, in Ireland. Another most recent example which gives ever more legitimacy to demarchy is [Emmanuel] Macron’s [En Marche!] party elections [in France], where an array of new politicians [many] with no political experience won the majority of the parliament.

JT: Often Switzerland is given as an example for direct democracy. Do you think the Swiss system is something we should strive for, also in Finland?

PA: Perhaps, yes. I lived in Zürich in 2012-2013. The Swiss government is not really a government. Its system is complicated and slow, but at large, it works, as it maintains the unity of the country with its diversity. Switzerland has – after Australia – the highest levels of immigration worldwide. The Swiss confederal model (not the same as federative model, which is a notable difference) should be applied all the way up to the EU. What lacks in Europe is a direct ability of democratic manifestation for the citizens. Most people vote directly on important issues, such as it happens in Switzerland. This does not even mean one will reach the best solutions. No matter the outcome discerned, it is most important that people stand behind their choices. The people have the right to be wrong. Finland and Europe must be built on the base of provinces, on geography and on cultures. Autonomous regions should become more independent and stronger. We need federal councils, not a government.

On this basis, we are working on an app to enhance Direct Democracy at a local level, via public pressure and involvement throughout Helsinki.

JT: Your doctoral research titled “Architectural Democracy” has grown into a larger working group – could you elaborate on architectural democracy and how it relates to your two main aims in the municipal election?

PA: I hold two Masters – one in Civil Engineering and another in Architecture – and at an early age, I headed many design teams for very large architectural projects. I witnessed wonderful technological and organizational processes but also terrifying schemes of corruption and personal greed. I backed out of the industry and started “Architectural Democracy”. If we are asked to make decisions about our cities (politics), we must understand how our cities work and are designed, especially who owns the city, or, who owns what in the city! If citizens get a better, decentralized, spatially tagged source of information – even by editing it – we can maybe make clearer, more assertive judgements, thus improving the quality of our democracies whilst also improving our architecture. This all started as a doctoral study and it is growing into the development of technologies based on photogrammetry and GPU processing at large.

We are not going to escape the increasing complexity of the world, so we will always need to find new ways to improve society and how we live with each other. We must consistently question the status quo. My candidacy was all about showing how the system can be improved simply by adding diversity into it and responsibility to its users, us the citizens. My life has always been about spinning many plates at the same time. I teach drawing, write comic novels, play music, run a music school, build musical instruments, etc. So as I said in the beginning about activism, I can only preach diversity if I practice it!

*****

This interview is based on the public interview at the World Village Festival, Moninainen SUOMII tent, 28 May 2017, in Helsinki, Finland. It is not a word to word transcription of it; this text has been rewritten after the interview by Pedro Aibéo.

The Revolution in Work calls for an Evolution in Living

Poverty blights the lives of billions of people throughout the world: in developing countries, where it is acute, and industrialised nations, where it’s hidden but growing. It rises out of social injustice, makes exploitation and abuse inevitable, brings death and disease, robs people of opportunity and dignity, feeds anger and resentment.

Much like the rubbish that litters the streets of our cities, the poor, destitute and hungry are swept out of sight. Their existence is an embarrassment to politicians and sits uncomfortably within the shiny materialistic image promoted by cities and countries eager to attract ‘inward investment’.

As more jobs become obsolete due to new technology and the closure of traditional industries, unemployment is set to rise, incomes disappear, and, unless there is a radical reappraisal of the economic environment, poverty levels will rise, perhaps exponentially. In fact, with wages stagnant many of those now living in poverty are actually in work – the ‘working poor’ – trying to survive on a pittance, many of whom cannot feed themselves without the support of food banks.

The Poverty Line

The World Bank claims that in 2013 almost 767 million people (11% of the global population) were living in extreme poverty – defined as income of $1.90 a day. However, a study by the UK’s Overseas Development Institute (ODI) found that more than 2.5 billion people are living “on less than $2 per day.” That’s $2 a day for all living costs; it’s not ‘spending money’. Raise the ‘poverty’ bar to a more realistic $5 a day (the cost of two cups of coffee in a developed country), and over four billion people (two thirds of humanity) slide into the net.

Poverty equals illness and hunger, lack of self-worth and abuse. It is the single greatest cause of death and condemns people to live hopeless lives of relentless hardship. At the same time those born into wealthy families are blessed with opportunities, security and comfort: Simple gifts – rights, in fact – that should be the inheritance of every child no matter where or to whom they are born.

Countries may be rich or poor, but the world is bountiful. People starve because they’re poor not because of a shortage of food: there is an abundance of food. The continuing existence of poverty in a world of plenty, a world connected and interdependent as never before, is a crime against our collective humanity. Poverty, together with extreme inequality, should be ended completely and consigned to the past.

Re-designing how we live

The coming Age of the Machine is part of a new time, and offers unprecedented possibilities to re-design the way we live.

Technological innovation will, we are told, destroy more jobs than it creates; a development that within the existing economic system engenders fear, but it should be welcomed. Human beings will be liberated from lives of drudgery, allowing time and space to explore life, to examine what it means to be human, to be creative and to collectively redefine what civilization can be. But, as Yanis Varoufakis, Professor of Economic Theory at the University of Athens (former finance minister of Greece) makes clear, in order for everyone to benefit from these opportunities, “every citizen must be granted property rights over part of the wealth that the machines produce.” This requires a completely new approach to how we think about the economy and the way it operates.

The present model – whilst it can boast of successes – is ill equipped to respond to the challenges and opportunities of the time and must go. Materialistic values are built into the system; selfishness, desire and excess promoted, and (speaking generally throughout) whilst philanthropy is part of some corporate strategies, presented with the choice of saving lives but losing money, administrators side with the money. Such is the inherent cynicism and inhumanity that exists within and is promoted by the pervasive paradigm.

Fundamental change has been needed for some time; the Advance of Automation adds one more imperative to the process. A new, sustainable, humane economic model is required worthy of the 21st Century and beyond. A new system charged with meeting human need and safeguarding the environment, and as Yanis Varoufakis says that “conceives of investment in people’s communities; we also need to establish the right to a Universal Basic Income.”

A basic right to life’s requirements  

The Revolution in Work requires an Evolution in Living: a new approach, in which the acknowledgment that humanity is one is primary. We are Brothers and Sisters of One Humanity, and the systems that govern our lives should be based on and encourage the realization of this fact. Sharing as a principle that animates human affairs naturally follows such an understanding and when pragmatically applied will allow everyone to live dignified lives free from the fear of poverty. Everyone is entitled to the means required to meet their needs, irrespective of whether they have a job and income or are unable to secure either; quality homes, good health care and inspiring education.

Within the existing paradigm the Imminent Revolution presents us with what Varoufakis describes as a “major dilemma”. Either a world in which the concentration of ownership over the new means of production becomes even more intense, leading  “to a stagnating capitalism with [more] extreme inequality and huge incomes for a shrinking percentage of the population, that live behind electrified barriers in privately policed communities, whilst the rest exist in a cesspool of volatility, uncertainty and social misery.”

Or we can move in another direction, “post democracy – post social democracy”, – post ideology, per-se. A society in which the means of living – presently money – is freely, unconditionally available to everyone, machines are the servants of humanity and all reap the rewards of their labour.

For the good to be made manifest, a new model is required that redistributes – shares – the “ownership of the means of production”, or at least [ensures] the means of production is redistributed in such a way as to effectively guarantee freedom…this requires a basic income, which is essential.” A Universal Basic Income (UBI) made up either of regular payments or some form of Inheritance Trust – currently only available in wealthy families – set up to cover the needs of everyone from birth.

The recognition that everyone has a Right to the basic requirements for living goes back to the 18th century. And towards the end of the First World War Bertrand Russell outlined a plan which contained the embryonic idea of UBI and included the suggestion that the amount be varied depending on work “which the community recognizes as useful…when education is finished, no one should be compelled to work, and those who choose not to work should receive a bare livelihood and be left completely free.”

The link with community work is important and should be incorporated into any new system. However, ‘payments’, whether monetary or a sophisticated credit scheme, should not be conditional on such activities. Social engagement will naturally grow from a just economic system that recognizes humanity’s underlying unity.

In the decades since Russell’s proposals, UBI in some form has been attracting increasing interest. Currently various countries are considering UBI: Finland has initiated a two-year trial to pay 2,000 randomly chosen unemployed citizens a basic monthly income, irrespective of whether they find work or not; Scotland is about to pilot a “radical” UBI scheme in two of its local authorities: Glasgow (where it’s estimated a third of children live in poverty) and Fife, because, Councilors say, “it is the best way to tackle poverty”. And perhaps surprisingly, India, where over a third of the poorest people on Earth live, is looking at UBI. Payments would be made to every child and adult, and would guarantee “all citizens enough income to cover their basic needs [and] would promote social justice.”

Changing values

In its current form UBI is not the answer, but it could form an important part of a new progressive economic-social model, and the fact that it is being widely discussed is positive.

Whether ‘payments’ are made in monetary terms or through a new ‘social market,’ as Varoufakis calls it, in which throughout life, everyone is “endowed with capital from society,” UBI would liberate the poor from “vicious welfare-state means testing and the trap of inter-generational poverty”; it would offer “the economic stability that most people are losing” and create a “platform on which they could stand before reaching out for something better.”

In addition to establishing financial security, endowing everyone with the means to meet their needs would have a range of additional benefits. It would demonstrate that the collective society is a compassionate and just one and show that all people are valued equally. Inequality would fade, as would the consequential social ills. Competition would lose its hold, replaced by cooperation, which would become the norm, as would tolerance and trust.

Fear of destitution, exploitation and hunger would be driven from the Earth and the value system under which we live would radically change.

This is not an unattainable utopian vision. It is the realistic picture of a world in which humanity responds creatively and pragmatically to the changes that technology presents us with. It is a positive image, predicated on the recognition of humanity’s essential unity. This realization is crucial if we are to bring about lasting change, and create the conditions for peace; as Yanis Varoufakis states, the question is “do we consider our community to be an extended family of humanity not?”