Archive for April, 2016

150-Strong: A Pathway to a Different Future – Serialisation Part 3


“The more laws and commands there are,
the more thieves and robbers there will be.” Lao Tzu


Information leaked in the Panama Papers about the use of tax havens certainly supports this statement! Under the cover of the law thieves and robbers have been maintaining their privilege and ultra-wealth by being tricky. Many of them are leaders – politicians, monarchs and business executives. “I have done nothing illegal,” they say as their souls disappear a little further into a fog. And from the germ of their example a cancer grows.

Rules work best when they are kept to a minimum.

This I have seen illustrated in the context of the business I am involved in. We are a construction company employing approximately 150 people, a mix from all walks of life – old friends, relatives of workers who needed a job, qualified recruits who fitted the mold, troubled youth recommended by the courts as worthy of a second chance, odd bods and colorful characters who fell into each others\’ orbits. Some are very skilled and others developing.

We operate with very few rules. The main rule is that you must be accountable for your actions among your peers. Thanks to our systems of reporting, no information remains hidden for long, and no one is allowed to hide behind the manipulation of words, duplicity or attributing blame to others. There is little need for rules when regret and shame operate for those who fall short.

It is a system that requires that participants have a personal relationship with each other, where they know each other well enough to care and to understand, beyond a superficial level, what is going on. Moderation and maturity are required, because exposing the foibles of others can be exploited as an opportunity for persecution, blame and cavilling. We have seen that if people in senior positions lead by example, rather than skirting their responsibilities, a team spirit develops, characterised by collegiality and camaraderie. And when bonds are established through shared experience and commitment to support one another, there develops real strength, far beyond that which can be forged through an impersonal and inflexible system of rules.

But operating this way requires swimming against the current. We operate in a rules-based society. To an ever-greater extent, discernment is being replaced by compliance, and it is like sinking into a swamp.

Regulation and legislation are blunt tools. Take the United Kingdom, where there exist 21,000 pieces of regulation, while the City of London is thick with corruption. It serves as an example how morality and the application of the law often diverge.

Joseph Tainter, author of The Collapse of Complex Societies, reported that almost all of the two dozen collapsed civilisations he examined succumbed from diminishing returns on complexity. And there is nothing more complex than the legal system!

* * *
In this week\’s excerpt from 150-Strong, we examine the operation of the law as a companion of the profit motive system:

Law as a Counterpart to the Profit Motive

In a system governed by the profit motive, where the marketplace pits rivals against each other in fierce competition, the law acts to provide a moderating context. In an environment where there is much at stake, and the spoils of victory great, it is necessary that there be rules in place to maintain some basic standards, and to prevent capitalism from degenerating into gangsterism, or worse.

For example, slavery used to be legal in many parts of the world, but is now banned by a binding international convention (at least in its most overt and blatant forms). At the opposite end of the spectrum, in England it was once a common practice for bakers to add such things as ground bones, clay and chalk to bread to keep costs down and increase profits, but now this is also illegal.

For a business, compliance with the laws is usually seen as a cost, especially when it comes to environmental regulations and labor laws. And since minimizing costs to maximize profits is part of Friedman’s ideological imperative, businesses tend to gravitate to locations where the laws are the least restrictive. As long as property and contract law are respected, fewer laws generally mean greater profits.

The Law is a Blunt Instrument

The law is based upon the interpretation of rules that are written so as to be as general as possible, but they are subsequently applied in very specific circumstances. This conceptual flaw means that laws inherently lack sensitivity and contextual nuance, and the inevitable shades of grey present in any real-world situation have to be resolved by lawyers who argue endlessly about the meanings of words, taking a lot of time and costing extravagant amounts of money. In the process, they tend to divide people into winners and losers, giving rise to feelings of loss, aggravation and resentment.

The law is based on the precise interpretation of words, making it vulnerable to exploitation by clever people who find loopholes that go against the intent of the law. This creates a culture of insincerity, in which various parties adopt positions of righteousness that are not backed up by any sense of morality, and use tortuous language to disguise their pursuit of self-interest.

The very process by which laws are formulated requires them to be complex, since the process of developing them requires many different situations to be considered, and many different contexts to be accommodated. But no matter how intricate and nuanced a piece of legislation, most situations in which it applies do not allow for intricacy or nuance. They usually involve people or companies with limited amounts of experience, competence and resources. Thus, no matter how perfect a law is in its conception, it inevitably becomes a blunt instrument in its application.

The Law Upholds Privilege

One further significant shortcoming of the law is that it is biased in favor of those with money. The cost of engaging lawyers to resolve a dispute in the courts is significant, and those with the biggest budgets – insurance companies and other large corporations – have a far greater ability to prevail in litigation than ordinary citizens. There is often a total mismatch between parties that are in disagreement. A lawsuit is a small risk for corporations, with their armies of lawyers and with millions or billions of dollars in their war chests. To battle them, private citizens may have to stake their life\’s savings and commit a significant portion of their lives.

Moreover, the law provides numerous advantages to wealthy and powerful people looking to protect their interests. It is a powerful enabling medium for numerous strategies that prevail through obfuscation, deceitfulness and insincerity in the pursuit of naked self-interest. These include the use of complicated small print to shirk moral responsibility, the structuring of one’s affairs in order to avoid taxation, the evasion of personal responsibility by establishing limited liability legal vehicles and, as just mentioned, by bullying those who are poorer and thus weaker with the threat of litigation.

Lastly, the law allows for systemic, legalized corruption. Those with money and connections can usually find a way to exert undue influence on lawmakers – through political donations, lobbying and more corrupt means – to have laws enacted that favor their private interests at the expense of the public.

The Law Stifles Personal Responsibility

Finally, and paradoxically, the law also tends to stifle personal responsibility and initiative by imposing a heavy burden of compliance… Instead of nurturing self-reliance and furthering the development of good judgment, many of these regulations seek to protect people from themselves. Children – even teenagers – cannot play unattended. Blind obedience to rules and mechanically generating health and safety compliance paperwork have become more important than safety itself. For example, a school in Bristol in the United Kingdom recently banned a blind 7-year-old girl from using her cane because it constituted a trip hazard. Examples of this absurd lack of common sense abound in the culture of zealous compliance that colors most of the Western world. All of this leads to an increasingly enfeebled population, fit only for life in a climate-controlled padded cell under the watchful eye of certified, credentialed minders. The root cause of this insanity is reliance on the law as a reconciling force, while what is really needed is discretion and intelligence.

The Law is a Poor Foil for the Ills of the Profit Motive

Regulation is often put forward as a way of compensating for the numerous ills created by the profit motive. But this amounts to an attempt to use two wrongs to make a right, because, just like the profit motive itself, the law is also rooted in negativity. It is a way of setting parties apart in conflict. As noted above, it promotes insincerity, disguises the pursuit of naked self-interest, amplifies the effects of privilege, and is slow, cumbersome, expensive, imprecise and unpredictable in its application, and vulnerable to exploitation and misappropriation by the least scrupulous.

That is not to say that lawlessness should be encouraged or promoted. But at the granular level where the socials ills borne of the profit motive have to be opposed, the usefulness of the law is very limited, and recourse to it is fraught with unintended consequences.

Something beyond laws and regulations is required if there is to be real regeneration.

Help the world learn about #bureaucraticinsanity


The types of stories reported in Sean Kerrigan\’s book Bureaucratic Insanity are extremely common, in schools, government and in workplaces. Every week another story emerges in the media of someone being railroaded by the insane bureaucrats that infest the system. But that\’s just the media; if they reported every such story, they would have no time left over for anything else. And so most people continue to delude themselves that this is all business as usual, nothing special, certainly nothing utterly insane going on.

But it is in your power to change that: if you tweet out the hashtag


along with a short summary of any event you experience, witness or become aware of that has an element of \”bureaucratic insanity\” in it, that would drive traffic to the term, and to Sean\’s book. And then more people will learn what\’s happened to their country, and what\’s about to happen to them. For my part, I promise to follow the hashtag, sort through the tweets and publish Best of Bureaucratic Insanity compilations on this very blog.

Rest assured, this problem is a serious, widespread, medical issue, but no men in white suits will rush to your rescue, subdue insane American bureaucrats, put them in restraints and haul them off to the funny farm. No, you will have to deal with them yourselves—before they deal with you! And the first step in doing so is to find out who they are and what damage they are causing.

Here\’s a video clip from RT\’s show Redacted Tonight, where Lee Camp talks about grandparents imprisoned for failing to return to the county public library a Dr. Seuss book they took out for a grandchild and other such events that have come to typify contemporary America.

Bureaucratic Insanity is Yours to Enjoy

Bureaucratic Insanity

I am happy to announce the release of a new title from Club Orlov Press:

Bureaucratic Insanity:
The American Bureaucrat\’s Descent into Madness
Sean J. Kerrigan

In contemporary United States a child can be charged with battery for throwing a piece of candy at a schoolfriend. Students can be placed in solitary confinement for cutting class. Adults aren’t much better off: in 2011 the Supreme Court decided in 2011 that anyone the police arrest, even for an offense as minor as an unpaid traffic ticket, can be strip-searched. These acts of official violence are just the tip of the iceberg in our society.

The number of rules and laws to which Americans, mostly unbeknownst to them, are subject, is hilariously excessive. But what makes this comedy unbearable is that these rules and laws are often enforced with an overabundance of self-righteous venom. Increasingly, contemporary American bureaucrats—be they police, teachers or government officials—are obsessed with following strict rules and mercilessly punishing all those who fail to comply (unless they are very rich or politically connected).

In so doing, these bureaucrats have become so liberated from the constraints of common sense that the situation has gone far beyond parody and is now a full-blown farce. Consider this recent news story involving a Virginia sixth-grader, the son of two schoolteachers and a member of the school’s program for gifted students. The boy was targeted by school officials after they found a leaf, probably a maple leaf, in his backpack. Someone suspected it to be marijuana. The leaf in question was not marijuana (as confirmed by repeated lab tests). End of story, wouldn\’t you think?

Not at all! The 11-year-old was expelled and charged with marijuana possession in juvenile court. These charges were eventually dropped. He was then forced to enroll in an alternative school away from his friends, where he is subjected to twice-daily searches for drugs and periodic evaluation for substance abuse problems—all of this for possession of a maple leaf.

“It doesn’t matter if your son or daughter brings a real pot leaf to school, or if he brings something that looks like a pot leaf—okra, tomato, maple, buckeye, etc. If your kid calls it marijuana as a joke, or if another kid thinks it might be marijuana, that\’s grounds for expulsion,” the Washington Post cheerfully reassures us.

A reasonable school official would recognize the difference between a technical violation caused by an oversight and a conscious attempt to smuggle drugs into the school. But school officials were intent on ignoring their own better sense, instead favoring harsh punishments.

In his new book, Bureaucratic Insanity: The American Bureaucrat’s Descent into Madness, Sean Kerrigan documents dozens of eyebrow-raising examples in which America’s rule-enforcers perversely revel in handing out absurd and unfair punishments for minor infractions. They demand total and complete submission, driven by a perverse compulsion to “put us in our place” and to “teach us a lesson.” They mercilessly punish even the most inconsequential transgressions in order to maximize our terror and humiliation.

When Sean first began following this story several years ago, he became mesmerized by this bizarre carnival of unreason. “Where is all this pent-up rage coming from?” he wondered, “and why is it being directed toward the weakest and most vulnerable members of society?” And then news stories like those mentioned above grew more and more common. Eventually, he started compiling a list of the most egregious abuses, trying to detect patterns, searching for some explanation for why your average garden-variety bureaucrat has morphed into a monster and has started to take sadistic pleasure in the suffering of innocent people.

Some people might argue that this kind of behavior is the result of political correctness gone amok. Others point to the irrational fear of terrorism and mass shootings. Yet others might think that it has to do with the bureaucrats\’ fear of losing their jobs—merely for failing to comply with the exact letter of some rule. While there may be some truth to each of these explanations, they are far from adequate. Many of these bureaucratic abuses have nothing to do with political constraints on free speech, or with guns or terrorism, and in most cases the bureaucrats have the power to minimize harm, but instead they choose to maximize it.

In looking closer at each individual instance, it became clear that most of the offending bureaucrats weren’t even attempting to use their judgment but were mindlessly following written rules. Even in the most nurturing and humanistic professions—teachers and physicians—their practitioners have been robotized to such an extent that they now perform a very narrow range of actions. Thanks to all the progress in IT, their work is now quite detached from physical reality. Much of their work now consists of monotonously, mindlessly pounding at the computer keyboard. Consequently, a large portion of their waking lives has taken on an ethereal, pointless quality. Even teachers, who once had a relatively free reign in forming the minds of the next generation, are now forced to behave like machines, teaching to standardized tests and working a grueling average of 53 hours a week.

The psychological effects of this pressure have been profound. Minus the opportunities to make their own decisions and to see those positive effects of their efforts, their work has become personally meaningless, alienating, depersonalizing and psychologically damaging. As a result of this damage, American bureaucrats, although they may look like mild-mannered professionals, have become prone to sudden bouts of aggressive, sadistic behavior. They are unable to act out their repressed rage in any socially acceptable way other than by doling out punishments, fines, rejections, expulsions and other forms of objective, systemic violence.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and rest assured that this is all being done for our own good. The purpose of all of these rules and laws, from the perspective of the American system of governance, is to maximize control over everything that can be controlled and to micromanage every possible detail of our lives—in order to make them better! From student testing all the way to global trade, those in leadership positions are trying to centralize as much authority as possible in order to maximize efficiency, profit, American power… while minimizing our dignity, well-being and happiness. Oops!

In his book Bureaucratic Insanity, Sean traces the development of this trend from the early years of the industrial revolution to the modern day, from its initial appearance in factory life and in the military, to it later metastasizing to the office, and now taking over America’s schools. He argues persuasively, based on a careful and thorough review of literature in history, philosophy, psychology, anthropology and social criticism, that the average American bureaucrat is literally, clinically insane. The average American bureaucrat has a warped perception of reality and an intense, repressed self-hatred. Their only way to vent their rage is by punishing others using bureaucratic methods. They demand absolute conformity because it is their only way to give their meaningless lives some semblance of meaning. They suppress all thoughts that might lead them to discover the true nature of their condition, because that would cause them to spiral down into outright schizophrenia.

The book concludes with an assessment of what we can do to insulate ourselves from this seemingly unstoppable trend, and of how we can reinvigorate our lives by giving it real meaning.


Sean Kerrigan is the author of Bureaucratic Insanity: The American Bureaucrat’s Descent into Madness. He has been a writer and public social critic for the last 15 years, concentrating on issues of economic, political and social decay in the United States. Educated at Temple University in Philadelphia, he worked for several years as a journalist focusing on hard news coverage. Disillusioned by the economic crisis of 2008 and its aftermath, he refocused his attention on political and spiritual matters, with most of his subsequent writing challenging the accepted mythology of American society. His work has been featured on the BBC World Service Radio, popular blogs such as Zero Hedge, and several daily newspapers including the Bucks County Courier Times. He maintains a regularly updated website at and a Twitter account @SeanJKerrigan.

150 Strong: A Pathway to a Different Future – Serialisation Part 2


[Update: Since none of you got the right answer, here is a hint.

Q: What is the major reconciling force that governs our system of politics and economics today?

A: The profit motive.

Please make a mental note.]

When we find ourselves in need of a miracle there is a simple formula that can be applied: “Don’t panic, take stock, and do the next logical thing.” If we apply this formula, hold our course and maintain a positive outlook, the white knight of providence may intercede on our behalf.

That is not to say that the relationship between action and consequence can be avoided. There is no magic wand for the absolution of a life of feckless excess. In the case of our collective consumption binge, we have brought about the sixth mass-extinction event (to add to the previous ones, which are evident in the Earth’s geologic record), we have created a shambolic financial system of gross imbalance, and we have allowed our culture to degrade so far that a figure as flawed as that of Donald Trump has been allowed to become a credible candidate for the position of the world’s supposedly most powerful person. It would be a long way back to some semblance of a reasonable equilibrium.

But we should not give up hope. If we work through our collective karma, we might find that there is the potential for regeneration.

As far as stoic perseverance in the face of testing circumstances is concerned, we are doing this part quite well. Panic levels are low. We have taken on board recent information about the extraordinary warming of our planet, the impending financial collapse and the degeneration of our systems of government into a total farce, and have just kept going. An eerie feeling of normalcy is being maintained without much effort.

However, we seem to be falling short in “taking stock.” There isn’t much coherent thought, and the range of responses includes wilful ignorance, the formulation of well-meaning but intellectually unsound and contradictory concepts such as “sustainable development,” a general feeling of “sentimental hopefulness” that things will carry on as they have, and a “fearful lethargy” brought on by the feeling that there is nothing we can do.

Given our failure to effectively take stock of where we are at, there has been little progress in applying part three of our formula: “doing the next logical thing”.

In this second instalment of the serialisation of 150 Strong: A Pathway to a Different Future, we present an extract which establishes a framework for evaluating where we are from an alternative perspective. We suggest that, based on this framework, new possibilities for action might be discerned.

The title of Chapter 2 is

An Alternative Frame of Reference
Those who have been trained as engineers or scientists are predisposed to investigate problems starting from first principles: to establish what is known at the most basic level – just the facts, so to speak – and then build a conclusion based on logic. When we attempt to analyze our current system using such a method, we must first backtrack quite far, dispensing with received certainties imparted to us through various official channels which may or may not have a basis in fact. Instead, we must seek to see things from a fresh perspective, outside of the prism of ordinary thinking. And to do this systematically, we first need to establish an alternative frame of reference.

Newton’s Third Law

The laws of physics may seem an unlikely place to start when approaching an analysis of our system of economics, but Newton’s third law describes a dynamic that is universal in all systems, not just mechanical:

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

This law characterizes a system in which there are three forces at work: the action, the reaction, and the organizing principle according to which this dynamic is resolved, which is the conservation of energy. This triadic interplay exists in all dynamic systems, and while in some systems it may seem chaotic, there will always be an organizing principle that reconciles the conflict between an initial impulse and its eventual negation. Its application is straightforward in the analysis of physical systems, where the organizing principles are the laws of physics, but, interestingly, it is also applicable to psychology and group dynamics, where the organizing principle may be some framework of identity, social convention or externally applied set of rules.

Let us call this organizing principle the “reconciling force.”

The Tao and Physics

The Taoist symbol of yin and yang also provides a useful context. While the introduction of a symbol from the realm of metaphysics may seem like an unusual departure in a discussion of sustainability and economics, this symbol is useful for conveying knowledge at the level of fundamentals and helpful in our aim to understand the significance of the incentive structure behind our current system.

In the symbol of the Tao, the two fields – one black, the other white – represent the pair of opposites, and ordinarily this is about as much as people would see: two opposing forces working against each other, yin and yang, action and reaction, masculine and feminine. Less obvious, but perfectly intuitive once you put your mind to it, and essential to the emergent significance of the symbol, is that it also represents a third force: the harmony that is manifested in the entire symbol, where yin and yang are held in balance, in equal proportions, which represents the organizing principle, or the reconciling force. In Taoist philosophy, without black there could be no white, and for both to exist they must be held in eternal balance by the action of the unknowable Tao.

The dynamic of action, reaction and reconciliation is also evident in the structure of an atom, where there are also three elements present: the positively-charged protons and the negatively-charged electrons interact to form stable elements, facilitated by the presence of neutrally-charged neutrons. In this example, the neutrons are the reconciling force, and from this simple triadic template comes all matter in the universe.

An Example from our Everyday Lives

Extending this triadic dynamic to human interaction, we can observe that in any situation where there is a process of initiation and negation, the same type of system is at work. Any effort to make a change in any direction always meets with a response in the form of opposition. This conflict is resolved according to the predominant organizing principle in effect at the time. Here again there are three forces at work: action, reaction and reconciliation.

One example of such a system that most of us can relate to in a human context is marriage: when two people make a commitment to share their lives together, there is an organizing principle that holds them together, whether they are aware of this or not. It is the glue that sustains the relationship, and the reference point from which a couple can resolve its differences. Be it a complex web of mutual dependence, a sense of responsibility before children and other family members or, in the worst case, a vain sense of social propriety, it is the reconciling force of their relationship.

Often the force that initially catalyzes a relationship is sexual attraction, which is a powerful and ubiquitous force of nature. But usually it is not an enduring force due to the propensity for sexual attraction to become less of a motivator when faced with more everyday stressors, like the need to keep the kitchen sink clear of dirty dishes and maintaining general household order.

Another common reconciling force in a marriage (often taking over gradually as sexual attraction fades) is the welfare of the children, where the parents meet each other halfway to reconcile their conflicting individual needs for the benefit of the whole family. The welfare of the children then becomes the predominant organizing principle.

And even in a dysfunctional marriage – for example, where the motivating force of the welfare of the children has lost its intensity – the reconciling force may be the fear of separation. Each person is afraid of becoming poorer should they part ways, or of the separation being too shameful or too difficult. In this case, the organizing principle isn’t anything particularly positive, but it does keep the two together. On the other hand, in a healthy marriage there is usually some positive ideal or shared system of belief that is the reconciling force, such as an abiding friendship underpinned by acceptance, loyalty and love.

In order to effectively take stock of our current situation it would seem important that we try and understand the workings of this dynamic in our society at present. The fundamental questions are these:

1. What is the major reconciling force that governs our system of politics and economics today?

2. What are the effects of this reconciling force?

3. If there were to be a new reconciling force, what would it be?

And it is here that I wish to make a bold statement: It would take little more than effectively answering these three questions for our lives to change for the better, for that which follows from such a basic understanding becomes inevitable.

150 Strong: A Pathway to a Different Future by Rob O\’Grady is available on Amazon and published by Club Orlov Press.

QUIDNON: Mast Tablernacles Rethought


Sometimes delays are helpful because they allow more time for examination, and for rethinking parts of the design. And so it was with the tabernacle design. My initial plan was to use a joint that transferred all of the tension and compression loads into sheer loads on two large bolts, which I called “Jesus bots,” after the “Jesus nuts” that hold helicopter rotors in place. But then Alan, who is designing a boat similar to QUIDNON—a houseboat that sails, but for inland waterways—pointed out that my design would require extremely high precision in the way the components are fitted, or they would start to move and flex under load, and fail. Alan has lots of experience in aerospace engineering, and a keen appreciation for structural elements. What he proposed was two flanges bolted together, connected by a hinge on one side. This approach is very standard: look at your average streetlight, and that\’s how it\’s mounted. It is so standard that it doesn\’t require any interesting structural analysis: one can simply look it up and plug in the numbers. Since the bolts that hold the two flanges together are subjected only to tension loads, they don\’t need to be fitted precisely, and the math for sizing them is simple.


150 Strong: A Pathway to a Different Future – Serialisation


Creative capitalism, ethical capitalism, altruistic capitalism, natural capitalism, green capitalism, distributed and democratic capitalism. Capitalism 2.0?

Capitalism comes with a potpourri of sweet-scented prefixes, all of which presume that there is something wrong with capitalism per se. There are some other prefixes we commonly hear—crony capitalism and unbridled capitalism—that suggest that we aren’t doing it right.

Perhaps it is Goldilocks capitalism we need? Not too mean, with just the right amount of good will and charity, a measured dose of state regulation, a safety net – not too big and not too small, and the rest left to the free market?

Or is capitalism just capitalism in the context of people being people? The system swings between the poles of libertarianism and social democracy according to the changing tides of voter opinion. Some capitalists have more feeling for their fellow humans than others, while there are always greedy, selfish sorts lurking to do one over the rest of us, and certain trends are inevitable according to the incentive structure inherent in the system.

It is this last point, that outcomes tend to be inevitable according to the incentive structure operating, that serves as the starting point for a book I have recently written, titled 150 Strong: A Pathway to a Different Future, published by ClubOrlov Press. Over the coming weeks it will be serialised on Renegade Inc, with extracts presented.

On the topic of incentives, the book begins with an Author’s Note:

This book began as a response to the use of the word “sustainability,” a concept I became connected to through my training in sustainability engineering: the design and incorporation of environmentally-friendly practices into commerce and industry. It is based on principles such as these:

  • When one cuts down a tree, plant a new one.
  • We should try to use the waste from one process as a resource for another.
  • Polluters should bear the costs of their actions.

            All of these seem like good and logical ideas. But there is a rather significant problem in attempting to work in this way, because the greater context in which such efforts are currently being made reduces them to a farce: our current system of economics, which encourages short term accumulation of financial profit, is fundamentally incompatible with sustainability. This, to use a colorful colloquialism, makes such efforts akin to “farting against thunder.”
            That is not to say that profit is inherently a negative thing. The creation of a financial surplus, in its most earnest expression, could be equated with prudent and efficient house-holding. But if nature is to serve as our model, then we can see something of how our current approach to profit has become problematic.
            The accumulation of a surplus is a natural process: a plant accumulates surplus energy and nutrients to be able to bear fruit; a polar bear accumulates a surplus in the form of body fat which enables it to survive the winter; and our hunter-gatherer ancestors collected a surplus of food so that they would be able to survive in lean times. But in the monomaniacal pursuit of profit that we are engaged in at present, there is little that is natural about it, little sensitivity to the intricacies of the environmental and social systems that sustain us.
            The reason for this can be deduced from a simple formula:

Profit = Income – Expenses

            From which we can see that the profit motive and the “sustainability motive” are diametrically opposed: If sustainability initiatives were to truly succeed beyond the narrow realms of such things as waste minimization and embracing new technology, they would result in less income (due to reduced consumption) and more expenses (due to the cost of mitigation measures) leading to lower profits.
            This inverse relationship between profit and sustainability is hugely important, and it is the proper starting point in any effort to confront our large-scale environmental problems. Yet it is almost universally ignored in official circles, and political efforts to address sustainability issues give it almost no coverage.

            In our current way of doing things, the conflict between profit and sustainability is resolved through regulation, where all must comply with certain rules that hurt profitability a little bit but avoid worse damage. And, indeed, this approach has produced many good outcomes: the air is cleaner in Los Angeles, the fish are returning to River Thames, and many large areas of undeveloped land have been protected as national parks. But, for many reasons, it is an approach that is flawed: it doesn’t handle complexity well; it breaks down when there are different laws in different countries; and it only works when there is a social context in which the law is supported and enforced.
            As soon as one tries to address these problems, sustainability becomes an unapproachable subject: to address it at the big-picture level one has to address the underlying economic and social context, but that is something of a taboo. Nevertheless, there is some mainstream discussion opening up on this topic, including some positive response to Naomi Klein’s book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (2014), and increasingly, it seems, the need to consider alternatives to our current system is being recognized.

The main message of the book is that we are blind to the significance of the reconciling force of our current system, which happens to be inherently negative, and that it is only by understanding this that we might have some chance of finding a better way of doing things, for anything else would be but tinkering around the edges.

In seeking to provide a bridge to something better, a very successful and proven system that operates with an alternative, positive reconciling force is examined. It is based on Dunbar’s number, which originates in evolutionary biology and proposes an upper limit to the number of people that humans can maintain effective social relationships with, which is approximately 150 people.

If you wish to read the book in full, it is available on Amazon.

[This article was originally published by Renegade Inc.]

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