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.
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 bedmate, 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.
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 the 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 2020Global Report on Food Criseshighlights 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 enflamed, 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.
‘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.
Humanity is faced with a series of self-made, interrelated crises, from the environmental catastrophe to poverty, inequality, the absence of peace and an unprecedented level of displaced persons, among other pressing issues. All have been brought about by the negative behaviour of mankind, by the pervasive modes of living, the corrosive values and ideologies that dominate all aspects of contemporary life.
The latest crisis is the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and the potential resulting collapse of the world economy. It is a collective crisis the like of which we have never seen before. Whole populations are being forced to change behaviour, to stop travelling, to withdraw, stop shopping stay at home and to support others in the community. It is forcing people to shift their focus and slow down, to simplify and re-examine their lives. Worrying and unsettling in the immediate term, but potentially liberating, providing the space in which to be quiet, to reflect and look within, and good for the natural environment.
With crisis comes opportunity, the possibility for growth and realignment with purpose; for change to take place – change that inculcates harmony, allowing for that which has hitherto been inhibited to be to be expressed.
The inevitability of crises
There is a natural order to life and certain fundamental laws that underpin all manifestation. When this rhythm is inhibited – individually or collectively – stasis takes place leading to dis-ease, and a crisis of some kind occurs. The greater the resistance the more inevitable and intense the crisis becomes.
Current modes of living are disharmonious, the socio-economic and political systems are totally unjust, favouring the few at the expense of the many; driven by divisive materialistic values and the reductive ideology of greed they sit at the core of most if not all of our problems. Ecosystems have been disrupted by self-centred human activity, weather patterns completely altered by the poisons daily poured into the atmosphere, leading to disharmony within the climate. Huge numbers of people recognize these facts and the need for a new way of living, but resistance among governments and corporate power is fierce; attachment to the status quo deep; fear of loss of power and privilege, intense. And so the required changes are consistently blocked; the natural order, which forever moves towards harmony for that is its inherent quality is consistently blocked, creating further inflammation.
The Coronavirus is beyond the control of governments, institutions and corporate bodies of power. It is causing widespread chaos and this will intensify and broaden in scope, affecting not just public health but social order and will devastate the consumer-led economy. As stock markets tumble, businesses fail, global supply chains fracture and nations are forced to turn within, governments (predictably) talk about the ‘fundamental strength of the economy’ and the ability of the markets to ‘bounce back’ quickly after the crisis has passed, returning to business as usual. The ‘usual’ however is the problem: the ‘usual’ has poisoned the planet, created enormous levels of inequality, set one against another, nation against nation, sustained widespread exploitation of the vulnerable and encouraged a pernicious value system fuelling all manner of social ills. It is of the past and must now come to an end.
In the short-term, businesses that are in danger of going under need government support, and, more or less, this is taking place; employment/salaries need to be guaranteed, mortgages and rent payments suspended, as well as bank overdrafts and loans, credit card debt etc., but once the dust settles, instead of attempting to refurbish the out-dated, patch up the inadequate and carry on as normal, the opportunity for an Economic Evolution should be grasped; an opportunity to reimagine the way the socio-economic system functions, to recognize that the current model has had its day and to create a new system based on sharing, with social justice and cooperation at its heart. Indeed, if the collapse is as deep as it threatens to be, there may be no option. Welcome or not, this crisis could force the changes that some dread but many long for, and prove to be the final blow to the existing systems; inadequate forms that are already in a state of terminal disintegration as the energy that had sustained them is withdrawn and we transition from one age or civilization into a new, as yet undefined time.
The teacher for this time
Standing back of outward events and unknown to most is the teacher for this time, the Lord Maitreya, head and leader of our spiritual hierarchy, a body that many in the West in particular, may be unfamiliar with. Foretold to come at this time by Gautama Buddha some 2,600 years ago and awaited by all the World’s religions under various names (Christ, the Imam Mahdi, Maitreya Buddha, the Messiah, Krishna), Maitreya has been patiently waiting for the right time to come forward, to be invited to begin His full and open public work. The Covid-19 crisis could well be the factor that allows this event to take place, an unprecedented event that would potentially change everything.
Together with a large group of His closest disciples, the Masters of Wisdom, Maitreya will offer advice and guidance, pointing the way out of our troubles. It is up to humanity to listen and respond though; if there is a world saviour it is humanity itself. As Maitreya has said, “I am the Architect, only, of the Plan. You, My friends and brothers, are the willing builders of the Shining Temple of Truth.” The ‘temple of truth’ is the new civilization.
The presence, and gradual emergence (since July 1977) of Maitreya, was made known, up until his death in October 2016, by the British artist and writer Benjamin Creme: for forty years he travelled the world spreading what is an extraordinary, albeit controversial story of hope to anyone who would listen. The coming of a teacher at specific times of crisis and/or transition is quite normal, expected in fact; historically a teacher has always come forward from the ranks of the Spiritual Hierarchy. Now, as many realize, is such a time.
Maitreya is not a religious leader but a guide in the broadest sense, concerned with the pressing issues of the day. He is, Alice Bailey relates in The Reappearance of The Christ, “that Great Being Whom the Christian calls the Christ; He is known also in the Orient as the Bodhisattva and as the Lord Maitreya.” He is the great “Lord of Love and of Compassion” as the Buddha was “the Lord of Wisdom.” He is the Christ for this planet, a fact that many Christians will no doubt struggle to accept. He is the Master of all the Masters, and to Him “is committed the guidance of the spiritual destinies of men [mankind]. He is the World Teacher for this coming cycle; He is the Coming One.”
Some of Maitreya’s thoughts and aspects of His teachings were made known in the 140 extraordinary messages He gave between September 1977 and May 1982. “Allow Me to show you the way,” He says in one such message, “forward, into a simpler life where no man lacks; where no two days are alike; where the joy of Brotherhood manifests through all men. And in another asks, “how to start? Begin by dedicating yourself and all that you are and have been to the service of the world, to the service of your brothers and sisters everywhere. Make sure that not one day passes without some act of true service and be assured that My help will be yours.”
As the world faces the Covid-19 crisis, a coordinated response to the health demands and the economic impacts are needed; community service and simple acts of kindness are essential, as is sharing. This is a global crisis and a united response is called for, enough of competition and tribal nationalism – America first, China first, India first, etc., humanity and the planet first. Unity, cooperation, tolerance and understanding, these, together with sharing are the hallmarks of the time and must guide our thoughts and actions, now more than ever.
The pandemic will be overcome, and, if we embrace the opportunity this crisis offers there is a real chance that afterwards life could be fundamentally changed forever and for the good. A chance to re-imagine how to live, to introduce new modes of living that encourage the good, that cultivate unity, peace and natural happiness and allow the space in which to be.
When bailiffs broke down his door on the 20th June 2018 they found Errol Graham emaciated and dead. He weighed just four and a half stone (28.5kg). There was no food in the flat except for two tins of fish that were four years out of date, no gas or electricity supply. He was 57, lived alone in Nottingham, England and due to severe anxiety had little or no contact with family or friends. Unable to work he relied on state benefits to pay his rent, cover the bills and feed himself, benefits that were stopped when Graham did not attend a capability for work assessment. It was an isolated, painful life that ended tragically.
The conclusions of an inquest into the death of Errol Graham published last week, suggested “the removal of benefits by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), despite his long history of mental health problems, may have contributed to his death,” The Guardian reported. His daughter-in-law, Alison Turner, went further, blaming the DWP for his death; saying, “he would still be alive. He’d be ill but he’d still be alive.”
This dreadful story took place in Britain, but it, or something like it could happen anywhere in the world. It is but one of countless examples of institutionalized cruelty and systemic brutality, the greatest example of which is perhaps starvation and food insecurity in a world of plenty.
We have created a world in which the structures, systems and institutions are, by design, devoid of compassion, promoting suspicion and division; unkind policies flow from governments concerned solely with financial development and international dominance. False values are relentlessly promoted and crude methods of motivating people (i.e. competition and desire) to do what the architects of the machine want them to do are employed.
This hostile approach to living has infiltrated all areas, including schools and the home; parents, fearful for their child’s future in a brittle world, are more concerned than ever with academic achievement – believing success in this area will somehow enable their offspring to build secure lives for themselves – than with the cultivation of social responsibility. This conditioning into selfishness is borne out by various empirical studies; The Observer reports that, “psychologists find that kids born after 1995 are just as likely as their predecessors to believe that other people experiencing difficulty should be helped—but they feel less personal responsibility to take action themselves. For example, they are less likely to donate to charity, or even to express an interest in doing so.”
In addition to growing levels of selfishness and social isolation a widespread result of systemic cruelty coupled with intense competition – in the workplace, in schools and colleges and in the social arena – is psychological fear on a massive scale; ‘the world’ as currently constituted is seen to be a frightening place, indeed without the resources (physical, mental, family friends and financial) required to live – to ‘face the day’, pay the rent and feed oneself etc.—it is a frightening place.
Institutions and government agencies are regarded as threatening bodies of control; employees are constrained by procedure, drilled in rules and regulations denying flexibility crushing the humane, forming division. Once division is present the distance between procedural enforcement to impatience, and verbal insults to violence, is a good deal less than might be imagined; once an image of ‘the other’ is built and the threshold of self control, decency and mutual respect has been crossed all manner of abuse becomes possible.
For those on the margins of society – those with mental health illnesses; minorities; people who are uneducated or don’t speak the language well; men and women like Errol Graham, and there are many such, dealing with unforgiving inflexible forms of bureaucracy, corporations and bodies of control, is impossible, it literally makes them ill. As a result they retreat, hide away, are unable to follow the suffocating dictates and relentless demands, are overwhelmed by official letters, marketing emails and text messages. Frightened they simply stop responding, refuse to open letters, turn to drugs/alcohol, or some other addicted form of escape. To some the urge to ‘give up’ becomes irresistible and suicide holds out the promise, true or false, of release.
On a larger scale it is systemic cruelty that allows one billion or so people to live in absolute poverty, most of who are in South-East Asia or Sub-Saharan Africa. Merely surviving another day in a world that is threatening to crush them totally, is the aim of life; ‘God’ then is a loaf of bread, a bowl of rice, a cup of drinking water. That such injustice and needless suffering exists in a world that is more connected than ever, is aware, more or less, of the problems and has the resources to end them is shameful and inhumane.
When we build systems rooted in injustice and division, devoid of all kindness and compassion we encourage selfishness, suspicion and fear; and where there is fear there will be anger, and with anger comes conflict – within and without. Mankind is not this dispassionate machine, certainly not just this, and arguably not this at all. But intolerant ways of living beget discrimination and hate, violence triggers violence, hate fuels hate; this much at least we must have learned. And yet the systemic methodology that is feeding division persists, becomes louder, uglier, more extreme. It must end.
Institutionalized cruelty stifles humanity’s natural tendency towards expressions of kindness, concern for others, tolerance of difference and cooperation. All of which are extolled as moral virtues throughout the world, all of which allow a person to feel at ease with themselves and happy. And when a person is relaxed they can think more clearly, more creatively; kindness then becomes a facilitator of intelligence.
Social harmony, whether within a family unit, a school, workplace or a city rests on a series of interrelated pillars; trust is key, sharing helps cultivate trust and in a healthy social setting would be the natural way of things; forgiveness is another essential ingredient, as is tolerance. All of these principles of goodness flow from love – not sentimental emotional pink love, but that vibrant creative force beyond thought that animates all that is good. As the existing systems crystallize and become more extreme, it is upon a foundation of love and compassion that the new modes of living must be built.
As the world stumbles from one crisis to another it is increasingly apparent that existing systems and institutions are incapable of responding to the challenges of the time and the growing demands of the people. Creative ways of thinking free from ideology are needed, allowing for a revolution of ideas to take place and new ways of living to emerge based on altogether different values to those that are currently so pervasive; values that cultivate cooperation, tolerance and understanding in place of competition, prejudice and ignorance, and allow for a sense of unity and social responsibility to flower naturally.
At the heart of the required changes – which need to be both gradual and radical – must be education. Like all our current structures, education throughout the world is in crisis; while some flourish under the present approach, most do not. Competition, coupled with reward and punishment and conformity characterize much of institutionalized education; the pressures on children and young people to conform to a stereotype and pass examinations is intense, triggering a global mental health epidemic among under-25-year-olds, leading in some cases to suicide.
There are of course good schools with wonderful teachers everywhere, but they are handicapped by ideologically driven policies issued by nationalistic government departments that have little understanding of the needs of the child and are obsessed with economic growth. New methodologies are required that foster a sense of freedom in the child/young person, encourage group responsibility and allow true individuality and creative independent thinking (thinking freed from sociological and psychological conditioning). This is essential if the children of today are to find within themselves the resources needed to save our planet and re-shape society along more just lines.
Education and purpose
Central to the required changes needs to be an expanded definition of purpose/s; a series of interrelated aims underpinning all aspects of education, a deeper understanding of the nature, or constitution, of the human being and the psychological impact of certain teaching and indeed parenting methodologies. It seems logical that whatever primary purpose the ‘new’ education might have it should be consistent with an agreed purpose of life. There may be various contradictory views on such a fundamental question; however, it should be possible to make certain general statements that will allow for broad interpretations and open-minded investigation to take place.
Caught up in the practicalities and stresses of life, most of us perhaps rarely consider the question of life’s purpose, if indeed there is such a thing, and within education little time is given to such enquiries. As currently constituted, education “emphasizes secondary values, merely making us proficient in some branch of knowledge,” Krishnamurti states in Education and The Significance of Life, but “education is not merely acquiring knowledge, gathering and correlating facts; it is to see the significance of life as a whole.”
Dominated as it is by competition and comparison and seen by governments everywhere as little more than a supply chain for employers, such an integrated viewpoint within education is made extremely difficult. Children are rarely seen as individuals with certain innate gifts and talents, but as [potential] workers or economic assets; encouraged, forced in many cases through economic pressures, and the impulse to ‘succeed’, to move from school to university and into employment as quickly as possible. Such institutions have been tailored, says Noam Chomsky in The Educational Theory of Noam Chomsky, to “meet the requirement of the market,” with students, being “trained to be compliant workers”. This distortion of function, into a system of conditioning and indoctrination, is far from the purpose of education, which Krishnamurti makes clear, “is not to produce mere scholars, technicians and job hunters, but integrated men and women free from fear.”
Together with the media, education has become a major arena of propaganda and conditioning: students are conditioned into competition and comparison. The result of both is the facilitation of psychological fear, manifesting as repression anxiety and stress. Fear inhibits, physically, emotionally and mentally, and is the antithesis of human freedom, which together with the consciousness of this freedom, the 18th century French philosopher, Jacques Rousseau maintained is nothing less than “the essence of human nature”. The removal of those elements that create fear, that deny and inhibit would allow this essence to naturally flow, and with it independent thinking, creativity and initiative. And it is from that inspired source that ideas consistent with the times will be found.
Dominant methods employed to motivate students encourage the individual to focus on their own progress, success and material acquisition over the wellbeing of the group. Such practices work against social unity and therefore peace, encourage corrupt action through the fermentation of motive and feed division. In such a world “we all want to be on top,” Krishnamurti says, “and this desire creates constant conflict within ourselves and with our neighbour; it leads to competition, envy, animosity and finally war.” It is time this system of conditioning, indoctrination and manipulation was abandoned in favour of a new, creative approach that expands the individual’s awareness and cultivates a sense of oneness.
Unity of Life
The individual and society are not separate, but interrelated, interconnected, whether that society is a family, a classroom or school, a neighbourhood, town, city, country or planet. All are the collective expression of those individuals who live within it.
Each and every one of us is an integral part of the whole, a collective called humanity, and, as the writer and lecturer Benjamin Creme made clear in an interview entitled Education in the New Age, education should “show the child that it is a member of a world family… that we are not living alone in one large or small country, but in a world shared by 5.7 billion people [7.7 billion currently]. The child, above all, should be taught that this is the fundamental position of his/her life on Earth: that they are one of a group, a family.” That group forms part of the planetary life with its various kingdoms; a living totality forming part of a larger whole known as the solar system, which is but a part of the Universe, and on and on into infinity stretches this extraordinary integrated whole, diverse but one.
The creation of an expansive awareness in which relationship with and responsibility for the group is cultivated, should be seen as one of the key purposes of all aspects of the ‘new’ education. In Education in the New Age, Alice A. Bailey makes clear that “through education self-consciousness must be unfolded until the man recognizes that his consciousness is a corporate part of a greater whole. He blends then with the group interests, activities and objectives. They are eventually his and he becomes group conscious. This is Love. It leads to wisdom, which is love in manifested activity. Such should be the major objective of all true educational endeavours. Love of self (self-consciousness), becomes love of those around us (group-consciousness), becomes love of the whole (God consciousness). Such are the steps.”
The movement in conscious awareness, outlined by Bailey, gradually shifts the individual’s identification away from the separate self, eroding selfish behaviour encouraging selfless-ness, social responsibility and service. Service we might define as action undertaken for the benefit of others, for the enrichment of the group, with little or no selfish motive. The 19th century American philosopher and educational reformer, John Dewey, explained that the impulse to help others is a natural human quality experienced by all children. In Education for Social Change he states that “the child’s natural desire [is] to give out, to do, and this means to serve.” When his/her environment is purged of the elements that condition a man/woman into selfishness the natural inclination is to cooperate and to be kind, for within every human being sits the source of all that is good. With the flowering of this silent intelligence education must concern itself.
Ideas of inherent ‘goodness’, innate intelligence and unconditional love move us to think of education as that which, amongst other things enables relationship with the ‘Will of Life’ –that innate impulse which imbues all form with purpose. Maria Montessori, who devised a ground-breaking way of teaching ‘uneducable’ children (those we might now describe as having ‘special educational needs’) in the early 20th century, felt that traditional education neglects the child’s inherent goodness and most basic needs – what she described in The Child as “the exigencies of his spirit and his soul. The human being that lives within the child remains stifled therein.” Liberating ‘the human being that lives within the child’ and establishing a relationship with what we might call ‘inherent’ or ‘divine’ purpose and allowing actions consistent with its nature to take place, should be seen as a fundamental purpose of education. Rudolph Steiner explained in Spiritual Ground of Education: The Necessity For Spiritual Insight that, “when we confront education earnestly it is demanded of us not only to acknowledge for the peace of our soul, but to will God’s will, to act the intentions of God. To do this however, we need a spiritual basis for education.”
A natural flowering
Education that negates all that inhibits, i.e., fear and conditioned ideas of self, will allow for the natural flowering of the life within the form, or, as Montessori put it, ‘the human being that lives within the child’. Within such an unpolluted space response to what Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (founder of The Theosophical Society) described as ‘The Voice of the Silence’, in which echoes, what she called, ‘the intentions of God’, can take place. Krishnamurti hints at something similar, saying that, “when there is self-knowledge, the power of creating illusions ceases, and only then is it possible for reality or God to be known.” Illusions flow from all constructs of the self as separate and allow negative aspects such as fear and guilt to flourish. The idea of separation is regarded as ‘the great illusion’ within esoteric literature; it is the seed for all mental constructs that veil reality, colour and limit relationship with oneself. What higher purpose could education possibly have than to shatter the ‘great illusion’ and respond to innate purpose, to “will God’s Will” as Steiner puts it.
Education that allows for atonement and the resulting demonstration of ‘divine [or innate] potential’, requires both the recognition and negation of all that denies such a natural state of being to occur, together with the sensitive, intuitive recognition of that potential. The suffocation of innate potential causes frustration and illness; its realisation is an essential aspect of purpose. Alice A. Bailey sates that, “the increasing of soul awareness, the deepening of the flow of consciousness and the development of an inner continuity of awareness, plus the evocation of soul attributes and aspects upon the physical plane constitute the objective of all education.” Whether that which is innate is described as ‘potential’ as Dewey terms it, or what Rousseau called ‘human freedom’, the ‘divine’ according to Benjamin Creme, or the ‘soul’ of which Steiner, Montessori and Alice Bailey speak, any ‘new’ education form must be concerned with facilitating the relationship with and manifest expression of this aspect of man’s nature.
Despite the fact that slavery has long been abolished it continues to blight our world, destroying the lives of tens of millions of people. The Global Slavery Index (GSI) 2018 estimates there to be 40.3 million slaves in the world; however, given the difficulty of collecting data, the areas that are not included – organ trafficking, child soldiers, or child marriage – and the fact that, as GSI says, there are ‘substantial gaps’ from the Arabs States, where 17.5 million migrants workers live, the actual number will no doubt be a great deal higher.
Of the 40.3 million total, 24.9 million people “were in forced labor and 15.4 people were living in a forced marriage.” Men, women and little children living inhuman lives, imprisoned, abused, crushed. Women and girls make up 71% of the total; a staggering one in four (10 million plus) are children.
Treated and regarded by those that exploit them not as human beings, but as chattel – property – victims of slavery are traded for money and services throughout the world. The Asia-Pacific region has the largest number of enslaved people – 30.4 million, and, according to Anti-Slavery International 9.1 million people are in slavery in Africa. Repressive regimes, such as North Korea, Burundi, Eritrea, have the highest prevalence of slaves, in North Korea it is said to be as high as one in 10. But no country, no matter how wealthy, liberal and well policed, is immune to this abhorrent practice, it is happening everywhere.
As part of the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNSGD) member states committed to eradicating modern slavery by 2030. But, unsurprisingly perhaps, progress towards has been slow and, as GSI puts it, “disgracefully marginal”. Human trafficking is now the second most lucrative criminal activity after drugs and it’s increasing; a large percentage is sex trafficking (of women and girls) and over half of people are trafficked within their own country.
The most common forms of slavery are: domestic servitude – widespread in the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries but also prevalent in western nations; sexual exploitation/forced marriage, and bonded labor (or debt bondage/debt slavery) – when a person works in exchange for a loan or to pay off debt inherited from a family member – particularly common in South-east Asia and the Gulf States.
In India bonded slave labor is widespread, with people, specifically women, from the Dalit (previously labeled the ‘Untouchables’) caste and tribal groups being most affected. Although the caste system is illegal, social classification based on the family of birth dominates, particularly in rural areas. In a detailed report on slavery the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) state that affected Indian “families [can] remain enslaved for generations, working in dangerous conditions without the means to pay for their freedom…the cycle often begins with a loan request made to a landlord or business owner for expenses incurred burying a family member, treating an illness, procuring employment, or staging a wedding.” Once the loan is given threats are made, exploitation begins, often the work done far exceeds the value of the debt. Rice mills, textile factories, farms, brick kilns are some of the prisons of bonded labor.
A large percentage of victims work in the supply chains of multinational corporations in the form of forced or bonded labor, including child labor. They are paid little or nothing, work extended hours often in unsafe conditions and live in appalling accommodation. The more complex the supply chain the greater the risk of slavery, the more difficult to trace. Food and tobacco companies, clothing/textile businesses, mining, construction (migrant workers are particularly at risk of exploitation in this area), seafood and electronics, all are vulnerable to modern day slavery.
While the act of enslavement may occur in the depths of the supply chain, products are imported to developed countries, making these countries and businesses if not wholly complicit, certainly partly responsible; GSI estimate that “G20 countries are collectively importing US$354 billion worth of at-risk products annually.” Hidden in large part from unsuspecting or uninterested consumers; slave labor is cheap, reducing costs, maximizing profits.
Consistent with most, if not all of our social and environmental ills the global socio-economic system of the age, and the attitudes, values and ways of being that it encourages play a significant role in feeding the ground for exploration and abuse. Under the poisonous shadow of Neo-Liberalism everything and everyone is regarded as a potential commodity, something, or someone, to be profited from in some way; it is an inherently unjust system that corrupts action and fuels social divisions.
Competition together with notions of reward and punishment form the foundation of its doctrine. Desire, and with it fear, are relentlessly agitated, contentment and harmony brushed aside in the relentless pursuit of profit.
Within the Ideology of Greed and Selfishness, negative tendencies are emphasized; instead of encouraging expressions of unity human beings are set in opposition to one another, forced to compete to survive. The economically weak and socially vulnerable are manipulated, exploited, enslaved, and when, through ill health, physical deformation, old age, or exhaustion, they can no longer work ceaselessly for a pittance or nothing at all, cast aside. Broken in mind, body and spirit, a life for many is lost.
‘I was looking for a job’
Human traffickers and criminal gangs engage in slavery for one reason: it’s the same reason that drives the business world, large and small, and preoccupies people around the world – to make money. As such, it is, as Kevin Bales, Professor of Contemporary Slavery at the University of Nottingham, says, “an economic crime”. They prey on the poor, the naive and vulnerable, those without work or those working but living in terrible hardship.
While it is estimated that one billion people in the world live in poverty, a great many more exist in economic hardship and insecurity. People living in destitution, desperate to support themselves and their families, are a soft target for criminal brokers with hollow promises of a better life: A restaurant job in the city for the daughter of tea pickers in Assam, India – and the teenager is swiftly trafficked into prostitution; work as a housekeeper in Dubai for a young Ethiopian girl, who ends up in debt bondage and domestic slavery, often sexually abused. Construction work for a Nepalese man in Qatar, trapped into debt by unscrupulous ‘recruitment agents’ and exploited by greedy employers.
Another major factor allowing slavery to flourish is neglect or the total absence of the rule of law, as in countries that have been torn apart by armed conflict, or where corrupt police and government officials exist. In such places – Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen for example, human traffickers operate with impunity.
Over the last 70 years there has been a global population explosion contributing to a range of issues including slavery. In 1950 there were 2.5 billion people on Earth, now it’s 7.5 billion and there are also an unprecedented number of displaced people in the world – 70.8 million according to UNHCR. Without a home and stability, displaced people, including migrants and refugees, are extremely vulnerable. Uprooted and desperate, they can be easily manipulated by criminals seeking to exploit their dire circumstances. CFR relate that migrants and refugees, as well as ethnic and religious minorities, particularly women and children, are at heightened risk of enslavement.
The existence of modern day slavery is a stain on our collective humanity; this appalling practice must end, and, as GSI make clear, “governments around the world need to redouble efforts to identify victims, arrest perpetrators, and address the drivers.” The causes are complex, interrelated, connected to the current inadequate modes of living. If we lived in a world where social justice was central to economic policymaking, where the underlying causes of conflict were addressed and where values rooted in brotherhood and compassion prevailed, slavery would be banished. In the absence of such common sense and desperately needed radical changes, the steps required and advocated by those working in the field are all we have, and need to be acted upon – with urgency.
Like many of the issues facing humanity, modern day slavery demands a coordinated consistent approach, cooperation and commitment, nor just among governments, but between nongovernmental organizations, and multinational corporations. Tougher law enforcement is needed, and greater transparency within global supply chains. Businesses should be forced to investigate their own suppliers, while responsible consumption should also play a part in cleaning up supply chains and helping to drive slavery from our world for good.
During August thousands of fires ravaged the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and Bolivia. Some are still burning. In the wet ecosystem of the rainforest fires are not a natural phenomenon, they are started by people, mostly well-organized criminal gangs that profit from illegal logging and land clearance.
Brazil’s right-wing President, Jain Bolsanaro, took office in January; since then deforestation in the country has doubled, there have been 87,000 fires in the Amazon, the highest number since 2010. Funding to Brazil’s Environmental Protection Agency, IBAMA, has been cut by 25%, including monies allocated for prevention and control of fires, which was slashed by 23%, he has publicly attacked organizations working to protect the rainforest, like Guardians of the Forest (made up of indigenous people), and turned a blind eye to environmental crimes.
By dismantling “all the state organs that enforce environmental protection,” Alfredo Sirkis, director of the Brazil Climate Center, says Bolsonaro is inciting environmental crimes and facilitating deforestation; through his words and deeds he is complicit in the environmental crimes being perpetrated. A spokesman for Guardians of the Forest told Human Rights Watch, “If we were to wait for the authorities to act there will be nothing left.”
80,000 acres a day
The World’s rainforests are the lungs of the planet. They soak up greenhouse gas emissions, affect wind currents and rainfall patterns and produce the oxygen we need to survive. They provide habitat for hundreds of animals, thousands of birds and tens of thousands of plants: around 25% of modern pharmaceuticals are derived from ingredients found in rainforests.
In 1950 they covered around 15% of the earth’s land surface, now, due to intensive deforestation, it’s down to just 6%. According to Scientific American, “most experts agree that we are losing upwards of 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest daily, and significantly degrading another 80,000 acres every day on top of that. Along with this loss and degradation, 135 plant, animal and insect species are disappearing every day………as the forests fall.”
In 2015 the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) claimed that “over the past 25 years the rate of net global deforestation has slowed down by more than 50 percent”. However, according to the World Resources Institute, that trend has reversed; 2018 “was the second-highest on record for tree cover loss, down just slightly from 2016. The tropics lost an area of forest the size of Vietnam in just the last two years.” If this unimaginable level of carnage continues unabated it is feared that in less than 40 years there will be none left.
The consequences of a world bereft of rainforests are too horrific to contemplate, but one thing is clear: it would then be too late to do anything meaningful about climate change and the environmental calamity more broadly. Currently, deforestation and forest degradation rank as the second highest cause of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, producing around 15% of the total. As the children of the world have been rightly demanding, radical action is needed now, not in twenty-five or thirty years’ time, but now.
The causes of deforestation
There are various causes of deforestation; while logging is an issue, particularly in Indonesia where 80 percent of timber exports are illegal, the major cause is animal agriculture. Huge tracts of land are cleared to graze cattle, grow feed for animals and for biofuels. Animal agriculture is a principle cause of greenhouse gas emissions – producing, the UNFAO say, 14.5% of the anthropogenic GHG emissions that are driving climate change. It also uses approximately 70% of all agricultural land, and is the primary cause of biodiversity loss, animal extinction and water pollution. If deforestation and climate change are to be tackled, reducing consumption of animal produce needs to be a priority. This is something we can all do; it just requires commitment and a sense of social/environmental responsibility.
A recent study into the impact of farming on the planet concluded that “a vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication [when a body of water becomes overly enriched with minerals and nutrients which induce excessive growth of algae], land use and water use…it is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” it states, “as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.”
The research, which is the most comprehensive to date, found that “beef cattle raised on deforested land result in 12 times more greenhouse gases and uses 50 times more land than those grazing rich natural pasture,” and states that producing 100g of beef “results in up to 105kg of greenhouse gases, while tofu produces less than 3.5kg.” Without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by 75% (an area equivalent to the US, China, the European Union and Australia combined), the study states, and we could still feed everyone.
In response to this summer’s fires in the Amazon a coalition of environmental groups came together, which included Friends of the Earth, Action Network, Rainforest and Amazon Watch. They called for a Global Day of Action for the Amazon and issued a damning statement to those responsible for the destruction.
Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro is, they made clear, primarily to blame for the fires and the increase in deforestation since he took office, due to his “regressive, and racist policies and his explicit encouragement to ‘open the Amazon for business’.” But, it is multinational companies that have created the “conditions for profiteering at the expense of the lungs of the earth – and these same companies are poised to profit further as today’s fires open up the door for tomorrow’s plantations and ranches.” Behind deforestation is big business and the multinational banks.
Global commodity traders are the “key drivers of deforestation in the Amazon”; companies like Cargill, a US based agriculture corporation, or JBS, an American food processing company, or Marfrig Global Foods, a Brazilian beef producer, and, according to their website, “one of the world leaders in the production of hamburgers, with processing capacity of 232.000 tons per year”.
The products these companies make are sold by large-scale retailers all over the world: E. Lecrerc has over 500 shops in France and 112 outside the country; Stop & Shop (the name says it all), a US supermarket chain with 415 outlets; Costco, another American conglomerate, and US mega corporation, Walmart, which has 11,389 stores. Behind these corporations sit the moneymen. The key players are BlackRock (an American investment management corporation); US investment bank, JPMorgan Chase; Santander (Spanish Bank); BNP Paribas (French Bank); HSBC (UK-based bank) and others. “These financiers not only enable the destruction of our forests – they profit from it.”
The driving force
Behind the banks and corporate traders is the Neo-Liberal socio-economic model; these powerful organizations operate within, and are determined to uphold, the confines of its doctrine, they are driven by the values and motives inherent in the Ideology of Money, and demonstrate no concern for the natural world, or human well-being.
Together with the consumer society that it relentlessly promotes and depends on, Neo-Liberalism, sits at the polluting heart of deforestation and the wider interconnected environmental catastrophe. Under its profit-bound ethos, everything is regarded as a commodity, everyone seen as a consumer. Competition and division are inherent, selfishness and greed, the antithesis to what is needed, are fostered.
Within the present construct and modes of living it is hard to see how the necessary action to curb deforestation could be initiated. In an attempt to halt the carnage in 2008 the UN set up Redd (reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation). A mechanism through which developing countries are encouraged to improve forest management and developed nations can contribute to a fund to facilitate and support such schemes. It may contribute to encouraging conservation and places a degree of responsibility, albeit voluntarily accepted, on rich nations, but it will not stop deforestation.
A completely new approach to so-called development as part of far reaching systemic change is urgently needed, together with a shift in public attitudes: away from self-centered activity, competition, and the aggrandizement of the individual and/or the nation state. Humanity is one, individual but united. This essential fact needs to be recognized and acted upon. Not as a vague philosophical or psychological catchphrase, but as a principle of truth from which a new socio-economic model can be created. One that serves the needs of all through sharing, encourages simplicity of living, harmlessness and social/environmental responsibility.
Awareness of climate change and the interconnected environmental crisis is growing throughout the world. Protest movements led by Extinction Rebellion and School Strike for Climate increase in number and scope, demands for action are repeated, louder and louder, anger and anxiety mounts. And yet politicians and corporations, complacent, trapped by outdated ideology and motivated by short term self-interest, respond inadequately if at all.
World leaders, “talk too much and…listen too little” – the UN Secretary General, António Guterres at the Youth Climate Summit in September. In a candid address he related that, “things [concerning climate change] are getting worse. The worst forecasts that were made are being proven wrong, not because they were too dramatic, but because they were not dramatic enough…we are still losing the race … climate change is still running faster than what we are.” Thus resulting in unprecedented heat waves, record-breaking wildfires, declining sea ice and glaciers (parts of the Arctic are warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet), cyclones, floods and drought.
The way of life in rich developed nations – i.e., those that caused the environmental problem in the first place – and (given the development model forced on them by western institutions) to a much smaller but growing degree in developing countries, is based on greed and limitless consumption. It is completely unsustainable, has poisoned the planet and promoted a set of self-supporting negative values that lie at the root of a range of social ills.
If the planet is to be healed and social harmony inculcated it cannot continue. Growing numbers of people around the world recognize this fact, but the Men and Women of Power, whether political or business, and the two are bedmates, fail to accept that it has to end and do all they can to manipulate dying forms and resist change. They fear that if real change were embraced and sustainable, just and healthy modes of living introduced, they would make less profit and lose power. And money and power – two more bedmates – have become all-important in our societies: government policies are dominated by them. Lives, landscapes, oceans, rivers, ecosystems, the air we breathe, all are sacrificed in the pursuit of these hollow totems.
Broken pledges and failing targets
In October 2018 the The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) publishedGlobal Warming 1.5C. The report makes clear that restricting the increase in global ground temperatures to 1.5C (as agreed at the pivotal 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference) would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” Resulting in “clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems … ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society.” The years between 2015 and 2019 have been the warmest of any equivalent period on record and have moved global warming towards 1.1C (above pre-industrial levels). Without urgent action it’s widely accepted that we will reach 1.5 °C by 2030. The consequences of which, the IPCC says, are much worse than previously predicted.
The ‘nightmarish tale’ would see “warming of extreme temperatures in many regions, increases in frequency, intensity and/or amount of heavy precipitation in several regions, and an increase in intensity or frequency of droughts in some regions.” Sea levels according to Carbon Brief would rise by a colossal 48cm by 2100, almost 300 million people would be exposed to water scarcity, cyclones would increase, and, among a lot of other chilling impacts, close to 30 million people living in coastal areas flooded by 2055.
This is a sketch of the 1.5C scenario, the agreed global target; if warming is higher the consequences are more severe. It is a target most nations are not on track to meet. At the UN Summit, Secretary General Guterres said that countries (major polluters) need to cut emissions by 45% by 2030, end fossil fuel subsidies, ban new coal plants after 2020 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
Since Paris, governments around the world have made various non-binding pledges and established honorable targets to lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE). Most of which are then ignored. As a result the prospect of achieving the targets they themselves have set remain non-existent, and in most cases, the targets themselves are totally inadequate if we want to preserve life and maintain a viable living planet.
Before the Climate Summit in September a report was published by United in Science (backed by the UN Environment Programme and the IPCC), which finds that “commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions must be at least tripled and increased by up to fivefold if the world is to meet the goals” of the Paris Agreement. Coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization the report says that if current plans continue, by 2100 the rise in average global temperatures would be between 2.9C and 3.4C.
One would imagine that such a forecast would make governments, who are very much aware of them, wake up, but immersed in complacency and arrogance most at least simply ignore such information and carry on regardless. The Climate Action Tracker (CAT) is an independent scientific analysis body that monitors the climate action of governments around the world and measures this against the Paris Agreement (holding warming well below 2°C, and pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C).
Among other things CAT assesses whether countries are likely to meet their emission targets and estimates likely global temperature increases based on current policies. The observations are truly shocking: Where they exist at all, plans by the USA (Trump has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, weakened environmental legislation and is supporting the fossil fuel industry), Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are described as ‘critically insufficient’ i.e., these countries are doing virtually nothing. Measures taken by China, Japan and a list of other nations are termed ‘highly insufficient’, steps introduced by the EU, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway and five more are ‘insufficient’ (to meet the target of 1.5). Perhaps surprisingly India, which is emerging as a global leader in renewable energy, is among those countries regarded as having taken ‘sufficient’ steps, but ‘sufficient’ towards meeting 2C – not 1.5. According to CAT only Morocco and The Gambia are on track to meet its targets.
If warming is to be limited to 1.5C there needs to be drastic cuts made in the use of fossil fuels. This means withdrawing funding to fossil fuel companies, leaving the oil and coal in the ground and heavily investing in renewable energy sources, which, BP reports, currently amount to a mere 9.3% of global electricity generation.
However, consistent with the Profit At All Costs doctrine, a report (Banking on Climate Change) from a coalition of environmental groups, reveals that since the Paris Agreement, “33 global banks have provided $1.9 trillion to fossil fuel companies [and] the amount of financing has risen in each of the past two years.” The big U.S. banks dominate, JPMorgan Chase coming out as the world’s top fossil fuel funder, “by a wide margin.” Royal Bank of Canada, Barclays in the UK and Bank of China are all funding the polluters.
The IPCC report outlines broad recommendations of what needs to happen in order to meet, or attempt to meet the 1.5 target: “transformative systemic change, integrated with sustainable development,” are two crucial elements that stand out. Operating within the existing structures and ideologies, governments and corporations have consistently shown that they will not act within the required time frame. Some, as the CAT data reveals, appear reluctant to act at all, while others are acting in contradictory, hypocritical ways by making pledges to drastically cut emissions while investing in fossil fuels.
Fundamental changes to the socio-economic system is urgently required; competition, national self-interest and the profit motive have to be curtailed, cooperation and unity cultivated. Man-made climate change observes no borders, it is a global catastrophe, and, as has been repeatedly said but consistently ignored, it demands a unified, coordinated global response.
Ethiopia is a tribal nation, made up of 80 or so different groups, some large some small, some powerful, some not. Large numbers of people, the majority perhaps, identify themselves with their tribe more powerfully than their country, or their region. Tribal affiliation runs deep among all age groups, loyalty is strong, resentment of tribal others can be fierce.
Social divisions along tribal lines, fear and animosity, particularly between the three largest groups – the Oromo, Amhara and Tigrinian – are acute. People within all three are heavily armed; carrying weapons in rural Ethiopia is commonplace, expected even. Isolated conflicts have occurred in various parts of the country in recent months leading to deaths and displacement of people.
Ethiopia now boasts the largest number of internally displaced persons in the world. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (iDMC) states that, “about 2.9 million new displacements associated with conflict were recorded in 2018.” The total number displaced in the country is estimated to be close to four million.
The new government has not responded effectively to this humanitarian crisis or the incidents of tribal-based violence; it appears weak and indecisive, and when it has reacted it has done so in a heavy-handed, clumsy manner. Many Ethiopians, both inside and outside the country are concerned that matters could spiral out of control; one spark, carelessly thrown, could ignite fury, civil war even. This is not a new fear, but it is becoming more widespread, and with every eruption of ethnic violence unease deepens, tensions grow.
The government, under the leadership of PM Abiy Ahmed Ali, appears unclear how to respond to the frustration that many in the country feel. Maintaining Law and order by the police is essential, the military should not be involved, but, they have been deployed to deal with unrest, and the government has on occasion retreated into the Old Ethiopian Way of Control; arresting troublesome journalists and restricting Internet access – the regime still owns the sole telecommunications company. The Committee to Protect Journalists report that “on June 22, Ethiopia was plunged into an internet blackout following what the government described as a failed attempted coup in the Amhara region.”
In the aftermath at least two journalists were detained under the country’s repressive anti-terror law. The draconian Anti-Terrorist Proclamation was introduced in 2009, was described by Human Rights Watch (HRW) at the time as “a potent instrument to crack down on political dissent, including peaceful political demonstrations…. It would permit long-term imprisonment and even the death penalty for ‘crimes’ that bear no resemblance, under any credible definition, to terrorism.” The government has been discussing reforms to the proclamation, but what is required is not endless debate, but for the law to be scrapped immediately and new legislation brought forward.
From Dictatorship to Democracy
Until PM Abiy took office, the ruling EPRDF coalition was dominated by a group of men from Tigray under the banner of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). For 23 years they imposed their ideology of ‘Revolutionary Democracy’ – a highly centralized authoritarian political and economic system, which the regime was never able to clearly define. Human rights were ignored, corruption was rife, the judiciary politicized, state terrorism commonplace in various parts of the country, and “ethnic federalism”, a system of regional administration based on ethnicity, introduced. Good on paper, it promised to respect cultural diversity and give autonomy to ethnic groups should they wish it. In practice ethnic federalism was a way for the TPLF to control the people, to “Divide and Rule”. Competition among groups for land, government funding, aid and natural resources increased, historic tribal flags hoisted, differences aggravated and national unity impaired, all by design.
The EPRDF is still in office under PM Abiy, but the cabinet is new (50% women), and the approach has radically changed; democracy is, many hope, a real possibility in the country.
Abdi is Oromo and holds the office of chairman of the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP). Although they constitute the largest group (with around 35% of the population), there has never before been an Oromo Prime Minister. As large numbers of Oromo see it, they have been dominated for generations by people from the Amhara and Tigray regions, who have suppressed and abused them. With an Oromo PM and a large number of Oromo ministers in place many Oromo people believe their time has come; their time for what precisely though, is unclear. Revenge perhaps – dangerous, to redress historic injustices, to gain independence or autonomy – something that is geographically impossible; Oromia sits on land in the center of the country and includes the capital, Addis Ababa.
Since the new government took office in April 2018 political prisoners have been released, prisons – in which torture was routine – closed down, peace established with Eritrea, troops withdrawn from the Ogaden region in the south. Ethiopians living abroad, many of who were critical of the previous regime, were welcomed back, and the media unshackled. A new beginning then, and much to be welcomed. But as the old repressive measures are rejected, deep-seated anger has surfaced; some see the disquiet as an opportunity to advance their narrow political agenda, they exploit the situation, agitating, stirring up anger.
The evolution into democracy, something Ethiopia has never before known, needs to be carefully nurtured if the transition away from fear and suppression is to be peacefully realized. The government is new and needs time, they also need support; Ethiopia’s major beneficiaries, Europe, USA and Britain, need to become engaged. As with the world as a whole, the key for Ethiopia is unity: unity enriched by the diverse tribal cultures and traditions that exist in this beautiful country.
There is a great deal to be done in Ethiopia: it remains one of the poorest countries in the world, and finds itself languishing at 173rd on the UN Human development Index, out of 189 countries. Health care is poor as is the standard of education. Civil society is weak, it lacks a comprehensive legal infrastructure, the judiciary is not trusted; the cost of living is high and inequality extreme. It will take time, cooperation, tolerance and goodwill to address these fundamental societal issues. Every effort needs to be made to unite the disparate groups; no matter the tribe, all are Ethiopian and all have a contribution to make in the New Ethiopia.