Pugsworth´s Thoughts

This is a place for me to store ideas, thoughts and feelings that I would like to share with the rest of the world.

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Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

I was born in New Zealand, where I spent the first 10 years of my life. I had two years in Papua New Guinea aged 10 + 11 which were wonderful and very formative years of my life. Since 1993 I've lived in Melbourne, Australia.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Tribute to Frank Fisher

A great man died the other week. After a near life long battle with Crohn’s disease and an eight-month battle with cancer, Frank Fisher passed away peacefully in the presence of his family.

Frank was a kind of mentor to my mentors, and I’ve been honoured in the past year or so to share some special times with him, and to come to call him my friend. In a relatively short time, and in his inimitably subtle and unassuming way, he’s had a deep impact on my life. Rarely does someone meet a person of such a big mind and such a big heart. Frank’s ability to consistently bring such a deep attention to the people, things, and systems around him was truly incredible. He had such a passionate care for everyone and everything he encountered.

It was this care and attention that propelled Frank to become, in my mind at least, Melbourne’s original environmental guru. He was one of the first of us to see the environmental damage being caused by human ways of thinking and acting. Giving this his deep attention he has strived ever since to bring our attention to what we are doing. More importantly he helped us to understand our capacity to change what and how we do in ways that transform not just our relationship with the ‘environment’ but also our relationships with ourselves and each other.

 Frank has taught and inspired so many of the people who are today working and living to transform our social environmental consciousness. Like Paolo Freire, Frank’s life has been an act of radical love, that unites mind, heart and deed in a praxis oriented to some of the most fundamental issues of life, how to be authentically in relationship with the world around us. Frank challenged us all to see deeper into who we are, collectively and individually; to understand the systems we have created to understand the world, each other and ourselves; to understand how these systems shape the way we live and interact; to understand how have the power to shape and change these systems; and most importantly Frank challenged us to all to act and live authentically from these understandings.

Frank and I share a disease known as Crohn’s, an inflammation of the bowl caused by factors we still don’t properly understand. Frank’s case was much more severe than mine, and in many ways he suffered as much from the removal of his bowel (this used to thought of as the best way of treatment) as from the condition itself. But it was how Frank responded to his condition that we can really learn from. Frank saw it not as a ‘disease’ (though his experience of it caused much ‘uneasiness’) but as a gift to be learned from, something to be given attention so that we all might benefit. He campaigned for better access to public toilets (something a Crohn’s sufferer might need at any time, but from which we can all benefit) and indeed to change the whole way we conceive of public toilets: why do they have to be purpose built, designed primarily to withstand vandalism and therefore become unattractive obtrusions we would rather not see? Why can’t we just make the ‘private’ toilets we already have ‘public’ thereby creating more opportunities for human interaction and solidarity around a basic shared need. If eating can bring us together, why can’t shitting?

Of course approaching disability not as a limitation but as a window through which to see the world differently is becoming increasingly popular in this 21st century. Somehow we’ve been more receptive to changing the ways we think in relation to ‘health’ than we have in relation to ‘environment’. So it’s been a curious fact that Frank’s radical questioning of the way we construct our world has led him to deep interactions with the health management community while simultaneously isolating him within the environment movement. Of course Frank wasn’t going to let other people’s conceptions of what was ‘right’, ‘important’ or ‘strategic’ stop him from authentically following his path. He listened to the critique, always engaged in dialogue with anyone willing, but quietly went on inspiring and provoking others to deeper insights and action.

Frank was a great fan of wilderness. Not just the wilderness of the forest, desert or ocean, but also the wilderness of the human mind. He saw that we each have within our minds the same creative capacity for new ways of being as exists across all the living organisms. He worried that somehow in the hustle and bustle and the sensory overload of our modern lives we were losing both these forms of wilderness, becoming more conformist with the ever-growing concrete structures that oppress both us and the ecosystems. He encouraged us to become wilder, in our thinking, our acting, our loving and our being. So I think that is the greatest honour we can do him:

attend to the wilderness…


A public memorial service celebrating Frank's life will be held at 11am on Saturday, 15th of September at the Edge Theatre in Federation Square, Melbourne.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Comfortable Intelligence

A close friend recently suggested that I should learn to become more comfortable with my intelligence. I was immediately struck by the wisdom of this suggestion and it stimulated some interesting reflections about my relationship with my intelligence and my reactions to some of our cultural attitudes towards it.

I am a very intelligent person. However it is very difficult to write that without sounding and feeling conceited (I’m much more comfortable saying that I’m of above average intelligence). Taken at face value those five words express in a fairly matter of fact way what most of my friends tell me is true. However without a carefully crafted context our culture generally hears those words as being full of ego or as an attempt at saying that I am better than someone else. Even overt displays of intelligence can have this affect. This has led me to be wary about displaying my intelligence (outside of my circle of close friends) for fear of being judged, ridiculed or ostracised.

I guess I’ve always been fairly smart. I come from a well-educated family and my parents always encouraged and stimulated me in many forms of learning. In grade four I remember taking what seemed like long walks with a friend during school lunch times to contemplate the immense ability of the human brain even in contrast to a calculator (which seemed like a fairly impressive thing in itself back in 1988). But even then I knew this was a conversation that wasn’t worth trying to share with other friends. At high school there was a clear divide between those with academic abilities and interests and those without. One’s intellectual ability seemed to be inversely proportionate to one’s social rank so I tried (without much success) to avoid demonstrating any sort of intellectual ability to my fellow students. At university being smart was a bit more acceptable, but in general my experience has been that intelligence is more likely to be scoffed at than rewarded, so I remain to this day hesitant to display any significant prowess or capacity other than to those who I know won’t judge me for it.

‘Intelligence knocking’ seems like a rather odd cultural attitude and one that isn’t really going to help us advance ourselves either as individuals or as a nation. It’s an attitude that’s part of the more extreme egalitarianism we call the ‘tall poppy syndrome’. Anyone who gets ahead or does better than us is cut down to size. So I wonder how it came to be? I guess the origin lies in earlier historical times where intelligence was used to justify a higher social status whether between classes or races. In Australia’s case I guess this is the result of our convict and settler past. So many of the people who came here wanted to escape the entrenched social hierarchy of Britain. And when they arrived here they found themselves in a strange utopian equality imposed by the harsh physical conditions.

Perhaps it goes further back, to the age of the enlightenment, when a rapid growth in our knowledge about the world led to significant social developments. This put the power to bring change and advancement in the hands of those at the forefront of knowledge. Generally they were members of the already powerful wealthy classes and in a time of change and upheaval it was only natural for them to use their newfound power to reinforce their position. Over 200 years or so we’ve tried gradually equalised access to a good education but judging by the level of social concern about our schools and the competition between them we haven’t yet succeeded. At least this is a sign that we do indeed value intelligence even if it is only about making sure that we are keeping up with (or getting ahead of) those around us.

Of course the snobbery of the intelligent elite is not limited to the enlightment, it continues today. No doubt this contributed to the contemporary contempt for intelligence as the victims of snobbery take their revenge. This in turn reinforces elite attitudes as those who feel they aren’t accepted (by the now more educated masses) cluster together and bitch about the rest.

This brings me back to my friend’s advice. We have to learn to carry our intelligence in a way that doesn’t impinge on the self-esteem of others. This means not using it to prop up our own sense of self-esteem. It means using our intelligence for the empowerment of others and not in a way that disempowers them. We are all gifted with one form of intelligence or another, whether it be intellectually, emotionally, physically, spiritually, artistically, linguistically, socially, intra-personally, financially, or in one of the many forms of intelligence we’ve yet to put a name to. We also experience a lack of natural intelligence in some of these areas. So the relationship between the ‘haves’ and the ‘haves not’ of intelligence is one that we all experience from both sides. This should give us the perspective we need to approach each other’s gifts in a more mature way. Basing our self-esteem on whether we are more gifted than others in a particular field doesn’t do us any good in the long run.

How do you feel when you see someone do or say something with an ease and elegance you could never hope to achieve? Well in part it depends on how that person carries themself in that action. If a person acts out their intelligence in a way that tries to belittle us, then we are likely to feel belittled or offended etc. If they act in a timid way, then this may reinforce our prejudices against this particular gift or it may inspire sympathy towards someone who doesn’t value their own gift. Hopefully they will act in a way that expresses their intelligence as a genuine gift to be shared with whoever they can, and we are able to accept this gift not with a sense obligation to repay it in kind but a grace that simply takes joy from a beautiful thing shared.

So my mission from here is try and share my own intelligence and receive other people’s intelligence in this third way and eventually for this to become an easy and natural habit. Hopefully that is something I have achieved here.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The delusion of control

One of my realisations this year has been that many people, suffer from the delusion that life is under control. I first pondered this observing the community reaction to the Victorian bushfires of Black Saturday earlier this year. After the usual process of shock, understanding what happened, grief, mourning, mass donations and preparation for rebuilding, (all of which are perfectly logical,) I was struck by the fervent and collective effort that has been put into 'making sure it doesn't happen again'. There is of course the extensive royal commission that is examining all areas of bushfire preparation and management. This has been watched closely by the media looking for someone, anyone, to hold responsible. Vindictive headlines are to be expected but I sense there is something deeper underneath. A belief that if we find the person or the system that let us down then we can fix it then all will be okay and we can go on believing that such a disaster won't befall us again. If we can identify where we lost control then we can regain it without awakening from our delusion.

The truth is, I believe, that there were no significant system failures contributing to this disaster (though we are right to search for them). We have a good system and set of protocols for dealing with fires operated by competent people and they were in action on the days in question. No matter how good our system and our people are though, there will always a come a fire that is beyond their control. Furthermore we should do ourselves a favour and accept this as the way the world is.

Similar community reactions can be seen to a range of other events this past year. For example the attacks on Indian students, the increase of drunken violence in the CBD, the economic crisis. The news reports of all these events all carry an underlying assumption - that the relevant authorities or experts have let the situation get out of their control, resulting in a situation bad enough to make it newsworthy. Various solutions are then proposed by a range of players that would assist to bring the situation within back within our control. The same approach is taken with almost every issue whether it's climate change, terrorism, interest rates or traffic accidents. The solutions are all talked about in terms of eradicating bushfires, terrorism, traffic accidents, economic instability and preventing climate change, when in fact all these things are as good as inevitable and all of them are more than likely to claim human life.


We live in a world of independent actors, this includes not just other people who are beyond both our individual and collective control but also animals, plants and the planet and it's climate (not to mention other celestial bodies like the moon and sun over which we have absolutely no control and upon which we are entirely dependent). In fact I would go so far as to say that control as a concept is really a myth, all we have are degrees of influence. Even our own bodies and minds do things that we don't want them to so how can we say we control them. The reason this can seem a ludicrous concept is that for most of us we are used to having very high degrees of influence over a wide range of things. We also naturally focus our energies on what is easy to influence and work with what we can't easily influence from the back of our minds as much as possible, thus lulling ourselves into the delusion of control.


What's interesting is to consider the origin of this delusion. I can't imagine the peasants of feudal times suffering from it. They must have been well used to kings and barons riding through on a whim or the effects that unpredictable whether and climate would have on their work in the fields. Writing this from Kolkata I imagine the poor of India don't suffer from it either. However I'm sure that neither group would focus their energy fretting about what they can't control or even influence. Instead I imagine they focus on gradually expanding their spheres' of influence in a way that would be analogous to the spheres of the 17th + 18th century colonial powers in the far east. At some point we even invented gods who were very powerful and could control or influence the things humans couldn't but who we hoped and prayed would be influenced by us. So I believe that this delusion has emerged sometime during the process of 'development' since the industrial revolution. In that time we in the west have achieved significantly higher levels of wealth and education and thus dramatically increased our individual influence in terms of both degree and range. We also invented and implemented a thing called democracy - literally 'rule [control?] by the people'. Rule of what exactly? This seems to have given rise to the expectation that politicians can and will fix everything for fear that if they don't we will 'fix' (unelect) them. One could argue that all we really rule is the politicians and then we decide on an interaction by interaction basis how much we let them rule us. And of course we've developed a mass media to perpetuate this mind set that results in occasional 'panic' and sells newspapers etc. Interestingly some of us have done away with gods realising that they don't actually add to our influence.

The irony is that as our individual levels of influence and freedom increase, the world actually becomes more anarchic. This is because there are a greater number of more influential actors which even governments find difficult to control. Thus we are having more frequent debates about security versus civil rights. This is compounded by population growth (which creates yet more independent influential actors) and at the global level the rapid development of the 'third world' leading to an increase in influence for many governments and millions of individuals. Both these forms of growth also place increased strain on resources, ie. fuel, water, land, food etc meaning that over time we will individually need more influence to obtain the same amount of resources. But I digress.

The key question is 'so what if we do suffer from this delusion? what can we do about it?' Well the simple answer is wake up to it and accept it. It doesn't matter that we don't control everything, we never have and never will. The empowered thing to do is to accept it, make appropriate preparations for both foreseeable and unforeseeable uncontrollable situations and get on with everything else. More importantly when some uncontrollable event does affect you don't jump up and down asking 'why didn't anyone warn me?' ' why didn't someone (the government) do something?'. Simply find a way to work through or around or with it, with whatever help you can garnish.

It's okay to be out of control as long as you're not deluded otherwise.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Asylum seekers vs nationalism

It’s been disappointing to observe the revival of the asylum seeker debate in recent weeks. The coalition is back to fear mongering again because they don’t have any constructive policies to offer. Tactfully though they have shifted their language to emphasise ‘border protection’. While this isn’t an offensive concept it still leaves me a bit miffed. Why is it important that we protect our borders? Most of us don’t live very close to them anyway so I don’t see how we are affected by it. We are naturally isolated from the rest of the world so there are very few people trying to cross our physical borders. And our coast line is so expansive it becomes a very expensive exercise for very little benefit – perhaps this is why the Rudd government has reduced funding for this activity? Still, there is a broad public sentiment that it is important to protect our borders and I am still a bit stuck on why?

The most common argument appears to be a worry that if we allow a trickle it will turn into a flood. Is there any evidence for this? I mean it is an intuitively appealing argument but is there historical precedence for the idea that trickles of any form turn into floods. I suspect that most of these are the result of damn walls (both literal and metaphorical) being put in inappropriate and unsustainable places.

A more intellectual form of this argument is probably about protecting national sovereignty. That if we let people take advantage and trickle in ‘illegally’, it will eventually weaken us a nation. But I would posit that it is probably more the institution of the nation-state that is under attack rather than Australia or our way of life in particular (and that this is a good thing).

Even then it is still surprising to realise how strongly people identify threats to their nation as threats to themselves and thus how big a part of identity nationalism really plays. Ultimately the coalition is not to blame for this debate – it is a broader cultural problem with how we construct our identity. Why is our nation so important to us? Fundamentally I think it is because most people are disempowered at the personal and community level. That is, for whatever reason, they are not able to draw a sense of confidence or belonging from within themselves, their family or their community and feel vulnerable within the big wide world. Thus they have latched onto the nation as their source of strength and protection from the big wide world – and of course politicians are only too happy to provide this sort of sentiment (they can’t actually provide any real protection) in exchange for a few votes. (Note that the ALP has tried to trump fear with a bigger fear by uttering the word recession and thus returning public attention to the economic crisis from which the ALP believe they can offer at least some spin that sounds like protection.)

So yet again I find that the problem stems from personal disempowerment. But perhaps I am just trying to make my theory fit the problem? (a classic form of disempowerment after all). So I’d be interested to hear from any readers as to whether you think my line of reasoning makes sense or how you might answer some of my questions differently. Otherwise I’m left with the conclusion that insecurity is the root of all evil and that the real solution lies in doing the community and personal development work to empower people to develop their unique sense of identity rather than relying on the nation’s. This plays an important part in assisting the global poor to undermine nationalism – the evil 20th century philosophy that also underpins our global political system and has brought so many horrors to humans, earthlings and the earth itself.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Anarchism

This is a label and identity I've been toying with since leaving the church and engaging with the activist movement. In a lot of ways I like it's ideal and if I think rationally about it for long enough I agree with it, But I have such a hard time getting over all the baggage associated with it. When one talks about anarchists I still have this image in my mind of feral revolutionaries who just want to cause chaos. This image is still reinforced by references in the main stream media around large protest groups.

The first time I really felt ready to adopt the label was when I was cycling around London. I guess cycling around any large city designed for cars and pedestrians is enough to make anyone break the rules and make up your own system - well it is for me anyway. But four years on my commitment to owning the label still wavers under attacks from those feral revolutionaries that exist only in my mind - and maybe yours? The reality is most self defined anarchists I've met are not feral and only some are revolutionaries. Most of them are in fact nonviolent. My perception of the few feral revolutionaries that are out there is that they're mostly socialists who are interested in different concentrations of power as opposed spreading power out.

But I guess the key thing is to define what I mean by anarchism - such a contested label and see if I can hold to that. So recently I came up with
An Anarchist:
- opposes systems based on hierarchy
- and supports egalitarian social and political systems that are created and maintained by the people involved in them.
Add to this that I sit towards the reformist end of the anarchist spectrum and maintain my commitment to nonviolence and you get an anarchism that isn't as radical as it sounds. In fact it's really just a natural expression of the principles I outlined in my core beliefs post.

So there you go, I've entered the fray. I am an anarchist and that's what I think it means. I'm sure I can add to that definition though, so questions welcome.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Beyond Zero Emissions

Finally someone is combining radical thinking on climate change with action on the plans to get us there.

With Kevin's pissy little proposal and the rest of the climate movement seemingly stuck on advocating for higher targets or personal action, I've been relieved and inspired to a group doing some serious thinking not just about how much we have to cut our emissions but also how we actually can cut out emissions. I ran into them at the sustainable living festival recently and have been wanting to tell you all about it ever since.

They're called Beyond Zero Emissions and they say that what sets them out from the climate pack is their target: 100% Renewable Energy by 2020. But before you can say left wing loony let me say that what I think sets them out from the climate pack is they actually have the bones of a plan to get us there. Their strength seems to be engaging people from the community who have the expertise needed to develop the technology, economic models and communication tools to get us there. They even had a former chair of the coal industry on board. They're not waiting or whinging for the government to take the lead, they are getting on with the planning themselves leaving government to be the followers they always have been but telling them "here's how to do it, now quit your posturing and get on with it".

anyway, enough ranting from me, (as you can see they've got me fired up!), check em out at

www.beyondzeroemissions.org

and spread the word - solar thermal can do baseload power.

interestingly Al Gore is also calling for 100% renewable energy for the US by 2020 and says it is possible. check out

www.wecansolveit.org

we gotta do something - fast!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Dressing down

Wearing good clothes or dressing 'up' to go out (socially), has never made intuitive sense to me - and I've finally worked out why! - or at least, how to articulate why...

It's because my idea of having fun requires the ability to get dirty (not the obligation to stay clean) and the freedom not to worry about what you look like.

Being image conscious is something that going out has in common with work (professionally speaking) and, for me at least, high school. Why do people feel the need to bring elements of these oppressive cultures into informal social settings?

I believe the answer is for the creation of social order, after all, that is the purpose of all dress codes - to separate the wheat from the chaff. School uniforms mark out the lowly student masses from the pseudo free dressed teachers and tie wearing principal. White shirts distinguish the 'clean' superior professional class from the dirty blue shirted working class. One can even guess the cost of a prostitute from the quality of their dress.

So there is a political point here too. Even in social settings to dress up to any extent is to acknowledge the social hierarchy and claim a place in it. Thus to deliberately not dress up or to dress below one's station is a statement that you refuse to buy into the system or at least deliberately place yourself (in solidarity with those) at the bottom of the ladder and therefore in opposition to the hierarchy.

This is a statement of (my) anarchist principles which to temporarily discard even for an evening is to betray altogether.