Friday, May 1, 2009

comments on meetings we have attended

From time to time we attend meetings of other like-minded groups. All too often we feel a sense of let-down as there is a tendency to skim over problems and to rush into displacement activity without a deep sense of the problem or any understanding of similar efforts in the past. So many of our comments are highly critical. But, if the situation is indeed dire, it is time to get through to realistic solutions rather than to play around.

Here are some comments on: issues around climate change, community banks, and secular meetings to display cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity.

climate change

On Friday May 1st we went to a Public Address (hosted by the School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences6pm Lecture Theatre 2, Rutherford House, Victoria University) where visiting American professor Kibben (Deep Economy) spoke of climate change and action needed.

He have a good overview of the reality and impacts of climate change, all very familiar to most of the audience who came because they already knew of the problem. He then described a Vermont demonstration and called for massive demonstrations and street theatre, supporting an "Earth Day" event planned later in the year.

There was a lack of realism as when he said we had one more chance (we have heard that each year, now over decades) and that a meeting of world leaders could lead to solution.

There was no meat in the sandwich. Population and economic system were not mentioned. It was suggested that climate change was the ONE BIG PROBLEM, thus showing an unwillingness to face the true reality of a multiple storm.

As one example, he supported the price mechanism and referred to the oil price hike as having cut USA oil consumption in 2008. He did not however consider that the price rise had helped to collapse the entire global economy. Just how big a price rise would have to be, what impact it would have on the total economy and the distribution of income, all these are key questions.

All too many overseas speakers swanny through with glib presentations, and most of us are two polite to points out that the emperor has no clothes. Meanwhile young people may be seduced by bright-sounding ideas which have manifestly failed in the past.

Community banks

We heard from another such on Tuesday 14th April when Thomas H Greco, Jnr spoke of The Global Financial Meltdown: Opportunities for Localized Restructuring, , ( St John Church Centre, Sponsored by: Living Economics Network, Transition Towns, Appropriate Technology for Living Assn, Green Party).
His main thesis was that national banks are the major cause of the economic crisis and should be relaced by local banks. His fear of the national government was that of a typical USA neo-con. There was no realistic prescription of what was meant by a community bank, yet some people present, in paticularly a vocal chap from Wanganui, were getting ready to set up local currencies.
It takes considerable expertise, lots of investment capital, a good business sense and fundamental honesty (backed by government controls) to set up a successful bank. Community banks have been tried and failed in New Zealand.
  • In 1880 the Maori community at Cambridge set up a bank but the money misspent and lost.
  • The Ratana movement set up a bank at Parihaka in 1920 which failed.
  • In 1984 when the Hui Taumata raised the idea and a Proposal for a Maori Resource Development Corporation with initial capital of $7 million resulted. That is getting more realistic!

UNFPA “State of world population”

We (Ricky McLeod and John Robinson) attend a number of meetings, most of which are woolly waffle and a complete waste of time. One was the UNFPA “State of world population” launch on Monday evening, 17 November at the Council for International Development.

The air was thick with buzzwords, and it seemed that every second word was “cultural sensitivity”. YET the meeting started with a prayer, and food was preceded by grace. This was a religious ceremony at a public event with no awareness that it was objectionable to those of us who do not share that particular brand of superstition. An atheist too will want his cultural sensitivity to be recognised.

This issue is not trivial; it is fundamental to our society which grew out of centuries, indeed millennia, of conflict and killing of dissidents. Europe was once torn apart by religious conflict (the English had Catholics burning Protestants and Protestants hanging Catholics, the French massacred the Albigensians, the Spanish Inquisition tortured dissidents, and so on) and a solution to such barbarism was the concept of living together with all our differences.

In the public sphere this means respecting the dignity of those with divergent faiths and/or beliefs. It cannot be said too strongly that the secular public society is basic to our culture, to our freedom, to our human dignity. It is certainly basic to our culture and we have been upset by a requirement to join in someone else’s religious ceremony at a public meeting.

It would be a great leap forward if such groups gained an understanding of our history and its lessons which underpin our culture, and of the meaning of “cultural sensitivity” in a society which respects all beliefs and does not push any such ceremony on unbelievers.

[Dr Robinson has written reports on “Culture, Society and Self-Reliance” for the UNESCO Bureau of Studies and Planning, on “The possibility of incorporating socio-cultural factors in modelling” for the UNESCO Division of Socio-Economic Analysis, on “The interactions between culture and economic development in the South Pacific” for the UNESCO International Fund for the Promotion of Culture, on “Maori futures - the paths ahead; two scenarios of development of Maoridom in Aotearoa/New Zealand” for the Royal Commission on Social Policy and has co-edited “Pacific Islands; issues in development” for Asia Pacific Books.]

Obviously one man’s conventional wisdom is another man’s balderdash. Which brings to mind a quote.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
(“Through the looking glass”, Lewis Carroll)