Archive for hope

New Leadership Urgently Needed For The US, Canada and Britain

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2015 by jtoddring

Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr., Tommy Douglas and Tony Benn were President of the US, and Prime Ministers of Canada and Britain, respectively. The world would certainly be a far better, more just, freer, more peaceful, and safer place. But we do not.

In all three of these “leading” nations we have neoliberal corporate oligarchy. Some may not realize it yet, but this is the case. A change in leadership is urgently needed. And that is up to the people, ironically, for only they can bring that about.

I would be happy to see Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth May and Jeremy Corbyn as President of the US, and Prime Ministers of Canada and Britain. Bernie Sanders has a real chance of doing just that in the United States. In Canada and Britain, we have a long way to go.

The US leads the Western nations in the race to the bottom, frankly, and quite clearly, in terms of the destruction of democracy, civil liberties and freedom, constitutional rule and human rights, the “third-worldization” of the nation, as Chomsky put it, soaring poverty and inequality, the destruction of the middle class, and in the creation of a neo-feudal, crypto-fascist rule by Wall Street and a democracy-loathing corporate oligarchy. The UK is a close second, while Canada seems intent on closing the gap, and catching up in that dire and dreadful race to oblivion – or return to the feudal age.

But while the US has gone the furthest of any “developed” nation down that dark path, it has also gone the furthest, at least among super-powers, in terms of a popular movement arising to resist and overturn the corporate oligarchy, and to restore democracy, constitutional law, civil liberties, and the rule of the people, by the people, for the people.

Canada and the UK, once again, have a long way to go to catch up in this positive regard as well. The popular movements are there, but they lack focus, boldness, vision, and broad popular support.

In Britain, Jeremy Corbyn has to get his party, the Labour Party, to move away from its relatively recent adoption of neoliberalism and corporate globalization, and its betrayal of the people in favour of submission to the banking elite and the corporate powers. He needs, in short, to get the party behind him, or with him, or else leave it, and create a new and bolder party – one with some basic integrity to it, and some greater courage than Labour has shown for a very long time, ever since Tony “the poodle” Blair took it in a disastrous and quite diabolical direction.

In Canada, we have the triumphalism of a Liberal Party win, with the media portraying Justin Trudeau as the new messiah. But the Liberal Party has been a party of neoliberal corporate patronage for more than thirty years now, ever since Trudeau Jr.’s father left the office of Prime Minister: so the jubilation is misplaced, to put it mildly.

Saviour, Trudeau Jr. is not. He is not even a leader. He is a cheerleader for the corporate powers. Mulcair is no different. The support for the agenda of big oil, pipelines, tar sands, free trade and CETA, prove this case beyond any doubt, with regards to both the Liberal and New Democratic Parties, as well as the Conservative Party – at least in their current incarnation.

Harper may have been an eager, even zealous servant of big oil and corporate powers, but Trudeau Jr. and Mulcair offer nothing of any great difference, nor do they offer any genuine alternative.

Harper set the bar very low. Ousting him was a good thing, but it does not mean that we have anything approaching an ideal government, or even a sane or responsible government. We have a government in service to trans-national corporations, and nothing more, all fanfare and hyperbole aside.

What would it take for Elizabeth May and the Green Party to come to power? Probably a popular uprising, and nothing less. We certainly cannot wait another four or five years, or longer, considering the pace of environmental destruction, and in view of the Liberal support for the tar sands and the Keystone pipeline.

But once again, in all three countries, what will determine the outcome, is not the presence or absence of leadership, but the presence or absence of strong popular movements which will force a change in government.

As always, it is up to the people. And once again, we must acknowledge, time is running out.

J. Todd Ring,
October 22, 2015

For further reading, and concrete ideas for social change, please see my recent book:

Enlightened Democracy: Visions For A New Millennium – available on Amazon now.

What can be done?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on March 7, 2014 by jtoddring

What can be done? How can we help others? How can one person make a difference? Well, there are many ways, of course. Most people in modern Western society, and in many parts of the world, feel powerless today. They feel that they can’t do anything to help – they can’t do anything to change things. This is an illusion. We are never powerless. We always have some degree of power. There is always something, however large or small, that we can do.

How can we help others? We can offer a smile, a warm hello, a hand shake, a bow, a kind word, a shoulder or an ear. That may sound like very little, but it can make a world of difference. If someone is hungry, we can give them a sandwich, buy them lunch or make them a meal. And if we are enlightened, we can lead others to enlightenment. I’m not enlightened – that’s clear! – but a few people are. And in between the smallest acts of kindness and the greatest, there are many, many things that we can do.

If we are an artist, writer, musician, actor or performer, then we can lift people’s spirits, make them laugh, nourish their minds or their hearts, or give them food for thought which may be helpful. If we are a doctor or health care professional, we can heal people when they are sick – or better, help them to stay healthy and become even more healthy, vibrant, vital and alive.If we know how to build things, whether it is building homes or building a business, building organizations or building a heavenly lasagna, or building something else, then we can build things that can bring some happiness, some comfort, some peace or some joy to others.

And there is also local community activism, social activism, economic activism, share holder activism and political activism; and given the troubles and problems facing the world today, I would say that this is an important area for us to engage in as well – in our own way, in whatever way inspires us, or fits with our unique talents or disposition. Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something.

Ralph Nader has said that if just 1% of people took up activism as a hobby, and spent just one hour a week on it, the world would be transformed in  short order, and I think he is probably right.

Generally speaking, people are not uncaring, they’re not stupid, they’re not lazy, and they’re not ignorant – but they do tend to feel powerless, and this must be overcome. Getting together with others, and realizing how powerful we are when we work together, is part of the answer. Another part of the answer is simply to begin – get active, overcome the inertia, and simply dive in.

The great majority of people, as Chomsky has said, have basically decent impulses. Kropotkin, Rifkin and others have documented and proven the point amply, with clear and overwhelming scientific evidence. People do care – empathy and compassion are natural to human beings. It is only the few who are deeply callous, and only a rare few who are truly sociopathic and unfeeling.

The great majority of people also have a very good idea of what is going on, and human beings are possessed of a natural intelligence, an innate common sense. Common sense may seem uncommon in this age, but that is because so many people choose to follow the norm and follow the crowd, or obey authority and do as they are told without question. It is not that they lack in intelligence – it is that they choose not to use their intelligence, because they have been trained and conditioned to obey authority and follow the herd. They are more than intelligent enough to see what needs to be done, and in any event, the problems we face are really not all that complicated. We make things complicated by sticking to ways of doing things that no longer work, or that never really worked in the first place. So yes, most people know what is going on, and together, we have more than enough basic common sense and natural intelligence to deal with the problems we are facing. Again, the central problem is the pervasive illusion of powerlessness.

Sometimes, before we can help others more, or be more empowered to work for positive social change, we have to devote, at least a little time to nourishing ourselves. So with that being said, here are some thoughts on that subject, for anyone who may be interested.

I can get bogged down by worries, or by money issues, or the state of the world, but when I remember to do it, I find that a few things make a world of difference. Just simply going for a walk – getting outside, getting some fresh air, some sunshine, a bit of exercise and a change of scenery can really lift my spirits – especially if I walk in green spaces or near the water.

Going to the gym and working out, or having a steam bath or sauna, makes an enormous difference, and the YMCA is not all that expensive, and has subsidized rates. It’s worth it, believe me. Any kind of exercise will bring blood to the brain and to all organs and tissues, along with nutrients and oxygen, soothing stress and renewing our energy. Fifteen to thirty minutes a day of moderate exercise should be the norm, as a minimum, if we want to feel our best.

Yoga and meditation have been the most powerfully healing things I have ever experienced, and they have probably literally saved my life. I have never experienced anything that is as powerful, and yes, anyone can do it, if you have the willingness.

Cycling is wonderful, and you can sometimes find used bikes really inexpensively, so this is an option for just about anybody who is physically able to ride a bike, and its a lot cheaper than psychotherapy or a weekly massage! The latter can be very helpful too, of course. Or acupuncture, or a whole array of holistic health therapies, including herbal medicine, which is also extremely powerful, safe and effective.

Laying on my back, looking up at the sky – day or night – helps me to put things into perspective, somehow, and lightens the load on my mind and brings me peace. Getting into nature, and getting a break from the noise and bustle and stress of modern urban life, has helped enormously.

Eating healthy food, and learning to love cooking, has been very therapeutic for me. It doesn’t have to be fancy – it can be cheap and simple, just rice and beans and a few vegetables, but it nourishes my spirit as well as my body. And if I cook for others, then it’s even better, and even more satisfying. (Nigella and Jamie, you rock, by the way!)

Listening to uplifting or soothing music is a great help – especially classical, for me. This weekend, I really felt worn down and not in the best of moods, and my favourite jazz station, Jazz FM 91, along with my cats, writing and reading, got me through it.

Practicing appreciation for every little good thing in my day or in my life, can ease the worry and the pain, and sometimes, very often in fact, turn my mood right around, and put me in a state of sheer joy, or at least bring me some peace.

Learning to be patient with myself and compassionate with my faults and limitations has been vital, and has made a big difference; and learning to be more patient and forgiving with others, even when they are annoying or rude, has helped greatly too.

Sometimes, simply taking a long hot bath with Epsom salts, makes me feel relaxed and renewed – or just sitting in the sun, or looking out the window, and having a hot cup of tea.

If stress is very high or depression is a problem, herbal medicine can help greatly. I really don’t like taking pharmaceuticals, due to risks and side-effects, but fortunately, German studies have found that St. John’s wort, an herb you can take as a tea or in capsules, is as effective in treating depression as pharmaceutical serotonin re-uptake inhibitor anti-depressants – of course, you’d never hear that on the mainstream media, but it is a fact. Motherwort and Solomon’s seal are excellent for reducing stress and also for enhancing mental clarity, as is gotu kola. And meditation has actually been found to be more effective than pharmaceutical drugs. Meditation or herbs are safe and certainly won’t hurt anybody in any case, so it wouldn’t hurt to try. And for energy, Siberian ginseng and fo ti (shu wu in Chinese, or polygonum multiflora) are extremely helpful, especially in high doses. 5-30g a day of Siberian ginseng packs a powerful punch, and the same for fo ti. Russian scientists have done an enormous amount of research into the health benefits of Siberian ginseng, and it is known in Russia to be so powerful, that not a single Russian astronaut has gone into space without taking Siberian ginseng.

Oh, I almost forgot! Great books! Great books have been a life-line. When all seemed lost, so many times, a good book turned my mood around, gave me new hope or new perspective, or simply eased the pain and soothed my soul.

But maybe above all, what has helped the most, is simply doing things that are important or meaningful to me, and just taking whatever small steps I can – no matter how small – every day.

So what can we do? Nourish ourselves, body, heart, spirit and mind; connect with others; get active and stay active; and trust our own natural intelligence. Things will take a turn for the better, and sometimes very rapidly, if we will simply make the choice to do this.

It makes me think of the wonderful story by Dr. Seuss, The Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better – it’s not.” I know, it’s a children’s book, but the point remains valid. If only more books that are written for adults had such honesty, straight-forwardness and wisdom.

If we assume that things are hopeless, and nothing can be done, then we will ensure our failure. But if we think, well, maybe there is a slim chance that things can change for the better, at least in some measure – then there is hope. Then real change becomes a possibility.

There was a cartoon I saw that depicted a whole crowd of people. Each one had a little thought bubble above their heads, and each one was quietly thinking to themselves, “What can one person do?” A whole crowd of people, each caught up in their own little worlds, and each one thinking, “What can one person do?” The irony is clear. We are not alone. We are only alone if we make ourselves alone. With few exceptions, it is in our power to connect with others, and together, we have tremendous power, and everything becomes possible. This is the reality of our human existence, and you have to work very hard to deny it, and to cling to a stubborn cynicism or fatalistic stance.

But these are just some thoughts that came to mind this evening. Think for yourself. You have all that you need to make your own life decisions. We all do. Trust yourself, do what you can, and try to take joy in that, and be at peace with that. Tomorrow is another day, and there is more day yet to dawn.

JTR,
March 7, 2014

 

The new epidemic: Death cults and the culture of despair

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 1, 2013 by jtoddring

An article in The Atlantic speaks to the growing death-fetish that is gripping more and more youth. It is a bad omen for the state of modern industrial civilization as a whole, I would contend, and it indicates a broader trend toward anxiety, hopeless and despair, which must be confronted and overcome – if, that is, we are not going to collectively groan our way into self-annihilation.

There are sociological, political, economic, psychological and ecological reasons for the rapidly emerging death-cult that is now sweeping the world, and I think it is important that we address them head on.

theatlantic:

Why Does Pop Romanticize Dying Young?

Bieber with his swag, Miley with her tongue, Skrillex’s stupid haircut … There are tons of reasons to tune out modern pop music that don’t have a thing to do with the music itself.

But if you do listen—really pay attention—you might find something in today’s pop that’s a lot more bothersome. There’s an apocalyptic, we’re-all-gonna-die-anyway theme that keeps popping up—a YOLO-style message to do whatever you want right now because tomorrow you might be in a box. 

Icona Pop’s song “I Love It” is an ode to crashing cars, throwing someone else’s stuff down the stairs and essentially doing whatever the hell they want, all the while proclaiming “I don’t care, I love it.” In “Die Young,” the always-prolific Ke$ha tells someone she just met to “make the most of the night like we’re gonna die young.”

I keep seeing this: there is a death-cult sweeping the Western world, and it is growing. This is not surprising, but it is disturbing.

When we are actively destroying our future, by poisoning the air, water, soil, the oceans, rivers, lakes and groundwater, and even the food we eat, when we are racing toward self-annihilation and collective suicide, it is not surprising that anxiety and despair grow and become the unspoken, and sometimes the openly expressed norm. And when a civilization is in decay, then death cults will invariably emerge. The problem is not pop culture, but mainstream culture more broadly, which is narcissistic, quietly despairing, escapist, voyeuristic, materialistic, deeply lost and deeply alienated.

What we need is not more reckless hedonism and despair, not more of a “fuck it all, because it’s all hopeless, so let’s go out with a big bang” attitude of collective suicidal tendencies, but instead, a reconnection with one another, with our deeper selves, with nature, with our hearts and our own common sense.

What we need is to reconnect, and rediscover our hope, our courage, our determination, our inspiration, and our empowerment as thinking, feeling human beings who consciously choose to live with love and courage, and not a quiet despair – much less a loud and moaning despair.

We need not go out with either a bang or a whimper. (Does anyone now even know where such lines of prescience come from, in this hyper-distracted age of obsession with mindless drivel?) We can live, and live well, and heal this world. But only if we have the courage and the heart to do so. Telling ourselves and one another that it’s all futile and we’re all doomed, is both cowardly and irresponsible. We need hope, courage and empowerment, not more whining and foolish self-destruction.

Find your courage, and get your warrior on. We need warriors now, not whiners.

There is a great fascination now, and there has been for some time, with disaster movies and TV shows like “Survivor” – and the reason is not hard to figure out, as others have noted. We all know by now, consciously or at least subconsciously, that we are racing toward disaster, environmentally speaking, if not also in other ways. The fascination with such pop culture fluff as portrayed in these genres is a way for us to unconsciously begin to prepare ourselves psychologically for possible disaster.

As an aside, it should be noted that TV shows like Survivor give terrible life lessons and darkly negative social conditioning, basically upholding the game theory of social relations, which is a disproven theory, as studies in evolutionary biology have shown – but nevertheless they continue with it, essentially telling people in every show that deceitful narcissism and ruthless self-centredness win out in the end over honesty, loyalty, compassion and cooperation. Such messages are deeply antisocial and darkly cynical, and the message they give is not only callous and cut-throat, alienating and dividing as well as morally bankrupting, but also leads people into ultimately self-defeating behaviours.

Selfishness and deceit do pay in the short term, but in the longer term, as the scientific studies confirm, the person who behaves this way ends up alienated and alone – and alone, we are far, far weaker than we are together, working jointly in solidarity and mutual aid. Empathy, compassion, solidarity, cooperation and mutual aid are basic human instincts, as evolutionary biology has now shown, and there is a reason for this: it simply works. Compassion and cooperation makes us all stronger, and are a matter of enlightened self-interest, and not simply a matter of being “nice.” It is a matter of being intelligent.

But to return to the central point, the rising death cult is a phenomenon that is arising out of a quiet desperation, as Thoreau observed over one hundred and fifty years ago. Not only has modern society produced deep alienation, loneliness and a pervasive sense of meaninglessness and malaise, in our mindless automaton culture (sic); but we are also witnessing our civilization self-destruct, and we are living in a state of on-going slow-motion disaster. In such a situation, the best and the worst of people comes out, and also, their addiction to escapism and flights into fantasy. But what scientific studies have also shown, once again confirming the obvious, is that in a crisis situation – and we are living in a perpetual state of protracted crisis now (despite the denial portrayed on the brilliant Supertramp album cover, “Crisis, What Crisis?”) – the people who cope the best are those who stay active, those who find something to do that may have even the slight possibility of being some help.

If a plane crashes on an island and a few people survive, the ones who go and gather food and water and firewood, or comfort the wounded and the mad, tend to cope far better than the ones who sit around moaning about their terrible lot. Action matters – and not just in terms of its results, but also in terms of the positive impact it has on our minds. It is far better to do something that just might be of some small help, even if it is a long-shot and all seems hopeless, than to give up, in conscious or unconscious despair.

*

I agree completely with what Thomas Merton said, “If you are afraid of writing something that might offend someone, why write anything at all.” Sometimes painful truths must be spoken.

For example, in the 1800’s, people had to say loudly and clearly that slavery is wrong and utterly intolerable, an abomination that cannot be accepted under any circumstances. In the 19th century, women and men had to say loudly and clearly, and boldly, that voting is a universal right. In the 20th century, Martin Luther King Jr. and the millions of people who participated in the Civil Rights movement had to loudly and clearly state that racism and segregation are obscene, supremely unethical, and utterly unacceptable. And today, we must say, that reckless hedonism and moping despair, are both unintelligent and also irresponsible, shameless and cowardly.

If you “emo” kids, goths, punks and others who parade your pain like it is a badge, and whine endlessly while doing little, are all so sensitive, then put your hearts into action, and do something that helps in some small way to bring about a better world – don’t just sit there moaning, waiting for someone to fix it for you.

You are young adults now, or soon to be – stop behaving like four year olds throwing a temper tantrum or a sulking fit. Keep your sensitivity, yes, but embrace your power as well. You are far more powerful than you imagine. Stop whimpering and do something.

The youth have traditionally, in every generation, been the questioners of the status quo and the norm, and the drivers of change. While this is still the case to some degree, many youth are now lost in a pool of their own spittle, blathering about how much they hate their lives, while watching the world burn. They should be out in the streets, not sitting idly in self-pity. Where is the fight in them? We certainly do not need any more violence in the world, but we do need action, and for that, there must be the heart of a warrior. Find your brave hearts, lads and lasses. This is your time to shine, not to whine.

Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, The World Wildlife Fund, Friends of the Earth, countless local environmental groups, the Occupy and Solidarity movements, Idle No More, the David Suzuki Foundation and the myriad groups working for social justice, peace and real social change, need your help. Pick one, and let’s see some action. Whining about how much you hate your life is not cool – it’s just whining.

It must also be acknowledged, that a lot of youth, and a lot of children and adults, are not only quietly or openly despairing, but are clinically depressed. Depression, anxiety and despair are all at epidemic proportions now, and rising fast – for obvious sociological reasons, and not, emphatically, for reasons of brain chemistry, generally speaking. And taking a pill will only be a band-aid, temporary measure, and not a real solution. But having lived through depression and survived it, and coming out the other side, I can say this with certainty: the best antidote for depression, is action. Do something that gives you joy, and even better, do something that is truly meaningful, and the depression will subside, if not completely disappear. Sitting around and contemplating how much your life sucks, won’t help you.

But to be sympathetic and also fully real, we must also say this. What do youth – or any of us, for that matter – have to be hopeful about today? The economic outlook is grim. More and more, we can expect, as George Carlin has said, “Increasingly shittier jobs with increasingly shittier pay, and vanishing pensions that disappear the moment you go to collect them.”

What do youth have to look forward to economically? Working as a Wal-Mart greeter for minimum wage, a wage that is below subsistence level, with no benefits and no future – and that is while being saddled with crippling student debt and laden with an education that may get them a job driving cab or flipping burgers, if they’re lucky.

The middle aged and elderly have few better options, and the middle class is sinking into the underclass and being systematically destroyed. Hopelessness and despair are very understandable, given the state of our global corporate-dominated, rape and pillage economy, which benefits the top 1% while screwing the other 99 out of a hundred of us.

Ecologically, youth and also all of us, are staring down the most severe crisis human beings have ever faced: an ecological crisis which is only gathering speed, and which threatens to wipe out our civilization, if not the entire human species on earth. And we are not doing remotely enough about it for anyone to be truly hopeful at this time. That could change in a heart-beat, if the people decide to act with boldness and stop hesitating, but for the moment, despair is an understandable response.

What about politics? The youth, as well as the overwhelming majority of the people, of all ages, have lost all faith, trust and confidence in the political system, as poll after poll reveals. The youth, and people in general, have come to view the major political parties, their governments, and the great majority of the politicians, as simply corrupt, or at best, inept. They see no hope in any serious positive change coming from this morass, this garbage heap which is contemporary political life. And they are right. The major political parties, along with most governments in the world, are bought and owned by big business and the corporate elite, just as the media is, and increasingly, the schools, colleges and universities as well. What is there to be hopeful about? Again, despair is an understandable response.

But while despair may be understandable, it is not conscionable, and nor is it intelligent. To surrender to despair is to actively sow one’s own misery, as well as sowing misery for others. This is not only unacceptable, it is also stupid, and deeply unwise.

We must be brave, if for no other reason, than because we care about others and about life on this earth. If we are heartless, then we can throw in the towel, give up, and go and moan in the corner. If we have a brave heart, which is to say, if compassion and caring mean more to us than our own petty self-interest or personal comfort, then we will not only carry on: we will give it all we’ve got, and never surrender.

And if we are not motivated by love, then we should at least be motivated to seek happiness for ourselves – and that requires boldness and determination, courage and heart, and a refusal to give in to the temptations of despair.

Life is for living. And life is precious. If we have forgotten that, then we really have temporarily lost our minds, and we should sit down with a cup of tea or a quiet moment, and remember that we are alive, or watch the stars at night, or the sunset or sunrise, or the wind swaying through the trees, and remember that there is beauty and preciousness to this life. At the very least, we should not let our own personal despair turn us into assholes who care about nothing and no one. That would be about the worst thing we could possibly do.

Real change will come from the streets – as it always has – not from some elected demagogue in Washington who makes pretty speeches, then betrays every principle and every promise made, while selling out the people to the corporate elite who now rule the world. If we want change, real change, then we will have to make it for ourselves.

The people always have the power. If they choose to lie to themselves, and to pretend they are powerless, then that is their great misfortune, and their great error. If they choose to embrace their power, then anything and everything is possible.

Stay strong. As a great line from a favourite movie put it, “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”

Don’t be wishy-washy, whiny or vapid. If you’re going to live, then really live. Give all you can, love to the fullest extent of your power, and respect yourself, always.

The power to shape our own future is still in our hands. If we want to make of this world, a better place for all, then that is in our power. We will have to come together and unite in order to accomplish this admittedly large and challenging task, but it is entirely within our power, and within our reach.

Despair is for cowards. Have some self-respect. We cannot afford to be cowardly if our hearts are still alive. We may have moments of despair, but we can never completely surrender to despair. Life is simply far too precious for such ordinary madness.

Live while you live.

As Yogi Beara said – and he was right – “It ain’t over ’till it’s over.” 

J. Todd Ring,
November 1, 2013

 

Here’s a little music for the revolution. Enjoy, and let’s see action.

 

A Little Less Conversation
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zx1_6F-nCaw

Let’s See Action
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPuCsosr9jM

Let’s Go
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExYsh1W22Wo

Let’s Get It Started
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKqV7DB8Iwg