08/22/13

Dreams of Inheritances and Lotteries

While reading the daily rags a few weeks ago, on scan and bee-lining for the crossword, a smidgeon of information passed my way and halted my progress. At first I feigned surprise, recent surveys show that nearly half of Canadians are relying on either receiving an inheritance or winning a lottery for their retirement, with similar numbers showing up in other developed countries as well. My surprise died when I realized holy shit, I am one of those people. And then, as I happen to be currently reading up on social contracts, I wondered in a most dedicated and peculiar way, are lotteries and inheritances becoming but another interpretation of unrealistic hope subsidizing the con of what has become familiarly known as the “American dream”?

The seeds of the dream could be traced back to the concept of Res Communes (common things), from the Roman Justinian Code, issued in 535 AD. Res Communes were all the things owned by no one and subject to use by all. “By law of nature these things are common to mankind – the air, running fresh water, the sea, and its shores.” It would become known as the Public Trust Doctrine, where “a state serves as a trustee for such things on behalf of the present and future generations.” Today, International law recognizes all those things that lay outside of the political reach of any one nation state, but belongs to all people, as the global commons; the high seas, the atmosphere, Antarctica and Outer Space. To ask how this particular human contract is going we’d have to stand in front of a mirror before we answer, and then lie to our own face.

A thousand years after Res Communes, the contract had an amendment attached to it. During the Renaissance in the 15th and 16th centuries when birth was given to humanism, there came a new way of thinking about humans and their place in the universe, that people’s actions were not directed by God, but instead, people are responsible for their own lives.

In Europe, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Renaissance would evolve into the Age of Enlightenment, where philosophers, artists, and scientists discussed the theory of a social contract, made up of unwritten constitutions of nature and society. Such a social contract was theorized to be the blueprint for modern society, where individuals are suggested to surrender certain definitive freedoms and submit to the authority of a ruler, in exchange for protection of their remaining assumed rights. Consent is given to be ruled by an executive power, though consent to be a part of society is not necessarily consent to such an executive. As Thomas Hobbes wrote in 1651, a social contract should be “a mutual exchange of benefits necessary to the formation of a valid contract.”

The deal would become where the ruling state would provide a neutral authority to act to protect the lives, freedoms and property of its citizens, and that justice was to be for all. The citizens on the other hand would promise to avoid doing harm to others, to not interfere with each other, and would be recognized to possess natural unalienable rights. The problem with this concept was that there was no shaking of the hands to seal the deal because it is a theory, and the authority of the state had nothing above it to control it. And most importantly Res Communes began to become privatized. Democracy was the promised placebo to deal with such lack of accountability, but alas it has failed. And though hundreds of millions of law-abiding citizens over the centuries have sacrificed their lives, and even more than that, in fulfilling their duties and their part of the deal to their state and country, the state hasn’t had to sacrifice anything. If such a social contract was indeed co-operative, changes would then  have been different than the present, and once again, collapsing of the middle class and the ever widening problem of distribution of wealth.

As to the planet, according to the international sustainability think tank, Global Footprints, August 12, 2013 marks the day when humanity has used up all the natural resources and waste absorption that the earth can provide in a year. Our human consumption and waste for the remaining four and a half months will be borrowed from future generations. This day has arrived three days earlier each year since 2011. Global Footprints have calculated that if everyone in the world consumed the same as the United States; it would take four Earths to sustain the global population.

The social contract theorized during the Enlightenment would eventually arise in the American Constitution, and would expand out globally and became everyone’s dream. Though it wasn’t until 1931, and historian James Truslow Adams’s book “Epic of America”, that the American dream became popular with the masses in North America and Western Europe. He felt the American dream, was the “dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement….. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position…. The American dream that has lured tens of millions of all nations to our shores in the past century has not been a dream of merely material plenty, though that has doubtlessly counted heavily. It has been much more than that. It has been a dream of being able to grow to fullest development as man and woman, unhampered by the barriers which had slowly been erected in the older civilizations, unrepressed by social orders which had developed for the benefit of classes rather than for the simple human being of any and every class.”

The dream was then interrupted by the Great Depression, which brought a deep understanding of deprivation. Soon after, World War II and its untold hardships and death on a massive scale erupted. After the horror and madness, those who survived returned and reunited, after sometimes years of separation, with their loves and families, all the while held intact through simple monthly letters. With many of the men, and no doubt much of the populations in many countries, suffering post traumatic shock. Never being able to tell their stories of what they had seen and done. They dreamed of a calmer life, where they felt safe, could toil in meaningful work, and aspire to educate themselves, get married, buy a house and raise kids in it. For decades on end working long full days, putting each of their children through school, and who after graduating, would themselves take on the responsibilities and accountability of being an adult, and stand on their own two feet. One’s dream in life was to be achieved based on individual talent, energy, perseverance, audacity, and a little bit of good luck once in awhile. But the reality of life dictated such a dream could not be for everyone, though generations have tried.

The dream would supposedly continue until the day came to retire and then life would become days of gardening, reading, playing crib, and knitting, baking, and puttering around aimlessly. Maybe obsessing over a lawn, or practising a craft, and if blessed, seeing the grandkids from time to time. Golfing, playing bingo, meeting with friends once a week, and every year going on a little vacation, by plane, train or automobile, to visit family, with the rest of the time spent watching a lot of television. This was not so much how people thought and hoped for; it was what was taught to us, rather advertised to us. Today, the end game of retirement isn’t something people necessarily look forward to at all; instead, for far too many individuals it has become a very, very scary thing. In Canada, 32% of 45 to 64 year olds are expecting lotteries to support them in their retirement, while only 34% of those who do retire have either relied on their savings and investments, or had a pension to achieve it. So for about six out of ten Canadians, retirement is not becoming an option.

Over the past forty years the one dream has morphed into four dreams and has laid waste through our societies at an ever accelerating rate. Writer and Professor of history, Ted Ownby, identifies the four dreams as, Abundance; of material goods, The Democracy of Goods; access to the same products for everybody, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or class, Freedom of Choice; where everyone can fashion their own lifestyle, and Novelty; of ever changing models and products and “expanding the consumer experience and fine tuning people’s purchasing skills and awareness of the market.”

Our societies have become top down structures of capitalistic enterprises, with no one above them to curtail their greed and ego. They have skillfully revised the social contract into being all about maximizing corporate profit at the expense of the citizenry. For all intents and purposes the social contract is now null and void, and we’ve allowed it to happen, for we have been sufficiently distracted enough from reality that we continue to buy into the con, that we can have anything we want, be anybody we want to be, and be able to fulfill all our desires, whether self-indulgent, degenerate or with the best of intentions. Any changes to the contract have not been co-operative in any way, shape or form, and instead have been dictated to us.

Thus, inheritances and lotteries have become a part of the dream, subtly replacing jobs and opportunities. Where all we’ve got to do is buy a ticket and dream, while cruising through the nicer areas of town, doing the slow looki-loo drive by, ogling all the homes and finely kept lawns. Dreaming of what it would be like sitting inside that house, with an even bigger screen TV, an even more expensive couch, and a big truck, Sea-doo, Ski-doo and a ride-a-mower parked in the garage. Dreaming of the opportunity to live in a luxurious way, by not dedicating oneself to education and working hard and having the discipline to do so, but instead simply by winning the lottery, or with about the same odds, becoming a sports hero or celebrity. So wrapped up in technology and upgrading it every few months that we’ve become Star Trek’s, the Borg.

Many think that when they win, which they actually believe will happen, eventually, they will be able to expand their material wealth and instantly retire and do nothing in particular. Bigger house, a few vehicles, and month long travel vacations, with the destinations prone to be places one can shop. Some also believe they will, perhaps, maybe, probably win, but are thinking of the freedom it would bring. To finally go buy a guitar, get that easel you’ve always wanted and spend a couple of hours in an art supply store picking out tubes of oil paints, writing a book, or perhaps even going back to school or finally getting your teeth fixed, making a difference in one’s community, or finally being able to help out a friend or family member. Paying it forward in meaningful ways to people who truly deserve it, all the while not even carrying a phone, but for most of us this is all but a dream.

While in the reality of our daily lives we, and those who are supposed to lead us, have together accumulated debt on a massive scale, which has overshadowed and distracted us from seeking and finding true abundance, which is good health, education, family, friends, a healthy natural world and meaningful work. Instead we are searching for meaning and acceptance through what we consume. It’s like people actually seem to believe if you are rich you are automatically accepted as being successful, smart, honorable, and someone who should be looked up to. Even if what you do to make a living goes against all that is moral and right. It seems we have become simply paychecks, and are defined and accepted as such. If indeed this is the case, then of course inheritances and lotteries are important dreams for many people. They have become key to any long term financial security, especially considering that getting or winning such a windfall saves us from having to work for it in a job that isn’t there anymore. People feel they will gain importance and be more than who they are, but don’t understand its nothing but window dressing for what’s really inside. We have reached the point where we have become so successful at being consumers we haven’t the wherewithal to even retire, unless of course, as mentioned, we win this week’s lottery or someone close to us dies and leaves us the money to do so.

Inheritances

Of all the Canadians who have received an inheritance, nearly half preferred not to divulge how much. Of the rest, 47% said they received an average $57,000, one in five said they received $100,000 or more, while one in four received less than $5,000. Higher up the ladder, 36% of the wealthiest families have received an average of $136,000 inheritance, with this figure predicted to swell to about $300,000 in cash, real estate and other valuables, but then assuming and knowing can be the defining difference between fantasy and reality. It’s like the reports today concerned with climate change, worried that when the earth’s ecosystems collapse it’ll cost us tens of trillions of dollars. With the question instantly coming to mind, who’ll and how many will be left to pick up the tab? And who’ll care?

In a perfect world where all goes well, the economists and soothsayers estimate that Canadian seniors and boomers will leave nearly a trillion dollars to their offspring. On the other hand this estimate is in constant flux, as much of the bulk of inheritances is tied up in homes and property. Those lucky enough to have bought their house in the seventies, and stuck it out, now find the place’s worth has risen 300%. But there’s that second, perhaps third, mortgage that was taken out a decade ago for the $60,000 update on the kitchen. Before that the roof had to be replaced, then the trip to Europe, the loan to your kid so he or she could purchase their first home, a 550 square foot “condo”, the new car loan, thankfully now able to be amortized over 84 months, so that some money is left over monthly for buying other stuff, like food, and every year Christmas is finally being paid off in April. Over the past ten years, such home equity lines of credit have risen 170%. This is why today, about 68% of home owners have, on average, only about 34% in equity in their home.

In 1980 the average home was about $100,000, with an average household debt to income ratio of 66%. Meaning for every $1000 a homeowner earned, $660 went to the bills; mortgage, household expenses, food and such, while $330 was left over for savings and frivolous spending. Today the average house in Canada is about $353,000, over 11 times the median family income, with an average household debt to income ratio of 161%. In other words, the average Canadian household debt, as of 2013, is about $1650 for every $1000 of disposable income. Even crazier, more than one in eight homeowners’ debt to income ratio was 250%, meaning two and a half times their annual income went to mortgages, credit cards and other forms of debt, creating -you guessed it- more debt. It’s a similar system to how many governments work their books.

Canadian house prices today have doubled since 2002, and over 13% since 2008, but seem to now be bogging down; you can just about hear the balloon stretching if you’re quiet and turn the TV down. The only reason the Canadian housing today has stayed fairly steady is because we are buoyed up somewhat by the continuing global economic crisis. Meanwhile the most expensive homes, condos and properties in the major cities are being gobbled up by foreign buyers. The average house value in BC today is $498,000. In Vancouver it’s $684,000. Ontario’s average is $369,000, but $479,000 in Toronto, with Alberta’s average house value at $363,000, $420,000 in Calgary.

It is estimated that over the next ten years, house prices will rise perhaps 2%, barely keeping up with inflation, and while current debt and housing levels are ever more unsustainable, when the lending rates rise, and they will, they’re be hell to pay for many. Economists suggest that with only a half of one percentage point increase in the lending rate there would be an immediate drop of about 10% in house sales and over a 3% decrease in prices. A mere 1% increase in borrowing rates would drop house sales over 15% and decrease the price of the home by more than 7%. For many Canadians, they will not be able to  afford to live in the homes they own.

But over 80% of Canadians aged 18 to 29 years, still continue to expect an inheritance, especially those who attended post-secondary school, are savvy to the real estate market and the value of their parent’s home, and who are graduating with an average of $28,000 in student loans into a world where there will never be enough jobs or opportunities. While only 48% of the 45 to 64 year old baby boomers are expecting an inheritance of some sort, because they understand the fact that people are living longer and spending more in retirement, and are seeing firsthand how tough it’s going to be as we age. Boomers in particular are becoming more concerned with debt reduction than retirement and leaving an inheritance, and it’s highly likely we may well be one of the last generations to inherit anything. As to how much wealth is transferred to the next generation, it’s changing all the time, because of the high costs of living in one’s final years, especially if you want to live with a better than average standard of living. The reality will be mostly determined by the actions of the real estate market. As it is, forty-five percent of those 60 or older are going to need their savings to fund their retirement, with only one in four willing to make personal sacrifices to ensure an inheritance for their family. At the same time, only four in ten Canadians actually have a will.

Baby-boomers’ parents were unique, in that they grew up with a very deep understanding of deprivation, untold hardships and World War Two. When and if able to leave an inheritance, they feel compelled to provide financial assistance to their family. Boomers on the other hand have grown up in a relatively peaceful and affluent time, and a life of abundance. They are compelled more to treat any monies or property that they leave to certain people or charity and non-profit organizations, as a bonus, instead of a requirement. Of course that’s only if there is anything left after keeping us in diapers and well medicated in our final years.

Another generational difference is that no longer do the majority believe in a life after death, instead it’s now all about holding on to this one, even to the point of sculpting and altering one’s body to give the impression “age doesn’t mean anything”. Holding onto all we have, and getting as much of it as we can. Never going airborne to look down and see how massive our herd has become and how so alike we look.

At one time we used to inherit the best of family legacies, traditions and values. Perhaps an old watch or chiming clock, an antique dining room table with ornate chairs, perhaps a cache of recipes or a set of dishes and a tea set, or maybe some small plot of land and/or the family home, which was built to raise a family in and not just another investment. Or more importantly such things as honour, the level-headedness of one’s grandmother, the reason people respected your grandfather, having a good work ethic,  being taught etiquette, things like poise and reservation, or how to respect each other even if you don’t like each other. There are also other traditions and values that have been passed on which humanity could do without, such as out-dated social and religious values. But nothing lasts anymore, so there is less to be passed on. Even antiques will soon be no more, and more expensive, for I highly doubt an IKEA bookshelf or Wal-Mart writing desk will be around for auction in seventy years. Our legacies will be plastic effigies of ourselves.

Unfortunately, much of the best of past legacies, traditions and values have been replaced with economic inheritance. Which itself is based on the soft and shaky ground called real estate speculation, a global economic crisis, diminishing ecosystems, and a declining number of people who have planned for retirement, in non-existent or non-sufficient savings, tax, and insurance plans. As for stocks and bonds being a part of one’s inheritance, about 90% of all stock, including bonds, is owned by the top 15% wealthiest individuals. I know, made me cry too.

A few final thoughts on inheritances and why they are diminishing, debt is rising, and the ever widening gap between those with and those without continues. Between 1976 and 2010, Canada’s middle class saw their income grow only 7% when adjusted for inflation, which is about 0.2% per year. The top 20% of earners saw their incomes rise more than 40%, while those in the top 5% saw their incomes rise by that much annually.

Then there is the makeup of the average Canadian family today, where it’s not simply the married for forty years parents passing away and leaving their wealth for their two children and three grandchildren. Today if there is a pot left behind to be pissed in, it might well have to be divided between two or three unmarried and/or sometimes remarried spouses, children from the various relationships, siblings, next of kin, and of course creditors. This issue also appears when someone wins a lottery, and the relatives and friends start appearing out of the woodwork for their cut, whether entitled or not.

Most sadly, where grandparents were once very important within the family makeup, experience and values, especially to their grandchildren; far too often the thread of this legacy is rare or non-existent today. At the same time more and more parents and grandparents are dipping into their savings and retirement funds to financially help their struggling adult children who are finding it difficult to get jobs or meaningful work. But then, for three generations now, around the globe, television and mainstream media have far too often been the parents minding the children.

Reality is, for the majority in the present world, people need to keep for themselves what they would have left as an inheritance to finance their senior years, and/or need to keep working past the American dream’s unnatural sixty-five years old deadline. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that such a deadline is perhaps the reason for the rapid growth of people today developing Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia. Preventing mental decline is all about keeping physically active, socially connected and mentally challenged; while drooling over daytime television sitting in a lazy-boy rocker, in a small apartment, taking your meds, smoking your reefer, or drinking enough so that you may sleep that night, does not. People should be able to work as long as they physically and mentally can. Today most have to, before having to spend their final years, often in decrepit, unsafe, and vulnerable situations, or having to rely on Government assistance and eating cold soup out of the can over the kitchen sink. All the while the body and mind deteriorate and one becomes ever more alone and frightened. Many thank God for bringing contemplation, forgiveness and erasure of sin before going to heaven, others now thank god for lotteries, for all the same reasons.

Lotteries

Once upon a time, when we began to jam ourselves into villages, then towns and cities, we slowly stopped believing in ourselves, we also stopped using both sides of our brain at the same time. But we had to believe in something to get through our daily lives, doing those things we usually didn’t want to do, so we came up with the concept of religion. Today we have lotteries.

Any local convenience store clerk will tell you they can actually see the physical and mental reaction a person goes through when coming in to check their tickets. Some people are either cheery, feeling that positive vibes will help their chances, or glum and quiet, hoping and praying under their breath. The “sorry not a winner” from the clerk, is followed by the customer exhaling all their air, shrugging and slumping their shoulders, dropping their heads, and feeling beaten down again. But then the moment they decide to spend the last toonie to their name on a “scratch and win”, voila, hope is restored. The ticket will be taken home or to a place where the aura will make the scratching almost ritualistic and holy. Or by using “reverse psychology’, they scratch the ticket immediately, like they don’t care if it’s a winner or not, and then nonchalantly wading it up and dumping it in the trash bin. The hope, loss and recovery are quickly experienced, as they then continue to go on about their day. For most, even a free ticket win nearly brings out the choir. The dreams a major lottery creates, believing if you don’t play you’ll never win, could put a spring into one’s step for a whole week. People will spend hundreds on Keno or pull-tabs, drinking coffees or beer specials for hours, chatting within their like-minded group, and win fifty bucks and feel like a million dollars. The altar is no longer in a church, it’s in a casino.

Meanwhile, the odds of dying in a terrorist attack in North America are about 1 in 20 million, while travelling abroad these odds drop to 1 in 650,000. In Canada, we have the lowest risk of dying from terrorism out of all the Western economies in the world, about  1 in 14 million, about the same odds of winning the national Lotto 6/49, which odds can be, on average, anywhere from 1 in 14 million to 1 in 28 million. In the States, the chances of winning one of their Powerball or mega-millions state lotteries is about 1 in 175.7 million. A typical, two dollar, thousand dollar prize scratch and win, where the odds of winning a thousand dollars is about 1 in 960,000 is similar to the odds (1 in 1 million) of being killed by flesh-eating disease. So getting beheaded in a terrorist attack, and winning a major lottery have about the same chance of happening in one’s life – interesting. Yet in Canada, we’ll drive at least 16 km (10 miles) to get our lottery ticket, consuming gas worth more than the ticket, and its 3 to 20 times more likely for us to be killed in a car accident than winning a lottery or being car bombed.

The odds of being killed by a bee sting or a snake bite are about 1 in 100,000. Dying in a plane crash 1 in 360,000, becoming a pro athlete 1 in 22,000, getting a hole in one in golf, 1 in 5,000, the same odds for getting injured or dying sometime over the next year. Then raw reality lays bare the odds of getting cancer – at least once in our lives – 1 in 2.

As to the Canadian lottery, Lotto 6/49, if you spend two dollars a week on one set of numbers you’re likely to win $10 at least once every 13 months. Another study found that spending $25 per week for 20 years on lottery tickets, you could make over a third back, occasionally winning in increments of either $10 or the 4th place range of $75 The odds of winning a free ticket are 1 in 8; winning ten to twenty dollars, 1 in 77. The average Canadian spends $257 per year on lottery tickets. British Columbians spend the least at $240, while 45 to 64 year old men spend the most at $880 per year.

One of the largest lottery jackpots won in the world was in March 2012, in the States, where three tickets shared in a $640 million cash payout. After taxes each of the winners shared $474 million. In the US, the federal individual income tax rate is 35-39.6% on taxable income above $400,000 for a single and $450,000 for a couple, plus state and municipal taxes. The highest combined federal, state and city tax rate paid by someone winning the lottery is in New York State at 48.5%. In Canada there are no taxes on lottery winnings, but there are on interest earned from them.

One of the highest lottery prizes in Canada was in April 2013, where there were four winning tickets sharing $63 million. Which was $15.8 million per ticket, but one of the winners had two winning numbers, because eccentrically, for 30 years he always purchased two identical sets of the same numbers, doubling down each time, thus he was able to pocket $31.6 million.

The good thing about the lottery is it’s like the left-brain right-brain thing. It gives hope, some solace during the week perhaps, where one walks a bit straighter, and a humbled confidence could even enter their realm. And in most cases it only cost two bucks. Then there’s the view of where does the money go, won or lost. The winners more often than not are broke within five years, while the money pooled by the lottery corporations, surprisingly, is often money well spent or at least it’s what we are led to believe.

Lotteries in North America are a fairly recent addition, and unfortunately governments have become enamoured with lotteries and casinos, because instead of some of the escalating revenues going to actually help communities, as has been the case, the monies they receive now are put into general spending, most often to cover their, but really our, growing debt. One can also say that lotteries give false hope, a release valve for the population, so that there is less pressure on political leaders, to remedy the growing inequality of modern society. But then these negative aspects of a lottery have been used for thousands of years, and as mentioned, have only been recently accepted, when governments wanted a piece of the action once controlled solely by the underworld and despots.

Evidence suggests lotteries began in China over four thousand years ago, with the first recorded signs of a lottery during the Han Dynasty between 205 and 187 BC. It’s believed lotteries were created to finance government works, such as the Great Wall of China. Gambling has gone on as long with the Egyptians, who became notorious dice players three thousand years ago. The first known European lotteries were during the Roman Empire. By 1400, many communities of Europeans would hold lotteries for needed public works.

Gambling, lotteries and sweepstakes were illegal in many countries, including Canada, the US and most of Europe well into the early 20th century. Gambling Mecca’s were always elsewhere, Havana, Beirut, Monte Carlo…. It wasn’t until the sixties that casinos and lotteries began to push for amendments in both Canada and the US.

In Canada, it wasn’t until 1969, when the Criminal Code was amended, that the federal government and the Provinces were allowed to operate such “lottery schemes.” BC offered Canada’s first lottery in 1974, with everyone else soon following. There are five lottery corporations in Canada today, covering all the provinces and territories; Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, Western Canada and BC. Combined they bring in $8.5 billion in revenue annually. In the US there are forty-four States or Territories which offer government operated lotteries.

In 1985, selling under the umbrella of the Western Canada Lottery Foundation, BC opened its own lottery, the British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC), which today is the largest net income generating commercial Crown Corporation in BC. But like the BC Transit Corporation, it is placed outside of direct government oversight. In 2011/12, over 5,000 community and charitable organizations received a combined $134 million in Community Gaming Grants for arts and culture, youth and disabled sports, public safety, environmental groups, animal welfare agencies, fairs, festivals, museums and for people in need. A further $100 million went to local governments that host casinos and community gaming centers and local economic development projects. With 900 employees, its revenues for 2012-13, by operating 2.5 lottery machines per 1000 people in BC, were $2.76 billion. While $624.5 million was paid out in winnings (39%),  total expenses were $910 million. Net income was $1.2 billion, of which $100 million in taxes goes to the BC government, hopefully going where it’s supposed to go, which is support for health care services and research, and a consolidated revenue fund to support other health care and education programs. Of the remaining monies, $128 million goes to debt; $116 million goes to Capital expenditures and finally the federal government gets its $9.1 million share. Millions also are allocated to gambling addictions. The bottom line is that, for every one dollar gambled in BC, eighty-seven cents goes back into BC. Funny enough, so do most of the prize payouts.

Twenty-five per cent of Canadians consistently play the lottery, while it’s estimated that more than 60% of Canadians will plunk down at least two dollars on any lottery which prize has grown to mega-million size. And like all big business the push is always on. Previously noted, subsidizing a government’s lack of fiscal restraint means the revenues from gambling are paying for the services the government can no longer afford to provide, and of course the push has reached mainstream radio stations, where the evolvement of never ending contests has reached a place where if you win, you will receive $100 to play Lotto, plus have an on-line account set up for you, so that “you never have to worry you don’t have a ticket ever again”, and as a special bonus you will receive an e-mail notification when you win, oh yes, when you win! So all that is needed is to sit in front of the television, mouth agape, watching regular programming, drooling in front of the computer, or playing video games until three am, and simply waiting for the phone to magically ring, and will change your life.

Nine out of ten winners of $100,000 or less spend all their winnings in five years or less. Researchers have offered a few theories as to why so many winners blow it all rather quickly. Theories abound that most lottery players have below-average incomes and education and are highly likely to be financially illiterate and that winners might also engage in something behavioral economists call “mental accounting”, where a person treats their winnings less cautiously than they would their earnings, because the winnings are something they didn’t have before. And of course some people simply develop a taste for luxury goods that outlasts their money. Just like any other addiction.

According to a study by the Statistic Brain, compiled from 34 national lottery winners (8 male, 26 female, with an average age of 46), and who averaged $175,000 in winnings, suggests that 55% were of course much happier after winning, because of improved financial security, 65% were less worried, could purchase anything they wanted, and that 23% felt their life became easier, while 43% of the winners felt no effect on their happiness. Other studies suggest that such happiness, on average, ebbs over time. Interesting effects from this study include, 58% of winners’ families claimed to be happier, 40% increased their contributions to charity, 38% have moved since winning, 48% were in a career job before and are still there, 15% started a new job, 30% started their own business, and 32% have gained weight. The average number of friends that male winners gave money to – three; the average number of friends female winners gave money to – one; while 44% would spend their winnings within five years, and the probability that any such new wealth will be gone by the third generation (grandchildren), is 90%. Of course, all these numbers are dependent on the amount of money won and who the people were.

As for multi-million dollar winners, at least those who have a head on their shoulders, who are happy with who they are, thus, are well grounded, American Brad Duke of Star, Idaho, could be used as an example. When he realized he had won the $220 million Powerball jackpot in 2005, he kept it to himself and went about his daily routine. The breakdown of what he finally did with the loot, when he finally went public; $45 million invested in safe, low-risk investments such as municipal bonds, $35 million in more aggressive investments such as oil, gas, and real estate (personally, real estate for sure, oil and gas, not even if my life depended on it, which it does. I’d go solar and wind alternatives), a $1.3 million family foundation, $63,000 spent on a trip to Tahiti with 17 friends, he paid off the $125,000 mortgage on his 1,400 square-foot house, paid off his outstanding student loan of $18,000. As a mountain bike enthusiast he spent $65,000 on new bicycles, bought a used black VW Jetta for $14,500 and now gives an annual $12,000 gift to each family member.

But it’s all relative, depending on the winner’s sense of well-being, which doesn’t fundamentally change, and their current situation which will most certainly exaggerate. If you are unhappy, can’t manage money and you’re surrounded by people you do not trust, winning millions of dollars will probably make your problems worse. If you are happy with your life, it fulfills you, you are careful with your money and you have strong relationships in your life, a lottery win is likely to build on those strengths. We are who we are.

The downside of it all is that many people’s lives have become nearly entirely economic, and lacking any depth whatsoever. We believe we have very healthy relationships with our stuff, while our human relationships become ever more dysfunctional. And is perhaps why dog ownership is growing in leaps and bounds; people seeking unconditional love, acceptance and forgiveness. This gets us back to the idea of the American dream, discussed earlier, and how it has evolved into simply being the best consumer you can be, all the while, it is clearly warping our senses and human values. It has become the way of the world, for it keeps the global economy going. The 1% who run the world, control us by constantly reminding that if we buy, use, discard, then buy some more, all is well. If we do not, the economy will die. Meanwhile fossil fuel limits, environmental limits and debt limits are all being reached, and no heed is taken, and if it is, its then quickly squashed. It seems the only dying that’s going on here is us and all the other species that live on this rock.

In the US, it’s becoming blatantly obvious such a way of living is not working. A recent report out of Oxford University, estimates 80% of Americans (four out of five adults) will suffer the hardship of joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives by 2030. In 2012, 33 million American adults, 15% of the population, and only two million fewer people than Canada’s entire population, who were responsible for a family of four, saw their annual income fall below the poverty line of $23,021.

So if after eking through life and getting cancer, a hip replacement, suffering depression, getting hit by lightening, having a parasitic worm gnaw its way through your body, getting into a traffic accident where somebody died, becoming a superstar, writing a novel and fourteen million other things, you actually do win a lottery or receive an inheritance, be cool, chill for awhile, take your time and keep it to yourself. Yes, this will be very difficult, but so is life, and if indeed you won and if you play your cards right, it could get better.

Put one or two steps between you and your ability to spend the principle. Surround yourself with people you trust, whether a lawyer, financial advisor or even a committee of three of those closest to you. Meet with estate lawyers, accountants and financial advisors, and when you meet them do not let on you have fourteen or so million sitting in your savings account. See if they will show you respect thinking you’re just regular folk. Provide for your children with savings accounts; hold off on giving money to anybody else until you have a financial plan in order. Set aside a small amount as crazy money, but set a very small limit, do not dwell on it, and don’t hurt anyone.

Winning a lottery is much more than just money and managing it though. It is also very much about managing one’s behaviour. A real bitch or prick filled with self-indulgence, hate, greed and zero empathy living in a hovel, will no doubt be of the same character and possess the same attitude, if living in a castle. For as they say, doing the same thing and expecting a different result is a sign of utter madness.

As for the American dream, many citizens today the world over, are realizing that such a dream is becoming unattainable, and perhaps it never was, as George Carlin eloquently deadpanned, thirty years ago, “It’s called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

No matter if one wins a lottery or has an inheritance thrown into one’s lap, or not; making a difference in your life has got nothing to do with money. Money simply gives one the freedom to do more. Our stuff does not define us. We are who we are. And we don’t change as much as we think we do.

Though I have no pension, nor substantial savings, and will never be able to retire, I don’t care. I’m a writer and though I don’t make money doing it, I wish it was all I had to do. But I continue to work, have a roof over my head, be fed and I’m blessed with family, trusted friends and acquaintances. I accept and deal with the dark days as they periodically appear, and enjoy the good ones, one at a time. So yes, I will still saunter over to the corner grocery store once a week, grab some chocolate milk and eggs, smell the smells, sample some freshly made pakora’s, gratefully take a small container of chutney, chat with the merchant and his family, smile at people there and back, perhaps shove my face into a blooming Lilac bush, and spend five dollars on BC/49. Because you never know, and no matter the truths written above, if five dollars is what it takes, in this economic world of ours to inject some confidence in looking forward to the future, and the freedom it would bring, and be able to dream of things outside our boxes and daily routines, without harming ourselves or others, I figure it’s money well spent.

 

 

06/17/13

An Essay on Democratic Dysfunction, the 2013 BC Election, Lack of Voting and Status Quo.

“Bad politicians are sent to government by good people who don’t vote.”
William E. Simon, philanthropist, businessman, and Secretary of Treasury of the US from 1974 to 1977 during the Nixon administration.

“In a democratic government, the right of decision belongs to the majority, but the right of representation belongs to all.”
Ernest Naville, 1865.

victoria legislature

One hundred and forty-two years after John Foster McCreight (1827-1913), an MLA (member of legislature) for Victoria City, was elected British Columbia’s first premier, of its first parliament, Premier Christy Clark and the Liberal Party of BC, which is not affiliated with the federal Liberal party in any way, shape or form, nor the federal Progressive Conservatives, and quite unlike the Provincial Conservative Party, but a little like the old Social Credit party, won BC’s 2013 provincial elections. They rejoice with their hands in the air, goofy soma-like smiles on their faces, yelling the sound-bite, “the people of BC have spoken,” and proud that they now have the mandate to govern as they see fit. While in actual fact not very many British Columbians had actually voted for them.

But for the fourth consecutive time, the popular vote within our current voting system has declared them a majority government, and it’s once again status quo, here we go. It is not so much the idea that not very many people have to vote anymore to achieve such status quo, it’s that unfortunately, here and elsewhere, when using the first-past-the-post system of the Westminster form of government, the majority of the people who do get out and vote don’t count.

Federally it’s just as bad. The current Harper Conservative government are an absolute majority government even though, of those who actually voted, only 39.6% voted for them, which meant over 62% of all eligible voters were pushed aside. The fact is that at all levels of government across Canada the norm is about 30% of the population have the majority of representation in the legislatures, while 70% of Canadians do not. And it’s been going on for quite awhile.

In 1972, in British Columbia, Dave Barrett formed the first BC NDP (New Democratic Party) government with just 39.6% of the vote. In 1991, New Democrat, Mike Harcourt formed government with 40.7% of the vote. In the next election, the NDP under Glen Clark received the majority of seats (39) yet were second in the popular vote, losing 12 seats to the Liberals, under Campbell, who had gained 16 seats with 41.82% of the vote, but only won 36 seats and became the opposition. In 1999, Glen Clark resigned over the “fast ferries” and bribery scandals, and the respected New Democrat Dan Miller, followed by Ujjal Dosanjh, adeptly stepped into the breach as interim leaders and ran the province until the next election in 2001, where the Liberals, again under Campbell, won all but two seats of the then 79 seat legislature, with 57% of all the votes. By 2009 the NDP under Carole James would get back up to 35 seats but still lose to Campbell’s 49 seats.

Since the sixties, the pattern has been that the NDP get about 40-41% of the vote, while the Liberals consistently get about 45% of the vote. There have been only two anomalies, in 1972, where the NDP under Dave Barrett earned 38 seats and in 1991 with the Mike Harcourt led New Democrats, winning 51 seats. The highest per cent age of voters the NDP have ever received was in 1979 with 46% of the vote, but still lost the election, while their lowest was in 2001 where they dropped to 21.65% of the vote.

After the election, Clark jubilantly announced, with that ever effervescent smile and giggle, as if she had just gotten high, “We can now change the future of our country. We can become the economic engine that drives Canada, and for the first time in the history of Confederation, we can step up and punch our weight in this Confederation. We can be the ones who lead this country for the first time in British Columbia’s history and it will be up to us, because British Columbians want that. That is what they voted for. They didn’t vote for perfection, they voted for hope.”

From here on in, I will be bringing up even more numbers, sorry, but we are talking politics here. Problem is once you bring up numbers and percentages, people’s eyes begin to glaze over. I see it all the time and get kidded by my friends when I bring them up. I am told in equal representation that the numbers are confusing me from seeing reality, that the status quo way of doing things, in this case, as to how our electoral process works, is “just the way it is”, and that besides, “it’s all we got.” I don’t buy that and feel such dysfunction is not written in stone, but is merely what’s been advertised as such, because we allow it to happen. With this I am told I’m being un-Canadian. But just like a great picture, numbers can also bring about a thousand words, though I shall not be so well winded. Though I must admit, far too often, my spinnaker is billowing out too forcefully in front of me to back off.

Though the Liberals were re-elected as the “majority government”, their leader, Christy Clark, lost her riding, and is currently not an elected official. In fact and oddly enough she has never been elected by the populace to be premier, but she is BC’s 35th premier, of its 40th parliament, and representing more than 4.6 million British Columbians. Of these, 3.1 million are registered voters, but only 1.6 million of them (54% of eligible voters) made the effort and voted, 706,240 (44.14%) of which voted Liberal, which gave them 49 seats, and a 58% majority of the 85 seat legislature. The NDP were given 34 seats, with 39.7% of the vote, the Green Party had 8.1% of the votes and gained one seat in Oak Bay-Gordon Head riding, and the final seat went to re-elected Independent Vicki Huntington in Delta South, who received 4.8% of the total votes. Interestingly, other than the Green Party’s Andrew Weaver in Oak Bay-Gordon Head, this is exactly how the last election in 2009 ended up.

Born in 1965 in Burnaby BC, Ms Clark attended Simon Fraser University (SFU), the Sorbonne, in France, and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, never graduating with a degree in anything. She was the MLA for Port Moody-Burnaby Mountain from 1996 to 2005, serving as Deputy Premier under Gordon Campbell in his first term as leader, from 2001 to 2005.

In 2001, as Minister of Education, she introduced changes that proved to be very unpopular, with teachers, parents and the public at large. The changes were challenged by the BC Teachers Federation through the court system, and eventually found to be unconstitutional. In 2002 Clark introduced Bills 27/28 forcing striking teachers back to work, and it would take the BC Supreme Court nine years to arrive at the decision that Clark’s decision to do so was also unconstitutional. During the BC Rail scandal, Clark was deputy premier, and though there were allegations that she participated in the scandal, nothing has been proven or tested in a court of law, and it was deemed that there was no need for a public inquiry.

BC Rail was a BC Crown Corporation and was promised numerous times by the government to never be sold. But after decades of shoddy and somewhat unscrupulous bookkeeping, and the public being told that it was always losing money, it was put up for sale. There were many bidding for the purchase, and the shady bookkeeping spilled over into shady dealings and lobbying. It ended up being sold/ leased for 990 years to CN Rail for $1 billion, though the actual track and other assets such as real estate and a marine division remain in public coffers. Miraculously, since CN Rail took control of the line, it generates profits of about $25 million per year.

In 2003, due to suspected improper conduct and corruption by government officials, including Premier Gordon Campbell, deputy premier Christy Clark, and their advisors, search warrants were brought about and executed on the legislature of BC. Among others, ministerial aides, David Basi and Robert Virk were charged in 2004 with two counts each of Breach of Trust, covering their nefarious behaviour, leaking insider information, and for receiving bribes. The next year Clark resigned her position and left politics to become a radio talk show host, after first trying to run for mayor of Vancouver, but losing to Sam Sullivan in Sept. 2005.

The Basi-Virk trial took six years to get underway. As the trial started in May 2010 a publication ban was put on it and then, the day before the trial was to end in Oct 2010, Basi and Virk both pled guilty to lesser charges and sentenced to two years less a day house arrest, with Basi being fined $75,600. With a straight face and hidden tongue in cheek, Premier Campbell angrily announces that “they’ve (Basi /Virk) spent the last seven years claiming to be innocent when they know they were guilty, costing taxpayers literally millions of dollars, when they knew they were guilty.” He punishes them, by of course not only having to pay his government’s prosecuting fees of $14 million, but also paying Basi and Virk’s $6 million in legal fees too. In Jan 2013, the B.C. Supreme Court dismissed auditor general John Doyle’s application for government documents concerning the paying of Basi and Virk’s fees, because it would be an invasion of solicitor-client privilege. So we will probably never know what really transpired.

At the same time, Mr. Campbell was also feeling the heat and backlash of promising in the previous election that he would not bring about a consumption tax, called the HST (Harmonized Sales Tax), but soon after he was elected he came out and indeed implemented it. He then dismantled the Children’s Commission, which pushed 700 unfinished child-death review cases into a dark closet.

In early 2011, a few months after the Basi/Virk trial ended, Campbell, leader of the BC Liberal Party for 17 years and premier for nine resigned his position. Six months later, in Sept. 2011, it was announced that he would be received into the Order of British Columbia, for “demonstrating the greatest distinction and excellence in a field of endeavour which benefits the people of BC.” The same month he was given the role of Canadian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, and moved to London, family in tow.

After Campbell announced his resignation, Clark pushes aside her microphone at the radio station and declares that she wants to be leader of the Liberal Party and premier, though at the time not even having a seat in the legislature.

At a Liberal leadership meeting in March 2011, the party membership voted for Ms Clark to be their leader and swore her in. Still needing a seat in government, a by-election was run in ex-premier Campbell’s old riding of Vancouver-Point Grey, and Clark beats New Democrat, David Eby by 595 votes. It’s the first time a governing party had won a by-election in 30 years.

David Eby is a civil rights lawyer, Professor of law at UBC, and a research associate with Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. He has also served as president of the Canadian HIV/Aids Legal Network and is the past executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association. And tit for tat, two years later, in the election just completed, Eby defeated Clark by more than a thousand votes, leaving Clark once again with no seat.

In June 2013, re-elected Liberal MLA, party whip, and millionaire wine-maker, Ben Stewart stepped down so that Clark could possibly be elected in his riding of Westside-Kelowna in an up-coming by-election. Westside-Kelowna is a good location for Clark’s attempt to be elected. Stewart won this year’s election with over 58% of the votes, but the riding, a land of vineyards, retirement communities and a large Native reserve, also had one of the lowest voter turnouts in the province, with just over 40%. So all Clark needs is for two out of every ten eligible voters to vote for her and she’s in. Until such time, she is not permitted to enter the legislature, but oddly enough can still dictate policy, and still receives a paycheck. Because in 2007, all of the MLA’s at the time got together and implemented a new plan for severance pay for those who lose their ridings or retire. Soon after, everyone’s salaries magically increased 29% and their infamous gold-plated pension plans were restored. Five years later, amidst a recall vote over the HST mess, in 2012, the MLA’s at the time secretly met once again, and voted to extend the severance to also include any member who happens to be recalled for dubious behaviour.

Update: July 10th, 2013. Ms Clark wins by-election in Westside-Kelowna. With 46,000 voters eligible to vote, only 17,012 (37%) made the effort. Clark recieved 10,666 votes, 62% of those who voted, but only 23% of all registered voters (less than one in four of eligible voters). Great for Clark and the Liberals, not so much for democracy.

Eligible MLA’s receive their $101,859 base annual salary ($6,790 per month) for 15 months, while they look for other work. With Clark losing her seat, the transitional allowance automatically kicked in, but three weeks after the fact, she announced that she will pay back what has been paid to her since that time. Meanwhile she continues to be paid a $91,673 annual salary that comes with being the premier. Perhaps this is another reason she’s smiling all the time and so bubbly.

Two incumbents in the past election, New Democrats, Joe Trasolini and Gwen O’Mahoney, were on the job only 13 months and were defeated in their ridings, but both are eligible to continue receiving their hundred plus grand salaries for the next 15 months. As to just regular folk working as government employees, when their jobs are terminated they receive four weeks’ severance for every four years worked.

Of the three other major parties, the leader of the BC Conservatives, John Cummings was defeated in his riding of Langley, while the leader of the BC Green Party, Jane Verk, was defeated in New Democrat Carole James’ riding of Victoria-Beacon Hill. Currently the only party leader to actually hold a seat in the legislature is the NDP’s Adrian Dix, because enough people actually voted for him.

Mr. Dix was re-elected MLA for Vancouver/Kingsway, getting 57% of the votes in his riding. He has been the riding’s MLA since 2005. As a thirty-five year old, chief of staff to Premier Glen Clark from 1996-1999, he was dismissed for back-dating a memo, and went on to become a political commentator until 2005, when he first ran in Vancouver/Kingsway. Though not necessarily possessing much charisma, or a Clark smile, it’s been said he is deadpan funny man and thinks before he speaks. Fluently bilingual, having lived in France, Dix is afflicted with type-1 diabetes, and was born and raised in Vancouver. Married to a poet and writer, he studied history and political science at the University of British Columbia. He ran for the leadership of the NDP party in 2011 on a platform of rolling back reductions in the corporate tax rate, supporting the redirection of carbon tax revenue to pay for public transit and infrastructure that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, supporting an increase in the minimum wage rate, creating a provincial child care system, restoring grants to post-secondary students, reducing interest on student loans, and restoring the corporation capital tax on financial institutions.

A week after the election he addressed the media for the first time, admitting that he and his party simply did not do their jobs well enough, especially when it came to holding the Liberals accountable for the flaws in there definition of policy, and for taking the “high road” and not calling the Liberals on their attack ads and smear campaign. He promised a comprehensive review, stating “I can assure you this review will spare nothing and no one, least of all me.” Saying he is but a servant of his party’s caucus and members, he hopes the party will learn the lessons before them. Staying on as party leader until the mandatory leadership review in November allows his party to decide the future and direction in which they feel they should go.

Overall the BC election was of the vein of judging candidates by their charisma, personal charm, and personality, instead of the issues in our lives. Liberals were allowed to advertise any way they liked, even if much of it flew in the face of truth or reality. The NDP didn’t question or respond to the Liberals advertising, no matter how low they went, which in the end might have been what would have made a difference. The Liberals went with the “Strong economy. Secure future” as in securing their place as a party associated with business, capitalism, status, success, and wealth, no matter how much a pipe dream it has become, with climate change and the planet’s environmental crisis, never entering the picture.

For the most part the election campaign played out like a really bad reality show and often seemed surreal. It’s like you see their lips moving but just can’t pickup what they are saying, though you do notice their smile and what they are wearing and feel you know them because you have watched multiple times, the ads they produced and acted in. Learning about the candidates and not the issues, in ten second sound bites and then on game day, not even bothering to vote.

This is the problem with politics in most developed and supposedly democratic societies. As Bill Durodie, the program head of Conflict Analysis and Management Programs at Royal Roads University’s School of Peace and Conflict Management, has said, in many of these countries, especially at the local, municipal, and provincial/state levels, “none of the major parties could even manage 10 per cent of the available votes, and end up effectively representing nobody but themselves.” He believes society has become disengaged from politics, which we have, and that the fundamental problem for modern politics is that, “there are few with any resolute and identifiable principles anymore, either among the parties or the voters.” All over the developed world, the people that do vote do so based on their feelings about the candidate and their party and what is reported about them, with “image and style trumping insight and substance at every turn.”

As mentioned earlier, in this election 54% (1.6 million) of eligible voters made it their duty to vote and be engaged. Nearly one and a half  million others decided to sit this one out, meaning only 54 of every 100 eligible voters actually did so. Out of these 54 citizens, not even 24 of them voted Liberal. In all, 706,240 people voted Liberal, only 22% of all eligible voters, or about 6% of the population.  Breaking it down even further to make it more Orwellian, less than three out of ten eligible voters voted for the current majority government. Winning a popular vote with two out of ten people voting for you seems more like a dictatorship than a democracy. But once again, status quo, don’t you know. Interestingly enough, status quo comes from the Latin phrase “in stat quo res errant ante bellum”, “in the state in which things were before the war.”

Geographically, the interior and North East areas of BC, where the dams are built, the jobs are, where the pipelines hopeBCMapto run, the fracking for natural gas continues, and the fresh water supply becomes ever more toxic, voted Liberal. As to the 59% of BC’s population who live in the Lower mainland, Downtown Vancouver, East Vancouver, New Westminster and Vancouver’s eastern suburbs voted BC NDP, with the Fraser Valley, Richmond and parts of Delta all voting Liberal. Vancouver Island and BC’s coastline ridings were overwhelmingly, either NDP or the Green Party, except for the Comox Valley and Parksville-Qualicum, who voted for Liberal candidates.

On Vancouver Island, where 16% of the population of BC live, there are 14 ridings, eleven went NDP, including ex-premier Carole James, in her riding of Victoria-Beacon Hill, two went Liberal, and one went Green. With a population of 344,630, Greater Victoria and its city, Victoria, the capital of British Columbia and where the legislature sits, will not have a voice at the government caucus table for the first time in 60 years. But then even in the upper chamber of the Federal government, in the appointed and not elected Senate, there is no one representing the 750,000 people of Vancouver Island, yet comparatively, Prince Edward Island has 145,000 people and four senators. New Brunswick has the same population as Vancouver Island and has 10 senators.

As to the exact goings-ons of our latest attempt for democracy in BC and how it all went down per individual ridings, those who gathered the most votes in their ridings include Liberal Stephanie Cadieux, in one of the largest ridings, Surrey-Cloverdale, with 59.46% (18,000) of the votes from a total of 51,000 registered voters, second was Liberal Rich Coleman, Fort Langley- Aldergrove, with 15,989 votes, and third with most votes, was Liberal Ralph Sutton, in West Vancouver-Capilano, with 15,777 votes.

As to the largest share of the votes in a riding, the just mentioned, Ralph Sutton was at the top with 67.03%, but was followed closely by NDP Jenny Kwan, with 64.32% of the votes in her riding, Liberal Andrew Wilkinson in Vancouver-Quilchena with 64.32%, NDP Katrine Conroy in Kootenay West with 63.04%, Liberal Bill Bennett in Kootenay East with 63.01 %, and NDP Bruce Ralston of Surrey-Whalley with 61.43%. Those close to 60% were NDP Shane Simpson of Vancouver-Hastings (59.46%) and Liberal Stephanie Cadieux Surrey-Cloverdale (59.46%). Interesting about the Kootenays, Kootenay West had the fourth largest share of votes in a riding and went NDP, while the fifth largest share of votes happened in Kootenay East, and went Liberal.

All parties picked up more votes than in the election in 2009. The BC Conservatives led, picking up 51,332 more votes, to go from 2% of the votes in 2009 to 4.8%, Liberals received 44,285 more votes, but dropped from 45.8% of the total votes in 2009 down to 44.1% this year. The NDP received 24,435 more votes, but dropped to 39.7% this year, and the Green Party had 11,991 more votes than they did in 2009, but went from 8.2% of the votes to 8.1%.

The top two ridings for voter participation were ridings where there was a strong Green candidate running. Most fully engaged was Oak Bay- Gordon Head with 71% voter turnout and where Green candidate, Andrew Weaver, was elected as MLA.

Mr. Weaver is one of Canada’s top scientists and is a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society, the Royal Society of Canada and a member of the Order of British Columbia. He holds the Canada Research Chair in Climate Modelling and Analysis at the University of Victoria. In 2007, Weaver was a contributing member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and who, along with former US vice president Al Gore and others were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Now deputy leader of Canada’s Green Party, since Jane Sterk was unable to land a seat, he and Green Party leader, MP (Member of Parliament) Ms Elizabeth May, are Canada’s only Green Party elected representatives.

Ms May, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada from 1989 to 2006, was elected in 2011 in the Saanich-Gulf Islands riding, as MP. She is a respected environmentalist, writer, activist, and lawyer. Her permanent residence is in her riding, the town of Sidney, just up the road a bit from Oak Bay-Gordon Head. She was recently voted “Hardest Working MP” and “Best Constituency MP” by fellow members of the Federal government, which makes sense considering that though she alone sits representing her party, she seems to make more of a difference with her time in parliament than most all of the silenced backbenchers combined, especially the Conservatives. Being open and transparent, having moral rectitude, a backbone, character, and thinking before speaking in a language a non-politician can actually understand, goes a long way it seems.

Second best voter turnout was in Saanich North and the Islands with 70.02% of eligible voters making the effort. It was a very close race, with all three candidates picking up over 10,000 votes each, with the margin between first and third only 379 votes, and was between NDP, Liberal, and Green. New Democrat Gary Holman was awarded the seat.

Third in turnout was in Delta South, where independent Vicki Huntington won re-election with a 69.03% turnout. Of the top five highest turnouts, four were on Vancouver Island.

Meanwhile many of the largest populated ridings had the lowest voter turnout. And I’m just saying, but it could be because of language barriers and cultural differences. Worst voter turnout, at 43%, was Richmond Center, followed by Surrey-Whalley, Richmond-East, Kelowna-Lake Country, Burnaby-Deer Lake, Vancouver-Kingsway, Burnaby-Edmonds, and Westside-Kelowna, all having well below 50% turnout. Hovering at 50-51% voter turnout were Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, Vancouver-False Creek and Vancouver-West End.

The Liberal’s list of promises during the election was lengthy and was never questioned enough, especially by the NDP. Most of the promises were based on the assumption, and myth, that capitalism and unlimited growth work will win the day. Her party’s platform is based on increasing natural resource development, especially liquefied natural gas (LNG), and holding the line on taxes, by not expanding the carbon tax, or instituting a capital tax on financial institutions. She also promised a five-year freeze on personal income tax, with the exception of the highest income earners, a $250- per child back-to-school tax credit for parents, a $500 tax credit for teachers who coach, dropping the small business tax from 2.5% to 1.5% as of 2017, dropping the corporate tax rate down to 10% by 2018, training more doctors, increasing hospice spaces, expanding the BC Training Tax Credit, opening a BC film office in L.A California, and to conduct annual forest industry trade missions to Asia.

After the Liberals won, Clark stated that her economy driven mandate will only work if her MLA’s start saying “no a lot more than they say yes.” She has promised economic security based on new jobs, infrastructure, investment and royalties. To build the province’s “new economy” the Liberals are banking on the LNG industry, and the revenues from which they say will pay down BC’s debt within 15 years.

The day after becoming an MLA, someone who knows a bit about the world’s natural resources, Green Party’s Andrew Weaver, declared that the current predictions of provincial revenues from natural gas are a “fantasy” and it makes no sense to invest in the expansion of natural gas with the intention to sell to Asian markets, because Russia, which has 20 times the natural gas resources of Canada, has just recently signed long term export agreements with China and other Asian countries.

There are of course plenty of other Asian markets that are perfectly willing to buy up all of our limited natural resources. Though the question remains, what happens to us when the resource is gone, forever, in 20 to 30 years? But then look at BC’s forestry business, where instead of more wood products, such as furniture or lumber that a British Columbian could actually afford, and not have to buy plywood from North Carolina or some other place instead because it’s cheaper, no, we chop down our trees, take off the limbs and send the whole log overseas.

Though I’ve got to hand it to Clark, after being elected, she did declare opposition to the proposed Enbridge oilsands crude pipeline, that would run 1600 km across BC, pumping 550,000 barrels per day to Kitimat, on the coast, then perilously make its way by tanker to open water and beeline for China. A parallel pipeline would run back to Alberta, carrying imported diluents, a flammable liquid mixture of hydrocarbons, which will help the heavy sludge of oilsands crude flow along the pipeline. Clark declared there are simply too many unanswered questions about how Enbridge will respond to a spill. Though she also left the door open to see what Enbridge’s response will be to her opposition. Which is very noble and all, especially considering most British Columbians do not want the pipeline. But in reality, whether a pipeline is built or not in BC is not up to us, it’s up to the Harper Federal government. Clark and the Liberals gave up the right to have more influence in the matter over a year ago. In spite, I suppose Alberta could now decide to start charging BC for it’s already in place LNG pipelines, running from Northern BC across Alberta to the United States.

The centerpiece of the Liberal’s platform is debt reduction, and they have promised to dedicate half of future surpluses to it, enact more balanced budget legislation, and include penalties for ministers who do not meet their budget targets. But no matter what is promised as to balancing the budget or not, or controlling spending or not, the reality is that in most industrialized and democratic societies, the amount of debt and spending is over the top, and there is nothing more corrosive to the future of any economy if debt continues to accumulate through a succession of operating deficits. And as in most other industrialized countries, whether at the federal or local level, government is creating huge debt, and will continue to do so because they have all become so concerned and preoccupied with salaries, pensions and perks, instead of infrastructure and the needs of the people.

Over the past ten years, if you factor in both operating expenses and capital spending on schools and infrastructure, the BC Liberals have over spent $14 billion, bringing BC’s total accumulated operating and capital debt over the past fifty years to nearly $40 billion, or $8,300 per British Columbian, and which has been determined to have a 54% chance of defaulting within 30 years. Our current overall debt is more than $62 billion. Interest charges alone are about $1.9 billion per year, more than the entire budget for the Ministry of Children and Family Development. But Clark promises balanced budgets in each of the next three years. Great idea, except it will mean borrowing another $3.5 billion to do so.

Clark would later announce straight-faced, that the government’s budget will also be based on three themes, “giving children more opportunities than we had, caring for those who cared for us and leaving BC as beautiful as we found it.” Oxymoron doesn’t even get close to explaining this comment.

But then our economy is mostly determined by what happens elsewhere in the world anyways, no matter what three year plan the Liberals have, because nothing in government is long term. As we all know their wheel is geared to run for about three years then switch and spend the final year campaigning.

In the very near future, the economic reality for Canada and the world will have everything to do with the emerging countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, who today combined, represent a third of the world’s economy. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the international body which promotes policies that they feel will improve the economic and social well being around the world, estimates that in seven years, in 2020, these countries will be the second biggest driving force of the world’s economy.

Capitalistic democratic countries such as Canada, the United States and those in Europe, operate with such short term focus because they judge time quarterly, perhaps proving that the concept of living for the moment is actually something really irrational. Government is now big business, unfortunately it’s not run by business people, but by lawyers and bureaucrats, and without the profit part. They are also forgetting that life is about people and with continuing high unemployment and growing income equalities; you’d think they would worry about that. But then, heck, they even ignore the fact that the Earth is but one planet.

And yes, of course economic development is important, but it must also mean sustainable development that respects the wishes of all those who live there, and the environment in which they live in. With most of voters in the most recent election voting for either the New Democrats or the Greens, this obviously shows that the majority of people in BC want investment and jobs that produce clean energy. But if the goal is not to reverse the destruction of the earth’s ecosystems, all else, including life, becomes moot.

The only thing decided in the 2013 BC election was that we will be maintaining things as they were, with a few deciding its status quo for everybody. Just like most all levels of government in Canada, where we are ruled most often by simple reactionary governments run by despots, who possess far too much power for anyone’s good. Just like the Romans, you would have thought we had learned that lesson and gotten past it, silly us. Leaders who have their own mandates, and who keep their members in check and obedient by the unelected party whips, by being told how to vote, what questions to ask, and how to beg and bark like a dog. Their governments far too often, will only consider action on just about anything until the corporations, financial institutions or foreign interests, whom already own too much of Canada’s resources, say so.

The BC Liberals will continue to protect the existing systems of power and the future of the economy, they will promise accountability and sustainability and truly believe that capitalism’s economics will win over good sense and foresight when it comes to coping with any problems along the way, arrogantly believing that the ability of engineering and technology will save the day. Much like the thinking of CEO Rex Tillerson at Exxon-Mobil’s 2013 annual general meeting, “What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?” obviously not aware whatsoever that a simple share dividend or larger market share, doesn’t mean anything, if it has no planet to survive on.

In reality the continuously expanding bubble is actually beginning to hiss and becoming a permanent contraction. The essential resources for economic expansion and survival, that are abundant, accessible and safe to obtain, are nearly all gone. Our government knows this, but will never admit it. But then we don’t want to admit it to ourselves either it would seem. For many it’s far too much to handle, we are overwhelmed. And is undoubtedly one of the main reasons of low voter turnout, and for the acceptance of our current voting system as “oh well that’s just the way things are.” More like it’s just the way the government likes it. There are alternatives of course, there always are.

More than 33 countries worldwide use the Westminster form of government. This democratic parliamentary system of government is where there is an executive branch which derives its democratic legitimacy from, and held accountable to, the legislature/parliament. Amongst these countries there are at least four different voting systems used.

In 2005, and recommended by the BC Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, 57% of British Columbian voters, voted to get rid of our current first-past-the-post (FPTP) system and replace it with the proportional voting system, the single transferable vote (STV). However, just before the final vote was to be taken, the majority government, who were elected as such with only 45% of the votes, and somehow gained 97% of the seats in the legislature, declared that a 60% minimum threshold was needed, so the idea was rejected. Another vote for STV was taken in 2009, and was nothing but a misinformation campaign, using words, numbers and grammar improperly and making it perhaps too complicated in its description for most people, and there was mass confusion, especially for non-English speaking citizens. It also failed.

Operating a first-past-the-post system, with just one winner in each riding means half of voters don’t actually elect anyone. In the 2011 Federal election seven million votes elected no one. In the 2008 Federal election nearly one million people voted Green, yet no one was elected, while in Alberta alone, about 700,000 voters allowed Harper’s Conservatives to gain 27 seats in parliament. In the Prairies, the Conservatives received nearly twice as many votes as Liberal and NDP combined, but somehow took seven times as many seats. In fact, that same year, more Canadians voted in the finals of the Canadian Idol TV program, than had in the election.

Thus our provincial and federal governments have no idea what the majority of Canadians need and want, nor who we are, especially with them also getting rid of the long-form census. Sadly, even if more people voted using our current voting system, it would still not create fair representation of the majority of the people.

Comparatively, in 2011, in Ireland, and using the STV system, only 18% of those who voted did not have a candidate that won. The same year in New Zealand, and also using the STV, only 3% voted for losers.

The STV system works with voters in combined local districts getting to elect anywhere from five to seven representatives instead of just one. On each ballet is listed all the individual politicians, from all parties, of that local area. A voter then lists these candidates by order of preference, 1st choice, 2nd, and so on. If your first choice doesn’t have enough votes to be elected and sure to lose, your vote is then transferred to your 2nd choice, and so on. Similarly, if your first choice has more than enough votes to win, your vote is transferred to your next favorite candidate, and so on. Each vote ends up where it’s most needed to get the group of representatives most wanted. No vote is wasted on a candidate that has no hope in being elected, and with every vote having an equal impact on the outcome, one can vote their conscience. All results would be totally proportional. The best person that represents the needs of the community is chosen, not the person who best represents their party. The legislature and parliament would represent nearly everyone, which is called a democracy.

Such proportional representation, awarding seats in the legislature on the percentage of votes received, equals fair representation. Over 80 countries use elements of proportionality in their voting systems. Australia has used such a system since 1918, and is used at all levels of government, including their senate. No candidate can win if they do not have a true majority of over 51% of the vote, and there cannot be a majority government with less than 51% of the vote. Compulsory voting was enacted in 1924, and began with an average of 95% of registered voters doing so. If one fails to vote and is not able to provide a reasonable explanation for not voting, they are fined $20. But like elsewhere, Australia has been seeing a drop in the numbers of those who vote. In the past few elections, some municipality’s votes are down to 80-85 %, which is still far better than Canada’s (50%) ,which ranks among the lowest in voter turnout in all the industrialized countries of the world. In contrast and besides Australia, Belgium and Denmark have 80% of the voters showing up.

According to Fair Vote Canada, if the proportional STV system, based on fair representation, was used in the 2013 BC election, the vote would have been 41 Liberal seats, 33 NDP, six Greens, and four Conservatives, instead of its outcome of 49 seats for the Liberals, 34 for the NDP, one Green, one Independent, and zero Conservatives.

Online voting, meanwhile, is a good idea because we’d then be able to be more informed, as an uninformed choice is not a choice at all, and we’d be able to vote on other issues as well, instead of just once every three to four years. But voting should never be taken for granted nor should it simply become an inconvenience, where in-between tweeting and texting friends every four to five minutes, answering e-mails, or playing with you new phone app, you have to take a second to vote, just to get it over with. Voting should be both, a right to fair representation and a duty to participate.

But whether proportional voting, first-to-the-post, online and/or mandatory, they are all simply systems trying to deal with the same problem, which is not enough people vote to properly determine our futures. Standing by and allowing a very few to make the decisions for us, and tell us what road we will travel, and how we are to behave is so bovine. If only but a few of us vote, the people elected, whether ruling or opposition, go to government and vote according to their party and their ideology, and not to the wishes of the constituents, who really, don’t number that many anyway. They decide what the interest of the people shall be. If this is the case, it is not a democracy but a republic.

It seems that British Columbians will occasionally, about every ten years or so, get riled up enough to go to the polls and hope for change or salvation. Unfortunately this is not the place where such things reside anymore. Another reason so few vote anymore is because we are busy in our own lives and place in society and have realized that voting doesn’t change anything, especially when over 70% of the population’s votes don’t mean anything when they do. We have become alienated and disaffected from the whole political process.

It also doesn’t help that the country to the south of us is so dysfunctional and spiralling down a toilet, and that whenever they speak, especially if it’s a Republican senator, it is filled with contradiction and ignorance, and everyone looks at each other, asking, did they just say that in their out-loud voice. They feel they can run around and try to control the world when they can’t even control themselves, while in reality they are controlled by an “intelligence community” and Wall Street. They make democracy something obscene; with the way their citizens have given up their rights and freedoms in order to feel secure and safe, but unemployed, dissatisfied with life, violent-prone, fat and hungry.

If we continue to become disengaged within our own communities, how on earth are we to become engaged in politics, when it has simply become another reality show, with really bad actors, using the same old script?

Integrity and character has been replaced with entitlement and personality, with too many politicians possessing the charisma of street walkers and used car salesmen, but unlike such working citizens, believing they are not accountable at all, and are so very far out of touch. They are often having difficulties with their expenses, which any politician has a right to claim, but they instead ignore the obligation of disclosure to whom pays the bills, which is we the people, and through it all, a never ending stream of scandal, with one abuse of privilege after another.

Consider those who vote the least, 18 to 24 year olds. Less than a third of them vote, while in 1980, two-thirds of the same age group voted. The difference is that today any expectations for “participation, self-realization and control over their lives” cannot be gained through our current electoral machine. Many see that besides the erosion of democracy, the basics of society, such as freedom of the press, having a system that is not corrupt, the right to peaceful protest, and having a rule of law which is the same for everybody, are being undermined, and they understand that ultimately elections do not usually affect such things.

We have become either not interested, too busy, or simply don’t care to vote anymore, by not being informed rationally or honestly, thus not being motivated to vote. This is good for the one party who operates within a system where, once again, as long as they get 2 or 3 people out of 10 to vote for them, they’re in. We’ve become disgusted with a politician’s behaviour, lack of scruples and integrity, sociopathic tendencies and sense of self entitlement. A sense of powerlessness pervades over us, but is kept at bay with a status quo of style over substance.

In BC and Canada, and other than the couple of Green members and a few independents, the leaders of both the ruling and opposition governments and their ministers, chiefs of staff and party whips, nearly every other MLA or MP backbencher, sit back like trained seals, occasionally roaring out “hear hear”, stomping their feet or pounding their desks. Their sense of entitlement gained from a, “set for life pension”, excellent pay and all the most lavish of perks, is actually the near rotten fish tossed their way, which they have eagerly gulped back.

The elite of the world and the governments they control are simply out of control. And really don’t care if the great curtain of Oz is lying on the floor like a dirty rag. Far too often the stench of blatant corruption, immorality, greed and a total lack of empathy permeate everything they do, say and touch.

In Canada the government mimes other capitalistic democracies by slashing guidelines for corporate behaviour, removing any accountability that they might have, and are ever more controlled by corporate lobbyists to micromanage the provinces and country. They would also like to privatize everything as soon as possible, which is not a bad thing, except the fact the privatizing is going to foreign interests. As to public service, it is becoming both private and secret.

Frustration reigns supreme above all else because the economic standing that a large lower-middle class, and working class once had has been slowly erased over the past thirty years. At the same time “the wealth and income derived from labor, which is how we citizens pay our way, has been transferred to capital, while the growth of productivity doesn’t translate into wage gains anymore”, because it’s usually transferred overseas.

Further frustration comes from the myriad of contradictions in government spending, such as, in BC, each MLA receives $19,000 a year for accommodation in Victoria when the legislature meets. Over the past few years, on average, they gather together about 40 days a year. Staying in a nice place on the inner harbour for 40 nights, using the “government rate”, costs about $8,000. Meanwhile a British Columbian living on disability income is expected to find accommodation with $4,500 per year; or that the chiefs of staffs and some MLAs are making upwards of $10,000 a month, while the majority of the province are trying to make do with $28,000 a year; or that BC has the lowest corporate tax rates in Canada, as well as having, for over ten years now, the highest child-poverty rate in Canada. In reality there is really no poverty per se, in any democratic country, just poor distribution of the wealth.

Our current democratic dysfunction is affecting the pulse of our collective consciousness. Instead of meaning and purpose it’s leaving us awash in a feeling of emptiness and unease. The distractions put in our faces are gladly taken, but deep down we are longing for change and reform. The distractions paralyze us to act for the now, not even wanting to think about the future. The only two roads being offered are either just sucking it up, turning ourselves off and pretending that everything’s okay, or standing up and acting. Unfortunately standing up and being heard can bring much to bear against you, too much than most people are willing to absorb and pay for, especially if it disrupts their daily lives or takes away any of their stuff. It’s why there is a lack of leadership in the world today. For anyone who is truly righteous and who stands up for others, we have a tendency as a society to marginalize, ostracize, defame and/or assassinate them, before they do too much damage to the status quo. And we must especially remember that whenever the word revolution is bandied about, there must be a very concise and exacting explanation for what that means.

Because our corporate governments are mostly being driven by capitalistic greed, the powers that be and who control them, will never allow their power to wane. Indeed many of the largest controlling institutions are, as they say, too big to fail. But capitalism gets away with its growing violence to both the environment and the fabric of our societies, much like the Bible got away with its extreme violence, degradation of women, and declaration that the planet’s resources are god given and meant to be used up as it see fit, because most times governments back it up, through repression of their people.

Far too many of us actually believe we can successfully, psychologically ignore and deny the planet is changing. Where escalating heat waves, droughts, floods and destructive mega storms have simply become natural events, and we are more mesmerized by the latest fashion or phone app. But it has been proven that messages based on fear, such as climate change, can cause people to feel dis-empowered and less likely to take action at all. That is why governments always promote a fear of something, whether it’s the Huns, Nazis, Communists, terrorists, crime, drugs or other religions and races.

Those who have just given up, have not only given up on themselves, but have also damned their children and their grandchildren as well. We have raised the standards of living so high over the past fifty years, and so gorged on the earth’s limited resources that future generations have no hope in hell of living in similar high fashion.

There is also the train of thought that there is such low voter turnout here in Canada, and elsewhere, because it’s a sign our political system is stable and that nobody votes because we are all relatively happy with our government; that life isn’t so bad and people do not see much significance in what the government is doing, and as long as we can continue to cheaply fill our gas tanks, we’re good to go.

The only problem with people today going merrily on their way seeking happiness is that most often we are seeking it in all the wrong places. Deep down we are all so very terribly bored, and so we think by making everyday distractions important they become a part of our daily routine, which makes it easier to get through the day. As deep is the reality that, as a biological species we simply need food, water, a roof over our head, and to be loved. But as long as we keep giving ourselves over to booze, pot, pills, celebrity fascination, the hope of winning a lottery ticket, that our car defines us, and that as long as we are able to maintain all of the other material comforts of our lives, we’ll accept most things without complaint.

So it comes down to, people don’t vote because they are happy with their lot in life, as long as something doesn’t happen in their own backyard, or understand that elections don’t really change anything in their daily lives, unless one becomes ill, hurt, abused or assaulted, of course, and can’t pay for the repairs. Or people don’t vote because they don’t give a shit and usually live their lives as such. Or people don’t vote because they look at the candidates and their parties and nothing meaningful is there to vote for. This I feel is the biggest reason many don’t bother to vote, for though society is crying out for leaders, there aren’t any.

What is needed, especially today when decisions are often needed to be made quickly for our futures sake, are individuals who bring forethought to the changes needed in our modern society and changing planet, and who understand what it might mean for democracy and basic human rights. Leaders willing to do battle in the only war any civilization needs to fight today, the one between the public good and private profits. It’s too bad that very few politicians today draft and pass mandates with positive results, which become a part of their legacy long after they are gone from office. Needed are leaders who are willing to bring about reform, no matter how bumpy the road might be, nor how many arrows glance off their brows. Men and women who are willing to speak for all citizens, not only those that support them, and who understand the importance of transparency and accountability, and who will promote policies that will improve the economic and social well being of the world. Someone who doesn’t cheat, steal or lie would be a huge evolutionary step forward.

In the 2013 BC election there were many talented individuals who were able to gain a seat in our legislature. Many are very qualified people, with business degrees and political science majors, and who are accountants, lawyers, and managers. All I’m sure having the best of intentions, and are very intelligent, which is often the problem, because more often than not it’s the really smart individual that is needed instead. And yes, there is a difference. But of all of those elected, there weren’t very many leaders. Someone the true majority of British Columbians believes in.

Premier Christy Clark may be the leader of the BC Liberals by way of our current voting system, but is she really the honourable leader we need in this changing world, or just the CEO of the government of BC, who on the world stage is a somewhat charismatic, teen-like, bubbly, minor celebrity with a nice smile who may or may not make any difference at all.

No matter Ms Clark, or the Liberal party’s intentions, are they strong enough in their convictions to represent all British Columbians, or just the princes of capitalism, or will they succumb to the problem that has followed politicians around since the first civilizations, in that power nearly always corrupts. As the Greek historian, Herodotus, explained in the 4th century BC, “Even the best of men, were he granted such power would alter the train of his thoughts. Insolence will be engendered in him by the advantages of his position, and envy …With these two in his soul he is filled with every wickedness, for insolence will cause him to break into many acts of wantonness, and envy into many more.”

I’ll end this essay with the issues of our sense of being overwhelmed, and the common adage, why bother to vote when it won’t mean anything. In our current voting system this is true, as is the reality that whoever of the two or three mainstream parties are in power in BC, nothing will change. The Liberals will continue to sit in the back seat of the speeding capitalism high-end sedan, as it hurls towards the edge of the cliff, with them all fighting over who can sit up front, and the New Democrats won’t stray too far from the middle of the road in their mid size “working man’s” pickup truck. Neither is what we need nor want, for we need action and reform. Meanwhile the Greens will cruise along in the latest hybrid, giving sage advice and sound alternatives.

But at any intersection, with the light switching to amber, the Greens slow down and stop just as it turns red, and take a look around. The New Democrats weave around them, quickly look left, then right, and boot through the amber. A few seconds after the light turned red, the Liberal sedan comes racing through the intersection nearly clipping an elderly man using a walker, just missing running over a university student, and nearly t-boning a local beer truck, but without even a glance or acknowledgement continues on, leaving the chaos in their dust.

Over the past hundred years, societies have had to deal with many issues, each separate and distinct as they usually happened piecemeal, from world wars to civil rights, the right to vote, women’s rights and the environment. Today is like a perfect storm arising seemingly just off in the distance, while in actuality is closer than we think. Income and wealth disparity, lack of accountability, corporate generated repression, blind greed, entitlement, consumerism, endless war, too big to fail institutions, crumbling infrastructure and climate change, all blending into one all-encompassing planetary crisis. Issues that need to be confronted by strong leadership and a populace willing to change, not for our sake, for we will be dead before it gets totally out of control, but for our children and their children. It would be completely irresponsible, immoral, suicidal, and just plain mean to leave such societal and political dysfunction and a deteriorating planet to future generations.

Distractions indeed have kept us busy. Our repression of anxiety, anguish, grief, and our natural human instincts and feelings, have sucked any courage we might have had right out of us. We have become, what was once sung “comfortably numb.”

We must not lose sight of the concepts of one small step at a time, but at the same time admitting that we must also confront the issues before us rather quickly, and have the courage to do so. For every action there is a potential reaction, with the future not yet written nor known. We must never forget that you who are reading these words, matter, we matter, and we are never too old or young to act, stand up and speak. Most importantly we must remember that hope is harvested, not given nor elected.

 

Further perusing – Tom Englelhardt  “Acts Of Courage”   TomDispatch.com

 

04/8/13

Costs Of Living – Inequalities, Poverty Levels, and the Cost for one Person to live in Victoria BC

“Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and for his family an existence worthy of human dignity”  U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights


 

While we have been busy climbing ladders, wishing we were someone else and purchasing our personalities, the basics of life have become much more than simply the costs of living, and are in fact taking much more from us than just income and capital; it’s taking away the planet we live on as well.

To exist as a biological species we need safe drinking water, food, clothing, a roof over our heads, and sex. To be human we need someone to love, someone to love us, friendship, an individual talent which gives us self worth and the ability or opportunity to question. To keep humanity’s greatest resources, imagination and ingenuity, in proper context, we need what Albert Einstein called “the principles of free and responsible development of the individual so that he may place his powers freely and gladly in the service of mankind.” To keep ourselves mentally healthy is to relish each one of these essentials. But each one of these essentials, especially over the past thirty years, has now become nearly entirely privatized, as we stare like deer caught in the headlights.

Today such basic needs and rights also include education, health care, parks and recreation and freedom of speech, all of which are now packaged into products to be simply bought and sold, with many of these rights easily taken from us. Obtaining them is now based on who can pay the most, because anything good, important, healthy or reliable costs more.

The cost of living before agriculture and civilizations was called life and death. Then about twelve thousand years ago, after seventy thousand years of our current mutation as modern humans; we began to domesticate animals and invented agriculture to feed them, eventually feeding ourselves as well. We also began to live communally in larger numbers, which rose exponentially after such villages became cities. The cost of living became income. At this time the characters bearing psychopathic tendencies, such as “self-esteem derived from personal gain, power, or pleasure; failure to conform to lawful or culturally normative ethical behaviour; lack of concern for feelings, needs, or suffering of others; lack of remorse after hurting or mistreating another; exploitation is a primary means of relating to others; deceit; the use of dominance or intimidation to control others and misrepresentation of the self”, were finally able to rise to the top, feeding on their thirst for power, to control the food source, and demand tithe for doing so. Where once there was enough for everyone slowly became never enough. The seeds of inequality among humans began to quickly sprout and split into the haves and the have-nots.

At the same time, laws were formed by the individuals who controlled the wealth to control the public and soon the populations began to lose the opportunity to be noble or heroic, with everyone’s destiny and position in life laid out for them. Distractions such as literature, theatre and sports quickly followed, becoming the places where we could live out an honorable life, through someone else’s actions.  To further control the masses the elite created capital, usury, then debt, by imposing scarcity on their own populations, and any conquered ones, thus causing inequality which created poverty. To keep at least a wee bit of hope, religion was created.

Eventually the distractions and illusions became what they are today, sports heroes, movie stars, politics, and numerous economic theories that only exist on paper and which keep us focused on anything other than our own lives. Ideas such as GDP, which we base our economic worlds and societal success on, but which have nothing to do with our personal well-being or the planet’s. It operates under the illusion that unlimited growth under free market capitalism, operating on only one delicate and finite planet will work, and that a person’s well-being has all to do with material gain and how much one consumes. As it devours our social and natural environments it has us thinking that money will bring us happiness, where instead life should be doing that.

But we do not live in a world where the economy understands that there are now over seven billion people living on a single and finite planet and concerns itself with the importance of everyone getting along, the welfare of each individual, and having enough for everyone, even future generations, by caring for the earth’s resources. Instead we have an economic system, neo-liberal capitalism, which only generates extreme wealth for a very few individuals and is destroying the planets ecosystems by replacing the earth’s resources with waste, and controls the majority of the human race using nationalism, intolerance and oppression by economic means. For instance, if every country on earth were to consume resources and generate as much waste as the United States, we would need five planet earths.

Meanwhile we are extolled through the corporate government media machine that we should worry about events in far-flung places, rather than what’s happening in our own communities, ignoring the depravity within our own society by watching it happen somewhere else. More often than not, global mainstream media is not the real world; our everyday lives are not filled with horror, crime, and continuous bad news nor are they filled with the need to always exact revenge. Most all news stories are about things we cannot influence, and the daily repetition of such things we cannot do anything about, makes us passive. It is grinding us down and is undoubtedly one of the core reasons for the widespread disease of depression which is ravaging our societies. Media could and should, put life into better perspective though in many instances it is verboten to do so and now simply sticks to peddling the ideology of the corporate state.

We are further led to believe that lavish spending and waste makes one a better person somehow, to be a true human you need stuff, especially stuff you don’t need. That what one is wearing or what vehicle one drives denotes their personality and that money is everything. Even assets and debts are to be carried over, and still to be paid after we die. We are bludgeoned and brow beaten about debt and how much is owed, numbers in the billions and trillions on the national level and which we have no hope of ever relating to. On a more personal level we simply try to ignore the amount we ourselves are amassing.

We are also told that having a distinct personality is imperative to be the most powerful, invincible, admired, sexy and unique, yet our daily lives are interactive and interdependent worlds, as are most all species whether animal, bird or fish. No matter the distraction or how far one buys into it, the underlying questioning of what we are told to do, say, act and buy, goes against the reality of who we are. And it’s confusing the hell out of us.

For generations’ topics such as religion, politics, what one does for a living, inequality and sex were simply not spoken about or brought up. Climate change and the current economic crisis can also be added to this list. Yet these are all things we should be talking about, because they are the causes of the abuse we are doing to ourselves and the planet. We get upset when talking about such issues because it’s taken personally, thus we become emotional and offended. Talk about any other fundamental global issues today and people really get their hairs up and knickers in a twist, and either emotionally expounds their personal world-view at you or simply doesn’t want to talk about it and quickly changes the subject. The main reason for this is because it gets too close to the bone; we are hurt emotionally because our inaction, obedience to the system, and denial are complicit with the digression of our unequal societies and destruction of the earth’s eco-systems.

It is getting harder and harder to differentiate between truth and fiction so we interpret reality through illusion, believe what we want to believe, and are quickly rid of anything unpleasant, instead of learning to cope. Our comfort zones have been separated from reality, with the media working their best for their corporate masters, to ensure that they shall never meet. The paradox today is that people have to be far enough out of touch with reality to function and yet acknowledge reality to survive.

The separation between reality and illusion is a thin veil and is creating so many contradictions in our lives that many people today, especially in the developed countries, simply can’t cope with daily life. Each year the United States and Canada consumes more than two-thirds of the world’s pharmaceutical anti-depressants, the bulk of the global cocaine supply and have some of the highest rates of alcohol abuse in the world. Not to mention deteriorating physical and mental health. There is a reason for this.

We have become a public overwhelmed, numbed, and weary of the stories and realities of climate change, unwinnable wars, whether drugs or terrorists, and the ever worsening global economic recession and the strain it’s putting on our lives. No matter how much one becomes distracted, such issues weigh heavily upon us. For many, worrying about where the next meal will come from creates stress and worry, which affects our health, therefore also becomes one of the costs to live today.

Underlying our human madness is the reality of each day in an individual’s life and the fact that our basic, modern needs, and fundamental requirements to exist as a healthy biological species, along with, income disparity and the lowering of our morals, are all becoming more expensive and much more than we, as well as the planet, can afford.

It is estimated there are billions of people in the world living on less than $2.50 per day. Most are indeed poor, but then again there are also some peoples and places on the earth, where consumerism and capitalism haven’t become a belief system, nor has the surrounding environment been eroded or poisoned. In such places $2.50 a day is all you really need to fulfill one’s daily need for water, food and a roof over your head, with lives which are just as fulfilling, loving, rich and rewarding as anywhere else. But for much of the planet’s populations, one’s life is determined by how much money one makes and what you do with it.

Today the cost of living is based on what is called the “poverty level”, which is the minimum level deemed adequate to afford the essential resources an average human being needs to consume in one year. It is based on a human’s basic food and water requirements necessary to exist.  With food, a human’s health is determined by what’s called “body-mass index”, which is a human’s body shape based on an individual’s weight and height. The minimum “allowed” body-mass index is 16, although the more accurate and real body-fat % number is being used more often as the scale, with the highest percentages being in North America. The BMI is still used globally, with the lowest BMI scores, averaging 19, are found in many of the poorest countries, especially Eritrea, Congo, Bangladesh and Ethiopia, and Southeast Asia. The highest rates are Tonga, Micronesia and Samoa, with an average of 32. As a rule a BMI of over 25 puts one overweight.

Though there is no standard caloric intake list, a person needs a minimum of 1500-2000 calories of food per day. With the actual number of calories each individual needs depending on multiple different factors, including age, gender, height, weight, lifestyle, availability and metabolism, and that not all calories are created equal, so it depends more so on what kinds of calories you eat.

The minimum amount of water our bodies need, in a moderate climate and average activity level, is about 5 litres (1.3 gal) per day, while the minimum water needed for drinking, cooking, bathing and sanitation combined is about 50 litres (13 gal) per day, per person. In perspective, Americans and Canadians use 250-300 litres (65-78 gal) of water per day per person for drinking, cooking, bathing, flushing toilets and watering lawns. In the Netherlands, they use 104 litres (27 gal) per day, while in Gambia, in Africa, they use only 4.5 litres (1.17 gal) per day. The poverty level minimum water needs also states that every person must have safe drinking water available less than 15 minutes away. And although 70% of the earth’s surface is water, less than 2% of it is fresh water, of which only a few hundredths of a per cent is actually drinkable.

As for food and water, these minimums are scary as in many parts of the world they are still not being reached, and in fact are declining, with the supply of these basic needs being the most affected by climate change. The UN estimates that there are 925 million humans with insufficient food, 1 out of every 7 people, with over half of all the children in the world today living in poverty. Global fresh water is dwindling quickly, not so much from drinking, but from growing food, while the acidification and oxygen depletion of the earth’s oceans, lakes and rivers, drought, severe weather, glaciers disappearing and rivers drying up continue unabated.  We whine about what a litre of gasoline costs, yet are paying sometimes twice as much for the same amount of water in a plastic bottle. Heck, in Victoria we are paying fifty-cents to simply put air in our tires.

The poverty level provisions must also include proper sanitation for our biological waste, health care for serious illness, injury and pregnancy, and shelter, where fewer than four people live in each room with at the least a floor and a roof.  Next up is education, where each person is able to read and write, thus learn. Finally, the poverty level includes that everyone should have the modern essentials of having information at hand, whether in books, magazines and news sources, as well as access to services such as further education, health advice and care, legal assistance, social services, and financial services such as credit unions.

While in reality many of these minimum requirements can never be reached by someone actually living at the poverty level; with many of them slowly being erased or priced too high and out of reach for the majority of humanity.

Before we continue I would like to emphasize that I understand very well there will be a wide range of circumstances when further discussing the cost of living, and to some extent income inequality, but I’m just going for an average, ballpark figure of an average Canadian, with the odd comparison to the Americans. I’m not really comparing but generalizing, because there are so many variables, such as where one lives – city, small town or suburb. Are they male or female, single or have a large family, or two people sharing expenses and with a joint income of $40,000 and having a higher standard of living than two individuals living alone on $20,000 each, with all sorts of intangibles in between.

In Canada the after-tax poverty thresholds are $18,421 for one person, $34,829 for a family with two children. One in ten Canadians live at or below these levels; 3.2 million people, of whom 634,000 are children, with British Columbia continuing to have the highest child poverty rate in Canada. In the US the poverty level is $11,344 for one person, and $22,133 for a family with two children, with more than one per six Americans living at and far below these levels.

Such income levels have not changed much over the past 30 years, though the actual costs of living and the income of the top earners have risen dramatically. Consider that in 1982 the median income of an average Canadian was $28,000 annually after taxes, while the income for the top one per cent was $191,600 after taxes, seven times higher. Fast forward to today where our economy has grown twice as large, the richest one per cent now report a median income of $283,400, nearly 10 times higher than the median income of the other 99% of Canadians whose median income has only risen to $28,500.

Income inequality is even more disturbing in the US. In 1980 the average CEO’s annual pay was 42 times more than the average worker. By 2011, their pay was 340 times more, regardless of business performance or shareholder value.  As to income growth over the past 45 years and adjusted for inflation, 90% of Americans annual income, has risen a mere $59 per year, while the top 1% of the top 1%’s annual income has risen to $18.7 million. To put this in perspective, for each dollar that an average household’s income rises, the household incomes of the top 1% of the top 1% rises $311,233 annually.

In Canada the top 100 CEO’s earn an average of $6 million per year, while the average minimum hourly wage in Canada is nine dollars, in the US its $7.25 per hour. The lowest minimum monthly gross income in Canada, working a 40 hour work week, is $1,631 per month. To currently live in Vancouver B.C. an individual needs to earn at least $18.81 per hour and work a 40 hour week. In 2012, the average weekly wage in BC was $860.57 before taxes, with an hourly average wage of $23.53. In a nut shell, more than half of all Canadians are living on less than $25,400 per year after taxes and would need to work one month to make the same amount a top CEO makes in one hour.

Out of the pie, 51.9% of Canadians make $29,299 a year or less, 48% make more than $30,000 per year, and the final 1% makes $169,000 or more a year, with 0.1 % of these individuals making an average of $30 million a year. Breaking it down further, if you make more than $60,000 per year you are in the top 19%; above $120,000 per year you are in the top 5%. As for weekly income, the top 10%, who are mostly just the managers of the top 1%’s industries, governments, corporations and wealth, and who are really just commodities themselves, average $6,000 per week. Their bosses make about $160,000 per week.

The disappearing middle class in BC have individual earnings between $40,000 and $125,000, while in the US their middle class is determined to be those earning $36,000 to $57,657 per year. In both countries it’s becoming blatantly clear, yet readily ignored, that the bulk of the populations of both are below middle class, with a few at the very top.

The latest employment reports show that since the economic downturn in 2008, 60% of all jobs lost during the subsequent recession paid middle income wages, while 60% of jobs gained are low paying jobs in the accommodation or fast food industry. Declining traditional middle class jobs include executive assistants and secretaries, construction laborers, carpenters, bookkeepers, accountants, telephone operators, general maintenance and repairmen, and reporters and correspondents.  With the biggest drops in employment occurring in utilities, public administration and especially manufacturing. Although actual manufacturing sales are rising, the higher paying manufacturing jobs are disappearing quickly, and being replaced with low paying service jobs. Staying stagnant are jobs in business, trade, and information, culture and recreation, while rising employment opportunities are in education, health, and as previously mentioned, the fast food and service industry, which is growing four times the overall rate. People are getting jobs but staying poor, because the increasing low-wage jobs don’t pay enough to live off of.

Besides income disparity, wealth inequality is equally outrageous. The richest 300 people in the world have the same wealth as the poorest 3 billion. In Canada, the top 1% possesses more than 45% of the wealth, while eight out of every 10 working Canadian share 7% of the wealth between them.  As for who actually has the wealth, meaning who has the share of money, gold, real estate, stocks and bonds, not very many. In 2012, Canadians with more than $30 million in assets numbered only 4,922 individuals, with a combined worth of over $148 billion. In 2010 the population of Canada was 43 million people, yet only 164,000 individuals made more than $250,000, while in BC there were only 18,810 individuals making that much, and once again, possessing nearly 45% of the wealth.

In the US, the Walton’s, heirs to the monolith that is Wal-Mart, are worth a combined $110 billion, more wealth than the bottom 42% of Americans combined. If Wal-Mart was a country it would be the 26th largest economy in the world, with yearly sales exceeding $444 billion, $20 billion more than Austria’s GDP.

The problems with such growing inequality are that most of the wealthy do not even invest their wealth back into where they live; instead they move it offshore as quickly as possible. There is no trickle-down effect. Record profits in the private sector haven’t led to an increase in wages, but rather quite the opposite, less wages along with fewer jobs.

After all that, and taking a deep breath, we come back to how much does it really cost for somebody to live. In BC the average working stiffs, putting in 40 hour weeks, with no dental plan and no pension plan, other than what the Canada Pension Plan eventually pays when we are 65 years old, gross median annual incomes, range from the ticketed master carpenter making $50,070, to a construction labourer averaging $36,147, an apartment manager making $32,300, a bartender $23,198, to a waitress making $22,242, while a bookkeeper makes on average about $17.95 per hour,  a pharmacy technician, $15.91 per hour, and someone working in retail/fast food $10.25 gross per hour. Currently, the before taxes, gross median annual income in Canada is $30,800.

The poverty level mentioned earlier, supposedly is the least one needs to survive as a human being in a developed nation. In Canada, as earlier noted, it is $18,421 per year after tax, while one’s actual cost of living is determined by how much of a consumer you are and how much of the bullshit do you buy into. In Canada, in 2012, for every $100 an average Canadian family earned in disposable after-tax income they owed over $164 in market debt.  Why this is so, is in part because many of us are buying stuff we don’t need, and with stagnant wages for the past few decades the basics are costing so much more.

An example; a single male living in Victoria BC in 2012, pulling in $24,000 a year gross, whether $2000 per month salary or working 40 hour weeks for $12.50 per hour, is determined to be on the poverty level.  Off the top goes $3600 (15%) to Federal taxes, $1214 (5.06%) to Provincial taxes, $1080 (4.5%) to Canada Pension Plan, and about $360 (1.5%) for unemployment insurance. Using public transit with a bus pass costs $82 per month ($984/year) and living in a one-bedroom apartment costs an average $830 per month ($9960/year).  Cost of consumables such as food one only makes at home and personal care averages $280 per month ($3000/year). BC Medical (health care) is $55 per month ($660/year), $66.50 per month if you make over $30,000. Some sort of Life insurance, Critical Illness insurance or even savings, will cost at least $40 per month ($480/year), and that’s if you don’t smoke. Though I will not be adding such a cost to total when complete, a pack of cigarettes averages $9.30, a pack a day habit will cost you $279 per month.

Apartment insurance is about $15 per month ($180/year); the average cell phone costs are $71 per month ($852/year), though a basic land-line phone on one’s home runs about $26 per month.  Very basic cable is about $38 per month, including taxes ($456/year), while having an internet connection is about $40 per month ($480/year).  The cost of electricity for an apartment, with free hot water with heat registers, is on average $18 per month ($216/year), if it’s electric heat, $50+ per month. Entertainment is going out for a dinner for two ($50) once a month, grabbing the $10 burger and beer special once a week at the local pub, buying a bottle of cheap wine ($10), a new book ($15) and perhaps going to a movie once a month ($12), will total about $127 per month ($1524/year).

After paying these costs of living, the single person living in Victoria will be left with nothing, in fact they will be in arrears $1046, and still have to cover any clothing expenses, stamps, laundry, newspaper and occasional coffees, and emergencies. While the two week holidays one gets annually, never really includes an actual vacation. Such things as owning a car, paying for its gas, smoking, having a drug problem, eating out and being an obedient consumer is simply not possible. Though many cut corners and/or borrow to do so, a minority steal to do so. With over half of Canadians making less than $30,800 net per year, the poverty level is not so far away for the majority, and it is very true that “most everyone is a couple of paychecks away from being on the street.”

Many people whose income is $60,000 a year are also living paycheck to paycheck. The more you make, the more you spend, most times on frivolous and disposable stuff that has no actual value, and on such things as a bigger car loan or lease, a mortgage, higher credit card debt, purchasing higher end stuff and more of it, such as phones, clothing, TVs and shoes, personal loans, eating out more often, expensive holidays, TFSA’s, RRSP’s and savings, maintenance of home and a higher standard of living. It’s all relative. Though of course, no matter how much a person makes still does not guarantee them happiness.

The proverbial wrenches thrown into the cost of living are the facts of life that drop in and disrupt our lives from time to time, the stuff that happens in between paychecks. One’s mother dies on the other side of the country. Can one afford to fly there and bury her? One breaks their collarbone in an accident at home and has to go on six weeks unpaid leave, or someone has the flu and can’t afford to take the time off work. The car needs new tires, or one who has no dental insurance needs a tooth pulled, a root canal, or heaven forbid needs a crown.  It is estimated that 60% of all the people in the States who go bankrupt each year, have done so because they had a medical crisis and huge medical bills and costs.

As it is, wages have been stagnant for thirty years, which we have compensated with debt. Our society is becoming ever the more insecure, living in fear of losing one’s job, not being able to provide for family and the worry of losing one’s stuff. Stuff which we have been programmed to believe that we simply could not get by without, but which has no value whatsoever. Yet our response to the madness continues to be, think me and mine.

We have been told to do things in our lives that make us feel important, more independent, vital and valued. Interacting in the world of my daily life, I see so much of it, where people have taken what should be self confidence and empathy, and instead have created a profound sense of entitlement and a drone like stare. But no matter the cape one wears, we are all having a hard time of it mentally and emotionally. Though we try to smile and coo that everything is alright, we are actually barely putting up with the arrogance and ignorance of our fellow human beings, including ourselves.  But then this should not be surprising considering its now three generations of people, in Canada, the States, Europe, et al, who have been raised by television, and we are never wrong.  History has also proven that the worse society becomes the more delusional they become.

Ever since television, the powers that be have worked very hard at selecting for us what decisions we make. Forty years on, most of our decisions are already made for us well in advance and the income equality and wealth distribution gaps have widened to a point never seen in all of human history. Meanwhile the majority of us are finding it ever more difficult in bearing the brunt of what the cost of living today is demanding from us.

With any society truly only “three meals away from a revolution,” the trigger point for change in how our economic and social worlds operate is nearing. But when people rise up because their child is starving and they themselves have no prospect of an advancement or job, because as our population grows there will never be enough jobs for everyone, will pharmaceutical drugs and the gods of consumerism replace the most powerful drug we possess, which is hope?

Extreme wealth and social inequality is nothing new, nor is the inability to afford the cost of living. It has happened more than a few times over the course of human history. Each time there was ever worsening of physical and mental health, shorter life spans and more criminal behaviour, especially among the wealthiest, because unfortunately, when life gets hard, living wrong is easier than living right.

But when we cannot feed ourselves or get access to drinkable water anymore, enough will then be enough. And there will be change. Such crises in the past have touched off revolutions, which more often than not are led by middle class, educated leaders, doctors and teachers; though the problem with revolution has always been that they are messy and very violent affairs. For to achieve true change, the system must not only be beheaded, the base has to crushed and swept away as well. Leaving it and just getting a new head, operating within the same system, same rules and regulations or lack thereof, eventually fails as well, because the system is broke, and has never worked. At that time the step will have to be made to cross the great divide between being aware of our current dysfunction yet only standing back and pontificating about it, and start acting on the dialogue about alternatives and solutions to the problems and becoming involved in its reform. It’s why many of the earliest civilizations had laws where wealth would be distributed anew and all debt erased every seven or so years.

Today I fear that I myself am caught up in the current age of myth and capitalism and that as a people we do not have the courage to rescue ourselves from ourselves anymore. It has become too easy to shut out the madness of our corporate governments and oligarchs with sports, movie stars and reality TV. I sit here and peck away on the computer analyzing, researching and giving an opinion about problems that thousands have already and quite often have done so more eloquently and intelligently, but I feel this is all I can do. Of course it is not.

The proof in the pudding will be when enough of us scream “time out”, get up from our couches, step away from our routine distractions, put one foot in front of the other, get out onto the street and make our voices heard, and come up with options and alternatives as to how we currently operate as societies. Instead of future generations cursing our names, we should at least give them the impression that we tried the best we could, and for once stopped thinking about me, myself and I. How can we expect any hope for our children and our children’s children if we do not?

The height of ignorance would be for us to continue to operate on self-denial, excess and self-indulgence and believe it’s all about us, with no thought to our children and grandchildren and what type of world they will be allowed to grow old in. The epitome of ignorance personified is to actually think the ecosystems and weather patterns of the earth, which we have greedily altered, care if we can cope or change our ways, or not.

After forty short years, the reality being proven in most developed countries is that in general, and not through a lack of trying or working hard, but because we are operating within a flawed system and have become distracted, we won’t do better than our parents, and our children will not do better than us. Heaven help our grandchildren.

 

 

 

02/7/13

The Age of Myth – Chapter Four

Cro-Magnon, the first anatomically modern man, began to move into Europe about 40,000 years ago, with the skeletal remains of one of its population, found in the cave Pestera Cu Oase, in Romania, and radiocarbon dated to 37,800 years ago. They had broken away from the main group of Homo sapien survivors of the eruption of Mt Toba, 30,000 years previous, who had come out of the Ethiopian highlands and had replaced survivors of the earlier species, Homo erectus, throughout Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. And though they had also made their way to Australia and the Far East, the majority of the Cro-Magnon population lived around the lakes of the Mediterranean basin, which was not a sea yet, North Africa, the Canary Islands, and the Eastern Mediterranean. They had become highly specialized hunters and gatherers and had developed speech, and soon, their own languages, while the environment of wherever they had ended up on the planet would dictate the race of human they would become, with random mutations in our DNA providing the basis of variation.

Moving north Cro-Magnon began to run into the Neanderthal, who would eventually be pushed to the edge of their world, with the last few Neanderthal tribes’ remnants found in Western Spain and Gibraltar. Before Cro-Magnon, the Neanderthal population was perhaps 15,000 to 20,000 individuals, living between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural Mountains and though the Neanderthal species would perish, it was not their complete extinction, for many were undoubtedly assimilated into the newer species. Some theories suggest the contributing factor in the Neanderthals demise was simply, “when limitless imagination replaced robust physiques.”

Just recently, Swedish archeological geneticist Svante Paabo completed mapping the DNA of the Neanderthal and found that many people today, except for most all African descendents, have about 3 to 5 per cent of their DNA in common with Neanderthals. Interestingly, but then considering the harsh environment in which the Neanderthal lived, the genes we share with them are all in the parts that make up our immune system.

With the demise of Neanderthal, the Upper Palaeolithic period (40,000 to 10,000 years ago) began and represented a gigantic step forward in our species consciousness and abilities.

Illustration by Zdenek Burian Early modern-humanCro-Magnons were taller than other Homo sapiens and the earlier species, with a more erect posture, prominent nose and chin, lower brow ridges and unlike the Neanderthal and Erectus’ backward sloping skulls, had a rounder skull, with a more vertical forehead. Thus a bigger brain, which was crucial, considering being stupid usually got you killed, while ingenuity and intellect was needed for survival. And with a higher forehead, more muscles formed in the face, with more control of eyebrows and forehead skin, which aided in communication.

They wore clothes of softened leather sewn with bone needles and thread from an animal’s gut and wore lots of necklaces, bracelets, and amulets made from shells, flowers, teeth, and bones. Their quilts were animal pelts and they often lived in pit-huts, similar to North American natives’ tepees. During the winters they would live in semi-permanent settlements, usually in narrow valley bottoms or caves, while over the summers, and using lightweight, portable tents, they would follow the herds of their prey. Their campsites contained oil lamps and hearths that were very complex in themselves, with much forethought made every time they camped. For instance, each tent would typically face the east, to catch the morning sun’s warmth. They had developed many tools which could work bone, antler and hides. They had darts, harpoons, fish hooks, rope, eyed needles, and hunted with spears and javelins. Unable to store or keep food they were typical hunters and gatherers, constantly on the move.

Over time, family size groups of these earliest modern humans, perhaps ten to twelve individuals, would grow to thirty to forty people. With the group replenished most often with arriving males from other tribes. Eventually leaders would arise within these larger groups and were either dominant males and females or elders who held wisdom in the form of the collective memories of the group. Their basic, isolated way of primitive life began to change and would evolve into the hierarchy system, and because the populations of many areas had grown, for the first time groups started coming into closer contact with each other, intruding on each other. But at the same time the increased interaction between groups also meant the sharing of ideas and exchange of raw materials.

A leader and other strong members of the group would become the most active in protecting their particular group, as well as settling any squabbles within their own group and between others. This is the time many believe early man began to fight each other. Mostly for two reasons, to establish dominance in a group or to establish territorial rights over a particular piece of ground. But if fighting ever did break out, very rarely did anyone die.

As to the individuals with psychopathic natures, which does not necessarily mean violent, but individuals who would attempt to steal, cheat or bully were suppressed by a consensus process amongst the tribe, which had the power to ostracize, banish or even kill. Any psychotic behaviour had to be controlled, because to survive, the cohesion and stability of the group needed cooperation amongst its members to exist. Only after farming was developed, thousands of years later, would psychopaths no longer be held in check and would rise in power, right up to the present day.

Though over time the whole life of a tribe would revolve around its leader, these earlier humans had become more co-operative hunters, and the leaders of these ever growing groups found out that often times dominant authority had to be curtailed somewhat to retain the loyalty of the group. Each member was just as strong as the next, with the dumb, weak and frail rarely surviving into adulthood. Even the children, who of course were not passively entertained by video games, television, their phone and movies, would spend their waking hours actively doing something, such as talking, playing, learning to hunt, and helping out in gathering. Constant interaction with nature and each other, they had much more childhood stimulation and activity than most children today, which promoted mental development, confidence and better health.

Having to get along with more and more people within the group, as well as with other groups, a leader could not be feared so much anymore and instead, had to get everyone on his or her side by getting them to want to help him or her. Eventually as the populations grew, with everyone having their say, leaders had to become just another member of the group, because they could no longer command unquestioning support, obedience and/or influence. But with the groups growing into ever larger populations there was still needed an all powerful figure who could keep the group under control and over time there came the invention of a god.

Early modern man did not fear nature or feel helpless against it, but instead made the forces of nature into things with whom they could associate with and even regard as equal. They all thought very independently and yet were never intimidated by each other’s intellect, and did not feel submissive to anyone or anything. There were few illusions and most all instinctual impulses they would have, never disregarded the relationship of any other individual to them. These early peoples focussed more on living in equilibrium with their environment. Assured that their existence in the world was the same in the past, and would be unchanged in the future.

Symbolic behaviour would become ever the more prominent and was linked to animism, humanity’s oldest belief system, the belief that natural objects were conscious forms of life, and that they affect humanity. They viewed the forests, mountains, oceans, even the wind, as spiritual forces, and displayed a reverence for the natural environment. They believed a soul or spirit existed in every object, living, as well as inanimate and that in a future state, an object’s soul exists as part of an immaterial and universal soul. These early beliefs were based on instinct, emotion and intuition. Most tribal religions, even today, are different in form and ritual, but all seek to explain the mystery of life by insisting that nature is animated by spirits. Though these early peoples began to have supernatural beliefs, they did not serve to justify any central authority, transfer of wealth or maintain peace between unrelated individuals. Nature and humans were to be respected equally and would live in complete harmony with one another. Humans at this time did not feel separate from nature that belief would arise later with the first civilizations.

But the ego was rapidly developing, along with language, the first signs of abstract thought, finely made tools, the concept of fishing, and the understanding of bartering. Anthropologists, through ethnographic research studies of hunter-gatherer societies suggest that with some tribes, individual status was based on how generous a person was who has acquired wealth, while other groups remained egalitarian and non-hierarchical societies, sharing their food and materials. Art and jewellery also became prevalent, as did game playing, music and ceremonies for their dearly departed.

Besides the development of more complex hunting strategies, sophisticated planning, and social structure, certain aspects of a human’s life became more sacred, such as births, deaths and the passage to adulthood. Symbols and rituals became more elaborate. And as projectile points, engraving tools, knife blades and drilling tools evolved, so did art, with the first signs of art appearing in fossil records, 50,000 years ago, in Africa. The earliest known cave paintings, found in France, are dated 34,000 years ago and picture rhino, bison and horses, done in black charcoal and red ochre. A lion-headed figurine carved out of a mammoth tusk found in Germany, is from the same time. In Czechoslovakia, fired clay figurines and woven baskets have been found dating back 27,000 years, and proving music was also evolving, a bird-bone flute found in France is 23,000 years old.

These early peoples lived in an age with no reason, and relied on their feelings to make any decisions. With much of what they thought about each day driven by their emotions. Any problems were dealt with instinctively, thus quickly. Other problems would evolve when, much later, humans would first start experiencing reason. Reason was still thousands of years in the future and really did not last very long when it did arrive, since today we have already abandoned it and replaced it with ideology. Besides, when we cut off our feelings and ignore our gut feelings, only then does decision making become difficult. And as we have now come to realize, life is all about decision making, in fact, to somewhat prove the point, though our brains only makes up about 2 per cent of our body weight, the electrochemistry within it, when working hard on making a decision, will burn up a fifth of the food and oxygen we consume.

What was also evolving was our social behaviour. Most humans were still intimately connected to the rhythms and signals of the natural world and lived and responded instinctively. Life was still a routine of searching for food, getting along with our band members and accepting levels of power to the physically stronger, the more attuned or the group as a whole. Whatever accepted hierarchy, the constant tragedies, challenges, and difficulties of daily life were without reflection. With no ego, there was no jealousy or greed, or temper tantrum because something didn’t go one’s way. But over the next hundreds of millennia, certain individuals began to grow restless with the challenging daily routines of life. When someone died, they began to ask why and then wonder how the death could be avoided in the future. More and more individuals began stepping back from their automatic responses and started examining the full scope of existence and looking at the big picture. Aware that life endured through cycles of the sun, moon, and seasons, lifestyle, food sharing, division of labour, and cooperation became more important to one’s daily life. Where once the tribes were relaxed in their daily lives and everyone knew their place, they began to be afflicted with the concept, which we are still trying to figure out today, of simply how to get along with our neighbours. It was the birth of self awareness, and lead humans to understand the important need, not only of physical survival, but of the need for psychological survival as well. To be understood, affirmed, validated and appreciated within social worlds which would became incredible more complex.

As mentioned earlier, the first signs of art appear in fossil records dated 50,000 years ago, in Africa. By 30,000 years ago, when art was becoming more prolific and we began to decorate things more, there was the rather sudden appearance of a symbol set painted on the cave walls throughout Europe. Whether it was developed somewhere else or was a local phenomenon but used materials that did not survive over the millennia, or we simple haven’t found yet, we do not know.

Anthropologist Genevieve von Petzinger has found that, while surviving examples of the earliest art was of animal and human imagery, by 30,000 years ago a core set of 19 symbols, with distinct shapes began to appear in Europe and eventually outnumber any imagery of either animals or humans. These geometric signs would be repeated over the next 20,000 years, with the same symbols moving across the earth with the expansion of humans. The same symbols would also be found in Australia, first inhabited by humans 50,000 years ago. Over the next millennia these original symbols would rise to 26 distinct shapes, the same as the English alphabet.

The numerous evidences of fertility figurines, cave painting and petro-glyphs shows the importance symbolism became in human development, especially with language and writing. Symbolism allows the mind to see intuitively – to see what is not directly visible in the material world. It is what engages the right side of the human brain, while the left side of our brains is bound by rational or linear thought, like language and writing. And this is why the first written languages were developed out of hieroglyphs, which is basically art that is inseparable from the script that goes along with it.

No matter where hieroglyphs have been found, they are all very similar, even the Egyptian and Mayan hieroglyphs in particular, though separated by an ocean. In most of these places the script was used for inscriptions covering tombs, temples, obelisks, and sculpture, then would eventually be written on papyrus, bark, or paper, for ritual and sacred text. The first written language would be developed by the Sumerians, more than 5,000 years ago, to keep track of goods and materials.

These Middle Eastern and Egyptian scripts were eventually replaced with a new form of hieroglyphs, known as “popular script.” The Phoenicians would then spread these first written languages, which included signs for the consonants, all over the Mediterranean, where they would eventually be adopted by the Greeks and Romans. Over the next couple of centuries, the script would evolve with Greek letters to write the Egyptian language, and then during the Roman era, a Greek-based alphabet called “Coptic” appeared, and would become the dominant alphabet of Europe. Though hieroglyphs would remain the most widely used scripts until 392 A.D., at which time the Holy Roman Church would ban all non-Christian worship, and hieroglyphs immediately began to disappear.

The oldest language known is the Khoisan, in Southeast Africa, which is made up of clicking sounds, and is probably more than 50,000 years old. Up to this day the Niger-Congo region has more than fourteen hundred languages, 25% of the languages in the entire world. Cautious estimates suggest that more than 10,000 languages eventually existed globally. While over half of the six thousand languages currently spoken, are unlikely to survive the next 100 years. The Pueblo natives of North America believe different languages were created “so it wouldn’t be easy for humans to quarrel.”

The Upper Palaeolithic period also represents the birth of modern man, and specifically his mind. Physically, a Cro-Magnon standing in a crowd today and dressed, you would be hard pressed to pick them out. Same build, same mind, which is why symbolism was as important then as it still is today. Because, though we hate to admit it, humans are a biological species, being operated by a large brain, which has separate right and left hemispheres in the cerebral cortex, which we call today, right brain and left brain. We have possessed such a brain for over 40,000 years, yet today we apparently use only about 10% of our brains. As to the other 90%, is it that we have forgotten how to access it or is it the parts we haven’t yet reached?

In fact, the biochemical processes of the mind are also closely linked to our health, emotionally and physically. Mentioned in both, Eastern philosophy and the Old Testament, is how important the brain is to our immune system, and that the spleen, thymus, bone marrow, glands, liver, lungs, kidney, and heart are all connected, with much control of the brain resting with the organs. It is why there are intense, emotional and spiritual aspects of serious illnesses, and why if you grow up believing showing emotion is a sign of weakness you are sick a lot and have a shorter lifespan. It shows that besides the importance of being honest with others, we must also be honest with how we feel ourselves.

The right brain is totally in the present, and is voiceless, speaking through symbolism, instinct, and dreams. It deals with spatial and abstract relationships, and the subconscious. It cares about compassion, integrity context, peace, love and being supportive. It focuses on our similarities and the big picture that all humans are connected. While the left brain talks a lot, and which is what we have become.

We mange from the left, because it is logical, thinks linearly and literally, and is where our intelligence lies. It judges, punishes and deceives, living in the past and the present. It focuses on our differences and is critical of those unlike ourselves, thus is the root of bigotry, prejudice, and fear or hate of the unfamiliar. Today it keeps us busy in our day to day lives, yet no matter what awards of our society it achieves, it never makes anyone truly happy or satisfied. It loves routine and running on automatic, dreading having to shift gears. The left brain defines our boundaries of who we are and understands language but has a problem with its limitations, compared to the gut feelings and intuition of the right, which remember has no voice. And this is the trouble we find ourselves in today, because the reality of life is it is not just logical, it is also emotional, with symbols, words, texting and tweeting, too often holding us back in describing what we should instead be sensing and feeling.

The peoples of the Upper Palaeolithic period minds evolved gradually as did all things human, especially their social worlds and day to day living, though it was undoubtedly hardly felt by each generation, for it was a naturally slow process. Unlike today where instead of natural progressions lasting thousands of years, they now speed by seemingly on a weekly basis. It’s no wonder why mental illness has become the number one affliction of our species, with day to day living becoming all about simply being a good consumer and how to afford it, and that we are much more than just a biological species. Far from it we boast, unbelieving.

However, genetics, biochemistry, and molecular biology have taught us that organisms, which we are one, do not and cannot evolve because they need or want to, that natural selection cannot create mutants to serve its purposes, and that inheritable variation is random, with any genetic variation arising or not arising strictly by chance. Before the advent of modern transportation, not so long ago, human populations were scattered all over the planet and had very little contact with each other, thus we rarely exchanged genes. Over the course of human history, through random changes in the genome and natural selection, our species has developed many different traits, such as skin color, eye shape and immune systems. And even though such genetic diversity differentiates each individual from every other person in the world, most of our genes are not segregated among the traditional races of Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Negroid. Thus our shared genetic heritage unites us all as one species.

Meanwhile, humanity slowly made their way through their ever evolving lives, still believing they were a part of nature, which genetics proves they were, and not above it as we believe we are. While at the same time the earth was also naturally progressing and forever changing, not caring about whom or what lives on its mantel.

After taking tens of thousands of years to cool down, peak glaciations of the last great ice age was reached about 18,000 years ago. Much of Europe, Asia – down to the Himalayans, and North America –  down to approximately the mid point of America, was covered in glaciers more than 3 km high, while Antarctica had crept northward and brushed upon South America. The temperatures near the ice sheets had fallen by at least 15.5 degrees C (60 F) and between 21 and 27 C (36 – 48F) in the tropics. The sea levels had dropped to 130 m (425 ft) below modern levels, exposing thousands upon thousands of square miles of the continental shelves of all the continents. In some areas these gently sloping gradients would have had our present shorelines, dozens of miles out to sea, while the edges of these shelves drop off very quickly, in fact the edges of the continental shelves are the highest and most extensive escarpments known on earth, with their average drop being 3657 m (12,000 ft) and in some cases, 9140 m (30,000 ft), straight down. The Bering Sea was a dry land, the Mediterranean’s basin a group of lakes, the English Channel a vast dry valley, and the Indonesian Galapagos united in one vast land of mountains and valleys. Today’s Venice, Italy, was about 200 miles from the nearest shoreline, while the Atlantic shoreline of North America was at least 60 miles to the east of where it presently is today. But then the glaciers began to retreat, the ice began to melt and the temperatures began to climb.

According to the latest research, and the most distinguished geneticist, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, human gene frequencies; the gradual change of a character or phenotype in a species over a particular geographical area, show that there were three areas of human expansion during the Upper Palaeolithic era. One was centered on the Sea of Japan and its archipelagos and expanded out along the shorelines, and by boat to the western coast of North America, starting from the Solomon Island group, then out over the Pacific Islands. Eventually becoming the ancestors of many west coast North American native peoples, most notably the Haida Gweii. They also migrated back into Southeast Asia.

Another group was centered over Northern Eurasia and Siberia. This group migrated south and to the east over the Bering land bridge into North America. They would be the ancestors of the Clovis and all the other peoples who would eventually inhabit North and South America.

The third expansion came out of Arabia and the Middle East area and moved into Europe, the Mediterranean and northeast Africa. There is debate over whether Cro-Magnon had expanded along the ice age shoreline of Europe, Greenland and then south along the North American east coast.

Many of these migrations would soon cease though as the ice continued to melt, and would have left many groups of peoples isolated. Within 5,000 years after peak glaciations the world’s sea levels rose 20 m (66ft). The great glacial lakes in North America, which were once massive sheets of ice, began to flood off the continent and about 11,500 years ago, according to fossil remains of coral beds, there was an abrupt rise in sea levels of another 24 m (79 ft) and once again the earth’s surface was changed, and all the species upon its surface would have to adapt along with it to survive, with many sites of human habitat flooded over, as the Mediterranean continued to fill and the shorelines of most of the continents were disappearing beneath the water. More and more, groups of people had to move to higher ground, leaving behind what culture they did have, to the rising seas. Though these transitions often times took generations, in the northern regions, changes were more drastic, in that from a glacial environment it was becoming forest, the land being exposed by the retreating glaciers would have been compressed flat by the immense weight of the ice as it slowly crept northward, and had ripped out huge gouges in the earth, which today, are the fjords of northern Europe, Hudsons Bay and North America The ice melting also would have exposed seasonal rivers and lakes, with great forests arising over the now barren lands. By 13,000 years ago the tundra-glacial hunters were being replaced by Mesolithic forest and coastal hunters and gatherers. And with new technologies such as the bow and arrow, they began to devastate any big game still remaining.

In North America much of the north and central regions became grass land. And with a north-south corridor opening up through the melting ice sheets, and the Bering land bridge slowly disappearing, another wave of peoples began to fan out over the continent. They would become known as the Clovis people.

The North American natives, the Northern Paiute, of present day California, Nevada, and Oregon have an interesting legend, about their ancestors who had come from the north, “Ice had formed ahead of them, and it reached all the way to the sky. The people could not cross it . . .  A Raven flew up and struck the ice and cracked it. Coyote said, “These small people can’t get across the ice.”  Another Raven flew up again and cracked the ice again. Coyote said, “Try again. Try again.” Raven flew up again, broke the ice, and the people ran across.

The first wave of humans had migrated down the western coastline earlier, as far south as Santa Rosa Island, off the Californian coast. The bones and remains of “Arlington Springs Man” were found there, and are dated to 13,000 years ago. At peak glaciations 18,000 years ago, the four Channel Islands, that lay up to 26m (42km) off the state of California was one big island called Santa Rosae, and was only five miles off the coast, not so isolated as they are today, separately. The earliest documented settlement on the Queen Charlotte Islands of Canada’s west coast, has been found to have been used more than 11,000 years ago. Coinciding with sites found on the east coast of North America dated to about the same time.

Though they were not the first, nor the last humans to reach North America, the Clovis people thrived from about 14,000 years ago. North America before this time was much the same as Africa as far as mega-fauna (large mammals) goes, with many species. From herds of mammoths and horses, to lions, cheetahs, camels, and great grand sloths, North American Llamas, musk ox, giant beaver, short-faced bears (bigger than grizzlies), American mastodon, giant bison, and saber-tooth tigers roamed the landscape. But after peak glaciations many of the bigger mammals weighing more than 40kg (88 lbs) began to die out. Though the ice age itself was the cause of thousands of extinctions of creatures, humans entering the scene would have a profound impact on these animals.

Over the last 50,000 years, thirty-three of the largest mammals in North America have become extinct. Many of these species, as well as the Clovis peoples themselves, would soon disappear and become extinct 12,900 years ago. Some scientific evidence has suggested that a swarm of comets roared through the atmosphere at that time and broke up into hundreds of fragments, hitting North America like the pellets out of a sawed-off shotgun. The effect on the climate was sudden, as a huge dust cloud expanded outwards. In less than two years the temperature dropped -7 C (18 F). And within a couple of a hundred years after the devastation from the initial impact, changes in the environment and the hunting capabilities of the Clovis people, fifteen species of the largest mammals could not adapt or survive, and soon went the way of the dinosaur, and were no more.

More recent and perhaps more accurate data suggests that indeed the earth cooled at this time in what has been named the Younger Dryas, though it was not due to a meteorite but actually a cooling period caused by an abrupt change in the complex of the global climate. The same thing was happening in Europe and by 15,000 years ago the woolly mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, European Hippo, Irish elk, cave lion, European Jaguar, cave bear, hyena, steppe bison and the interesting elasmotherium, which were similar to a Rhino but with longer legs, all became extinct. The elasmotherium 2 m (6 ft) high and over 6 m (20ft) long and upwards of five tonnes, had a single two meters long horn, was a fast runner and had teeth similar to a horse. But soon the hunting prowess of humans alone decimated most all these animals and with most of the larger game gone, smaller forest animals, such as deer would replace them.

Meanwhile the Indonesian landmass was becoming a group of separate islands once more, with New Guinea even more isolated, and the Australian continent was turning into a desert, with most all of the big game once there already driven to extinction 20,000 – 30,000 years previously by the first archaic inhabitants. The descendants of these first inhabitants of Australia would find themselves ever more isolated in a barren land, nearly devoid of animal life.

The people of the Japanese archipelago would become perhaps the first sedentary people in the world, with the Jomon period starting at least 16,000 years ago. They seemed to have been very skilled coastal and deep water fishermen. Pottery found in Japanese archaeology sites have been dated to about 15,000 years ago. There are theories that these seafaring people had made their way around and along the edge of the glaciers that protruded down from the Bering land bridge, before it had melted back northwards, and had extensively explored down the west coast of the North American continent.

All this expansion of populations of humans covering the earth’s landmasses would have a profound effect on the future of all living things. Population would become an issue, as well as the un-evolving needs of food and water, and the new primary quandary of our species, how do we get along.

 

 

Image – An artist’s conception of an early modern human. Credit: Illustration by Zdenek Burian.

http://www.stoneageinstitute.org/

 

 

12/2/12

The Age of Myth – Chapter Three

In review, since discussing the development of language, speech and social progress waylaid the timeline of the evolution of humans somewhat, hundreds of thousands of years before such things as Homo sapiens, Homo erectus had gradually made their way up the Great Rift Valley and out of Africa. Around 400,000 years ago they would be joined by another group of humanoids slowly making their way out of Africa, Homo neanderthalensis, who instead of spreading out through the Middle East and Southeast Asia as Erectus had done, the Neanderthal would make their way their more northwards, in the direction of North Africa, Europe and central Asia.

The Neanderthal’s adaptations were a low brow skull, which was much larger than Homo erectus, and were slightly taller, shorter limbed, barrel-chested, strong, thick bodied and possessing incredible endurance. The reasons for such adaptations were because the Neanderthal became a cold-adapted people, surviving, often times, in a harsh and brutal environment upon an extremely cold landscape.

With no material comforts to speak of, they travelled in small bands of perhaps a dozen in number and were scavengers, hunters and gatherers. And though early humanoids are deemed by our present society as dim-witted cavemen, the realities of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle is the punishment for stupidity was more often than not death.

With the land used jointly with other bands, they never really had any permanent place of residence and would move about seasonally. There was no economic specialization except by age and sex for everyone had to help out and forage for food. They survived with no laws, police or treaties to resolve conflict, were egalitarian, with no formalized or hereditary leadership and no distinction of a lower or upper class. Leadership was informal, based on character, personality, strength, intelligence and hunting skills. Indeed they fought, but there was no such thing as war. If fighting ever did break out, very rarely did anyone die. It was all about showing threat signals like posturing, yelling, and basically creating a scene, much like most all other animals, and as soon as the enemy has been subdued or has walked away it ceases to be a threat.

Considering the dangerous world in which early species of humans lived in, their social world existed entirely on the relationships within their family, indeed most all small bands of early humans would only encounter perhaps a couple dozen or less fellow humans over their entire lifetimes, with each band living in solitude for sometimes hundreds of generations. And though they had no slavery, luxury goods, architecture, nor real language, they were highly resourceful, organized, social and intelligent humans. For indeed what has truly driven human, and primate, brain evolution more than other norms is the complexity of our social world. It still does, though today at a much quicker pace than the normal rate of evolution of our social worlds, which was tens of thousands of years.

Tens of thousands of years, time which is hard to fathom and incomprehensible in its vastness. Especially to us today when we think we have advanced, and evolved, so incredibly much in the past 100 years. There are many I’m sure who believe they and their world around them have advanced and evolved in leaps and bounds just in their own generation, on many levels perhaps. But then there are also many humans today still living in hunger and a dirt shack or cave, if they are lucky. It is hard to get perspective when talking about eons of years, especially when a human generation, the average period between the birth of parents and the birth of their offspring, is about 35 years. So to further confuse, ten thousand years represents over 285 generations.

Though having no formal speech yet, the Neanderthal communicated using eye contact, body language, tone and other forms of non verbal communication, and most specifically and important to their survival, by being intuitive and acting by instinct. They might have been able to sense the energy levels of all living things for all we know. Perhaps squat in the forest or upon the tundra and sense things on the wind, listening for a distant sound, smelling the air, the feel of the ground, looking up and studying the sky, clouds, and the position of the sun and moon, noting the behaviour of their fellow humans and the animals around them, sensing the differences and changes in the earth’s energy levels and of each other. Which we can still do today, but such senses are now controlled by others, numbed and dumbed down, or taught to be ignored and not trusted.

But even with such senses, life was still very brutal. Most all Neanderthals never made it past thirty years of age. They hunted large, dangerous animals so they had to work as a group and have a plan, especially since this was before the bow and arrow, and since they had not yet grasped the concept of projectiles, thrusting was the norm, not throwing. Their injuries seem to point this out, with most being to their arms, torso and head, because they had to get up real close to their prey en mass and start stabbing. Four out of every six Neanderthal skeletons found show many of the bones deformed by disease and injury, and perhaps exhibiting that the Neanderthal possessed empathy, many of the skeletons found had injuries that showed signs of healing, which means the lame and crippled would have had to have been taken care of, fed, protected and helped to move by others. They also gave special treatment to their dead in their burial, with the earliest known burial sites dating back 100,000 years.

About 170,000 years ago, anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens would begin to drift out of Ethiopia. With a straighter forehead and smaller brow ridges than Neanderthal, they were equally robust, strong, solid and slightly taller, with the oldest fossils of anatomically modern humans found in Ethiopia and dated from 196,000 years ago. Homo sapiens would slowly spread out and as they migrated out of Africa, like all the others before them they would encounter previous human species and rather than destroying them into extinction, most times they were simply assimilated into the newer species.

The warmest time before the last ice age was 125,000 years ago and is known as the Marine Isotope Stage 6.  The planet was covered with coniferous, temperate, deciduous, and rain forests, but also, especially in Africa, much larger deserts. The sea levels were 6-9 m (20-30 ft) higher than modern times while the world’s conditions had begun to deteriorate. Much the land became uninhabitable, forcing the humanoid species still in Africa to migrate. The Neanderthal would settle in Central Asia and Europe, the Archaic Homo sapiens and remaining Homo erectus in Asia, around 90,000 years ago, and after taking over 35,000 years to accomplish it, Homo sapiens sapiens would also finally make their way out of Africa. They would move into the Nile valley, Sinai and the Middle East, with Homo sapiens fossils found in the Middle East and dated from 92,000 years ago.

Ninety thousand years ago the planet began to cool and over the next thousands of years, with the temperature continually dropping and the environment changing, the evolvement of humans continued its snail’s pace advancement. As with social progress, most evolutionary advancements took tens, and in many cases hundreds of thousands of years. The planet Earth also continued to evolve and change, though it had not a care in the world for social progress, the life forms living on its surface or their feelings. And as it often happens, nature makes itself known in not as so subtle means but with changes that are more dramatic, instant, and many times, having a much more profound effect on all things on its surface than anything we humans could ever come up with, though today that could be debated.

According to a theory proposed in 1998 by Stanley H. Ambrose of the University of Illinois, and which today is a much respected explanation for many of the paradoxes of the evolvement of all living things, the super-volcanic eruption 71,000 years ago of Mount Toba, in present day Sumatra, Indonesia, would alter the dynamics of human evolution drastically.

Mount Toba is accepted today as being the earth’s largest volcanic eruption. For context, when Krakatoa, also in Indonesia, erupted in 1883, 11,000-12,000 people were killed instantly; eventually an estimated 36,417 people would also die. With an ash cloud covering about 200 cubic kilometres, the explosion immediately destroyed over two-thirds of Krakatoa Island, sent out an enormous tsunami, and caused the worst global famine of the 19th century.

Sixty-eight years earlier in 1815, and also in the Indonesian archipelago, Mount Tambora exploded with four times the energy of the eruption of Krakatoa. Its explosion could be heard over 2600 km (1600 miles) away. If it had erupted in Vancouver, British Columbia it would have been heard in Mexico. Killing 71,000 people, Tambora is the deadliest volcano to date. A ring of smoke and ash 600 km (370 miles) outwards from the mountain’s summit cloaked the land in total darkness for over two days. The pyroclastic flows travelled 20 km (12 mi). The eruption column reached the stratosphere. Thick ash fell for a couple of weeks while the finer ash stayed in the atmosphere from a few months up to a few years. Before the explosion, Mount Tambora was approximately 4,300 m (14,100 ft) high, after the explosion it was only 2,851 m (9,354 ft) high. Tambora is the largest observed eruption in recorded history.

About 70,000 years before Tambora, Mount Toba erupted, instantly hurling up a sulphuric ash cloud which covered at least 800 cubic kilometres (500 cubic miles). It spread northwest across India blanketing some places by as much as 6m (18ft) deep, and because its location was only two degrees north of the equator; it would have made the dispersion more global. For an eruption’s plume to reach the stratosphere and blanket the entire world with its ash, it would have to be at least 10 km (6 mi) to 50 km (30 mi) high. Mount Toba’s plume reached twice this height. A highly reflective sulphuric acid haze enveloped the earth for six years and a volcanic winter descended over the earth. Sea temperatures cooled, with the global temperature dropping by at least 6C (9F) in the first few years. This cooling period lasted for perhaps a thousand years, with the temperatures colder than even at the peak of the next ice age that was to follow. It likely caused the complete deforestation of SE Asia. How much of Mount Toba disappeared in the explosion? Mount Toba is now called Lake Toba, 100 km (62 mi) long and 30 km (18 mi) wide, 505 m (1666 ft) deep at its deepest and at a surface elevation of 900 m (2953 ft), it is the largest volcanic lake in the world.

The populations of Europe and Northern China were nearly completely eliminated. It is estimated that the planet lost 60-75% of its populations, with the extinction of all human species except for Neanderthal and Homo sapiens. Survivors found relatively safe havens in isolated pockets, mostly in tropical, equatorial Africa and Northern Europe. The human species, as well as many other species of animals, were decimated. Supported theory and genetic evidence suggests that only perhaps 10,000 adult humans survived, maybe less; this is an estimate of ancestors, not of total human population. Isolated human populations that eventually died out without descendants may have also existed in numbers but cannot be estimated by geneticists. Wherever on the planet early humans and other animals lived dictated if they would perish or survive, and rather quickly humanity was thrown into a population bottleneck, which is perhaps the reason people look so different today. A population bottleneck is when a large population is broken up into smaller groups, and causes a “founder effect”, where small, new populations begin to appear and through genetic drift, inbreeding, and local adaptations produces rapid changes to that group’s gene pool, creating similarities only amongst that particular group, with low genetic variation. This is followed by an eventual rapid population increase, innovation, progress and migration. Genetic evidence suggests that all humans alive today, despite apparent variety, are descended from these small populations that survived the eruption of Mount Toba, estimated to be anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 breeding pairs of humans.

As genetic studies have proven, all humans today are descendants of a woman in SE Africa, called Mitochondrial Eve, around 140,000 years ago; mitochondrial DNA is inherited only from one’s mother, with Y-chromosomal Adam, (from one’s father), added to the gene pool about 60,000 years ago. This can be seen in the native population of North America, in that of all the thousands of humans that had migrated there more than 15,000 years ago, only 72 descendants’ lineage has moved on into modern times.

As with all biological bottlenecks, the remaining, separated and isolated group’s development would bring about significant changes which enhanced human fitness, the ability to survive and reproduce. The survivors of Mount Toba’s eruption, once the climate and other factors permitted, began to fan out from Africa and elsewhere. Travelling in small groups they became ever more isolated from one another and would evolve separately. Some would cross the Red Sea, which was not much of a sea at the time, into the near-East, and from there moving along the exposed areas of the continental shelves. With an ice age underway glaciers had formed, crushing the forests and all that lay before them as they slowly crept along. While both, the temperature and the sea levels continued to drop. Obstacles such as the Mediterranean Sea and the English Channel would be easier to cross because they were valleys, with perhaps a river running through them and scattered lakes strewn about the valley floor, same for the Black Sea.

By 65,000 years ago the glaciers had covered about 17 million square miles, with the polar ice caps expanding over the globe, covering much of present day Europe, Britain, Canada, and parts of Asia, including the Himalayas. By 60,000 years ago bands of humans had made their way along the shorelines of Arabia, India and South-East Asia and by 40,000 years ago, some of them had made their way to Australia, others into North-East Asia and China. With Australia and New Guinea always having been isolated by water, even during an ice age, evidence suggests early Australoids were the first to develop some form of boat building.

By the time before or after peak glaciations of the last ice age, 18,000 years ago, other groups had finally made their way into the American continents, and as the ice melted would become separated from the main race and develop in geographical isolation as well, becoming American Indians. These groups of people would eventually spread southward to South America reaching the last place on the planet to be colonized by humans, Cape Horn, around 8,000 years ago.

When the first explorers reached this most southerly point of South America and the islands of Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, which is separated from the continent by the Strait of Magellan, they were shocked to find that there were four separate peoples that inhabited these islands and that each group looked different from one another and that they spoke two different languages. It is still a mystery how these original peoples had got there, and from where.

Besides the original Negroid race of human species, the people that had made their way to the north would become the Caucasoid and the ones who ventured into Asia would become the Mongoloid. By 45,000 years ago these three races could be defined as the main races of humans and would attain nearly complete specialization in their respective environments. The early inhabitants of Australia had developed from an earlier, less developed race in isolation from this specialization of the main races and became the Australoids. Thus, from human variation through physical adaptation to their climatic conditions, the races of mankind would form.

In the northern regions, with less and weaker sunlight, humans would eventually become more pale, though the actual process would take about 20,000 years. Our biological body takes vitamin D from the sun’s energy to aid in the proper growth of bones. Living in the northern latitudes where there is less sunshine the skin has to lighten to let more sunshine through. Just like people in equatorial latitudes who get sunshine nearly all the time and whose bodies, needing protection from UV rays, secrete melanin, the body’s natural sun screen, and which we all have, into the skin to darken it. The differences between the races are very much “skin deep”, with the most recent adaptations to our species occurring about 20,000 years ago, and include the parts of us that interact with the world around us; skin colour, immune system, and metabolic changes due to the digestion of unique foods, amongst each race. And because we are one species, originally evolving in Africa, this ensured that racial and ethnic groups were and are biologically equivalent, no matter where they ended up on the planet.

Human genetics prove that any racial superiority is a myth, because intelligence is not a single trait; it’s a huge entourage of abilities. Each race has an ancestral environment that favoured a different set of talents, with each race best adapted to their unique environment. We are all fundamentally different, thank god, and regardless of where one is born, each and all individuals are deserving of the same rights and opportunities. Every one of us brings different strengths and talents to the table, and this is why the most democratic, invigorating, and creative places on the planet are multi-racial cultures.

Some 40,000 years ago, a more complex human culture had spread and sustained itself in Africa, then Europe and Western Asia, and by 30,000 years ago social change had reached south east Asia and Australia. It was the dawn of consciousness, with modern human behaviour slowly emerging, in different regions at different times. Besides changes in human behaviour within a more complex culture, one of the more significant things to alter human history also emerged about 40,000 years ago; now having a larger size brain, the human mind, along with its ego, began to unfold itself.

According to Austrian neurologist, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), there are two functions of our brain that make up our unconscious mind, the Id and the super-ego, and along with the ego, which is our consciousness, are the three divisions of the mind. Though some of Freud’s psychoanalytic theories have largely been marginalized today, mostly because most of his subjects were rich, middle-aged, aristocratic, pent up women, his concepts of libido, drives, the unconscious, and his ideas that we repress or bottle up our feelings, and that our family relationships when we are children determine our adult relationships, have made important contributions to neuroscience. Though the actual benefits of intensive psycho-therapy have been controversial in the past; seeking clues into the unconscious roots of disorders today experts report that such therapy can be effective against chronic mental problems such as anxiety and depression.

Freud believed the Id is the uncoordinated, instinctual structure of our ego and includes selfishness and the need for instant self gratification. It is unconscious and represents the mind of a newborn. It consists of our basic drives, such as food, water, and basic impulses. It is where our libido, the instinctive drive to create comes from. It is amoral, egocentric and ruled by the pleasure-pain principle. It does not have a sense of time, is completely illogical and infantile in its development.

The super-ego is also mostly unconscious and is the organized part of our personalities. It contains our individual ideals, spiritual goals and our conscience. It always strives to act in socially appropriate behaviour. It is what controls our sense of right and wrong and guilt, and allows us to fit into our society in socially acceptable ways. Through symbolic internalization of the father figure, male or female, and cultural regulations, it becomes a part of our personality and conditions us to conform to society’s expectations. The super-ego maintains our sense of morality and prohibits us from cultural taboos.

The super-ego and the ego are the products of the state of helplessness of childhood; for we are born ego-less and have no distinct being, apart from the world around ourselves. This lasts until we are about five years old. At which time our ego and libido begin to develop. What Freud would call the Oedipus complex, the unconsciousness, repressed feelings and ideas we have that are centered around the desire to please the parent of the opposite sex and ignore the parent of the same sex is either, rapidly repressed or not, by how powerful the Oedipus complex was. From about five years onward, by the influence of authority, religious teaching, schooling, and reading, as well as how deeply the repression of the Oedipus complex is, the stricter the super-ego will be over the ego, in the form of having a conscience or an unconscious sense of guilt.

The ego acts according to the reality principle. Its task is to find a balance between primitive drives and reality. Because the Id’s drives are usually unrealistic, instant and short-term, and most times filled with grief, the ego seeks to please these drives of the Id in realistic ways that will benefit long term instead. The ego separates what is real and organizes our thoughts and tries to make sense of them. It also tries to make sense of the world around us and is modified by influence of the external world, reason and common sense. The ego will become defensive if the Id’s behaviour conflicts with reality, society’s morals, norms and taboos, or other individuals who believe in these rules of a culture and expectations.

Many of our problems today are because everything is moving too fast. Where once changes in our social worlds would take thousands of years, generations or decades, today there is simply no time to reflect and ponder. As to our minds, our self-gratification via consumer culture is travelling at an ever quickening pace which is not a problem for the Id. It can easily keep for it does not understand time, while the super-ego is being ignored and left behind in the dust, with the ego simply along for the ride.

After 40,000 years the ego has decided today to be more loyal to the Id than the super-ego, which makes it dysfunctional. Thus, here lies our current state of affairs. The norm has become instant self-gratification of all our desires. We are completely defined by our culture, while early humankind’s culture was the family and there was no time other than the present. Early humans might not have had much of a personality, but they were living in the moment, emotionally, like a child in many ways with nearly no ego to speak of. But as time marched on and became civilized, the ego began to gloss over the fine details of reality to minimize conflicts with the Id, while only pretending to have any regard for reality. Because the super-ego is always watching the ego, it has been punishing it with feelings of guilt, anxiety, and inferiority. To overcome the beating it is taking the ego fights back using denial and displacement; transferring the focus of an emotion to something else, intellectualisation; where reason is used to block out any emotional stress or conflict, regression, fantasy, control, or dissociation; splitting off from main body of consciousness, and in some cases; hysteria, suppression and substitution.

The main two functions of our brain, the duality of the id and the super-ego and their interactions, could have been the basis for religion being invented a few thousand years ago. The sum total of all the sacred scriptures, of all the organized religions combined, is basically about two gods, good versus evil, though in reality and hidden behind some bushes, they are really talking about the two sides of who we are, our nature and the mechanics of the mind; the representations of the human soul.

Within most organized religions there are usually two gods, one being a benevolent, pure in thought, righteous, just, honest, who possesses grace and is humane, kind, and compassionate, promises hope and an afterlife, and is capable of establishing a new heaven and earth. This god is usually all-knowing, an infinite spirit, without limitations, eternal yet everywhere and all-powerful, in other words, a human of good character.

The flip side is of a malevolent god, who is filled with intense, often vicious ill-will, spite and hatred and is selfish, highly jealous and immoral, who grows proud, and desires to be God, who has a flawed ambition, is greedy, egotistical, self-satisfying, who is known as a tempter, accuser, murderer, liar, and a enemy and who is related to inhabitants of bottomless pits, dragons, destruction, ruin, fire, violence, racism and hell; basically a hindrance on society, and an asshole.

Both of these gods are not dwelling in a heaven or in an underworld, or standing towering over us, they are not supernatural beings to be feared and to worship, they are actually residing within each one of us and are the functions of our minds. Earlier humans inherently knew the authority to create and destroy, to either reject or punish, to demonstrate both ecstasy and terror, love, and hate was theirs alone, and understood the responsibility of it and how one’s actions affected others in their group. Organized religions would take this authority and responsibility away from humanity and would become the authority itself, to dictate its own perceived morality and beliefs.

What has changed the most since organized religions took power over us, within the formation of civilizations, is in our personal and collective unconsciousness. Our collective unconscious is the deepest level of who we are and is the accumulation of inherited experiences, while our personal unconscious is the reservoir of material that was once conscious but has been forgotten or suppressed over the millennium, meaning we now live almost totally embedded within our mentally constructed realities, our minds filled with continuous streams of thought and fantasy. It is interesting that of the world’s religions and their concern over our hearts and minds, Eastern religions such as Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Sufism and Zen, all place much importance on getting past such mental behaviours of the ego and its refusal to live in the present moment and instead try to understand the truths behind them through meditation and reflection, while Western religions and cultures believe that a state of continual mental distraction is just the natural order of things. But before we get too carried away yet once again, we must return to the discernability of 40,000 years ago, and the birth of modern man.

 

 

Photo: Neanderthal man – Dna-humans-genome

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/may/06/neanderthals-dna-humans-genome

 

 

 

 

11/24/11

The Erosion of Etiquette

To whom it may concern,

Some days I get the distinct impression we are barely putting up with each other and that conversation has progressed to where one person is speaking and the other is not really listening, they are merely thinking about what they are going to say when you shut up, with each member of society believing their world view is the right one. Thinking that only what they think matters and though they will sneer “what are you looking at?” they hope everyone is watching them. We are in desperate need of etiquette, which includes manners and ethics. For is it not true that the best of society is when it’s members show good form when communicating with each other, possess the instinct and not just the conscious obedience of manners and understand politeness and grace is far more to one’s advantage than being mean and rude? And that above all else should not members of a community have instinctive consideration for the feelings of others? We have come to believe that how we look, dress and act creates our personality but what is important is what we are, instead of what we appear to be. As it is we are so determined to be different we are all starting to look the same. Tattoo anyone?

What movie will we all watch or which book shall we all read this week? But then this is only one of many primitive instincts we still possess, as do most all creatures on the planet. The impulse inside of us that takes in information and responds without being aware of why we acted the way we do. As well as being oblivious to how it is doing it. We adapt the same behaviour of those around us, which influences things like what we do in our spare time, who one hangs out with and what we spend our money on. This innate impulse is the same reason why birds flock together, insects swarm and cows herd.  And yet the only difference between humans and all other creatures is that we have the ability to be aware of our actions and the ability to think about what we are thinking. But what is different today is that, as we densely pack ourselves into cities and have so much access to so much technology, we are communicating less with each other face to face. We seem to be so preoccupied with our toys, and when we do have to interact, we use the moment to just make sure only our point is made on only how we feel, which is unfortunate, because one of the things that makes life worth living in is the beauty of a shared moment with a fellow human being.

Wherever we are during our daily routine, whether driving, out walking or riding a bike, shopping, reading magazines and newspapers, watching television, listening to the radio or music or riding the bus we are bombarded with attitude. From sneers, derisive looks and remarks to arguing loudly, swearing and fighting. Our culture seems to now think that being inappropriate and unacceptable, angry and rude shows somehow that an individual is confident. But as mentioned earlier this should come to be no surprise, as we are only acting as the rest of the herd are. Instant gratification and personal empowerment has created outrage and a lack of civility. According to anthropology and humanities professor, Peter Wood, this all started with families, “when parents, instead of teaching self-control and self-restraint, began to teach their children that to be truly themselves they need to be expressive of what they feel.”, which has created many people, “who act out their sense of entitled rage; their belief that they cannot be authentically themselves unless they feel their anger and give it a voice; and that their version of the world can be brought to pass by sheer assertion of wrath.”

On the other side of the coin are the many others, who hopefully are the majority, who are getting tired of “attitude”, as well as others who, when they go out into public are open and needing to be friendly because of their need to receive a smile, simple thanks or a kind word from a fellow human being, which allows them to get through one more day.  It seems, ladies and gentlemen, that the only ones who really stand out in a positive way today, and always have, are ladies and gentlemen.

We are in desperate need to revitalize dignity, in ourselves and in our society, and especially in our leadership. If indeed having manners means having a personality, which is the outward expression of one’s inherent character and attitude towards life, then there are many people out there who don’t have much of a personality and probably don’t have much in the way of manners either.

Manners start with what’s called the Harm Principle, where no one should be forcibly prevented from acting in any way he or she chooses, provided their acts are not invasive of the free acts of others. There used to be much more importance placed on how to act when interacting with others, because each act and how we behave determines who we are. Each act becomes a part of our day and of our lives.

This has been so ever since we were small, individualistic and solitary tribes, where agreements were established to regulate the rights of the individual and the tribe. Formal and accepted usages and practises of social behaviour, rather than of nature, which were understood by each member to have a specific meaning when made by either of them.  Then when we began to gather in larger groups and became more sedentary, with an available and sustainable food source. To ensure the safety of the community, as we began eating, sleeping and living with ever larger groups of individuals, manners became safeguards in human interaction and represented conduct that keeps each person within the law and made civilized life worthy.  These laws would become well defined and rigid and became all about responsibility and accountability and order in our daily life. Everyone knew their place and were all expected to discover a place in the economy and to find meaning in family and children. The purpose of life was to live well and create a more secure and better world for future generations. Manners would become conventional wisdom and “the rules in the game of life.”

The American author, Emily Post, believed that, “the structure of etiquette is comparable to that of a house of which the foundation is ethics and the rest good taste, correct speech, quiet unassuming behaviour and a proper pride of dignity.” And that only an ignorant and shallow person would think that having any sort of etiquette and politeness is showing weakness and being timid, quite the opposite actually, because our daily habits reflect our deepest values.  Which are not what others think of us or how they treat you or from the scripts the media writes for us, but inherent values which create integrity, which itself breeds security as in having a sense of worth, identity, self-esteem and personal strength. This creates a noble personality, which is having an inner guidance, a source of direction in life based on references, standards and principles that govern how we make decisions in our daily lives and how we carry them out, one minute at a time. Having a noble personality is also about wisdom, perspective of life and having a sense of balance. It is also about understanding and that in society the “whole is greater than the sum of the parts” and that one should accept fair judgment and embrace perception and comprehension. And finally, a noble person has the power and the faculty and capacity to act. The strength to accomplish something by overcoming deeply embedded habits and having the energy to make choices and decisions.  An honorable person is honest, including about themselves. They know their strengths and weaknesses and are not afraid to combine being vulnerable and competent. They are people who are willing to be unpopular and are always empathic towards others.

Researching this piece I came across George Washington’s 110 rules of civility, the works of Emily Post, as well as many other resources and though most of these lists are of admirable and just characteristics of a gentleman, they are also intended for the lady as well, along with her womanly charm.

Civil and decent behaviour is diminishing, fading by the wayside, as we run headlong down our separate roads, ranting and raving and not knowing why or even stopping for a moment  to catch our breath. If I may, I’d like to start with general everyday human interaction and conversation, shall we?

When meeting someone, male or female and especially when being introduced, shake their hand. Not too limp, nor too strong, but a handshake that has a feeling of both strength and warmth and always look the person in the eye as you do it, which shows respect. Let your handshake mirror your personality. This simple act began when many of us wore swords and/or carried a knife in our belt. Since most people are right-handed, shaking someone’s hand used to mean that you were understood as being civil and respectful, since you had your weapon sheathed. If you are sitting, stand up when being introduced or meeting someone. In acknowledgement of an introduction with a fellow human a simple “How do you do?” will do.

Because conversation should be an equal amount of give and take, abide by these four rules: think before you speak, think of whom you are speaking too, think of what you are saying and actually listen to who is talking to you and “Be careful to whom, what, why and when you speak”.

Try not to repeatedly repeat oneself for many things said that are of interest are told briefly and told for the first time. Do not let a conversation turn into contradiction and argument. Keep your prejudices to yourself and try not to ever tell anyone they are wrong or stupid or full of bullshit. Quietly saying, “No. I don’t think I agree with you” is far better than, “Your an idiot and so very wrong.”

Preaching has no place in society except in a textbook, classroom or pulpit and one should always remember that there are no regrets for things left unsaid and which would be uncalled for if said.

Do not pretend to know more than you do, for only the smallest of minds find it difficult to say “I don’t know.” When someone asks you a question you don’t want to answer, smile and ask “Why do you want to know?”  Do not make fun of anything that is important to someone or laugh at another person’s dreams, because people who don’t have dreams don’t have much.  Do not contradict everything you hear someone say.

Most conversations have at least two sides of the story, sometimes even more, but as long as animosity and self-righteousness does not enter the picture and respect is shown, it stays a discussion and not a carousal ride of an argument.

Do not laugh or talk too loud in public. It raises the stress level in a group and most always draws negative attention. A lady or gentleman is never bombastic, egotistical, pretentious or overbearing but in no way does this make them servile either.  People who talk too easily usually talk too much and many who think they are very good conversationalists more often than not, become pests.  Do not speak evil of anyone not present. To keep friends, never slander anyone by speaking behind their backs and never speak of anyone present without having them overhear what you say. Try to not interrupt someone speaking; only the egotistical constantly interrupt. If you have to interrupt, do it politely with an “excuse me” or “I beg your pardon”.  At the same time, don’t slap people on the back in conversation and never touch a woman, anywhere, without permission. Don’t push, nudge or pat people.

Do not swear. If you swear a lot, it shows you don’t know enough words to express your thoughts. Personally, the occasional “pooh” or “effin” can actually express a lot and on occasion is  the perfect word to describe the moment, as long it’s not said in malice and often. But cursing usually sounds as crude and vulgar as it is. I also feel that when women swear, for some reason it sounds especially ignorant. So please be a lady or gentleman by learning words and how to pronounce them. Know what they mean by reading proven literary works and not just which books are popular. Start having a dictionary nearby and read it once in awhile. And remember that people who are perhaps less educated and prone to using improper grammar can also be brilliant, exceptional people, loved by everyone who knows them, because they are what  they seem  and nothing else.

One should be courteous and respectful in all oral, written, e-mail, cell phone and voicemail communications. Smile when answering a phone, whomever, will hear it in your voice. Any electronic communication such as the internet or e-mailing, one must always be aware that you can’t take back what’s in cyberspace. As to texters and twitters, you are on your own, literally, really and truly.

One of the most important traits one should have is the ability to listen in an open, non-defensive way. When expressing oneself always be honest and without blame and of course in any conversation allow the other person the space to also express themselves.  We influence others only when they feel you are actually listening to them, that you understand what they are expressing and that you actually want to listen. This is called empathic listening and doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with someone all the time, but you do fully understand them and what they are saying, emotionally and intellectually. On some levels this appears risky in that in order to have influence you have to be, to a certain extent, influenced to really understand. Yet reality dictates that those who gain the greatest opportunities and accomplishments are those that understand the concept of “we”, and use their minds to work selflessly with mutual respect and creative cooperation for mutual benefit.  Indeed, the people who count interpersonal relationships as being of the highest importance as to who they are, are usually the happiest, most satisfied and have good self-esteem. While people who say “that doesn’t interest me” or “that bores me” defines their own limitations.

How we communicate with each other is determined as such; 10% by the words used, 30% by sounds and tone of voice and 60% by our body language. Kind of disrupts the belief many have that they are communicating very well with their fellow humans by texting a coded language.

When interacting with others look closely at their whole face. Facial expressions of basic emotions, such as anger, happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise and contempt are universal and shared by every human being on the planet. Look people in the eye when interacting with them and remember that a real smile is when a person’s eyes are smiling along with the mouth. These are all not only just signals of what is going on in our heads; they are also showing exactly what is going on in our heads. Above all else trust your intuition. In the first few seconds of meeting someone, intuition is the emotional reactions, gut-feelings, and thoughts that most times seem irrational, but more often than not are very rational and correct. Intuition happens very quickly, and triggers and influences our behaviour without even us knowing of such changes. One must judge using their instinct rather than just with our eyes and ears and to remember that perception is reality.

Many times we will get irritated with someone because we have miss-read them or have recognized something in that person that we don’t like about ourselves. Most all arguments between people are misunderstandings or hurt feelings, caused because we failed to read that person and ignored our gut-instinct. Those who relish arguing and contradicting on a consistent basis are usually fighting to retain a presumed position of power, frightened for their self-protection, stealing energy from others, and most always, will resist change. Unless the emotions of jealousy, irritation, envy, resentment, bitterness and blame are understood for what they are and we free ourselves from them, a person will never create or achieve anything and will only live a life of constant drama and power struggles.

Do not spit in public. Just like don’t pick your nose, chew your nails or pick your teeth in public either. If you have to cough, do it thoughtfully and in consideration of those around you.  When sneezing, sighing or yawning, do it quietly and put your hand over your mouth and/or turn away. Do not stare at or ogle someone. It is blatant psychological aggression and simply intimidating people for no reason. Avoid flattery at all times; it is far too easily read by others for what it is, which isn’t much.

In conversation never name drop and think it’s making you out to be more important somehow. Never mention what something you have costs. Do not flaunt your wealth if you got it. It should have nothing to do with who you are. Just because someone has wealth does not necessarily mean they are smart. Though they could purchase anything they do so desire, far too many feel they are also appointed experts in all things, including their prejudices of opinion, expert criticism, taste and judgement.  While the posers and the hoity-toity types who put on airs, within all classes of society, are mostly people who are blindly licking the feet of those above them while kicking at those below.

Avoid telling racial, off-color jokes and unkind gossip. One of the cruelest things to do to a person is to laugh at their mistakes.  Humour should never be malicious. The funniest among us know the tricks of putting a twist on a simple story, the use of tone of voice and the personality that is put into their story or observation. The best can make us both laugh and cry.

It goes without saying but always be polite, even to someone you don’t fancy that much. Don’t allow yourself to be dropped down to that level. Never lose your temper, it only shows you can’t control your emotions and in all cases you are just embarrassing yourself.  Having self control in difficult or dangerous circumstances is when one stands out over others who betray their emotions of anger, fear, hatred, embarrassment, enthusiasm and whoopee in public, which most always affects the sensibilities of others. Remember, the actions of individuals should only be defined as preventing harm to other individuals, not causing it.

Never allow criticism to become a condemnation of a person’s character, for we all live in glass houses and really shouldn’t be throwing stones. Criticizing a person’s performance is far different than showing contempt for someone. Any comments made from a higher level, thinking you are above or superior over others is an insult and shows disgust. Never exclude someone from your community by making them feel they don’t mean anything and are not even a human being.  Treating anybody like dirt only proves that the person doing the treating has not been that far from the dirt themselves.  It is said that with every negative experience, such as contempt, derision and mockery that we absorb, we will need five positive experiences to counter balance our emotional makeup and maintain our sense of self worth.

Never wear a hat at a dinner table and always wait until everyone is seated before eating. Never speak with your mouth full of food. Don’t reach across someone; always ask for it to be passed. Put down your knife after using it. Engage people in dinner conversation and be gracious in doing so. A true lady or gentleman always knows when it’s time to leave a party. Be grateful and always thank the host. When dining out, tip well and discreetly and only if it is earned.

Always appear efficient, honest and without reproach, even if you are not. Use the verbal graces; Excuse me and I beg your pardon, yes ma’am and no sir, please and thank you, I am sorry, I made a mistake and will you forgive me? Never let anyone see you looking at your watch, but be respectful of other people’s time. Be punctual at all times, because one of the greatest signs of respect of someone is simply being on time.  Always be aware of the consequences of your actions on others. “Sleep not when others speak, sit not when others stand, speak not when you should hold your peace and walk not on when others stop.”

We all should possess the meat and potatoes of decent behaviour and a person of good character, which is the inviolability of our word and to be incorruptible. Never make a promise you cannot keep and most importantly, before one can make and keep promises with others one must be willing to make and keep promises with themselves. When you give your word always deliver on it and never promise to deliver the impossible.

Any money borrowed without security is considered a debt of honor and must be paid without fail and as soon as possible. If not well off financially, do not sponge off others. Any debt should be paid off by as much as you can and to the best of your ability. Never discuss money or family affairs either in public or with simple acquaintances. If you can’t afford something don’t buy it. Never accept a bribe for it “distorts the words of a righteous person and blinds a clear sighted person.”

Honor one’s mother and father, do not murder, cheat, steal or testify false truths and do not desire for your neighbour’s house, belongings or wife or husband. If you are a habitual liar, you will not be trusted or believed. It is why there is so much dysfunction in many actors and actresses lives and relationships, because they spend their working lives as professional liars. They perform behavioural lies by becoming someone else, usually a fictional character. This no doubt is what causes most of the damage to their personal lives that they all seem to experience. They lose sight of their inner being and forget who they really are.

A true gentleman should always display actions of chivalry when it comes to being around the ladies. And though it’s not always appreciated or asked for, always open doors for them. Hold their coat for them when they put it on, help her with her seat, if needed; give up your seat for both a lady and the elderly. Always stand when a women enters or exits a room. Always ask if she needs anything and when walking, give her your arm, especially if she is wearing heels. If walking stairs walk beside or slightly ahead of her; on an escalator stand in front going down and behind when going up and when walking along a sidewalk the gentleman should walk on the outside, closest to the street. When walking down a dark aisle, the man should always go first.

In a relationship everyone must always remember discretion, honor and integrity. Do not kiss and tell. Keep details of one’s love life private and never break confidence. Never criticize your partner, in public or with acquaintances, no matter how scandalous and never treat your partner with disrespect before anyone. In a breakup or divorce never tarnish a partner’s name, for this is just tarnishing oneself and proves “you are not, was not, and never will be a gentleman or lady.” Do not use relationships to make you feel happy or fulfilled but instead use them to make you more conscious and aware of yourself. If one stays on the path of anger, jealousy, defensiveness and the urge to argue or need to always be right it will forever lead to pain, confusion, madness and violence. Always express thoughts and feelings to each other when they happen and do not leave them to time, for time is where the ego will distort the picture into unreal and ludicrous scenarios, building resentment and jealousy, which creates further problems.

Be aware of the energy we all possess. When two people meet and the sparks of romance fly, it is because both are giving out energy, thus both are also receiving energy. Far too often what happens is that one person decides they don’t have to give their partner this static energy anymore because they are receiving enough for themselves and what usually happens is that the partner still giving and trying becomes empty because they are no longer being replenished. This most always leads to problems, including confusion, resentment, argument and eventual breakup.

Never have sex with someone who does not desire to have such an experience with you, never force sex on anybody and never invite another to have sex who isn’t old enough, emotionally healed enough, mature enough or mentally stable enough to make such a decision. A person’s moral character, what type of person they are, is shown in their conduct during times of passion. While pornography is primal sexual release, when for a split second after you release, a little piece somewhere in one’s soul feels as though it dies. Reality is that sexual fulfillment is all about being in the moment, connection and intimacy. It is the opposite of what porn tries to be. Intimacy is being focused and in sync with your partner, where such things as respect, admiration, communication, trust, transparency, exploration, laughter, vulnerability and surrender come together. When two people become aware that two souls are, for a moment, becoming one; ” the experience is probably the closest we get to being in the realm of the divine.” Never, ever, say “I love you” if you do not mean it, but when you do love, love deeply and passionately and yes, one might get hurt but it is the only way to live life completely. Much like good manners, love should simply be courteous consideration of another person’s feelings and interests.  As to marriage the three things that most influence whether it lasts or not is faithfulness, sex and the sharing of responsibilities of the home.

As to health, we must be conscious of the health of mind, body and spirit. Many people are only concerned with mind and body; some are only concerned with being just a body. But one must tend to all facets of our selves, especially spirit, because without it lays depression, anxiety, fear, doubt, hurry and worry, agitation, restlessness and an unhealthy mind and body.

When attending a funeral have consideration for the family of the deceased. Never force anything upon people in grief and understand they will often not act like their usual selves. When coming into contact with someone in mourning, stop and press your hand with theirs and then move on and understand that in their presence one should put aside all consciousness of self, because service should be the only gift of value offered. And to realize a funeral is not about you or how loudly and unique you can dress; dress in the darkest and most appropriate clothes you have.

In regards to business, any exhibition or lack of etiquette and manners will reflect more on your chances to get a job then how magnificent you think your resume is. Bad manners usually prove that you would be unsuitable to represent the dignity of the job and the employer, while the person who succeeds displays proper etiquette and whose good manners imply consideration of the customers, the company and fellow employee’s interests, as well as their own. The more a person is empathetic towards different groups of people the better they do and the more people they are in sympathy with and understand, the more customers, associates and constituents they will have. To learn how not to act, especially if you an elected representative of the people, simply watch the dishonorable, passive aggressiveness, reticent and dispassionate actions of members of parliament, who do not speak for those they represent but abide by what their party tells them to do, say and act.

Never underestimate the power of presence, as in your demeanor and body language. Don’t slouch or hang your chin. Keep the back straight and shoulders wide. This does not mean puffing out one’s chest like a peacock; it’s just that, indifference breeds more indifference and the perception of inner confidence and strength breeds respect and power. Next time you are talking to a store clerk, show quiet, confident body language and good manners and you will surely receive respect in return.

Want to be a good parent? Do you want a more pleasant, confident and cooperative child? Be a more understanding, empathic, consistent and loving parent, much like if you want to be respected, show some. If you want to be trusted, be trustworthy.  The way a boy treats his mother is the way he’ll treat his wife.

If one fails in something do not fail the lesson. Take responsibility for what went on, don’t blame others or make excuses. Think about the choices you made and how they might have been done differently. Ask yourself if the failure happened because of a lack of skills that one could improve. If it was, improve yourself; seek assistance if you need to, constructive criticism and constructive feedback are always good and do not misjudge seeking help as being a weakness, it only shows a person who is willing to learn and change, forever moving forward. It is not what happens to us that hurts us; it is our response to what happens to us that hurts us.

David Brooks of the New York Times describes the four main causes of the demise of dignity as being; capitalism, where everyone is encouraged to become managers of their own brand and that whenever one does something good, fireworks, spotlights, loud theme songs, yelling “look at me, look at me” and high-fives all around is expected; the cult of naturalism, where we are encouraged to get rid of deception and repression, to liberate our own feelings to the general public at large; charismatic evangelism and how everyone needs to parade their degrading and intimate emotions in public and hopefully on television; and radical egalitarianism which creates hostility to aristocratic protocol, dress and the etiquette of ladies and gentlemen, even though these manners are all based on respect.

Where we go from here is only for us to decide, but if we don’t pass on such things as manners, civil, decent behaviour and dignity to the generations following us, they will no doubt lose the freedom of behaving according to their moral principles because their principles will be changed and will simply be programmed by someone else what they can and can’t do, say, think and act, controlled by either gun or cool-aid to prevent the chaos of angry mobs and violence. For this not to happen we must start to teach our children well.

Not exactly in a nutshell or a brief, attention span of a hummingbird, article, but there you have it for etiquette and manners. There is of course so much more out there but when it’s all said and done, civil and decent behaviour stems from just treating others how you would like to be treated. We must remember that good manners are truly universal. But it is something that must be taught, within each particular society. We become how we were raised and what type of culture and society we were born into. Other than that we all share the same basic emotions, with all our lives based on interpersonal relationships. We all laugh and cry. We all need to get along and we all need to be loved.

Being a gentleman and a lady or a good man or good woman  is someone who understands that they can project sympathy and understanding where and when they choose and feels in no way of having to lower any of their instinctive defences to behave this way. A genuine and sincere person can go anywhere and be welcomed by everyone they come into contact with; they are people of ability and intellect. They do not mimic the manners of others or tread on the sensibilities of those less fortunate than themselves.  It’s not magic or myth that those who give get much more in return and those who are decent and good people are wealthy beyond means in their relationships with their fellow humans and finally, reality usually dictates that good things happen to good people.

I conclude this article with Rule # 110 of George Washington’s 110 Rules of Civility. I would like to also take this time to thank you for your time and patience.

“Labor to keep alive in your breast that little celestial fire called conscience.”

 

 

 

Photo- Nicola Corboy-     http://www.flickr.com/photos/n_corboy/4921290518/

Post, Emily. 1922. Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home

AskMen – Men's Online Magazine

MANNERS FOR MEN–Part One

George Washington's Rules of Good Behavior

Manners for Boys: “Gentlemen” – An Endangered Species? | Googol Learning

Schachter, Harvey, A failure lesson from Lincoln, The Globe and Mail newspaper, November 7, 2011, Pg B7.

Brooks, David, The Regrettable Death of Personal Dignity, The New York Times, 2010.

Wood, Peter, A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now, Encounter Books, 2007.

Fralic, Shelley, Why is everyone so darn angry? The Vancouver Sun newspaper, February 24, 2007, Pg F4.