"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Regenerative Systems’

Why The Cult Of Hard Work Is Counter-Productive: Loafing Around Can Be An Act Of Dissent Against The Ceaseless Demands Of Capitalism

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2013 at 7:57 pm

Oldspeak: “There is no kind of idleness, by which we are so easily seduced, as that which dignifies itself by the appearance of business and by making the loiterer imagine that he has something to do which must not be neglected, keeps him in perpetual agitation and hurries him rapidly from place to place . . . To do nothing every man is ashamed and to do much almost every man is unwilling or afraid. Innumerable expedients have therefore been invented to produce motion without labour, and employment without solicitude Some are always in a state of preparation, occupied in previous measures, forming plans, accumulating materials and providing for the main affair. These are certainly under the secret power of idleness. Nothing is to be expected from the workman whose tools are for ever to be sought. ” -Samuel Johnson

“The crisis of complexity we’ve constructed is destroying life on earth. How different would the world be if the social agreement that is capitalism was no longer subscribed to by those currently being ruthlessly and ceaselessly dominated by it? if we refused to be driven mad by senseless and soulless busy work and wage slavery. Refused to accept the illusion that we need money to be happy and live richly. Rejected the propaganda of infinite growth, endless consumption, violence, domination, exclusion, competition, greed, cruelty and inhumanity of go go go go that are necessary for the agreement to be maintained? Gave our life energy to things that could benefit others and by extension ourselves… Gave the majority of our life energy to inner work and cultivating our higher selves? if we all agreed to give our life energy to good mindful work and not mindless unneccesary work. i imagine it would be a lot more pleasant for everyone than it is now. More meaningful. Fulfilling. Lovelit.” -OSJ

By Stephen Poole @ The New Statesman:

Recently, I saw a man on the Tube wearing a Nike T-shirt with a slogan that read, in its entirety, “I’m doing work”. The idea that playing sport or doing exercise needs to be justified by calling it a species of work illustrates the colonisation of everyday life by the devotion to toil: an ideology that argues cunningly in favour of itself in the phrase “work ethic”.

We are everywhere enjoined to work harder, faster and for longer – not only in our jobs but also in our leisure time. The rationale for this frantic grind is one of the great unquestioned virtues of our age: “productivity”. The cult of productivity seems all-pervasive. Football coaches and commentators praise a player’s “work rate”, which is thought to compensate for a lack of skill. Geeks try to streamline their lives in and out of the office to get more done. People boast of being busy and exhausted and eagerly consume advice from the business-entertainment complex on how to “de-fry your burnt brain”, or engineer a more productive day by assenting to the horror of breakfast meetings.

A corporate guru will even teach you how to become a “master of extreme productivity”. (In these extreme times, extremity is always good; unless, perhaps, you are an extremist.) No one boasts of being unproductive, still less counterproductive. Into the iron gate of modernity have been wrought the words: “Productivity will set you free.”

Strategies to enhance the “productivity” of workers have been formalised since at least Frederick Winslow Taylor’s early-20th-century dream of “scientific management” through methods such as “time studies”. The latest wheeze is the Big Data field of “workforce science”, in which everything – patterns of emails, the length of telephone calls – may be measured and consigned to a comparative database to create a perfect management panopticon. It is tempting to suspect that the ambition thus to increase “worker productivity” is aimed at getting more work out of each employee for the same (or less) money.

To the long-evolving demands of productivity at work we must now add the burden of productivity everywhere else. As the Nike T-shirt’s slogan implies, even when we’re not at work, we must be doing work. There is certainly a great deal of Taylorised labour available on the internet: “sharing”, “liking” and updating profiles constitutes click-farm piecework for which we eagerly volunteer, to the profit of the large “social” media corporations.

Even for those who are not constantly bombarded with work demands outside the office, the ubiquity of information processing presents a temptation to be on call at all times. Our world has become an ambient factory from which there is no visible exit and there exists an industry of self-help technologies devoted to teaching us how to be happy workers. “Is information overload killing your productivity?” asks a representative business story. The answer is to adopt yet more productivity strategies. The labour of work is thus extended to encompass the labour of learning how to keep up with your work (specialised techniques, such as “Inbox Zero”, to manage the email tsunami) as well as the labour of recovering from your work in approved ways.

“Exercise,” advises one business magazine feature. “It makes you more productive.” In a perfect world, you would be getting exercise while you work – standing desks and even treadmill desks are sold as magical productivity enhancers. In the future, we’ll enjoy the happy possibility of carrying on with our work while out running, thanks to “wearable computing” devices such as Google Glass, which has the potential to become the corporate equivalent of the electronic tags that record the movements of criminals.

In the vanguard of “productivity” literature and apps was David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” (GTD) system, according to which you can become “a wizard of productivity” by organising your life into folders and to-do lists. The GTD movement quickly spread outside the confines of formal work and became a way to navigate the whole of existence: hence the popularity of websites such as Lifehacker that offer nerdy tips on rendering the messy business of everyday life more amenable to algorithmic improvement. If you can discover how best to organise the cables of your electronic equipment or “clean stubborn stains off your hands with shaving cream”, that, too, adds to your “productivity” – assuming that you will spend the time that is notionally saved on a sanctioned “task”, rather than flopping down exhausted on the sofa and waking groggily seven hours later from what you were sternly advised should have been a power nap of exactly 20 minutes. If you need such “downtime”, it must be rigorously scheduled.

The paradox of the autodidactic productivity industry of GTD, Lifehacker and the endless reviews of obscure mind-mapping or task-management apps is that it is all too easy to spend one’s time researching how to acquire the perfect set of productivity tools and strategies without ever actually settling down to do something. In this way, the obsessive dream of productivity becomes a perfectly effective defence against its own realisation.

As Samuel Johnson once wrote: “Some are always in a state of preparation, occupied in previous measures, forming plans, accumulating materials and providing for the main affair. These are certainly under the secret power of idleness. Nothing is to be expected from the workman whose tools are for ever to be sought.”

Nor is there any downward cut-off point for “our current obsession with busyness”, as one researcher, Andrew Smart, describes it in his intriguing book Autopilot: the Art and Science of Doing Nothing. Smart observes, appalled, a genre of literary aids for inculcating the discipline of “time management” in children. (Time is not amenable to management: it just keeps passing, whatever you do.) Not allowing children to zone out and do nothing, Smart argues, is probably harming their development. But buckling children into the straitjacket of time management from an early age might seem a sensible way to ensure an agreeably docile new generation of workers.

If so, the idea has history. In 1770, an anonymous essay on trade and commerce was published in London. (It is now usually attributed to a “J Cunningham”.) In it, the author proposes that orphans, “bastards and other accidental poor children” ought to be made to labour in workhouses for 12 hours a day from the age of four. (He allows that two of these hours might be devoted to learning to read.) This will have the happy effect, the author argues, of creating a new generation “trained up to constant labour” and thus increasing the general industry of the population, so that future labourers will be happy to earn in six days a week what they currently make in four or five.

Cunningham’s proposed workhouses are also conceived to house (or, rather, imprison) adult vagrants and other so-far-incorrigible poor people. Existing workhouses are too luxurious, he complains: “Such house must be made an house of terror”. Only terror will make the inmates properly productive; the solution is “the placing of the poor in such a situation that loss of liberty, hunger, thirst . . . should be the immediate consequences of idleness and debauchery”.

Fear has not ceased to be a useful spur to productivity. A recent article in the London newspaper Metro reported that research had shown that “dedicated Britons” were “less likely to pull a sickie” than workers in Germany and France. The researcher claimed: “Strong employment protection and generous sick pay was empirically found to contribute to increased staff sickness in Germany and France.” It could indeed be that Europeans are slackers and Brits are peculiarly “dedicated”. Or it could be that Britain’s more “flexible” labour market terrifies citizens into struggling into work even when they are ill.

The reason sickness is undesirable is not that it causes distress or discomfort but that it results in what is often called “lost productivity”. This is a sinister and absurd notion, predicated on the greedy fallacy of counting chickens before they have hatched. “Workplace absence through sickness was reported to cost British business £32bn a year,” the researcher claimed in Metro: a normal way of phrasing things today, but one with curious implications. The idea seems to be that business already has that money even though it hasn’t earned it yet and employees who fail to maintain “productivity” as a result of sickness or other reasons are, in effect, stealing this as yet entirely notional sum from their employers.

It took a long time before the adjective “productive” – which once simply meant “generative”, as applied to land or ideas – acquired its specific economic sense, in the late 18th century, of relating to the production of goods or commodities. (The noun form is first recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary in an essay by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in which he writes of the “produc­tivity” of a growing plant.) To call a person “productive” only in relation to a measured quantity of physical outputs is another way that business rhetoric has long sought to dehumanise workers.

One way to counter this has been to attempt to recuperate the supposed vice of idleness – to hymn napping, daydreaming and sheer zoning out. Samuel Johnson is sometimes counted among the champions of faffing, perhaps simply because of the name of his essay series The Idler. Yet he looked sternly on occupying oneself with “trifles”, as he describes his dilettante friend Sober doing in one of those columns. The guiding principle of The Idler, as Johnson described it in the farewell essay, was to encourage readers “to view every incident with seriousness, and improve it by meditation”. So meditating seriously is not idleness.

On the other hand, Johnson noted sagely in an earlier entry, one can be idle while appearing anything but: “There is no kind of idleness, by which we are so easily seduced, as that which dignifies itself by the appearance of business and by making the loiterer imagine that he has something to do which must not be neglected, keeps him in perpetual agitation and hurries him rapidly from place to place . . . To do nothing every man is ashamed and to do much almost every man is unwilling or afraid. Innumerable expedients have therefore been invented to produce motion without labour, and employment without solicitude.” Does this not perfectly describe our modern saturation in fatuous busywork?

David Graeber, the anthropologist and author of Debt: the First 5,000 Years, would also probably approve of it as a characterisation of what he calls “bullshit jobs”. In a recent essay for Strike! magazine, Graeber remarks on “the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations”, all of which he describes as “bullshit” and “pointless”. Their activity is to be contrasted with that of what Graeber calls “real, productive workers”.

It is telling that even in such a bracingly critical analysis, the signal virtue of “productivity” is left standing, though it is not completely clear what it means for the people in the “real” jobs that Graeber admires. It is true that service industries are not “productive” in the sense that their labour results in no great amount of physical objects, but then what exactly is it for the “Tube workers” Graeber rightly defends to be “productive”, unless that is shorthand for saying, weirdly, that they “produce” physical displacements of people? And to use “productive” as a positive epithet for another class of workers he admires, teachers, risks acquiescing rhetorically in the commercialisation of learning. Teaching as production is, etymologically and otherwise, the opposite of teaching as education.

Idleness in the sense of just not working at all, rather than working at a bullshit activity, was championed by the dissident Marxist Paul Lafargue, writer of the 1883 manifesto The Right to Be Lazy. This amusing denunciation of what Lafargue calls “the furious passion for work” in capitalist civilisation, which is “the cause of all intellectual degeneracy”, rages against its own era of “overproduction” and consequent recurring “industrial crises”. The proletariat, Lafargue cries, “must proclaim the Rights of Laziness, a thousand times more noble and more sacred than the anaemic Rights of Man concocted by the metaphysical lawyers of the bourgeois revolution. It must accustom itself to working but three hours a day, reserving the rest of the day and night for leisure and feasting.”

That sounds nice but why exactly should we do it? It is because: “To force the capitalists to improve their machines of wood and iron, it is necessary to raise wages and diminish the working hours of the machines of flesh and blood.” Workers should refuse to work so that new gadgets get invented that will do the work for them. Similarly, Bert­rand Russell, in his 1932 essay “In Praise of Idleness”, argued that technology should make existing work patterns redundant: “Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all,” he wrote. Somewhere, he is still waiting for that possibility to be realised.

One modern anti-work crusader who cleanly abandons any notion of productivity is Federico Campagna, whose recent book The Last Night is an exercise in poetic dissidence. In seeking their existential justification in work, Campagna writes, “Humans elected their very submission to the throne as their new God.” Those who resist the siren promises of labour are therefore the true “radical atheists” and should be glad also to call themselves “squanderers”, “egoists”, “disrespectful opportunists”, “parasites” and most of all “adventurers”. Campagna explains: “Adventurers, like all humans, live within a dream, in which they try to be the lucid dreamers.” Something like dreaming or idling, it turns out, is also now sanctioned by another arena whose popular rhetoric often lays claim to a kind of religious authority: that of neuroscience.

According to Andrew Smart’s book Autopilot, recent (but still controversial) brain research recommends that we stare vacantly into space more often. “Neuroscientific evidence argues that your brain needs to rest, right now,” Smart declares on the first page. (It took me a long time to finish the book, because I kept putting it down to have a break.)

Smart’s evidence suggests the existence of a “default network”, in which the brain gets busy talking to itself in the absence of an external task to focus on. To allow this “default network” to do its thing by regularly loafing around rather than switching focus all day between futile bits of work, Smart argues, is essential for the brain’s health. “For certain things the brain likes to do (for example, coming up with creative ‘outside of the box’ solutions),” he writes, “you may need to be doing very little.”

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke, Smart observes, was not very “productive” in terms of the quantity of poems he produced in an average year. However, while pootling away his time, he occasionally experienced a torrent of inspiration and what he did produce were works of greatness.

This reminds us that it is not necessary to abandon the notion of “productivity” altogether. We all like to feel that we have done something useful, interesting or fun with our day, even (or especially) if it has not been part of our official work, and we might harmlessly express such satisfaction by saying that our day has been productive.

This ordinary usage encodes an ordinary wisdom: that mere quantity of activity – as implied by the get-more-done mania of the productivity cult – has nothing to do with its value. Economics does not know how to value Rainer Maria Rilke over a prolific poetaster in receipt of an official laureateship. (One can be confident that, while mooching around European castles and writing nothing for years on end, Rilke would never have worn a T-shirt that announced: “I’m doing work”.) And his life sounds like more fun than one recent Lifehacker article, which eagerly explained how to organise your baseball cap collection by hanging the headwear on shower-curtain hooks arrayed along a rail.

Perhaps I shouldn’t mock. All that time saved every morning by knowing the exact location of the baseball cap you want to wear will surely add up, earning you hours more freedom to hunt and hoard ever more productivity tips, until you are a purely theoretical master at doing nothing of value in the most efficient way imaginable.

Steven Poole’s “Who Touched Base in My Thought Shower? A Treasury of Unbearable Office Jargon” is published by Sceptre (£9.99)

Survey Finds 97% Of Climate Science Literature Agree Human Activity Is Driving Global Warming

In Uncategorized on May 21, 2013 at 2:53 pm
Hacked climate science emails : Porters Descending with Ice Core Samples

Porters carry cores of ancient glacial ice down from the 6542m summit of Mt Sajama in Bolivia. 97% of scientific papers taking a position on climate change say it is man-made. Photograph: George Steinmetz/Corbis

Oldspeak: “In the wake of the most recent tragic devastating American natural disaster my heart goes out to the victims. As predicted for decades, natural disasters are becoming more frequent, more intense and less predictable. This is yet ANOTHER sign of what’s to come, while we continue to ignore the devastating impact our species is having on our environment, our environment is having a devastating impact on us.  Its simple physics. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. “32.4 million people were forced to flee their homes last year due to natural disasters such as floods, storms and earthquakes. Climate change is believed to play an increasingly significant role in global disasters. …According to the 2012 Special Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 98% of those uprooted were displaced by climate- and weather-related events” Untold habitats, and the life they support is being wiped out by human activity. In tandem, human habitats and the life they support are being wiped out as well. Yet still, in the face of all this devastation, locally and globally our response has been as it usually is. Reactive. Tepid. Nibbling around the edges. Continuing to dump vital resources into the  extractive-energy systems that are causing the problems, while failing to ramp up & largely ignoring regenerative and sustainable energy systems which could help mitigate the problems… The research is clear. Man is causing these calamities. Yet there is little questioning or debating the efficacy of the systems in place that are accelerating global ecological destruction. Our leaders are barely speaking about and making inconsequential actions to counter climate change. Obama will soon be giving a major speech about the U.S. drone assassination program. While important, it is inconsequential when compared to the health of our planet. He’s promised to “respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.  Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.  The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it” Continuing to subsidize extractive energy sources like oil, gas and radioactive is not leading. It’s not a logical response.  Some argue, he’s already given up on dealing with climate change, with no definitive climate related actions outlined and a 3.5% cut to the Environmental Protection Agency in his latest budget. A Leading, logical response  would be making a major policy speech to herald America’s transition from dirty energy to clean energy on a national scale.  Expending the same effort that was expended in response to World War 2, because make no mistake, This is an actual war to save our World.  We need to start acting like it. Changing whole industries to support the war effort. Requiring all polluters to drastically reduce their toxic emissions and waste.  Banning petrochemical based products. Localizing food and energy production. Recycling EVERYTHING. Converting all gasoline powered car plants to produce clean energy powered vehicles. Using all available idle, underutilized, and obsolete energy producing factories to produce solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal power plants, and other regenerative energy systems. Putting solar panels on top of every building in the country. Embedding them in every paved road.  Retrofitting all extractive energy using systems for regenerative energy use…. Etc, etc, etc… . Greening our infrastructure. Transformative, and radically different policy is what we need. Not nibbling. The time for grand action is now. ”

By John Abraham & Dana Nuccitelli @ The U.K. Guardian:

Our team of citizen science volunteers at Skeptical Science has published a new survey in the journal Environmental Research Letters of over 12,000 peer-reviewed climate science papers, as the Guardian reports today. This is the most comprehensive survey of its kind, and the inspiration of this blog’s name: Climate Consensus – the 97%.

The survey

In 2004, Naomi Oreskes performed a survey of 928 peer-reviewed climate papers published between 1993 and 2003, finding none that rejected the human cause of global warming. We decided that it was time to expand upon Oreskes’ work by performing a keyword search of peer-reviewed scientific journal publications for the terms ‘global warming’ and ‘global climate change’ between the years 1991 and 2011.

Our team agreed upon definitions of categories to put the papers in: explicit or implicit endorsement of human-caused global warming, no opinion, and implicit or explicit rejection or minimization of the human influence, and began the long process of rating over 12,000 abstracts.

We decided from the start to take a conservative approach in our ratings. For example, a study which takes it for granted that global warming will continue for the foreseeable future could easily be put into the implicit endorsement category; there is no reason to expect global warming to continue indefinitely unless humans are causing it. However, unless an abstract included language about the cause of the warming, we categorized it as ‘no opinion’.

Each paper was rated by at least two people, and a dozen volunteers completed most of the 24,000 ratings. The volunteers were a very internationally diverse group. Team members’ home countries included Australia, USA, Canada, UK, New Zealand, Germany, Finland, and Italy.

We also decided that asking the scientists to rate their own papers would be the ideal way to check our results. Who knows what the papers say better than the authors who wrote them? We received responses from 1,200 scientists who rated a total of over 2,100 papers. Unlike our team’s ratings that only considered the summary of each paper presented in the abstract, the scientists considered the entire paper in the self-ratings.

The results

Based on our abstract ratings, we found that just over 4,000 papers took a position on the cause of global warming, 97.1% of which endorsed human-caused global warming. In the scientist self-ratings, nearly 1,400 papers were rated as taking a position, 97.2% of which endorsed human-caused global warming. Many papers captured in our literature search simply investigated an issue related to climate change without taking a position on its cause.

Our survey found that the consensus has grown slowly over time, and reached about 98% as of 2011. Our results are also consistent with several previous surveys finding a 97% consensus amongst climate experts on the human cause of global warming.

Consensus growth over time The growth of the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming in the peer-reviewed literature from 1991 to 2011

Why is this important?

Several studies have shown that people who are aware of scientific consensus on human-caused global warming are more likely to support government action to curb greenhouse gas emissions. This was most recently shown by a paper just published in the journal Climatic Change. People will generally defer to the judgment of experts, and they trust climate scientists on the subject of global warming.

However, vested interests have long realized this and engaged in a campaign to misinform the public about the scientific consensus. For example, a memo from communications strategist Frank Luntz leaked in 2002 advised Republicans,

“Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate

This campaign has been successful. A 2012 poll from US Pew Research Center found less than half of Americans thought scientists agreed humans were causing global warming. The media has assisted in this public misconception, with most climate stories “balanced” with a “skeptic” perspective. However, this results in making the 2–3% seem like 50%. In trying to achieve “balance”, the media has actually created a very unbalanced perception of reality. As a result, people believe scientists are still split about what’s causing global warming, and therefore there is not nearly enough public support or motivation to solve the problem.

Check our results for yourself

We chose to submit our paper to Environmental Research Letters because it is a well-respected, high-impact journal, but also because it offers the option of making a paper open access, free for anyone to download.

We have also set up a public ratings system at Skeptical Science where anybody can duplicate our survey. Read and rate as many abstracts as you like, and see what level of consensus you find. You can compare your results to our abstract ratings, and to the author self-ratings.

Human-caused global warming

We fully anticipate that climate contrarians will respond by saying “we don’t dispute that humans cause some global warming.” First, there are a lot of people who do dispute that humans cause any global warming. Our paper shows that their position is not supported in the scientific literature.

Most papers don’t quantify the human contribution to global warming, because it doesn’t take tens of thousands of papers to establish that reality. However, as noted above, if a paper minimized the human contribution, we classified that as a ‘rejection’. For example, if a paper were to say “the sun caused most of the global warming over the past century,” that would be included in the less than 3% of papers rejecting or minimizing human-caused global warming.

Many studies simply defer to the expert summary of climate science research put together by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which says that most of the global warming since the mid-20th century has been caused by humans. And according to recent research, that statement is actually too conservative. Of the papers which specifically examine the contributors to global warming, they virtually all conclude that humans are the dominant cause over the past 50 to 100 years.

Results of eight global warming attribution studies Summary of results from 8 studies of the causes of global warming.Most studies simply accept this fact and go on to examine the consequences of this human-caused global warming and associated climate change.

Another important point is that once you accept that humans are causing global warming, you must also accept that global warming is still happening. We cause global warming by increasing the greenhouse effect, and our greenhouse gas emissions just keep accelerating. This ties in to the fact that as recent research has showed, global warming is accelerating. If you accept that humans are causing global warming, as over 97% of peer-reviewed scientific papers do, then this conclusion should not be at all controversial. Global warming cannot have suddenly stopped.

Spread the word

Given the importance of the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming in peoples’ decisions whether to support action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the public lack of awareness of the consensus, we need to make people aware of these results. To that end, design and advertising firm SJI Associates generously created a website pro-bono, centered around the results of our survey. The website can be viewed at TheConsensusProject.com, and it includes a page where consensus graphics can be shared via social media or email. Skeptical Science also has a new page of consensus graphics.

Quite possibly the most important thing to communicate about climate change is that there is a 97% consensus amongst the scientific experts and scientific research that humans are causing global warming. Let’s spread the word and close the consensus gap.