When people say they want solutions, they're actually seeking only a specific kind of solution, one that leaves everything they have now intact but guarantees them more of something: more security, more healthcare, more education, more money, etc., but at no cost or inconvenience to themselves. In the real world, solutions change core values and processes. If they don't, they're not real solutions.
Have you ever asked yourself if there is a form of growth beyond GDP and real estate value which solves most of the problems we face as individuals and as a species? As we witness the greatest rural-urban migration in history have we considered whether urbanization is indeed the solution to all woes? What about the fact that most of us are in such a hurry to accomplish tasks that we do not even truly experience the purpose of what we are looking to accomplish?
Join Green Initiatives on a 3-week book tour in Shanghai and Beijing in June 2018 with Andy Couturier, author of The Abundance of Less – Lessons in Simple Living from Rural Japan, to discuss the rich life and subtle teachings of 10 Japanese sages who seem to have the answer to many questions. Author Andy Couturier received the 2017 Nautilus book award in the category green living & sustainability category for collecting their stories. He inspires with a message of abundance in well-being through a deliberate choice of less despite the omnipresent availability of material affluence.
Most of us understand that we are in a crisis, and that we all need to think of lots of solutions and start trying them all now. From rooftop gardens to generating electricity with our exercise bikes to better agricultural practices to maybe carbon neutral hydroponics, etc. But we should also take a pause and focus on some of the key principles that Andy’s book talks about. These include:
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We will cover with Andy key subjects like
So many of us don’t fit in the world we are given. Yet “being true to yourself ” is not easy either. If we go against the mainstream currents of society, too often we end up solidifying the ego. This is even more true for those who make art. So . . . how can we navigate a way through this thicket that feels natural to who we really are? [Andy Couturier]
Andy Couturier is an essayist, poet and writing teacher. He recently received the prestigious 2017 NAUTILUS literature award in the category ecology and sustainable living. He is the founder and creative director for The Opening, a center for creative writing. His essays and articles on ecology, sustainable living, and the problems inherent with nuclear power have appeared in The Japan Times, The North American Review, Adbusters, Kyoto Journal, The Oakland Tribune, and Creative NonFiction.
This essay has first been published on mycountryandmypeople.org in October 2017 before the 19th CCP congress. The long version uses the 90ies animation series Captain Planet and the Planeteers as a starting point to look into globalism and nationalism in an era when our post WWII world order is clearly dissolving and a new one seem to be emerging. It also explores China’s fishing and energy industry and asks what Xi Jinping will have to do during the next few years if he is our 21st century super hero. Let’s revisit the central thoughts on the occasion of the 2018 Earth Day to contemplate what each one of us and those who wrest power need to do on humankind’s way forward.
If Xi Jinping is our Captain Planet, then I would have a few recommendations for his first term during the next five years.
The Urgency for Transition and Captain Xi’s Responsibility
Now, some readers might think I am nuts; but be assured I am all sober and my recommendations to Captain Xi do only reflect the facts of a world in peril. Pax Americana created after WWII abundance for much of the Western world, but at the expense of the developing world and the environment. Pax Sinica is set to develop abundance for the sinocentric world at the expense of the Western world and the environment, but at a much larger and thus threatening scale considering the increase in consumption per capita and roughly one billion more human beings being added to this planet each decade, in particular in Asia and Africa, China’s second continent.
Damien Ma and William Adams captured this resource driven perspective well in the title of their 2013 book In Line Behind a Billion People: How Scarcity Will Define China's Ascent in the Next Decade. What they describe is a China which is at the center of an economic system which circulates around commodity and utility streams geared towards profit maximization; a system which in the words of yet another economist, F. E. Schumacher, does not operate as if people or other forms of life mattered. The world will thus continue to spin in the same profit driven economic system which the US has globalized; only the decision makers at the very top have changed.
There Are Many Flames, But Only One Light
Theodore Roosevelt once said that man must protect himself in new and wild communities where there is violence; and until other means of securing his safety are devised, it is both foolish and wicked to persuade him to surrender his arms while the men who are dangerous to the community retain theirs.” Henry Kissinger writes that for Roosevelt, if a nation was unable or unwilling to act to defend its own interests, it could not expect others to respect them and therefore his favorite proverb Roosevelt’s favorite proverb was “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.”
Quite frequently, I feel that Xi Jinping is like Roosevelt a realist; and what else should he be considering that China is in terms of socio-economic development where the US was about a century ago? But we have to hope that Xi considers a Great Leap Forward in Chinese international relations management. To be sure, it is a lot to be asked from him, because no other leader ever had to transform himself and his subjects within only a few decades to such an extent. If he can take though such a leap of faith he would become a Chinese Woodrow Wilson, who served as US president during WWI. He exemplified according to Kissinger idealism in international relations and it was him who initiated the League of Nations, the predecessor to the United Nations. Wilson was much ahead of his time, but Xi would be just in time to focus all human effort on the solution of the most pressing challenges of 21st century humanity.
Is Xi Jinping, after all, the Captain Planet, the world has been waiting for? I wouldn’t know for sure, but even if I would, I wouldn’t put all my money on a single political leader but ask what I could do myself. In an era of consumer empowerment, it is my daily purchase and consumption decision that makes a small, but significant difference. Xi might be Captain Planet, but we are all: Planeteers.
I could not resist the attraction of this title and the reputation of the Viennese philosopher Konrad Paul Liessmann. Education as Provocation is a comprehensive attempt to oppose the messianic implementation of skill acquisition and the consequent lack of substance in European educational curricula and to argue for a normative European canon of education in the humanistic tradition of the 19th century.
KPL starts with a somewhat cynical analysis that education has taken on the role of a religion in postmodern, atheist societies and unites all promises of salvation. This analysis is to be agreed with and nothing essential to add, except perhaps that the cause of this change in roles is to be found in competitive capitalism of so-called knowledge economies, and possibly not religion education but, as the historian Harari says, capitalism itself to religion, and education has become one of its rituals.
But here, in the first chapter, there is a deficiency in the tractatus philosophicus, which runs through the entire essay like a red thread. KPL is not even superficially proficient in the field of economics, at least not in this book, and thus fails to introduce an important aspect into the discourse on the significance and purpose of education within a society.
However, the author illuminates other essential aspects and opens up an important discussion with the question of whether and to what extent a person can change himself through education. This question is comprehensively discussed by KPL: The term self-change can be assumed to mean three meanings.
- First, it is I who change his sense of identity, and this of his own free will: one could speak here of a self-education autonomy.
- Second, it is my self that is changed by education; this presupposes a substantial self that can be changed by an activating and controlling ego: education as self-search and self-realization.
- And thirdly, I do not just have to change myself or my self, I have to change my life par excellence. One could call this the Rilke-Sloterdijk requirement profile, which supposes the possibility, indeed the necessity, of a radical cut in a way of life: education as a caesura.
I have enjoyed subsequent discourse, as KPL makes it extremely readable with his own education, but I miss especially when it comes to the understanding or the existence of the self, psychological and neurological findings of the last 20 years. Recent findings of consciousness research as well as epistemological neurology can not be replaced purely by philosophical debates of the past centuries.
As a citizen of the world, I also deeply resent that KPL is committed to a European educational canon. He thus gives awy that he is one of those thinkers who, although they have broadened their horizons beyond their own ancestral society, are not yet ready endorse genuine cosmopolitanism. The reason for this widespread opinion in Europe may be found in the contemporary corrosion of the European idea and identity felt by those living there.
Only a few months ago I read an editorial by the chief editor of the Munich philosophy magazine Hohe Luft. Thomas Vasek argued eloquently for an unconditional basic income; however, he sought a rejuvenation for the idea of a common Europe, just as Liessmann advocates the strengthening and revival of this construct through a normative canon of education.
If one lives like I me far away from the society of origin in a completely foreign culture, the term foreign changes meaning over time and one day one arrives at the conclusion that only this planet remains as homeland and identity becomes a concept of permanent teleological change. In the sense of Viktor Frankl's logotherapy, I am at home, where I see meaning and take the responsibility to work towards the fulfillment of this meaning.
Surely, this individual development of meaning alone does not create a cultural system. However, every mindful citizen must realize that in view of the sixth mass extermination announced by thousands of scientists, a common, normative canon of education must be purposeful in learning survival strategies, moderate consumption, respectful use of resources, etc., but not primarily in the recitation of Goethe, Hugo, and Dante. If learning is in this era about our and our children’s survival, I allow myself to argue without further substantiation for a normative curriculum geared towards sustainable living and a complimentary curriculum for e.g. literary classics.
In the second part of this book, KPL's comments on the value of the human hand and his clear respect for their work has delighted me. In my humble opinion, he did not only fail to interpret Goethe's verse from Faust II (“to complete an undertaking of a thausand hands, only a single spirit it takes”) correctly for his final examinations, but he has rightly recognized that the hand plays a prominent role in the evolution of man. The upright walk allowed the development of the front limbs to a gripping hand, which could now take on a variety of tasks.
Unfortunately, unlike I would have expected, KPL does not advocate for dual training, i.e. that trains both manual and intellectual skills, and through this duality can bring both abilities to new heights, although he quotes anthropologist Leroi-Gourhan: it would not be particularly important to mention that the importance of the hand diminishes, if this activity were not closely related to the balance of brain regions associated with it. Being unable to think with his hands means losing part of his normal and phylogenetic human thinking.
Instead, KPL continues to emphasize humanist literature as an essential vehicle for education and thus self-transformation. Thus, he propagates that education system which is closest to him and in which he himself was able to succeed above average. But what about the innumerable types of learning that can be shaken up in such a - well-meant - normative humanism and can not develop their talents?
I remember one of my classmates, who spent eight years in our grammar school suffering in all languages, especially German, but despite his adversities passed his final examination and eight years later, started a postdoctoral research position at the ETH Zurich in bioinformatics. Neither Homer, nor Seneca, neither Kant nor Rilke have ever touched this colleague and I doubt that self-transformation was less harmful to him through a normative humanistic education canon than the Chinese STEM focus would have been on a young Liessmann.
In the last part, KPL loses the reader interested in education and slides into the lowlands of politics without really treating the topic of education any further. It almost feels like 70 more pages were required by the publisher to achieve a publish-able length of manuscript. It may also be that the title education as provocation refers less to a general educational canon than to the personal education of the author, who revolts at the end of his career against politics and nostalgically revives his own youth of Viennese Actionism.
Just on the last two pages, KPL brings home the title subject, by citing an eighteenth-century commentary that is indeed fitting to the revival of 21st century nationalism: an educated nation knows no other danger in itself as the excess of its national happiness. Liessmann concludes by affirming the need for a new enlightenment, but unfortunately offers no substantial content therefore. Nonetheless, he delivers a book worth reading, if only to rub yourself against its thoughts like I did myself.
After having read most of Roald Dahl’s fiction stories with our kids during the last four years or so, and having grown fond of the writer because of the wisdom displayed in his work, I was enthralled by his memoir Boy, which published in 1984 – only six years before his death - recollects Dahl’s childhood and adolescence from 1922-1936. I sincerely believe that this book is a must read for all parents of children aged 4-12 and moreover it should be similar like Erich Kästner’s The Flying Classroom made compulsory study material for teachers in training.
Both writers seem to have understood the importance of a sound childhood like few others and formulate their insight in a similar way. I am totally convinced that most grown ups have completely forgotten what it is like to be a child between the ages of five to ten … I can remember exactly what it was like then. I am certain I can. [Roald Dahl] Most people take childhood off like a hat. They forget it like a phone number, which is obsolete. Then, they were children, but as they become adults, what are they? Only those who grow up and continue to be a child, are truly human. [Erich Kästner]
What we learn from Dahl is though much more than how he grew up. What we learn is how rigid and brutal education was during these years and how resilient both parents and children had to be to get through the system and on with life. Dahl certainly was one of the fortunate children who grew up in the wealthy upper middle class, who enjoyed a bourgeoisie life style with annual summer holidays in his parent’s native Norway and Harry Potter like British boarding schools, and one could truly be jealous about that kind of upbringing, but that’s not the point.
The point is that by reading his account, we take a close-up look into the history of education, upbringing and parenting and receive valuable information about how we should structure our lives to produce resilient children for the societies of tomorrow. I just couldn’t stop admiring Dahl’s parents for all the courage and equanimity displayed, and I had to realize that our societies are as a matter of fact moving towards a Brave New World / Wall-E scenario, where people are not anymore in charge of their lives, but increasingly imprisoned by civilization.
His parents might have been extraordinary individuals with the financial means to lead extraordinary lives, but above all they seem to have followed their dreams and were not easily distracted or disheartened; and they managed to pass this attitude on to their children, in particular young Dahl, who did not only deter being assimilated to the brutalities of that era, but forged out his own path despite the turmoil of WWII.
I add here two passages which left a particular impression on me. One, because it shows how Dahl defeats the sweet temptation of convenience and conformity, confirming what his contemporary, the social psychologist Erich Fromm paraphrased as such: Conformity is, without doubt, the surest path to mediocrity, boredom and depression. It’s also a testament of breaking from corporate conformity into the uncertainty of being a fiction writer, which again Fromm caught well in this quote: The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.
The other passage captures so well that our civilizations do not teach to look after ourselves and thus fail to support the sound development of the self, because we are entangled in networks of obligations and duties, kinship and contracts. The process of individuation which Dahl went through during this first work assignment abroad tells us that staying all our lives in one little corner of this world, makes us miss out on a big part of our individual potential.
I was still living in Bexley, Kent, with my mother and three sisters, and every morning, six days a week, Saturdays included, I would dress neatly in a sombre grey suit, have breakfast at seven forty-five and then, with a brown trilby on my head and a furled umbrella in my hand, I would board the eight-fifteen train to London together with a swarm of other equally sombre-suited businessmen. I found it easy to fall into their pattern. We were all very serious and dignified gents taking the train to our offices in the City of London where each of us, so we thought, was engaged in high finance and other enormously important matters. Most of my companions wore bowler hats, and a few like me wore soft trilbys, but not one of us on that train in the year of 1943 went bareheaded. It wasn’t done. And none of us, even on the sunniest days, went without his furled umbrella. The umbrella was our badge of office. We felt naked without it. Also it was a sign of respectability. Road-menders and plumbers never went to work with umbrellas. Businessmen did.
I enjoyed it, I really did. I began to realize how simple life could be if one had a regular routine to follow with fixed hours and a fixed salary and very little original thinking to do. The life of a writer is absolute hell compared with the life of a businessman. The writer has to force himself to work. He has to make his own hours and if he doesn’t go to his desk at all there is nobody to scold him. If he is a writer of fiction he lives in a world of fear. Each new day demands new ideas and he can never be sure whether he is going to come up with them or not. Two hours of writing fiction leaves this particular writer absolutely drained. For those two hours he has been miles away, he has been somewhere else, in a different place with totally different people, and the effort of swimming back into normal surroundings is very great. It is almost a shock. The writer walks out of his workroom in a daze. He wants a drink. He needs it. It happens to be a fact that nearly every writer of fiction in the world drinks more whiskey than is good for him. He does it to give himself faith, hope and courage. A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was sailing away for a good deal longer than three years because the Second World War was to come along in the middle of it all. But before that happened, I got my African adventure all right. I got the roasting heat and the crocodiles and the snakes and the long safaris up-country, selling Shell oil to the men who ran the diamond mines and the sisal plantations. I learned about an extraordinary machine called a decorticator which shredded the big leathery sisal leaves into fibre. I learned to speak Swahili and to shake the scorpions out of my mosquito boots in the mornings. I learned what it was like to get malaria and to run a temperature of 105ºF for three days, and when the rainy seasons came and the water poured down in solid sheets and flooded the little dirt roads, I learned how to spend nights in the back of a stifling station-wagon with all the windows closed against marauders from the jungle. Above all, I learned to look after myself in a way that no young person can ever do by staying in civilization.