Common Threads – July 2013

  • The Charity-Industrial Complex – A great critique of how philanthropy maintains structures of inequality: “The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over…. Is progress really Wi-Fi on every street corner? No. But as long as most folks are patting themselves on the back for charitable acts, we’ve got a perpetual poverty machine.” What we need, he says, is systemic change: “It’s time for a new operating system. Not a 2.0 or a 3.0, but something built from the ground up. New code.”
  • On questioning the ‘economic common sense’ – We can’t imagine a different type of economy when we’re trapped by thinking taxes are bad and investment and speculation are the same thing.
  • Who framed the asylum seeker? – A good article from Australia on the framing of asylum. Why’s it always discussed as a ‘problem’?
  • Keith Joseph smiles and a baby cries – Jim Coe on single-issue campaigns: in a world of austerity, are we in a zero-sum game? How do we go for the structural changes we need?
  • Paths to climate action survey – Aberystwyth researcher Rachel Howell is doing some research into motivations behind climate change action and she’s after survey respondents: can you help?
  • Targeted advertising in doctors’ surgeries – Seriously?! And this one’s seriously creepy: A newly developed transmitter can send advertising messages to sleepy commuters who rest against the window, so sounds appear to come from inside their own heads…
  • Childish mistakes – Experiences, particularly those that are repeated, shape our values by telling us what is ‘normal, possible and desirable’. What are we learning about ‘equality’ as children (and adults)? “If a teacher tells you in media studies … that Page 3 and similar images are airbrushed and photoshopped and therefore unrealistic, but the boys in your school compare you to them every day, then once again the experience is likely to win out over the facts. Add to this the fact that if anything is repeated often enough it eventually takes on a kind of truth of its own, whether or not it started out as a lie or a joke or ‘just a bit of fun’. The act of repetition legitimises things, as advertisers know very well. In this way images such as the Sun’s page 3 effectively ‘advertise’ to viewers the wares on show and make them seem normal and desirable.”

What have the immigrants ever done for us?
Five reasons why the economic argument for immigration is destined to fail

“Immigration is like trade. It makes us rich” – The Times (paywall), May 27th 2013

“Immigrants: don’t you just love ‘em? They travel to Britain from far-flung lands, coming here to toil away in our shops and offices and homes, paying their taxes and generally making us all better off.” – The Telegraph, June 13th 2013.

On the Australian campaign website, Kick a Migrant, you’re encouraged to chuck an immigrant into the sea (“as far as you can”). I’ve just hurled Kumar into the shark-infested sea, screaming. As soon as he hits the water, I’m confronted by a box condemning what I’ve done: Kumar was a scout-leading, local employment-improving, community man. But totally overshadowing this is a big, bold, red dollar sign and a large negative number: what I’ve cost the Australian economy by kicking Kumar out. Subversive, I think.

Immigration is a regular hot potato. It’s surrounded by economic myths: immigrants cost the health service millions, “they” are taking “our” jobs, they’re claiming loads of benefits and taking “taxpayers’ money”. But recent figures from the OECD show that – much like the Australian campaign – immigration has provided net economic gain for the UK. Great. I guess we can all stop arguing about it, and Nigel Farage will go away and leave us in peace? Sadly, I think there are five reasons why not. Read more

Common Threads – June 2013

  • Tom’s TEDx talk – Tom Crompton. At TEDx. Awesome.
  • Reclaiming public spaces – Interesting article on the lack of public space in the UK, and how increasingly all space is viewed as a market opportunity.
  • Framing poverty – Good blog post discussing the way we talk about poverty, and how our language obscures the real inequalities in society. What do we associate with words like ‘benefit’, ‘wealth’ and ‘welfare state’? And are there alternative ways we can talk about poverty, that highlight systemic disparities of wealth (or, indeed, ‘illth’)? “What thoughtful rich people call the problem of poverty, thoughtful poor people call with equal justice the problem of riches”.
  • Neoliberalism has hijacked our language – this article by Doreen Massey (co-author of The Kilburn Manifesto) discusses how our vocabulary reflects the creeping influence of market values. Words like ‘customer’, ‘growth’ and ‘investment’ are becoming an everyday part of our conversations, and we are changing the way we think about wealth creation and work: “Work is usually – and certainly should be – a central source of meaning and fulfilment in human lives. And it has – or could have – moral and creative (or aesthetic) values at its core. A rethinking of work could lead us to address more creatively both the social relations of work and the division of labour within society (including a better sharing of the tedious work, and of the skills).”
  • Sticks and stones? More on the power of words, courtesy of XKCD.

The Conscience Industry:
Tom Crompton at TEDxExeter

Unlike Ed, my polystyrene alter ego, I found this TEDx thing pretty nerve-wracking. There’s a big digital clock at your feet that counts down your allotted time, and then starts flashing admonishment if you overrun. But though Ed may seem rather more chilled out than me, at least I’ve still got more hair than him.

Let me know what you think in the comments below…
Read more

The Mouse Paradigm:
how markets affect our morals

The life of a mouse is entrusted to your care. You can either save this mouse, and receive no money. Or play the market to bargain for its life, and accept that it will be killed.

This is the Mouse Paradigm, and it’s the subject of a recent study into how economic markets affect our moral values. The way we produce and trade goods, particularly in complex global markets, tends to produce what are rather clinically termed  ‘negative externalities’, or in plain English, social and environmental harm. This can mean the air and water pollution affecting villages near Chilean copper mines, or the street children in Kolkata whose livelihoods are directly affected by the price of gold on the international market. Often, these impacts are both difficult to grasp and easy to ignore. We all participate to some extent in these ‘externalities’ by our consumption of goods and services. But what role does the market itself play in our ability to turn a blind eye? And how do we react when these harms are directly and consciously connected with our own participation in the market? Read more

Common Threads – May 2013

  • Coke go intrinsic? – Coca Cola have launched a new ad campaign focusing on friends, family and the important people in your life. There’s little research on how bad this is in terms of linking consumption to intrinsic values, but something definitely doesn’t feel right about the associations being made. Let us know what you think…
  • Climate change is a lousy “meme” – Climate change as a concept has so far refused to spread virally. Joe Brewer and Lazlo Karafiath started the Climate Meme Project when they realized that “global warming just isn’t a catchy meme. It does a terrible job of spreading. It is really hard to get people to think about it and act upon it and it is really hard to get people on their own to feel compelled to tell stories about it.”
  • The art of sustainability: imagination, not spreadsheets will create change
  • Universal benefits vs. means-testing – from a shallow perspective, means testing makes a lot of sense, but viewed through a values lens it’s a disaster. Because, as this article points out, universal benefits: “create a sense of solidarity and shared understanding. Means tested benefits create the opposite, divisions and misunderstanding.”
  • How language shapes thought – a genuinely fascinating article exploring how language affects our perceptions of space, time, gender and causality.
  • War, huh… What is it good for? Weakening intrinsic values in adolescents according to this research.

Values in education

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”
Ludwig Wittgenstein

What we learn and how we are taught are key to shaping the people we become. The heated debates around the UK’s National Curriculum in recent months attest to a general recognition of this: with the fight-back against the proposal to remove climate change from the syllabus; discussion around what is taught in history classes; and a current trend for questioning how to teach ‘character’. What is not always considered is what values are being taught through our education system. New ‘action research’, carried out by Lifeworlds Learning in collaboration with Oxfam, Practical Action, the British Red Cross, Think Global and the National Children’s Bureau, aims to address this. Their recently launched report, Leading Through Values, outlines the findings of a pilot study in which primary school teachers took to teaching children about values in nine UK primary schools. Read more

Embedded emissions and the secret life of consumer values

If our carbon emissions are falling, it means we’re on the right track, right? And we’ve done it without needing to drastically change our economics (or even our lifestyles). But what if our accounting systems are wrong?

Read more

It’s (not just) the environment, stupid!

People who cut their carbon footprint because they’re worried about climate change are ‘environmental’ types, right? They love ‘nature’ and get fired up by those photos of polar bears stranded on melting ice. They might even rate ‘protecting the environment’ or ‘respecting the earth’ as their number one value.

Well, no; not necessarily.

As part of a research project on promoting lower-carbon lifestyles, I interviewed people who have cut their carbon footprint because they’re worried about climate change, to try and understand more about what motivates them. Concern about ‘the environment’ for its own sake is not generally their main reason for action. They tend to be more bothered about the effects of climate change on poorer people in developing countries. They’re often motivated by a deep sense of the injustice of a situation where those who will suffer most are those who have contributed least to the problem, and they talked in terms of trying to live with a fairer – therefore smaller – share of the world’s resources. When I asked them to imagine that we live in a different kind of world, one in which climate change would threaten polar bears with extinction but would somehow have little effect on humans, several interviewees said they would probably not be so anxious about the issue, and would not be trying so hard to address it.

not just the enviro Read more

Common Threads – April 2013

  • Are NGOs fit for the purpose of advocacy and campaigning? – Prof. Jude Howell of LSE discusses how NGOs can stay independent, relevant and effective.
  • Words matter. Don’t choose them too carefully – a surprisingly good article on framing by Lord Ashcroft.
  • Being WEIRD – a long but incredibly rewarding article about the mistaken belief that we all share “the same cognitive machinery—the same evolved rational and psychological hardwiring”. Cultures don’t just shape our attitudes and behaviours they “mold our most fundamental conscious and unconscious thinking and perception”. The article concludes: “we may have underestimated the impact of culture because the very ideas of being subject to the will of larger historical currents and of unconsciously mimicking the cognition of those around us challenges our Western conception of the self as independent and self-determined.
  • Blog: Rebuilding Optimism of Will – Che Guevara said that “the true revolutionary is guided by strong feelings of love”. But not just any love, the love of humanity that transcends the day to day love of individuals (our family for example). In a way its a shame that the actual content of this paragraph from Che has been bastardised to be about some nebulous love that drives revolutionaries. Instead what Che was talking about was a very real dilemma. How to keep ourselves motivated, heading towards the goal, when we have so little time for our real “loved ones”, so little time for ourselves, and to develop our personal lives.
  • Iain Duncan Smith’s wages and the uncertain nature of online petitions
  • The Sound of Change – From the team behind Live Aid and Live Earth comes this concert for women directed by Beyoncé who, repeatedly asked if she is a feminist, says things like: “I need to find a catchy new word for feminism, right? Like Bootylicious.”
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