Living Well

My synthesis. Read the full article (with the author’s permission) at

Richard Swift, New Internationalist, 10 December 2021
The obsession with full employment is a dead end in a world on the ecological brink. Richard Swift explores what could sustain us instead.

The long and the short of it is this: the elusive full employment that continues to be advocated by politicians across the political spectrum will be the death of us as a species. ‘Jobs for all’ (the way the world is currently organized) will continue to pile up irreversible damage to the natural world and undermine the ecological basis for the existence of many species, including our own. Full employment is intimately connected to full-throttle growth – a growth we simply cannot afford. It is hard to overstate the importance of ‘the job’ in our current political economy of growth. Jobs can overshadow every other value – mental and physical health, national independence, democracy, our increasingly threadbare environment – and all too often they steal the joy from our lives. The late anthropologist David Graeber, in the preface to his seminal work Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, concluded that: ‘We have become a civilization based on work – not even “productive work” but work as an end and meaning in itself… half the time we are engaged in utterly meaningless or counter-productive activities. Today there are more humans who live off recycling garbage from massive urban dumps in places like Manila, Mexico City and Nairobi (an estimated 15 million in 2018) than those holding relatively well-paid jobs in the car industry worldwide (about 14 million pre-Covid-19). David Graeber and a number of other critics of full employment focus on the arbitrary and useless nature of what pass for far too many jobs. They have a reasonable point – wouldn’t the world be better off free of telemarketers, consultants, layers of middle management and a good deal of what is euphemistically called ‘the financial services industry’? To do this it will be necessary to move the distribution of wealth and income away from a labour market where for the vast majority of people one’s income is based primarily on the job one does. A whole new era of distributive policies needs to be on the horizon. These include a universal basic income, reduced working hours, an international tax regime that dismantles billionaire-centred inequality and guaranteed basic services such as decent healthcare and free education. Our new era of modesty and limits might best be represented by the lowly sloth with its aversion to unnecessary effort and the redoubtable snail which has become the symbol of both the slow food and degrowth movements. The jobs we do despoiling nature are simply in contradiction to our own evolutionary survival.

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Zero emissions drive would grow U.S. economy » Yale Climate Connections

More reports from the church of growth!

Climate models show time is running out for the world to cut emissions and avert catastrophic climate change, but a new report finds that taking the required action will actually boost economic growth and create jobs.

“Transforming the economy requires us to build and deploy A LOT of new stuff,” Robbie Orvis, author of the report, explained by email. “As a result, we see a large increase in output from U.S. industries and the associated increased value-added and GDP benefits that come with that.”

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The Dawn of Human History Gets a Rewrite – Atlantic Magazine

Graeber & Wengrow’s brilliant new account upends bedrock assumptions about 30,000 years of change. Below is a quick synthesis of what I liked most about his review wrt 17th century first nations indigenous critiques and inspiration of European enlightenment.

William Deresiewicz, Atlantic Magazine, October 18, 2021

No less ambitious a project than its subtitle claims, The Dawn of Everything is written against the conventional account of human social history as first developed by Hobbes and Rousseau; elaborated by subsequent thinkers; popularized today by the likes of Jared Diamond, Yuval Noah Harari, and Steven Pinker; and accepted more or less universally. Their story goes like this. Once upon a time, human beings lived in small, egalitarian bands of hunter-gatherers (the so-called state of nature). Then came the invention of agriculture, which led to surplus production and thus to population growth as well as private property. Bands swelled to tribes, and increasing scale required increasing organization: stratification, specialization; chiefs, warriors, holy men. With science, capitalism, and the Industrial Revolution, they outline the creation of the modern bureaucratic state. The story is linear (the stages are followed in order, with no going back. According to Graeber and Wengrow, this is completely wrong. Drawing on a wealth of recent archaeological discoveries that span the globe, as well as deep reading in often neglected historical sources (their bibliography runs to 63 pages), the two dismantle not only every element of the received account but also the assumptions that it rests on. Yes, we’ve had bands, tribes, cities, and states; agriculture, inequality, and bureaucracy, but what each of these were, how they developed, and how we got from one to the next — all this and more, the authors comprehensively rewrite. More important, they demolish the idea that human beings are passive objects of material forces, moving helplessly along a technological conveyor belt that takes us from the Serengeti to the DMV [Dept. of Motor Vehicles?]. We’ve had choices, they show, and we’ve made them.

The overriding point is that hunter-gatherers made choices — conscious, deliberate, collective — about the ways that they wanted to organize their societies: to apportion work, dispose of wealth, distribute power. In other words, they practiced politics. Some of them experimented with agriculture and decided that it wasn’t worth the cost. Others looked at their neighbors and determined to live as differently as possible — a process that Graeber and Wengrow describe in detail with respect to the Indigenous peoples of Northern California, “puritans” who idealized thrift, simplicity, money, and work, in contrast to the ostentatious slaveholding chieftains of the Pacific Northwest.

The Dawn of Everything is framed by an account of what the authors call the “indigenous critique.” In a remarkable chapter, they describe the encounter between early French arrivals in North America, primarily Jesuit missionaries, and a series of Native intellectuals —individuals who had inherited a long tradition of political conflict and debate and who had thought deeply and spoke incisively on such matters as “generosity, sociability, material wealth, crime, punishment and liberty.” The Indigenous critique, as articulated by these figures in conversation with their French interlocutors, amounted to a wholesale condemnation of French — and, by extension, European society: its incessant competition, its paucity of kindness and mutual care, its religious dogmatism and irrationalism, and most of all, its horrific inequality and lack of freedom. The authors persuasively argue that Indigenous ideas, carried back and publicized in Europe, went on to inspire the Enlightenment (the ideals of freedom, equality, and democracy, they note, had theretofore been all but absent from the Western philosophical tradition).

They go further, making the case that the conventional account of human history as a saga of material progress was developed in reaction to the Indigenous critique in order to salvage the honor of the West. We’re richer, went the logic, so we’re better. The authors ask us to rethink what better might actually mean. “How did we get stuck?” the authors ask — stuck, that is, in a world of “war, greed, exploitation [and] systematic indifference to others’ suffering”? It’s a pretty good question. “If something did go terribly wrong in human history,” they write, “then perhaps it began to go wrong precisely when people started losing that freedom to imagine and enact other forms of social existence.”

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Protein from gorse bushes could feed millions of people, says expert | Plants | The Guardian

The gorse bushes that have invaded many Scottish landscapes could produce enough protein to feed millions of people, according to the leader of a Scottish government research programme.

The surprising suggestion by Prof Wendy Russell, at the University of Aberdeen, comes from research on the protein content of invasive plants that have to be doused with herbicides or burned back to keep them under control.

Gorse contains 17% protein and broom has 21% protein, she said, adding: “Gorse and broom were fed to cattle at times when crops failed in the past, so we think protein from these types of plants could be used as animal food. If protein isolates are produced in the correct way, so to be safe, they could be considered as human food in the future.”

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) launched a polling report at the event that showed 60% of people in the UK were willing to try plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy; a third were willing to try lab-grown meat and a quarter were willing to try edible insects.

Livestock and fodder production occupies 83% of the world’s farmland but produces only 18% of protein. It also has a very heavy environmental impact, driving the climate crisis and pollution. Studies have shown sharp cuts in meat eating in rich nations are needed to halt global heating.

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Ecosocialism and degrowth: A reply | Climate & Capitalism

In A critique of degrowth, David Schwartzman argued that ecosocialists should reject degrowth advocates’ analysis and solutions. In this contribution, ecosocialist Simon Butler challenges aspects of Schwartzman’s critique.

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A Critique of Degrowth by David Schwartzman

Ecosocialist responses to “degrowth” analysis and proposals have ranged from full support to total rejection. The author of the following critical commentary is an emeritus professor of biology at Howard University, and co-author of The Earth is Not for Sale (World Scientific, 2019).

An ecosocialist perspective in the context of a global Green New Deal

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Review: The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber & David Wengrow gets almost everything wrong.

Chris Knight: Senior research fellow in anthropology at University College London, where he forms part of a team researching the origins of our species in Africa.

The Dawn of Everything’s central idea is challenging. We are told that humans are politically adventurous and experimental – so much so that after a spell of freedom and equality, people are inclined to choose oppression just to make a change. History takes a rhythmic form, oscillating between one extreme and the next. In recent times, however, we’ve all got stuck in just one system and we must try to understand why.

All this is new and refreshing but hardly credible. I prefer the standard anthropological view that the political instincts and social emotions that define our humanity were shaped under conditions of egalitarianism.

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“The iron cage” of Capital – Leonardo Boff, ALAI 04/01/2022

The unexpected may occur, within the quantum perspective assumed by the new cosmology: the current suffering due to the systemic crisis will not be in vain; it is accumulating benign energies that will make a leap to another, higher order.

We are still in 2021, a year that did not end because Covid-19 cancelled the counting of time by continuing its lethal work. 2022 could not, for now, be inaugurated. The fact is that the virus has brought all powers, especially the militaristic ones, to their knees, as their arsenal of death has become totally ineffective.

However, the genius of capitalism, regarding the pandemic, has caused the transnationalized capitalist class to restructure itself through the Great Reset, expanding the new digital economy through the integration of the giants: Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Google, Zoom, and others with the military-industrial-security complex.

Such an event represents the formation of an immense power, the like of which has never been seen before. Let us note that this is an economic power of a capitalist nature, and that it therefore realizes its essential purpose, that of maximizing profits in an unlimited way, exploiting, without consideration, human beings and nature. Accumulation is not a means to a good life but an end in itself, that is to say, accumulation for accumulation’s sake, which is irrational.

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The great plastic bag myth | Climate & Capitalism

In 2017 the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimated that, by weight, there will be more plastics than fish in the sea by 2050. As for humans, we consume micro and nano plastics via food and water, and also breathe them in. A study by the university of Newcastle in 2019 found that on average we each ingest around 5 grams of plastic per week – the equivalent weight of a credit card.

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What kind of shit is this? Shit that changed the world!

In the last two decades it has been common, in Marxist books on ecology, to find discussions of how capitalist agriculture developed an urgent need for fertilizers to solve the crisis of soil fertility in the 19th century. One source of this fertilizer that is often mentioned is bird manure, guano, from islands in the Pacific ocean. The desperate state of agriculture, and the urgency that drove countries to seek out guano led to wars, ecological crisis and slavery. These issues are usually mentioned just in passing, but Gregory T. Cushman’s excellent book is one of the first lengthy treatments of the subject. It turns out to be both a compelling read and a fascinating study of the interaction between ecology and capitalism.

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