Hang onto the world as it spins, around
Just don’t let the spin get you down
Things are moving fast
Hold on tight and you will last
Keep your self-respect, your manly pride
Get yourself in gear
Keep your stride
Never mind your fears
Brighter days will soon be here
Take it from me someday we’ll all be free (Yeah)
Keep on walking tall, hold your head up high
Lay your dreams right up to the sky
Sing your greatest song
And you’ll keep, going, going on
(Hey) Just wait and see someday we’ll all be free. (Yeah)
Take it from me, Someday we’ll all be free
(It won’t be long) Take it from me someday we’ll all be free
Take it from me, take it from me, take it from me
lyrics and performed by – the late great Donny Hathaway
Sometimes in life we make wrong choices, we take the wrong turning or we say the wrong things or we execute the wrong decisions. In life’s often peculiar manner, we remain ignorant of the wrongness of our choice until well after its terrible retribution commences. If we are stubborn we stay the course and sometimes it works out and we are celebrated as heroes and pioneers. If we are wise though we change course and we never know what might have been.
Sometimes it’s not us who made the choices but our ancestors. Jared Diamond’s insanely enlightening book “Collapse” runs through how communities/societies especially isolated ones that had existed probably for thousands of years run out of luck and come to a final gruesome end. They run out of food or get hit by an environmental disaster and, being human, eventually succumb to fractious tribal conflicts and over-religiosity in the praying to deaf gods. Eventually death comes to the last person.
Some of us will soon see this scenario (minus the last-man-standing scenario) on the isles of Kiribati. Their 3000 year existence at ‘home’, those precarious islands at most 3 meters above sea level, is about to be snuffed. Out. The excellent Bloomberg Businessweek article (link below) describes with poignant ruefulness the tragic and unravelling fate of these people. Cause: climate change compounded by poverty, isolation, ignorance, poor cultural practices, illiteracy and religion.
“Good morning, Jesus,” the preacher says, and his flock responds with alacrity, “Good morning, Jesus.” The minister—the youth pastor in the village of Te Bikenikoora—holds his Bible aloft. “Let us sing a song to ask the Lord to protect us from climate change so that we can remain in our homes.” Many of the worshipers look up to heaven for salvation.”
The minister continues: “God has such great love for us. We praise you, God, for your protection. You, God, are our No. 1 helper. We will be strong when the wind hits us. We will be protected by you. We need to be strong in our faith.”
Unfortunately, not even God can help them now. It’s too late. Anote Tong, the London School of Economics educated president of the country, gives his country 20 years. “If nothing is done, Kiribati will go down into the ocean. By about 2030 we start disappearing. We would not survive a Hurricane Sandy. We would be finished.”
If nothing is done? But who is going to do the doing? America? China? India? Those guys have bigger fish to fry. In the grand scheme of things one hundred thousand people on flat islands in the middle of nowhere are just not significant enough to stop the economic cycle; the business of feeding, clothing and enabling the 2.8 billion consumers in these countries plus of course there’s the rest of us. The Kiribatis will have to find somewhere else to live.
I was reading this on my journey to buy groceries in Brixton (an economically-challenged part of London once famous for ethnic minorities and riots but now being spectacularly gentrified) when I was accosted by the spectre of the old black man begging outside Sainsbury’s, the large grocery chain. He was without doubt not too far now from the end and there was no hope of redemption from his misery. What choices had he made? What choices did his parents make that screwed up his childhood? How had he compounded this during his twenties, thirties, forties and so on till his sorry present state? What cruel cards had life dealt him with which he had been too poorly skilled to play?
For several years I worked in London’s financial services sector investing money on behalf of well-to-do clients hoping to earn them a princely 4-6%pa from which my firm earned a commission and I was paid a barely living wage (“barely” – ha! after all this is London. It’s expensive. Try buying a flat white coffee!) Six weeks ago I left the money-pot investment world for the real one to do something on my own and for myself: with all the terror and excitement that striking out, perhaps on a limb, bring. It may end well. It may end in a disaster. My previous colleagues are still inside the mothership cocoon earning salaries and planning skiing holidays; perhaps not so free and brave as I (or foolish).
So here I am with one question on my mind perhaps like the ancestors of the Kiribati who struck out for those once pristine islands that had arisen out of some cataclysmic event and are now about to sink beneath another one: have I made the right choice?
Today I’m writing code – specifically, mucking about with SQL. For me, the best thing about writing code is that you can do just about anything you want. You want to build a database for your personal life stuff, build a story-writing tool, map the planets, design a wickedly evil game, generate a Matrix faux-world … you just get on and do it and you don’t need a boss, an office, government permission, religious supervision, bank loans and you certainly don’t have to take food out of the mouths of babies. However, you may need prodigious amounts of coffee and an insane tolerance for error.
So unlike most regular tasks where what you do is what it says on the job description, writing code takes you as far as your imagination can wander, that is, until you write something that results in this …
Patience my friend, patience.
Around 21:30 mins in, Prof Krauss gives a superb lecture on why God is absurd, why the Bible and all religious texts are nonsense and why as humans we need to bury such dishonest belief systems. No doubt many believers will dig their heels in because, in their own minds, it is simply inconceivable that they could be wrong. If the prophet said so, it must be so. But we all can be wrong and that’s an indisputable and incontestable fact and the very reason why the scientific method (open questioning, honesty, reliance on evidence, peer review etc) is not just superior to ALL religious dogmas but it’s the only rational sensible path to truth and to knowledge. Some believers are probably open to re-evaluating what they believe and from my experience the one probable thing holding them back is fear: (i) of discovering that what they have believed all their lives is myth and (ii) of the reaction of family, friends and community. That’s understandable but it is by living in truth that we find freedom and our inner power.
While at the gym this morning I started observing, unobtrusively, the macho men working out around me. This was the late morning crew so these are guys who, I presume, have the time to train regularly as opposed to 9-5-lifers who do their best to fit the gym around work and fail. One incontestable fact about the guys with me in the gym was their muscled torsos were in stark contrast to their reed legs. And when these he-men looked at themselves in the mirror (as we all do but never seeing what’s really there) their legs obviously didn’t exist. That got me thinking about how what gets measured gets done. Or to put it backwards what gets done gets measured. Just what do you measure in the legs? But it’s easy to measure chest size and biceps bulge and how many packs are visible in the abdomen area.
We tend to measure, not what is important and needs to be done, but what is easily measured. A trifling example: many and possibly most societies rank more highly the money a person makes than the person making the money. We count how many cars or homes they have, how much gold they wear, the cost of sending their kids to “that school” etc. We look at all that and say “Wow!” Since we can’t measure a person’s dignity or integrity or goodness we don’t, and like the proverbial blue bolt out of nowhere, we express mock surprise at epic ethical failures in politics or business or amongst our friends. We see this a lot in the hip-hop world where rappers mouth of on how much money they have, how many millions they can print just by spouting ‘bitches’ and ‘hos’. These rag-tag boasters (Kanye, Jay-Z, Puffy-Piffy-whatever, 2Chainz, Rick “the slob” Ross et al) serve as prominent role models for black youth (at least in America). Epic fail. We must do better.
A group of tourists was standing in the way listening to the tour guide and simultaneously glancing up at a rather typical row house. I looked up as I stepped around the group and read on a plaque on the building that “Charles Lamb Essayist Lived Here”. That building is en route from my home to the gym and I have walked that road many many times and only found out today, after almost five years, that the famed writer once lived not so far from me. I’d like to think that I’ll keep my eyes peeled from now on because London is full of such delightful surprises but knowing myself, human and all, I am far more likely to remain embalmed in me own thoughts and worries than being awed and amazed by life’s little surprises. Perhaps, therefore, one should be less human.