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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/16/20

Creative Reflections in the The Viral Mirror 1: Howard Richards

Message Peter Barus
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One of the leading lights in the search for workability in a world plagued by wealth disparity and now, pandemic, is Howard Richards. I'll get directly to the point, but it's worth looking up Dr. Richards. Wikipedia has a long page on this remarkable scholar and teacher.

In Note Three: Ending Mass Unemployment and Poverty, Dr. Richards points out that:

"Julius Nyerere frequently observed that before Europeans conquered Africa there was no unemployment there. Swahili and other African languages had no word for it. There was no institution in African cultures for such a word. In today's dominant culture the bottom line is that you only get a good job if somebody else makes a profit by hiring you on terms that afford you a decent living. There is no reason why that auspicious outcome should befall every job seeker. It doesn't."

And:

"...the classical economists including Adam Smith and David Ricardo held that the supply of labour was regulated by the law of supply and demand. When the demand for labour is low, the supply is low because working-class mothers will not have enough food to keep their children alive."

(This resonates with Jenny Brown's groundbreaking book, Birth Strike, which connects the dots between abortion and contraception, and the draconian birth-control methods designed by industrialists to sustain a docile and subservient labor-pool.)

"The days when it could be assumed that most children who are born will as adults make their living by selling their labour to an employer who will profit by hiring them are over. OVER."

Dr. Richards' approach is an example of "Unbounded Organization" thinking, a trans-disciplinary, cross-cultural movement arising from South Africa and other regions in the Global South. "Bounded" organization shows up in scientific disciplines as much as in NGOs and of course, governments. For example, he points out that environmental policies driven by economic considerations disregard ecological impacts. This blinds us to consequences we might have foreseen, such as when introduction of a foreign bumble-bee into Chile to support crop production brought along parasites that wiped out many more native pollinators across the southern half of the continent.

"Find other people who are also fed up with a world where the only way to get a mainstream business job is to make somebody who is already rich even richer. Find people who are already building a world driven by ethics..."

Economics, as Richards describes it, is not just a system, it's a culture-level paradigm that cannot be fixed from inside the current economic context.

But how can we operate outside this context? On a recent OpEdNews videoconference someone said that Paulo Freire held the opposite view on this, and Rob Kall's recent book Bottom-up Revolution makes a very good case for grassroots change.

Friere was not unkown to Richards. I believe they were friends. But he says we can invent a new paradigm, and he backs this up with several books and myriad articles in several disciplines. Dr. Richards himself works in his own neighborhood to support people who live outside even the margins of the prevailing economy, as full participants in his community. When I visited him in Chile, we often encountered people, like a man selling plastic fly-swatters, who have a way to make a living because he provides the merchandise. In return his street is kept clean. But this is not consistent with the dominant economic culture, which is capitalism. For one thing, it isn't Richards' own frontage they maintain so carefully: it's the whole street from end to end. This is a working example of solidarity economics.

He continues to teach, based on direct as-lived experience, many thriving examples of the economic and social principles he articulates so clearly. Not just street-vendors, but municipalities and provinces he has studied deeply, that have achieved substantial success in providing for every individual in their community. And not without very serious resistance, police and military resistance in the case of Rosario, Argentina.

I'm going into such detail to get to a point: there is no argument between Richards, Bucky Fuller or Rob Kall, and Freire. They agree on the power of paradigms as forming the walls and floor of our realities, and even on the methods for dealing with them. I will explain.

We don't understand what we're talking about, when we say "paradigm". It's characteristic of a paradigm that it's invisible. It's the very boundaries of our reality, taken for granted to the point of invisibility. This is why, when the paradigm shifts, there is such chaos and upheaval. If you find society in chaos and upheaval, there's probably been a paradigm-level change.

To say we can't change a paradigm from inside it is not to say we can't create a new paradigm. But what's a little hard to get our heads around is this business of "inside". And we all know this. Simple, but not easy: "Be the change you want to see in the world." What that says is that the way to create a new paradigm is to live in it. That means leaving a paradigm for a new one is the act of creation itself. Sure, you can't do that from "inside" your paradigm; but you have to start somewhere.

In taking that step, the new paradigm comes into existence, just as our ordinary ways of being create the paradigm we're in now, moment by moment. Because a paradigm isn't a thing. There's nothing there, like a fenced-in field or a railway station. The gateway is a gateway only because we pass through it. It doesn't really ever exist.

Caitlin Johnstone, in Revolutionary Boiling Point, And Other Notes From The Edge Of The Narrative Matrix, puts this well:

"People don't gradually attain self-realization; they look closer and closer at the nature of their experience and then suddenly there's a radical shift in perspective."

Kids do this all the time. You have too.

Sometimes the paradigm changes anyway. It's a slightly different kind of shift. When the Internet penetrated "the last mile", a critical mass of connections meant that our attention (known in the trade as "eyeballs", remember?) could be gathered up in seconds, and converted into commodities, as Zuboff so precisely dissected in The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.

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I'm an old Pogo fan. For some unknown reason I persist in outrage at Feudalism, as if human beings can do much better than this. Our old ways of life are obsolete and are killing us. Will the human race wake up in time? Stay tuned...

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