Sunday, May 10, 2015

Hoarders Of A New Currency

Wisdom is supreme.
Get wisdom.
Yes, though it costs all your possessions, get understanding.

– Proverbs 4:7, World English Bible

In the last several posts, I covered several of the points stated in my post, “Scapegoat Survival in Uncertain Times.” Now it's time to talk about becoming rich in things which cannot be taken away from you. Those things comprise the intangible possessions which a person has. One of those possessions is knowledge. Knowledge is easy to share, and it can't easily be taken away. Moreover, the right kind of knowledge is an essential ingredient of a sound education.

The word “education” has come to be loaded with a certain unfortunate baggage. Nowadays what is called “education” is really just a glorified form of job training. I want to propose a different definition: namely, that education is the “equipping” of the person who is educated. It consists of appropriate knowledge combined with practical application to produce a suite of tools for inhabiting and navigating a particular environment. The environment for which we must be educated is characterized by the following stressors and risk factors:
economic contraction caused by the depletion of natural resources and ecological degradation caused by pollution generated by the industrial economy;
gross and intensifying economic inequity caused by the robbery of the poor majority by the wealthy minority;
social unrest resulting from the oppression of the poor majority by the wealthy minority. This oppression is motivated by the evil pragmatism and unhealthy psychology of the oppressors.
Lastly, the prospect of international conflict caused both by evil pragmatism and unhealthy psychology within the ruling classes of specific nations.

The central challenge for decent people in the emergent uncertain environment is to live a meaningful and moral life without becoming oppressors or oppressed. As one blogger put it a while ago, “...most of us spend our lives as prey, economically and psychologically. Awareness is the key to understanding this; but once we understand it, we may transcend it, choosing, when we can, to be neither prey nor predator.” That awareness must take three forms. First, we must become psychologically literate, so that we can both recognize and promote healthy psychological development in ourselves and in those we care about. But psychological literacy must also equip us to recognize the psychological diseases of those who oppress their fellow human beings, so that we may not be damaged by the oppression. Second, we must become aware of the very practical steps we can take to avoid or mitigate the physical things oppressors do in order to oppress us. Third, we must learn to use scarce material resources to achieve the maximum benefit for the largest number of people with a minimum of waste.

All these things we must do on our own, at least for those of us living in the United States. Whereas in many other countries, the governments and ruling members of those countries recognize their duty to provide for the public good, the people of the United States have been drinking libertarian, “free market” Kool-Aid for such a long time that many of us no longer recognize our duty to each other. This is especially true of our rulers and wealthy elites. Indeed, the Republicans who have captured so many state governments and both houses of Congress are busy turning this country into a place where everyone who is not wealthy will be turned into the prey of the wealthy. (For an example, take a look at this doofus, who with his cronies wants to destroy Medicare and deny tax credits to the poor in order to increase military spending.) Don't expect the government of the United States or its wealthy citizens to provide for the common good.

In the United States, what we have been seeing for a long time is the denial of resources to the poor and the increasing of obligations on the poor. The denial of resources is accompanied by a great deal of propaganda about how the poor are “welfare queens”, etc, and that the poverty of the poor is their own fault. The increasing of obligations occurs via such things as raising of rates for essential utilities and the imposition of fines for an ever-expanding list of non-criminal infractions, with jail time for those who can't pay the fines. Thus, as reported by another blogger, in Baltimore and Detroit, tens of thousands of people have had their water shut off by the city governments, who have hiked rates by huge percentages. Baltimore's water department has for years been guilty of numerous billing errors. And in Portland, Oregon, one school district has received a brand new middle school, and the school district is issuing i-Pads to each of its students. However, students at another district no more than five miles from the district just mentioned do not have access to textbooks that they can take home with them.

If you're unlucky enough then to live among the poor, and to be counted as one of the poor, learning to use scarce material resources to achieve the maximum benefit for the largest number of people with a minimum of waste will be a very urgent task – especially as the more privileged keep trying to take from you the little that you do have. Nevertheless, it can be done. The beauty of learning is that people who are motivated and have the right resources can learn to teach themselves. The knowledge gained by self-education is valuable even if you don't go the traditional route of paying lots of money for an expensive piece of paper – oops, I mean, a diploma – from a university. For while there are many baristas and burger flippers who graduated from a university with an expensive piece of paper, there are not that many people who are educated.

One strong focus of your education should be mathematics and the sciences. Mastering these two subjects will give you a suite of tools that you can apply to a wide range of difficult situations. For instance, if you live in a house in a city whose water department has hiked your rates to unaffordable levels, how much roof area do you need in order to collect enough rainwater to live decently? The answer to this question will depend on a number of factors. Can you identify them all?

As far as math resources, I'd like to begin by mentioning the excellent “Next Step” math series available from Copian. The nice thing about the “Next Step” books is that they can be used for both children and adults, and they take a learner all the way from basic counting to beginning algebra and geometry. There are also algebra and calculus textbooks available from here and here and here. Textbooks for children covering the sciences can be downloaded for free from the Departments of Education of some of the States.

As you educate yourself, you must also seek to educate your community. This is why it is a good idea to form learning “clubs”: math clubs, science clubs, etc. It is especially rewarding to get kids involved in such clubs – especially when you know that the club is exposing the kids to a world of possibilities that the dominant elites would like to deny them. Here is a picture of a kid who participated in a Saturday science club solar energy activity last year.

She is from Mozambique and she lives in an apartment complex in one of the less “well-to-do” parts of town. Her clubmates were from Mozambique, Thailand and Myanmar. And here is a picture of a kid who was involved last fall and winter in a math club at another apartment complex in the same general neighborhood.

The kid in the second picture was in the school district which can't afford to issue textbooks. Therefore, the leaders of the math club downloaded a number of pdf textbooks onto thumb drives and handed them out to all the kids in the club. As long as the kids have access to a library, they will be able to read the pdf's. Long live the sneakernet. In the picture, he is working from a printed copy of one of the "Next Step" books.

There's a lot more to say about post-Peak education, but it will have to wait. In the meantime, here is an article about the role which education and teaching of skills played in helping Cuba survive the loss of the Soviet Union in the 1990's. And here is a link to a non-traditional education initiative started by the Philippine Government in order to guarantee access to education to all of its citizens.

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