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The War Prayer – Mark Twain

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on…” The War Prayer, is a short story by Mark Twain about blind patriotic war and the God who is on both sides. Written around 1904, published after his death in 1923.

Part 1


Part 2


It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came — next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams — visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation

*God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!*
Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory —

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, “Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside — which the startled minister did — and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

“I come from the Throne — bearing a message from Almighty God!” The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import — that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of — except he pause and think.

“God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two — one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this — keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

“You have heard your servant’s prayer — the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it — that part which the pastor — and also you in your hearts — fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!’ That is sufficient. the *whole* of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory–*must* follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(*After a pause.*) “Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!”

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.


Occupying DC

In DC on Tuesday 18th October, I had a chance to observe and talk directly with protestors, learning more about what they are really about. Camps and protests have been spreading throughout the city, I came across two of them. Each were occupied by a mixed age group, mainly students, retirees, and unemployed. Some had been there a couple of days, others a couple of weeks. Some supporters I met who have jobs join the protest even if just for an afternoon, to show their support.

At the first Occupy camp I visited, the protestors had laid their signs around a statue in the center of the park. They pretty much speak for themselves: (click on one to open a slideshow)

At this camp I met “Bear”, a more revolutionary protestor, who told me an elaborate story of his teeth being knocked out in the Egypt protests, many countries having warrants on his life, and his wife being in a prison in Morocco. I must say that seeing a man like him shed tears of passion when envisaging the future of America, was a moving sight. Whether or not his story was true, it certainly was true for him.

At the second camp I was lucky to arrive at the same time as a journalist, who I joined in a short interview with retired police-officer Stephen Fryburg. Stephen had been camping at the site for two weeks, continuing his original pledge to “protect the people of America from injustice.”

Stephen had several interesting things to say:

– “we need to be looking 7 years ahead, not just acting for today”

– “we need a return to the public commons, to valuing the community”

– “we need a Department of Peace” – rather than so much money going into the Defense budget, a Peace budget would work proactively to prevent the defense being required in the first place.

– “we need more of the feminine in politics – too often by the time women get to the top they are acting like men. It would help if more women were in politics and if those women acted like women.”

– “we need to hold politicians accountable for their actions”

The protests have most commonly been criticised for not really knowing what they want. I think this is wrong. The protestors seemed to know exactly what they want, even if they don’t know the legalities and logistics that surround such outcomes.

The journalist asked Stephen “what would success look like to you?” 

Stephen replied a clear answer: “above anything else success is the stopping of corporate control of our political parties.”

A year from elections, with Obama having raised 1 billion dollars for his campaign, it seems to be a cause worth fighting for. I have learned from friends here that in America “money is a form of speech” and therefore “speaking” (bribing) by paying for politicians campaigns in exchange for certain policies, is ok. This, the protestors demand, must change. People want their voices to be heard above the voice of money. Power to the people.


“Shareholder Capitalism” VS “Socialised Capitalism”

Why did our political leaders bail out banks (who caused the GFC) rather than the public (who lost wealth and jobs as a result)? Why did governments spend trillions of dollars repairing a system that, in the well-known cycle of booms and busts, is destined to crash once again? Why are they bandaiding problems caught up in a powerbroker system that is visibly failing, rather than following the advice of economists like Joseph Stiglitz, who suggest seizing the opportunity for reform? Why do our political leaders seem to support “Shareholder Capitalism” rather than investigating the process of moving toward a “Socialised Capitalism” that might be more constructive?

As the Occupy Wall St movement spreads across the world, people are questioning a number of aspects of our system that they previously left unexamined. One of those is the assumption that Capitalism as we know it today is the only version of Capitalism that is possible. While economists recognize the varieties of Capitalism that exist throughout the world, the varieties can be less visible to the average human eye.

The thing is, the Global Capitalist model as we know it today, that emphasizes neo-liberal policy, provides little regulation to banks and financial industries, and disconnects shareholder profit and public loss, is by no means a fixed and final version of the Capitalist model. In fact, it is clear that such a form of Capitalism is destined for ongoing collapse. In short, it’s time for reform.

What does a shift from “shareholder capitalism” to “socialised capitalism” involve? The Australian School of Business article that inspired this blog entry suggests this shift would involve a move from short-term speculation to long-term investments, from huge corporations to family-owned companies. ‘The differentiating factor lies in the allocation of resources‘. [1]

“Make no mistake,” Andrew Kakabadse explains, “both ideas are market-driven… which is either in short-term deals driven by cash flow to cater to the few or in infrastructure and highly innovative family businesses that deliver long-term wealth to society as a whole. Nobody takes notice of this second model, which has by far the greatest wealth creation potential in the world, despite everything that is happening”.[1]

Hang on a second, which creates the most wealth? What’s more appealing then, shareholder capitalism or socialised capitalism??? Isn’t it in our favour to create more wealth, not less?

I don’t know the pragmatic details of how such a shift could be actualized. How could you stop short-term speculation (derivatives, hedge bets etc) deals going down? How could governments encourage a move from corporation to family-owned companies? How can resources be reallocated to promote a more people-friendly system? It is too late at night, and I’m too tired from recent adventures in Chicago, DC and car accidents (which I’ll blog about soon), for me to contemplate such answers. I will therefore conclude with my take-away message from this article, that some kind of “socialised capitalism” is an appealing direction to be heading… do you agree?

[1] “Off the Record: Spilling the Bilderberg Secrets” Published: October 11, 2011 in Knowledge@Australian School of Business.

“Occupy Sydney”

If you’re not in Sydney (like me) or can’t make it to protest, you can still spread the word about this peaceful protest to change the rules of our global capitalist game.

Stop banks and corporations:
– reducing humans to commodities
– controlling media
– funding both sides of wars
– destroying the environment


Reserve Bank of Australia

Martin Place and Macquarie Street
Sydney, Australia

Occupy Sydney:

Occupy Together:!/OccupyTogether

Occupy Wall Street:

Occupy Australia:

Occupy Sydney:

Occupy Melbourne:

Occupy Brisbane:

Occupy Perth:

Occupy Adelaide: Sydney acknowledges the Traditional Indigenous Eora peoples’ custodianship of the land upon which many Australian’s now live and work – the place the world knows as Sydney – and the genocide perpetrated against that people by the colonists from whose occupation the current governments claimed right to govern descends. Occupy Sydney also acknowledges that such #humanrights crimes of genocide continue to be committed against aboriginal peoples across Australia today- in particular the Northern Territory Intervention, a racist bilaterally supported denial of humanrights and cultural genocide which continues today.

Carbon trading: the devil is in the details

Who benefits from carbon trading? Wall street??? De ja vu…

Annie Leonard, my favourite “make it simple and tie a bow around it” chick, reveals the “devils in the details”:


Three problems:

1. Free permits to big polluters

2. Fake offsets

3. A massive distraction

It’s like going on a diet to lose weight. We all know in the long term, diet’s don’t work!

If you wanna reduce carbon there’s a very simple solution (which works for losing weight too): REDUCE YOUR CONSUMPTION.

We need to redesign our lifestyles in a way that reconnects us with the beautiful planet from which we came from and from which we cannot live without. We don’t need carbon to live the good life.

We can get over our addiction to burning carbon in a similar process as getting rid of an addiction to McDonalds. When you come to realise the grotesque nature of consuming McDonalds hamburgers and fries, and you wean yourself off the fat and sugar, you don’t miss it one little bit.

When we start using clean energies, breathing clean ear, enjoying healthier ways of being, working jobs we enjoy that are making our world a better place, we will look back at our lives today in amazement and say:

– how did we ever work so many hours doing jobs we hated?

– how did we allow industry to pump such gross amounts of pollution into our air?

– how did we allow so much destruction to our very source of life?

And (hopefully) we will look back with relief that eventually we did something, we used our creativity to find solution, and to design a better world for ourselves and our children.

I highly doubt we will look back at our politicians debating over carbon tax or carbon trading, with an ounce of honour. It is the ones who decide to tackle the real problems with real solutions, those who make a real difference, that will go down in history.

Attempting Politics

Three years ago, before I went back to uni, I voted Liberal. Why? Three reasons: (1) Because my Dad voted Liberal. (2) I wasn’t interested in Politics. (3) I didn’t know the difference between Liberal and Labour (Australia’s Right and Left). Not a good place for any voting citizen to be. And certainly not the best intellectual place for a person who has just enrolled in a Master of Arts. But that was why I was there. I felt an abyss of lacking knowledge and a desire to try to fill it.

I thought in case some of you are in this place it might be worth sharing some of my notes.

Some definitions, and possibly a more accurate and simple model is the continuum above – showing Left to Right.

The picture blow locates key political ideas in a circular diagram, with left and right to the sides, classical liberalism on the bottom, theocracy at the top, and anarchism in the middle. I’m not sure if this is completely accurate, so please let me know if you think some elements might be put around different ways. I’m actually not sure what inspired this, or how I came to locate these where they are.

Of course, as with any definitions, words carry different meanings in different contexts, different places and at different times – as this clip of Noam Chomsky talking about Anarchism, Libertarian Socialism and the development of “renting out our labour”:


Youtube & The Global Pyramid

I am assisting the teaching of a master’s subject called The Political Economy of Conflict and Peace, at the University of Sydney this semester. My first presentation was yesterday and in the lead up to it I drowned myself in the political economic papers and books I wrote or read over the last couple of years. And searching YouTube for parts of documentaries that I have found useful in the past. This entry has become a bit of a dumping ground for me to refer and share again at later times… maybe you’ll find some of this random collection of thoughts and clips useful too…

The global economy today:

What does today’s global stage look like? I.e. What is the shape of today’s political/economical/social pyramid: tall or flat? What do people’s lives look like at the extremes?

The Miniature Earth:


The Pyramid in America alone – top 1% own more than the bottom 90%. We’re talking a pretty skewed looking pyramid…


Remembering history:

Reminder that things could be worse: The Dark Ages


Cultural changes from Feudalism through to Modernity



– The British


– The Spanish


– In Africa


Industrial Revolution




Niall Fergusson –The Ascent of Money – I think it’s worth watching the whole of this series


Different ways to tell the story:

How do the different stories, of individuals, groups and nations, told from different perspectives, from realist to liberal to marxist and all those in between, help us understand the dynamics of key actors and their sets?
Three basic theories based on three key actors:
  • Realism – analyses the world as states acting on their self-interests
  • Liberalism – analyses the world as individuals acting on rational self-interests
  • Marxism – analyses the world as classes acting on their rational self-interests
Milton Friedman: Capitalism vs Socialism

World Systems Theory


In The Structural Theory of Imperialism (a World Systems Theory), Johan Galtung describes a Conveyor Belt between the periphery of the Periphery (pP) pumping resources through to the periphery of the Core (pC) – this is clear to anyone who travels to places like South America, who grow the best coffee beans, sell them to the “north” for cheap and buy them back in the form of the horrible Nescafe Instant, which is all that is generally on offer to the citizens. Crazy! Same goes for all cash crops from cocoa to cotton, which prevent these people from growing food for themselves, causes slavery and human trafficking,

Recent changes to the money system:

1944 Bretton Woods – IMF, WB, Fixed exchange rates


1947 Marshall Plan – European Recovery

1971 Gold Standard replaced with USD as reserve currency

1973 Oil shocks -> stagflation

1978 China opens up

1980s Reganomics / Thatcherism

1980s Latin American debt crisis

1989 Fall of USSR & ‘socialist’ allies.

1995 GATT replaced by WTO

1997 Asian financial crisis

2007 GFC – sub-prime lending

Friedman, Thatcherism and Reaganomics, and the rise and effects of Neoliberalism.


Nixon ends Bretton Woods International Monetary System


Introducing the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund


How our system works:

Demystifying Economics – Jim Stanford explains how the Booms and Bust are a necessary part of the system, and why it is the people at the very top of the pyramid who are bailed out, while the people with mortgages and jobs are the ones that have to pay.


Crises of capitalism (an RSA Animate)


The Goldsmith’s tale explains the history of money:


The South financing the North – The End of Poverty?




Who owns the Federal Reserve?


John Perkins – Confessions of an Economic Hit Man


Institutions and regimes and “structural adjustments” – Bill Clinton apologises


IMF, WB and WTO – who is helping who? a longish news clip


Food polices –

Dambisa Moyo – Dead Aid – Is Aid Killing Africa?


The myth of a “trickle-down” effect


Simms shows that on our current trajectory it would take 15 planets’ worth of earth’s biocapacity to reduce poverty to a state where the poorest receive $3 per day. In other words ‘we will have made Earth uninhabitable long before poverty is eradicated.’[1]

Tax havens


Did you know that half of all world trade currently passes through tax havens? Apparently they ‘allow rich people and corporations to stash trillions in assets that could provide governments with at least $250 billion a yearin tax revenues.’[2]

Wall St = the new world government – Inside Job





The roots of the problem – greed, fear and the laws that encourage it:

The profit motive, and the power of “corporation”


Laws of Incorporation – What kind of person are corporations? What guides their morals? THE BOTTOM LINE.






Connection with fear and The Power of Nightmares



“At the heart of the story are two groups: the American neo-conservatives and the radical Islamists. Both were idealists who were born out of the failure of the liberal dream to build a better world.These two groups have changed the world but not in the way either intended. Those with the darkest fears became the most powerful. Together they created today’s nightmare vision of an organised terror network. A fantasy that politicians then found restored their power and authority in a disillusioned age. Those with the darkest fears became the most powerful. The rise of the politics of fear begins in 1949 with two men whose radical ideas would inspire the attack of 9/11 and influence the neo-conservative movement that dominates Washington. Both these men believed that modern liberal freedoms were eroding the bonds that held society together. The two movements they inspired set out, in their different ways, to rescue their societies from this decay. But in an age of growing disillusion with politics, the neo-conservatives turned to fear in order to pursue their vision.”

This three part documentary traces the rise of Neo-Conservativism in the U.S., with “disillusioned liberals” like Irving Kristol and Paul Wolfowitz looking to Leo Strauss’s political thinking to come together with Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Neo-conservatives come to power under the Reagan administration, using fear to unite the citizens (and unite with the radical Islamists) in a war against the Soviet Union. It traces this alongside the radical Islamist movement back to Sayyid Qutb’s visit to the U.S. to learn about their education systems but sees the “corruption of morals and virtues in western society through individualism” and returns to Egypt to and starts the movement. Qutb is executed in 1966 and one of his followers, a–Zawahiri, later becomes the mentor to Osama bin Laden. Then of course, the two radical groups then face each other head on in the “War on Terror”.

A much shorter and funnier version of the above: Pirates and Emperors


Culture as the Ideological Battleground of the Capitalist World-System


Positive impacts of the rise of Capitalism:

  • Women’s rights
  • Technology and communications
  • New forms of creativity, variety, learning from other cultures
  • Quality of life of some

Negative impacts:

  • Quality of life of others
  • Depression, cancer, stress, baldness and obesity of people at the top
  • Loss of our connection to ancestors and to each other
  • Hunger and dehumanization of people at the bottom

How The Pyramid is changing in the 21st century

Jim Stanford – Economic Crisis:


Capitalism: A Love Story


Serge La Touche on Degrowth


Microfinance – lending money to women in the third world


Investment in Cradle to Cradle design – turning waste into food:


Investments in “Social Business” – Mohammed Yunus


The Eagle and the Condor (the meeting of the Mind and the Heart, of Masculine and Feminine, of the knowledge and wisdom of our world, from Western individualism, to Eastern collectivism, to Indigenous connection to the land)


Bill Gates: How to Fix Capitalism? “Creative Capitalism” (LOVE this!!!)

Changing the economic system with an email


10 ways to change the world:


1. Change corporation law – redefine “corporation” so that they are NOT treated as separate entities in their own right that can be declared bankrupt in and of themselves. Corporation law must be adjusted to hold shareholders responsible for monetary and non-monetary profits and loss.

2. Change finance / stock market laws – in implementing the above, the ST money market would probably have to go, as would trading Derivatives and Options. The stock exchange would slowdown and be based on long term investments.

3. Change banking laws for money/debt creation and collection – limit their ability to print money via debt, decrease bank’s profits, and maybe all debt cancels after 50 years, I’m not sure. Something needs to be done to regulate them though.

4. Change balance of power in the WB, WTO and IMF – give more votes to the poorer nations and create fairer trade policies

5. Create international tax laws – to crack down on tax havens.


6. Philosophically, a self-examination of our values – what makes a life “good”? Two shifts: shift from valuing capital to valuing creativity; and shift from EGO to ECO.

7. Women might reconsider what they find attractive qualities in men – see the attraction of a creative and caring man over a rich and selfish man. Then maybe men will change in suit.

8. Write letters to corporations telling them you won’t buy their product until they stop slave trade and ridiculously low paying 80-hour weeks in sweatshops, and treat their workers in a way they would like to be treated.

9. Public shame of the ridiculously rich – unite in an attempt to decrease the obesity of the rich, and as a consequence decrease the hunger of the poor.

10. See what we might be able to do to campaign to change the laws above.

Essentially I’m talking about setting a limit to the lifestyle of those at the very bottom and very top to the pyramid. There’s nothing wrong with inequity. As my friend said, “if you wanna work smart and hard and eat lobster all the time, and if I wanna work little and eat noodles, then that’s cool. But we both should have food and shelter. It’s just a matter of cutting out the extremes and increasing social mobility between the classes.”

For more on related issues check out:

Summing up our ecological context: Where we are, where we are going, and how

Overpopulation: The Elephant in the Room

When Jim Sanford visited Sydney: The Paper Economy

Trying to do something about chocolate slavery: Chocolate slavery and people with agency

On women and men’s sexual frustration: Empowering women and the role of men

Switching between sides – the paradoxes one faces – Leftist Idealist or Rightwing Conservative

1. Stop exploiting them 2. Look at ourselves Helping Developing Nations

Links to more docos – Free documentaries


[1] Andrew Simms, ‘Trickle-Down Myth’, New Scientist (18 Oct 2008). p. 49. Andrew Simms is the policy director of the New Economics Foundation in London. In this article Simms steps through the mathematics to show the system is designed such that for the poor to get ‘slightly less poor, the rich have to get very much richer’. This means it would take ‘around $166 worth of global growth to generate $1 extra for people living on below $1 a day’.

[2] Susan George, ‘We Must Think Big’, New Scientist (18 Oct 2008). p. 51.

The gap between school and real-life

Does school prepare us for life in the real world? Is knowledge passed from academia to public spheres? Are we learning from the past, or do we continue to make the same mistakes? How well do we really understand ourselves and others in our geopolitical, social, and historical context?

It seems to me there are major gaps within our distribution of knowledge.

Today I want to focus on one of those gaps, the gap between life in school and life after school. Over the coming weeks I will look at other gaps, and then at ways they might bridged.

Schooling in Australia comes down to one result: the HSC. (For non-Australian readers, HSC = Higher School Certificate)

This seemingly life-determining series of exams is ridiculously stressful for students. Suicide, chronic fatigue and depression are among many of the disasterous mental and physical consequences.

After the HSC I have noticed that many students are left feeling high and dry.

The choices may seem too many, or too few, but either way many (including myself ten years ago) feel confused about what to do next. I mean, how many 17 year olds know what they want to do when they leave school? And of those who at the time thought they know, how many look back ten years later and realise that, well, they didn’t?

Whether motivated by guidance from friends, siblings or parents, by money-incentives, or some other not-very-well thought through reasoning, many of us go straight into university and waste 1-3 years doing, or starting to do, a degree in something irrelevant to our future.

Even if we are one of the new generation of Aussies who head overseas for a ‘gap year,’, most return home to face the same dilemma that they faced when they left: they still don’t ‘know what they want to do when they grow up.

So the next stage of the majority’s life story ends up either drinking at university parties as they go to minimal classes to earn that obligatory piece of paper; or working a 9-5 job answering phones, waiting tables, or driving trucks, in order to pay off the credit card or HECS debt.

Maybe things have improved in the eight years since I finished school, or maybe the non-denominational (a la fundamentalist) Christian school I attended was an exception? If so please do point out my errs.

From my observation the gap between finishing high school and finding one’s role in society is a widely felt phenomenon in Australia, and maybe among other western-capitalist countries too.

Through trail and error of various degrees and jobs I have discovered many career options that at high school I never knew existed. Why didn’t I know about these things???

I think the problem with our schools comes down to one thing: The Pyramid. (See blog entry: Preserving-The-Pyramid-The-Reason-Things-Are-The-Way-They-Are).

Instead of encouraging a thirst for knowledge and the intrinsic rewards that comes from creativity, our schools seem to encourage a regurgitating of words and formulas in order to gain the extrinsic rewards of good marks, good university & eventually a good salary.

All of this so that you can pay back your university debts, get a mortgage and work towards the Australian Dream: owning your own house.

Translation: join the system, perpetuate The Pyramid.

Those who control the distribution of knowledge, controls the minds of the people.

Now, please don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing against The Pyramid. Unless I have some visionary solution to power paradoxes of the human condition I don’t feel I am in a place to criticise.  The Pyramid might be the only way a society functions, so maybe our education system is the best it can be.

So let’s put The Pyramid in the parking lot for a moment. How could these gaps in education, should The Pyramid allow it, be bridged? These are some suggestions:

1. Empower children to think for themselves.

I think children could be more involved in the direction of their learning (as in Montessori schools). I think the focus should be on teaching them how to think rather than what to think, helping them develop the critical thinking skills that allow them to do this.

2. Encourage a desire to learn rather than presenting it as an obligatory task.

Learning shouldn’t be something forced upon you. It seems so negative that a child is told they have to do their homework or else get in trouble from the teacher.

Instead, learning should be presented as the luxury it is. It should be presented as the passing on of the cumulated knowledge of humanity, with which it is up to the students to expand and build upon during their lifetime.

Isn’t that a much more exciting proposition than punishment/reward scenarios of learning just to get good grades?

3. Value creativity over conformity

Learning opens up the gates for a child’s imagination, for them to discover their individual potential. Learning makes people more interesting, gives people a better sense of humour, and enhances one’s quality of life in ways that money can’t.

Creativity is a source of pleasure and purpose, but it requires children’s confidence in themselves – getting over the fear of peers, parents or teachers rejecting or ridiculing what they create.

4. Teach more practical & useful skills.

Decision making, goal setting, managing savings, investing in shares or property, avoiding accumulation of debts, solving conflicts, understanding politics and democracy, and the history of civilisation on the whole.

Why don’t schools teach students a general introduction to university disciplines including philosophy, theology, development studies, anthropology, peace studies, and the like?

5. Notify students that the roles that society defines are not the only roles. They can create their own role, their own box.

Students should be provided with a broad perspective of their place in the world, be able to see their perspective in the scheme of other people’s perspectives, and see the similarities and see what factors have influenced the differences. We can’t know everything, but we can develop an understanding of the general areas knowledge or skills that are available, and with an understanding that new areas of knowledge and skills are created every day.

Students should be given the opportunity to find jobs that they will enjoy, that are not a means to an ends but are a day-to-day source of personal growth and giving back to society.

Maybe I’m too idealistic. Yes, I’m sure I am.

I do understand that someone has to take out the trash…

Of course in my mind this is done by computerised machinery, all trash is biofriendly and so even this job is maintained by creative-thinking programmers.

I think if we were encouraged to have a desire to learn, an ability to critically evaluate our world, and to think creatively, we as a society would evolve in the most incredible ways.

Creativity, motivation and critical awareness have the potential to stimulate innovation to new levels, foster ongoing improvement in all areas of life, from local to global and beyond.

Check out what Ken Robinson has to say on the issue in the TED talk “schools kill creativity”:


Ah yes, if only the world could be recreated by creative minds…


With some other idealistic visionaries including Dr Vandana Shiva, winner of the Sydney Peace Prize 2010.


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Brisbane’s Narrative Wreckage: Cataclysmic Interruptions and Redemptive Solutions

Content in living out your life: work, money, weekends, holidays, home, kids… and then something happens: a cataclysmic event changes everything.

Be it a sudden illness or a natural disaster like the flooding Brisbane is now facing, everything you know – everything you care about, everything you have dedicated your life to, everything you imagined for your future – can disappear in an instant.

As I write, Brisbane faces 12 people dead, 43 missing, 20,000 homes, and 3000 businesses under water. No words can convey my sorrow and empathy for all those whose lives have been upturned.

The events reminded me of an analogy I came across in my narratology studies. The analogy of a “Narrative Wreckage”.

Events like are described as an “ontological assault” that throws even the most ‘basic, underlying existential assumptions that people hold about themselves’ into disarray. [1]

I imagine many people living in Brisbane are presently feeling such pain, among the many physical ones.

Occurrences like this cause worlds to be “unmade” – one’s identity and thoughts about the future are thrown into sudden disarray.

One’s basic sense of time is destroyed. Storytelling takes a massive turn. One’s life-narrative must be reconstructed.

At points like this that the Buddhist philosophies of non-attachment show their value: the less attached you are to the things lost, the easier the loss is to deal with.

Even if attached to the things lost (which most of us are), the incoherence in your life narrative can still be repaired.

The repair, depending on the damage, will likely see the creation of a new narrative: one of renewal and redemption, one of hard work and incredible reward. I don’t know if in these situations it helps to consider “the hard road to the good life.”

In an article in the Journal of Happiness Studies, a collaborative group of narratologists write about ‘narrative variations on the good (American) life’ that describe:

‘a gifted (chosen) hero whose manifest destiny is to journey forth into a dangerous world in order to make it better (to redeem it), and who, sustained by deep (intrinsic) convictions, confronts many setbacks along the way, but learns from each of them, and continues to grow.’

The stories ‘celebrate personal growth and redemption stories’ while also affirming ‘the sense that one is special and destined for greatness, that the world is dangerous and in need of the protagonist’s reforming efforts, that the righteous protagonist should never conform but always trust his or her inner convictions, and that good things will come out of suffering, no matter what.’ [2]

This narrative is so familiar – in our literature, movies, religions and even in our daily stories – yet that doesn’t take away from it’s deep psychological value, nor the difficulty of the experience as it is being experienced. Hindsight is great.

Each of us may be an Average Joe yet through narrative we turn into heroic protagonists, setting out on our own quests and adventures, most likely with something narratlogists call a “generative” aim – leaving some kind of personal legacy, creating positive value for future generations, demonstrating the meaning of one’s life (be it lives created eg via making babies, or through lives touched eg through relationships). [3]

No doubt cataclysmic events like this change lives. It changes the future. You may even look back one day and be thankful for the path the cataclysm led you to.

As an observer of the cataclysmic trajectory humanity’s narrative seems to be heading, I hope it isn’t insensitive to think about what the Brisbane floods can teach us all?

Human induced global warming or not, our radical global population growth and unsustainable lifestyles indicate our collective narrative is near wreckage.

People may argue that our population will slow as people come out of poverty and women are educated, but where is the sign that either of these things will happen in the near future? The economic pyramid depends on the large base and a huge gap simply in order for the middle and top to move up and live better. The lifestyles of the rich rob the poor of their choices, and rob future generations of their resources. I am, in every aspect of my lifestyle, a cog in this system. While this system poses threat to the narratives of many individually, and collectively, the institutions and society we are born into is not easy to escape, and even harder to challenge.

At difficult times like the Brisbane floods we see the media, the government, the nation, and much of the world, unite in effort to help those in need. Our common humanity triumphs over the economic, cultural, religious, and ideological differences that so often tear as apart.

As we join together to restore the order, to help those in need get back on their feet, I am reminded that humans care. When we see others suffering, we know that it could be us in their place, so we treat those people how we hope they would treat us. Our more superficial aspirations may distract us at times but at the end of the day I think we each feel connected to everyone and everything that surrounds us and that we are a part of.

This gives me hope.

I hope we can find ways to repair the cataclysms that face us in this moment, and to avoid the cataclysms that (on our current trajectory) appear to lie ahead.


[1] Crossley, Michelle, (2002) Introducing Narrative Psychology, Narrative, Memory and Life Transitions. pp. 11-12.

Michelle refers to Narrative Wreckage analogy from Frank, A (1995), The wounded storyteller: Body, illness and ethics, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

[2] Bauer, J. J., D. P. McAdams, et al. (2008). Narrative Identity and Eudaimonic Well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 9, p. 98.

[3] Baddeley, J. and J. A. Singer (2007). Charting the Life Story’s Path: Narrative Identity Across the Life Span. in Handbook of narrative inquiry : mapping a methodology. ed. D. J. Clandinin. Thousand Oaks, Calif., Sage Publications: xix, 693 p. 191.


I snapped this in Budapest 2006