Rick van Rein

vr 25 december 2020


Think Globally, Act Locally

Christmas is a time for reflection, certainly in 2020. What is the World doing, what is our role in it, and can we improve in the next year?

There are many situations in the World that nobody wants to maintain, but most of us assume that individuals cannot make a change. In our project, we obviously think otherwise; open source is perhaps the most obvious example of the difference that our individual choices can make.

Being human, we need to make make our day-to-day choices based on partial knowledge. This is unsolvable, because we have only a limited processing bandwidth [Mihaly]. And so, our brains evolved to fill in any gaps; this ensures that we don't freeze when faced with a choice, but that we can at least act. Run away, fight, whatever. Brain researchers [Swaaij] will tell you that we habitually think up reasons for our actions as an afterthought; police investigators and magicians will tell you that this makes a human's account of a scene unreliable. Simply because we cannot process all the information around us.

To help us make the best decisions we make them more local; we focus on the things that concern us. We usually consider information directly around us, such as the current place, the current time, and the (current) family. We basically prioritise our choices with this mechanism. Observe animals and you will understand how well this works. The phrase think globally, act locally basically calls out to use our intelligence to prioritise global concerns while making decisions; to develop a pattern of choice that focusses on things that serve humanity as a whole, rather than acting on impulse and evolve beyond the individual interests that animals are subjected to.

There are good reasons for calling out on this. We often assume that individuals should be empowered to make their own personal decisions, and may be making a mistake when we extend that to commercial organisations, especially those who defend shareholder value. Freedom of choice combined with a financial motivation creates situations in which parties may act against their conscience. When faced with the consequences, they tend to argue that they have no other choice. People sometimes do that too. Anyone saying this is basically saying that they understand and reject the ethics involved in their decision, presumable because something else is an overruling concern. What could that be?

Money gives us an abstract form of trading; every transaction is complete and neutral. This sounds nice, until you realise that anthropologists [Lietaer] have found that friendships arise when people help one another; many things are simple to give but feel great to receive. This causes people to feel a wish to continually help each nother; it is a sound basis with mutual benefits, even motivated by personal interests. This aspect of friendship vanishes when money is handed over to neutralise the help provided.

Ethics is abstracted out from transactions that are neutralised with money. We can see this in the financial industry which would rather gamble on prices of staple foods like rice and wheat than financing enterprises. The enterprises could help build a better World, whereas staple food prices rise due to the trading; the latter is however less risky, so an understandable choice when seen from an individual angle; it is of course a misfit for banks that have been empowered to create money if they do not act with fitting societal responsibilty. Poverty in general would be unbearable if we could not abstract from it, and allow people to just thrive [Yunus]. Industrial animal keeping can only exist in its current form as long as we can use money's abstract properties to distantiate ourselves from from its brutal treatment of animals.

Growth has a natural ceiling in nature; a lion hunts to survive, but will not prey on more than it needs. Although greed is sometimes excused as "survival of the fittest", any comparison with nature is actually a misfit. But unbounded growth tends to be unstoppable and lead to the destruction of civilisations [Diamond]. It would be a different matter if regulation was effective in providing a ceiling to the creation of differences between wealth and poverty. Interest is a main driver in the broadening of this gap [Lietaer] and Inflation creates growth of money, but not of wealth; what does create are instability and insecurity by subjecting the financial system to phases of growth and recession [deSoto].

Freedom is about your ability to make choices. If you only incorporate the lowest price in your choices, just like many companies do, then you are not really free; you are not imposing your personality on your actions. Instead, you have fallen prey to marketeers who think on your behalf. They will tell you what you need, they decide when your "old" stuff is out of fashion. And they are so good at it [Barber] and are even designing for addiction [Lustig] that it is surprising that not all advertisements have been banned entirely. Personally, I consider advertising an insult to my intelligence and I always block it from entering my head.

Think Globally is a mantra that asks you to be aware of the World around you. To realise what the global impact is of choices made by individuals like you. And how you may be part of a system that you do not approve of. This sounds uncomfortable, but it is mostly a motivator that pushes you to liberate yourself.

Act Locally is a mantra to empower you in exercising your personal freedom, and make choices founded on your own feelings of what is ethical and what is not. This can be a process of constant personal development, and much more rewarding than mere enslavement to marketing, to fashion, and to the feeling that you don't matter. Because you do. It's your ideals that make you human.

Accept Imperfection when it comes to ideals; it is often easy to do 90% but getting to 100% is likely to bring a lot of anxiety. Ideals can liberate you, but being too forceful may end up impairing you, and giving up. You will probably find that you need to approach your ideals one step at a time, and can then incorporate more and more habits to get closer to. Personal example: I cook vegan meals because I care for my health, the environment, poverty and animals; however, to avoid stressing out friends I ask them to treat me as a vegetarian. I show less leniency in restaurants.

Concrete Examples

Personal freedom forbids that you would be forced into someone else's ideals... and still, a few examples, however personal, may be interesting.

  • Express yourself! As long as you don't block others from being themselves, why would you hold back in being the best you can be? There is a reverse side to this coin - judging others about matters that don't concern you would restrict their personal freedom.
  • Innovate the World towards something you love. Find others to work with. You actions count, especially if you end up motivating others.
  • Use open source software because it expresses that copying code is cheap. In return, companies should consider funding improvements, and individuals can donate their quality by working on it. There is certainly room for non-coders; there is a lot of work for writers, graphical artists, translaters, project managers. Not employed? Gain some experience for free!
  • Use open protocols and frown on services that can only work with their own "very special" software. This includes all Apps and JavaScript requirements on websites. The web is basically open, but quickly moving into a closed and locked-in mechanism. How many chat applications do you need in a World where such trivial functionality ends up in non-integrated islands? And there are many protocols that are more specialised, and better when not forced over the web; telephony, chat, data transfer, and plenty more [IETF].
  • Be sceptic about "free" offers because they are usually made with a purpose. Do you agree with that purpose? If it is an assault to privacy, does it only affect yours or are you pulling others along in a ride that they don't want?
  • Be sceptic about "social" networks because they tend to individualism, but not to society. By sheer language definitions, this makes them populist networks.
  • Think. Don't let algorithms turn you from someone exploring an opinion into someone caught into a bubble that confirms this. Lookup authoritative sources before you form an opinion. Bring strong viewpoints into balance by also reading about the opposite views.
  • Vote. Many countries are currently experimenting with populism; most of it ends up being destructive for the well-being in a country. Question your politicians before you vote for them.
  • Be energy-neutral or at least work towards it. It is an undeniable need of the World that we all move in this direction. The older you are, the more you benefited from the CO2 that is now hurting the World, and the more reasons you have to make up to younger generations. Elderly people who can afford solar panels may want to balance an isolated cost/benefit calculation with this ethical consideration.
  • Money talks as soon as you take it away from things you don't approve of, and put it into things you care for. The lowest price can be a really cheap choice to make; it is an enrichment of your life to be part of a solution, than part of a problem.
  • Industrial animal farming is a questionable system to fund. You know the reasons, although most people are not aware that it is a breeding ground for new diseases [Greger]. Luckily, you can get as far away from it as you like; your taste adopts a new pattern of eating after 3 week and the human body only needs animal food to offset extremely one-sided diets; to most of us, animal food quickly becomes an overdose and culminates in cancer, diabetes and heart disease. It also drives climate change. ([Lancet]*.

Sources. Mostly popular words from authorities in their fields.

[Mihaly] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

[Swaaij] Dick Swaaij, Wij zijn ons brein: van baarmoeder tot alzheimer. (in Dutch)

[Lietaer] Bernard Lietaer, The Future of Money.

[deSoto] Jesús Huerta de Soto, Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles.

[Yunus] Muhammad Yunus, Banker to the Poor.

[Diamond] Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.

[Barber] Benjamin R. Barber, Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole.

[Lustig] Robert Lustig, The Hacking of the American Mind, interview.

[IETF] Internet Engineering Task Force, About, online.

[Greger] Michael Greger, Pandemics: History and Prevention. online.

[Lancet] EAT-Lancet Commission, summary report, Food in The Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets From Sustainable Food Systems, online.

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