el Hombre del Sur

words for the wilderness


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The Rain is Soft: Enchantment in the Age of Excess

Cape Palliser, 2014

Cape Palliser, 2014

“The brushwood we gather – stack it together, it makes a hut; pull it apart, a field once more. Such is our way of thinking – we find beauty not in the thing itself but in the pattern of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates…”

  • Junichiro Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows.

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Blog Action Day: Fridges, Inequality and Government Policy

October 16th is Blog Action Day, an annual event designed to stimulate dialogue around a set issue. This year’s topic is inequality – which is now as high as it was in the Gilded Age. Food for thought? Here’s my go:

Imagine you are buying a fridge. It’s a tough decision: you don’t have much money, and there are lots of other things you’d like to spend it on… buut you do need a fridge. Food is important, right, and no-one wants to schlep to the shop every time they want cereal. So – which one to get?

fridge Continue reading


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Humans for the Future

International sensation Humans of New York has spawned a number of imitators, including Humans of K Road here in Auckland. Chris, who runs the blog in NZ, has recently started a similar project called Humans for the Future, trying to capture some of the positivity around change on the ground. He asked a number of people: what’s your vision for the future? 

Here’s my answer.

Tokomaru Bay, East Cape

Tokomaru Bay, East Cape

“Our world is changing rapidly. I think we’ve collectively hit the point where we feel like something with the existing system isn’t working, and people are now actively looking for solutions. There is a push away from the homogenisation of centralised society: people want to be empowered to have a say in their future, and want to do so in a way that expresses them and their values, their culture. You can’t be sure exactly what the future will look like, but you get a sense of its flavour: more collaborative, more equal, and more local – with the reduced impact and increased time for leisure and relationship building that this provides. It’s an exciting time.”


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I wouldn’t speak: A message to the World’s leaders

Yesterday that bastion of respectable journalism stuff.co.nz put up an assignment: what you would say, if you were given a chance to speak to the World’s leaders about climate change? Here’s my attempt (link to Stuff.co.nz publication, complete with trolls, here) – what would you add?

http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/teacher_resources/best_place_species/current_top_10/new_zealand.cfm

Kahikatea Forest, New Zealand’s South Island (pic: WWF)

What would I say, given a chance to speak the world’s leaders about climate change? It sure would be a tough task. After all, what can you say, that hasn’t already been said?

I know what I wouldn’t say.

I wouldn’t speak about the irrefutable scientific evidence that demonstrates that our climate is warming. I wouldn’t speak about the consensus amongst scientists who attribute this to mankind’s actions, or the peril that we face if we continue to ignore it. I wouldn’t speak about how achievable change is, or the economic benefits that it might bring. I wouldn’t speak about how we have but one earth, or detail how its limits dictate our conduct – whether or not we acknowledge them. I wouldn’t speak about the societies before ours who failed to live within these limits, and the ends to which they came. I wouldn’t speak about the impact of drought on food crops, or the political unrest that scarcity fuels. I wouldn’t talk about denial, ideology or the financial powers who seek to protect their vested interests – at the expense of us all.

I wouldn’t speak about the permafrost melting, or the millions whose lives will be displaced by a rising sea. I wouldn’t speak about the dolphins, or the urchins or the coral lost to an acidic ocean. I wouldn’t speak about carbon, tipping points or mass extinctions, nor would I mention energy efficiency, compromise, or future generations.

Given the choice, I wouldn’t speak at all.

My message would be simple: come with me. Come with me and see this land. Come walk in the forest. Let your city feet feel mud; let your city mind be still. Hear the wind as it shakes the treetops, watch their dance. Do you remember? This was once yours. Or rather, you were once its. This land knows you; indeed, it knows us all.

When you leave the city and its stream of meetings and deadlines, addendums and agendas – what is it that you feel? Do you see yourself, adrift in an infinite universe – and wonder why? Do you see the shadows, hear the silence – or is yours a world that has abandoned them?

For what do you work? For whom?

Be one with this place – or better yet, be one with the place that makes your heart sing as mine does here – and tell me: what it is you seek to protect, when the meeting room fades and the earth and its people speak?

There is but one answer.


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Why (and how) inequality is bad for us: The Spirit Level lecture series

“The reigning economic system is a vicious cycle of isolation. Its technologies are based on isolation, and they contribute to that same isolation. From automobiles to television, the goods that the spectacular system chooses to produce also serve it as weapons for constantly reinforcing the conditions that engender “lonely crowds.” With ever-increasing concreteness the spectacle recreates its own presuppositions.”

- Guy Debord (1967), The Society of the Spectacle 

Last Wednesday I attended the second in a series of three lectures by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, the authors of The Spirit Level, hosted at the University of Auckland as part of the annual Sir Robert Douglas lecture series.

For those that haven’t read The Spirit Level, its central thesis is very simple. As income disparity increases, so do a wide range of health and social problems: violence, suicide, child abuse, obesity, depression – the list of negative outcomes associated with the degree of economic inequality is staggering, and as the lecture on Wednesday established, far more than just conjecture. Continue reading


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New Thinking on Sustainability: Conference Summary (Part 4)

This is the final in a series of four posts summarising the New Zealand Centre for Public Law and Victoria University’s ‘New Thinking on Sustainability’ conference, and focuses on some ways in which we might achieve change.

The call for new models of governance (resulting from the demonstrable environmental and social failures of centralisation) was taken up by Ben Gussen and his call for a shift towards local decision-making, reflecting the principle of subsidiarity (that local communities should have a say in their own governance – discussed more in part two).

Gussen’s contention is that our issue is one of scale, not only in the impact our population has, but in the cumbersome political models that now fail to act on our behalf. Gussen emphasised that humans are inherently political – our interdependence demands it – and suggested that current voter apathy is merely a problem of institutional design. Our adherence to the concept of a unitary state blocks the very diversity and plurality that might help better align us with the biosphere.

Neoclassical economics continues to model the world as a machine; under this paradigm it needs design, and can only function from the top-down. However new thinking focuses on the power of spontenaiety and self organisation: the emerge of governance from the bottom-up. This is captured in the metaphor of flocking starlings, where each individual follows local rules (turn left if the bird next to you turns left, right if it turns right and so on) to produce a global effect (the mesmerising dance of the flock) – what form might our dance take, if we were given the chance to self-organise? Continue reading

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