A New Way to Think About Solving the World’s Biggest Problems

Lambert here: I’m impressed they got 10% of all UK MPs to sign up.

Interview between David Sloan Wilson, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University, and John Bunzl and Nick Duffell, authors of The SIMPOL Solution. Originally published at Evonomics.

A while back I received a book in the mail titled “The SIMPOL Solution: A New Way to Think About Solving the World’s Biggest Problems” by John Bunzl and Nick Duffell, who were unknown to me. I get sent a lot of books with grandiose titles and don’t get around to reading most of them. But something about this one intrigued me, along with an endorsement by Noam Chomsky, who wrote “It’s ambitious and provocative: Can it work? Certainly worth a serious try”.

So I read it in a single sitting on a transatlantic flight and was triply impressed. Not only did the authors have a clear understanding of Destructive Global Competition (DGC) between nations and the need for worldwide cooperation, but they actually had a plan called Simultaneous Policy (SIMPOL) for how to achieve it in an incremental fashion. As if that weren’t enough, they’ve started to implement SIMPOL in the UK and elsewhere.

Soon I was trading emails with John and Nick and learned that an American edition was in the works. I’m pleased to publish this conversation about their new book an an excerpts from the book, which is now available to an American audience.

DSW: Greetings and congratulations on the American publication of your book!

JB & ND: Thanks, David! We’re delighted you read it and glad you liked it.

DSW: Please introduce yourselves. What are your backgrounds and how did SIMPOL occur to you?

JB: I’m a businessman and part-owner of a company trading in textile raw materials. Back in 1998, I was having a Sunday lunch with my family and we were discussing climate change because the kids were covering it at school. Afterwards, my Mum unexpectedly confronted me with a question: what would you do about it? Her disarming directness had a strange effect because, almost from nowhere, I responded that “it would have to happen simultaneously”. All, or nearly all, nations would have to act simultaneously. Perhaps because of my business background, I realized that no nation could decisively reduce its carbon emissions unless virtually all other nations did so too because any nation trying to go it alone would only land its economy with increased costs and a competitive disadvantage. I also realized that simultaneity could be a great way to solve so many other issues from wealth inequality to nuclear disarmament, because the all-important pre-condition of “simultaneous implementation” makes supporting such reforms risk-free. Governments could support decisive action without risking their competitiveness. And so the SIMPOL campaign was born.

ND: My wife first brought SIMPOL to my attention, after which I invited John to take part in a men’s event I was co-convening. John then read an early draft of my 2014 book Wounded Leaders, about the psychology of the UK political scene, whereupon he invited me to co-author The SIMPOL Solution. My main task was to set out the psychological resistance to the idea, which involved going quite deeply into identity issues and the psychology of denial. It was especially important to show how environmentalists failed to pick up the idea because of their entrenched identity position of being the ‘good guys’ against the ‘bad guys’.

DSW: It was a pleasure to discover that you’re so well informed about evolution. When did the modern evolutionary literature come to your attention and what role did it play in developing SIMPOL?

JB: It first came to my attention around 2000. I was contacted by Australian evolutionary biologist John Stewart, author of Evolution’s Arrow, who suggested SIMPOL had many common features with how evolution had resolved key competition bottle-necks in the past, such as the evolution of eukaryote cells from earlier proto-cells. At first, I didn’t understand, but, after reading his book and some others, I began to see how SIMPOL could be part of our on-going evolutionary story.

In particular, I saw how the vicious circle of Destructive Global Competition (DGC) – every nation’s inability to move first to solve global problems – is really just part-and-parcel of the evolutionary dance of cycles, first of competition and then of cooperation, that have taken us from hunter-gather tribes to larger agrarian Middle-Age small-states, to still-larger industrial nation-states. Each new and larger cooperative social unit pushed competition to new higher level and, today, globalization means that competition is now global, requiring the urgent evolution of global cooperation between nation-states. And there, I realized, SIMPOL had a potentially crucial role to play.

Since then, I also came across your work, in particular Does Altruism Exist? and others such as Peter Turchin and Martin Nowak, which all helped to demonstrate how Simpol fits very well with your and E.O. Wilson’s theory of Multi-level Selection.

But that only describes external evolution. The other aspect is internal; the evolution of people’s ways of thinking so brilliantly described by Clare Graves and more recently by Beck and Cowan in ‘Spiral Dynamics’, or by Ken Wilber with his ‘All Quadrants All Levels’ model. Understanding how people’s thinking evolves is crucial. Our problem today, at least in the West, is that most people including our politicians still operate with a nation-centric worldview whereas solving global problems depends on a critical number of us adopting a world-centric worldview. Little wonder we’re failing to understand our globalized world and failing, likewise, to solve global problems!

Realizing SIMPOL’s success would depend on helping to change people’s thinking, I understood that the problem was primarily one of psychology. That’s why I got together with a psychotherapist and psycho-historian.

ND: I’ve been involved with consciousness movements all my life and trained in systems theory and Psychosynthesis. Consciousness is clearly evolving, but it needs our cooperation. And at times of stress consciousness also regresses. This is what’s happening today with the anxiety-driven movements towards protectionism and keeping foreigners out. It’s quite natural that humans backpedal when they’re on the brink of a big change. Our challenge today, then, is to really see ourselves in the same boat but that will mean letting go of our familiar ideas of national sovereignty. We have to grieve and then embrace the change.

Where SIMPOL chimes with me is that my work has been about helping people and groups to develop the skills to self-regulate. Self-regulation is what defines maturity in organisms, and in groups; it’s already the major operating principle in the human body – and, of course, in the psyche. For humans, despite our wonderful but immaturely used technology, maturing means to intentionally self-regulate, and this means introducing it into politics.

DSW: Your analysis of Destructive Global Competition (DGC) dovetails with what I call the Iron Law of Multilevel Selection: Adaptation at any level of a multitier hierarchy requires a process of selection at that level and tends to be undermined by selection at lower levels. This is profoundly different than ‘the invisible hand’, which pretends that the pursuit of lower-level self-interest benefits the common good. It reveals the unregulated competition among nations and corporations as the problem and the formulation of policies with the welfare of the whole earth in mind as the only solution. The excerpts from your book that accompany this conversation show how you lay this out in your own words. The most original part of your book, for me, is your plan for building global cooperation in an incremental fashion. Please describe how this works.

JB: Ok, but first some background. Not only does DGC prevent nations from acting meaningfully on social or environmental issues, it also means that whichever party we elect has no choice but to adopt very narrow business-friendly, neoliberal policies; that is, policies that keep the nation ‘internationally competitive’. That’s why, once in office, one party behaves much like another and voters become increasingly disillusioned: an effect we call ‘pseudo-democracy’. Our votes, apparently, have become substantially meaningless.

With this situation in mind, SIMPOL invites us to have a little fun by using our votes in a completely new, creative way that turns the tables on our pseudo-democratic political systems while liberating politicians from the tyranny of DGC.

The Simultaneous Policy (SIMPOL) will consist of a series of multi-issue global problem-solving policy packages, each of which is to be implemented by all or sufficient nations simultaneously, on the same date, so that no nation loses out. Citizens who join the campaign can contribute to the design of those policies and to getting them implemented. But how?

By joining the campaign, citizens agree to ‘give strong voting preference in all future national elections to politicians or parties that have signed a pledge to implement Simpol simultaneously alongside other governments, to the probable exclusion of those who choose not to sign’. This pledge (the ‘Pledge’) commits a politician, party or government to implement SIMPOL’s policies alongside other governments, if and when sufficient other governments have also signed on.

In this simple way, politicians who sign enhance their electoral chances, while those who refuse risk losing our votes to politicians who signed instead. Thus, in tightly contested electoral areas, failing to sign could cost a politician their seat.

To further enhance the pressure on politicians, SIMPOL never divulges how many supporters we have in any electoral area, so politicians are left to wonder – and worry. Conversely, politicians who do sign don’t risk anything because SIMPOL only gets implemented if and when all or sufficient nations have similarly signed up. So, signing is a win-win for them while failing to sign could spell disaster, especially as the number of supporting citizens grows.The paradox of SIMPOL, then, is that it turbo-charges party-political competition to produce global cooperation. It puts citizens firmly in the political driving seat, giving us a powerful vote in global affairs in a way that politicians can’t ignore.

For citizens, you could say that joining SIMPOL is a bit like getting two votes: one that’s global, the other national. Joining the campaign and telling politicians you’ll be ‘giving strong preference at national elections to those that sign the SIMPOL Pledge to the probable exclusion of those who don’t’ represents your global vote. Then, on election day, you get your national vote just like everyone else. Just when you thought your vote had become substantially meaningless, SIMPOL transforms it into the most powerful driver for global cooperation.

That said, experience shows that politicians often need little persuasion to sign the Pledge. Even those in safe seats sometimes happily sign it simply because they see its common sense.

As the campaign develops, our hope is that, as UN efforts to solve global problems continue to fall short, SIMPOL might gradually emerge as the only alternative. If so, and as non-democratic governments see Western democratic governments gradually starting to support Simpol, they will not want to be left out and will voluntarily sign the Pledge too. In fact, as global problems worsen, all nations will need a way out of the stranglehold that DGC has us in. Corporations, too, may ultimately realize that it’s in their interests to have a global level playing field of simultaneously implemented regulations which keep the global economy fair and sustainable for all companies.

There are, of course, many other aspects to the project, not least the method for developing SIMPOL‘s policy content and how citizens can participate, how multiple global issues can allow nations that might lose on one issue to gain on another, how global agreements would be negotiated, and how potentially harmful policies would be screened out. But more on all that can be found on our website.

DSW: Not only have you devised this solution, you’ve already put it into action, to a degree. Please tell us more.

JB: We’ve put the process into action in a number of countries in a small but significant way. In the UK where SIMPOL is most developed, at the last national election in 2017 we got over 650 candidates from all the main political parties to sign the Pledge. Of those, 65 are now Members of Parliament (MPs), which is about 10% of all UK MPs.

Demonstrating SIMPOL’s enormous leverage, we also found that in closely contested electoral areas, a kind of ‘domino effect’ occurred. As one candidate signed the Pledge, his competitors, one after another, felt obliged to follow, resulting in nearly all the competing candidates signing up as election day approached. This meant that whichever candidate won the seat, SIMPOL was sure to gain another MP committed to implementing its global policy agenda. This, then, is how SIMPOL works across parties and across the political spectrum pushing politicians towards global cooperation. For those who are fed up with the meaningless ‘ding-dong’ between the political parties, Simpol offers a way to cut through that, driving all politicians towards implementing what really matters: a sustainable and just world.

Right now this process is slow. But as citizen-support becomes significant, we expect that just as individual politicians have signed the Pledge, whole political parties will feel pressured to do so too. In that way, the turbo-charging of competition won’t only work at the level of individual politicians but between whole parties. There, too, we can expect the ‘domino effect’ to come into play.

SIMPOL is likely to work most powerfully in ‘first-past-the-post’ electoral systems, such as in the UK. But at the last national elections in Germany and Ireland, both countries with proportional representation systems, we got over 50 candidates in each of those countries to sign the Pledge. Of those, we now have 14 pledged MPs in the Irish Parliament and 11 in the German Bundestag. So, it seems the process works regardless of the electoral system concerned.

Beyond those countries, we have a handful of MPs in the EU parliament, in Australia, Argentina and Luxembourg. What we most need, however, is for citizens to get involved in every democratic country.

ND: What impresses me most about SIMPOL is that it’s ‘good to go’. It uses existing structures in a smart way so we don’t need to wait for a world parliament or a reformed UN. And that’s good, because we have to act now if we are to tackle the climate issue, tax havens, corporation tax loopholes, and so on. Also important is that in most countries there is now extreme polarization as well as political apathy amongst the young. Yet events like Trump and Brexit show that voting does matter. By engaging our votes, SIMPOL shows citizens that we already have the power and how to wield it effectively.

DSW: What are your hopes for implementing SIMPOL in the USA?

JB: We do have supporters in the USA but no proper campaign there yet. We’re hoping this interview might change that soon. Like elsewhere, there’s widespread dissatisfaction in the U.S. with both mainstream parties. Meanwhile, some people hope that more extreme options – such as Trump or Sanders – might offer a solution. But we’re hoping that, as U.S. citizens come to understand DGC and Pseudo-democracy, they’ll increasingly realize that none of them can offer real solutions because, until we solve the problem at the global level through something like SIMPOL, DGC will inevitably stay in control, forcing whoever is in the Oval Office to implement the same old narrow neoliberal agenda. Even Trump, who promised an ‘America First’, protectionist agenda has largely used tariffs tactically to obtain more preferential free-trade arrangements. Why? Because Donald Trump is not really in control; DGC is.

So we’re hoping to build a vibrant SIMPOL campaign in the U.S. soon. We already have a website but we need citizens to sign on and get involved.

SIMPOL is certainly ambitious. But we can be sure that evolution is on our side. Evolution and multi-level selection tend towards ever-larger scales of cooperation. As competition between nations – what we’ve called DGC – becomes increasingly acute and damaging, and as people increasingly become aware of it, the only solution is global cooperation. SIMPOL, I like to think, is the political embodiment of that. It’s conscious evolution in action. It’s just waiting for people to take it up and run with it.

DSW: Let’s hope so, and I’m glad to give it a boost with this interview!

Excerpts from The SIMPOL Solution: Solving Global Problems Could Be Easier Than We Think.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. kimyo

    the problems we face do not require political solutions. in fact, most political ‘solutions’ serve merely to enrich the connected.

    it doesn’t matter how much political will is put behind transitioning away from fossil fuels when there is nothing to transition to.

    we aren’t going to solve peak oil by voting for a particular group of politicians. we aren’t going to solve toxic/insufficient groundwater by voting for……

    if it achieves critical mass, simpol will focus attention away from the key matters at hand.

    1. Hamford

      “if it achieves critical mass, simpol will focus attention away from the key matters at hand.”

      Yes and in that regard how would it be any different than the Paris climate agreement… slight, feel-good incrementalism, but with simultaneity!

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        I doubt SIMPOL will get critical mass for anything more than yet another TED talk.

    2. Jeremy Grimm

      I agree with your assessment of the problems we face, and the potential for their solution through political means. I don’t think there are solutions for the problems we face. At best, wise and well-meaning political policies might work to soften some of the worst effects that will come — long enough perhaps — to briefly lessen and postpone the kinds of solutions on offer by mobs of the thirsty, hungry, and fearful.

    3. Knute Rife

      Except it is political because Clausewitz was right when he wrote that war is politics by other means; revolution is just a particular form of war.

  2. Demented Chimp

    How are policies chosen to execute silmultaneously that’s the big unanswered question. How do different citizens contribute to simpol package design.. . Each country needs a different solution for a problem.. and so back to square 1 on tradeofffs ….really dont see how different from the unfccc with a different name. That negotiates treaties which get implemented silmutaneously.

    SIMPOL sounds seductive. Devil is in how policies to implement are chosen and the god forbid if they all win implemented (like bexit mess) Don’t see how any different from existing globally orientated institutions.

  3. JJ139

    Well, politicians lie to get elected. While the first candidate to sign may well have been genuine, the others purely do it so as not to appear out of step to electors.
    I would be interested to see a by party breakdown of the 65 MPs already signed up.

    1. Summer

      I would love for indigenous peoples in places like the South American rainforests to weigh in.

      1. Hamford

        I would love for countries like India to weigh in, who are only now starting to realize the fossil fuel boom to their country. Should they simultaneously aquiesce their consumption?

        I guess the solution for the poor is that everyone in a shanty should “think globally”, and cut off fossil fuels from their family’s one stove while the wealthy will comply by purchasing “zero-emission” teslas!

        1. John Wright

          The article implies that if all nations work with SIMPOL climate change can be solved.

          But maybe the climate change problem is intractable.

          See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_dioxide_emissions_per_capita

          This gives carbon dioxide emissions per capita from 1980 to 2013 and does not allow for deforestation.

          A number of countries have cut their CO2 per capita in the 1980 to 2013 time-frame, including the USA, as it went from 20.8 metric tons per capita in 1980 to 16.4 metric tons per capita in 2013.

          Meanwhile, the USA population went from 226.5 million in 1980 to 316.2 million in 2013.

          If we compare 2013 total CO2 production with 1980 by multiplying by population, in 1980 the USA’s population emitted 226.5 x 20.8 millions of metric tonnes (4711) of CO2 and in 2013 the USA produced 316.2 x 16.4 millions of metric tonnes of CO2 (5185).

          So from 1980 to 2013, the CO2 footprint of the USA went up by a factor by about 10% (5185/4711 = 1.1).

          And in 1980, the USA did much more manufacturing.

          As one glances through the chart, one can see many less developed countries that would very likely like to improve lifestyles by increasing their CO2 production AND they would want the developed nations to decrease their CO2 production to slow the impact of climate change.

          How would SIMPOL handle this re-allocation?

          This constitutes a major lifestyle change for the developed nations, for using less energy is something everyone wants OTHER people to do.

          SIMPOL seems to assume that climate change can be “solved” if SIMPOL is widely adopted.

          Maybe a solution is simply not possible given the WW desire for a better life and the growing world population.

          This makes SIMPOL “to the rescue” a false hope.

        2. Summer

          We have similar points. Along the lines of: If the book about SIMPOL isn’t written in true, internationally cooperative manner, but the world is expected to act on it rather than being acted upon, then what is it really saying?

    1. JCC

      From simpol.org, good points:

      UN-sponsored international negotiations, for example on carbon emissions, have two major and potentially fatal draw-backs:

      1. They deal with only one issue at a time. This is problematic because, on any particular issue (eg. carbon emissions), there will always be winners and losers. And because only one issue is on the table, there is no way for losers to be compensated, so virtually assuring their non-cooperation.

      2. When it comes to global policy, the people have no say and effectively no sway on their governments. There is consequently no electoral pressure on governments – no direct political incentive for them to cooperate with one another.

      The site gives lots of info on their ideas. Early days, but who knows? We know for the sure the UN is pretty toothless when it comes to problems like AGW.

    1. Carolinian

      Yes the problem with “a new way to think” is that so much of our behavior doesn’t involve thinking at all. So perhaps they should really be thinking about that.

      Undoubtedly it is true that human history lurches between competition and cooperation but that likely has more to do with practicality than evolving consciousness (unless the phrase means simple learning from experience). Cooperation gets us places. Meanwhile our inner demons say me, me, me.

      It is a dilemma–probably not one that will be solved in what amounts to a TED talk. And recent experience suggests global utopianism often turns into a hidden agenda (that me thing) although no doubt George Soros would approve.

      1. kees_popinga

        I was thinking also of indigenous Australians. They thrived for 30,000 years on a finite landmass without blowing themselves (or the landmass) to bits. Did their consciousness evolve? Certainly their knowledge of the landscape and human limits must have grown over that time but did that constitute evolution?
        The idea of the techno-singularity seems horribly brief, provincial, and eccentric, stacked up against that kind of timespan (and some might say, success, without “globalism”).

        1. Lee

          But then there is the “sharp stick theory” of environmental history. It posits that if human populations whose technology was limited to sharp sticks and the like had bulldozers instead, their relationship to the environment would have been no different than that of human populations that did have said bulldozers. Over most of the world stone age humans, including in Australia, still managed with their limited means to hunt many species to extinction. They weren’t being evil or greedy. They were just hungry. Since then, one aspect of human consciousness that we can say with certainty to have evolved is our appetites.

          1. kees_popinga

            When the English colonists arrived Australia wasn’t Easter Island — the indigenous people had kept their populations small enough to be fed without stripping the continent bare. And they were incredibly wasteful, as we use the term, burning many acres just to flush out a few possums and goannas. Yet somehow they had learned to curb their appetites to preserve an overall balance for 30 millennia. That’s a long time. It may have required measures we wouldn’t like to contemplate, such as elementary eugenics and rigidly enforced patriarchy, yet they survived as a culture — by many accounts they were even “happy” before the westerners arrived. Ultimately it’s hard to talk about “consciousness” when we don’t agree on its purpose, or even whether it is benign development in the history of our planet — see, Schopenhauer, A. and Zapffe, P.

            1. Lee

              You raise good points on this fascinating topic.

              Native American hunter-gatherers used burning as well. As I understand it, this was to inhibit the encroachment of woodland on grazing grounds. Temperate forests don’t support large herbivores to the extent that grasslands do. Better to hunt bison than squirrels.

              The methods employed by indigenous Australians to keep their population in check or the exogenous factors that kept it in check, might meet with resistance or not be tolerated now. OTOH, there is a hypothesis that hunter-gatherers have a lower birthrate because of a scarcity of refined foods for infants, thus requiring an extended period of nursing their children, which in turn prolongs the period of post natal infertility.

            2. drumlin woodchuckles

              The broadacre burning may have seemed wasteful, but was it really wasteful? Or was it maintaining an evershifting patchwork of early to mid successional fire ecology ecosystems? Wherever one sees a grassfire having been . . . if one sees any black burned-looking carbon-type residue on the ground, one is looking at biochar. Natural organic biochar. Which gets slowly worked into the soil after every periodic burning.

              Do early explorer chronicles record vast huge “oil-fire” type brush fires from the pre Brittish-Settler Holocaust-of-the-Aborigines period? If not, then do chronicles record when spectacular brush-fires first became a thing?

              1. Amfortas the Hippie

                that exact process can be seen right here, in Texas.
                before white folks: periodic, small scale fires…sometimes set intentionally.
                after white folks: longer periods between fires, but fires are much larger.
                has to do with the understory, according to my VFD acquaintances.
                if there were no houses out here, fire would be a net plus for ecosystems.
                (I’m currently beginning the process of figuring out how to do a controlled burn, here. just in the asking question phase atm. because our place is small and irregularly shaped, looks like we’ll not only need the VFD closely involved, but it will have to be a neighborhood thing. pretty daunting, but I definitely see the benefit…both for the soil, etc, as well as for keeping uncontrolled fires smaller and less ferocious)

                1. rd

                  You would want to evaluate your vegetation condition. One of the problems of suppressing wildfires is that fuel builds up in the understory. That makes fires much hotter at ground level, and potentially much more destructive, including to the revegetation. The much hotter ground level fire can destroy root and seed systems that would historically have survived a lighter fire without as much fuel.

                  Most wildfire based ecosystems would burn at 10-30 year intervals, so most plants are relatively young and vigorous, so don’t provide much deadwood fuel. We have now been suppressing wildfires for a century, so many places have gone at least one extra cycle so have been building up a large excess of seasoned fuel.

                  Moister areas (rain forests, northeast US) rely less on forest fires and more on wind storms and ice storms to bring down old trees etc. Fungi and bacteria break the trunks down on the forest floor and the fallen trees often become “nurse logs” with new shrubs and trees growing in the decaying wood – this is a reason you often see similarly aged trees growing in dead straight line in a forest as well as roots that form a hollow below the base of a tree.

                  So you might want to do some clearing first to remove excess fuel before you try a controlled burn in order to make a more natural fire.

              2. rd

                Native Americans did use fire to keep land clear for agriculture etc. there is growing evidence that the introduction of European disease etc. wiped out 85-90% of the native american population by 1690 which in turn completely changed the land use in the Americas, resulting in fewer fires and more forest growth. This is turn may have contributed to the Little Ice Age in the late 1600s to early 1800s as the new forests became a major CO2 sink.




                It is interesting to see how North American archeology is entering into the climate debate as the scientific method plays out in setting out theses and then seeing if data bolsters them or not as the investigations get done.

                1. drumlin woodchuckles

                  The same thing happened at the same time in the same way for the same reason in South America. A massive plague-wipeout of almost every person there shut down the terraforming project and allowed a couple million square miles of land to go back to forest all at once, de-carbonizing the atmosphere and de-warming the global.

                  Wasn’t there a lesser de-warming right after the Genghis Khan Mongol conquests and re-forestation of a million or so square miles of farmland in overall Eurasia in the Thirteen Hundreds? Didn’t that cooldown help food-deprive and immuno-compromise Europe enough to make it more plague-vulnerable that otherwise? Are there theories about this? Is anyone doing time-line comparisons?

      2. lyman alpha blob

        That part about competition and cooperation seemed extremely facile. No mention of a third ‘c’ – coercion. This book – Against the Grain – makes a pretty strong argument that those middle stage city states did not happen because people gradually decided they would cooperate to form an agricultural society; they began because one group told another to pick up a plow or they’d have their heads bashed in.

        And a ‘new way to think’ is going to have to involve a cessation of politicians lying for this idea to ever gain any traction. I don’t see that happening any time soon.

        And the bit about letting go of our ideas of national sovereignty could use a little more work, unless the idea of having Jeff Bezos or some other corporate squillionaire as global CEO sounds appealing to anyone. The authors seem to forget that there is more than one kind of competition that just that between nation sates, and nation states are already largely becoming subservient to corporate interests.

        1. Carolinian

          Even coerced cooperation is still group action and it’s not so clear that, say, the peasants building the pyramids were coerced. Most people do crave some sort of leadership.

          1. Lee

            Archaeological evidence indicates that the ancient Egyptian construction workers were well compensated and had a decent standard of living. Perhaps we should think of the pyramids as a kind of WPA public art project whereby the Pharaoh’s tomb was an expression of collective power over land and resources that also served to warn off other groups to not mess with people capable of building such awesome structures.

          2. lyman alpha blob

            Very true and I think at least that I’m agreeing with your critique of the article. As Lee notes above there is archaeological evidence that the system that built the pyramids wasn’t completely exploitative.

            The point the book I cited makes is that Egypt as a city state wouldn’t have existed in the first place without coercion. It’s very similar to the arguments Graeber makes in Debt:The First 5000 Years.

            1. Shane Mage

              A point I have frequently expressed, but nobody else seems to. The pyramids were not “public works projects” because capitalism, a monetized, commodity-producing economy with major unemployment problems (not to mention JMKeynes), was still many millennia in the future. Nor could they have been primarily tombs (if at all, no mummies have been found in any of them) for pharaohs because some pharaohs built more than one pyramid even though none had more than one body to be mummified. No. The pyramids fulfilled a major *economic* purpose. Egyptian agriculture depended crucially on the Nile Flood, which every year swamped, fertilized, and irrigated their fields–while in the process, destroying any possible boundary lines. So how could Egyptian farmers know which plot was theirs to work? The fields had to be surveyed and remarked. But how, on level land, were surveyors to know where to set the boundaries? The answer is obvious, staring us right in the face. Can anyone even imagine geodesic markers remotely as good as the pyramids?

    2. Arizona Slim

      I stopped when I realized that this was a lengthy article that took forever to get to the point.

        1. jsn

          I got to “We have to grieve and then embrace the change,” and realized this was for people already secure in their own economic future, unlikely to provide actionable ideas for those who aren’t.

          1. juliania

            I got to that the two main parties (or only) have no choice but to behave as they do.

    3. Jeremy Grimm

      I think humankind is approaching a population “bottleneck” — which is an indirect way to say a substantial die-off. I don’t know who or how many will pass through to the other side of the bottleneck. I suspect the sociopaths driven by passion and self-importance will be among the first casualties. I suspect the meek who found places in backwaters and hide from madness and the madness of crowds might survive. I suspect those who cooperate and willingly but cautiously share might survive. Their survival will select for a different kind of individual. I also envision that a society of the meek might hold regard for a very different kind of leader, and consider wealth as a matter of other than money and the accumulation of things. The bottleneck will select for a different kind of human society. What remains of the sociopathy humankind bred in the times before will be shunned, or branded and cast out.

      I believe individual human consciousness and human society will evolve following the bottleneck. The consciousness clearly evolving today seems pathological to me. The happy notions of SIMPOL — as best I can ferret them from this desultory post — are fatuous at best.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Perhaps “jackpot” is balanced on the edge of entering the language or not entering the language. Perhaps it just needs a long push to enter the language. Perhaps those who don’t feel queasy about it should start using “jackpot” now and then in writing and conversation. Perhaps “jackpot” and “bottleneck” in the same sentence or paragraph.

        Perhaps hybrid words and phrases. Jackpot-bottleneck. Jackpottleneck. etc.

        1. Jeremy Grimm

          Not familiar with “jackpot” though I do recall it from discussion of a Gibson novel [which one?]. I chose “bottleneck” after some pushback I sensed from words like “collapse” and “implosion” which I shortened to the “great Imp”. Would gladly use a commonly accepted term and would appreciate thoughts or further references on the underlying idea which I cannot and would not claim for an original creation. I do tend to believe in the idea and hope to find a way to steer my progeny or theirs toward the other side. The problem with “jackpot” is that it sounds like a winning event which seems contrary to its true meaning.

          1. Amfortas the Hippie

            TEOTWAWKI is the more or less agreed on term among just about all the Doomers I know(“the end of the world as we know it”)
            It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. The shorter version is “when the shit hits the fan”. TSHF
            Bottleneck works for me. It’s happened before, in and around what is now the horn of africa.
            the idea, above, of such an event selecting for altruism/wisdom/ or whatever is the opposite of the current selection for psychopathy, sounds nice…I’m all for it…but I also know a lot of humans, so I can’t be too sanguine.
            we’d do better to start selecting for those traits right now, if we’d like to see them make it through the event.
            but even that process is fraught with problems…what is “good”? define Eudaimonia. is it a different definition in Somalia, as opposed to Dallas? I guarantee I could easily locate several definitions within a couple of miles from where I sit.
            This, among other, more subjective reasons, is why I still support space exploration…we’re nearing our last chance to figure that out, before we will have shot our wad, and imitate the Plum Island Deer.
            (and btw, I noticed that the folks in this interview referred to trump as an event, not as a person…prolly accidental, mentioning him among a series of events like brexit, etc…but still.)

            1. drumlin woodchuckles

              I wonder if the William Gibson phrase Lambert Strether has brought us . . . the Jackpot . . . might be a handier phrase to start using. Easier to say, certainly.

            2. Jeremy Grimm

              I must have lived a fortunate and sheltered life. Most of the people I’ve known and worked with were ‘good’ people. I don’t give enough thought to Good and Evil since I haven’t seen or experienced either. I mistrust both and avoid them. I think some concepts of the ‘good’ are universal. As evidence for this I need only recall Yves favorite monkey experiment. I tend to believe the Good and Evil among us will extinguish themselves if we can only remain hidden long enough, like the kitten in the children’s book “Millions of Cats”. [In a similar vein I am very fond of “Stone Soup” and the notions of sharing and community it evokes. I can’t claim a second childhood since I’ve always kept a child within me — sometimes a ‘good’ thing … but sometimes not.]

              As a counterpoint to this sanguinity I believe in the idea of a Ghost in the Machine as in Arthur Koestler’s book, a flaw in the human psyche. I believe this flaw is part of what drives the madness of crowds. I’ve been trying to conceive of a ‘happy’ or ‘happier’ future after the bottleneck — something more than the dystopias, return of feudalism, or new ‘little-house’ frontiers. The bottleneck suggests a possible filter for trimming out this flaw in our psyche. I also believe that humankind — as a social animal — cannot be regarded as apart from the kinds of society we build. Just as the human mind is flawed, today’s society is flawed as it selects and aggrandizes some of the worst traits of humankind.

              I ran across the term “bottleneck” in a discussion of the previous decline of the human population that you referred to. I agree with drumlin woodchuckles that TEOTWAWKI is an unhandy phrase but I’m not entirely happy with bottleneck, jackpot, implosion, or TEOTWAWKI.

          2. drumlin woodchuckles

            I gather that Gibson’s newest dystopian novel ( and maybe more to come after that) consider a future time after most people have died off in swift waves of calamity. The survivors call that period ” the jackpot”. Perhaps because the survivors have won all the stuff of the dead? Perhaps because the survivors have won a chance to make longer term survival more likely after human numbers have been reduced by “the jackpot” to the point where the few survivors can win a greater chance at more survival?


            1. Jeremy Grimm

              Thanks for the link back to your discussion of the “Peripheral”. after re-reading your post and the comments it solicited I think “jackpot” might not quite fit my view of how things will end.

              1. drumlin woodchuckles

                ” Jackpot” is how the Global Overclass wants to make sure things end for most of us. The Global Overclass is working very hard to engineer “jackpot” into the system through such means as deliberately engineered global warming, deliberately fostered anti-biotic immunity among the deliberately-fostered superbugs, deliberately-spread anti-nutritional/ immunocompromise-o-genic anti-food of many kinds, carefully-crafted deaths-of-despair epidemics rendered more far-reaching through carefully fostered opiod addiction and ubiquitous opoid availability, etc.

                The goal is to prepare the “world garden” in which a multi-gigadeath series of die-offs can happen over the next hundred years without any obvious fingerprints on the giga-dead body piles. The goal is to make it look like an accident.

                The only way to stop it would be a world-wide program to round up and exterminate the OverClass so as to delete the driving force behind “engineered jackpot”. Since I am too squeamish to kill anyone, I would never take part in such a program, nor would any other nice normal people.
                Since that is the only way to prevent “jackpot”, the future is “jackpot here we come”.

                So the only thing nice normal non-Overclass people like me and most of the other readers here can do with any hope of success is various jackpot-mitigation and jackpot-survival excercises, and hope that we will be the lucky fugitives who escape the Law of Averages.

                1. JBird

                  I am a very paranoid and cynical guy, especially with my studying of history, but dude, that’s a pretty dark scenario there. I doubt that there would be any “winners” but only a modern Bronze Age Collapse.

                  If any of it is true, lets try to short-circuit it rather then bring out Madame Guillotine.

                2. Jeremy Grimm

                  I don’t believe the Global Overclass intends to make sure things end for most of us. That sounds like the back-story for Hugh Howey’s Silo Series. I think the Global Overclass is mindlessly following their greed and lust for power without much consideration of the consequences, other than concern that they must be sure to hand off the reins to their successors before the shit hits the fan. As for eliminating the Global Overclass, I don’t believe you will need to worry about exterminating them. I believe they, their kin, and all their works will be remembered by the mobs that will gather as the shit hits. [Best to be far far away from mobs no matter who you may be.] But if the Global Overclass were eliminated this moment our society might last a little longer and collapse more gracefully but the petroleum will not flow forever and we still have nothing to take its place for driving our economies, or sustaining our growing populations. And Climate Disruption will continue accelerating to new patterns of climates and weather.

                  1. drumlin woodchuckles

                    Well . . . at the macro-policy level we need to think about jackpot prevention and jackpot derailment, then.

                    Meanwhile . . . at the micro-policy level which is also the micro-survival level . . . we might spare a thought and lift a finger toward
                    jackpot mitigation and jackpot survival. Since “survivalism” is such a nasty concept in the hands of many, maybe we could think of it as “survivaling”. Survivaling the jackpot.

                    One hopes that our bloggers collectively enjoy gardening etc. enough that they might create a “Friday Garden Report” feature with a garden or permaculture or similar article. That would be the logical thread for people to offer their own favorite books/links/etc. sources of information on.

                    Perhaps it could expand into sort of a “Jackpot Mitigation Corner”. If it were predictable, and it had high quality jackpot-mitigation/ jackpot-survivaling information and thread-offered links; word might spread and bunches of people might come for that feature. They might come for the “anti-jackpot” and/or the “garden” and stay to read some of the core economics-and-finance material.

                    1. Jeremy Grimm

                      I’m working toward getting out to a much smaller town further out in back country. And like you I think I better start learning a lot more about growing stuff than I know right now and work on learning a few useful skills. [If the weather gets as wild as I fear it might I’m almost leaning toward study of yeast vats and/or algae vats for growing food. Maybe I read the Foundation series too many times. I think I better learn about food additives and flavorings to make the gunk edible.]

  4. Mel

    “will consist of a series of multi-issue global problem-solving policy packages”

    What are those policy packages? Or if we can’t have that, what will they be? Aside from being Simultaneous, and Policies.
    Without those, this is just another bleedin’ membership drive, like Positive Money.

  5. Steve H.

    From the book excerpts:

    “Perhaps the example that engendered the greatest widespread impotent outrage was the global financial meltdown of 2007–8.” Agency, please? Cui bono…

    “our increasingly interdependent globalized world” is again a fait accompli, implicitly putting the solution in a non-agency based model of the world.

    There is a tie-in to theoretically objective papers lately modelling what happens when a dedicated 10% or 25% of a population take on a ideal or policy so strong it sweeps through the population. There becomes an assumption that it suddenly reduces friction in the system.

    That’s either 100th Monkey thinking, which ignores the observers meddling, or suddenly the hub is overtaken and spreads the gospel. History like that ignores inter-elite competition, or more fundamentally assumes within-group co-operation without an exclusion principle.

    Usually that core runs into cui-boned group that objects to the policy. The article mentions Turchin, but his model of the spread of ideas involved military conquest, not simultaneous co-operation. “The SIMPOL SOLUTION reasons that there is just one barrier that prevents all governments from taking action: the fear that it would make their national economies uncompetitive.” Again, ‘governments’ is the abstraction that covers up the Who that benefits from relative v absolute gains, which when iterated favors the wealthy.

    In practical terms what would this do for the rise of CFC’s in Asia? Or the billions of families cooking on three-stone fires? That excerpt was more about ‘diversity’ and ‘identity’ than policy. Preachin’ to a choir.

    1. Jeff W

      That quote from the book:

      “The SIMPOL SOLUTION reasons that there is just one barrier that prevents all governments from taking action: the fear that it would make their national economies uncompetitive.”

      [emphasis added]

      That’s the barrier? Isn’t the barrier that—at least with regard to global warming—the people running fossil-fuel companies, which exert influence on politicians, don’t want any reduction in profits and are willing to gamble that they’ll be dead before the longer-term consequences of their actions wreak a (more) devastating toll on the world?

      I’m not sure if that falls within the assumption of “within-group co-operation without an exclusion principle” but it’s what occurred to me.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        There are a few countries big enough and non-overpopulated enough( Canada, America, Russia, maybe Brazil) that they could seccede from the Globalonial Corporate Competitionist order. They could solve the “make their national economies uncompetitive” fear by rejecting competion and accepting autarky behind savage and extreme protectionism.

        Without fear of exposure to Carbon Dumping by
        mercantilist aggressionist economic enemies with utterly destructive anti-social anti-standards . . . like China . . . a Sealed-Off Autarkamerica could force carbon efficiency upon its own internal economic actors And we could do that without having to get “permission” from a critical massload of people saying SIMPOL.

  6. Jamie

    That said, experience shows that politicians often need little persuasion to sign the Pledge. Even those in safe seats sometimes happily sign it simply because they see its common sense.

    Or because they see it for the risk-free empty gesture that it is. The truth: we don’t know what motivates them, and we don’t know whether signing such a pledge will actually change any political behavior whatsoever. I suspect it will not since each and every signatory has the convenient out that “the other team won’t play ball”.

    1. johnnygl

      Much like the party out of power in the USA has a lot of politicians co-sponsoring Medicare for all when there isn’t a crucial vote on the horizon.

      Not to dismiss gestures, either. Often times you need public pressure to make politicians fake it. Then, eventually, the pressure is great enough that they gotta do it for real.

      Anti-trust was on the books for years before anyone implemented it as policy.

  7. Shane Mage

    “Destructive Competition?” “Nations” do not compete because a “Nation” is not, and can never be, an entity possessing agency, and in every geographically limited polity the only “competitions” that matters are the internal one setting the winners (The ruling class that calls itself the “élite”) against the mopes making up the vast majority of its population; and, to a much lesser extent, the “competitions” of various interest groups within the “élite” internally or on an “international” scale. It is equally false that any form of “international action” against global heating is needed or even (beyond grandiloquent bullshit like the “Paris Climate Accord”) possible (the sum of an infinite series of granfaloons is *zero*). But the access to power of a radical populist government (i.e.., a true political revolution) in the US polity would permit that one polity, thanks to its overwhelming global economic weight, to reduce anthropogenic carbon emissions drastically enough to start cleaning the atmosphere (assuming the planet has not yet reached a tipping point of runaway natural carbon-releasing processes like permafrost melting)–which would be done by the simple act of putting a tax on produced and imported carbon so large that polluting energy sources become grossly uneconomic compared to renewable sources, not only here but everywhere that export to the US polity is economically vital.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Exactly. But imports from mercantilist enemy Carbon-Dumpers would have to be forbidden without exception. Imports could only be permitted from producers within countries producing their items with as little (or even less) carbon emissions per item than what we can achieve once we have seceded from the Globalist System and severed most economic contact with it.

      “International co-operation” is where fond hopes and good ideas go to die. America may still be autarkifiable enough that America would be able to pursue ” de-carbonization in one country”. And we still have enough A-bombs and H-bombs to warn off any World effort to re-enslave us to Globalist Economics or Globalist Government.

  8. tokyodamage

    What happens when vast chunks of ‘the people’ from around the world use SIMPOL to encourage, say, anti-Islam, anti-woman, anti-gay policies?

    What happens when The Powers That Be see that a SIMPOL petition to cut global warming is gaining traction, and so they make their OWN SIMPOL petition, an astroturf petition, which superficially looks like the ‘real’ anti-global-warming one, but has a huge loophole? And they spend millions convincing voters that their astroturf plan is the real plan, and the real plan is horrible and bound to backfire? (this happens all the time in California politics under the current system, so it’s not like it’s far-fetched)

  9. Norb

    From the left, boycotts and strikes are the only effective means to bring about the incremental change that is needed within the current system. However, as we all know, the relentless pursuit to further atomize the workforce continues making these strategies more difficult to implement. Such peaceful and nonviolent action will be met with a violent reaction by the perpetrators of DGC. Their worldview is violence trumps peace/cooperation and as peaceful methods become more impracticable, the simple use of destructive violence becomes almost inevitable. Such a confrontation would bring about escalating violence and only a push toward setting up parallel institutions to compete/replace the existing order has a chance of surviving the confrontation.

    The multipolar world evolving now illustrates this point. It is the result of Western Empire failing to create a stable world order. In a similar way, individuals will be forced to make new associations in order to survive.

    While the logic behind Simpol is correct in that cheating , corruption, and self-dealing eventually bring down larger systems, a political approach, while important, is proving difficult to change once corruption has taken hold. The old dictum that authority never gives up power willingly applies here.

    Simpol approach seems to imply that a peaceful transition to a better world is possible. While I would like to believe that, real life experience proves otherwise. Humanity is plagued with sociopaths- relentlessly narrow minded and dedicated to their own self-interest. They are driven by passion and self-importance. The ideology that the world exists for exploitation guides their thought and action.. A counteracting ideology, will require at a bare minimum a stout defense and willingness to sacrifice many “conveniences” if not ones life. Self-interest sacrifices others in order to survive, cooperative action entails self-sacrifice.

    It seems humans on mass cannot quickly and effectively act unless there is an actual or perceived life threat. Without that fear, human interaction is easily manipulated by slow and steady pressure. That pressure can be both malign and beneficent. Either way, the situation is the proverbial boiling frogs in a pot, with the ruling elite controlling the flame.

    Controlling the flame is the key- along with the consciousness that you are in a pot in the first place.

    Cooperative structures are formed when this relationship is openly transparent and understood. Tyrannical structures are formed when this relationship is obfuscated or enforced with violence.

    What is interesting about Simpol is that at a bare minimum, it puts individuals in power on notice. They must openly declare their principles- are you an exploiter or are you dedicated to building a more functional and cooperative world. In the end, the moral evil is exposed- the evil of exploitation and dishonesty.

    Behind the scenes though, a strong ideology based on sustainability must be working diligently, creating structures and institutions that will be able to fill the void when the sociopaths finally succeed in undermining their current world order. Their conquest of nature will fail.

    Living in balanced harmony with the local environment is a powerful ideology. It can replace capitalism.

    1. JCC

      Norb, I wish I had said this:

      “What is interesting about Simpol is that at a bare minimum, it puts individuals in power on notice. They must openly declare their principles- are you an exploiter or are you dedicated to building a more functional and cooperative world. In the end, the moral evil is exposed- the evil of exploitation and dishonesty.”

      The way it’s designed, it makes it too easy for politicians to commit and very difficult to rescind that commitment.

    2. Hamford

      “Humanity is plagued with sociopaths- relentlessly narrow minded and dedicated to their own self-interest. They are driven by passion and self-importance.”

      Yup, and statistically speaking it’s not the cooperative that make it to the top and become the leadership or executive class, it’s the self-interested who emerge at the top of the heap.

  10. sd

    Interesting concept. Certainly worthy of discussion and debate. Personal opinion is we are headed in the exact opposite direction where bigger problems are solved at the local level and then replicated once proven ‘safe’ for instance marijuana legalization, etc. At the moment, what interests me most is community based efforts at homelessness, substance abuse, education, health care and senior housing.

  11. John

    The author implies that competitive behavior is a clear rational behavior that one can put on and take off like clothes. He also only only considers it at a large scale policy level. He should go back and read the story about Abel and Caine to get a good sense of where it starts within the family. Perhaps even the competitive aspects of Adam and Eve’s relationship.
    He does not appear to be aware of the problem presented by Tainted in Tragedy of the Common.
    TED talk Hopium.

    1. Shane Mage

      “He should go back and read the story about Abel and Caine to get a good sense of where it starts within the family.” Family? Family??? That story has nothing to do with families. It expresses the perpetual horrific post-neolithic conflicts between farmers (like the Egyptians and Canaanites) and nomadic pastoralists (like the Israelites of Moses and Joshua). The Hebrew and Christian and Islamic bibles, in the most literal way, express the outlook of the barbarian pastoralists. What that has meant historically for our feeble civilizational endeavors is well described by Ibn Khaldun.

  12. JCC

    A lot of the reactions here lead me to thinking about what the reactions must have been like to the implementation of the League of Nations and the United Nations.

    OK, I’m a little bit of an idealist, but what these people are trying to do is work from the bottom up instead of, like the UN, work from the top down. We know that in democracies/republics the internal politics are gamed. If this site and commentary, and many other sites and people, haven’t shown this over and over again, nothing ever will.

    We know the UN is gamed, and we know internal Govt policies are gamed, so clearly working top down hasn’t worked well when it comes to some of the very serious global-wide problems we are all facing.

    Could this be gamed? Of course. But the largest opposition will happen before a majority of Sovereign States sign on. It looks to me that a system like this would be far more expensive (difficult) to game after it’s implemented. And that would be a problem that MultiNational Corps and their paid lackeys in Govts would love to nip in the bud today.

    Personally I’m willing to look at any new attempt to solve global issues. If it doesn’t work, so what? Things as they are now aren’t working for s**t.

    Check out the simpol.org FAQ page. Some questions and criticisms mentioned here are addressed there.

    It can’t hurt.

    1. Summer

      “I’m a little bit of an idealist, but what these people are trying to do is work from the bottom up instead of, like the UN, work from the top down…”

      Lots of organizations make that claim. And work from the bottom up only long enough to gather a following to turn over to “top down” management.

      1. JCC

        I agree, often true. But present day organizations that have real power on a Global Scale and that have the ability to affect, particularly negatively, my or my region’s life were never designed from the start to work from the bottom up. And by bottom-up I mean from groups (i.e., “villages”) up, not individuals up.

        Not only the UN, neither was NAFTA, the WTO, the EU project, GATT, NATO, the Bretton Woods Agreement…

        Should I go on?

        David Wilson comes at this from a relatively legitimate perspective for those that agree with his ideas of social evolution and their influence on the evolution of humankind in general.

        For example

        Obviously this attempt, or something like this, would/will take years to have any effect or legitimacy. However, as things stand today I think the concept, at least, beats anything tried so far.

        1. Amfortas the Hippie

          ^^”…something like this, would/will take years to have any effect or legitimacy…”^^
          like actually really grassroots…like beginning at one’s doorstep.
          like somehow making unmitigated greed shameful…on par with pissing in the corner in a church shameful.
          how to do that? i have no idea. especially since there’s so much cultural/social architecture, both natural and artificial, pushing the other way.
          when I saw that movie with michael douglas(“greed is good”) i was horrified…but I knew plenty of people who looked at him as an idol, an icon, a hero.
          as my papaw would say, “there’s yer problem, right there..”

    2. ChiGal in Carolina

      Agree it’s good not to dismiss stuff out of hand.

      Read the article but not the excerpts or website so, impressed with the values of SIMPOL’s creators and its incorporation of a technology for enabling changed minds to hold decision-makers accountable, I will bookmark to read more when I can.

  13. Thuto

    Too much emphasis is placed on the act of “signing the pledge” by a class of people (politicians) who are notorious for backing out of signed agreements, or sign for the good PR with no intention of following through on implementation. Just as a lavish, beautiful wedding day does not a successful marriage make, signing a pledge does not a fair world built on sustainable policies make.

    That said, I applaud the introduction of radical new ideas, however inadequately articulated, into the discourse about solving humanity’s most pressing problems because fatalism is itself an enabler of the current state of affairs, and said fatalism is exactly the condition that is silently gripping the mass of people around the world, a sort of resignation to their fate…

    1. Newton Finn

      Bingo. As an aging Boomer leftist, I often ponder the stark contrast between the radicalism of the late 60s/early 70s and today’s environmentalist and SJ movements. The radical days of my youth were filled with possibility and what I like to call existential freedom. We had no doubt whatsoever that human beings had the power to build a better, more beautiful world, and so we poured ourselves into one effort or another toward that end. Some of us continued to live out our lives in that revolutionary spirit and were proud to pay the price. Others, alas, sold out to what we then called “The System” and “The Man” and chose to climb the capitalist career ladders seductively extended to us. Between the lines of so much social commentary I read these days is the retrospective awareness that the latter outnumbered the former, and thus the fire died. My hope now lies with the Millennials, who (1) also know how completely screwed up things are, (2) do not have the option of climbing sell-out career ladders that have now become scarce, and (3) seem to be regaining at least a bit of the old boldness, optimism, and confidence, without which we simply bitch about reality rather than work to change it. Want to do your part today to move things in a better direction? Pour your time and energy into helping instill a new 60s spirit in the young. You’ll be creating a tension that neoliberalist capitalism is not structured to handle, any more than it can handle environmental constraints, and one that will hopefully hit the fan before the environment totally falls apart. But to instill that spirit, you must first rekindle it inside yourself. One place to start is to remember, contemplate, and emulate the brashness and boldness of those like Malcolm and Ali. One place not to start is to convince yourself and try to convince others that it’s now too late to do anything, that we’re already cooked. That’s precisely what “The System” and “The Man” want you to believe. For the young, that’s a hell of way to live. For the old, that’s a hell of way to die.

  14. William Hunter Duncan

    What policies implemented simultaneously? Pledge to do what? Reduce carbon? Ok. What about the foreign globalist corporations coming to mine copper/nickel in sulfides in Minnesota lake country, 20 years of mining for 200-500 years of pollution? So in this pseudo-democracy, non-sovereign nation state called America, going global is going to do what for predation and plunder like this?

  15. JEHR

    As I was reading this interesting article, I realized that the only institutions that are organized and evolving are the corporations and the banks. They have already decided what kind of globalized world they want and are busy persuading the rest of us to go along with their ideas through trade deals world-wide and their attacks on regulation. This globalization is being attacked politically now but it seems the result will be even worse wreckage of nations through trade chaos. If you can’t even get companies that create plastic to see how their products are ruining our oceans, how are you going to get anyone else to take notice of other very real environmental problems? I think human beings are more destructive than co-operative at this time in our evolution.

    I would, however, like the SIMPOL idea to work.

    1. JBird

      The current companies remind me of the free booting mercenary/criminal companies of the Hundred Years War or of the continuous warfare between all the city-states, kingdoms, and the Papacy during the Middle Ages and Renaissance where the incentive for the mercenaries was not to win, or fulfill their contracts, but keeping the conflicts going.

      There is always the Thirty Years War where it was sometimes cheaper to keep ostensibly fighting the war instead of paying off the soldiers and dissolving the army. To understand why, just think about the fact that later in the war just how the campaigns were done sometimes was dictated on wherever areas either had not have had an army come through or had had some time to recover from the pillaging, raping, murdering and then finally the burning of the whatever remained. It was so bad that half the male population of Germany was killed.

      So I really have no difficulty believing that the Security State and the Forever War(s) are mostly just business; the Hundred Years War and the Thirty Years started as somewhat sincere disagreements over succession and religion but evolved, albeit over decades, into almost purely business affairs that would have/had sickened the original combatants especially of the Thirty Years War. Rather like our own evolving War on Terror which has become the Forever War(s).

      The War on Terror is no longer about revenge over 9/11 or protecting us from future attacks from al-Qaeda, but has evolved into a business that kills, imprisons, and otherwise abuses people all over the world including Americans, it also destabilizes if not outright destroy whole countries as way to provide employment and profit to many people; corporations and financial companies also have evolved into mercenary economic strip mining operations that no longer exist long term to profitably provide a product or service but exist to destructively extract as much as they can now in this quarter, even if it means that their customers are destroyed and the business dooms itself. Perhaps the leadership thinks their businesses can survive in the ruins or that they can get to Mars.

  16. Andrew Watts

    These are the same kind of people who promoted the Kellogg-Briand Pact (1928) as a final end to war. The moral idealists of that era succeeded in getting it passed into law, but it didn’t exactly usher in an era of peaceful cooperation. Furthermore, it needs to be pointed out why these schemes will inevitably fail.

    “What is lacking among all these moralists, whether religious or rational, is an understanding of the brutal character of the behavior of all human collectives, and the power of self-interest and collective egoism in all intergroup relations. Failure to recognise the stubborn resistance of group egoism to all moral and inclusive social objectives inevitably involves them in unrealistic and confused political thought. They regard social conflict either as an impossible method of achieving morally approved ends or as a momentary expedient which a more perfect education or a purer religion will make unnecessary. They do not see that the limitations of the human imagination, the easy subservience of reason to prejudice and passion, and the consequent persistence of irrational egoism, particularly in group behavior, make social conflict an inevitability in human history, probably to its very end.” -Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society

    In this specific case of SIMPOL replace “consciousness” with “imagination”.

    1. Synoia

      In this specific case of SIMPOL replace “consciousness” with “imagination”.

      I beg to differ:

      In this specific case of SIMPOL replace “consciousness” with “greed”.

  17. Donna

    So I was surprised that John Bunzl places Bernie Sanders in the radical category. I am not sure what that tells you about the direction they expect their process to take you. But, I certainly do not agree that Sanders is at all radical. I may be nitpicking but that was an inaccurate comparison to put Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump at opposite ends of the same continuum.

  18. Susan the other

    This interview was Econspeak or Psychopolicy or Globalshrink. Or just plain old “assume a can opener.” I’m pleased to see everyone else is thusly skeptical. These two authors are ignoring their own best advice, that of inducing an evolutionary model that selects the adaptation from the bottom up. I don’t think the amoebas get together and vote for political honesty. They don’t jump the shark from being amoebas to being the enforcers of global politics. It’s perfectly legal for politicians to lie (here anyway). Amoebas adapt their own biological processes and the bio chain gradually responds. The amoeba is prolly the model these acolytes of EO Wilson should focus on. This interview was as annoying as listening to Hillary deflect on medicare for all.

  19. Jeremy Grimm

    Tangible versus intangible seems a nicely vague way of analyzing a similarly vague putative problem of secular stagnation.

    Grab a sentence from this post: “Intangibles share four economic features: scalability, sunkenness, spillovers, and synergies.” And what an interesting aggregation of buzzwords this sentence embeds. From this the post courses though a succession of peculiar assumptions and assertions:

    “… intangible-rich firms are scaling up dramatically …” [Are the firms intangible-rich or is that wealth assumed because the firms are poor in measurable tangible property?]
    “… low interest rates can hurt capital reallocation in addition to reduce aggregate productivity and output in economies that rely strongly on intangible capital.” [This seems evidence of the author’s microeconomic religious beliefs in some flavor.]
    “… creating intangibles requires a commitment to human capital …” [What commitment?]
    “… innovators gain a rising income share … ” [Define innovator and rising share of income relative to whom?]
    “… intangible assets are mobile and thus hard to tax …” [Hard for whom?]

    I can buy-in to the idea that “… discoveries, generally now made by teams of mental workers, are appropriated by capital and controlled by patents, intellectual property or similar means. Production of knowledge is then directed towards profit.” [I guess I might be a Marxist at heart much as I cringe at Marxist terminology.]

    I can’t find it but I thought Veblen had some unkind words to say about the place of innovation in capitalism — something to the effect that firms are most desirous of controlling innovation to protect their sunken investments from the changes innovation can bring. Quit apart from innovation doesn’t the term “intangible” also encompass little things like market share and market control? It is a rather broad term after all. I imagine Amazon’s strategy of wiping out competitors and buying up market share may like weak tea in terms of the returns those strategies make to intangible assets. Perhaps analysts just need to wait a little bit until valuations get better aligned with actuals and until Amazon is fully positioned to really squeeze out profits using its intangible control over the retail markets, suppliers, and delivery services. [Of course an exemplar like Amazon might deserve a more direct analysis than that in terms of intangible assets and secular stagnation.]

  20. SerenityNow

    I would like to see something like SIMPOL put into place at the county level–this is where I see a lot of the most immediate and visible competition for capital among governments (in the United States). Companies are constantly playing municipalities off of each other to get the best incentives, tax abatements, or other subsidies before they decide where to locate. The result is a sprawling development patterns which suit the companies quite well but leave the public with huge infrastructure, public health, and transportation costs.

    Even just the awareness of SIMPOL at the local level might get people thinking about working as a larger group, rather than individual competitors. But good luck getting local good ol’ boys clubs to go along with that.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      At the county/district/state levels withIN a country, it could be framed in militantly inspiring combat-forms.

      ” No more ALEC? SIMPOL”.

      “It’s so SIMPOL. Just say NO to ALEC.”

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          At some point someone will ask to see just exactly what policies and what methods for pursuing these policies are really in the SIMPOL pledge. When that point comes, the SIMPOLtons had better have a detailed bundle of policy papers ready to show people.

  21. Jessica

    Any proposed solution that does not address the unequal distribution of power will wind up being put to the service of those who currently have the most power. This is independent of the intentions of those making the proposal.

  22. Michael

    The theory sounds good, but like others I believe we lack motivation.

    (Un)Fortunately for us all, we may found it. According to the folks at arctic-news.blogsplot.com we only have between .5 and 1 meter of ice left in the Arctic, and may be heading to a blue water event fairly soon (see below). Additionally, there are several massive forest fires occurring in the Arctic that are feeding this process by blackening remaining ice (see below).

    When we achieve a blue water event, according to calculations done by Prof. Peter Wadhams (“Farewell to Ice”), the albedo of the polar ice cap no longer reflects sunlight and we get into a runaway climate event, because of the melting of methane hydrates and melting of permafrost.

    There are several proposed solutions to this but none have been extensively tested and none are close to production.

    This would be perfect motivating event, since it seems no one will respond except in cases of catastrophes. I think this qualifies.



  23. Demented Chimp

    We need to identify problems and address them and that requires new knowledge. Science is moving fast. What is important is to keep our societies from falling apart and ensure conditions for rapid knowledge growth in this period of intense social change.

    We dont know what we dont know about the future (it’s prophesy) but we are still holding it together. Existing systems have expanded the enligtenment and will probably get us over the line. The direction is still net positive but we need to support this.

    Worry that SIMPOL solutions will be pescriptive and counterproductive given the lack of process to how policies defined and people’s wrong ideas about the state of society and planet . More ill informef voices from the crowd.

    See book factfullness and how wrong we generally are re knowledge of the state of the world.

    One thing is certain staying in place i.e sustainability using existing systems means certain near term extinction. Only with more knowledge does this fate change.

    Support institutions and systems that encourage growth of knowledge. Support social stability through mechanisms that increase altruism social capital. SIMPOL doesn’t address either point really. Can be done at national level it’s already working. See factfullness.

    As a thought experiment we crack clean cheap fusion what does this mean gor any of these arguments? Solar panels are now cost effective. Etc etc.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      You would suppose we crack cheap fusion … that is we find a new source of unlimited clean energy … what next? Our economies are driven on energy and would continue on their current paths. Carbon sequestration in the material of stone would become practicable. We could begin removing the excess CO2 from the atmosphere, perhaps from the oceans as well. Water desalinization would become practicable as a means for obtaining drinking water, water for industry and for agriculture. We could restore aquifers and perhaps build aquifers. With unlimited clean energy we might invent and produce new clean fuels to run our transportation and distribution systems. With control of unlimited clean energy we can continue running the Internet, flying aircraft, manufacturing weapons, and computers, and all the materials of modern life. With unlimited clean energy everything could continue along the rails already resting on their beds taking us where they would without striking the wall of an imminent crash as we run out of energy and begin to encounter some fuller horrors from Climate Disruption. Sadly, we are still some thirty years away from successful fusion power — the same thirty years away that we were some thirty and more years ago. But “if wishes were horses beggars would ride.”

      I don’t agree with your assertion that Science is moving fast and growing. I see Science in the thrall of a Neoliberal Corporate regime most interested in controlling and constraining the growth of knowledge and directing ‘knowledge’ — true or false does not matter — to give its blessings to whatever churns up the most profit. I don’t agree that “Existing systems have expanded the enlightenment and will probably get us over the line.” The present enlightenment glows very dimly in a night whose dark shadows I see growing. I also disagree with your assertion that sustainability would mean near term extinction or promise short-term stasis. If, as I have asserted, our economies, our huge populations, our agriculture, transportation and distribution systems depend on a source of unlimited clean energy and if nothing soon replaces our existing source of not-so unlimited, not-so clean energy after we burn that house down our social contraption will collapse under its own weight dragging us down with it. Sustainability can only promise some limited space of breathing room before this collapse.

      With little reason I do believe some fortunate few might survive to carry on and no I don’t immediately assume that I or my children will be among them. At this time, rather than give faith to Science and the growth of knowledge I am very concerned to find ways to preserve what knowledge we have. Our books will not last long after the power shuts off the air conditioners and any digital archives will be completely useless after power shuts off. If we find enough power to run the digital readers how long will those readers continue to operate before they breakdown? Will any of them outlast our books? If we find a form to preserve our present knowledge how will we pass on the basic understanding of our languages and conceptual view of the world to a humankind in the more distant future whose spoken language and the world they know might be very different than the world of our times. There could be little or nothing remaining from our time to give sufficient context to the meanings of our words and expressions.

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