The ghost of Abraham Maslov would be having a chuckle right now, or maybe a wry smile at a spectacular confirmation of his hierarchy of needs theory played out in Australian politics. Elected members of the Australian Labour Party so frightened for their psychological health at the prospect of losing their jobs, last night rolled the first woman prime minister in favour of the previous prime minister they rolled when they were feeling a bit more secure.

The short version of events is that Kevin Rudd was elected prime minister in 2007 on a majority. His colleagues deposed him in 2010 in favour of Julia Gillard who, despite starting with a healthy lead in the polls, returned after the 2010 election to lead a minority government in a hung parliament. She and the party fell so far behind in popularity that all seemed lost. The upcoming election would see a wipeout so severe that it would hand power the opposition for several terms. So, almost at the eleventh hour, the party spilled her out to put Kevin Rudd back in. And yes it is farcical — you are probably surprised that it’s not in the alloporus “sounds crazy” series.

Only Dr Maslov has a perfectly sensible explanation. We all fill the safety and security buckets of our emotional hierarchy before the self-actualization one that holds morality, lack of prejudice and acceptance of facts. When the position is precarious self-preservation automatically sets in. We allow ourselves to put aside what, in the good times, we espoused. We do what it takes to save the ship from sinking.

Clearly some of the motivation behind changing the collective mind on who should be in charge [again] came from the need of individuals to survive, to keep their jobs. No doubt this was part of it. Except that we heard many times in the brief lead up to the leadership spill that it was “in the best interests of the party” and “the best interests of the nation”.

Obviously the party benefits if it goes into damage limitation to maybe reduce the margin of defeat at the election or even have an outside chance of a win. Loose by a few seats and recovery can be swift. Loose many and history tells you that it will take many election cycles before those seats are recovered. So if it has to lose, the party benefits by limiting the margin of defeat.

But why does the nation benefit? Well the conventional wisdom is that in party democracies, good government requires a strong opposition and that usually means a two party system. The public gets to pick one of two options — one to govern and the other to ‘keep the bastards honest”.

Sounds sensible enough. Only the smell of self-preservation in this argument is strong. In the long run the two party option favours both parties — check out the hilarious Spitting Image skit below where the Margaret Thatcher and Neil Kinnock puppets explain the logic.

The two party system can work if the process of ‘keeping honest’ produces innovation, new ideas and ideologies that match the circumstances of the day. The parties evolve with the times.

The spillage Australians witnessed last night was because this did not happen. Going back to the future was the consequence of a failure to evolve to cope with the needs of the day. The incumbent and her cabinet did not deliver enough policies that worked for the majority of people. And even when policies did work the government failed to communicate the benefits. They lost the trust of enough of the electorate to suggest a massive election loss and with no more time to get it right the party decided change was the only option they had.

Failure can often look chaotic. It became bizarre because Kevin Rudd was still around to get his old job back and that in itself is telling. If he really was a bad prime minister who dithered, back-flipped and regularly lost the plot with his staff and colleagues, then giving him another go confirms the desperation.

What might send us all cascading down the hierarchy of needs though is that Rudd was still the best option in a two party system.


Leadership still sucks

Leaning_Tower_PisaThe 100th post on alloporus was posted 8 months ago. That mini-review managed to reduce most of the previous content down to a couple of words “leadership sucks”.

And if you live in Australia then you would probably agree without reservation, whatever your political persuasion. We have an imploding Federal government with an opposition that just has to sit and watch it happen, whilst at state level there is a steady unpicking of legislation to turn the world brown.

Australia is even losing the plot in sport where in one code it is fine to punch the opponent in the biggest game of the season and in another a punch that missed is described as ‘despicable’

Ah, leadership, wherefore art thou.

As though in some kind of zombie state most folk seem to be ignoring it all. Perhaps it might go away. Just keep on selling the coal to the Chinese and we can carry on being rudderless [no pun intended].

Public lethargy is everywhere, spread as a thin veneer over stronger feelings of fear and woe, suggesting that leadership still sucks.

Only in the 100th post I also made a commitment to be more positive. Well that was a promise easily made and hard to keep.

It would seem that 5 decades of exposure to the human condition has allowed negativity to seep right through to my core. No matter the sunny disposition, gratefulness, the knowledge of blessings, and awareness of the privilege I enjoy — most of the latest alloporus blog posts are still glass half empty.

Not even the clever work of Plummer showing that despite our growing numbers the grand scheme of things is getting better has made me feel chipper.

It could be that I am wired to get upset and then depressed at all the craziness. I mean do we really need to know the sex of Kim Kardashian’s baby when we don’t know where most of our food comes from?

Less depressing would be the idea that this preoccupation with the inane and a requirement for drama is hard wired in us all and, more importantly, was necessary for our success.

There is obvious survival value in being obsessed with the immediate and the mundane for out on the savanna there were mundane things that could eat you or make you sick. Any hunter-gatherer who sent her mind gazing too far into the future went hungry or lost her child to an opportunistic leopard.

The addiction to stress is less easy to justify away unless we see it as a by-product of a requirement for drama. Argument does bring us awake, sets our adrenaline to work and makes us ready to fight or flee. In other words, drama was probably a basic requirement for successful savanna life.

Modernity provides us with every opportunity to latch onto drama and be in that alert state; only we have very little real need for it. Now drama is of our own making. These days we don’t find ourselves risking a drink from the crocodile infested rivers but we still like the feeling such risk brings.

I guess what all this justification talk becomes is a soothing of sorts. I do feel better posting rants when I accept that drama, argument and disagreement are a natural part of me, part of us all. The ego has to be thanked for getting us this far

What is still challenging is how to shift through to the positives. Not the ‘ra, ra, ra, yes we can’ positivity that is just another way of priming the body to act. I mean the real positives that come from truth.

For the moment these are harder to write about.

Must see post really makes you think


Yatchs_MonacoSo now that you have had a squizz and a chuckle at the excellent satire of Brad Plummer in the Washington Post [here is the link again if you missed his must see post], what should we make of a world where some of the big metrics of quality of life and lifestyle are trending in the right direction?

Yes it is true that there is still poverty, disease, crime, environmental degradation, precarious economies and the prospect of global changes out of our control, but the reality is that, even with so many of us, the majority are in pretty good shape. And those lucky enough to live in the developed world really do live like kings compared to the kings of just a few generations ago.

Not even all the King Georges in the House of Hanover who were having a ball before and after 1800 had electricity, TV or a mobile phones. All four of them would have had to get a lackey to heat their bathwater and another to send out the pigeons when messaging for a booty call.

What the numbers that Brad Plummer collated tell us is that there is a transition in most things. We start off slowly, get things moving to the point that they are a problem, and then turn them around so as to fix the problem. Next to no heart disease in the 1900’s, peaks at 40% of deaths in America during the 60’s and 70’s and now declining proportionately [probably because we got pretty good at human plumbing].

Humans are actually very good at this sequence.

Explore, innovate and exploit while we can get away with it, then put checks on all that exploitation and start to [slowly] clean up the mess. It is as inevitable as the earth orbiting the sun with a slight wobble in the tilt of its axis.

It means that ‘it will get worse before it gets better’ is often true and that we like it that way. Perhaps we even need it to be so.

We seem to need the worse to be upon us before we do anything about it. This is, of course, a great risk at a time of 7 billion human souls all striving and many getting a better life. Because it assumes that whatever the ‘worse’ is we can fix it — one day we will wake up to that fact that emission reduction is trendy policy but will not solve the climate challenge, but I digress.

The key message though is the psychology that makes Plummer’s post satire. We universally fail to see that what we really have is actually, for the most part and for most people, pretty good and getting better. Instead we prefer to be told that the sky is falling down.

Maybe there is a way to work through this necessary ‘doom saying’ faster. We could shunt along through it and get quickly to the other side where the solutions are found.

So all we need is a little rescheduling on TV — after Today Tonight, just before the inane sitcom starts, we get a ten minute Ted talk on some really neat idea that will solve a global challenge.

Easy and a bit like when the Magic Roundabout was on before the news to make sure that the kids were still around to get a glimpse of the headlines showing death, destruction and the political chaos of the day.

Environmental values | A national park should be a national park

EucalyptusForestMany years ago I was driving along a dirt road in rural Zimbabwe.

We had been following a game fence for several miles, a formidable veldspan barrier between a tired looking patchwork of withered maize fields, goats, and clusters of rondavels out the passenger window, and the intact open woodland of a game reserve on the driver’s side.

Dirt roads allow plenty of time to take in the scenery and I couldn’t help but notice how one of my fellow passengers, a former student recently appointed to the wildlife department as a trainee scout, was so captivated by it. Not the savanna with its prospects of a kudu bull framed by an acacia thicket, an elephant ambling along ready to tug at the sweetest smelling grass tussock, or maybe even a leopard draped across the bow of a marula tree; no he watched with great intent the farmland.

“Which do you like best,” I asked him, “the savanna or the lands?” He looked back across at me with eyes wide, forehead furrowed and cheeks raised and said nothing. He turned back to his left to look out of the window and said softly “the lands”.

It was not the only time during a decade in Africa, that included the great fortune of visits to half a dozen countries, where the locals made it very clear how important agricultural land was to their very soul. Fields and pastures are, after all, the source of sustenance to us all and a place of protection and community. Human modification of the wild and dangerous savanna into safer and more comfortable countryside is the achievement that founded our ongoing numerical and lifestyle success.

In the west we sometimes pretend that the wild mountains, forests and windswept moors are our places of true beauty, but actually we too have quite the soft spot for farmland. Countryside would end up as a more popular choice for most than wilderness. Even the words themselves evoke opposites: cozy comfort aside inglenook fireplaces with a slice of apple pie, or gray skies, damp smells and wind that howls.

Given these deep and innate responses it’s no surprise that there is a conflict over what to do with wild areas. Should we set some aside and then keep out of them to be what they are as unfettered cauldrons for nature? Or should we designate them and, with a calming hand, mollify all that that wildness? After all we are under more pressure that ever to make every hectare of the land productive and available to yield fuel and raw materials for our voracious economic engines.

Australia is slipping into the midst of this conundrum.

After many decades of increasing environmental protection with laws set to slow or stop landscape modification, restrict pollution, and set aside close to 7% of the land [529,380 km2] as conservation areas, change is afoot. State governments in Victoria, Queensland, and NSW are variously allowing areas designated as national parks to be used by recreational hunters, mineral prospectors, graziers and even foresters.

Whatever your politics, hunting, livestock grazing, digging big holes and cutting down trees do seem rather odd activities to allow within a national park. Remember that the majority of these areas are either rugged and remote [part of their initial charm] or unproductive for all the usual commercial things we like to do. Allowing them environmental value seems to make perfect sense.

There is also the important ecological reality that once an area of land is grazed by livestock, or cleared, or a road cut through it, or big holes dug into it, then it will never again be as it was. Our modifications are irreversible.

We can [and should] restore landscape after the effects of our worst excesses but, by definition, we cannot return a landscape to pristine wilderness. All we can do is set areas aside for nature to be and preferably areas that we have not messed up too much already.

Recognition of environmental value, so that each set aside area has meaning, is a really smart thing to do.

Yet in doing so we are at odds with our instinct for the safe place that is productive. We all want to look to the left of the dusty road at the brown stalks of the harvested mealies just as the young wildlife scout did, because at core we are all control freaks. We are desperate to keep the nastiness of nature at bay and make the land safe and productive for our families — something inside says that that wild wood must be tamed. Let’s send in the guns, the herders and the chainsaws.

Only we are better than this. Surely there is enough in us to recognize that we do not have to be afraid of lions or wolves anymore and we can let some small proportion of the planet be close to what it was before we swarmed across it.

And surely we don’t have to go back to the trenches of environmental warfare where passion to protect and equal passion to exploit creates sides that throw dirty grenades at each other and the only winner is the peddler of vitriol.

For goodness sake let a national park be a national park.

97% said their cats prefer it

Its official, 97% of peer-reviewed science papers, that expressed a preference, agree that climate change is caused by human activity.

Academics have surveyed nearly 12,000 academic papers penned by 29,000 scientists. There were 4,000-plus papers that took a position on the causes of climate change and less than 100 of these disputed the scientific consensus that climate change is the result of human activity.

Here is what the lead author had to say about the survey

Call me a cynic but all I could think about was the “8 out of 10 owners who expressed a preference said their cats preferred it” Whiskers ad and how I didn’t believe that either.

And later I imagined what it was like back in the day when every intellectual believed that the earth was flat until some crazy dude decided to sail all the way around it.

And later still I decided that it really is missing the point because it does not matter what the cause is, it is the effects we have to worry about.


Sounds crazy #4 | Logging of native forests

Logged forest NSWIt is wise not to believe everything you read in the newspapers. Most of the time the stories are, at best, economical with the truth, spun faster than a flywheel, and sensationalized out of all recognition.

This week though I was taken by the “Hatchet job on native forest logging” headline in the Sun-Herald [18 May 2013].

The report claimed that the recently privatized Forestry Corporation of NSW was making an $8 million loss on revenue of $111 million from logging of native forest across NSW — equivalent to a $671 loss per hectare of trees cut.

If it is true that logging of native forest makes a financial loss then to continue such a destructive practice that was never fully able to account true environmental costs is madness. It would be stupidity that borders on negligence

The piece notes that plantation forestry is profitable [$32 million in 2010/11] and implied that the plantation estate effectively subsidizes the harvest of native forest.

Clearly the story is never just about profit. There are jobs at stake, impacts on rural economies to consider if production stopped, and significant flow on effects to the supply chain. Consumers would still want timber. Suppliers are likely to source their hardwood timber from overseas where controls of logging practices may not be as tight as they are in Australia.

And yet, operating the logging of native forest at a financial loss really does sound crazy.


yatchs in monaco harbourMost of us gain more satisfaction than we realize from progress.

We are programmed to solve riddles and explore new things that give us the feeling of moving forward. In modern suburbia it may be that crime shows on TV are enough to satisfy our problem solving need and the confines of a cruise ship once a year does enough for our sense of adventure. Yet there is some expression of the betterment gene in us all. We really like progress.

Our need for progress has morphed over the generations. Not so long ago it was a struggle for equality. We fought against oppression, prejudice and the denial of opportunity, and, for the most part, have made things better.

These issues still linger of course, but all around the world societies mostly do not burn witches at the stake, deny education, a fair wage or the vote. Each generation has seen improvement in these fundamentals compared to times past. So much so that we seem to have lost collective interest in them.

Instead of core benefits, progress of late has been taken over by commerce. We measure ourselves by our access to an almost endless choice of goods and services that we seek to acquire. From the luxury yachts that spend 99% of their time tied up at a mooring, to a kitchen renovation, or even the necessity of five varieties of breakfast cereal in the pantry. Betterment is now all about stuff.

And it is what it is — inevitable really. For when there is no need for struggle people still find a way to do it. Intuitively we know that betterment requires work and sacrifice.

When all our basic needs arrive on a plate instead of channeling our struggle energy into achieving higher things we have settled on ways to get more stuff. This is a pity and perhaps the start of our undoing.

Betterment should really be about our higher selves — our efforts channeled toward awareness, balance and a sense of peace. Stuff would be part of this but not the all consuming driver and measure of how well we are doing.