The agreement to cooperate

The agreement to cooperate

Suppose I cut down a tree. 

I am keen to get the benefit from the wood at my feet. The tree trunk is enormous, raw, and not in any shape to be used. It needs to sit and dry out. Then I can fashion it into beams to repair the roof of my rondavel.

But the tree is far from my house. I cannot watch over it until it is dry. I have hunting and gathering to do, and maize beer to drink by the fire.

So I leave the tree where it fell.

My neighbour also needs to repair his roof. He could steal my tree trunk while I am not looking, but he doesn’t because we agree with what tradition tells us.

A tree felled belongs to he who felled it. 

Everyone in the tribe knows the rule and agrees to abide by it. Break this agreement and there are consequences from the chief and his many wives.

Society is built on this type of contract.

Called the social contract in moral and political philosophy during the Age of Enlightenment — an actual or hypothetical compact, or agreement, between the ruled or between the ruled and their rulers, defining the rights and duties of each — it originated to give legitimacy to the authority of the state (tradition and the chief) over the individual (me and my stone axe). 

Through the social contract, individuals surrender some of their freedoms and submit to collective authority in exchange for protection of their remaining rights and maintenance of the social order.

It is easy to forget how critical the social contract is to our well-being and the opportunity for personal success in modern times. 

Personal and societal safety, efficient education, security of business contracts including the exchange of time for money, ownership of goods and legal entities, access to health care and expertise, all happen through the contract. Everything that makes modern societies wealthy and safe comes from our collective agreement to follow the rules.

That is not to say that everyone is always happy. 

There is a constant tension in the social contract as it ducks and weaves its way alongside the development of societies. 

A critical source of tension is the actual or perceived fairness in the rights and duties, especially in the difference between how they are defined and how they play out in the real world.

For example, the government decides, on advice from health professionals, that the best way to manage a pandemic from an infectious airborne virus is to tell people to stay at home. House arrest for the masses. I am no longer at liberty to go and find another tree to cut down even though I have a permit from the Agriculture department to cut one.

No problem. It is in the interest of public health, which is a crucial benefit of the social contract. 

The pandemic, fake news, authoritarian regimes, and even social media put tremendous strain on the contract even as neoliberalism persuades people to expect less from governing authorities in exchange for greater civil liberties, including individual, political and economic freedom.

The contradiction is enough to do your head in.

Society is so much more complex than it was in the days of the stone axe. But the importance of the social contract grows with it. 

Only to protect the benefits, we have to be vigilant. The rulers cannot ignore the rules any more than we can and must not act unilaterally and claim the authority of the state to justify their self-interest.


Still upset about media drivel, claims from fake news, and the deceit that passes for public debate these days? Check out sustainability FED for objective ideas on how to feed everyone well.


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A few quotes tell the story

A few quotes tell the story

This sequence of quotes I plucked at random from my superficial reading of U.S. political commentary early in 2022 before Putin chose to further destabilise the world. 

Then I put them in a chilling order.

“Only free and fair elections in which the loser abides by the result stand between each of us and life at the mercy of a despotic regime” 

Laurence Tribe, Harvard law professor

“One thing Democrats and Republicans share is the belief that, to save the country, the other side must not be allowed to win … Every election is an existential crisis,”

Jedediah Britton-Purdy, Columbia law professor

“If our election systems continue to be rigged and continue to be stolen, then it’s going to lead to one place and that’s bloodshed.”

Congressman Madison Cawthorn, Republican, North Carolina

“The groups that tend to start civil wars are the groups that were once dominant politically but are in decline. They’ve either lost political power or they’re losing political power and they truly believe that the country is theirs by right and they are justified in using force to regain control because the system no longer works for them.”

Barbara Walter, political scientist, University of California, San Diego

“It would not be like the first civil war, with armies manoeuvring on the battlefield. I think it would very much be a free-for-all, neighbour on neighbour, based on beliefs and skin colours and religion. And it would be horrific.”

Col Peter Mansoor, military history professor, Iraq war veteran

“I speak to you as a human being, a woman whose dreams of motherhood now taste bittersweet because of what I know about our children’s future”

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat, New York

Worried about the future, what will happen to our food, environment, and safety? Get some accurate information and ideas at sustainability FED.


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When to register a patent

When to register a patent

A patent is a right granted for any device, substance, method or process that is new, inventive and useful.

A patent is a legally enforceable right to commercially exploit the invention for the patent’s life.

Once applied for and granted, it gives exclusive rights for an invention to make, use and sell the design for a limited period, typically 20 years. The patent grant excludes others from making, using, or selling the invention and does not start until the actual allocation of a patent.

Patents are handy in business, and they are lodged when an individual or a company believes they have invented something “new, inventive or useful” and ideally lucrative when commercially exploited.

So what would you say to the fact that patents were lodged for oil tankers and mobile drilling platforms that could navigate a melting Artic by the following companies in the 1970s 

  • Exxon in 1973
  • Texaco In 1974 
  • Chevron in 1974 
  • Shell in 1983

When to register your patent

The date you first file a patent application for your invention establishes what is known as a priority date. Potential competitors who file an application later for the same design will not be entitled to patent it due to your earlier priority date.

So what were these oil companies up to in the mid-1970s?

Protecting their technologies to get oil out of the Arctic when the ice was melting. Did they know that climate change was a potential risk 50 years ago, and they hedged as all smart businesses should do?

Just in case they needed to be the first with a stable platform to drill for oil on unstable ice, they invented and patented their own platforms.

No matter if they never built them. They were prepared.

It is a shame that the rest of us are less prescient.


Worried about the future, what will happen to our food, environment, and safety? Get some accurate information and ideas at sustainability FED.


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Who are the ignoble larrikins?

Who are the ignoble larrikins?

Say what you think and mean what you say.

Not a bad adage at all. People will like you for your honesty and integrity, two of the most important human attributes.

Indeed without these two, we would be far less successful as a species for we would not have commerce, collaboration or cooperation. Nor would we have science, technology and engineering for these are professions built on self-policing rules that fail without honesty.

Australians have a reputation for saying what they think — they are keen on the first part of the adage. 

Many are larrikins too, with a healthy disregard for convention. It is ok to play golf in thongs or even bare feet.

And after living in Australia for 25 years, I have to say that Australians mean what they say for the most part. Although sometimes I am not sure they think before spouting forth, another expression of larrikinism.

Author Lech Blaine suggests that conservative politicians in Australia have commandeered this straight-shooting on the fringes into a blue-collar revolution for their political ends. 

Quote from Lech Blaine on fabricated larrikins

Stupid white men wearing white shirts pretending to be working class is an odd image. 

These well-educated and affluent individuals would never dream of playing golf in thongs. They only pretend to be among the masses, especially the working-class battlers, because this is where elections are won. 

In one of the most complex voting systems in the world with two-foot ballot papers and weirdness with preferences, Liberal governments win enough seats not by playing to their rusted-on base of conservative support but by pretending to represent the undecided in a handful of seats at each election. And these swing voters are not in the cities; they are in the suburbs and the rural areas.

Now the shirt-wearing men not only have to pretend to wear overalls but drive a tractor too. 

The men courting the battlers never shoot straight. They are the ignoble larrikins. They prefer to be on holiday in Hawaii than in front of the wildfire and anonymously report the thong wearer to the golf club chairman.

They lie and cheat and pork-barrel their way into the top political jobs.

And we let them.

As the French Ambassador to Australia said, “What you say in confidence … will eventually be used and weaponised against you one day.”

Shame on us.


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The left left their talk to the right

The left left their talk to the right

True freedom emerges from respect for other people. 

This is George Monbiot doing his thing in an article about how leftwingers — his crew — are lured to the far-right by conspiracy theories.

It is true because the world is upside down, in a scary state of flux. 

Democracy as we thought we knew it, with a vote cast, tallied and winners declared after a simple count, is not strong enough anymore. It can’t resist the manipulation of the socials or the authoritarian undermining by the lawmakers.

One minute we all agree to stay at home, don masks and not see friends and family for months, all at significant personal and emotional cost, then we are told to go for it. Some do for a short while until reality voluntarily puts us back at home.  

Check out Australia in its wet summer of 2021/22.

Apparently, with the health system straining like never before and frontline staff at the end of their rope, it is the right time for the Australian government to announce a $3.5 billion expenditure on 120 military tanks from the United States. This is more than 10%  of the $30.2 billion NSW Health budget for 2020-21.

It is weird and scary.

Well, we could always vote them out.

Only the point that Monbiot makes is summarised in this quote.

The left left their talk to the right. 

And the right left their talk to the left.

Rumsfeld would be delighted with such linguistic conflagration.

So when I exercise my democratic right to vote and place a cross on a ballot, the choice is impossible. There is no way of deciding who stands for what anymore.

All we know is the period of stability in the age-old power balance between people and state is over. The struggle is back, and for the moment, it is the state and the supporting cast to the authoritarians that have the upper hand.

People beware.


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The right of free speech

The right of free speech

So Neil Young decided to remove his song catalogue from Spotify because he didn’t like what another Spotify artist, Joe Rogan, said on his popular podcasts.

Then Joni Mitchell came out saying the same thing, remove, please.

I am conflicted by this.

Anyone, including Rogan, who peddles crazy ideas and statements that are potentially harmful to anyone, is out of order. 

However, if we want free speech, Rogan has a right to speak even if what he says is nonsense and dangerous. After all, he claims to be a comic.

Equally, Spotify customers have the right not to listen. 

They choose to stream a podcast or not. And that is the key. Nobody is forced to listen to Joe Rogan for three hours or any other anti or alternative purveyor of brain farts; each person chooses to listen.

Of course, this version of free speech where anyone can say anything must assume that listeners are discerning. 

Not only must all Spotify customers have the skills and experience to decide for themselves, but they must also exercise the ability routinely. The reality is that many don’t have the skills — few schools teach discernment and the mental fortitude to turn off a feed — nor do those listeners who have a discerning taste use it all the time.

Crap gets into all our lives.

Then there is another problem.

Neil Young has 6 million monthly listeners and Joni Mitchell 3.5 million. Modern heyday artists like Drake or Adele are in the region of 60 million listeners keen enough to follow an artist and stream their songs.

Unless they get publicity by pulling their catalogue, the older generation simply doesn’t have the reach. 

As Guardian reporter Edward Helmore puts it, “Streaming is highly competitive, with low margins. Apple, Google, and Amazon are competing for market share. Spotify reported 172m paying subscribers, up from 144m when it signed Rogan. When it comes to plotting a lucrative future in modern media, Young, a cultural legend, was simply not competitive.”

Not that this stand against stupidity is to gain more streams, not even Alloporus is that cynical, but it does leverage past infamy into present-day relevance. Presumably, the hardcore fans are still listening to albums on vinyl and care little for the pristine 160kbps, so there is little to sacrifice.

And no doubt such established artists don’t need the change either.

This is all a little convoluted, and maybe I am missing the point. 

Everyone should stand up to what they know to be wrong in whatever way they can within the constraints of no harm to others.

Songwriters limiting their audience in protest at another’s voice just seems an odd way to go about it.


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Carbon offsets are terrific

Carbon offsets are terrific

Just wrote a post on Medium to explain why carbon offsets are fantastic, really

I used the analogy of a hammer to drive home a nail. 

A carbon offset is a tool we need to deal with the climate change issue, just like a hammer is a tool. If we use the tool poorly and get a greenwash outcome of companies buying credits to make themselves look good. Then it’s hardly fair to blame the tool. 

The post went to Medium rather than here on Alloporus because there’s a debate going on there. Some people are adamant that carbon offsets are a terrible thing and we must get rid of them and they’re not going to solve the problem. 

And to be fair, they have a point, but I wanted to make sure that they understood the point they were making. 

If you hit your finger with a hammer while trying to knock in a nail, is it the hammer’s fault? 

Have a read of the post to see my explanation.



Fear not, Alloporus will continue with weekly ramblings but do check out Alloporus on Medium for extra rants and raves.


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When the beds are burning

When the beds are burning

Along with countless others, I am distressed and annoyed at my inability to change minds. 

Of course, this feeling of frustration is a weakness on my part, an inability to realise that others minds are their own, and it is no business of mine to go in there and change anything.

But there are times when the zen-like clarity of ‘what will be will be’ fails me.

One such time occurred recently. I read an article entitled ‘For humanity to survive, we must make Australia’s politicians feel our fear and rage’. And so we should. The article contained some solid statements about how Australia and especially its politicians must wake up to a changing world and the reality of climate change.

My frustration built then boiled over when reading this paragraph that quotes, with great moral fortitude, the words of the school strikes movement.

I agree wholeheartedly with the premise… just do your job.

The source of the frustration was that the article’s author is Peter Garrett AM, minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts from 2007 to 2010 in the Rudd and Gillard governments.

I just can’t take the irony anymore.


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An experience most painful

An experience most painful

Sir Winston Churchill was a man of his time. 

He was a British statesman and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the Second World War, a Sandhurst-educated soldier, a Nobel Prize-winning writer and historian, a prolific painter, and one of the longest-serving politicians in British history.

Remembered as the leader the British people needed to repel the spread of nazi fascism, he was at the same time a social reformer, an economic liberal and an imperialist. 

Such a combination may seem odd today but understandable given the late Victorian and Edwardian eras that he grew up in.

Churchill was a canny politician, being an MP for over 60 years, and he knew a thing or two about people and words. 

Here is one quote from his 1948 book The Gathering Storm, the first of his twelve-volume memoir on the Second World War

Most painful.

This is a man convinced that rearmament was essential because the war was inevitable. The House was still hoping for peace because another war so soon after the horrors of WW1 was unthinkable.

How many truth-tellers have the experience most painful?

We can count on many frontline staff and public health experts, from epidemiologists to hospital administrators, feeling that pain right now.

The environmentalists have been suffering for decades.

Now the young are feeling the pain too. Truth-telling over climate and the environment has fallen on their bold shoulders.

Reading Churchill is sobering. Knowing that the House has always been hard of hearing may make it easier to take modern ostrich behaviour from our leaders. Leaders rarely heed warnings.

Although Sir Winston felt despair, he led with irrepressible fortitude through the darkest time in British history, forcing people to listen.

It is time to channel that tenacity again.


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One will help you and the other will hurt you

One will help you and the other will hurt you

Daniel Levitin is James McGill Professor Emeritus of psychology and behavioural neuroscience at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. 

All five books of his books are international bestsellers: This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession (2006), The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature (2008), The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload (2014), A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age (2016) and Successful Aging (2020).  

He is also a music producer and sound designer with contributions to recordings that have sold over 30 million copies. 

There is a real worldliness to his writing with many a quotable quote.

Here is one.

The internet delivers one who will help you and the other who will hurt you.

Sharp and insightful this one. The internet will either help or hinder and the responsibility to choose falls on the consumer of the information. 

That’s you and me. 

A ubiquitous and accessible internet is life-changing. We get all the information we need with a few clicks. 

Knowledge is power but with power comes responsibility for ourselves. In everyday web use, it’s in the decision to value or trash the information that the internet coughs up in a millisecond.

In other words, it is not the fault of information access and free speech that we get trolls, alternate facts, deception, and lies. Bad stuff is a consequence of an open platform.

It is what we do with information that matters.

Do we take the time to choose?


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