Do you know what you want?

Do you know what you want?

A long time ago I was at a seminar by an upbeat American whose particular brand of snake oil was about how to get what you wanted in life. His specific pitch was creative visualisation.

Waved along by an expensive Italian suit he had people tell him exactly what they wanted in life. It was not enough to want a house with a picket fence. The deal, he said, is to know exactly where the house is, which suburb, street, and all the details right down to the shade of white paint and the distance between the rails on the fence out front.

Most of the people he asked to describe such detail did not have a clue. They had only a vague notion of what they wanted out of life.

Of course this worked like a charm for the charmer. “It’s all about visualisation you see.” He said, once again waving his arms. “If you can’t describe exactly the items you want you will never be able to get them.”

No surprise this has become a popular concept and not just because we are besotted with goods and chattels. Knowing what we want does motivate and guide our actions. Back in the day it got us out from the relative safety of the thicket onto the open plains where there was more risk but also success to be had, perhaps even a tasty warthog.

Today’s versions of warthog might be a new flat screen or the European coupe with the cute front grill and alloys, but the visualisation of things remains a strong motivator.

What do we want politically?

Wanting for things is easy but there is no reason it should not stretch to wanting a certain type of society with specific combinations of rights, freedoms, economic leanings and relationship to the past.

My hunch is that we don’t think of politics this way and have just as much trouble visualising what we want for society as imagining the most desirable garden border.

Clearly it is hard to see the radical-left or far right or Third Way as a tactile thing and so it is easy not to visualise our political stance at all. We don’t discover the detail of what our innate political leaning looks like in the smartphone world.

This is not about how you vote — the choice you must make among your countries versions of major party left or right or centre or even wether to pitch up to the voting booth. This is about what your leanings actually look like. How far apart are the rails on your radical-centre fence?

First you need to know how to place your innate political leanings. Where on the confusing spectrum of ideologies will you feel most comfortable?

Grab your smartphone and ask Google or Siri to search ‘political ideologies’ and click on the Wikipedia entry to see a very long list of the options. More simply you can follow these links to the main flavours

Left wing politics

Centrist politics

Right wing politics

Remember this is not about whether Wikipedia gets the ideological description correct, leave that never-ending argument to the political philosophers. Just pick the description that resonates.

In a jiffy you will have a description of the philosophies that align with feelings that always made you a staunch republican or so excited by Bernie Saunders vision of progression.

You will get to know what you feel about the tricky balance between personal and social responsibility — how much the government should interfere.

You’ll find yourself thinking about just how much capital should be allowed to flow and businesses encouraged with or without a social safety net. And, as former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd was want to say, just how much of ‘a fair shake of the sauce bottle’ people should get.

You might even make sense of the Brexit decision and the new US president-elect although these events might be a stretch.

What you will find is that visualisation is hard.

Even if you land firmly in an established ideology that describes a political system with strong personal responsibility and a social safety net built on a free market economy [left-centre in case you were wondering]. What does that look like for policy on terror, boat people, exploitation of coal seam gas, or tax bracket creep?

So just like most of the people who had no idea that there were even shades of white in a picket fence, political visualisation is not for the lazy minded. It takes effort.

Only it is time to start making those mental images.

What do you want citizenship laws to look like? Should farmland be dotted with gas wells or modest pay rises tipping you across into the next tax bracket?

It is a very good time to do this because the shake up is upon us. The sauce bottles are out.

Just ask Donald.




Joel has been in a wheelchair all his life. He is 32 years old and his parents have looked after him since he was born. They are worn out.

It is impossible to know how they feel about Joel.

He is their son who requires their attention for just about everything he does. They have been there for 11,680 days of dressing, showering and bowel movements. Between these days they didn’t sleep through on half the nights.

This is not a normal life.

Joel not only has physical disabilities he has mental issues too.

He couldn’t learn to speak and, according to numerous psych analyses, is not aware of where or who he is. Yet he seems to know what he likes and he gets scared and upset, even if very few people can tell the difference. The best care can see Joel comfortable and safe but no one knows if he is content.

Who speaks for Joel?

He is of legal age with an identity yet he cannot sign or speak his own name. He thinks for there are responses to likes and dislikes but no obvious capacity to discern. His smiles and cries and shouts are unfathomable to all but his parents and his sister. Often even they are not sure what he wants or what he means.

Those with a normal life cannot know how Joel feels or thinks.

His parents want to speak for Joel. They have provided his care, sacrificed much to be there for him and know him better than anyone, perhaps more than Joel knows himself. In the world of the rational they could, perhaps should, be his voice and decide what is best.

It just happens that Joel is aware of his sexuality. Whatever wiring his brain missed it developed the signals for procreation. He cannot speak his desires but   Joel obviously likes girls, especially the good-looking ones.

His parents see this. On occasion, it embarrasses them.

Only they believe sex is reserved for marriage and they cannot see Joel being married to anyone. It is silly to even think of it.

They do not even consider that Joel might want to have sex. Nor do they see that this fundamental human experience is what Joel the person might desire and even deserve.

However kind and dedicated they are, on the matter of sex Joel’s parents are clouded by their own preconceptions. They cannot truly speak for him.

It is likely that Joel will be denied any sexual encounters his whole life. His parents have a right to their worldview and are unlikely to change what they think about sex before marriage. They are also unlikely to change their devotion to Joel and his care.

There is an inevitable compromise in meeting Joel’s dependency. At some level, the caregiver decides and Joel must lose his voice.

It is a truly wicked conundrum.








Born again

Sometimes I wish for a flash of bright light and a sudden awakening of the soul.

It would be such a relief to be born again.

In an instant all the reality of the world would fall away into the arms of blind faith.

So far I remain far too cynical for a sortie down the road to Damascus but the prospect has immense appeal. It is not the redemption that promises rewards. Not even the ability to reset the moral clock at the end of each day with a few choice prayers for forgiveness. It is the prospect of abdication.

Just think…

No more thinking.

No more need to sift the evidence and no matter how it’s diced, find that it scares you shitless.

No more worry about how on earth the global system persists when really it should have already collapsed under the weight of human need and greed.

No more moral dilemmas because good and evil takes care of that.

Oh the bliss.

Pass me the hymnbook.

Fear or morality

I recently watched a documentary on the rise of ISIS.

It was shocking. The graphic footage of bloodlust was visceral and brutal.

How can a man place a gun to the back of the head of another bound and helpless in the dirt, and pull the trigger? How could he? He is a human being and I am a human being.

Instant fear.

Not for the prospect of being the victim but for being the perpetrator. There but for the grace of god anyone goes.

Fear that such moral depravity is possible, that we are capable of inflicting such pain on ourselves. For the pain is held by the living not the helpless victim. His is, at least, short-lived.

This horror is not to make people scared. Instead this was domination through callous and morally bankrupt behaviours.

But it was scary to see what a man is capable of doing to a countryman who follows the same religion, just not the right variety.

These killings are Illegal acts under any civilised legal code even those that apply when countries are at war. Killing in cold blood is and always should be criminal however it might be dressed.

And yet what to do about it presents a huge moral challenge.

Standing back and pretending it is only an internal problem condemns the victims and effectively condones the actions. Stepping in with guns blazing did not work the first (or the second) time, so who can say it would this time.

Military aircraft are something of a compromise at least strategically and politically. I am not sure where it leaves our morals for how far from the gun to the back of the head is the red button that releases the air to ground missile?

The most worrying of all was footage of ISIS flags flying atop American tanks and armoured vehicles so brand spanking new they didn’t have a scratch — hardware acquired when the Iraqi army forces were overrun. Now the bloodshed is aided by equipment sold for profit.

No matter how they were acquired, that is moral depravity too.

So next time the media try to frighten you with the prospects of terrorism in your hometown or the government comes across so proud to make a big deal of apprehending a handful of alleged recruits at the airport, have a think.

Just imagine an American tank rolling through a conquered city draped in a black flag.

This is the real deal and I don’t know if we are up to tackling it.


Lately Conservation International have been asking us all to adopt greater personal responsibility toward nature, because mother nature couldn’t care less about us.

Here is their logic


Fair enough. After all there is evidence for this argument. The previous five mass extinctions saw nature come back bigger and more diverse than before. And in time she will again after the current human-induced one.

Meantime there is a snag in the present.

Around half the people on earth grow most of their own food. These are not the new age Nancy types jumping off the grid or the allotment owners escaping their nagging spouses. We are talking about real life people from Bengal to Benin who have few job opportunities, little money, and no choice but to live off the land.

And today there are over 3 billion of them. That’s more than the entire human population in 1950.

These resourceful people perform miracles on tiny parcels of land. Yams, cassava, peanuts, plantains, rice and the like are tended with the care that comes from nurturing your future dinner. Multiple crops are rotated and intermingled to make the most of the soil reserves and to thwart pests and pathogens.

In some places this form of production is fairly secure. It rains enough onto soils that can give and retain nutrients. And with care families can survive on tiny parcels of land for a long time, often for many generations.

Elsewhere no amount of care can prevent soil depletion. And without money for inputs yields decline or become unreliable. Eventually the soil is exhausted and the farmer has to move to pastures new. This is shifting agriculture and it requires an important thing. It needs land.

If your soil is depleted and fails to grow enough food for your family what choice do you have but to move on.

Many move to the cities or send their youngsters in search of a fiscal solution so no surprise that urban populations are expanding. Even a modern city like Sydney is growing at 2,000 people per week. Meantime Lagos, Nigeria has reached 21 million.

Those left behind must either wait for newly urbanised family members to send funds or find a new patch of land to grow some food.

And this is where the Conservation International message of personal responsibility hits a snag. If half the people in the world will need new land sometime soon they will try to find it no matter how much they want to be kind to nature. None can be expected to curl up on their depleted land and sacrifice themselves.

A billion or more people practice shifting agriculture because they have no choice. Starvation is their alternative. Instead they turn to mother nature. They eat from another piece of cleared forest.

The guilt trip of personal responsibility is meaningless when your stomach is empty and your child is malnourished.



coffee-cakeHumans really are bizarre creatures. No other animal can be this smart and this blissfully unaware, whilst straining every sinew to be both.

If you get the chance, hang out in a CBD coffee shop for an hour or so.

It will be easy to tap away at your blog posts whilst eavesdropping unnoticed on the conversations of the business types at adjacent tables. You will hear some wonderful stuff.

There is the youngster with a tight haircut and equally tight pants trying to convince the senior exec that there really is something in the deal with the Saudis.

On an adjacent table a female IT consultant is negotiated out of a decent deal by a hard nosed CEO who took patronising to dizzying heights. “Perhaps you can just offer us a fixed price because, you know, when service providers give us an hourly rate price range they always charge at the high end” he suggests without a hint of a facial expression.

Another upwardly mobile CEO, not quite able to pull off the tight pants, holds forth with a real estate agent hoping to sell some office space. After half an hour of grand ideas and growth about to touch the stars, the deal is done for space only slightly larger than a shoebox. The agent is visibly deflated.

Then there is the pretty young woman on the phone to a guy who couldn’t quite make it for lunch. That was sad.

And just to prove I am not the only practitioner of the eavesdropping art, I was astounded to be interrupted in my own sinew stretching pitch to a VC by a lady on the adjacent table who had listened in and just had to tell us what she knew about our idea. That, of course, is breaking every bit of eavesdrop etiquette.

What an hour of surreptitious listening will tell you is that business people are pretty smart. They know a lot about what they do and how to get their own way.

And it will also tell you that people have no idea of anything outside their bubble. They don’t see the end of their own nose let alone the one on the person opposite.

It is quite a skill actually. To be so unaware requires true devotion to your own head. These practitioners of unawareness must live in blissful isolation lest they notice something off message. It is remarkable.

Eavesdropping can be a lot of fun. Choose a coffee shop frequented by the suited and give it a try some time. Nobody will notice you doing it.

What I learned lately about… courage


stormy seaCourage is priceless

First of all I am not talking about the winning of a Victoria Cross. For me that is bravery, you either have that or not as it emerges unbidden in extremes. Nobody really knows if they are brave until they face a clear danger head on.

Courage is subtler.

We need it every day, sometimes only in small amounts as it fuels the success and enjoyment of our days. Courage is what gets us out of bed and allows us to engage with the world and each other. It lets us believe in good and cope with bad.

Without it we would all be lost.