Are corporations psychopathic?

I was recently invited onto an Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA*) panel discussion with host Rita Mack, and Angus Murray, a Partner and Trade Marks Attorney at Irish Bentley Lawyers, that raised questions about the nature of the digital world and the crisis of embodiment such as: Are corporations psychopathic? If corporations are psychopathic, what about the people who run them? What happens when digital data overrides the life world?

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What’s your motivation: is it yourself or the change you’re making?

The title is taken from a lyric by Urthboy, and its an important question we should all ask ourselves at times.

Image of blue spiral

In this age of social media there’s a real risk that our activism becomes a disembodied process in which we find ourselves more focussed on curating our politically correct self-image on social media (and attacking those who don’t measure up) than working in our communities to achieve real change. In activist circles we have a concept called our ‘theory of change’ and it challenges us to explain how a particular type of action promotes real change. For example getting arrested at a protest by itself doesn’t necessarily contribute to change, but it can if it is part of a deliberate strategic process designed to put pressure on power-holders.

Whilst social media can be useful to disseminate and discuss new ideas and promote social change, there are also real dangers and pitfalls where our ‘activism’ might be counter-productive. Without a coherent theory of change, it may amount to little more than personal grandstanding or worse, a dangerous and competitive purity spiral.

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The trilemma: climate change, economic collapse, and rising fascism

Climate chaos would be problematic enough if we were able to stand and face it with intact systems of democratic governance and an economic system capable of adaptive resilience. Unfortunately we are instead faced with a truly dysfunctional trilemma of climate chaos, rising global fascism, and an economic system that continues to defy physics. 

The world is currently in total global debt of $188 trillion equivalent to 230% of the global economy. The future that this debt was based upon does not exist, a major collapse is imminent. The perpetual growth algorithm that corporate capitalism is based upon has reached the point where negative interest rates are emerging as the latest band aid to pour more fuzzy cash into the failing global economy. Never before in history has this been attempted, it is like science denial now includes maths denial for those who can’t see beyond the cargo cult of perpetual growth.

In Australia and around the world we are seeing the rise of maladaptive conservatism and fascism as societies fail to come to grips with the need for rapid and fundamental change. Governments are attempting to lie, pump prime and arrest their way of the climate crisis. So…. How do we keep going faced with this trilemma?

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Staying sane in the late Anthropocene

I can’t personally remember a more insane and dangerous time in world and domestic politics. We watch almost helplessly as the sixth great extinction, this time caused by humans, ravages life on this planet. No matter how graphic the reality of the climate and extinction crisis becomes, there seems to be two parallel universes in play.  One is the reality of our planet, its atmosphere and the processes of life, the other is a largely delusional world of perpetual growth capitalism, cronyism and corruption. The problem itself seems to exist in one universe and the societal response in another delusional universe that only makes things worse.

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Talking about lock-on devices – an article in The Conversation

Screen shot from The Conversation article: ‘Lock-on devices’ are a symbol of non-violent protest, but they might soon be banned in Queensland

As a tool of non-violent civil-disobedience, using “lock-on” devices avoids risking group stand-offs with police, which can end up worse than rugby scrums. These devices certainly cause inconvenience, but it’s difficult to imagine how a person with one or both hands locked into a device could be anything but non-violent.

But the Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk recently proposed laws to outlaw the possession or use of protest lock-on devices.

While no bill has yet been presented, media reports suggest severe penalties will be imposed, including prison terms and large fines.

A war of words has erupted, with Palaszczuk referring to the use of lock-ons as part of the “sinister tactics” of climate change protesters. On the other hand, environmentalists and civil liberties groups, and even some in the state Labor party, condemn the proposed anti-protest laws as an assault on democracy.

Read more here at The Conversation


Regenerative culture a key part of the blockade experience

As thousands of people discovered at Camp Liberty at the Bentley blockade there is more to protests and blockades than potential confrontation with the corporate police state. If you have any time at all to travel in the near future do yourself and the planet a favour and visit camp Binbee, permanent base camp in North Qld that supports people involved in the ongoing campaign of protest against the giant reef destroying Adani coal mine and the associated Abbott Point coal export terminal.

Clean, calm and comforting. Camp Binbee - anti-Adani base camp in North Queesnland.
Clean, calm and comforting. Camp Binbee – anti-Adani base camp in North Queesnland.

I visited recently and very quickly concluded that irrespective of the outcome of blocakdes and protests against the insane proposals for giant coalmines in the Galilee basin, Camp Binbee is a highly valuable experience in its own right.

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Extinction Rebellion

Extinction Rebellion logo - free to useThe time to identify that we are in an emergency is upon us, and when governments fail, when electoral systems fail, civil disobedience has been proven many times to be the only safe yet effective path to trigger fundamental change. If we can’t do it nonviolently then we will fail anyway, as violence only feeds fascism. So we need to accept that our current social trajectory is terminal, we need to commit ourselves to radical action, but accept as well that we also may not succeed, or at least not succeed as well as we may hope. It is in the humility to take right action, with no guarantee of success that we can endure the frustrations that can turn movements to violence.

Now more than ever: non-violence and positive change

AnimatedPeaceSymbol3We are certainly facing challenging times. The growth of fascism in Europe, the US and Australia, fuelled by a concoction of traditional racism and uber nationalism combined with corporate greed is a potent cocktail for accelerating destructive forces.

There are no magic bullet answers. All around me I see people struggling to come to terms with the Trump presidency, but it’s more than that, there’s fascism arising throughout Europe and the English-speaking world, a violent and incendiary political disease that offers fantasies of a return to past golden eras but invariably produces war, pain and destruction and disables the very communities that look to it for salvation. The biggest winners out of the US election are temporarily Vladimir Putin but in the long term it is China, whose own brand of totalitarianism may yet prove to at least have a more rational flavour than the West’s. At least they still believe in science right?

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Challenging times ahead, we need to build unity in diversity

good vibes open mindsThe election of Trump presents very challenging times ahead for those of us who care about the planet, human rights, equality and peace. He represents the raw face of corporate power over people and the environment, the veneer of civil democracy has been torn away and in its place we are seeing an aggressive oligarchy of corporate interests gain control of the very formal institutions designed to restrain them.

There’s no doubt that western power (US, UK, Europe) is in decline and has been for some time, and that of itself has not been a bad thing, at a minimum it would have simply required the US to share power with other nations rather than assume a role of unilateral global policeman. The decline of western power could have been a steady and graceful senescence but it won’t be now. My studies of complexity theory tell me that we are hurtling toward abrupt collapse. I see Trump as the US equivalent of Boris Yelstin, a dangerous populist who will oversee collapse into chaos. But Trump is more dangerous by far, because the very chaos he is promoting is a free-for-all for globalised corporations.

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sufferagestreetmeetingActivism and social movements, an eternal part of human evolution

The march of history is complex and unpredictable and it is anything but linear. It is actually impossible to determine whether things are getting better or worse, some things are decidedly worse whilst in other areas we see great signs of positive change. Despite the temptation to indulge in measuring social progress, there’s actually not a lot of value in doing so. The most intelligent and practical way we can influence the future is to grasp the opportunities for positive social change that present themselves and give them the hardest nudge we can.

We can reflect positively on the great shifts in social awareness on issues like feminism, the environment and sexual diversity since the 1970’s or we can wring our hands in dismay at the destructiveness of neo-liberalism over the same period. There is no end point to history, no place where we get to find out who won and who lost, it’s not even about that, it’s all just ongoing evolution for better or for worse however we each define those things. It can actually get better and worse simultaneously.

Whether we are aware of it or not we are all taking actions every day that contribute to changing the world into the future, so we may as well all consciously come to understand that we are all activists. The more we understand that all of our actions and choices are having an effect, however small, the more effective and empowered we can become.

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The Art of Dissent

Photo: Giles Price, from The Art of Dissent

Can we be a totalitarian democracy?

Elections are vital for a thriving democracy but we also need rights. These are detailed in The International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights to which Australia is a party. It is supposed to guarantee our rights of political participation, no detention without a fair trial, and above all the rule of law for all citizens.

A fundamental tenet of the rule of law is that laws should apply equally to all people at all times, whether they are refugees, bike club members or religious minorities and that no-one should be above the law, not the prime minister or the queen, and certainly not highly secretive security forces.

When we lose sight of the equal application of the law to all people, we enter very dangerous territory, where refugees can be concentrated into camps and detained without court processes, where particular people can’t associate with their family or friends because of a club they belong to or where secret police have the power to literally ‘disappear’ people and it is unlawful to raise the alarm. Yes, this is Australia I’m now describing.

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Reclaiming democracy

Photo courtesy the ABC

Photo courtesy the ABC

What lies behind the visceral battle between Australian rural communities and the collective force of the mining and petroleum industry is a battle to reclaim democracy itself. The Lock the Gate movement, by taking on the mission of restoring accountability to the way that governments deal with the mining industry has necessarily positioned itself at the cutting edge of an emerging national pro-democracy and anti-corruption movement.

Democracy was hard won over many centuries and can never be assumed to thrive merely because of the presence of a particular set of constitutional arrangements. Most nations these days have democratic constitutions on paper, including notables such as Zimbabwe, Fiji, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Democratic constitutions are a necessary but not sufficient condition for the effective practice of democracy, and by far the greater part of a healthy functioning democracy is derived from the quality of the political culture in a country. Across the globe, corruption and embedded economic power are the eternal enemies of true democracy.

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Watch out for early signs of fascismWatch out for early signs of fascism

DEMOCRACY is about more than just elections and political parties vying for power. For democracy to work there are some other fundamental pre-conditions:

  • Rights of protest, participation and association;
  • Transparent government;
  • Personal rights of privacy;
  • A free and independent media;
  • Respect for the rule of law.

Fascism is a creeping form of totalitarianism where democracy is sacrificed and government serves the interests of the powerful few (these days mostly large corporations). It may sound alarmist, but let’s ask ourselves what are the warning signs of the slide into totalitarianism, and is it possible to unknowingly elect tyranny?

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The death of a thousand cuts: using multiple tactics to overwhelm your opponents

(An excerpt from  of The Activists Handbook pp 67-68  available online at

The idea that you may have to defeat your opponent by a death of a thousand cuts is a recurring theme in activism. You should use your strategic planning stage to get a really broad ranging grasp of all of the tactics that may be available to use in your campaign. You can still select the ones you think are most useful or appropriate and concentrate on these, but there’s no harm in having a few extra tactics up your sleeve. Particularly when dealing with governmental or corporate institutional players.

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