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Bleak times, hopeful thoughts

These photos were taken yesterday and today. Not much happening except snow.

Living in the Midwest, we frequently hear dire warnings such as: “Stay home; it’s too cold,” and learn news of cancelled outings, gallery openings, and other fun life events ruined by winter weather. Why bother even digging out? It’s easier to stay in.

Outside there is more than a foot of snow. “Blizzard conditions through the weekend,” says the forecast. If all you have is a menu of this in mind, and a bunch of shoveling and slogging through the heavy cold stuff when you must venture out, not to mention the startling news blasting at you from the media devices you’ve naturally got close at hand, you may be in for some dark moods. Bleak thoughts.

But moods are situational. Things can change. Humans are adaptable thanks to our our agile minds. Minds like to do stuff, and a good challenge is an invitation to dig in. So how about a mind experiment? Here’s how it works: I’ll provide the content, you provide the alert mind. All you need to do is keep reading to add content. Then let it sink in, relax, move on, go about your day, and see what happens.

I know just the book to try it on: 29-year-old Rutger Bregman’s Utopia for Realists. It arrived in the mail yesterday. I heard about this book when I was in Paris last month; a glowing review in Le Magazine littéraire gave Bregman pride of place. He actually seems to be getting some traction in Europe and Canada. He’s a young Dutch guy from Utrecht, whose life sounds very different, and much more relaxed and happier, than what we know in the US. Universal basic income is the idea Bregman takes on; in fact it is the main thrust of the entire book.

“Are you kidding?!” I know, I know, I hear what you’re thinking. It seems absurd to even mention such legislation when the current ship of state seems to be full of greedy rats. But in 1968, there was a strong movement in favor of a universal basic income, and according to Bregman, it almost worked.  (Chap. 4, “The Bizarre Tale of President Nixon and his Basic Income Bill,” Utopia, 77-94).

Just think, a Republican president–Nixon–was the most ardent supporter of a basic income movement in the US of A.  Truly, one cannot rule out anything in national politics. This should encourage us to think wildly optimistic thoughts and pursue radical kindness towards our fellow men, at least just for fun. Why not? It was once the law of the land, almost… Now it is today, February 10, 2018. What if we each did, said, or read something optimistic. Time for the mind experiment, which comes to you from Utopia for Realists and How We Can Get There, by Rutger Bregman:

“It all starts with reclaiming the language of progress.

Reforms? Hell, yes. Let’s give the financial sector a real overhaul. … Break up [banks], if need be, so that the next time taxpayers won’t be left footing the bill because the banks are ‘too big to fail.’ Expose and destroy tax havens.

Meritocracy? Bring it on. Let’s finally pay people according to their real contributions. Waste collectors, nurses, and teachers would get a substantial raise, obviously, while quite a few lobbyists, lawyers, and bankers would see their salaries dive into the negatives. If you want to do a job that hurts the public, go right ahead. But you’ll have to pay for the privilege with a heftier tax.

Innovation? Totally. Even now, a vast amount of talent is going wasted. If Ivy League grads once went on to jobs in science, public service, and education, these days they’re far more likely to opt for banking, law, or ad proliferators like Google and Facebook. Stop for a moment to ponder the billions of tax dollars being pumped into training society’s best brains, all so they can learn how to exploit other people as efficiently as possible, and it makes your head spin. Imagine how different things might be if our generation’s best and brightest were to double down on the greatest challenges of our times. Climate change, for example, and the aging population, and inequality. … Now that would be real innovation.

Efficiency? That’s the whole point. Think about it: every dollar invested in a homeless person returns triple or more in savings on healthcare, police, and court costs. Just imagine what the eradication of child poverty might achieve. Solving these kinds of problems is a whole lot more efficient than ‘managing’ them, which costs significantly more in the long run.

Cut the nanny state? Spot on. Let’s ax those senseless, overweening reemployment courses for the out of work and let’s … quit degrading recipients.

Freedom? Sing it, sister.

The time has come to redefine our concept of ‘work’. … to spend more time on the things that truly matter to us.”

With thanks to Rutger Bregman, Utopia for Realists and How We Can Get There, Trans. Elizabeth Manton (London: Bloomsbury, 2017), 258-260.

Utopia for Realists Bregman


With those hopeful thoughts swirling in mind,

I am off to do T’ai chi now with Master Peng…. 

Bon courage till we meet again.