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The world needs less philanthropy and more equality

I’ve been skeptical about the motives of philanthropic organisations for a while now. This article in The Guardian is a long read, but worth it.

Here’s an excerpt:

The common assumption that philanthropy automatically results in a redistribution of money is wrong. A lot of elite philanthropy is about elite causes. Rather than making the world a better place, it largely reinforces the world as it is. Philanthropy very often favours the rich – and no one holds philanthropists to account for it.

The role of private philanthropy in international life has increased dramatically in the past two decades. Nearly three-quarters of the world’s 260,000 philanthropy foundations have been established in that time, and between them they control more than $1.5tn. The biggest givers are in the US, and the UK comes second. The scale of this giving is enormous. The Gates Foundation alone gave £5bn in 2018 – more than the foreign aid budget of the vast majority of countries.

Philanthropy is always an expression of power. Giving often depends on the personal whims of super-rich individuals. Sometimes these coincide with the priorities of society, but at other times they contradict or undermine them. Increasingly, questions have begun to be raised about the impact these mega-donations are having upon the priorities of society.

To be in process of change is not an evil, any more than to be the product of change is a good

Globe linked to ball of energy

🌐 Unlimited Information Is Transforming Society

🧠 Alternatives for the Internet: A Journey into Decentralised Network Architectures and Information Commons

📱 Your Smartphone Can Tell If You’re Drunk-Walking

🚸 Britain’s obsession with school uniform reinforces social divisions

🤖 Robot Teachers, Racist Algorithms, and Disaster Pedagogy

Quotation-as-title by Marcus Aurelius. Image from top linked post.

Marcus Aurelius on troubles

I really needed to read the following quotation this morning:

Everything that happens is as normal and expected as the spring rose or the summer fruit; this is true of sickness, death, slander, intrigue, and all the other things that delight or trouble foolish men.

Marcus Aurelius

Thinking about the trials and tribulations a Roman emperor must have gone through puts my tiny problems into a bit of perspective.

Enforced idleness

Some people think it’s the Protestant work ethic, others that it’s a genetic predisposition. Me? I think it’s to do with the highly competitive nature of western societies.

Whatever you think causes it, the inability of adults, including myself, to spend a day doing nothing is kind of problematic. It’s something I often discuss with Laura Hilliger (and she refers to it regularly in her excellent newsletter)

There’s a university in Hamburg, Germany, giving out ‘idleness grants’ for people to do absolutely nothing. Emma Beddington’s answers to the questions on the application form aren’t too different to how I’d answer:

What do you not want to do? I want not to compare my achievements, or lack of them, with others’. If successful, for the duration of my idleness grant I will crush the exhausting running mental commentary that points out what those with energy, drive and ambition are achieving and enumerates my inadequacies. When one or other of my nemeses tweets the dread phrase “some personal news” (always the precursor to an announcement of professional glory), I will not feel bad, because I will have accepted that “being quite lazy” has inherent merit in 2020.

Emma Beddington, Doing nothing is so easy for me. But how to feel good about it? (The Guardian)

It’s always possible to do more and be more, but sometimes it’s important to just spend time being who you already are.

What is above knows what is below, what is below does not know what is above

There is something very strange about walking up mountains only to come back down again. But I love it, as did the French surrealist poet, philosopher, and novelist René Daumal:

You cannot always stay on the summits. You have to come down again…

So what’s the point? Only this: what is above knows what is below, what is below does not know what is above. While climbing, take note of all the difficulties along your path. During the descent, you will no longer see them, but you will know that they are there if you have observed carefully.

René Daumal, via Brain Pickings

While you’re in the midst of self-imposed adversity you can also escape your self-imposed psychic prison.

The way to get things done is not to mind who gets the credit of doing them

Car with suitcases strapped to roof and arm out of the window waving goodbye

👋 Oliver Burkeman’s last column: the eight secrets to a (fairly) fulfilled life

😇 How to be indistractable

💃 One, two, free! 25 brilliant ways to escape 2020’s groundhog days

🛀 Why efficiency is dangerous and slowing down makes life better

🤔 ten recent thoughts

Quotation-as-title by Benjamin Jowett. Image from top linked post.

Perfectionism is more toxic than you imagine

As someone who struggles with perfectionism on a daily basis, I needed to read this morning:

Perfectionism is more toxic than you imagine. Watch yourself and notice how often you’re being a perfectionist without even realising it. And see how it chips away at your happiness.

Rebecca Toh, ten recent thoughts

The other thoughts in the list are also worth reflecting on, especially the one about writing being the medium of learning.

Rethinking human responses to adversity

As a parent and former teacher I can get behind this:

ADHD is not a disorder, the study authors argue. Rather it is an evolutionary mismatch to the modern learning environment we have constructed. Edward Hagen, professor of evolutionary anthropology at Washington State University and co-author of the study, pointed out in a press release that “there is little in our evolutionary history that accounts for children sitting at desks quietly while watching a teacher do math equations at a board.”

Alison Escalante, What If Certain Mental Disorders Are Not Disorders At All?, Psychology Today

This is a great article based on a journal article about PTSD, depression, anxiety, and ADHD. As someone who has suffered from depression in the past, and still deals with anxiety, I absolutely think it has an important situational aspect.

That is to say, instead of just medicating people, we need to be thinking about their context.

[T]he stated goal of the paper is not to suddenly change treatments, but to explore new ways of studying these problems. “Research on depression, anxiety, and PTSD, should put greater emphasis on mitigating conflict and adversity and less on manipulating brain chemistry.”

Alison Escalante, What If Certain Mental Disorders Are Not Disorders At All?, Psychology Today

85 megapixel photo of the moon


/via ajamesmccarthy on Reddit

Pandemic-induced awkwardness

By this point in the year, I would have travelled away from my home office at least once per month to see real, live 3D human beings who aren’t other members of my family.

Even if you are ensconced in a pandemic pod with a romantic partner or family members, you can still feel lonely — often camouflaged as sadness, irritability, anger and lethargy — because you’re not getting the full range of human interactions that you need, almost like not eating a balanced diet. We underestimate how much we benefit from casual camaraderie at the office, gym, choir practice or art class, not to mention spontaneous exchanges with strangers.

Kate Murphy, We’re All Socially Awkward Now, The New York Times

As the author points out, our skills can atrophy just like muscles if we don’t use them, and interacting via screens is often quite different to interacting offline.

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