Category Archives: Alternatives

Cuba – A Development Success Story?

Cuba’s a good case study of  Socialist Model of Development that seems to have worked more effectively than most of the nel-liberal experiments in Latin America…. Today, Cuba’s HDI stats look like this….


Human Development Index
Ranking 59
Life expectancy at birth (years) 79.3
Mean years of schooling (of adults) (years) 10.2
GNI per capita in PPP terms (constant 2005 international $) (Constant 2005 international $) 5,539

Between 1980 and 2012 Cuba’s HDI rose by 0.8% annually from 0.626 to 0.780 today, which gives the country a rank of 59 out of 187 countries.  The HDI of Latin America and the Caribbean as a region is 0.741 today, placing Cuba above the regional average

In this nice infographic (hopefully it’ll work, although there’s probably too much info in it TBH) you can see the comparative development of Cuba compared to Bolivia, Columbia and Chile (three countries which were much more exposed to neoliberal policies – What you can see is that Cuba progresses more rapidly than both Bolivia and Columbia, but not as quickly as Chile. What you can also see (from about 5 years after 1990) is the negative affect the decline of Communist Russia had on Cuba’s development.



So it’s not easy to conclude outright support for any set of policies if just pure economic development is your goal. Although in this post – Cuba, A development Model which proved the developers wrong Jonataon Glennie outlines how a Socialist model of development has worked for Cuba since 1959… The general gist is that the means whereby Cuba developed involved much less human misery than the other three neoliberal examples above – As outlined by John Pilger in the excellent documentary War on Democracy).

To summarise Gelnnie’s article…

No other similar country adopted Cuba’s approach to development, and unlike in other Latin American countries such as Bolivia, Colombia and El Salvador, which experience widespread inequality and related problems, In Cuba, the extremes of opulence and misery are banished in favour of a generalised level of wealth, best described as “enough to get by”.

He notes that from the beginning the instinct at the heart of the revolution in 1959 was that slower wealth creation and limited political repression were a price worth paying for fairer distribution, and the consequent eradication of extreme poverty. It may not have been articulated as such, but that is how it has played out.

Castro’s leadership was the key factor in rapidly rising living standards for the poorest. In 1958, under the Batista dictatorship, half of Cuba’s children did not attend school. The literacy campaign begun by Castro in 1961 led, in 1970, to Unesco declaring Cuba the country with the highest primary and secondary school enrolment in Latin America. These development gains, among others, have continued to this day.

But what of the future?

But there have been two broad consequences. First, a generation of educated young people aspire to more in terms of living standards and life chances than their parents ever did. It is no coincidence that the older generation is more uncritically supportive of the revolution than the young – it knows what Cuba was like before.

Second, state-led development and investment is costly, especially when the international context becomes less favourable. Relying on goodwill, volunteering and accumulated capital has worked perhaps longer than anyone anticipated, but eventually wealth must be created and that, as the critics have always maintained, means a platform for the private sector to grow.

Who are you? (Laughter)

The video below shows a number of people laughing when asked the question ‘who are you’? (1.55)


These people are all highly respected, typically well- educated (in the formal sense of the word) teachers from a range of different spiritual traditions (most, if not all wiill be in attendance at the Science and Nonduality conference 2013 – SAND honors and nurtures the exploration and experience of nonduality as a pathway to greater wisdom and wellbeing in the context of the unique challenges of the 21st century.

Their laugh-response to the question of ‘who are you’ reminded me of a line in Paul Willis’ 1977 classic, Learning to Labour. Just in case you don’t know this off by heart…..  Willis discusses role that messing around and ‘avin a laff’ play in the counter-school-culutre, concluding that ‘the laugh confronts the command’. Willis argues that the laugh is a collective response to what the lads see as a ludicrous situation – school tells them to study seriously to prepare themselves for middle class jobs, but the lads have already decided they want ‘proper’ manual jobs that don’t require qualifications, and even if they did try to take school seriously, they’ve penetrated the truth of the situation and realised schools are middle class institutions, so the odds are stacked against them. In such a ludicrous situation what can you do but laugh at it?*

Obviously there are differences in the laughter in video above (it’s individualised, not collective; it’s not overtly challlenging authority in an ‘in your face way’; and it’s extremely middle class and not at all laddish) but a little analysis drags out a few parallels too. To my mind, their laughter when asked ‘who are you’ says ‘what a ludicrous question’, and it’s ludicrous because the subject of the question, ‘you’, or rather ‘I’ is an illusion. Most of these people have been through an intense and long process of introspetion, realised this, and come out the other side, and now they laugh at the question.

Given that the laughter above stems from a realisation that there is ‘no-I’, such laughter oould also form the basis for confronting the ultimate command in a postmodern consumer culture – the command to ‘express yourself’, the command to expend a huge amount of money and effort on perpetually reinventing and presenting your constructed-self, the command to avoid looking into the true nature of your ‘self’ and ‘working through’ the realisation that there is nothing there.

Furthermore, this laughter reminds us of two things, especially important in a culture of intellectualism – Firstly, simply the importance of asking meaningful questions. Secondly, answering meaningful questions requires going beyond the intellect, to a place of lived experience, and the process of coming back and re-engaging with an intellectual culture and attempting to render such experiences into concepts will probably be easier (at least less fraught) if one maintains a sense of humour.

*Finally I should just mention that just like the lads’ realisation that school was a middle class institution didn’t really help them achieve a good ‘quality of life’ in the long-term, an initial realisation the ‘truth of no-I’ at a relatively superficial level (that’s all I’ve managed) probably won’t result in your walking around in a perpetual state of bliss-consciousness, that will take a good deal more right effort, mindfulness and concentration.

Related Posts

David Loy (who features in the video above) on our fear of existing

Christmas Survey

I don’t celebrate Christmas because I don’t have anyone to celebrate it with. Instead I meditate a lot and do my annual spring clean. If you’re also alone this Christmas, I recommend this as a coping strategy. It’s still pretty bleak, but waking up on 27th having had no Christmas with a clean flat is definitely better than waking up on the 27th with a not-so-clean flat.

This year I’ve decided to really go to town and literally clean EVERYTHING. Although I’m starting to wonder whether moving the fridge and physically washing the walls down with soapy water is maybe a bit excessive. Even though I’ve been in my flat three years, the walls behind the fridge don’t look dirty to me, so my present dilemma this Christmas Eve is should I wash them or not?

I think I will, because I have committed to washing everything, but I got to wondering, is this excessive, how often do people wash the walls behind their fridges?

Anyway, I created this survey to find out, so please if you’ve found this site, humor me and complete it, thanks and for what it’s worth, Merry Christmas.

NB: The survey refers to whether you wash the walls behind your fridges at any time of year, not just at Christmas time. 


Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

This is also my first embedded survey, something of a practice run… So apologies if you can’t see the results, I will update later as I’m sure they’ll be a lot of interest in this….

Also if the survey just doesn’t work for some reason, do let me know, as I say, this is a trial.

Actually just in case the embed doesn’t work – here – Click here to take survey

I hold Jamie Oliver responsible for my present anomic condition

Reserach suggests Jamie Oliver is responsible for 27% of anomic feelings experienced by UK males aged between 30-39

He’s such an inspiration that, in my efforts to emulate his energetic,  socially-conscious uber-interesting, jam-packed, metro-sexual-male-having-it-all life-style, I simply don’t have time to make his delicious home made-pasta recipe this week – I mean, I’m sure you can feel my pain, I’m gonna have to sink to the lows of bying pasta-in-a-packet.

Fortunately this month’s ethical consumer magazine has a handy guide to packet-pasta and sauce, that allows me to purchase pasta according to my ethical standards – i.e. to avoid purchasing from companies that damage the environment, harm animals, or employ their workers under poor conditions. Actually, perhaps this is another reason why Oliver is responsible for my Anomie – he did such a great job setting up his 15 restaurant, giving local unemployed teens a chance, and then he goes and becomes the face of Sainsbury, which, like the other three supermarkets, are intent on maxmising profit, often at the expense of people and planet.


Anyway, back to the pasta –

If you care about animals, you might like to boycott the Bertolli range

The two with the lowest scores include Buitoni (Pasta and Sauce) – owned by Nestle, Bertolli (sauce) – owned by Unilever, and Seeds of Change – owned by Mars (I was expecting Monsanto with a name like that) – this last one’s particularly deceptive as it look so lovely and cosy-homely-organic.

For details of why you might want to avoid the above pasta varieties – follow these links

Boycott Mars – it’s basically over animal testing

Uniliver – is buying palm oil from companies who destroy the rainforest

And Nestle – it’s still babymilk!

The best buys – Clearspring Pasta and La Terra e il Cielo  

From Haribo cravings to an anti-neoliberal lesson plan…

Haribo - Damn their delicious, fizzy sweetness - I will have my revenge...

Since I’ve been back at work I promised myself I’d do pithier, shorter posts, instead I just spent the last hour cogitating over this – still I think it’s worth putting out there.. one for the teachers really…

On noting my cravings for sugar over two consecutive days at about 15.00 hours – cravings which I don’t get while I’m on holiday – this depressing thought occurred to me – ‘If I wasn’t in work I wouldn’t want Haribo, and if Haribo wasn’t on sale in the college I wouldn’t buy it’.

What’s depressing about this is that I’m reminded of just how far my unconscious desires are shaped by my environment – I want to eat healthily – I don’t want the ‘sugar rush-then-low’ – I don’t actually want to eat Haribo ever, yet simply being at work makes me want to eat junk, and the presence of junk food at work makes me more likely to buy it – I’ve succumbed two days in a row and the students aren’t even back yet!

Now, the confluence of these three factors (being at work, work making it easy to buy junk, yet my not wanting to eat junk) puts me in a situation of having to resist buying junk food – which is a problem, because I am put in the situation of constantly having to say ‘no’ to my desire to eat Haribo – once a day at about 15.00… Now according to some research I can’t remember the details of (just trust me on this – I’m not a politician) this kind of resistance will eventually wear me down….constantly having to say no to things is bad for one’s mental health, you know (although Buddhist Monks don’t seem to do too badly out of it – but then again Buddhist monastaries don’t having Haribo vending machines).

To make things worse – The Ethical Consumer magazine gave Haribo the worst possible rating for both supply chain management and environmental responsibsility. So, given the harm resisting this evil product does to me and the harm purchsing this evil product does to people and planet, it strikes me that removing the option of buying all Haribo from college – and replacing said Haribo with a healthier and preferably more ethical choice – strikes me as an ethical broader goal for the coming term, but the problem is it’s wildly unpragmatic – My problems are as follows – (assuming I rule out smashing up the vending machine)

  • The canteen at college is run by a profit making company – and income is everything to the college… so there’s barrier 1
  • I actually quite like the canteen staff – and getting them to change might offend them as it implies what they’re doing is unsatisfactory (actually with a bit of sensistivity I think this can be negotiated fairly easily.
  • The college hosts 200 staff and 1900 students – many of whom probably want to eat Haribo – and here is the biggest challenge – if I want to get my own way – what I know to be right – If I wanted to remove the Haribo I would have to mount some kind of education and mobilisation campaign just to get Haribo removed, sort out some clear arguements for its removal and probably suggest some reasonable alternatives…

Now a man alone may well balk at this, giving up in the face of all of this effort for such a small victory. But herein lies the joy of working in education – I can generalise this out, and when we’re focussing on fairtrade and ethical consumption at some point in early 2012 I can turn it into an ‘educational project’ – all I need to do now is think up a few aims and objectives….Making The College Healthy and Fairtrade…or something like that’ll do …  

Then all I need to do is email Jamie, maybe a Buddhist Monk (to remind us what an uncolonised lifeworld is about, and the robes are cool) and, of course, the lovely Stacey Dooley – she could motivate anyone to do just about anything – and Bobs yer uncle, fanny’s yer aunt and Karl’s yer Sociology teacher – I’ve got myself an easy week’s ‘teaching’ – all in the name of helping me overcome my sugar addiction – brought on by my work environment.  

For those of you that think manipulating students in this way is somewhat unethical – obviously it isn’t because –

1. It is in their long term health interests to make if difficult to eat sugary foods

2. They can still get Haribo off campus anyways, even if it gets banned

3. Students can of course choose to mount a campaign to ‘save the junk food vending machines’ (I can imagine this being very popular as an option)

4. Students are already being manipulated by the very existence of machines full of junk, as are the relationships between students and staff – I know of many staff members who use sweets as teaching aids – thus life-world interaction is mediated through the medium of sugar – this isn’t necessarily a good thing ya know!

So in the meantime until this glorious age of the sugar free enlightenment – I’ll just have to rely on my Zen Mind to help me resist my sugar lust amidst the evil Haribo vending machines.

Anyone for tea – just don’t make it Tetley’s

Tetley's Tea - buy it and you perpetuate the abuse of Bengali Tea Pickers

I’ve started obsessing about ethical consumption recently – And as I’ve just run out of tea and had to buy some more – I did some digging –

The British drink  165 million cups of tea every year, but some of our most popular tea suppliers perpetuate great environmental and social harms in the process of bringing us our national drink.

Tetley’s, the second most popular tea brand in the UK, and owned by parent company Tata, are notoriously bad, scoring only a dismal 4.5/ 20 for it’s ethical trading policies as measured by Ethical Consumer – which looks at the parent company’s environmental, workers rights and political activities.

Buying Tetley’s effectively involves supporting a company which doesn’t support fair pay and conditions for its tea pickers – also see this site for how Tetley’s attacks its tea workers in West Bengal – so you can either boycott them, which wouldn’t actually help the tea pickers,  so far better would be to take some stiffer action – letter writing, or you could, not that I condone such action, go to 18 Grosvner place in London and spray paint on their offices details of what they’re doing.

NB – Tata also own good earth tea – you’d never guess this was on dodgy ethical grounds judging by the packaging – incidentally this is why I reject most forms of marketing as a valid career – marketing involves dressing up a product so it seems more than it actually is – in this case, deliberately misleading the public.

Top of the ethical tea standards table were Equal Exchange Tea – with 17/20 for its ethical credentials – seems to be a reliable fair trade company which means that the tea is produced sustainably and the tea pickers get a decent price.

So if you are also a filthy, dirty and weak caffeine addict and your middle class enough to be able to afford it, go for the fairtrade option – alternatively I’m awaiting delivery of a batch of new T shirts I’ve designed – a range of colours and sizes bearing the logo ‘I don’t give a toss about worker’s right’s in the developing world so make mine a Tetley’s’ – so you could always buy one of those instead…