Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Make migration great again

The way things are going, it's quite unlikely that the human species, or any species for that matter, will survive. If you consider the continuous growth of consumption and environmental destruction, I don't think anyone will be here in one thousand years. And chances are good that we won't even last another hundred.

But if we do survive, what is it going to look like? Will it be much fun to continue with all the wars and abuse and the hateful existence? Living between dirty rivers and hostile walls?

Here's a little Utopia:

Huge environmental disasters will trigger the establishment of a global council of the wise. Like the UN, just without corruption and with real power when it comes to pollution of the land, the water and the air. And yes, all those passionate conspiracy theorists out there, if you want you can also call it a New World Order, I don't mind. Something NEW is definitely needed. Actually, the choice we now face is between something completely new or something completely dead. In this little Utopia, we chose the new.

With environmental protection being the number one priority, the selfish interests of countries will lose importance. That doesn't mean that culture will become unimportant too – culture is beautiful and hence it should be treated accordingly. But most countries are too big to really represent culture. Go to Andalusia and then to Galicia – same country, but culturally they're worlds apart.

So in my little Utopia, small regions are celebrated and respected, while at the same time a global nature government protects the interests of planet Earth. Also, culture will be seen as what it really is: A living organism which is evolving like all other living organisms. People – all people! – can roam the world freely and are welcomed with curiosity, rather than rejected out of fear. No one will ask a differently looking person for his or her migration background, but for his or her migration foreground – because migration is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing that should be hidden away; after all, it's what makes life colourful!

There will be more cooperation and less competition, plenty of Fusion festivals and no fascist marches, clean rivers and friendly border patrols. And who knows, perhaps, if people start to heal the hate within, there will be even peace...




I know, just a silly Utopia by a guy who had a tiny moment of hope. But hey, what would we do without Utopia? Surrender to misery?

Utopia is on the horizon. I move two steps closer; it moves two steps further away. 
I walk another ten steps and then horizon runs ten steps away. 
As much as I may walk, I'll never reach it. So what's the point of Utopia? 
The point is this: to keep walking. 

(Eduardo Galeano)




Friday, April 19, 2019

Jesus was a Buddhist

Today, almost 2000 years ago, Jesus died on the cross. He was buried and two days later he came back from the dead, sent by God. Known as the resurrection, it's an event that is the foundation of the Christian faith. But was he really sent by God? And did he actually die?

There is a period in Jesus' life which is called The lost years, or, more poetically, The silent years. From the age of 12 to 29, there's a gap in his timeline, It's an accepted fact – 'modern mainstream Christian scholarship holds that nothing is known about this time period in the life of Jesus' (source). There are all sorts of theories about these missing years, the most common ones saying that he had worked as a carpenter in Galilee or that he had studied in the desert. But there's another one which sounds at least equally plausible – including a fascinating twist of the known resurrection story! Here it goes:

To 'improve and perfect himself in the divine understanding', Jesus went to India. He studied with Brahmin priests in Odisha and later travelled to the Himalayas where he spent many years in monasteries, learning about Buddhism. There is an interesting documentary from the BBC about this, where historians say that, in those times, it was a fairly simple journey from the Middle East to India. I also read somewhere that Jesus was seen as crazy in his teens, and well, if people think you're crazy, what better place to go to than India?
With 29 years, he had learned enough and returned to his homeland in Galilee.

I've spent quite some time in India in my early twenties – I know what it can do to a young man. It certainly can make you even more crazy! But it can also initiate a spiritual revolution within, it can take you to beautiful deep places that basically change the way you look at life. And yes, there's Buddhism too.

To me this theory makes absolute sense. A young, curious guy goes to India, spends many years learning and practising Buddhism, and then he comes back with a bright smile and teaches what he's learned. People are first intrigued, then fascinated and finally they follow him around, because they want to be like him: happy.

Now, monks who are very experienced with meditation are able to alter their body temperature and also to lower their heart rate significantly, resulting in an almost absent pulse and no heart sounds. So what if Jesus, the Buddhist hanging on the cross, had applied the breathing and meditation techniques he had learned in the Himalayas? He would have been declared dead (no one could have double-checked with an EEG back then), put in a tomb and everyone would have thought he's dead. Two days later he climbs out and is the hero. Not that he cared to be the hero (true Buddhists seldom do), but it was perhaps the only way to escape death at the cross. Can't blame him for this little trick, can you?

If you strip the teachings of Jesus of all the religious add-ons, at the core of it all he talked about pretty much the same stuff as Buddha. Love, compassion, peace. Therefore it's totally possible that Jesus was actually a Buddhist, inspired by Buddha, sharing love and wisdom with his fellow people. That he wasn't the son of God, but instead a soul-searching Dude who got into meditation. Could have been you or me...

So why does this matter? After all, it's just another story. Yet that's exactly why it matters. They're all stories. Nobody can travel back in time and find out for sure.

We need stories. They inspire us, comfort us, give us hope and help us to connect with each other. But the importance of a story isn't the historical setting, it's not the details of events and characters and it doesn't even matter whether any of it has actually happened. All these things are irrelevant. What's important is the message.






Monday, March 11, 2019

The one trillion tax talk

Would you like to pay less tax? Less income tax on your earnings, less VAT on your purchases? Having 30% more money at the beginning of the month and paying 20% less on all things that can be bought? Sure you would – who wouldn't?

Unless your tax consultant is a genius though, or unless you're willing to fight a fierce David vs Goliath battle with the tax office, you won't be enjoying the benefits of less or no taxes. Or unless you are a powerful corporation.

I don't know about you, but I pay almost always the full tax. I don't mind doing it – I put something into the big pot and then the government takes money from this pot to finance hospitals, schools and roads, plus giving the really poor a helping hand. A good and sensible invention, this tax thing. Of course the government also does a lot of stupid things with that money, like subsidizing already profitable or even harmful businesses, fighting wars, building walls and so on. Enough material for 50 years of blogging, but let's ignore it this time.

A recent study estimates that 1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion) Euros are lost each year in the EU from both tax avoidance and tax evasion. Even if the estimate was bad and it came to only half of that, there'd be still 500 billion Euros lost each year. In other words, if everyone – individual people and corporations – paid the tax that corresponds to them, the EU would basically have no more financial problems. All public debt would be paid off within nine years and absolutely everyone would have their basic needs covered, such as education, healthcare, food and a home. No higher taxes needed – just pay your fair share. And yes, Amazon, you too!

Tax law should be enforced and all should be required to pay what is owed by them. If that is not done actual inequality arises: those who pay their taxes are worse off than those who do not. Resentment builds amongst taxpayers and non-compliance increases. More worryingly still, honest business is undermined by dishonest business. This means that honest businesses are more likely to fail.” (source)

So why is there such a huge tax gap? There are many reasons, but the underlying cause is probably human greed. Greed for money and greed for power. Just as a poor woman might steal a pen when she gets the opportunity, a middle class woman saves cash when paying a cleaner in black and a rich woman steals two million from the tax pot. In the same way, a corporation, guided by its shareholders, also grabs the opportunity for extra profit when it arises.

I don't like greed, but I can accept it. It's an ancient human weakness – wanting more, always more. However, given that the facts are so clear, that it's greed leading to tax theft leading to reduced public funds, there are other things that I can't accept. Like blaming immigrants for example.

The whole tax gap disaster needs to be solved, the sooner the better. That's where most attention should go. Instead, people go crazy when we open the borders to help those we've exploited in the first place; they say we can't afford more immigrants, so why should we rescue those sinking boats? Europe first – those black folks just want to steal our money.

Greed is causing inequality. Hence greed needs to be faced, addressed and, if not eliminated, at least it has to be tamed and controlled. Racing against immigrants is not only a sad human tragedy, but it's simply the wrong strategy. It will only worsen the problem, it will divide and breed hate and it definitely won't generate 1 trillion Euros...




And just because it fits so beautifully, here's Donald Trump: 
“The point is that you can't be too greedy.”
Any questions?


www.clausmikosch.com



Monday, February 11, 2019

How to bake a new world

I've got a new passion: bread making! My girlfriend even says it's already gone far beyond a passion and has become an obsession. Bowls and bags of flour are taking up all empty space in the kitchen and the oven is almost constantly on. I feel like I'm doing a master degree, I read books and articles and study videos on YouTube. Lots of videos! A couple of weeks ago I had one of my occasional down days and when a good friend heard about it she sent me a message, trying to cheer me up and telling me not to watch any doomsday videos online. I laughed out loud and sent her a message back: “You know the suggestions you get on your YouTube feed? All I get these days are videos of people making bread. There's no space left for doomsday stuff!”



Every bread has four basic ingredients: flour, water, salt and something that makes it rise, ie yeast or sourdough. But a really good bread needs a fifth ingredient. Something that most breads you find in shops nowadays lack. It's a very simple yet also incredibly precious and important ingredient: time.

Some of the breads I make take over 24 hours. However, the amount of work needed for mixing the ingredients, for kneading, forming and scoring is actually quite small – most of the time the dough just sits there and slowly develops and ferments. It made me think of writing: A book can be written very quickly, but a good book needs time. And just like with making bread, the time spent writing isn't that much – what takes so long is the slow fermentation of ideas.

Looking at the world and the changes that are so desperately needed, perhaps it's a similar story as with bread making and writing. There are lots of ideas out there to make everything better, for people and the planet, and some of these ideas are already put into practice. Sometimes I get impatient though when I observe the slow progress, I get frustrated because I feel that everything should be changed today. It's hard to accept, but maybe certain changes simply need time too. Because just like you can't expect a good bread in one hour or a great book in one month, neither can you expect a perfect world in one year.

With all the accelerating environmental problems and social conflicts, the question is of course whether we have enough time to patiently wait for a better world. Perhaps it will be too late if we don't speed up our actions very soon, if we don't start to live in a sustainable and peaceful way latest by tomorrow. But even if we got our act together right now, it would still take time until we see major positive results. No matter how much we hurry, we still need to be patient and allow the changes to grow organically. Like watching ideas unfold into stories and a bit of flour and water turn into a beautiful, delicious bread.

Thoughts alone don't write any books though, just like time alone won't turn the bread ingredients into a tasty loaf. Ideas need to be put on paper and the dough needs to be kneaded and cared for. In other words: It requires time AND action to write a beautiful future and bake a new world.


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You can find this blog also on my new website, together with books, films and mix tapes – www.clausmikosch.com


Monday, January 14, 2019

Change of direction

I love Amazon. No matter what I want to buy – books, music, kitchen utensils, candles, toys, pens, electronic gadgets – finally there is one single place that has it all. Recently a friend of mine has even bought all the furniture for her new flat with just a few clicks. There's no need to waste time in countless different stores, it's not even necessary to leave the comfortable sofa. Delivery is fast, prices are competitive and thousands of reviews guide you to the best items. Furthermore, every time I had a problem – wrong size, a malfunctioning product or simply too much money spent – it was solved almost immediately and without any hassle. Even in the offline world it's hard to find equivalent customer service.

For people like me, who actually don't like going shopping, Amazon seems like paradise. A couple of months ago I was in a big shopping centre because I needed some things I couldn't get in any small local shops. At some point I ended up trying on some shoes. I wasn't totally convinced though and was about to leave when the shop assistant said in a persistent tone, 'just get them, you can always return them when you come back the next time.' My reply: 'But I don't want to come back!' To me, shopping malls are horrible and utterly depressing places, full of greedy, stressed and unhappy faces. Why would I want to come back? Amazon's website seems blissful in comparison.

However, I also hate Amazon. It's a perfect reflection of a world that puts consumerism above anything else. Buying has become the new praying and money the new God. And not surprisingly, without prayers and a loving God, ethical behaviour isn't the top priority (not that it ever was, but it seems to be getting worse). Amazon exploits producers, sellers and even its own staff; buyers are trapped into a hypnotizing shopping frenzy and so every day thousands of people end up buying more stuff they don't need, which leads to more feelings of emptiness and less happiness. Millions, if not billions of trees are cut down to produce all the packaging, most of which is destined to land in the bin and litter the land. A while ago I ordered seven items and received four separate, unnecessarily huge packets – logistically it might make sense, but environmentally it's an absolute nightmare.

Many other online giants do the same, but since Amazon is the mighty king of all giants, it's also the most visible one. And I think in a world which continues to be driven by profit and power, it's save to say that, in order to be the biggest, usually you have to be the most ruthless too. Empires are rarely built peacefully.

Amazon is cold. Digital. Impersonal. Many years ago I used to work in a record shop – it wasn't only a shop, but also a meeting point, a place to find both art and friends. It was a happy place because everyone who worked there was passionate about music and loved to be there. Customers often came with a sunken face and left with a smile. A melting pot of music and roaming souls, providing a meaningful and often joyous shopping experience. Online on Amazon I get the music too, but the vital second ingredient is missing: the human connection.

Long story short: When I saw the pile of Amazon packages that I had ordered just before Christmas, I felt slightly ashamed. It just got out of hand and needs to be changed. My first impulse was to stop buying online altogether. But is this realistic if you don't live in a big city where small, specialist shops still exist? And is it necessary to boycott Amazon 100%? Let's face it: Sometimes it's difficult to resist the temptation of convenience.

I asked myself a question: How much Amazon in the world would I be willing to tolerate? In the US, almost half of all online sales are already done on this one platform. That's 5% of all retail sales, on- and offline. Is that acceptable for me? Would I accept more? 10%? 30? Even half of all sales?

Personally, I think it should be less than it is now. Or at least it shouldn't grow more, otherwise one day we won't have a choice any more. For now, there are still plenty of other, more ethical and independent online shops out there. Also, I don't really fancy a world without unique small shops, where real people stand behind the counter. Shops with a shining soul! So whenever possible, these should be my priority.

Should...

Maybe it's this word SHOULD that will kill us. Because should equals lack of action. I should eat less meat, I should buy only organic food, I should fly less often, I should make it all better. I should slow down, I should live in the Now.

How can I get rid of SHOULD?

Usually I use SHOULD when I talk about something which, to me, at the present moment, seems out of reach. A utopian fairy tale goal, unrealistic and too much hard work. Others might be able to do it, but not me. I'm too weak, too lazy and also too small. What difference can I make anyway?

A beautiful and comfortable excuse. The problem is, excuses don't change anything.

So why not breaking up the utopian goal into smaller pieces? If I'm heading towards hell but want to get to heaven, I can't simply beam myself there. I have to turn around and start walking towards it. Once I've changed the direction, each step will bring me closer to where I want to be.

Regarding my Amazon dilemma, it means to put the focus not on eliminating but on reducing. First step: Whenever I don't get something in a local shop and need to go online, I will check if there's a good alternative to Amazon. If there is, I go there. If not, and only then, Amazon is acceptable. In one year from now I will tell you how it went.

In the meantime, feel inspired for your own changes by José, the sailor of ANICCA: