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Shifts of Seasons: Seeds of Hope and Creativity (II)

The times we are going through feel intensely uncertain. Environmental uncertainties, economic turmoil, and geopolitical fragmentation are all signs of powerful forces pushing on these barren branches, carried by trees that look dead. But just like in the middle of the winter, when trees appear dead, such appearances can be misleading. Hidden in the cold ground and within these branches also lay dormant seeds and burgeons, just waiting for that signal to come out.

The seed that lay dormant in the ground and the burgeon in waiting during these winter months endures the rough surroundings and the bitter frost. For long weeks and months, they remain hidden and invisible to all until that indiscernible signal from nature. When that slight infinitesimal temperature shift occurs, that seed feels it from deep within its internal DNA, with a secret code triggered to wake up. The burgeon emerges frail and widely exposed to the surrounding aggressions of nature. Yet something happens very clearly. It’s just a matter of faith or belief.

So, where can we focus our hopes in these moments of uncertainty and gloom? Where are these seeds and burgeons in waiting? And let’s be clear that belief and faith in these dormant seeds and burgeons does not mean we are downplaying the challenges. Not at all; it’s just a matter of strengthening the determination and commitment to see through the dark clouds ahead of us.

Allow me to wander here. Here are just a few considerations that may look aimless and without purpose. However, they are a little more tangible and give us a chance to peek outside through the window. A peek that helps us realize how behind these gray and dark clouds, there is a sky, intensely blue and full of hope.

What you are about to hear may sound entirely off-topic, but this kind of lateral thinking widens our vision scope.

Indeed, in the last few weeks, I have been reading a report published by the UNCTAD, the UN organization in charge of trade and development on the topic of Cultural and Creative Industries.

You know, it’s that kind of report that looks intimidating and boring, filled with graphs and tables every other page, with lengthy introductions taking up to ⅓ of the information and pages of acknowledgments made of names that have very impressive professional and academic credentials from all around the world. You know that creating that kind of report took massive efforts from teams of experts scattered all around the world, with many countries and different languages involved.

So it’s more than a regular report, especially when you consider the topic involved in that report. To begin with, I browsed through it, especially paying particular attention to the structure of the outline. I do that when confronted with such a massive piece of work. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, I use that trick that I learned from Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns; in their traditional learning, they pay a lot of emphasis on understanding the outlines of notable books, from the titles and colophon of the book to the different parts of the work, all the way down to the chapters, titles, subtitles, components, and subcomponents, They don’t start reading a book from A to Z in a linear fashion. Instead, they take a bird’s eye view of the work and learn it by heart. By familiarizing themselves with the whole structure of the book and memorizing it, they end up imbuing themselves with the logical flow of the work. As you may have suspected, this trick only applies to nonfiction. You cannot approach fiction similarly for reasons too obvious to explain.

Try it, and tell me how it works for you.

So for this particular report – “Creative Economy Outlook 2022; The International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development, Pathway to resilient creative industries.” – the narrative goes as follows, in short and simple sentences;

  • Up to recently, trade in the cultural and creative industries mainly took the form of physical goods. It was a trade dominated by China for exports and developed countries for imports. For services in the cultural and creative industries, the reverse was the norm, with developed countries mainly taking the share of the lion.
  • But with technology gaining further ground, this is changing. First, with the digital transformation of the whole industry, the share of services has exceeded physical goods since the mid-2010s. Developed countries are still leading the pack, but the distribution is much more diversified.
  • COVID-19 hit the whole industry quite hard, but it also rebounded nicely.
  • Finally, the new technological potentials are opening the door to yet-to-be-imagined vistas of innovation.

So, that’s what we can draw from that particular report. I am sure you will find a lot more from your reading, but for the present discussion, I prefer to provide you with the gist of it.

If you try to connect the dots, suddenly, you start to see a pattern. In the more industrialized countries, the great resignation has begun to see many professionals giving up on their career dreams. In the newly emerging countries, it’s the rise of new large cities with more educated and vibrant young professionals. It’s all happening while everyone is about to access these new technological developments even faster than thought. All of this is happening fast, in all kinds of directions, and a chaotic manner, making it increasingly challenging to fathom.

But after reading that technical report on Creative and Cultural Industries, I realized that the convergence of new technologies and the human creative potential we are all endowed with would produce an explosion of creativity and intellectual endeavors. Expect some creative and cultural “renaissance” from around the world. And here, I am using the word “renaissance” between quotation marks on purpose because it is a term always associated with the West. But worldwide, the rise of a middle class thirsty for connections with its deeper past converging with the new technologies of Web 3.0 will undoubtedly produce a wave of creative and cultural works at an unprecedented scale. Expect that wave to give a new meaning to the older expression “renaissance”.

These are the seeds waiting to emerge from deep in the ground.


Shifts of Seasons (I)

“Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence.

Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance.

Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence.

Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.”

~~~ Yoko Ono

I thought I should start today’s post with this poem.

If you live in the Northern hemisphere, this is the season of the year when trees have nothing on their branches, nothing. But, of course, you then recollect that they were exhibiting some of the most spectacular colors a few months earlier, especially if you are experiencing the “Indian summers” of North America. But, then, trees give up all their leaves. And very quickly, they all look like they are dead for the next few months of winter. And usually, winds, rain, and cold accompany that shift from reverence to perseverance.

Indeed, a few years ago, as I was walking down the street after my morning coffee in Brooklyn, I noticed a little child pointing to the sky. As I looked up, I saw the wonderful golden colors of the leaves shining in the morning sun rays. Had I not paid attention, I would have just continued with my thoughts and missed the hidden message.

That message was straightforward, so simple that I realized that the most obvious is always in plain sight; like leaves on a tree, some habits must be abandoned sooner or later to make room for newer ones. That’s what I was able to understand back then. But it was still a faint hint of something not yet complete, the feeling you have when you start to have an unfinished thought. You know you are getting to something but don’t know what it’s about. So out of sheer frustration, you put it on the shelf, knowing full well that you’ll get back to it, but you don’t know when. And then you forget about it, sometimes for years.

Then some trigger brings it back to the surface of your awareness without knowing why. That happened a few years later. Back then, I was watching the whole of Beijing, China, from the top of the Drumtower in the Northern part of the large square that defines the core of the ancient city. It was a beautiful sight, and the sky was blue on that beautiful day of Spring. I walked outside to the balcony surrounding the whole tower and noticed fascinating golden plates with explanations describing the cycle of seasons – the entire Drumtower is about time and its passing.

And then, I realized that seasons in Chinese culture don’t align with what we are used to in the West. After reading these descriptions on a golden plate, I realized that the end of January and the beginning of February is when Spring starts in Chinese culture. Of course, you may argue that this does not make sense since the surrounding cold and bitter frosts of February are not really a clear indication of the start of Spring. Yet, if you stop and think about it, it’s logical. Indeed, what matters is when the shift of temperatures actually starts, even if our senses do not perceive that infinitesimal change.

Indeed, the end of January and the start of February are when temperatures stop getting colder. Of course, it’s still cold, but it does not get much colder than it already is. Do you see how subtle it is?

In fact, temperatures are stabilizing and might even get slightly warmer, not by a lot, just a fraction. But that’s enough to signal to seeds buried in the ground, the kind of warning that the worse of the bitter cold is behind. That imperceptible shift remains the marker, the milestone Chinese culture uses to indicate that Spring is on the way. A pointer to the change from perseverance to innocence.

All of this remains crucial for us humans who live amid this nature. We should pay attention to these lessons while going through these enormous transitions on the planet. There is a lot to learn, and we’ll get to that in the coming days.

Earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria: How you can help

As international aid begins to flow, NGOs are also working to help the victims of the violent earthquakes that have struck Türkiye and Syria. If you live outside of Türkiye and Syria, you are probably wondering how you can best help. International aid is already arriving and starting to organize. However, the race against time and the cold continues to extricate survivors of the violent earthquakes that devastated the region.

Based on my knowledge and experience, and if you are making donations from outside Türkiye and Syria, I feel that the following shortlist of organizations should ensure that your donation and any other type of help will quickly reach those in need right now amid this tragedy;

Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontières; They are always properly equipped and right where they can help the most. The most recent post on their website announces that they are assessing the situation and acting quickly, especially in Northern Syria. Click here for more information.

Turkish Red Crescent; That’s the Turkish branch of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC). It’s a very reliable and solid organization. Click here for more information.

UNICEF; The organization directly focuses on children and families. Click here for more information.

Other organizations deserve mention, primarily Turkish entities acting from inside the country. Still, the list above focuses only on the ones that allow you to donate from outside these two countries.

Let’s pray for the victims of this tragedy.

Let’s Create Peace Together

It’s been a long time since I realized we had not heard from each other. My last post was on July 31, 2022. I was focusing back then on digital transformation and the impact it was likely to have on inflation.
Almost six months later, I realized that the highlight on inflation was clearly the proper angle to shed some light on what was to come. The break of nearly six months was necessary; that’s how I feel about it deep inside. Mainly because I was not willing to contribute even more to the echo chamber that we are all bathing in with the dramatic events unfolding around us.
So after a few months of reflection, it is getting clear to all of us that what the world needs most currently are wisdom and cultural awareness. While all the news you can hear about has a lot to do with wars and economic turmoil, perhaps we can also talk about all the efforts to reunite people around the planet.
And indeed, let me tell more about the many activities that I was personally involved in the last few months during that break where you did not hear about me.
First, I participated in a festival in Fes, Morocco, the Festival of Sufi Culture, where many brilliant and beautiful minds were gathered. That event alone gave me hope about the world and its future.
Second, I also had a chance to follow the works of UNESCO, which also gathered in Rabat, Morocco, to deepen its efforts in intangible cultural preservation.
I will provide you more details about these efforts in the coming weeks; it’s my promise to you at the start of this new year, 2023, and the year of the Rabbit. New years start every month if you keep track of the many other recent years across all the world’s cultures; the Chinese new year of the Rabbit began just a few days ago after the beginning of 2023 on January 1. But there will be many other opportunities to renew that promise and keep track of it. Indeed, in the middle of July 2023, the Muslim world will start the year 1445. Nawruz, the Iranian new year will be in mid-March. Rosh Hashanah is expected sometime in mid-September. And many other recent years that you can check here.
While all the troubling news is trickling down through the news channels at an alarming rate, there are also many other efforts that show how many nations are coming together to preserve the very heritage and wisdom that will prevent us from rolling down the path of madness. You can call me a dreamer, but at least that’s the only path to sanity these days. So let’s cultivate that dream together.
Let’s “Create Peace Together.”

The Deus Ex Machina of Digital Transformation: Leading to More Inflation

So, it looks like we are deliberately making the choice to use technology and the almighty digital power of big data to somehow connect everything that can be connected.

And the story goes that this alone will allow us to save electricity and water, make us more efficient and transition to sustainable and clean sources of energy.

But think about all the minerals needed for the chips inside all the things that we want to connect. The smart meters that measure your water or electricity consumption, the sensors inside your new fancy self-driving car, for the alarm system in your home, for the VR set that allows you to get into the metaverse, for the servers that power the new games in that multiverse, for the new smart clothing that will cool you down because it’s too hot outside, for the smart fridge that tells how much milk is left inside your smart bottle, for your smart coffee maker that will make a cappuccino delivered just for you because the algorithms know you even better than you do yourself, and on and on and on. It’s endless innovation but unfortunately futile too.

Some experts are indeed starting to pull the alarm bell.  All this transformation requires an incredible amount of natural resources, something human history has never ever seen and witnessed. It’s like that snake eating its own tail.

As we highlighted in our previous post, we are about to use 30% to 90% of known natural reserves of all essential minerals in the coming 30 years.

And all experts agree about the disastrous environmental effect of a mine. Some of these impacts are actually permanent. In Europe, the destructive impact of Roman gold mines exploited 2,000 years ago still continues today. It is very likely that the same will happen with the mines we are exploiting nowadays. This rush on natural mining resources expected in the next 30 years, all done in the blind faith that it will save the earth, will actually destroy it.

There is a myth that we all need to tone down in our collective minds. It’s a myth about mining. That myth is best shown in Charlie Chaplin’s movie “The Gold Rush” in 1925. It tells the story of gold diggers who rushed to the mountains of California hoping to make instant fortune. All these gold diggers rushed with their simple tools in the middle of 19th century, pulled by the overcredulity that all you had to do was to just look through some rubbles and dirt, and that your fortune would be made.

But that is far from reality, really, really far from it.

The truth is that in order to find 1 gram of gold, one tiny little gram, you need to move 1 ton of dirt. Yes 1,000 kilograms !!! That’s 0.0001% of the dirt you are moving. But the only way to extract that 1 tiny little gram, is to actually use a lot of chemicals, the kind of stuff that does not evaporate just like that. The kind of stuff that poisons soils for quite a while, and even for ever. So you first have to destroy entire mountains, and then poison the soils, for ever, all this in the name of our smartphones and fancy electronic toys.

But if that was only about gold, then we could almost say that we could live with it. In fact, the other minerals are also quite scary. For platinum, 1,000 kilograms of dirt would give you between 3 and 15 grams of platinum. For lithium, the percentage ranges between 0.05% to 0.15%; for uranium it’s 0.1% to 0.3%; for copper it’s 0.3% to 2%; for cobalt it’s 0.5% to 2.5%. And the list goes on. So think about the mountains that need to be destroyed.

So as you see, all these new sustainable technologies do have to rely on these resources. As a result, in order to implement these technologies that we believe will save the planet, we are actually accelerating its destruction.

We are indeed trying to save the planet by destroying it.

So, in the end, it looks like we are doing all this just to be able to maintain our life style. All this is done in order to rearrange the chairs on the deck. But the ship is sinking, and it will go so much faster if we don’t realize that it is time to rub our eyes and wake up from that delusion.

Perhaps the real question is as follows; should we all start to adjust our life style? And here the question has to be addressed to richer nations.

May be it starts with something as simple as walking or biking? But there too, we also have to ask ourselves about inequality. Those who can afford to walk and bike in richer nations are precisely those who are at the top of the scale. They can walk and bike because they do have the means and income to live not too far from where they work. While for those who live far enough from an urban center, because rents are too high, then they have to use a car, very often an old car, because that’s all they can afford, or have a very long daily commute.

That’s why inflation cannot be transitory as we have been told just a few months ago by central bankers. Because in order to extract all that stuff within the next 30 years, a lot of water will be needed, among other things. Water that will necessarily come from local communities that were using it to grow their much needed crops and food, to nourish themselves and raise their families. Water that will become increasingly scarce and which is part of every single value chain. Every single object in your house has to rely on water for its manufacturing.

Indeed, in order to pull that stuff from the ground, everything else will have to be made more scarce. Hence the inflationary pressure that becomes unavoidable.

And guess what, because of that increased competition for resources, it also leads to wars. Peace Pilgrim understood that many decades ago and that’s why she decided to keep walking.

Let me know if you have any other questions and feel free to comment.

References: In French: “Ruée Minière au XXIe Siècle” by Aurore Stephant.