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Four Lessons on how to Change the World


Ilona Szabó de Carvalho left her career in banking to lead the Igarapé Institute in Rio de Janeiro, which focuses on security and development policy. In her TED talk she gives us four lessons she learned while tackling the violence around issues of drugs and guns in Brazil.  Carvalho's experience contains an important message for us all – we can challenge big issues and achieve change.

The four lessons she learned in the process are: 1. change the narrative, 2. never underestimate your opponents, 3. use data to drive your arguments, 4. bring together odd bedfellows

What would this look like for those of us who want to change the current political narrative? Below are the thoughts I have wrestled with.

1. change the narrative

We are not nations or religions competing for the most of what each of us want. We are sentient beings trying to survive the cumulative effects of a global hierarchy that enables mass starvation and violence to sustain the power of a few.

The conflict is not between right-wing and left-wing, capitalism and socialism, Christianity and Islam, the conflict is between power and life.

The Operating System has moved beyond tribal competition for territory and is now in the stage where power is valued only as a wholly separate construct from human nature. This requires a structure that upholds, defends and worships the non-human measures of  our culture such as money, technology, numbers, formulas, ideologies, celebrity (not the person but the image), and ideas.  Which also requires a consistent doctrine.

The doctrine tells us that life is not valued because the world is over-populated. Life is a threat to order and must be managed, categorized, brainwashed, dehumanized and reduced through organized war, disease, starvation and addiction. Authorities create fear, insecurity and misery, and make it appear that we ourselves have chosen the conditions we live under.

Hierarchical power requires a rationality that is free of sentiment,  compassion or reverence for life. Any progress that has been made in the last two hundred years is that sophistication and application of purified power and its increasing contempt for anything that breathes. Entertainments must be pornographic to uphold this regime. Food must be genetically modified to its meanest elements. Civil society, art, community must be destroyed for these are the elements of power from within and are difficult to manage. Community is reduced to a shopping mall restricting human interaction to the impersonal , where all other human emotions such as compassion and empathy become a  means to the end of a business transaction. Here we become willing consumers of our own self-hate.

Corporations are the controllers, government are the police and media are the instructors who must continually promote the notion that life in itself has no value, and the more things we possess the more contempt we feel for earth's unpredictable and uncontrollable forces. Social intercourse celebrates and promotes consumerism through the adoration of new gadgets, rare and expensive foods, new trends and sophisticated technology. The household that possesses the most up to date fashionable stuff can congratulate itself as the winner.

Our darkest nights understand that once a weapon of mass destruction is invented that will kill most of the people without destroying the elite playgrounds on earth, it will be used. But it won't solve the problems humanity faces because all, including the elite, are oppressed by the doctrine that power must eat life.

This is the narrative of post-modern literature - Wells' Time Machine, Orwell's 1984, Monty Python, Atwood's Oryx and Crake, and other classics that have warned us.

This is a narrative that makes sense of all that has happened socially and politically. It's not the only narrative but it is one that puts us in the centre of the problem.

2. never underestimate your opponents

First we need to identify who our opponents are. Are they the one-percent, the corporations, the governments, the media, the ideologies? Are they the sum of our apathy, greed and ignorance? Is it our reluctance to examine life?

Many empires have come and gone throughout history so we can’t pin the blame on a singular tribe or a political system. It has been an endless return of revolution and corruption.  That's the force of power-over.

Is the opponent our own ego which separates us from the cause and effects of our habits? Is it the way we try to hide from our inherent malevolence, or inability to see ourselves as the earth sees us? Is it the ruling elite who manipulate us? Is it always the other who is incapable of self governance?

What if we were able to reclaim our human family, to embrace and acknowledge our power from within, through dialogue and reflection. What if we listed all the tricks we use to deny our involvement and responsibility in the evolution and care of this planet? What if we nurtured our world and loved nature? What if the imagination could bridge the small things we can do with the large movements for change?

Our opponent is really our own ignorance on how power is used against us, and how easily we slip into the narrative provided by our oppressors. As we have learned to write, read, decipher symbols, understand metaphors, we can also learn how to recognize power in all its forms.
3. use data to drive your arguments

You can find data in many places. Mainstream media sometimes includes it but other news sources and websites developed by concerned citizens are available.


The Gun Violence Archive; Amnesty International; Humanist and Liberal Religion that celebrates the human experience through diversity; news sites that defend social justice; those who acknowledge the complexity of society and its problems at the cost of making their message less slogan-readythought leaders who seek wisdom and do not rely on power-over to influence others; poetry; statistics.  And our own level gaze.

4. bring together odd bedfellows



What and where are the odd bedfellows of this issue? Members of the Gun Club, members of Tax Payers Federation, workers within community services, managers of the CBC, the homeless, the working poor, MP's within all political parties, police chiefs, scientists, environmentalists, artists, writers, philosophers and deans of the academy – all who are willing to talk and listen.

Bring together different narratives of how the world works, different personalities from different faith groups (including atheists and nihilists). Make it clear that their views are important and that everyone has a voice, but the point of the voice is not to be right, but to open doors. 

The future, if there is to be one, must embrace and hold up the reverence and dignity of all.


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