Sense-making in a failing culture

I am Mike Lowe and welcome to my personal blog where I explore topics that are interesting to me and, hopefully to you too. These are thoughts on psychology, spirituality, politics and how we repair a broken culture. They arise from the curious mind of someone who has always loved learning (even though I didn’t love school) and new experiences.

I believe that we are in a time of transition. Old systems, old ways of doing the economy, politics, health, food production, culture and spirituality are failing and breaking down and we don’t yet agree on what should replace them. Part of the problem is that just as a goldfish can’t see the water it swims in, we are so immersed in our culture that we don’t see how its assumptions are deeply embedded in our thinking, our behaviour and even the kinds of questions we ask ourselves.

What we get from the mainstream media and education tends to either ignore the deeper problems, or offer simplistic explanations which don’t go deep enough. Much of the “alternative” movements (alt-right/alt-left politics, alternative health, New-Age spirituality) is also too simplistic and lacks depth and appreciation of the complexities involved. I’m no expert on anything, but I do try to make sense of complex issues without dumbing down, and I share my thoughts in the hope it will stimulate deep thinking and questioning in you, the reader. I don’t expect you to agree with me on every point, but if you go away stimulated and questioning then I am satisfied.

Finally I want to stake my claim as an optimistic realist. That can sound contradictory – and often seems that way to me as well. To be a “realist” given the multiple, vast challenges facing us as a species and a culture, would seem to point to a dark future. But I hold out hope that we can change course rapidly, that there is a core of human nature which is capable of love, self-sacrifice, generosity and kindness – even if these virtues are often dormant and un-rewarded in our mainstream capitalist society. I hold out hope that as our dysfunctional economic and political structures collapse, we will replace them with a generative, generous and co-operative culture which better reflects who we are and can be as a species.

Culture Psychology Spirituality

A Return to Conscience

I’m thinking more and more about the importance of conscience as distinct from values.

Values are certainly important. As kids we absorb the values of the adults around us (which may or may not be a good thing!) Part of growing up is finding what our own values are – whether through trial and error or serious inner reflection. Finding people whose values are somewhat aligned with our own is an important foundation of the trust required in all our relationships – whether intimate partners, friends or work colleagues. We could all benefit from some serious reflection about what we value individually and as organisations/institutions.

But conscience is more than just having values.

Culture Politics Spirituality

Live not by Lies

If, like me, you have felt despair and helplessness at what is happening in Ukraine, what is happening to our beautiful planet, what is happening to the world’s indigenous peoples, what is happening to the poor and oppressed around the world, here is an answer. It was written by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in 1974 on the eve of his expulsion to the West. It was written to people who also felt powerless in the face of oppression, state propaganda and violence. Please read and ponder:


Culture Psychology Spirituality

A Dangerous Slide into Unconsious Religion

If we don’t do religion consciously we will do it unconsciously.

A bold statement, I know! – But one that I believe more and more to be true. We are religious animals, despite the brief interlude of The Enlightenment, Modernism and Post-modernism. We are wired to look for a grand over-arching explanation of the world we experience, and our place in it (a meta-narrative) and within that to belong to a community of fellow believers motivated by a purpose bigger than ourselves.

Culture Economics Psychology

The True Power of Money

Imagine I offered you a potion that would give you super-powers to control other people, to bend them to your will. You could use this power however you wanted – for good or ill. You could quit your job, stay in a fancy hotel dining on caviar and champagne and have as much amazing sex as you want. You could help your friends and hurt your enemies. You could use your powers to make the world a better place, ending poverty and hunger and halting environmental destruction.

Would you take the potion?

Culture Spirituality

Bedtime Stories with Mike

I like reading aloud. So during this time when much of Australia’s population is in lockdown I thought it would be a nice offering to record myself reading a book that has inspired me and will hopefully inspire others. I’ve already uploaded a few chapters on my private Facebook profile, but here I’m making them available to everyone. I’ll keep adding a couple of chapters each day until the book is complete.

Health Psychology

Acknowledging Emotions in a Pandemic

We mostly make our choices based on emotions… and then, after we’ve decided, we find a way to justify those decisions rationally.

It’s a secret that marketers and politicians have long known.

We like to think we are making rational decisions. We like to believe we are making our own choices without being emotionally manipulated. But it’s seldom true.

That is why, when it comes to debates around vaccination, appeals to reason are seldom effective.

Culture Economics Psychology

The genius and curse of specialisation

Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills.

Arthur Schopenhauer

We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully, nor for much longer, unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody.

Buckminster Fuller

We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.

John M. Culkin (provenance unclear – see here)

The genius of capitalism is also its fatal flaw – and that thing is specialisation. In simplest terms it means that the baker can just focus on baking, the cobbler can just focus on making shoes, the builder can just focus on building and at the end of the day each person gets everything they need – food, clothing and shelter … and much more.

Politics Psychology

When we don’t listen

Violence is often a form of communication born of desperation.

When we don’t or won’t or can’t listen to each other and respond to what we have heard at a human level, there are consequences.

The wisest commentary I ever heard on the Middle East was from a young Palestinian who observed that in her home country there are two peoples crying out in deep pain, desperate for their pain to be heard and acknowledged by the other – and yet each unable to hear and acknowledge the other’s pain. The rocks and rockets, bullets and bombs have their roots in a desperate cry to be heard and seen and acknowledged as fellow suffering humans.

Culture Spirituality

Suffering – and why most modern spirituality sucks

I’ve just had a beautiful and somewhat surreal experience.

I was listening to Bach’s sublime masterpiece the St Matthew’s Passion on a beautiful and sunny Good Friday morning, and through the open windows I noticed a young wallaby listening along with me.

I’m pretty sure that he/she was listening because normally when I see the wallabies they are either passing through, or grazing or sometimes taking a siesta (they usually lie down for this). This wallaby wasn’t doing any of those things – it was sitting still facing my open window and listening. It stayed there for at least an hour and a half, through two CD changes and only moved on when it got spooked by the sounds of a rubbish collection truck reversing at the end of the road nearby.

Psychology Spirituality

Altered States

There’s been a lot of articles published recently about the astonishing results people are getting using psychadelics to treat difficult psychological conditions like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anxiety/depression around end of life/terminal illness. The mind-altering substances being used for these studies are mostly psyllocibin (as found in “magic mushrooms”), MDMA (ecstasy) and LSD. A recent book exploring this is by Michael Pollan: How to Change Your Mind.