Monthly Archives: September 2017

Shaping a Living World: Part 3

For those that follow this blog in any regular fashion, you know that universal healthcare is one of my “big issues”. The long and short of that issue is; I think it is absurd that the wealthiest country in the world seems to have “trouble” caring for the basic needs of its citizens. It is absurd that people should have to choose between a prescription and food. It is absurd that people should have to declare bankruptcy because of outrageous medical bills.

As an animist, I believe that the world is full of people. People deserve basic respect and dignity, and for me this includes healthcare. A good, long, and healthy life should be the right of all, not a privilege.

Especially when you consider most other major industrial countries have already figured this out.

If you want to go into the details, I invite you to listen to the podcast by Dan Carlin here. He does a pretty good job about breaking down some of the more absurd parts of the USA’s healthcare system. In short; we spend a ridiculous amount of money for a relatively low-standard of care.

Now, I’m not going to be able to go into all the nuts and bolts of our healthcare system. It’s a hot mess and there is plenty of information out there are the internet. One of the sources Carlin uses can be found here

But basically, the takeaway is this;

Available cross-national pricing data suggest that prices for health care are notably higher in the U.S., potentially explaining a large part of the higher health spending. In contrast, the U.S. devotes a relatively small share of its economy to social services, such as housing assistance, employment programs, disability benefits, and food security. Finally, despite its heavy investment in health care, the U.S. sees poorer results on several key health outcome measures such as life expectancy and the prevalence of chronic conditions. “

It was announced last week that Bernie Sanders might unveil his plan for Medicare For All as soon as Wednesday this week, and that it also has been co-sponsored by both Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, who said;

“Everyone is covered,” she said. “Nobody goes broke paying a medical bill. Families don’t have to bear the costs of heartbreaking medical disasters on their own.”

Warren called health care a basic human right, adding that it’s “time to fight for it.” “

I agree whole-heartidly. If I am being frank, I think universal healthcare for the US is one of the most crucial issues of our day. Make no mistakes folks, we are going to have to fight for this one, pretty much like we have had to fight for everything else of value in this country. Whether its Civil Rights, Women’s Suffrage, Labor Rights, or Universal Healthcare; we have had to fight for it.

Yes, we need to accept this is going to be a long fight too. The current Congress and administration will be unlikely to pick up this issue at all. If it makes it out of committee will be partly up to our politicians. But more than that it will be up to us, the people of the nation, as well.

We will have to push this one, because there are a lot of forces that will be against this idea. Some Democrats will not supports this idea, as the vast majority of Republicans will not. It should also go without saying that both the Pharmaceutical Industry as well as Health Insurers will strongly oppose a move towards universal healthcare. All of their profits are invested in the status quo after all.

It is well past time we push for this issue. I don’t yet know the details of Sander’s plan, but we must keep in mind that there are many ways to do universal healthcare. I will talk about that a little later in this piece.

The point is, there is quite a bit of support for a type of universal healthcare.

It will be up to us, the people, to make sure it happens.

Now, let’s look at what the UN has to say about this;

Sustainable Development Goals

All UN Member States have agreed to try to achieve universal health coverage (UHC) by 2030, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.” (World Health Organization)

Let’s make now mistake about this, and this is the most important component of this SDG in my opinion. As I have said in the first post in this series, over 193 countries aided in the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals. Per the quote above, every one of them have agreed to try and achieve universal health care coverage.

Now, it has to be admitted that UHC is a broad concept, and there are many different ways to approach this. There are many different models and styles that fall under UHC. The Affordable Care Act, for all its faults, would likely qualify as an attempt.

It should be obvious that a Medicare for All style healthcare system is quite a bit different than the ACA. It would be much more in line with what a lot of Europe and other countries do.

With that in mind, let’s take a deeper look at that;

Social Democracy

As far as this series is concerned, most of our focus has been on the Nordic countries. Those too will be the focus here. But I am also going to bring in a few other examples from Europe, as they will serve to give a good survey of the many different ways to do this.

58 countries in all have health systems that would be considered UHC. Wikipedia has this to say about the different funding models of various countries in Europe;

Almost all European systems are financed through a mix of public and private contributions. Most universal health care systems are funded primarily by tax revenue (like in Portugal Spain, Denmark, and Sweden). Some nations, such as Germany and France and Japan employ a multipayer system in which health care is funded by private and public contributions.” (Wikipedia )

The point being, most UHC systems have mixed revenue sources. Given the complexities of the American healthcare system, it is likely that the US would have to implement a similar system. Right now, Health Insurers are some of the largest private players in the American system. I would expect resistance from them.

However, depending on how we do it, there still might be a place for them. One thing is clear though; that there needs to be a primarily public revenue stream in any system we develop. Let’s look at some of the options. All that follows is from Wikipedia.


Denmark has a universal public health system paid largely from taxation with local municipalities delivering health care services in the same way as other Scandinavian countries. Primary care is provided by a general practitioner service run by private doctors contracting with the local municipalities with payment on a mixed per capita and fee for service basis. Most hospitals are run by the municipalities (only 1% of hospital beds are in the private sector).”


In Finland, public medical services at clinics and hospitals are run by the municipalities (local government) and are funded 76% by taxation, 20% by patients through access charges, and 4% by others. Private provision is mainly in the primary care sector. There are a few private hospitals. The main hospitals are either municipally owned (funded from local taxes) or run by the medical teaching universities (funded jointly by the municipalities and the national government). According to a survey published by the European Commission in 2000, Finland’s is in the top 4 of EU countries in terms of satisfaction with their hospital care system: 88% of Finnish respondents were satisfied…”


France has a system of universal health care largely financed by government through a system of national health insurance. Nonetheless, not all medical care is paid for by the state, with only 70% of initial GP care covered and anywhere between 35% and 100% of prescription medication covered. It is consistently ranked as one of the best in the world.”


Norway has a universal public health system paid largely from taxation in the same way as other Scandinavian countries. Norway’s entire population has equal access to health care services. The Norwegian health care system is government-funded and heavily decentralized. The health care system in Norway is financed primarily through taxes levied by county councils and municipalities. Dental care is included for children until 18 years old, and is covered for adults for some ailments.

Norway regularly comes top or close to the top of worldwide healthcare rankings.”


Sweden has a universal public health system paid largely from taxation in the same way as other Scandinavian countries. Sweden’s entire population has equal access to health care services. The Swedish public health system is funded through taxes levied by the county councils, but partly run by private companies. Government-paid dental care for those under 21 years old is included in the system, and dental care for those older is somewhat subsidised by it.

Sweden also has a smaller private health care sector, mainly in larger cities or as centers for preventive health care financed by employers.

Sweden regularly comes in top in worldwide healthcare rankings”

I hope this makes it abundantly clear that most of the best systems of healthcare in the world are often primarily funded through public means and taxation. The private sector does have a varying role to play in each of the systems, and in an American system is is likely the same would be true.

But first, we have to implement a Universal Health Care system. Then we can debate the details.

For the moment, let’s talk briefly about Drawdown.


Good Health is another one of the SDG’s that pretty much every solution proposed in Drawdown could apply to. Pretty much anything that keeps our air, water, and land clean is going to have benefits for both our individual health, and our health as society.

The economic savings from implementation of Drawdown alone would be significant. In addition, cleaner air and water would increase overall longevity and prevent a lot of treatable conditions such as asthma.

The World Health Organization estimates that millions of premature deaths can be linked to air pollution. This is to say nothing of clean water and land.

As such, I want to focus on just two of Drawdown’s solutions that directly impact individual health and sustainable living. Most other solutions will appear in other posts for this series.

Walkable Cities

Solution #54: 2.92 gigatons CO2 Reduction. $3.28 Trillion Net Operational Savings

Walkable cities prioritize two feet over four wheels through careful planning and design. They minimize the need to use a car and make the choice to forego driving appealing, which can reduce greenhouse gases emissions. According to the Urban Land Institute, in more compact developments ripe for walking, people drive 20 to 40 percent less. “

This one is pretty self evident, and the health benefits from being able to walk more regularly cannot be underestimated. In addition, cities that are designed for foot traffic need less cars, and less pollutants are created as a result. The cost savings are substantial as well. As this solution points out; “Health, prosperity, and sustainability go hand in hand.

Bikeable Cities

Solution #59: 2.31 gigtons CO2 Reduction. $400 Billion in Net Operational Savings

Copenhagen is considered the most livable city in the world, in no small part because it is the most bike-friendly. Thirty percent of Copenhageners ride to work, school, and market on 18 miles of bike lanes, and along three bicycle superhighways connecting Copenhagen to its outlying suburbs… “

I had to use the above quote, because it ties this piece so nicely together. Copenhagen is widely considered to be the greenest city in the world, and such it is a model worthy of emulation.

In addition, bringing together the Nordic health care model with the most sustainable city just reinforces exactly what I am talking about here. Sustainability and health go hand in hand.

There is a lot to learn from the Nordics; social democracy as well as healthcare. At this pojnt, America is well behind the ball, and we have a lot of catch up today. I hope you will join me and help build a better future for us all.

As always, thanks for reading!




A Cybernetic Animism

“Animists are people who recognise that the world is full of people, only some of whom are human, and that life is always lived in relationships with others.” – Graham Harvey

(From Metascientist, which might be an interesting read in context.)

I like to explore my animistic ideals and beliefs through a lot of different perspectives and different philosophical lenses. I enjoy the intellectual exercise of it all, and it also provides a lot of new insights that I may have not considered before. Sometimes, it is important that we look at things from a different perspective. We might just see something in a a new way.

As such, I give you this presentation of some of the theoretical underpinnings I am exploring in relation to my animism.

In many ways, this piece is an expansion of what I wrote over at Pagan BloggersI think I hit on a few things there that I wanted to explore in more depth, and bring you all along for the ride.

Recently I have been exploring my animism through a much more systemic and holistic lenses; through topics such as cybernetics, systems theory, and actor-network theory. Most of these things deal with our relationships to humans and non-humans in a much more networked and systemic way. It has been really fascinating for me, and it has really reinforced the central animistic idea that we are part of our world; and not separate from it. So let’s start with what I said over at my other blog;

Agency is at its simplest the capacity to act. This is also the simplest definition of what it means to be an actor, a participant in an action or process. This is what I am talking about when I refer to spirits and persons; actors in the world. Beings with their own desires and agendas.

Now agency can run the gamut from a relatively simple actions, such as a bacterium, to the much more complex beings such as you and I. When we talk of spirits, we are talking about active agents in an environment. The world becomes a much more interesting place when we consider that it is full of actors. That means whatever we do, we are in a social environment, and not an inert one.”

The cosmos is absolutely full of active agents in relation to each other. The simplest forms of matter that we can see have their own elements of agency. The fundamental aspect of chemistry is that atoms and molecules often act in predictable ways when interacting with others. You can get water predicably from two hydrogen and one oxygen atom. Water is vital to all life on Earth. But we will come back to that.

Matter builds up, and enters into increasingly more complex systems and networks; and after billions of years of trial and error; I am here now to tell you about these things. But, in order to think about these things in systemic and holistic ways let’s first talk about systems.

Systems theory or systems science is the interdisciplinary study of systems. A system is an entity with interrelated and interdependent parts; it is defined by its boundaries and it is more than the sum of its parts (subsystem). Changing one part of the system affects other parts and the whole system, with predictable patterns of behavior. ” (Wikipedia)

There is a lot to digest here, but the really important part in that a system is basically a network; a whole comprised of numerous of interrelated “parts”. A system is often bounded in some way, though boundary here can be a fuzzy terms. Some boundaries are physical, some theoretical, some metaphysical. Some are open, some are closed. Some boundaries might be hard lines, and others more like fuzzy, porous, and nebulous clouds.

(From Wikipedia Commons)

While some systems are relatively (or theoretically) simple, some are very complex;

A complex system is a system composed of many components which may interact with each other. In many cases it is useful to represent such a system as a network where the nodes represent the components and the links their interactions. Examples of complex systems are Earth’s global climate, organisms, the human brain, social and economic organizations (like cities), an ecosystem, a living cell, and ultimately the entire universe.” (Wikipedia

Systems, especially complex ones, can be modeled in terms of networks. This will become very important here in a moment, but it is important here to dwell on the raw scope of this. The entire Cosmos is really one just big complex system, and this can be really difficult to comprehend. That would just make us a tiny network, on a tiny planet, in a vastly huge universe. That is definitely a little mind bending.

But many of these complex systems as wholes are greater than the sum of their parts. The characteristics of the human brain are not predicated on simply understanding the connections among neurons. The things we might call consciousness, self-awareness, and even the soul, those are not evident if we study just the parts of the brain. They are emergences, which brings us to the concept emergence.

In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence is a phenomenon whereby larger entities arise through interactions among smaller or simpler entities such that the larger entities exhibit properties the smaller/simpler entities do not exhibit.

Emergence is central in theories of integrative levels and of complex systems. For instance, the phenomenon of life as studied in biology is an emergent property of chemistry, and psychological phenomena emerge from the neurobiological phenomena of living things.” (Wikipedia)

Emergence is a really important aspect of complex systems, because it changes the nature of things. The idea that a certain level of integration, new properties and characteristics arise that are not predicted by the components. Cellular life is not predicated on simple physics alone, but if you get enough molecules, in the right integration, life emerges. If chemistry is an emergence of physics, and biology an emergence from chemistry…

Yeesh, it might just be turtles all the way down.

I hope you can see where I am going with this. As stated above, complex systems are more than the sum of their parts. I as a being am more than physics, more than just biology; I am a small part of the cosmos having a human experience.

But more than that, it asks us to think a lot bigger than the human scale. Emergence asks us to ask questions about our place in greater ecosystems, our place in our societies, and our place on the planet. It asks us to witness and engage with climate change, and recognize our being as part of a much greater whole.

It asks us to consider cities are more than just humans and concrete. It asks us to consider the possibility that cities might be something we might call superorganic. As beings of a type in their own right, in which we are just cells in a body.

Which brings me to a great article from NPR;

…But if you want to consider the problem from its most general point of view, then you might want to think about civilizations purely as a network.

A network is nothing more than a group of objects (called nodes) and the links between them. Everyone is familiar with social networks — your friends and their friends and their friends, and so on. The bigger a network is the more complex it becomes, with links blossoming into a rich, dense, spider web of connections between the nodes.

Any population of intelligent creatures on any planet would, by definition, form a network…. So the question then becomes: What exactly does it take to transform a bunch of intelligent social organisms, with more rudimentary forms of interaction, into something more complex and rich — like a city with its highly ordered interactions?” (NPR)

We are a population of intelligent creatures living on a planet, and we are networked in fascinating ways. The advent of the Internet has absolutely revolutionized how we relate to one another, how we network, as well as the raw potentials of those networks. In short, it has connected us to every other human on this planet in ways that we could have never imagined. It allows us to see one another, communicate instantaneously, share stores and information. Yeah, it also lets us be shitty human beings anomalously…

The crucial question the author asked in the article is; could civilization as we know it be an emergence of a complex system of networked humans?

I think it is certainly a possibility, and one well worth exploring.

However, I don’t want to get side tracked too much here, as there is so much more I want to talk about. The question about civilizations bring up an important point that isn’t necessarily spelled out when we just consider systems. The point that complex systems are also social systems; full of actors relating to one another in various ways. Which brings us to Actor-Network Theory.

Actor–network theory (ANT) is a theoretical and methodological approach to social theory where everything in the social and natural worlds exist in constantly shifting networks of relationship.

The fundamental aim of ANT is to explore how networks are built or assembled and maintained to achieve a specific objective. Although it is best known for its controversial insistence on the capacity of nonhumans to act or participate in systems or networks or both…“ (Wikipedia)

This fits in neatly with my Harverian (is that a thing? I’m using it) view of animism that is kind of mind blowing.

Actors in networks in constantly shifting relationships…

The world is full of persons (some of which are non-human), and life is lived in relation to one another.

Spiritual persons in a world full of other spiritual persons…

How exactly I frame it is kind of up to me. It is a way in which to look at ourselves, our cities, our technology, as just elements in larger and more complex systems (such as ecosystems, global systems.) But more than that, its also can include the stories and narratives we tell each other; our worldviews and beliefs.

…it (ANT) can more technically be described as a “material-semiotic” method. This means that it maps relations that are simultaneously material (between things) and semiotic (between concepts). It assumes that many relations are both material and semiotic.” (Wikipedia)

Added onto the top of that is my layer of “mythic” narratives, that I have kind of cobbled together from the various sources. Folklore, ancestry, mythology, my own experience of the world…

In my personal cosmology, non-humans are definitely considered to be active “people” in the social environment. This includes technological people as well, such as automobiles, and smartphones, and robots too.

But it seriously makes me wonder… All the time our technology is getting “smarter” and more connected. Vehicles newer than my own are much more intelligent, and they can network and interact in ways that they never could before.

Connectivity and integration is accelerating quickly in our time. Those emergences, those “greater spirits”; of cities, of ecosystems, of the techno-organic networks we are building. With AI research progressing everyday, and bots and “synthetic persons” constantly trolling us on the internet; the technological realm is hardly exempt from having its own actors.

It makes me wonder a lot. What just might be emerging? Maybe that is the sci-fi buff in me.

Which is a great segway into animism through the lens of cybernetics.

Now we have to keep in mind that the study of cybernetics is really complex, but inevitably when people think about it, they think of cyborgs. Of some kind of fusion of human and machine, or some other such form. This is in fact partially true, but also partially misleading. In truth, cybernetics can be applied to any system that happens to be regulated in some way. In short;

Cybernetics is a transdisciplinary approach for exploring regulatory systems—their structures, constraints, and possibilities. “ (Wikipedia)

But cybernetics is more than that too, and includes a whole range of elements that range from the human, to the animal, to the machine. Cybernetics is a wide view, and can used to study systems such as social and ecosystems, but also biological as well as technological systems and how these all interact. It is an approach with multiple meanings, such as;

“The study of systems and processes that interact with themselves and produce themselves from themselves.”—Louis Kauffman, President of the American Society for Cybernetics” (Wikipedia)

In this way, it sounds almost biological. And, when combined with other ideas I have presented here, it gives us one more tool in which to explore animism and animistic systems. It gives us a form of cybernetic animism;

Concepts studied by cyberneticists include, but are not limited to: learning, cognition, adaptation, social control, emergence, convergence, communication, efficiency, efficacy, and connectivity. “ (Wikipedia)

We have already talked about emergence, and relationships between people, communication, social systems… All of this and more is included in how I view animism and how it asks us to contemplate our relations with ourselves, our environment, and our technology.

Technology, and our relationship to it is something that we need to consider.

Some time ago, I picked up Kevin Kelly’s book “What Technology Wants.” Overall, I thought it was a great read and a good reflection on our relationship on technology. This is not to say it was without it faults, but I won’t go into those critiques here.

That being said, I think his idea of the “Technium”; a kind of egregoric whole of human-tech relations, has a lot of value here. It intersects with many things that are of interest to animism; such as the idea of the superorganic;

When Kevin Kelly looked up the definition of “superorganism” on Wikipedia, he found this: “A collection of agents which can act in concert to produce phenomena governed by the collective.”…. “ (Technium Unbound)

I feel that is self sufficient, but there is a few points that I think deserve emphasis. Collective agents and superorganisms is in many ways what I have been talking about all through this piece. In many ways I consider ecosystems, cities, civilizations, and the planet as a whole as a kind of superorganism.

The technological numbers keep powering up and connecting with each other. Their aggregate is becoming formidable, rich with emergent behavior, and yet it is still so new to us that it remains unnamed and scarcely considered.” (Technium Unbound)

This is what I was talking about in my last section; how quickly things are “coming online.” Our smart technologies are getting smarter all the time, we are networking and connecting to the world around us in ways we never have before. We are already tackling questions about the nature and limits of Artificial Intellegences, and whether or not the machines are going to kill us all…

Okay, that last bit might be a little hyperbolic.

All the same, Kline is on point if you ask me. These kind of connections are rich in emergences. But this is all new territory for us as a species, so there are still plenty of questions to ask.

It reminds me of this scene from the recent I, Robot movie.

Or this from the video game franchise Mass Effect.

(Legion, from Mass Effect)

Which brings us back to Kline’s quote;

The Technium may best be considered a new organism with which we are symbiotic, as we are symbiotic with the aggregate of Earth’s life, sometimes called “Gaia.”… They are not replacing each other but building on each other, and the meta-organism of their combining is so far nameless. Kelly shrugged, “Call it ‘Holos.’ “ (Technium Unbound)

It is really strange to think about all this in those kind of terms. When you consider the whole of the planet from a holistic view it includes the human, the natural, and the technological. It reinforces the idea that our role on the planet is related and intergrated into everything else around us. At no point are we divorced from that.

It really makes me wonder what that cybernetic Gaia, this meta-organic Holos might look like…

Maybe my particular form of animism gives me some tool in which to explore that question.

Thanks for reading! (I know it was a long one!)


Additional Resources;

The Digital-Industrial Revolution (TED Radio Hour)– Covers a lot of topics that I discussed here. Machine intelligence, AI, automation, human-machine interaction.

Hard Wired (TED Radio Hour)This covers some really cool topics, and the segment with Moshe Syzf is really relevant to the topics here.

Start with the Animals and the World will Appear, By LupaA great article by Lupa, exploring some of the more systemic aspects to her own practice. Also a great example of how to look at “all this” in a much more holistic and systemic way.

Agential Realism – A theory by Karren Barrad; deserves a knowing hat tip here. This piece was already too long to include this.