Category : Blog

Leonardo, study Gandhi

By Prof Giles Jackson

In his book Excursions, Michael Jackson (the cultural anthropologist, not the late pop star) tells a beguiling tale about the Kuku Yalanji, a 50,000 year-old aboriginal tribe I encountered many years ago during my own far-flung excursion into the Daintree, the world’s oldest tropical rainforest. The story begins with the approach of the first thunderstorm of the rainy season, “when the sky turned indigo”. Tribesmen tracked the course of the storm, discussing where it had come from and where it was heading, identifying its sounds (kubun-kubun), observing its effect on the foliage and comparing it to storms of the past. The storm’s character was analysed in much the same way that people analyse strangers — trying to read their intentions, second-guess their motives, identify their mood.

Various members of the tribe then made forays into the bush in search of wild grape vines (kangka), ironwood bark (jujubala) and grass tree (nganjirr), knotted hanks of which were piled high and set ablaze outside their camp. As the smoke spread across the clearing, Jackson assumed it was meant to repel mosquitos, but he was mistaken. The storm would, he was told, smell the smoke, change direction and wreak havoc elsewhere.

Ironically it’s the fires burning in our own power plants, trains, planes and automobiles that are changing the earth’s climate, the effects of which are not fully known. Still, one thing seems certain: in the next 50,000 years of their existence the Kuku Yalanji will be making bigger fires, more often.

In her book Animate Planet, Kath Weston, a professor of anthropology at the University of Virginia who also happens to be my next-door neighbour, proposes a new form of animism. Hers is not so much one in which the elements are sentient, but one in which we relearn our fragile interconnection with life-forms around us as one animate community. This is ultimately a matter of life or death, because whether we know it or not, our environment is remaking us as much as we’re remaking it. Take the example of antibiotics in the food chain: by 2050 the global cost of antimicrobial resistance will be as much as $100 trillion and will account for 10 million deaths a year — more people than currently die from cancer.

Kath calls for a new kind of intimacy, an acknowledgement of our mutual intimacy with the animate world, along with a rethinking of our use of technologies old and new to protect and promote life, and a revitalisation of community and grass-roots action. In one poignant example, she describes how Japanese citizen-scientists bought Geiger counters after the explosions at Fukushima to monitor radiation levels, posting their data online. This empowered people to petition for decontamination and make informed decisions about where to live.

We are proud to be part of this global effort to revitalise community and grass roots action. Our work involves applying social and natural science in creative ways to advance progressive social causes. Our medium is textiles, whose latent power remains largely untapped.

The documentary Before the Flood is a good case in point. It was not the producer’s intent, but what impressed me most was the complete lack of imagination when it came to Leonardo DiCaprio’s wardrobe, which is more or less indistinguishable from that of any self-respecting climate change denier. We photoshopped in Scott Pruitt’s head to prove the point.

The film includes an except from his epic speech to the UN, delivered in the same nondescript suit.Our planet cannot be saved unless we leave fossil fuels in the ground where they belong”, he said. “An upheaval and massive change is required, now. One that leads to a new collective consciousness. A new collective evolution of the human race, inspired and enabled by a sense of urgency from all of you”. However the medium, to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, was not the message. The disconnect is palpable.

Gandhi must be rolling in his grave. How could a major Hollywood actor, of all people, have overlooked the importance of dressing with conviction? “We hanker after symbolism” acknowledged Gandhi, and the display of his aesthetic lifestyle, including his wearing of the loincloth, were imbued with symbolic meanings intelligible within his culture. Crucially, while many of his contemporaries also dedicated themselves to liberating the downtrodden, none of them expressed their political strategy through the body the way Gandhi did. He understood the basic principle that outward action reflects inner action.

Prof Jane Bennett’s work is fascinating for this reason. The editor of Political Theory, Bennett calls for a greater attentiveness to the active power of things, including what we put on in the morning. The aim of her book Vibrant Matter is to rethink our habit of “parsing the world into dull matter (it, things) and vibrant life (us, beings)” and embrace the “vitality of matter”. Clothes, from this point of view, are active participants in a political ecology in which “human and nonhuman bodies recorporealize in response to each other; both exercise formative power and both offer themselves as matter to be acted on”.

Too often this power merely keeps us in a kind of stasis, as the artist Roger Hiorns has said. But all it takes is a tweak – say a Keeling tartan tie for Leonardo – to break from business-as-usual. Time to call his stylist.

The writer is co-founder of Liberation Kilt Co.

It’s the science, stupid!

By Daphne Vlastari

“Global warming is a hoax invented by the Chinese” – what an incredulous statement. But President Trump is not alone in making those assertions. Boris Johnson, the UK Foreign Secretary, has repeatedly challenged climate change because it snowed or because “there is no evidence supporting it”. In quintessentially Boris style, he also claimed he was not “disput[ing] the wisdom or good intentions of the vast majority of scientists”. But guess what? Scientists are annoyed. And rightly so. We should all be. This is our planet we’re talking about.

Science has been the only reliable vehicle through which we have been able to make sense of the world we live in and to make important technological advancements for the benefit of humanity. To suggest, without proof or facts, that scientific conclusions that have been accepted by the majority of the scientific community, have stood the test of time and are being corroborated on a daily basis are a “hoax” is very dangerous. Such assertions seek to dismantle the basis on which critical decisions for the future of our planet need to be made.

To put it bluntly: we are reaching dangerous levels of climate change as the 202 countries that signed the 2015 Paris Agreement have acknowledged. Decisive action to reduce our emissions and keep temperature changes to below 2 degrees Celsius (over pre-industrial levels) needs to be taken right now. We will need to make big changes to transition to a low carbon and sustainable future, but it is a one-way road; there are no short-cuts or alternatives. So, if at this critical juncture, we embrace populist theories that climate change is not real or that it will not affect “us”, then we are condemning future generations.

This is why today, Liberation Kilt is joining scientists and many others in celebrating Earth Day and marching for science. Science rallies are being organised all over the world from Washington DC to Edinburgh, from Norway to Italy, from India to New Zealand and from Nigeria to Iraq.

But this is not enough. We need to find new and enduring ways for people to show that they care. And since our sense of fashion is one of the most intimate and personal forms of self-expression, we’re leveraging this springboard to inspire people to talk and act on climate change every day, not just on protest days.

Nearing completion, Liberation Kilt’s exciting range of climate change prints aims to do exactly this. The range consists of several ‘capsule collections’, each with a unique style and focus.

One collection celebrates the work of climate scientists — today’s unsung heroes — through the art of collage. David Hockney called collage “a great, profound invention of the 20th century” and we’re bringing it into the 21st century with our focus on contemporary issues such as climate change. The final prints will be ready for autumn, meanwhile we’re sharing a few elements. Here, for example, is climate scientist Dave Moss using a special flask to collect air samples on Christmas Island:

Note: based on a photo courtesy of Ralph Keeling of the SCRIPPS Institute of Oceanography

Other elements include stylised climate charts (inspired by the work of the artist Judy Watson), artifacts from the climate scientist Charles David Keeling, the American Avocet (an endangered shorebird whose wetland habitat is under threat from climate change), the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii (where Charles David Keeling collected much of his data), and even the chemical symbol for carbon dioxide.

Another of our capsule collections took its inspiration from an altogether different source: propaganda textiles of the nascent Soviet Union. The seed for this project was planted a couple of years ago during a conversation between Liberation Kilt and Samantha Giordano, founder of the NYC label Dolores Haze. Hearing our plans for a print collection, she recalled how the Bolsheviks harnessed every working loom to bring the revolution to the masses — the goal being to transform a backward, agrarian country into a modern, fossil-fuel powered industrialized state using thematic textiles.

The respected art historian Aleksei Federov-Davydov said at the time that fabrics were “ideological goods” that could reach the farthest corners of the Soviet Union and therefore could have an enormous impact, and before long, people were hanging cogs, smokestacks, trains, planes and dams out to dry.

A hundred years on, the times call for a different kind of revolution — no less than a fundamental change in the energy basis of civilisation. It’s not propellers that are called for, but wind turbines!

By literally dressing ourselves and our surroundings in beautiful and modern fabrics that symbolise climate change, we can help bring the issue out of the theoretical sphere and weave it into the fabric of everyday life.

For more information about our climate change print collection, email us at press@liberationkilt.com

Small thinking, big consequences

by Giles Jackson

Bob Legvold, the veteran Columbia University Russianist, told the FT he’s never felt so alarmed about the future. We are living through “a crisis of small thinking” and “global irresponsibility”. The world faces the highest risk of use of nuclear weapons than at any time since the cold war.

“Twenty-five years after the Soviet collapse, the world is entering a new nuclear age. Nuclear strategy has become a cockpit of rogue regimes and regional foes jostling with the five original nuclear-weapons powers (America, Britain, France, China and Russia), whose own dealings are infected by suspicion and rivalry” ~ The Economist

“It’s just unbelievable how much energy’s released”, says Greg Spriggs, a weapon physicist on a mission to hunt down thousands of decomposing films capturing nuclear tests at 2,400 frames per second. “We hope that we would never have to use a nuclear weapon ever again. I think that if we capture the history of this and show what the force of these weapons are and how much devastation they can wreak, then maybe people will be reluctant to use them”. Just how devastating? Little Boy, which flattened Hiroshima, was 15,000 kilotons. Russia’s Tsar Bomba, whose 1961 test shattered windows in Finland, was over 50,000 kilotons. Russia’s new RS-28 Sarmat thermonuclear missile ups the ante. They claim it can wipe out an area the size of Texas or France.

Albert Wohlstetter, an American nuclear strategist, wrote that, “We must contemplate some extremely unpleasant possibilities, just because we want to avoid them”. But what’s missing from the narrative is the survivor’s voice. This is chillingly conveyed in And the River Flowed as a Raft of Corpses, a collection of poetry by the late Yamaguchi Tsutomu, survivor of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.

On the morning of August 6 1945 Yamaguchi was walking alone in a field when he heard the sound of B-29s and looked up at the sky. As told by his translator, Chad Diehl, “he saw something fall from the planes and a few seconds later there was an immense white flash, followed by a roaring and thunderous blast that blew him back and knocked him unconscious. He recalled years later that at that moment he saw his wife and son appear before his eyes like images on a movie reel”.

Awakened by the excruciating pain from burns on his face and left arm, he looked up at a massive column of smoke.  He made his way through the irradiated wasteland that was Hiroshima, stumbling on a corpse whose legs had been burned to the bone and its torso ripped open. In a cruel twist of fate, he survived the first blast only to relive the horror three days later. Yamaguchi turned to poetry as a way of coping with the double trauma.

The stories of the 165 nijyuu hibakusha, or doubly atomic bombed, were absent from the narrative about the World War II bombings until Inazuka Hidetaka produced the documentary film Twice Bombed, Twice Survived in 2008. Alarmed at the growing nuclear threat, I set about designing our anti-nuclear tartan, which transforms the conventional nuclear hazard sign into a radiant symbol of hope.

The inspiration for this design was the peace memorial ceremonies held every August in Japan and around the world, when lanterns bearing messages of peace are floated to commemorate those who perished in the attacks.

Yamaguchi cushions in multiple colours

Inazuka Hidetaka put us in touch with Toshiko Yamaguchi, who kindly granted us permission to name the tartan in honour of her father. Yamaguchi’s dying wish was for a nuclear-free future. If this seems impossible, try ridding the world of small thinking.

The writer is co-founder of Liberation Kilt Company

Fighting the good fight

By Miriam Rune

Today marks the ninth anniversary of the launch of the United Nations International Blue Heart Campaign Against Human Trafficking, of which Liberation Kilt Co has been a private partner since 2015. An awareness-raising initiative from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Blue Heart campaign seeks to fight human trafficking and support victims of what has become the fastest growing international crime.

The Blue Heart represents “the sadness of those trafficked while reminding us of the cold-heartedness of those who buy and sell fellow human beings”. Use of the UN blue colour demonstrates the UN’s commitment to combatting this crime against human dignity. By wearing the Blue Heart, everyone can show solidarity with the victims of human trafficking and raise awareness of the cause. The Blue Heart Campaign website details how to ‘wear’ the Blue Heart and show your support.

Human trafficking is a shameful crime that robs people of their dignity, their human rights and their future. Despite growing awareness, human trafficking is the globe’s fastest growing organised crime and the second largest source of illegal income worldwide, exceeded only by drugs trafficking. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that the human trafficking industry is worth approximately $150 billion. According to the charity Stop the Traffik, 600,000 – 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year.

The UK is one of the most prominent destination countries for people to be trafficked into Europe. This is a global problem that requires vigilance and action to put an end to the exploitation of at least 20.9 million people. Stop the Traffik offers advice on spotting the signs of human trafficking, as well as suggestions for how to take action against human trafficking.

Liberation Kilt Co’s contribution to the cause is the Blueheart tartan, official tartan of the UN campaign. Woven in Scotland, the Blueheart symbolises the collective heartbeat of trafficking victims, the black lines on the tartan intersecting to form a cage.

Earlier this year, the first products featuring the Blueheart tartan went on sale, offering people alternative ways to show their support for the campaign. Ethical pet clothing designers Lulu & Robbie launched their first range of stylish dog jackets that put animal welfare first.

Twenty per cent of the net profits from the sale of Blueheart fabric goes to the UN Voluntary Trust Fund supporting NGOs helping trafficking victims and fighting traffickers in the courts. Liberation Kilt Company is in talks with brands interested in incorporating the tartan into their product lines.

Meanwhile under the direction of Juliana Sissons, fashion designer-in-residence at the Victoria & Albert Museum, students at Manchester School of Art and the University of Brighton are to design an eclectic range of printed, woven and knitted textiles to complement the Blueheart tartan. Their final collections will be presented in May to a panel of judges including Liberation Kilt Co and the Ethical Fashion Forum.

University of Brighton students designing anti-trafficking textiles, spring 2016

A graduate of the University of St. Andrews, the writer is a Glasgow-based arts publicist

Hearts united, minds opposed

by Giles Jackson

“The future is a race between education and disaster”, HG Wells rightly said. With disaster clearly having the upper hand, the question is what can be done. Part of the problem lies with the modern university, which having lost sight of its origins, also lost something vital. We at Liberation Kilt Co intend to do something about it — with or without the blessing of the powers that be!

Progress often unfolds in a mysterious double movement. That is, before we can take a meaningful step forward, we must look to the past for “survival knowledge”. As Mark Twain said, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.

The seeds for the university were planted a thousand years ago, when Paris was the intellectual centre of Europe. In those days, students could either enroll in the Archbishop’s school to become a member of the worldly clergy, or in one of the monasteries on the other side of the River Seine and join a monastic order. The point is that schools symbolically located on either side of the river subscribed to different ideas and drew from different traditions.

Enter Peter Abelard, the intellectual jouster best known for his romantic entanglement with a student, Heloise (for which he was castrated, poor fellow). Unlike his contemporaries, Abelard refused to listen to any single church authority, arguing that the whole of the past should be represented with all of its contradictions. He met with great resistance. In The Story of My Misfortunes he wrote:

“I came at length to Paris, where above all in those days the art of dialectics was most flourishing, and there did I meet William of Champeaux, my teacher, a man most distinguished in his science both by his renown and by his true merit. With him I remained for some time, at first indeed well liked of him; but later I brought him great grief, because I undertook to refute certain of his opinions, not infrequently attacking him in disputation, and now and then in these debates I was adjudged victor. Now this, to those among my fellow students who were ranked foremost, seemed all the more insufferable because of my youth and the brief duration of my studies”.

Chased out of the Archbishop’s school, our hero attracted thousands of students to his freelance lectures. In his absence two principal charges were brought against him: first, that it was contrary to the monastic profession to be concerned with the study of secular books; and, second, that he was ill-qualified to teach theology. They stirred up whatever dignitaries of the church they could find to bolster their case, until finally the king of France himself banned Abelard from teaching “anywhere in the land”. Legend has it that Abelard took to the boughs of an obliging tree, and when the king forbade him from “teaching in the air”, he took to a boat on the Seine. The more his adversaries pursued him, the more his reputation spread — eventually landing him back in the very school that kicked him out (this time as a teacher).

Abelard’s brilliant treatise Sic et Non (For and Against), a compilation of 158 philosophical and theological questions on which there were divided opinions, demonstrated that things were not as clear-cut as everyone thought — both sides could be right at the same time. Rather than attempt to harmonise these apparently inconsistent positions, Abelard laid down rules for their proper investigation: look for ambiguity, check the surrounding context, draw relevant distinctions, and so forth.

While he paid a heavy price for his exploits (including, being forced to burn his book Theologia, accused of treason and found guilty of heresy), his spirit lived on and expressed itself institutionally in the form of the “university”, a new and dynamic place where on any given subject, opposite truths were taught at the same time and place.

In the university, teachers would duke it out right in front of their students — often over questions submitted in advance. What was tacitly understood is that everyone is a shareholder in the truth, which is only grasped in fragments. “Hearts united, minds opposed” might have been their credo. William Blake’s “I shall not cease from mental fight” captures the spirit perfectly.

This acceptance of the paradoxical nature of truth was revolutionary because it prevented the enslavement of the mind to one school of thought. It created an opening, an opportunity for students to reject what is known (“either-or”) and beat their own path by declaring “Neither, nor!”

In this context the modern university is unrecognisable. In lieu of mental fights we have mental breakdowns. Debates are rare, extracurricular affairs, which is a great shame given the myriad of benefits they confer, most obviously the cultivation of advocacy, empathy and other traits vital to any functioning democracy. Less obvious is the debilitating effect the absence of systematic debate has on the health of society at large.

Everywhere we look, factions are convinced they’re wholly right, denying a grain of truth in opposing arguments. The result is distortion of truth by both sides – “hearts divided, minds opposed”. A big lesson of the 20th century is that we are naturally so tyrannical, so absolutist in our thinking that mind must be opposed by mind.

In an ideal world, our institutions of higher learning would re-found themselves on this higher logic. Only they won’t, so our plan is to sponsor pop-up debates pitting professors, students and experts against one another. Granted, it won’t be as exciting as watching Red Bull daredevils fly over volcanoes in spandex wingsuits. Although when kilts are involved, anything can happen.

The writer is a professor and co-founded Liberation Kilt Co. 

Piracy as Policy

By Giles Jackson

Everyone knows that a pirate is someone who robs at sea without having a commission from any sovereign nation. But in the olden days, says Ben Zimmer, it was not always clear who was a renegade and who was an agent of a sovereign power. In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night the duke Orsino accuses Antonio, a naval officer with a mysterious past, of being a “notable pirate”. He rebukes the charge, claiming he was a legitimate enemy of Orsino’s fleet. One man’s pirate was another man’s noble sea captain.

Somalia proves that in fact, nothing has changed. Mohamed Abshir Waldo, the author of “The Two Piracies in Somalia: Why the World Ignores the Other?” told DemocracyNow! that Somali fishermen resorted to piracy after years of renegade actions by government-sanctioned foreign vessels: “When the marine resource of Somalia was pillaged, when the waters were poisoned, when the fish was stolen, and in a poverty situation in the whole country, the fishermen felt that they had no other possibilities or other recourse but to fight with, you know, the properties and the shipping of the same countries that have been doing and carrying on the fishing piracy and toxic dumping”. One man’s noble sea captain is another man’s pirate.

Ostensibly on a mission to end world poverty, The World Bank quietly condones such practices. In an extraordinary memo to colleagues, Lawrence Summers (then chief economist and vice president) wrote: “Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the less developed countries?” While Summers made his case in economic terms, the impulse is no different from that used to justify slavery, argued Basil Egwegbara in MIT’s oldest newspaper. The German philosopher Georg Hegel implored his contemporaries to “lay aside all thought of reverence and morality — all that we call feeling”.

“There is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft… When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness” ~ The Kite Runner, 2007

When you make Africa the dumping ground for toxic waste generated in the West, you steal Africans’ right to health and life — in clear violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 1 states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”. Article 25 states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family …”

All around us liberal democracies are turning into plebiscitary dictatorships. With this shift, piracy is moving out of the shadows and becoming policy. Every time that Trump, Putin, Erdogan, Sisi et al tell a big lie, they steal our right to the truth. “For them, life is war”, explained Martin Wolf. “In war, they can justify anything”. The biggest role in protecting the truth, and therefore democracy itself, now falls to us. This calls for a new kind of piracy.

Piracy reimagined

The root of pirate is peira (pronounced pi’rah), which means attempt, in the sense of choosing a perilous path. “Piracy is the attempt to assert oneself in the absence of the authorities”, wrote the late Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, a professor of social philosophy at Dartmouth College. In this context, to be a pirate means to be a free originator in service of the planet. It means to inhabit that last unregulated space beyond the reach of the raving nations.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May said: “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere”. But as Gillian Tett points out, our ideas about identity are imaginary, not immutable. Indeed, the concept of nationality only emerged in the 19th century.  The fact is that people today have multiple identities and habitually shift between “levels” (family, religious, linguistic, class, professional, and so forth) depending on the situation. Our current situation calls for a new level above and beyond “world citizen”. This is the realm of the pirate, who gladly accepts the curse of supposedly belonging nowhere, where at least you can breathe.

“It struck me that perhaps a lot of the people you see walking about are dead. We say that a man’s dead when his heart stops and not before. It seems a bit arbitrary. After all, parts of your body don’t stop working – hair goes on growing for years, for instance. Perhaps a man really dies when his brain stops, when he loses the power to take in a new idea” ~ George Orwell, Coming up for Air

How does one become a pirate? Not by committing a crime, but by “being refused recognition, for good or for ill” says Prof Rosenstock-Huessy. The pirate renounces all status symbols, because they serve the wrong purpose. To hell with your gold faucets Mr Trump! We’ll grab the planet back!

The author is co-founder of Liberation Kilt Co. 

Welcome to Exxon Provence

By Prof Giles Jackson

Things were looking up for a while. Earlier this year, none other than the Rockefeller Family Fund announced that it would divest its holdings in fossil fuel companies, starting with ExxonMobil — the descendant of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company — because of its “morally reprehensible conduct”. Specifically:

“Evidence appears to suggest that the company worked since the 1980s to confuse the public about climate change’s march, while simultaneously spending millions to fortify its own infrastructure against climate change’s destructive consequences and track new exploration opportunities as the Arctic’s ice receded. Appropriate authorities will determine if the company violated any laws, but as a matter of good governance, we cannot be associated with a company exhibiting such apparent contempt for the public interest” ~ Rockefeller Family Fund

As reported by the LA Times, in 1990 a dissident shareholder petitioned the board of Exxon, imploring it to develop a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from its production plants and facilities. The company rejected the petition on the grounds that the science of global warming was too murky to warrant action, yet was already several years into a study of the positive and negative effects that a warming Arctic would have on oil operations.

In 2007 the Union of Concerned Scientists published the report Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco’s Tactics to “Manufacture Uncertainty” on Climate Change which details how the company funneled nearly $16 million between 1998 and 2005 to a network of 43 advocacy organizations that sought to confuse the public about the scientific consensus that its own scientists had confirmed, while using its access to the Bush administration to block federal policies and shape government communications on global warming.

They were merely following in the founder’s footsteps. The Standard Oil Company’s underhand tactics included organising a network of spies to learn about competitors with the sole purpose of undercutting them. Today, however, the implications of Exxon’s actions are more far reaching because of the immense damage to life on this planet.

This really hit home for me last year while reading environmental management at Harvard. Studying the degradation of the world’s 112 coral reef systems, I zeroed in on coastal pollution, which affects 92 percent of reefs for the simple reason that 90 per cent of all wastewater in developing countries is discharged untreated into rivers and oceans.  However I gradually came to realise the futility of examining local factors in isolation.

Mounting evidence suggests that local wastewater reef stressors — including foreign freshwater, inorganic nutrients, pathogens, endocrine disrupters, suspended solids, sediments, heavy metals, and other toxins — interact with key global stressors (ocean warming and acidification) to decrease coral growth and reproduction in synergistic ways. For example, warming seas are hypothesised to increase the susceptibility of coral to disease through temperature stress and increasing the virulence of pathogens.

I once went diving off Hastings Reef, the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef some 30 nautical miles from Cairns, where deep ocean swells meet great, vibrant cliffs of coral, teeming with life. At least they were teaming with life twenty-five years ago. Now, two-thirds of corals in one part of the reef have died, and even the remotest areas aren’t immune. It’s not death by slow starvation either, but sudden death by literally cooking. “The pace of global warming is now so rapid that it’s probably too late to save the Great Barrier Reef,” says John “Charlie” Veron, a leading authority on coral reefs who has clocked up 6,000 hours underwater.

As reported in the FT, according to a report published by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the world is experiencing the “longest and most widespread coral-bleaching event on record”, with more than 70 per cent of reefs exposed to temperatures that cause bleaching. Bleaching has occurred in the past in El Niño years, when sea temperatures rise, but with the oceans warming it could now happen every year, crucially leaving coral reefs no time to recuperate. Coral reefs won’t be the only things affected, warns Veron. The death of many of the world’s coral species would have a devastating impact on humanity, given that reef systems support almost a third of marine life. Climate change could precipitate a “mass extinction” on earth, an event which last occurred 65 million years ago.

“Humans and corals do very similar things. We both create very sophisticated ecosystems that enable us to live on this planet. But corals grow on the interface between the land, sea and atmosphere, they grow where very few other things can grow. It’s a fragile world” ~ John Veron

Into this fragile world stomps Donald Trump, armed to the teeth with Exxon chief Rex Tillerson, his Secretary of State and former president of Boy Scouts of America, believe it or not.  According to Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmental campaigner, this “completes the takeover of our democracy by Big Oil, Wall Street and the Far Right”. A world in desperate need of statesmanship is about to get its very opposite: snake oil politicians that either won’t listen, or know the truth and do absolutely nothing about it.

What can the fractured environmental movement possibly achieve in face of this mass extinction event (i.e. the death of common sense)? This question crossed my mind a few days ago, as I read the latest email from the good folks at 350.org…

Hey Giles, Did you see this? We’re mounting a campaign to stop Trump and his climate denier cabinet (including ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State, and fossil fuel industry ally Rick Perry for Secretary of Energy). To do it, we need to make sure the global climate movement is strong enough to be a real bulwark against anti-climate governments like Trump’s. Can you chip in $15 to help make it all happen? Thanks again, Jenny

Sorry Jenny, but the usual protest tactics won’t cut it. Either we rethink our strategy, or ‘350’ (their parts-per-million target for atmospheric carbon dioxide) will increasingly seem like a pipe dream — if not tragically funny.

The author is founder of Liberation Kilt Co. 


Are we really so special?

by Giles Jackson

“Are we open-minded enough to assume that other species have a mental life? Can we tease apart the roles of attention, motivation and cognition?” asks the ethologist Frans de Waal in his book Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?

Unsurprisingly, the natural science community has already made the leap. Released in 2012, the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness formally acknowledges that mammals, birds, cephalopods and many other non-human animals are conscious beings.

We declare the following: “The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates” ~ Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness

The implication is that it’s not enough merely to treat other species merely with moral consideration. We must stop measuring them in purely human terms.

The first step is to remove the artificial barriers separating humans and other species. Instead of animal cognition, de Waal suggests “evolutionary cognition”, which acknowledges the existence of sophisticated non-human intelligence.

The ambon damselfish is a case in point. This fish is able to discriminate between other seemingly identical fish by reading their unique ultraviolet markings in the same way we recognise others by their unique facial features. These unique UV masks provide a secret way of establishing identity at close range in a way that’s invisible to any fish more than a few body lengths away, including watching predators. Animal minds are far more intricate and complex than we have assumed, says de Waal.

Another way to remove the barriers separating us from other animal species, he says, is to learn to think more like them and thus better understand their needs.

“When you acknowledge that consciousness — and friendship, or parenthood, territorial grabs, or falling in love — are not solely human activities, the implications are enormous for the way humans plan their cities, run their industries and their governments” ~ Nilanjana Roy

The pet care industry is not exactly known for putting animal welfare first. But this is about to change now that UK brand Lulu & Robbie has entered the fray. Drawing upon the expertise of practicing veterinarians, they’ve thought deeply about the needs of canine companions like my very own ‘J.J.’. Since she does not perspire, for example, J.J. requires natural clothing that breathes. Moreover, since she hears four times better than we do, jackets that crinkle when they move are wholly unsuitable.

We are proud suppliers of tartan fabric to Lulu & Robbie, whose collection of high quality, natural, stylish and socially conscious clothing launches in the New Year.

J.J. may not grasp the anti-trafficking symbolism of the Blueheart tartan, but if she were able, I know she’d support this cause with every ounce of her being. As James Herriot said in All Creatures Great and Small, “If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans”.

The writer is cofounder of Liberation Kilt Co. 

Surviving Trump 101

by Giles Jackson

Should we give Trump the benefit of the doubt, as Obama is asking us to do? Absolutely not! That would violate Rule #1 for surviving an autocracy says Masha Gessen, who grew up in Putin’s Russia.

Rule #1: Believe the autocrat. “Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization”, says Ms. Gessen. “This will happen often: humans seem to have evolved to practice denial when confronted publicly with the unacceptable. Back in the 1930s, The New York Times assured its readers that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was all posture”.

Clinton’s way of dealing with the unacceptable was to say: “Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead”.  This, says Ms. Gessen, is what she should have said:

“Thank you, my friends. Thank you. Thank you. We have lost. We have lost, and this is the last day of my political career, so I will say what must be said. We are standing at the edge of the abyss. Our political system, our society, our country itself are in greater danger than at any time in the last century and a half. The president-elect has made his intentions clear, and it would be immoral to pretend otherwise. We must band together right now to defend the laws, the institutions, and the ideals on which our country is based”.

Obama also acquiesced, saying that the “presumption of good faith is essential to a vibrant and functioning democracy”. Many other democrats have followed suit. Motivated by blind party loyalty and personal ambition, they have turned what was a Republican cave-in into a government-wide cave-in…to a demagogue who ran his entire campaign in bad faith. “There is no reason to expect the president to differ from the candidate”, warned the Financial Times. Remember, we’re talking about a candidate who claimed his father helped assassinate John F. Kennedy.

Rule #2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality. Gessen: “Panic can be neutralized by falsely reassuring words about how the world as we know it has not ended. It is a fact that the world did not end on November 8 nor at any previous time in history. Yet history has seen many catastrophes, and most of them unfolded over time”.

Perhaps the greatest slowly-unfolding catastrophe of the modern era is what the legal scholar Harold Berman called “the massive loss of confidence in the West itself, as a civilization, a community, and in the legal tradition which for nine centuries has helped to sustain it” (Law and Revolution 1983). The incoming autocracy may mark the final phase in the breakdown of the Western legal tradition that’s been a century in the making. In the next four years, ‘public policy’ will be identical with the will of those in control. It will appeal to the norms of the Western legal tradition, while quietly undermining them at every turn.

“Mr Trump has promised to “make America great again”. But his ascension to the presidency is actually a terrible sign of national decadence and decline” ~ Gideon Rachman

Rule #3: Institutions will not save you. Gessen: “It took Putin a year to take over the Russian media and four years to dismantle its electoral system; the judiciary collapsed unnoticed. The capture of institutions in Turkey has been carried out even faster, by a man once celebrated as the democrat to lead Turkey into the EU. Poland has in less than a year undone half of a quarter century’s accomplishments in building a constitutional democracy”.

While acknowledging that the United States has much stronger institutions than Germany did in the 1930s, or Russia does today, Ms. Gessen points out that many of these institutions are enshrined in political culture rather than in law, and they all depend on the good faith of all actors to fulfill their purpose and uphold the Constitution. Don’t count on it, says Simon Schama:

“Now that Republicans control the White House and both houses of Congress, Mr Trump will have a free hand to repeal the Affordable Care Act (depriving millions of Americans of insurance), fashion a Supreme Court to overthrow the Roe v Wade ruling on abortion, repudiate the Paris climate change accord, abandon the Iran nuclear agreement and get rid of the Dodd-Frank bank regulation designed to prevent a repeat of the conduct that brought on the Great Recession.

“It is said that Mr Trump’s slash-and-burn instincts will be moderated by experienced counsellors — they won’t. He did it His Way and the doubters and fence-sitters will all be replaced by dependable sycophants. Knowing that his appeal to the voters was all about big-boy attitude, Mr Trump will make this a presidency of ‘I Alone Can Fix It'”.

Trump has shown nothing but contempt for US law and institutions. There are six dozen lawsuits against Mr Trump and his businesses as he begins his transition to the Oval Office. A USA Today analysis found that over the last three decades, he has been embroiled in more than 4,000 lawsuits on a wide range of interests. The rest of the world should worry too:

“[Mr Trump] appears to have even more contempt for international bodies than for the institutions of America itself. His proposed policies threaten to take an axe to the liberal world order that the US has supported and sustained for many decades. In particular, he has challenged two of the main bipartisan principles that underpin America’s approach to the world. The first is support for an open, international trading system. The second is the commitment to the US-led alliances that underpin global security” ~ Gideon Rachman

Ms. Gessen says the national press is likely to be among the first institutional victims of Trumpism:

“There is no law that requires the presidential administration to hold daily briefings, none that guarantees media access to the White House. Many journalists may soon face a dilemma long familiar to those of us who have worked under autocracies: fall in line or forfeit access. There is no good solution (even if there is a right answer), for journalism is difficult and sometimes impossible without access to information”.

Russia’s Law 121-FZ may be a harbinger of things to come. Commonly known as the Law on Foreign Agents, 121-FZ was passed by the Ministry of Justice in 2012 to discredit and systematically persecute independent civil activism in Russia. According to PEN International (for whom we designed the Havel tartan protesting the persecution of writers of conscience), “it has caused significant damage to public life in Russia and, as a result, nullified the opportunity to engage in meaningful civic activism guaranteed to our fellow citizens by the Constitution of the Russian Federation. The law’s potential for harm is due in large part to the vagueness and ambiguity of its provisions describing key terms such as “political activity” and “foreign funding””.

Rule #4: Be outraged. Gessen: “If you follow Rule #1 and believe what the autocrat-elect is saying, you will not be surprised. But in the face of the impulse to normalize, it is essential to maintain one’s capacity for shock. This will lead people to call you unreasonable and hysterical, and to accuse you of overreacting. It is no fun to be the only hysterical person in the room. Prepare yourself”.

Here are a couple of ways to maintain your capacity for shock:

First compare Trump’s worldview with that of notable predecessors.  The magnanimous John F. Kennedy said: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty”, whereas the benighted Donald Trump said: “My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people and American security first”. The contrast could not be starker.

Second take note of how foreign autocrats are exploiting America’s folly for their own pernicious ends. “Have you seen the campaign of the two US candidates? Have you heard the facts they talked about? They revealed the US, they told a lot more than what I said in the past,” boasted Ayatalloh Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader. “Human values are destroyed in that country”.

Trump’s ideal, says Ms. Gessen, is the totalitarian-level popularity numbers of Vladimir Putin, and the way to achieve that is by waging wars, both abroad and at home.

“There’s nobody bigger or better at the military than I am” ~ Donald Trump

Rule #5: Don’t make compromises. Gessen: “In an autocracy, politics as the art of the possible is in fact utterly amoral. Those who argue for cooperation will make the case, much as President Obama did in his speech, that cooperation is essential for the future. They will be willfully ignoring the corrupting touch of autocracy, from which the future must be protected”.

“Many are saying that the great democratic experiment of America — even of the west — has come crashing to an end. It certainly feels that way. It feels like the death knell for justice, inclusion, tolerance and peace. It will certainly work to undermine these values. And so we must all put our shoulders to their foundations, and help shore them up; they are bigger than we are, but they won’t stand without us. History tells us we have seen such challenges before. They must not be underestimated. They will test our character, and right now our collective character is failing. This was an election carried largely on spite, which is no basis for a system of governance. Too many of our reactions have become infantile, and the leader America just chose exemplifies the worst of that infantilism: howling selfishness, preening narcissism, depthless ignorance.

So first we must grow up. And the most important lesson that America must teach itself again is that tolerance, progress, compassion, equality, security, even the common bloody decency that has been trampled in the gutter during this filthy election campaign, are not trophies we win. We used to speak of the commonweal, common wellbeing, rather than the commonwealth. Any attempt to build a commonweal, a greater good rather than merely greater wealth, is a constant process, and it comes only from a willingness of the heart. It seems we are doomed to keep learning that the hard way” ~ Sarah Churchwell, University of London

Rule #6: Remember the future. Gessen: “Nothing lasts forever. Donald Trump certainly will not, and Trumpism, to the extent that it is centered on Trump’s persona, will not either. Failure to imagine the future may have lost the Democrats this election. They offered no vision of the future to counterbalance Trump’s all-too-familiar white-populist vision of an imaginary past. They had also long ignored the strange and outdated institutions of American democracy that call out for reform—like the electoral college, which has now cost the Democratic Party two elections in which Republicans won with the minority of the popular vote. That should not be normal. But resistance—stubborn, uncompromising, outraged—should be”.

“When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny” ~ Thomas Jefferson

We’ll forgive Ms. Gessen for omitting what just may be the most important rule of all:

Rule #7: Dress appropriately. The historians all missed it, but autocracy spread like wildfire following the invention of trousers, when we lost the sense of our being unquestionably born free. Fortunately there’s a way to reclaim it: Strap on a kilt.

The writer is cofounder of Liberation Kilt Co. 

The secret to a bigger life?

by Giles Jackson

In A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life, movie producer Brian Grazer shows through personal experience how a single trait, curiosity — primed by a readiness to pay attention and then to act — can change your life. Curiosity is more important to living the life you want, he says, than intelligence, persistence, or even connections. He may well be right. Curiosity once cured me of a bad case of PTDD — Post Traumatic Dissertation Disorder – and gave me a new lease on life.

PTDD sets in with the grim realisation that, having spent years and years learning more and more about less and less, you crossed the finish line knowing everything about practically nothing. I spent the summer following my oral defense in my local library, browsing the stacks for anything that might get me out of my funk.

Thankfully it happened: One day I stumbled across a book called Letters to the Third Millennium by Clint Gardner, a D-Day veteran with two Purple Hearts and commander of the just-liberated Buchenwald concentration camp. He wrote about how the ‘dynamite of revolution’ could be manipulated to effect non-violent social change, just as engineers use real dynamite to blast strategically through granite.

Newly inspired, I called Mr. Gardner at his home in beautiful, billboard-less Vermont, and before the month was out I’d booked my flight to the Green Mountain state. We met for tea at the historic Norwich Inn, a stone’s throw from Dan & Whits (my favourite general store because of its wonderful tagline) and spent the next couple of days on his veranda, re-living the 20th century. I left with a stack of books under my arm and a new spring in my step.

Clint later invited me to join the board of a tiny non-profit organisation he’d co-founded years earlier. Its mission: to advance the ideas of the late Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, a former professor of social philosophy at nearby Dartmouth College who’d had a profound influence on Clint’s life. It was such an honour to serve alongside Countess Freya von Moltke, who co-founded with Helmuth von Moltke the Kreisau Circle — the core of the anti-Nazi resistance movement. What’s important, she firmly believed, is that people who think differently find a way to speak to one another. “One has to do something”, she told me, and Liberation Kilt is just a creative attempt to spur dialogue among friends and strangers alike.

Freya von Moltke (1911-2010)

Last week at High Point Market, the international furnishings show, curiosity got the better of me again. Walking into a showroom in my kilt, I was led to a staged living room dressed in the usual tartans. I was about to move on, when something on the shelf caught my eye: the spine of a book whose title, The Revolution Script, screamed READ ME! in bold orange letters. What is this script, I wondered, a manifesto? Was the author still living, and if so, would they have me over for tea?

A quick Google search revealed that Brian Moore (1929-1999) was Graham Greene’s favourite living novelist. “Each book of his is dangerous, unpredictable, and amusing”, said Greene. “He treats the novel as a trainer treats a wild beast”. An outsider by temperament, Moore grew suspicious of what he called “faiths, allegiances and certainties” in his youth and left his native Belfast for North Africa, later migrating to Canada and eventually settling in California, USA.

The Revolution Script is a fictionalised account of real life events surrounding the kidnapping of a British diplomat by the Front de Liberation du Quebec. Moore wanted to bring these young revolutionaries on stage, to give them a voice. However the critics were unimpressed. Jeanne Flood said this was “the most flawed and disturbing of all Moore’s books”. Even Moore himself disowned it.

As to whether curiosity changed my life again, it’s too early to say, but The Colour of Blood — his Booker shortlisted thriller with an emphasis on clothing and appearance and how these shape the way others see us — definitely has my name on it.

The writer is cofounder of Liberation Kilt Co.