Is football sustainable well-being consumption in action?

OK, so I confess I am not particularly interested in football and I’m far more Celtic these days than English. But football (or any mass spectator sport) as a joyful, sociable, meaningful ‘consumable’ has got to make us stop and think – even out here on the Celtic fringes!

Rishi Sunak on the BBC 4 ‘Today’ programme yesterday repeated his regular mantra that the UK is a ‘consumption-based economy’ and that the economy must keep growing. (Although Rishi never explains that it’s the particular demand of a capitalist system that the economy must keep growing). In our UK case, that means our consumption levels must keep growing. People must keep buying more goods (regardless of whether they need them) or our economy will stagnate. This also means new jobs must be created which manufacture more stuff or consumers won’t have the necessary employment income to buy the new stuff created and keep the cycle going.

There are hugely damaging aspects of this cycle which our government either doesn’t recognise or maybe can’t or won’t publically acknowledge. Creating jobs for the sole purpose of making more material products: (i) uses up ever more of the planet’s finite resources, (ii) demands ever more energy to do so, (iii) generates ever more waste and (iv) doesn’t even deliver happier, healthier people or improve wealth disparity across society! In fact, our current economy is delivering the reverse in terms of happiness, fulfilment and reducing poverty. There is now plenty of evidence to show that. Simply switching to “greener” products and processes doesn’t fundamentally change this.

But I wonder if the current football euphoria shows us there are alternatives. Studies which The Prospectory (along with many others) have done over the years show that, once our basic needs for shelter, food and health are met, humans have 3 fundamental needs to enjoy happy, meaningful and fulfilled lives.

Stimulation – the buzz we get from novelty, drama, physical sensations or mental or emotional stimulation

Social bonding – the buzz we get from connecting with other people – particularly when we share common experiences, ideas or emotions. We want to feel we belong.

Identity/self worth – the buzz we get from a chance to express our own ideas, identity, skills, creativity and feel that we are valued and have worth.

We explored the consumer psychology of rugby supporters. Analysing their language in talking about their love of the sport showed that the buzz they got came from a complelling combination of these three.

Experiences such as we are currently witnessing with the England football games deliver the feel good hormones (seratonin, adrenaline, oxytocin) into our systems. They enhance our well-being (both physically and mentally) having stimulated us, made us feel fully alive and bonded with others (even those we might not know or have conflicting views with!) and strengthened our feeling of identity and self worth – even though we weren’t the ones performing skilfully on the pitch. If lucky enough to be in the stadium, then we can feel we were the ones who made the critical difference. Indeed, Andy Murray readily acknowledged this by gifting his shirt to a couple of loudly shouting supporters on the front row after a dramatic win at Wimbledon last week.

So, there are consumer experiences which deliver well being and without directly or necessarily consuming more of the world’s diminishing material resources or requiring huge amounts of energy. Sport is just one of many.

If true, and they can deliver such an experience to millions at once by running around a stretch of grass with a ball for 90 minutes, then just maybe those football players are actually worth the ridiculous money we pay them! (Although obviously it would help if the millions they earn was ploughed back into enabling the many to enjoy their own physical or creative activity.)

And back to Rishi Sunak. I have no idea if he is actually a keen football supporter but, in his role as Chancellor, it’s likely his interest is in football success making people happier as happy people will go out and spend their money and buy more stuff. Well Rishi, how about creating a world where everyone’s basic material needs are met and everyone is enabled to enjoy drama, happiness, meaningful activity and social bonding. When you are fed, warm and feel that happy and excited and are busy singing, laughing and hugging people, what else do you want or need?

How could an economy based on delivering happiness and meaning through human activity using only our combined human energy, skill and creativity work? It would be much better for us as humans (whether we are doing it ourselves or enjoying experiencing the activity of others) and might even save the planet.

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Psychology, Art, Irrationality and UBI

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“Earning” a Living?

In 2017, the erstwhile Conservative MP Nick Boles wrote that the main objection to introducing Universal Basic Income (UBI) is not practical but moral. The risk, as he saw it, was “we will all dispense with the idea of earning a living and find true fulfilment in writing poetry, playing music and nurturing plants“. He goes on to claim that “mankind is hard-wired to work. We gain satisfaction from it, it gives us sense of identity, purpose and belonging so we should not be trying to create a world in which most people do not feel the need to work“.

Well, at least his objection to UBI is honest rather than trying to hide his moral objections behind economic feasibility arguments. But the two main problems I have with it are:-

Clearly Boles finds his own work satisfying, giving him a sense of identity, purpose and belonging (as well as a decent salary). Although true for many jobs, Boles assumes this is true of all. At the low paid end, many don’t even “earn a living” if that phrase means paying you enough to meet your and your family’s basic material needs. And many jobs certainly fail to “earn” you a sense of identity and purpose. The worst case is when people have to switch from work which gives them identity, meaning and purpose to work that does not but pays them enough to live on.

And, what about reasonably well paid but so-called “Bullshit jobs” ? As organisations grow, they tend to require more and more people simply to maintain the organisation while an ever decreasing proportion of their workforce directly serve the organisation’s core purpose. As the late David Graeber pointed out, huge swathes of people spend their entire working lives performing tasks they believe to be unnecessary (i.e. it wouldn’t actually matter to the organisation or certainly the wider world if their job didn’t exist). These are often the better paid and educated people in middle management and Graeber argues that such jobs lead to profound moral and spiritual damage.

Conversely, Boles seems to believe that people do not (or cannot?) gain a sense of purpose, identity and belonging from, for example, “writing poetry, playing music or nurturing plants“. His underlying assumption seems to be that, if the work isn’t paid then (a) it’s not actually work, (b) it’s not of moral or personal worth and (c) it isn’t making a positive difference to the world we all live in. What about other work which is unpaid? – looking after your children or an elderly or disabled relative, growing your own food, creating and cooking meals for family or friends, doing voluntary work or running a community activity, event or organisation, helping out your neighbours, listening and talking to others, generating and trying out creative ideas. Every one of these activities, I would argue, earn you a valuable role in society and one which you may well be uniquely skilled or motivated to fulfil. If nothing else, the pandemic has demonstrated how critical such work is to the sustainability of any society.

The fascination for me about UBI is that it recognises the intrinsic worth of every individual, rich or poor, educated or not, healthy or unhealthy and equips them with the basic means to live without scrabbling for any work however unrewarding added to the daily stress of trying to pay the bills. But, it also frees every individual to find and create their own purpose, fulfilment and identity, the motivation they can experience by doing something they enjoy and which makes a tangible difference to the world and others around them.

What, Mr Boles, is the moral problem with that?

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‘I’ve got an idea Fund’ – 3 new awards made

Our ‘I’ve got an idea’ micro fund received over 60 applications in February with a wonderfully eclectic range of ideas. The discovery of so many individuals and small organisations out there with great ideas inspired by their engagement with environmental and social issues is energising.

The ideas ranged wildly from shoe design to hot dogs, from virtual theatre to walking sticks, from clothing to online environmental games, from dentistry to slave trafficking detection, from mental health to sound energy, from nutrition to hair cutting, from cross cultural music to drink-driving education, from bio-based manufacture to autism and on and on. Unfortunately, our funding pot is very small and so we had to make some really tough choices this time around. We’d like to thank everyone who applied and we hope that the many projects we weren’t able to fund find other ways to progress their ideas.

We were drawn to the small ideas which are DIY based where individuals or groups are building and incrementally testing their technical idea themselves rather than outsourcing the development to a specialist company. This also means that we can fund more projects with the limited money we have available as outsourcing software, hardware or content development tends to eat up anyone’s funds fast. But the main reason is that we know, from our own experience, that building the idea yourself is more fun and the best way of evolving it, gaining new knowledge and skills and learning what works and doesn’t work. Having fun collaborating and experimenting through hands on doing is where the spirit of this particular fund lies.

So, we are pleased to announce the following 3 award winners this time around:-

Timerz system for sprint cyclists

Founded by Hannah Escott, an international racing cyclist, the Open Trail charity uses cycling to help disadvantaged and disaffected young people in Kidderminster. Cycling helps develop their self-confidence, resilience and hope for the future. Open Trail has had great success in getting local young people to attend school regularly and to continue with education after their final exams.

Open Trail’s idea is Timerz – the first timing system to be a portable, use at home system for testing sprint time over space. It won’t require setting up timing strips, beams and equipment. Their plan is an easy set-up, low cost option for grass roots racers and athletes looking for high performance on a budget. They have been working on the first prototype.

Building the Timerz prototype

Timerz was inspired by the young people with whom Open Trail work. The young cyclists love to race and explore what makes them go faster. They want to test their theories and measure what makes a difference. The hope is that Timerz will help them test and explore their curiosity, to find graphs and charts exciting and empowering and to learn that STEM isn’t something you do in the classroom but in everyday life. Open Trail want Timerz to demonstrate that you can be a scientist or an engineer even if you don’t get an A in the classroom.

One of their group, a 15 year old with an enthusiasm and proven talent for electronics and programming, has started working on building a prototype Timerz system. The Idea Fund award will enable him to acquire all the parts he needs to get Timerz to a working stage where the other youngsters can enjoy testing and hopefully refining it into an Open Trail product.

We wish the team at Open Trail every success and a lot of electronics and speed testing fun en route.

Air quality sensor pin badge – Perfect Sense AQ

Ava Garnside (14 years) from Leeds is interested in the environment and how her contemporaries can work together to help preserve the planet. In her own words, she wishes to “accelerate our understanding about the action needed to achieve climate ambition and grasp how pollution affects us every day. I believe that science and technology hold the key to achieving ambitious climate goals, helping us to stay healthy and preserving the planet for future generations.”

For Ava it started with a concern about the air pollution on her daily walk to school so she built a device that could attach to her bag or blazer with sensors to collect pollution data. She wants to help more people turn their own environmental data into information for health reasons, instead of being reliant on information shared by the government or other central organisations. Ava has already won several notable awards for her first version of  ‘Perfect Sense AQ’ . Since then, Ava has set up her own social enterprise with the ambition to give everyone an equal chance to become empowered and make health and climate-positive decisions based on analysing their own data.

Our Ideas Fund award will enable Ava to build 6 more ‘Perfect Sense AQ’ sensor devices and work on the challenges of data collection, transmission and presenting the data back to the pin badge wearer in a meaningful way. Each device has sensors to measure particulate matter 2.5 and particulate matter 10, an electronics board, a case and a power supply. She aims for the pin badge to be the smallest, wearable, air quality data collection device on the market as well as cool and fashionable to wear.

She hopes the follow-up user case studies will get more people talking about the difference that ‘Perfect Sense AQ’ makes to their lives – peers walking to school, people with asthma or runners and cyclists in her city of Leeds.

We are delighted to help support Ava in this next stage of her ambitious vision.

Birdsong Live from Cornish woodland

Nichola Andersen and Swenson Kearey live adjacent to SSSI woodland in Cornwall. The area is home to a large variety of birds including owls, buzzards, woodpeckers; blue, coal, great and long tailed tits; nuthatches and finches and many species from the RSPB Red List. They have been getting out of bed and recording the dawn chorus since the Winter’s Solstice.

As dawn gets earlier and earlier, they wanted to find a way to automate the process. Their idea is to develop and install an automated recording and live streaming system using a Raspberry Pi platform in 4 different Cornwall locations. They will start by building and testing everything (including weather proofing!) in their home location followed by the other 3 sites. Obviously, recording birds isn’t a novel idea but a daily record of birdsong recorded continuously over years from several places across a region, published on-line for others to use is novel and requires automation.

Nichola and Swenson’s aim is for their automated recording and streaming system to help people connect with and enjoy the sounds of nature in Cornwall via audio wherever they live. Research is showing that this can be just as effective as actually being outside and birdsong or the sounds of nature can increase happiness and well-being by up to 30%.

But quality data of this kind collected in selected locations over long periods of time is also of interest to academic, wildlife and ecology researchers so the plan is for this to serve as a Citizen Science project.

As their project progresses, we look forward to hearing birdsong from Cornwall as well as learning what the continuously collected data might tell us about bird populations over time.

We plan to reopen the ‘I’ve got an idea Fund’ for a 4th round in July. Updates will appear here.

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Is our Government displaying Healthy Masculinity ?

“Healthy masculinity means NOT using your size, strength, or power to get what you want from others.”

In parliament yesterday, PM Boris Johnson said public reaction to Sarah Everard’s death is “wholly justified” and said “we need cultural change”

Does this include a cultural change from this government’s use of size, strength and power to get what they want? They repeatedly favour a distinctively masculine style of confrontation, threats, law breaking, competitive bluster, cracking down on asylum seekers and now stockpiling nuclear warheads over the alternative of dialogue, open debate, empathy and co-operation.

And, as ever with such behaviour, they fail to recognise its root as deep insecurity not confidence.

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‘I’ve got an Idea’ Fund Award to ‘Sound Gadgets’ project

I’m delighted to announce the 2nd award we have made from our recently established ‘I’ve got an idea’ Micro Fund set up in memory of Peter.

The award is to Lee Holder, the Disability Lead, at The Music Works Charity in Gloucester for his ‘Sound Gadgets’ project.

Lee works with adaptive music technology to provide accessible music making opportunities for people of all ages and abilities. Unfortunately, commercially available equipment is often unable to cater for those with greater disabilities. Lee’s proposed ‘Sound Gadgets’ initiative aims to use a combination of 3D printing and motion, touch, light and distance sensors to prototype bespoke instruments for young people with disabilities to enjoy creating music at home. Their feedback will then enable Lee to make further adaptations and improvements. As well as opening music making to a wider number of people with disabilities, The Music Works hopes ‘Sound Gadgets’ can provide instrument blueprints, code and building information to other organisations in the UK.

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The power of oblique

I enjoy working with my 2 visual artist colleagues precisely because they push me out from the comfortably rational into other ways of doing and knowing.

Together, we’ve been exploring the concept of Universal Basic Income (UBI). We generated a list of ‘rational’ questions which underpin the concept of UBI, e.g. “what is a citizen of the UK worth?“, “ what would you do you if you had an independent income?” , “is it one’s social duty to get a job?”, “is art a worthwhile activity?” As the three of us have been working remotely together during lockdowns, we’ve been experimenting with ways to address these questions through drawing.

Much of the power of art is the surprising insight it gives into a familiar topic through its very indirection or obliqueness. For example, “The poet” (writes Rowan Williams) ” is under the discipline of routinely trying to see one thing through another, the language is marked as poetic by such obliqueness“. Similarly, the visual artist Robert Irwin talked about the role of art as “the placing of your attention on the periphery of knowing” .This requires stepping out from (beyond even?) our more familiar rational lines of enquiry.

The technique we’ve developed is to select one of our UBI questions and then blindly pick an everyday object lying around the house. We then each spend some time examining the object – looking at it, feeling it, sometimes tasting or smelling it and then drawing it at the same time as holding the UBI question somewhere in mind. It can feel crazy (especially if someone asks what you are doing!) but the result is always surprising, often entertaining and a great stimulant for further discussion.

Here are a couple of examples of what I (the ‘irrational psychologist’ in the team) generated…….

The question “ what would you do you if you had an independent income?” happened to be twinned with a sellotape dispenser. As I studied and drew the sellotape, I found myself wondering how I’d view what I’d do if I was actually a sellotape dispenser with the financial freedom to explore and use my individual ‘sellotapeness’ in any way I enjoyed, or added value.

A second question “is it one’s social duty to get a job?” happened to be twinned with a tube of allergenic face cream. Again (the rational part of me wondering what the hell I was doing!), I looked at, squeezed and drew the skin cream tube in relation to the question of whether it felt my duty to get a job. I ended up writing new descriptions on the tube.

As someone with life long troubleseome skin, I was really struck by how skin creams are offered again and again as a panacea but they never actual fix the underlying problem but they have to be sold as if they do and you have to act as if you believed it. Is that like bullshit jobs which might provide a wage to live on but leave you spotty, unfulfilled and itchy!

As a psychologist, I’m interested in our own irrational thinking and behaviour (which we rarely recognise) . This exercise turns that on its head – forcing one to approach a rational question in a deliberately irrational or oblique way and finding what that uncovers that you maybe hadn’t thought about before.

My take-away advice – if you are stuck in your thinking, find an irrational artist!

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Forget the statue, what about the plinth?

In the midst of the hot debate about whether certain public statues should be removed, no-one talks about the plinths on which such statues are erected or considers toppling those as well. Does this mean that the plinth is 100% neutral, i.e. simply “a heavy base supporting a statue or vase” (as the Dictionary defines it).  It is made for structural purposes alone to raise the statue in question to the desired height for public viewing and to support its weight.

My artist colleagues and I have been exploring the social distinctions between ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ individuals or behaviours in our society and what values these judgements are based on. Given the prominence of the current debate around statues, we recently turned our attention to those and decided to set ourselves the exercise of constructing different kinds of plinths with a view to creating discussion about who alive today might be deserving of a statue on our plinths. As so often with art, the act of trying to construct plinths took my thinking in new directions.  It challenged me into considering what a plinth is for and what it symbolises. Is it entirely neutral?

I now realise how highly symbolic and morally charged the plinths are. No single individual gets to be highly successful on their own. For example, not one of the most successful individuals today – be they politicians, entrepreneurs, business moguls, artists, elite athletes or scientists – achieved that success based on their talent, skills or activities alone without the work of a host of individuals’ unseen and often unrecognised activities or contributions behind the scenes. For some, this might be their school teachers or mentors or earlier ideas, theories and research on which their own ideas, inventions or discoveries are based. For some, it might be the wealth they were lucky to be born or marry into which enabled them to invest or start a business or simply have sufficient personal income to freely pursue their interests. For any one of us citizens, we are only able to do what we do any day thanks to the people we usually don’t know who provide our food, keep our electricity, communications and sewage running smoothly, clean our offices and keep our roads and transport operating.  Thanks to Covid-19 lockdown, we’ve seen that these poorly paid support workers are in fact our “essential workers”. So, the solid plinth on which any statue stands represents all the work of all the individuals who enabled the person featured to achieve whatever they achieved.

Ah… but I now realise this cuts both ways. Above, I was considering all the ‘good’ and ‘worthy’ contributions which build and maintain the support structure for any successful individual in any walk in life. But turned around, isn’t the same true for the now morally despised individualds like Colston? Who were the many individuals back in 1690 contributing to the ‘structure’ which was the solid base for Colston’s wealth and perceived individual success? Just to list a few: the ship builders, the bankers who financed the build, the dock workers, the sailors, the pilots and of course the entire population who bought and became hooked on the sugar which the slave plantations grew. In 1746, economist Malachi Postlethwaite wrote, “If we have no Negroes, we can have no sugar, tobacco, rum etc. Consequently the public revenue, arising from the importation of plantation produce, will be wiped out. And hundreds of thousands of Britons making goods for the triangular trade will lose their jobs and go a begging“.

Aware or unaware, free to choose their line of work or not, a huge sector of the British population helped construct that solid Colston Plinth, if you will. And the buildings which Colston helped finance are the basis for much of Bristol’s huge attraction and success as a thriving city enjoyed by all its citizens today.

As a society, we will always look for the lone scapegoat rather than each examining our own role in accepting an established society policy or practice and enabling it’s continuation or growth by the every day work we do, the way we vote or (perhaps most significantly) the purchase choices we make. So maybe before we topple the next statue, we need to consider what solid plinths we are are helping build or maintain today?

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First “I’ve Got an Idea” Fund award

We are delighted to announce that our newly formed “I’ve Got an Idea” Fund has granted its first award to Outside Lives Ltd in North Wales to enable their community to build a free standing, mobile, gravity fed, off-grid, handwashing station. This will enable them to open up their outdoor site safely again to their members.

The idea struck us as inspiring and fun.  Designing and building using recyclable materials will certainly require technical ingenuity to make the unit mobile and usable by people with different abilities. Outside Lives will happily share its design if the station proves a success.

I visited their site last week and was inspired by their focus on community co-production, the natural environment, sustainability, diversity and well-being in everything they do. They are full of ideas. I particularly liked their re-use of old motorway signs as strong, adaptable and funky looking building panels for the outside compost toilets they are currently constructing.

They already support many different interest groups with community members working together.

 

A comment from Lucy Powell, co-founder and Managing Director of Outside Lives Ltd.

‘We are absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to explore and coproduce our idea with a team of creative folk. We are looking forward to the ‘journey of discovery’, learning about the options available, finding out how we can make this work, not only for our site but for other places too. It is an exciting idea which we feel is particularly relevant at the moment and would like to thank ‘The Prospectory’ for supporting us.

 

 

 

 

 

I look forward to following the fun they have, the new community skills they discover and the things they learn together as they design and build their mobile handwashing station.

The “Ive Got an Idea” Fund is currently still open to applications (August 2020).

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How successful people attribute their success …

My artist colleagues and I have been trying to unravel the concepts of “deserving versus undeserving” in the politics of social inequality. The recent fiasco over how to “fairly” award 2020 ‘exam results’ has shone a harsh spotlight on this.

US Psychology Professor, Paul Piff’s research yields some compelling insights on this deserving/undeserving distinction from both his lab and real world experiments.

Pairs of experimental subjects were asked to compete against one other in a game of Monopoly but one of the pair was randomly allocated more money at the outset than their partner and allowed to add together two dice throws so they could move around the board faster and achieve higher returns.

Each playing pair quickly recognised the random discrepancy in starting advantage but, as the game progressed, the “rich” partners applauded their “own” successes at the expense of the poorer partner. They didn’t seem to bother that it wasn’t based on an even contest. After the game, the rich partners (the inevitable winners) talked about the tactics they employed to achieve their success and showed little awareness of the effect of their heavily rigged starting position.

In wider studies across the population, Piff has found that, as people become wealthier, their feelings of entitlement and deservedness increase along with an ideology of pursuing self interest even when that comes at the detriment of those around them.

Our governments are populated by people who are far wealthier than the average voter and happily accumulate more wealth (just like the Monopoly players) on the basis of the wealth they already have gained. Given the results of Piff’s experiments, the danger comes if these political leaders mentally attribute their success in life to what they have done or their own superior talent losing sight of all the random factors or societal “rigging” which were major contributing factors. They also may increasingly view self interest (even at the detriment of others) as morally acceptable.

Our current Conservative government is keen to promote a “levelling up agenda”. Meritocracy (on which the Tories are always keen) is defined as “an elite group of people whose progress is based on ability and talent rather than on class privilege or wealth“. But is it? How much of the progress made by our own government ministers was actually down to random events, timing and luck and social systems which were rigged in their favour? Do they really have so much more raw ability and talent? I wonder if they would spend 15 minutes watching Piff’s TED talk and reflecting on how deserving or undeserving their own wealth or career success has been. And would they be prepared to level down if that was a more effective route to creating a more equal society? And me… would I?

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