A friend with a big heart for victims of human trafficking asked me to identify opportunities for helping trafficked women in Europe. As my (initial) results can be useful for others as well, I publish them here. My research focused on work opportunities for English speakers, as opposed to also speaking, say, an Eastern European language. The sections are ordered accordingly: the "most adequate issue" for English speakers to care about comes first.

(1) Issue: Nigerian women trafficked via Italy

Summary: This "trend" is becoming worse and worse since 3-4 years and it is not an understatement to call it a human rights crisis since early 2016. It also seems the most adequate (or one of the most adequate) work opportunity in Europe for social workers and counsellors with English language skills.

The Guardian has a good, recent introduction to the problem, complemented with a little photo documentary. According to that, 11,000 Nigerian women arrived to Italy in 2016, which is double the already high 2015 numbers. And the UN estimates 80% of them will end up in prostitution across Europe. This fate is also reflected by prostitution in Italy itself: as early as 2008, before the "real" start of this crisis, 90% of Italy's sex workers were migrants, of which 40% were from Africa, mostly Nigeria (source). One interesting fact from the Guardian's reporting is that these Nigerian women are brought into Italy as refugees (mostly in small boats via Libya), and remain in South Italy's refugee reception centers for about three months. That is, until they receive documents granting them temporary residence as refugees. So there is a small window of time in a protected setting to identify, contact and inform them about their real situation – before they leave the refugee center to be picked up by their traffickers again. However, the Guardian article also mentions there are only 1600 places for victims of trafficking in Italy, so currently most of the 11,000 women do not receive any help in time.

Language wise, it can be expected that Nigerian women arriving to Italy at least speak basic English: Nigeria has English as its official language and 53% English speakers. Given the many tribal languages in Nigeria, English is seemingly the preferred medium of communication even among Nigerians, as can be observed from the documentary video in the Guardian article. Regarding interaction with Italians, from my own experience getting around in Italy with just English works quite well, though it works much better in Northern Italian cities than in South Italian towns and villages, where even young people sometimes don't speak English. However most of the activities in South Italy would happen in or around the refugee reception centers, where English is the main mode of communication between staff and refugees anyway, and also between national and the many international staff members.

When it comes to organizations working in Italy against human trafficking, a (non-exhaustive) list is as follows:

  • Piam Onlus. An initiative by a Nigerian woman (who is a former victim of trafficking herself) and her Italian husband, focused on the issue of Nigerian women being trafficked via Italy. Since being founded in the early 2000s, they already rescued more than 200 Nigerian women and girls. A small video documentary about them can also be found in the Guardian article that was already linked above. They currently host 80 refugees in both their refugees hub "Villa Quaglina" and various family homes in the Northern Italian city Asti (source). Not all but some of them are victims of trafficking (source), so in this way their infrastructure can be said to be a safe house. Finding out more details and potential volunteering options will need direct contact, though.
  • Caritas Italiana and Caritas Internationalis. The social work organizations of the Roman Catholic Church – means, they are quite large and well-funded. They carry out the Catholic Church's "official" response to human trafficking in Italy (source). Also, these two organizations constitute two of the four Italian members of the COATNET anti-trafficking network (see).
  • WUCWO. The "World Union Of Catholic Women’s Organization". One of the four Italian members of COATNET (see).
  • Talitha Kum. They describe themselves as "International Network of Consecrated life Against Trafficking in Persons". One  of the four Italian members of COATNET (see).
  • COATNET. An Italian ecumenical network that "brings together different Christian organizations against trafficking in human beings" (source). They do not operate safe houses by themselves, but will be a good source of further information.

Obviously, given Italy's religious demographics, >90% of all faith-based organizations working against human trafficking in Italy will be Roman Catholic. To find more of these organizations, an appropriate Italian search term is "cristiani organizzazioni contro tratta di esseri umani".

(2) Issue: Trafficking for sexual exploitation in the United Kingdom, Belgium and Norway

The demographic composition of sex workers in these three countries, but esp. of the UK, makes it another work opportunity for English-speaking social workers and counsellors. (The numbers below are from 2008, as found in the TAMPEP report. Obviously, significant changes could have occurred since then, but more recent numbers are hard to come by.)

  • United Kingdom. 59% of sex workers in 2008 were UK nationals, so would speak English. Of the 41% migrant sex workers, two thirds are from Eastern Europe, and cannot be expected to speak English well initially. However unlike in other countries with this situation, migrant sex workers would learn English over time while in the country. Furthermore, human trafficking in the UK is a rising issue, with a 246% increase over 5 years, resulting in 3266 victims identified in 2015 (source).
  • Belgium. 60% of its sex workers in 2008 were migrants. Of these, 26% came from Western Europe and another 26% from Africa. To communicate with the 40% national sex workers, and for getting around in Belgium in general, English is probably sufficient. Belgium is a multi-cultural, multi-lingual country anyway, with its French and Wallone populations, and most speak English quite well there.
  • Norway. 70% of its sex workers in 2008 were migrants, of which 43% came from Nigeria. This might be however completely different now, as the population in Norway is small, so its sex workers are fewer and change can happen faster.

(3) Issue: Trafficking for sexual exploitation in Germany

In Germany, working in English with victims of human trafficking seems rather difficult due to demographics: 60-70% victims of human trafficking in Germany come from Eastern Europe. Some more data: "Two thirds (612) of all identified victims [of human trafficking in Germany] originated from Eastern Europe: Bulgaria (25,3%), Romania (20,9%), Hungary (7,7%). 20,8% of victims had German nationality." (source, translation my own). Since many of the victims come with a low level of formal education, and English has not been the predominant lingua franca in Eastern European countries for decades, it cannot be expected that they know to speak English. People with Eastern European language skills, of which there are a considerable amount in Germany, seem more apt for this particular work.

Still, for completeness, here are ways to identify organizations working against human trafficking in Germany:

  • Gemeinsam gegen Menschenhandel. A German network whose name translates to "United against Human Trafficking". Their membership organization list is one of the best resources here. Of the 27 member organizations, many seem to be Christian faith-based organizations, and 11 of them are particularly active in practical help "on the ground".
  • KOK. Another German network against human trafficking. They seem to be a Christian faith-based network, though not all member organizations have an equally Christian perspective. They have a list and a map of their member organizations online.
  • Frauenhaus organizations. A Frauenhaus (literally, "women's house") is the German equivalent of a safe house. However, unlike a safe house, it usually focuses on victims of domestic violence. There are specialized ones caring for victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation as well, though. In any case, see the (long!) list of Frauenhaus organizations in Germany. Another, partial and mostly overlapping list is found here.
  • Stern list. German magazine "Stern" published this list of organizations caring to help prostitutes leave the business. They may or may not be faith-based organizations.
  • Sisters e.V.. A German association caring to help women leave prostitution. They seem to not operate a safe house themselves, but will have information about those available.
  • SOWODI. An international organization helping victims of human trafficking. They also work in Germany and operate safe houses there.

I am back in Germany after four months in Nepal. First impression? Germany is well-organized, super quiet, and populated by zombies. The living dead, you know. (Oh and, Germany is so flat. Very strange. Why u not hilly?)

It just does not make sense. If something like Germany is the endpoint of developing areas' development, what is development for? It has no meaning at all. Essentially, after all the development, people in Nepal would be

  • just as unhappy as people in Germany
  • all their earnings will be used up for so-called "living"
  • people won't talk to people anymore
  • there will be just as few options for alternative lifestyles as in Germany, where this is systematically minimized by forcing people into consuming and paying
  • people will work in brainwashing, marketing, SEO etc. to force-feed each other the useless products of their industries … consuming up the world's resources …

Essentially, all the Germans (and Europeans and U.S. Americans, for that matter) do is keeping their country up and runnning, with insane amounts  of energy and worktime. Their countries are "optimized" to maximize the amounts of energy and worktime to invest for just keeping the country up and running. The first is called "economic growth", the second "full employment". And all these aspirations to "wealth" that is not wealth and "wellbeing" that is not wellbeing in people make them miserable. Directly and indirectly. They never have enough. They are brainwashed by advertising since decades, and the advertising comes from capitalist monopolies whom they serve with their lifetime and money.

And then we have the audacity to call ourselves a "developed nation", to be imitated by the "developing nations" … . These "developed" nations do not contribute any significant amount to a better future for the planet. They are not engaged in any concerted effort to construct a meaningful and sustainable future. Instead, they just consume. And much more than their share. While villages in Nepal are much more sustainable, since most stuff is made from fieldstones and bamboo. In terms of our global future, that is more developed than the developed "nations" … . But currently, developed nations devour the planet, and fast. Wow. (Now the good thing about Nepal is, it has so many so remote places that global capitalism will not reach them in my lifetime cheeky Like Rolpa. It currently takes three days and nights of travelling by bus from Kathmandu.)

Ok … so if development according to the paradign of "developed" nations makes no sense, what makes sense?

  • Minimize resource and worktime usage in "developed" nations, to the levels in Nepal and below. No more economic growth, no more full employment. There is such a ton of interesting work to do for that, including medical research, frugality research, full transition to a minimal energy economy, etc. etc..
  • Real development has to be integrated. Like, set up and keep up a sustainably developed commune in a remote village in Nepal, or transform a whole village into such a sustainable model village with both low resource usage and a high standard of living. Serving as an example to be imitated in the thousands of other villages. It means for an educated group of people (from Nepal, from abroad, or mixed) to go there to live there. For the long term. To make that commune able to sustain itself through sustainable production. And help it minimize the resource and time efforts needed for that. (I collected a lot of relevant tech and knowledge for small-scale self-sustainable living in EarthOS already.)

This is an intellectual challenge: how to design a generic, many-to-many communication system that prohibits surveillance entities from proving that you (1) read some website or (2) contributed content to some website, even if they do (1) capture and analyze all traffic on the Internet and (2) can break all encryption that is used for many-to-many communication (practically mostly SSL, which might be broken in many cases by NSA using MITM attacks). The only capabilities that we assume here that the surveillance body does not have is (1) breaking encryption used for local-only storage, such as TrueCrypt and (2) breaking encryption used for one-on-one encrypted communication between parties who know each other personally (which is comparatively simple to achieve with PGP etc.). So we're only talking here about them treating you as part of the big mass of people (one of the many activists out there …), not being one of the select few for which they do "targeted access operations" to infect your computer by software or hardware …

Note that, as we assume that the surveillance body captures all Internet communication globally, Tor can no longer be considered secure as they can then do timig correlations on the whole Tor network at once and with that information (simplified by running some own Tor nodes …) de-anonymize its participants. (For that reason, we cannot use realtime two-way communication at all.)

So: here's my proposal from three hours of thinking on today's evening about this. I guess it's pretty wanky 🙂 Anyway, your feedback is welcome.

The basic idea is to hide reading the website steganographically in reading another unsuspicious website, and contributing to the website steganographically in a botnet infection (and by contributing from public wi-fi only). So the surveillance body would see you communicating, but you can plausibly deny reading and writing on that forbidden website; you just read a photo blog and had a spam virus infection … can happen, right? 😛

Part by part:

Deniable reading: steganographic site-in-a-site

This needs an unsuspicious "host website" with considerable data traffic for every user. For example a photography forum or even a porn site. Being used as a host site could be negotiated in secret with the operators (if you are an activist with a valid cause to which people tend to agree), or the site could also be hacked for that purpose, or a site can be "reused" which happens to be a customer website on a web server you operate. But that's quite evil … . In any case, the site should have a large existing community so that everybody can justifiably claim that they just used the host site and did not know anything about the payload data hidden in its traffic.

So to read the "secret website" you want to access, you do a daily round on this "host website", looking at new posts etc.. You will use a special browser (started from a steganographically hidden and encrypted partition on your computer) with a plugin that extracts the new steganographic payload data from this host website. So every new day of updates on the host website also contain the new day of updates for the payload website. The updates are very compact, compressed, git-style updates, probably just plain text. Also, to make connecting input to users even harder, normally every post in the payload site is anonymous (not even pseudonymous!), but users could identify themselves with transient handles for just a few posts to create necessary context in a thread.

Instead of starting the payload extraction and decryption software from a steganographically hidden area, another alternative is to get it to be part of the basic operating system installation for everyone. Which is then likewise unsuspicious because it provides an alibi.

The payload website would not be encrypted. So the surveillance body would find out about it quickly, and it would take some weeks or months to get the host website switched off or its "infection" with the payload site removed (by choosing a proper jurisdiction for the server location, and by using Tor to hide its location somewhat, it can definitely take that long). At which point the payload site would switch to a different host site. Even better, it would always use different host sites in parallel for redundancy, and switching from one to the other would not need any re-downloading of previous data. Just the new "git commits".

But maybe it is better to have the payload data encrypted – if it helps to keep the "infection" from being detected for a long time, it definitely is better. That however implies that every user has to get their own specialized payload, encrypted with a PGP public key. So the host site cannot be a broadcast type of site (like a forum), but has to provide content to every user (like a PTT voice messaging site for example, since PTT voice messages can well take steganographic payload). The payload site server would also encode slightly randomized payload for the different users, and of course not log the random elements, to prevent the connections between the public keys (on the server) and the user accounts (of the host site) to be made when the server is compromised. Which means that even then, nobody can tell which users got data with payload and which are just normal users. Only when finding the users and seizing their computers one could tell that … but no, not even then, since (1) the users usually cannot be found and (2) their private keys for decryption are steganographically hidden on their computer (see below).

Against breaking communication encryption: anonymity by free wi-fi

There is no issue with encryption being broken (or content not being encrypted at all!) if this still does not give them a hint to your real-world identity. The solution is to not give them any connection between the IP address and personal identities. How to achieve this?

  • Use a mobile device that looks for open wi-fi networks while you walk around in a big city. If it finds one, it will connect to it quickly, send its data, and disconnect again. The data is a git-style, very compact update to the shared content of the website / forum you contribute to. With this method, you can sync to that website 1-2 times a day, which should be enough for most purposes.
  • If your country does not allow anonymous Internet access at all (such as in China), send your data by encrypted e-mail to somebody abroad whom you trust and who will perform the above procedure for you. If you don't have somebody you trust, you are doomed anyway 😉

The security and safety of this procedure can be enhanced by:

  • using directional wi-fi antennae hidden below your clothing (for example in your arm – the system will guide you to point your arm in the right direction to get the best connection to a remote wifi 😉
  • more importantly, by using a new, spoofed MAC address for every connection. Which is important in case the wi-fi network logs the MAC addresses of connections
  • choosing only wi-fi networks open to the general public (in bars, airports etc.), to avoid raising suspicion of the surveillance body against individuals whose wi-fi you would else compromise
  • disguising your optical appearance against face recognition through surveillance cameras etc.
  • unsuspicious behavior, to prevent raising suspicion in surveillance videos etc.; this however is a pretty low-grade threat, as it involes a lot of manual coordination work ("targeted access operations"), which a surveillance body cannot do for its whole population
  • writing from a different device than you use for reading; you would use commands like "reply-to:post452798" for placing your content at the right spot of the website; you would never ever exchange data between the two devices (since then, also data coming from a trojan by which the surveillance body infected your reading computer, could be transferred to your writing computer and could prove that you participate in the website instead of just "unknowingly" getting its data in steganograophic form)

Deniable contributions: a botnet is controlling your device!

This is a pretty funny idea: claiming that your computer (that you use for sending) does stuff that you don't even want it to do is perfectly reasonable. So even if you are caught sending through a free wi-fi network, you still have an alibi. Because there will indeed be a virus on this device, that also has the habit of sending out e-mail spam, but it is special in that you can control it. You can also justifiably deny doing so, since all the programs and data to do so (including your website contributions before being sent) are in a TrueCrypt-style partition with a full filesystem that is steganographically embedded in your personal library of self-made photos. Because these are your own photos (and you did not publish them anywhere!), nobody can claim that you steganographically modify them since they did not see them before.

But we need some more stuff: as spambots usually do, yours will auto-generate the spam e-mails you will send out, including many spelling errors, random input for changes to embedded images etc., "to pass the spam filters". But instead, these changes also allow you to add the steganographic input, which also will look just like random changes, so just like the spambot behavior. In reality, it is encrypted with a public key of the server from the website you contribute to, and as long as that private key keeps private, your alibi is safe. This is actually P2P encryption which we allowed above to be not broken. But even if it gets broken, you're still not caught by any means since you always use the free wi-fi for Internet access 🙂

The e-mails will travel to the server hosting the secret website (or to a P2P encryption connected, befriended server), with the alibi that it is also an e-mail server. The server will however claim that these e-mails are spam, and not forward them to its users. But of course, internally evaluate them to extract the payload data. The private key for doing that, and the whole "secret website" software has to be protected in the server, of course, and has to have "deniable existence". This is possible by, again, using steganographic storage of a TrueCrypt style partition, maybe in the image data of the "host website". When the server is physically accessed, it will quickly unmount that logical partition, delete the access key from its memory, and be just another normal webserver 🙂

Simplifications and optimizations

  • It is not needed to hack or infect a host site to use it for embedding another site. Just select one that allows anonymous image or video uploads. If doing so, it should however be a site where all the steganographic content is downloaded by regular users, too, so the steganographic users have an alibi. For example, a meme collection site that allows anonymous submissions and publishes daily updates is a good choice. Or a site that hosts pirated content or porn. This is much better than "infecting" sites and running a separate server for the steganographics. Since this way, no own server and no infected site can be taken down. All own software runs on the clients (which would have a little configuration file that selects what URLs to download for steganographic content, and which for cover, and a decryption key to access the extracted steganographic information. Depening on how far this key is shared, it becomes any software between steganographic 1:1 communciation or many-to-many communication.)
  • The important point is to make steganographic communication comfortable. Not like e-mail, but like a full forum, even with special features like calendars etc.. Only then one can organize social change with it. The way NNTP (Newsnet) works is a good paradigm: a desktop client software collects message / data packages from somewhere, and provides the frontend locally.
  • For anonymous posting on public wi-fi networks, maybe one can even use little quadrocopter or blimp drones, operating at night. During the day they would hide in some place not at your home, and in passing on your way to work etc. you would transfer the next set of data to upload to them.

This is my commentary on the analysis of monetary inflation and income development by Dr. Harald Wozniewski, as presented on kiwifo.de, especially on page "60 Jahre Währungsreform –
60 Jahre Geldmengenwachstum

Our task is first to determine the real inflation rate (not by means of a shopping basket, which is hedonically corrected etc.). This is simple: If the inflation rate grows only as much as the GDP, its speed of circulation stays the same, so also the "difficulty of aquiring money", so also the prices. Because, circulation speed is the ratio of GDP to money: Circulation speed of money = GDP / (M1 + cash). If this speed decreases, there is more money, and this means price inflation. This price inflation can however be hidden by the fact 

However, all this money is created by monetization: banks have securities in their books, and emit their own securities based on that, some of which (plus public bnonds) are accepted by the central bank. So other banks can borrow them, place them at the central bank, and get cash money delivered in return. So higher monetization is only an indicator of credit expansion (potentially made possible by wealth accumulation as goods, like real estate that banks can use as securities). But still, by allowing this increase of monetization, teh central bank allows the same amount of inflation. Which, minus the GDP growth, means the same devaluation of wages, which are paid in this money.

We see: Economic exclusion because of money scarcity does not happen because there's too little money in the system (teh opposite is the case). Instead, because this money is not paid as wages.

Measuring the GDP increase year by year, after deducting shopping-basket based inflation, measures efficiency gains, and in one sense this is indeed the growth of the economy: more wealth because of more efficient tech. These efficiency gains normally have to be forwarded to the workers by wage increases that are the same as GDP growth (to keep mass purchasing power). But what GDP change does not account for is, what proportion of this total wealth is available for purchase from a worker's income. This proportion steadily decreases because the monetary amount is more inflated than the GDP. In total, the "right of one EUR to a proportion of total GDP" has decreased by 74.3% from 1970 to 2012 [source, "Tabelle 2".U53]. Of course, the "right of 1% of total money amount to a proportion of total GDP" has not decreased, but to keep their income at the same proportion of the money amount, the income of workers would have to increase by the same amount as monetary inflation. Which it did not.

This does not mean that workers are now, in absolute terms, worse off than in the 70's: theres (1) profiting wealth accumulation because a house etc. can be used for decades, and (2) profiting from the increase of total wealth through advancement of technology. That's why German workers don't complain as much as they should. But in relative terms, they are much worse off: the entitlement from their monetary income to a proportion of the yearly produced total wealth ("GDP") in 2012 was only 25.7% of what it was in 1970.

This does however not necessarily mean that prices are four times higher than they should be if worker's would fare as well as in 1970 (or that workers would have to earn 4 times as much). It just means that, as they have less right to total wealth with their income, someone else has more right. But, as can be seen from the decrease of monetary circulation speed by 74.3% as well, they do not use that right, they just have it stored as money. Prices do not increase by monetary inflation automatically, but only if the circulation speed of the money decreases less than it is inflated. If those who have the addictional money would (could) use it as often as in the 1970's, that would of course lead to a fourfold price increase. But this is not even possible except as a one-time effect: their right to this money does not replenish as continually earned wages do (it only replenishes by interest), so the two cannot be compared easily.

So it is not justified from these findings of monetary inflation to say that workers don't earn their fair share (that may be found nonetheless from other arguments!). Instead, if anything, then the monetary inflation amount that is beyond real wage increase rate (which means 10%, as since the mid 90's there were no real wage increases) is a sum of money that is year by year distributed to "others" (banks, companies, privateers) while it should be distributed to the workers. This is for example 200 billion EUR from 20011 to 2012 [source, "Tabelle 2".M52-M53]. Distributed to 68.4 million adults in Germany (data form 2011-01), this would mean an added income of 2923 EUR yearly. Instead, it accumulates "somewhere else".

So what we have here is a phenomenon of wealth accumulation in money that was not there in earlier years. But since money is only a small part of a nation's accumulated wealth, it is by no means sufficient to look at monetary wealth accumulation alone to determine a problem with wealth accumulation in Germany. Instead, one has to look at total assets.

So, in my conclusions, the arguments by Dr. Harald Wozniewski are internally misguided. Still, lots of interesting figures to find there from which you may draw your own conclusions.

Hummingbird weathering the snow

First interview on this site – feels quite special 😉

This interview is with Gayane and Karine Akullian, two sisters from Barcelona, Spain, currently working on their latest book "Lucha" ("Struggle"). I like it a lot for being this fresh, out-of-the-box approach to the Spanish economic crisis: they focus on the personal, mental dimension of the problem and solution, while most everybody else tries to fix it at systems level (and fails, so far).

You can take a detailed look at the Akullian sisters' project at their Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for "Struggle", and if you think their idea deserves some support they'd of course be happy if you send them some bucks. (This way, you can effectively pre-order their book as well!)

When I found out about this book and the authors' insights into the Spanish crisis' social dimension, I recognized the opportunity to get valuable input for setting up an alternative economy portal in Spain. (A project for which I actively seek collaborators for right now, myself providing the software development. The proposal is not online yet, but compare my earlier articles about the quite similar LRIS idea, on time banking currency, on Bitcoin, and experimental thoughts on creating undestructible economy and solving unemployment.)

So here are the interview questions I gave them – and I'm really grateful for their answers, which unveil surprising cultural facts, informing the design of alternative economy software for Spain.

Gayane and Karine – would you tell us a bit about your upcoming book  "Struggle"? How did you collect all the real-life content you will integrate in the storyline? What inspired you personally to explore the "psychologic dimension" of the Spanish crisis and the mental ways of coping with it?

Well, "STRUGGLE" pretends to be a psychological approach to the financial crisis Spain is living in. Spanish population is facing tough financial conditions and individuals find different ways to overcome the situation: some decide to struggle and think of a solution while others just give up, blame everyone except from themselves and reach extreme actions. This way, "STRUGGLE" will tell the traces of the crisis from its beginning up to now on 4 lives and how they manage to psychologically cope with it.

Working at a place where daily contact with hundreds of different people is a must, we’ve had the privilege to be front-line witnesses of the financial crisis consequences on Spanish population. Experiences, complaints, advices….anything we've been listening to as part of our routine for quite a long time immensely helped us, so we thought it could be useful to others as well. There are many people struggling to overcome this financially critical situation and others who just want to know a little bit more the insides of Spanish crisis. By writing down everything we’ve learned we have the intention to provide the information these people could be looking for.

By facing difficulties ourselves we came to realize that psychics and emotions are two of the most potential drivers on our lives and this is no different: in this case too, both are motors for us to move forward or stagnate where we are. You may think, what’s there so difficult to understand? Of course the sentence itself is easy, but to actually feel it is way more difficult and serious as it can change the course of events. That's the reason why we've decided to give a psychological approach to the issue.

What is your own mental approach to master the challenges that this crisis set before you? Or more specifically, what's the next step you want to learn on that way?

Only death has no remedy: I wouldn’t say we managed to be immune to the worldwide financial crisis, but it’s true we greatly eased our ways. We understood that if you’re falling into a deep and dark hole, you can stop the downfall holding on to something and then it’ll be in your hands to decide if going back up or keep going down. If you’ve already fallen to the bottom your only and obvious way will be going up. As we see it, nothing of this will be possible without the correct psychological approach.

From the impressions you have from talking with Spanish people about the crisis: Which people are generally open in their minds to try radical and new ideas for the economy and for making ends meet? Like cooperatives, consumption groups, emigrating? Which people are not, and what kind of thoughts, attitudes and circumstances hold them back?

I believe any person is open to radical changes and ideas depending on the seriousness of his or her situation. I can’t say Spain is any different from other countries around the globe: be it they have nothing to lose or a lot to invest, anyone who understands the value of a penny will be open to radical ideas, but there’s no average profile for people making the ends meet nor common ways to do so. It’s easier to say that if they are not against, then they are in favor of trying something new.

Maybe those who are against are a huge point to Spanish economic crisis; Spanish people are way too comfortable and this lifestyle stagnates Spanish economy compared to other countries. On the whole, I’d lie if I said Spanish population is characterized by the entrepreneur vibe.  The amount of young people, even up to their forties, whose only aspiration in life is to have a 1000€ per month salary working in a responsibility-free job or those that don’t recognize as work anything but what’s related to their careers or interests is alarming. What’s even more alarming is the amount of people in their late twenties that have yet to discover what a job is. This young comfortable generation is slowing down Spanish economic recovery as they are, in a great percentage, against radical ideas or changes no matter how harsh their financial situation could be. I myself can list acquaintances or friends that, having finished their careers and even majors, are offered work abroad in countries like the States or United Kingdom but reject those offers because it means a great effort to them to leave behind their lifestyles.

53% youth unemployment is a sad number in Spain. How do the young ones affected by unemployment cope with it, mentally and practically? They will use several approaches of course, but maybe you see a major approach / group attitude too?

Nowadays’ youth, used to the society our parents and grandparents built for us, is looking for the “perfect job” with the “perfect conditions” that “perfectly” meet its profession, which is obviously an almost non-existent situation. Used to the pre-crisis ways, youth finds it difficult to take on nowadays situation and in fact, many don’t even realize the seriousness of it. As I see it, many young people, employed and unemployed, have a distorted view of what this crisis really means due to the influence of media. This makes them take the wrong ways that in the long run cause them pessimistic perspectives in life. Some decide to stay home and live from their parents and unemployment benefits while others decide to take the streets and shout out their opinions and pleas. I believe that if even a small percentage of this youth decided to take another way, to open their minds to wider and more ambitious perspectives, to give up their conformist and comfortable lives for some time, to venture and look for ideas, the Spanish crisis would have a turning point.

What's the state of e-commerce / Internet shops in the Spanish culture? That is, how common is it to buy and sell there (for the young ones, for the older ones)? What are the issues that keep this from being more common (like trust issues maybe, or preferring to buy locally and from a real person)?

E-commerce full integration in Spain is just a matter of time. Buyers and sellers are realizing the lower costs that e-commerce is generating and therefore the great amount of money they are able to save without losing the comfort in their lives. The fact that Spanish people are rather traditional and at some point quite distrustful slows down fast e-commerce integration, but it doesn’t keep it from facing a remarkable presence in Spanish commercial interactions. Most of youth is getting used day by day to sell or buy what they need and want using e-commerce, while older people are still reluctant to do so.

Let's assume a "big new webshop portal" pops up in Spain where you can buy and offer goods for basic needs, all without Euro currency. Instead people would pay with a worktime-based currency, so that everybody can participate by investing time. But learning to use the site and new currency would need an effort, maybe somewhat more difficult than learning to use eBay and PayPal. What part of the Spanish population would use such a platform in the current economic situation?

Well, that’s a difficult question. It’s a great idea, so it would easily find followers, those who are not afraid of new ideas. Still, being this traditional, Spanish people usually find it difficult to change ways they already are used to, even if it would be beneficial for them. As an easy example would be Facebook; the integration of the huge social network in Spain took a much longer time compared to other countries as people here were already used to different sites with social interactions. While it’s true that if the idea is good then it will generate a users’ base for sure, it’s also a fact that Spanish people are used to take things slow and cool.

What regions in Spain would you consider the most promising ones for such an "alternative economy marketplace" on the Internet to gather a large user base in the population? And, do you think it would rather work in cities or in the countryside, or both?

With no doubt, northern regions, as well as Catalonia and Madrid, are the ones that have what it takes to be immersed in an alternative economy marketplace as we’re talking about the economic motors of Spain. In regard to the second question, it would rather work in cities as the countryside has a low percentage of youth and Internet users in general.

What is the Spanish culture about mutual credit between friends, family members or long-term business partners? Esp., how do young people deal with this? For example, can it be o.k. to owe a sum of money / worktime etc. to a friend, or do Spaniards try hard to avoid formalizing / quantifying such things and rather just want it to be considered a favor for a friend?
(Note: The question's background is that debt between mutually trusting people is a requirement for some alternative currency systems, which are based on "IOU" notes ("I owe you"). Also I know I'm generalizing a lot here … there is of course not an average mindset or culture but a lot of diversity.)

You’re right; it’s difficult to make a generalization on an average mindset regarding this issue. The tendency is rather a taboo and people are very discrete about it. As far as I’ve seen, Spanish people are reluctant to lend money even if it’s to family or friends but when they do, they never take it as a favor and the tendency is rather to constantly remind that there’s a debt between the parties. But, as I said before, Spanish people are very discrete about everything that has to do with money and even more if it’s related to lending money so it’s really hard to say an average mindset.

My heartfelt thanks for this interview, you two! Wish you the best of success and a good time for finishing "Struggle".

Hummingbird image licenced CC-BY-SA 2.0, based on image by Darcys which was published on Flickr under CC-BY-SA 2.0.
Flower image licenced CC-BY, based on image by Nanagyei which was published on Flickr under CC-BY.

“Makers”. Last night (yes, whole night) I had the pleasure of reading Cory Doctorow’s “Makers” sci-fi novel. My first novel in 14 years that I finished. Ok, I skimmed at times. But still. The great thing with inspiring novels like this is, they can create intense emotional impressions, and from reflecting on these, you learn a lot. Things you otherwise only learn by real-world experience. Here’s what I learned from “Makers”.

Cory Doctorow – Makers
(image by ben_oesteen on Flickr, licenced CC-BY 2.0)

The “ups and downs” theme. The novel’s main theme is the ups and downs, coming and going of all social and organizational development. In my words: Every empire starts with a kingdom, a kingdom with a chief of clan, a clan with just a household and somebody wanting to dominate. In the other direction, every empire ever built has also fallen apart. Rome disintegrated within decades in the third century.

Lifecycle, applied to grassroots movements. And here came the first key insight from “Makers” for me: this full cycle also applies to grassroots social structures. That’s a disappointing insight, but a true one. The novel illustrates it in two halves: for the rising half cycle, how these “ride” parks or museums agglomerated into coops and finally got associated with Disney, plus one of their creative brains bought by Disney. And for the decaying half cycle, how the Kodacell company, starting as a huge incorporated grassroots innovation network, fell apart completely in a wink. Let’s imagine a real-world example: the Open Source movement developed its own institutions by now, and these, over the course of decades or maybe centuries, will become so rigid and cold that a new movement will justifiably fight against them, and finally render them obsolete. (For me, socialized in “old school” Linux open source culture, it’s already weird to see how the thousands of young talented Android developers at XDA Developers have a near complete disregard for licencing: their full site and wiki does not mention what licence is applied to content and code.)

So is it all just a waste of our time? At this point we could argue that all this building, fighting against and rebuilding of society structures is a waste of resources. That we should rather invest to keep our social organization ever young and flexible. Indeed, a way to use your time more efficiently, by a tight bit. What you can’t argue is that maintaining great society structures is a lot of maintenance work. Even building completely new society structures from scratch is maintenance, in the bigger picture: you replace a failing part of global social organization.

Social change activism as maintenance. So, social activism is never going to be building a great society, once and for all. It’s always part of humanity’s “eternal” struggle to keep society in good shape, if necessary rebuilding it in a completely different way. Let this point sink in: activism is not building, engineering. It is maintaining.

Activists, relax. This also means that activists can all relax a bit: the fate of the world does not depend on their proper invention and construction of society, because society will have to be rebuilt again many times in the centuries to come. This should help activists to know their fair share of maintenance work to contribute, but to also know that “more does not make it better”. The big thing, society, will fail again anyways, just like it always has, and generations afterwards will have to build it again. Sure, one generation (like after-war) has a bigger way to influence how a society is built, a bigger workload, a bigger responsibility. But even they should not forget that what they do is the necessary maintenance of a constantly deteriorating and failing organism.

There’s more to life than activism. So let’s not forget that there’s more to life than fixing the fabric of society. What? It’s also in Doctorow’s book. The two things the protagonists of “Makers” did not regret were (1) doing what they like to do, like hacking and inventing stuff, and (2) investing in good personal relationships. Because, just like society, relationships need maintenance to be and stay enjoyable: they are also subject to these ups and downs, and you see how every relationship in the book is at least once on the brink of being destroyesd, and a lot of them are.

The danger of failing to relax. And there’s one special danger for personal relationships, exemplified in a sad twist in the epilogue. Revealing the only lack in character of the most glorious and brilliant woman in the book (which is, of course, Hilda). She took up her activist fighting again so hard to lose the beautiful relationship to Jerry over that. That annoyed me so hard thatI changed around the end for me (it’s a CC-BY-SA book after all). Mr. Doctorow seemed not to like the idea too much (he tweeted me back “Dude, spoilers!” – I understand the wit of course). And indeed, he has a point with that sad twist: society maintenance is infinite work after all, necessary, but not fulfilling after seeing its Sisyphus character. So better limit yourself to your fair share of maintenance and enjoy your mate. Somebody should’ve explained that to Hilda in time …

I guess I should change around the “Makers” ending again: rather than letting Hilda and Jerry just stick together happily ever after, I will now go for adding a few more pages where Hilda has learned her lesson. She’s smart enough, after all smiley And with that lesson learned, there’s indeed such a thing as permanent love, not to be destroyed by the rather unimportant coming and going of good state of the surrounding society.

Life is more than fighting something bad. Life is also about enjoying something good!

“But now faith, hope, and love remain—these three. The greatest of these is love.”

[The Bible, I Cor 13:13]


Detect language » English


Detect language » English

“For rent”. Too easy to find in some places …

Getting around a bit in Europe, you easily get to know how people’s life is not a box of chocolates. That guy who destroys his body and his really intelligent mind by too much weed and psychedelics, seeing no other way to get over a broken relationship. The young woman who suddenly expresses a desire to die, like by jumping from the mountain we sat on talking (but thankfully, she’s alive and well). All the nice-looking houses I walked by in Málaga, noticing people’s shattered dreams from their “For Sale” signs. It saddens me how we, the humans, search satisfaction in vain.

But aren’t we already very creative in our search? We try everything, from yoga to hashish, from power to strong opinions. Not to forget the favorite of Westerners: stuff for consumption, security and independence. Our effort to search and maintain satisfaction is so encompassing that it summarizes what we as humans do. Our whole culture (“non-survival activity”) is just about that.  Still, we mostly don’t find it.

What are we doing wrong?

What is it that we search?

The first reason for not finding might be this: because we don’t know what we search. We may feel a diffuse inner emptyness and try something to fix it, but don’t know that it is satisfaction we search. Which is “living in accordance with your ideas and wishes”, also called happiness. Without using the proper concept, we have difficulty choosing the right actions, and also cannot communicate properly to get help from our fellow humans, who also search the same thing but in something else.

The second reason is best explained along illustrations. Of my friends, only two I consider “satisfied”:

The first one “just” wants to have economic power, a family, and lots of interesting and expensive stuff to deal with. That’s still limited, because it is just about private life. It even worked out, as he met with a lot of luck: inherited wealth, “good genes” for motivation and bite, an economically valuable hobby. He has a high self-esteem, which allows his success in a challenging economic environment, but also hides his own failures and deficiencies from himself (so that they don’t affect his happiness). In case of failure, he uses his innate motivation and tries something new quickly, forgetting about the bad success. This way, in time, he arrives at a satisfying outcome. And for really bad personal calamity, he has a strong trust in God, protected from doubt by a strong self-confident opinion about his beliefs. And so it works.

Another friend is also satisfied, and it works completely different: he’s very relaxed and humble, not caring for his many bad successes and failures. He developed a sophisticated mental way, including both self-irony and deep philosophy, to admit his failures but keep them from affecting his emotions (they would rather infuriate others’). But he’s also very sociable and so, together with some luck, has found both a superb relationship to a woman and an interesting, well-paid, permanent job even before finishing his studies (in twice the normal time). Interestingly, he seemed just as satisfied when he had neither job nor girl, by means of his failure-ignoring capabilities. (Note: To illustrate, I remembered the pic below. We kinda shared a flat for two years. Once he completely forgot my birthday, but would show up at midnight with that improvised “cake” and a present he found in his room 😀 That was the kind of humble self-irony he was capable of, feeling not awkward, but happy in a hard to understand way when pulling something like this.)

The birthday cake I remember the most!

What these both have in common is that their satisfaction is provided not by one thing but by a system, “a set of interacting, interdependent components forming an integrated whole”. That may be the second reason why satisfaction does not work for most of us: we try one thing, tinker a bit, throw it away and try the next, unaware that we’re working on a system which needs several components and an informed design to work. Searching satisfaction in one component is as hopeless as driving around in a wheel.

Systems engineering for satisfaction

Of course, “system” is just a model. It helps discuss and understand satisfaction, but necessarily simplifies and distorts its reality. Other models can be just as valid. But because the “system” model proved useful above, let’s explore what systems engineering can teach us about building our own satisfaction system. (And yes, everyone has to build their own unique one, because some parts are unique: character, memories, body, personal situation.)

  1. It’s cross-discipline! In addition to needing several components, you need to integrate several types of them: genetic, mental, material, social and (I think) transcendent ones. To a limited degree, you can supplement one for another, like more meditation to cope with material scarcity. But what you can’t do is getting satisfaction from accumulating just one thing. But Westerners often try just that with materiel stuff, and advertising wants to keep us as unsatisfied consumers …
  2. Start with the parts you can’t change. Which is, your genetic disposition. Also, your character is super hard to change. The same for the general level of wealth. This is the stuff that has to be in the system because you have no alternatives.
  3. If you forget one part, it won’t work. That’s special about systems: they depend 100% on each and every component. You can’t drive a car without its steering wheel, accelerator pedal, petrol hose, … .
    My own story of forgetting a part is this: I had always focused very much to have “meaning” in what I do, and wondered why I lack motivation to live and to work, even to work for my meaningful tasks. Until I found recently: Everything loses its meaning when life is not enjoyable. Because what’s the meaning even of fixing the world and helping others, when after that, they would experience their life to be as joyless as your own? So now I added “beauty” to my life: just enjoying life, and it also motivates me meaningful work that provides a good life to others. At least that’s the idea now – it’s kinda hard to change own habits. But the insight is that, on their own, neither meaning nor beauty provide any satisfaction to me, yet together it can work.
  4. Design, try and error. When designing your own satisfaction system, you can’t really know if it works until you start living it. But you can let other designs inform yours, and profit from the experiences of others. But still, because everybody is unique, there is a place for try and error. And for the “try often, fail fast” approach of rapid prototyping, like in software development …
  5. Use compatible parts. If you want satisfaction, want it first. You have to throw out or modify other things you want or values you have, if it’s impossible to fit them into the “system”.
  6. Use a doable design. Some ideas how to achieve satisfaction are just too complex or too much work for one gal or guy. For example, some philosopher and activist folks can be constantly unhappy about “the state of the world”. I know it too well. But the world won’t become Utopia in our lifetime, so we can keep that as a grand goal but should tie our satisfaction to more modest successes. In my case, I want to be happy about every step towards a free-to-copy, small, local Utopia. Or, as it can happen to me, being happy during that work itself because I think it’s meaningful.
  7. Use a socially responsible design. This means simply: don’t derive satisfaction at the cost of others. For example: a person who constantly refuses to understand and discuss the problems of others, while constantly discussing their own with them, would rob the satisfaction of socializing from others. And if everybody employs an approach at the net cost of others’ satisfaction, it simply would not work out on society level. It works out only if “you do to others as you want them to do to you”. That simple Golden Rule 🙂
  8. Make it agile. As a person one always changes, and so do our surroundings and situations. So better don’t design a static satisfaction system, but make it easily adaptable and reconfigurable. (I admit this is a completely theoretic idea so far, but it “sounds good”. Maybe somebody can map this to the practical search for satisfaction. I recommend “Design Principles for Highly Adaptable Business Systems” for inspirations, esp. p. 13.)
  9. Make it redundant. A redundant system includes backups and provides n × 100% satisfaction in total. A scaled system provides 100% satisfaction in total, but in parts. So in case of a failure, all but one part still provide you satisfaction. That’s worse than redundancy, but better than zero. Both designs require that one has more than one way for satisfaction. That is also, more than one set of ideas and wishes in life.
  10. Make it sustainable. It is possible to derive some satisfaction from eating, recreational shopping, drugs, smoking and so on. But when overdoing these, using them as the basis of all satisfaction, in the long run it can ruin a person instead of providing satisfaction. Used carefully however, in the right amount, pretty much everything that humans can do and enjoy has its place. (Two female friends of mine enjoy special moments of the year by smoking a cigarillo together … so harmless!)
  11. And make it resilient. People care to go off-grid with their house, to make it resilient against failure of the central electricity and water infrastructure. In the same way, we should make our approach to satisfaction resilient against being crushed by external events. From this perspective, it’s for example not a good idea to make satisfaction revolve around a day job. When losing my job, I want still feel meaningful, valuable, and also my lifestyle or anything else relevant for my satisfaction should not collapse.

I will create a follow-up post to analyze my own (so far, largely failing) approach to satisfaction and ways to fix it. I also want to look into explaining a person’s satisfaction system as a diagram. And finally to develop best practices, patterns and instructions how to design and implement an own satisfaction system. This will also include ways to measure and track satisfaction, maybe a smartphone application that asks me about my satisfaction at random times. Ideas welcome!

(A ton of thanks to my friend María for the discussion that inspired everything above!)