Sunday, January 24, 2010

Environmental Vow: Part Four

The Problem with Sacred Cows

Another structural problem that undermines any significant approach to the environmental problems is that any significant attempt to deal with them can only do so by threatening two pillars of human society that are so fundamental that they are treated as sacred cows: the family and the economy.

Human Reproduction

Evolutionary theory tells us that there is no more basic urge than that of reproduction. It is, from the biological point of view, the only really important thing that human beings do. And as such, we are programmed by our very DNA to have children. That is why people have the instinct for sex that causes us to get into so many problems. It is also why most of us feel our hearts “melt” when we see a baby. It is why so many women without children go more than a little crazy when they approach menopause and they start to hear their biological clock “running down”. Human beings are not just rational beings, we are biologically “hard wired” with instinctual urges that control an enormous amount of our day-to-day lives. (If anyone seriously doubts this, take a look at some advertising and think about how much of it is attempting to link into and take advantage of our sex drive.)

Unfortunately, it is an inescapable fact that there are simply far, far too many people on the planet earth and the human race needs to limit its fertility. In fact, there are so many people on the earth that we really should cut the number of people we already have by a very great deal. How much it should be cut comes down to a number of assumptions that people start out with. If we want to pull all the people of the earth up to the standard of living something like the people of Europe, we will have to cut it very drastically indeed, to probably a lot under one billion. If we want to pull down the industrial West to the standard of living of an Indian peasant, then perhaps we could continue get by with three billion. If, in addition, we are willing to give up on trying to preserve certain wild animals and let the grizzly bear, tiger, whale, etc, go extinct, then perhaps we can get by on what we have now (although I think most ecologists would take issue even with that.) But no matter how you slice it, the human race simply has to stop having children and that means a lot of women in our lifetime should really go to their graves without having had any at all.

The above is not terribly controversial amongst experts in the field. But the quickest way to create an angry and bitter battle within even the most radical of environmental groups is to state the above and suggest that substantive policy be crafted to make the human population shrink down to a sustainable level as soon as possible. This opposition takes several forms.

The first is a type of denial that suggests that human population is already declining. This is not true at all. The rate of increase is reducing, but that doesn't translate into a decrease in population, just a reduction in the rate at which it is growing. With the Earth already under tremendous stress and the human population well beyond its carrying capacity, we simply do not have the luxury of time to simply wait until the rate eventually cuts itself down to a sustainable level. (Indeed, to be completely accurate, the human population issue is self-correcting because if it continues much further along its present trends it will simply result in a population crash as billions of people die through things like starvation and disease; or a nuclear war created by the social stress. The point of environmentalism is always, ultimately, about trying to prevent misery in the human race. Mother Nature can take care of herself.)

Another sort of denial says that the Western countries are already going through a period of population decline, so we simply need to develop the economies of the Third World nations and their populations will spontaneously decline. The problem with this approach is that it ignores the issues of footprint, immigration and our declining window of opportunity.

With regard to ecological footprint, it doesn't matter to the earth one whit whether we have one person consuming 100x of the earth's resources or 100 individuals consuming 1x each. The net result is still 100x. In effect, we could still have a population problem if the population were in fact declining but the rate at which each remaining individual was using up the world's resources was still increasing faster. And indeed, both of those factors are at work with regard to Western population. There are fewer people being born in Europe, but each individual is consuming even more than their parents did.

More to the point, this argument ignores the fact that the countries that consume the absolute most per capita, the USA and Canada, both are still experiencing significant population increases. The USA is bucking the trend of the rest of the developed world by actually having a high birth rate. And Canada increases its population through immigration---and all of those immigrants almost immediately change their consumption patterns to those of native-born Canadians. Finally, even if the population were slowly declining---which it is not---we only have a limited amount of time to deal with things like climate change before things like positive feedback loops become initiated and our problems become much greater.

A third response is not argumentative at all, but mere sophistry. That is to shut down debate by immediately kicking into some sort of emotional temper tantrum and spouting wild accusations whenever population issues are raised. And if you try to engage people in discussions about immigration, someone almost invariably will suggest that anyone who wants to limit it is a racist. It is also very common to hear people suggest that any person who raises the issue of population control is suggesting that parents should kill their children. These responses are not meant seriously, of course, but instead are primarily ways of signifying to all present that the issue is too emotionally charged to be discussed seriously and instead should be ignored. And since that is exactly what happens in almost all environmental organizations and mainstream politics, people learn to “bite their tongues” and the issue disappears from the radar.

The thing to remember about these responses is that they are not rational arguments. Instead, they should be understood for what they really are: instinct-based reproductive behaviour. In a real sense, when someone responds with an illogical negative response in order to “short circuit” discussion about population control they are doing much the same thing as when someone goes into “protection mode” when a member of their immediate family is threatened. There is no rationality at all to human reproduction---yet we all have to deal with these instinctual urges in one way or another. Political discourse about limiting human population is saturated with this biological imperative and unless society learns to limit the power of this instinctive drive, it will lead us all to catastrophe.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Making a Homunculus

One of the things that separates Daoism from other religious world-views is the way it has traditionally posited that the human body is an important part of the spiritual man. In contrast, most other religions have tended towards a form of dualism where something like a "soul" inhabits a body like a human being driving a car. In philosophy this dualism is known as the "Cartesian Theatre".

The Cartesian Theatre seems like a reasonable hypothesis to the naive person, but suffers from being subject to an infinite regress. If the only way we can explain consciousness is by having a little man who lives in our heads (or a soul in the machine), then doesn't the "little man" also have to have a little man in his head (or, doesn't the soul itself have to be inhabited by a soul)?

In answer to this problem, modern psychologists have posited that human consciousness is a result of complex processes that take place in the entire body. And with a little reflection this should make sense to everyone. After all, a lot of our consciousness is controlled by hormones. Our sex drive makes us act in ways that has nothing to do with reason or logic, for example. In fact, almost all of our behaviour is ultimately driven by emotions that are instinctual in nature: fear, hunger, anger, lust, envy, jealously, etc.

Physiologists refer to the human sensory nerves by creating an image that they call a "homunculus". The idea is to draw a human being where the size of the various bodily parts corresponds to the relative density of nerve endings in that specific part.

By doing so, they are presenting a pictoral representation of how our body actually feels to the conscious mind. Since the process of neidan ("internal alchemy") involves becoming more and more aware of how the internal body operates, it actually involves changing the way we experience the body we inhabit. As a result, someone who had practised a style of internal alchemy for a long time, for example taijiquan, would have a different homunculus drawing to represent how they experience the world around them. A taijiquan player homunculus, for example, be shown with a much larger set of hips and spine, as the process of learning taijiquan involves learning to be much more aware of those parts of the body than is normal in our society. Modern science shows that this is possible because the human brain can and routinely does change itself in response to the behaviour of the individual. In the case of the internal alchemist, the hours and decades of disciplined practice changes the way the brain is organized.

Beyond the nerve endings that control our muscles and joints, there are also hormones that flow through our bodies. A homunculus rendering that attempted to show how our hormones affect our emotions would be a much more difficult thing to render, but it might be interesting to think about what it might look like. For example, I have a tendency to weep at the drop of a hat when I am overcome with strong emotions. (I cry buckets at sappy movies.) I can also become filled with rage at a drop of hat. (This is a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder.) This also has characteristic responses, such as clenching various muscles.

Through the ages different Daoists have noticed these sorts of things and have attempted to integrate them into their understanding of the human being. An early idea was that there were specific "gods" or "demons" that inhabited different parts of the body. The idea was that the alchemist should learn to control these different Gods by living a life that starved them of what they needed to become active. In the popular Daoist book Journey to the West, Monkey (who epitomizes the untrained human mind) has a terrible temper and when he "loses it" the narrator talks about the "brain worms" going wild in his head. Similarly, there are texts that talk about different "demons" or "worms" living in the heart, liver, etc-----organs that had their own specific influence on different elements of the human consciousness.

Daoists have also created their own homunculus diagrams in order to illustrate the way that various parts of the human body interact and work to modify our consciousness. The most famous one was copied from a stone carving in the White Cloud Temple in Beijing. It is called the "Neijing Tu". I have a copy on the wall of my hermitage's shrine room and have spent more than a little time looking at it trying to learn from it.

The version that I have is slightly different from the one above, but the main thing to remember about it is that it is the result of a tradition of people spending a lot of time thinking about and experimenting with the way their consciousness interacts with their body. The important point for the practitioner is not to learn how to decode the symbols that abound in the diagram, but to think about how their own experience of their body relates to the pictorial representations and what they might inform their own experience. That's because the experience of neidan is so personal that unless you find someone else who has made the same sort of efforts as you, it will be impossible to explain exactly what you are talking about without hopelessly confusing the other person. As such, the best you can do is what the person who carved the stele at the White Cloud Temple has done and leave a hint for the odd individual who will live in future generations.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Environmental Vow: Part Three

I'm still grinding away at my essay instead of working on the blog. I have lots of great ideas for blog posts, but no time. :-(

Exponential Versus Linear Thinking

Beyond the issue of positive feedback, there is one further element of the current crisis that increases our danger yet few people understand. It results from a specific bias that seems inherent to the way most people look at the world. That is to say that the environmental problems we are facing tend to be exponential in nature yet human “common sense” limits most people to intuitively seeing the world in a linear manner.

This problem can be illustrated by a old teaching story about the man who invented the game of chess. He gave a set to a king who was so impressed that he offered the inventer whatever he desired in return. The inventor suggested that he would like an amount of rice calculated according to the following formula. The first square of his chess board would have one grain of rice, the second two, the third 4, and so on. In effect, he was asking for grains of rice doubled to the 64th power.

There are two things that need to be pointed out to the naive reader about this story. First that because of the “miracle of compound interest” the resulting amount of rice on the chessboard is astronomically large: almost 37 cubic kilometers. If people were asked to intuitively guess at what the total amount of rice would be, they would almost invariably dramatically underestimate the total amount. The second important point to realize is that one half of that rice, 18.5 cubic kilometers, is on the last square alone (that is, because we are talking about doubling the amount.) Again, if asked to intuitively conceptualize the way the rice is distributed, people routinely miss this point. Indeed, the reason why this story about the chessboard and rice has been handed down through generations of religious teachers is because it gives an example of how the “common sense” way of looking at things can dramatically misleed us.

The only explanation that comes to my mind for this particular failure of complehension is to suggest that people have a bias towards seeing the world through the lense of “linear” growth. By using the term “linear”, I am relating the lived human experience of participating in an activity that can be expressed by a so-called “linear equation”. If you remember high-school mathematics, those are the situations that end up being shown by a straight line (hence the term “linear”) on a graph. These are situations where one of the key variables stays the same. One example is when someone has to shovel a load of gravel from one place to another---the shovel he uses stays the same size from the beginning of the job to the end. “Exponential” growth, in contrast, is expressed on a graph by a parabolic curve that starts slow and then explodes into something huge, like the story of the grains of rice on the chessboard. The two failures of the imagination I have identified above come from the fact that the majority of people usually only come across linear functions in their day-to-day life (the amount of gravel that the shovel moves per scoop only seems to get larger as the job progresses.) As a result, people's “common sense” fails them by thinking that the rice will grow the same way that pile of gravel gets moved. (I suspect that this is why so many people get into trouble with their credit card debt---they simply can't understand in their guts the way compound interest can balloon when you get behind in payments.)

This perceptual bias causes humanity a problem from an environmental perspective because two very important human processes have a profound impact on the environment---reproduction and economic growth---function in a exponential fashion. This means that the earth's population and our industrial activity, like the rice on the ancient chessboard, grow much faster than people intuitively expect them to. And also, contrary to people's naive expectations, one half of the growth happens in the last doubling cycle. This means that the problems that grow exponentially cease to be governable before people expect them to, which means that they take too long to take action.

With regard to population, the number of people on the earth has effectively doubled in my lifetime (starting at 1959) from three to six billion. At the current rate of growth, it could theoretically grow to over nine billion by the year 2050 (this is a reduction in the rate of growth, but it is still a very signficant increase in the numbers of people on the earth.) In a similar fashion, the rate of economic growth in Canada has averaged over the last few years at about 3% and in China's case has oscillated between 8% and an astounding 15%. If those rates continue, in the next 80 years the economies of Canada would be about 10 times bigger and China's a little under 500 times larger than they are now. Even if we assume that energy and natural resource efficiencies in the future will be such that a unit of economic activity then will only use one tenth the resources that it does now (and that is a pretty big assumption), this means that Canada will still be creating as much stress on the planet as it is now and China's impact will be at least fifty times larger than it is now. If we think of these two different economic growth rates in terms of doubling frequency, we find that at 3% Canada's economy doubles in size about every 23 years; and at 8% China's at about every 9 years. This means that if life continues as it has up until now (or, as our politicians and economists are basing all their long-term planning on!!!!), in the years between 2066 and 2089 Canada's economy will grow larger by an equivalence of five times what it currently is. Similarly, in the years between 2080 and 2089 China's economy would grow by an astounding 250 times what it is today.

The impact of population growth on the regard the environment should be obvious to everyone. But some people do not understand (or, to be more accurate, are in denial with regard to) the way economic growth affects the environment. Strictly speaking, economic growth is usually measured in terms of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The GDP is the measure of all economic activity---both production and services---in an economy over a year. In effect, the GDP number is arrived at when all the things made and done in an economy for money are added together. If that number increases by 3% in a year, then the economy is said to have grown by 3%. As a rule of thumb, whenever the GDP goes up, so does the use of natural resources and the emission of pollutants do as well. Some people make a huge fuss about this assumption by arguing that it is theoretically possible for an economy to grow without having a corresponding increase in pressure on the environment. But in actual fact, this has never really happened in human history so raising this point is not much more than a rhetorical attempt to divert people's attention from a very disquieting fact.

The important point to understand about this mathematical process is that the growth is dramatically faster than people intuitively expect. What this means is the human institutions such as government and civil society are almost inevitably going to be “blind-sided” by the rate at which these two human process---economic and population growth---cease to be theoretical concerns and become practical catastrophies. Human societies take a certain amount of time to understand and react to change. If change happens faster than a society can understand and deal with it, then the nation becomes overwhelmed and loses the ability to effectively govern itself. At that point it simply blunders through crises without developing any effective means for either prevention or adaptation. That is the fundamental problem that humanity faces because its perceptual bias towards seeing the world in a linear as opposed to exponential fashion.

I believe that if people honestly look at the last few election cycles this inability to adapt to a changing reality expresses itself in the sorts of issues that dominate political discourse. For example, for the last twenty years global warming has been probably the greatest threat facing our civilization---yet the issues that have dominated have tended, in comparison, to be laughably trivial: gay rights, the cost of living, education, taxation, medical insurance, etc. (Please note, I am not saying that these are not important issues with very dramatic impact on individual people's lives. Just that they pale into insignificance when compared to the dramatic importance of dealing with climate change which will have a catastrophic impact on everyone's life.) It is probably true that given enough obvious evidence of climate change that governments will eventually start seriously working on the file, but if action is left too late our last doubling cycle will create so much new stress on the planet (because of things like positive feedback) that it will probably end up being a question of too little too late.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Environmental Vow: Part Two

This is the next part of the book I am writing. It doesn't really have much directly to do with Daoism, but it does address the issue of why I am what people usually call a "religious" instead of a "philosophical" Daoist. I'm using the provisional title of "The Vow of Sustainability" for this essay---for reasons that will eventually become obvious as I work through it.

The Crisis We Face

The human race currently faces an environmental catastrophe that has several elements that make it particularly dangerous. First of all, it is unprecedented in the dangers it presents to human civilization. Secondly, due to the mathematical laws that govern the way it is progressing, the human race is almost doomed to not understand and react until it is too late to take the action necessary to avert catastrophe. Finally, the only actions that seem like they would be sufficient to avert catastrophe seem to dramatically undermine key biological and social imperatives.

There is no sense in writing yet another screed that explains the dangers of CO2 emissions. Anyone who hasn't heard the news is simply refusing to listen. But I think it is important to understand a few key points that many people may not understand. First of all, there is a significant danger that global warming may have a “tipping point” beyond which positive feedback will cause it to accelerate dramatically no matter what human beings do. “Positive feedback” is a phenomenon where a specific result of an activity is channelled back into the original process that results in that original activity being sped up or intensified. An example everyone has seen is where a microphone is held too close to a speaker in a public address system. The loud squeal is the result of the sound that microphone picks up being amplified through the speaker, where it is picked up again by the microphone and made louder by the speaker, and then fed to the microphone yet again, which gets louder again until the limits of the speaker are reached---or the microphone is moved or turned off.

There are several possible ways that positive feedback could dramatically speed up climate change.

First of all, large areas in the earth's surface are composed of “permafrost”. These are places where the soil remains frozen all year around. They are a sort of permanent “deep freeze” which hasn't melted for thousands of years. (It is because of this permanent cold that we are able to find preserved woolly mammoths.) Many of these areas contain large quantities of frozen organic matter that if melted would release large quantities of methane into the atmosphere. Methane is many times more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2. If a great amount of methane is released, the earth will get warmer, which will cause more permafrost to melt. This will release even more methane, and so on. Some areas of permafrost are already melting.

Secondly, the area around the North Pole has traditionally been covered by sea ice. Ice is very good at reflecting the sun's energy. If it melts, then it is replaced by dark sea water---which is much better at absorbing heat. If the sea absorbs enough heat, then there are going to be fewer and fewer days when the sea is covered by ice. This, in turn, means that the sea absorbs more heat, which means that there are even fewer days when the water is covered by ice. The water around the North Pole is already clear of ice for longer times each year than at any time in history. So much so that nations around the world are scrambling to claim it for oil drilling and as a sea lane.

One final example involves temperate forests. As temperatures rise, insect infestations which are controlled by the cold of winter will become more widespread. As these insects move through forests, they kill off trees which then dry out and become tinder for forest fires. And when those trees burn, they release more carbon which then increases the CO2 in the atmosphere, which in turn raises the temperature over the winter, which allows more insect pests to survive. At some point global warming may result in massive forest fires across the boreal forests of Canada and Russia, which would release huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. It is already the case that a current Mountain Pine Beetle outbreak in British Columbia is 10 times larger than anything recorded before. And this, in turn, has fed massive forest fires in that province.

Beyond the problem of positive feedback leading to an accelerating climate crisis, there are other significant ecological problems that are rarely mentioned in the popular press because the scientific and environmental community believes it is best to focus on the one issue of CO2 emmissions first. These include things like the acidification of the seas, the global accumulation of fixed nitrogen, transgenerational genetic damage caused by chemical pollution, and so on. Moreover, it needs to be remembered that because of the huge resources that have gone into studying climate change, many of these issues have probably also been starved of research funding, which means that there may be even bigger problems that we are don't even know about. (The so-called “unknown unknowns”.)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Environmental Vow: Part One

I've been a bit negligent in posting to my blog over the last few months. Primarily, this is because I have been working on writing a long essay about an issue related to Daoism, but not directly relevant. I've been on the horns of a dilemma about whether I should try to sell the manuscript that I hope will result or just give it out free as an e-book. I've finally made up my mind to put it out as an e-book. What convinced me was hearing several people tell me that nowadays it makes more sense to give away your writings for free and hope for some consulting work that might come out of it than to think that you can write a best-seller. With that in mind, I'm going to be posting bits and pieces of the essay for feedback. When I eventually get the thing finished, I'll post it in its entirety here so people can download it, share with others, etc.

What I'm posting today is a bit of a "teaser" that was written with the hope that it would raise some of the ideas that I plan to deal with in detail in the following essay. The idea is that people would get into the main body of the essay with some appreciation of the practical importance of the ideas being discussed.

The Example of Gandhi

One of the defining moments of India's independence movement was a symbolic act when Congress Party members piled-up all their clothing that was made from imported English textiles and set them on fire. This was a public declaration that from then on they would wear nothing else but an Indian-made form of homespun, known as “khadi”. By doing so, these people were both supporting the economic independence of their country as well as providing much-needed work for the hard-pressed class of agricultural labourers. (Who wove the cloth on small looms during the rainy season.) The impact of this movement on the development of Indian nationalism cannot be under-estimated. As a token, to this day, the Indian flag is forbidden to be made of anything else but khadi.

Mohandas Gandhi, who was the leader of Indian independence, was a remarkably successful politician in large part because he understood the importance of symbols and symbolic acts as ways of creating consensus amongst and motivating large numbers of people. He did this by appealing to the values and emotions of the people supporting the independence movement. He understood that for most people the intellect is a lazy fellow who almost never gets off his couch and does the “heavy lifting”. Instead, the labour and risk of life is almost invariably undertaken because someone becomes emotionally engaged.

More to the point, Gandhi realized the importance of both the symbolic act and the public vow. People live their lives enmeshed in a symbolic milieau. We constantly look towards each other in search of cues that suggest that what it is that they are doing at any given time is right, proper, and fashionable. Are my clothes appropriate for my workplace? Is this joke appropriate for this meeting? Should I have dressed up just a little more for the wedding? Will my date “fit in” at this family occasion? Is my yard “up to standards” for my neighbourhood? Are my jeans “cool” enough for my crowd? Gandhi realized that while it is possible to change an individual person's opinion through reasoned argument (and he was a master at that), whole societies only change when the conventional understanding of what is right, appropriate and fashionable begins to shift. And the way to change those values is not done by argument, but by re-arranging the symbolic “signposts” that inform their community. And the way to do that, is by creating new symbols to shade-out the old ones and substitute for them.

Gandhi did this in several ways. First of all, he made a conscious choice to reject English-style clothing and adopted a traditional form of dress. He shaved his head, leaving only a scalp lock (shika), which identified him as an orthodox, if somewhat old-fashioned, Hindu. He also took to wearing a khadi loincloth (dhoti). The point was that up until that time most of the educated elite of Indian society (including Gandhi) took great pains to emulate the English in their clothing and much of their lifestyle. For a leader like the Mahatma to begin to dress and act like a lower-class, old-fashioned Indian was an act of great symbolic resonance. As such, he was trying to break down the barriers that existed between the small elite of cosmopolitan Indians who supported independence and the overwhelming majority of ordinary citizens who were disinterested. What this meant for the independence movement was that for the first time ordinary people began to see a nationalist leader that they could identify with as being “one of them”.

A second symbolic act that the Mahatama undertook was to create an Ashram, or spiritual commune, where people of all faiths and all castes lived together. Gandhi realized that the English had been able to govern their country by dividing the Indian people into different religious groups and play them off against each other. As long as Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Jains, Parsis, etc, had more against each other than the British, they would never be able to throw out the imperialists. Gandhi attempted to move beyond these divisions on their ears by showing that people of all faiths could live together on his commune and by consciously trying to surround himself with representatives of all faiths. More to the point, by publically living with people from all religious faiths, Gandhi dissipated any fears that non-Hindus may have had about supporting him.

Moreover, Gandhi knew that the majority Hindu faith was itself divided by caste oppression. As long as the huge numbers of “untouchables” (Dalits) were oppressed by the other Hindu castes, it would be very hard to accuse the British of doing anything worse than what Indians were already doing to themselves. Gandhi worked to “short circuit” this sense of untouchability by publically displaying his unwillingness to take any of the traditional “cleanliness” taboos (i.e. what specifically separated Dalits from higher castes) seriously. In fact, at the first national conference of the Congress Party he ever attended he personally took on the responsibility of cleaning the latrines---a tremendously “unclean” task for a high-caste Hindu like himself. (The movie “Gandhi” references this fact by a scene where his wife is horrified to be asked to take her turn cleaning the latrine for the Ashram. Western audiences often miss the importance of this scene because they don't understand the subtext.) In addition, Gandhi's writings almost seem to revel in discussing toilets and latrines, and the poor state of Indian sanitation. Finally, on his “salt march” he had two porters walk behind him with a portable toilet. This seems totally inexplicable to modern Western readers until one realizes that he was symbolically taking on the issue of untouchability by doing so.

One of the images that is most deeply seated in our understanding of Gandhi is that of his sitting at a spinning wheel (charka). Not only are there many photos of him doing this, he used to spin at moments that would seem extremely innappropriate to Western audiences. For example, when he was the President of the Congress Party he once spent an entire 40 minute scheduled address in front of a huge number of supporters doing nothing else but silently spinning thread. Again, in the context of India at that time, this was a profoundly symbolic act. It was an act of clearly reinforcing the connection between the Congress Party leadership and the ordinary people of India. It was a way of reinforcing Gandhi's policy of trying to support economic nationalism by cutting the nation's reliance in the mills of England. Finally, it was a way of suggesting his concern about the struggling poor (what he called the “skeletons” in his writings) who needed that thread to be able to work weaving khadi during the rainy seasons (that is, when no longer needed for agricultural labour.) By the symbolic act of publically spinning, Gandhi was literally making a thread that connected his political movement to the ordinary people of India and suggested a way for the country to cut itself from from the economic dependency that tied it to England.