Sunday, November 28, 2010

115. Biology and Culture

By Beth Azar, Journal of the American Psychological Association, November 2010, Vol 41, No. 10 

When an American thinks about whether he is honest, his brain activity looks very different than when he thinks about whether another person is honest, even a close relative. That’s not true for Chinese people. When a Chinese man evaluates whether he is honest, his brain activity looks almost identical to when he is thinking about whether his mother is honest.

That finding — that American and Chinese brains function differently when considering traits of themselves versus traits of others (Neuroimage, Vol. 34, No. 3) — supports behavioral studies that have found that people from collectivist cultures, such as China, think of themselves as deeply connected to other people in their lives, while Americans adhere to a strong sense of individuality.

The study also shows the power of cultural neuroscience, the growing field that uses brain-imaging technology to deepen the understanding of how environment and beliefs can shape mental function. Barely heard of just five years ago, the field has become a vibrant area of research, and the University of Michigan, the University of California, Los Angeles, and Emory University have created cultural neuroscience centers. In addition, in April a cultural neuroscience meeting at the University of Michigan attracted such psychology luminaries as Hazel Markus, PhD, Michael Posner, PhD, Steve Suomi, PhD, and Claude Steele, PhD, to discuss their work in the context of cultural neuroscience.

The field has made headlines that include, “Chinese, English speakers do math differently,” from MSNBC about a study by Yiyuan Tang of Dalian University of Technology in Dalian, China, which found that Chinese natives make use of different parts of the brain than Americans do to process numbers. Another headline article in USA Today, “Eastern ‘collectivist’ culture may buffer against depression” found that people from East Asian cultures are more likely to have a gene that buffers them from depression than people from Western cultures, as discovered by Northwestern University psychologist Joan Chiao, PhD.

Findings like these demonstrate that neuroscience can measure cultural differences. But such results also corroborate the behavioral work of cultural psychology. As the field matures, it may even change the way we think about brain development.

“Cultural neuroscience gives us a window into how much the brain can be changed by the environment,” says University of Texas at Dallas psychologist Denise C. Park, PhD, who has conducted several cultural neuroscience studies. “It will deepen our understanding of how environment and beliefs can shape cognitive function.”

Culture shapes biology

Tufts University psychologist Nalini Ambady, PhD, is one of the field’s pioneers. Her work has found that even as people perceive the same stimulus, their brains may activate differently.

For example, in a study headed by her graduate student Jonathan Freeman and published last year in Neuroimage (Vol. 47, No. 1), the researchers used fMRI to measure brain activity in American and Japanese study participants when they viewed silhouettes of bodies in postures considered “dominant” — standing tall, arms crossed, for example — and “submissive” — head and arms hanging down, for instance.

Ambady’s group based the study on historical data showing that East-Asian cultures value submissiveness, while Western cultures value dominance. In fact, they found, they could see this cultural distinction in the way the brain responds to visual input. When Americans viewed dominant silhouettes, but not submissive ones, reward circuitry fired in the brain’s limbic system. The opposite happened among Japanese participants; their reward circuitry fired in response to submissive, but not dominant, silhouettes.

In addition, the magnitude of the brain’s response to the images correlated precisely with self-reports of how much participants valued dominance and submissiveness, says Ambady. The more a participant supported sentences stating that it’s good to be in control, the stronger the reward circuitry fired when he or she viewed a dominant posture.

“We see that what the brain finds rewarding reflects the values of the dominant culture,” says Ambady. “People can see the same stimulus but have completely different neural responses.”

Park and her colleagues find that cultures may actually see the world differently and that scientists can pick up this difference with brain imaging. In a 2010 study published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, they used fMRI to examine brain activity while American and native Chinese participants processed a series of visual scenes. The scenes consisted of a central object superimposed onto either a congruent — giraffe on a savanna — or incongruent — giraffe on a football field — background.

Using an analysis of the imaging data they developed in those earlier studies, the researchers showed that Chinese participants’ perceptual areas of the brain responded more to objects superimposed on incongruent scenes than objects matching their surroundings. This was not the case for Americans, who didn’t appear to be affected by the background at all.

These findings support the idea that native Chinese, as opposed to Americans, are more sensitive to the context in which an object is embedded, and so focus greater attention on that object when it’s in an inconsistent context, says Park. Most recently, a study by Park’s group, in press in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience demonstrated that Westerners process human faces more actively than East Asians, consistent with the Western focus on individuality.

In effect, she adds, East Asians and Americans literally see things differently — and that finding could have major implications for models of cross-cultural communication.

Seeing things differently may also affect how easily different cultures perform cognitive tasks, even when they use the same brain circuitry. Such research may someday shed light on why some cultures appear more skilled at certain real-life cognitive problems than others, but right now researchers are looking at very simple tasks. For example, behavioral work by University of Michigan psychologist Shinobu Kitayama, PhD, and his colleagues showed that people from Japan are far better at judging the length of a line relative to the size of a box in which it’s drawn, while Americans are far better at judging the absolute length of the same line. They attribute this difference to findings from other studies showing that Americans pay more attention to details and Asians pay more attention to context.

Last year, Stanford University postdoc Trey Hedden, PhD, and his colleagues used fMRI to re-examine these findings. Like Kitayama, they used the framed-line task: Participants see a square with a line drawn partway down the middle. They then see a larger box and either have to draw a line the same absolute length as the first line or a line the same relative length compared with the bigger size of the new box.

Again, Americans did better on the absolute test and Japanese did better on the relative test, but this time the researchers could see what was happening in their brains. It turns out that both Americans and Japanese use the same brain areas for both tests, but when they’re doing the test that is more difficult for them, they also engage an area of the brain associated with increased attention.

“This finding shows that the brain compensates for tasks that we’re not typically exposed to through our culture by turning on an attention circuit to help us,” says Kitayama. In contrast, tasks that are commonplace become automatic and don’t require extra concentration.

Biology shapes culture

While cultural neuroscience has mostly shown how culture shapes biology, researchers are also beginning to examine how biology shapes culture.
Northwestern University’s Joan Chiao, PhD, for example, has found that people who live in collectivist cultures are more likely than those in individualistic cultures to have a form of the serotonin transporter gene — the S-allele — that correlates with higher rates of negative affect, anxiety and depression.
In contrast to what you might expect from the genes alone, she also found that people from collectivist societies are less likely to be depressed. This suggests that collectivism, which tends to produce lower levels of negative affect, may have co-evolved with the S-allele, says Chiao, who published her findings in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Science (Vol. 277, No. 1,681). In other words, she explains, societies of people with the S-allele developed a collectivist culture that reduced stress and, therefore, risk of depression by emphasizing social harmony and social support.

“Culture may make us rethink the role of this serotonin transporter physiology,” says University of Michigan neuroscientist Israel Liberzon, MD. “If it’s very common in East Asian groups, but the prevalence of depression is not higher, it somehow interacts with their lives differently.”

Developing standards

While such neuroscience findings are great headline fodder, the field must move forward with rigor and caution, says Stanford University’s Markus, who is a pioneer of cultural psychology. It’s not enough, she says, simply to scan the brains of people from different “cultures” — defined by language, nationality or ethnicity — and make assumptions about cognitive or perceptual differences. By themselves, these are meaningless categories, she adds.

“To make progress in our understanding of how cultures shape brains and brains shape culture,” she says, “we need to know what psychological and behavioral tendencies are associated with these social categories and how these tendencies are linked to brain function.”

Chiao learned this lesson while conducting an fMRI study, published last year in Human Brain Mapping (Vol. 30, No. 9). The study looked at activity in the brain’s medial prefrontal cortex — an area associated with a sense of self — while people from Japan and the United States assessed whether self-descriptive phrases applied to them. The researchers sought to find a biological explanation for past research showing that people from collectivist cultures relate more strongly to contextual self-descriptions, such as “When I’m with my mother, I’m honest.” People from already defined individualistic cultures relate more strongly to general self-descriptions such as “I’m honest.”

When Chiao and her colleagues compared participants along ethnic lines, they saw no difference in brain activity. Differences appeared only after they grouped people based on how strongly they valued collectivism or individualism: Regardless of ethnicity, the medial prefrontal cortex was most active when individualists read general self-descriptions and when collectivists read contextual self-descriptions.

This work demonstrates how variable cultural values can be, even within cultural groups, as people filter information from their environment and form their own self-concepts, says Chiao.

That’s why University of California, Los Angeles, graduate student Elizabeth Losin and colleagues include the need to carefully define culture among eight guidelines for cultural neuroscience research they lay out in a paper published this year in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (Vol. 5, No. 2–3). They also suggest guidelines on the need to match study participants on how long they’ve been immersed in the culture under study; to ensure that study materials are culturally appropriate; and to consider potential genetic variation within a cultural group that might account for differences in brain development.
In the end, cultural neuroscience could usher in an era of greater understanding between people from different cultures.

“My greatest hope is that it has implications for negotiations between countries; that people on both sides understand that they might not be talking about the same thing even if they’re looking at the same thing,” says Park.

114. A Billion People to Lose Their Homes Due to Climate Change, Study Finds

By Robin McKie, The Observer, November 28, 2010
Flooding in Bangladesh
Devastating changes to sea levels, rainfall, water supplies, weather systems and crop yields are increasingly likely before the end of the century, scientists will warn tomorrow.
A special report, to be released at the start of climate negotiations in Cancún, Mexico, will reveal that up to a billion people face losing their homes in the next 90 years because of failures to agree curbs on carbon emissions.
Up to three billion people could lose access to clean water supplies because global temperatures cannot now be stopped from rising by 4C.
"The main message is that the closer we get to a four-degree rise, the harder it will be to deal with the consequences," said Dr Mark New, a climate expert at Oxford University, who organised a recent conference entitled "Four Degrees and Beyond" on behalf of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. Tomorrow the papers from the meeting will be published to coincide with the start of the Cancún climate talks.
A key feature of these papers is that they assume that even if global carbon emission curbs were to be agreed in the future, these would be insufficient to limit global temperature rises to 2C this century – the maximum temperature rise agreed by politicians as acceptable. "To have a realistic chance of doing that, the world would have to get carbon emissions to peak within 15 years and then follow this up with a massive decarbonisation of society," said Dr Chris Huntingford, of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Oxfordshire.
Few experts believe this is a remotely practical proposition, particularly in the wake of the failure of the Copenhagen climate talks last December – a point stressed by Bob Watson, former head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and now chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. As he put it: "Two degrees is now a wishful dream."
Researchers such as Richard Betts, head of climate impacts at the Met Office, calculate that a 4C rise could occur in less than 50 years, with melting of ice sheets and rising sea levels.
According to François Gemenne, of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations in Paris, this could lead to the creation of "ghost states" whose governments-in-exile would rule over scattered citizens and land lost to rising seas.
Small island states such as Tuvalu and the Maldives are already threatened by inundation. "What would happen if a state was to physically disappear but people want to keep their nationalities?" he asked. "It could continue as a virtual state even though it is a rock under the ocean."
Peter Stott of the Met Office said the most severe effect of all these changes is likely to involve changes to the planet's ability to soak up carbon dioxide. At present, around 50% of man-made carbon emissions are absorbed by the sea and by plants on land.
"However, the amount of carbon dioxide that can be absorbed decreases as temperatures rise. We will reach a tipping point from which temperatures will go up even faster. The world will then start to look very different."

113. How Americans Think and Feel About Income Inequality

In his November 17 New York Times column, The Hedge Fund Republic, Nicholas Kristof takes on the rising income inequality in the U.S.   He notes that while Latin American countries notorious for their income inequality have improved their income distribution somewhat, the U.S. has increased its gap.  In the 1940s in Argentina the top 1 percent by wealth controlled more than 20 percent of incomes, twice as much as in the United States.  In 2007, the top 1 percent in Argentina controled a bit more than 15 percent while in the United States the top 1 percent controls 24 percent of income in 2007.  In fact, The top 1 percent of Americans owns 34 percent of America’s private net worth, according to figures compiled by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington. The bottom 90 percent owns just 29 percent.

Kristof wonders: "At a time of such stunning inequality, should Congress put priority on spending $700 billion on extending the Bush tax cuts to those with incomes above $250,000 a year? Or should it extend unemployment benefits for Americans who otherwise will lose them beginning next month?"  
How is this possible in a true democracy?  Why would working class Americans vote for candidates put forward by two major capitalist parties supported by corporations and elect a Congress that is more than half composed of multi-millionaires?  What happened to Lincoln's promise of "a government of the people, by the people, and for the people?" 
A democracy is not a formal system of political parties and regular elections (even though these are required).  More importantly, it requires politically educated citizens.  
The American ruling class has managed to engineer the American voter who is neither politically educated nor free of bourgeois prejudices.  
Below please find the Abstract from a recent survey by  about Americans perception of income inequality and their preference.  You can also download the entire report in PDF format.
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Building a Better America – One Wealth Quintile at a Time

By Michael I. Norton and Dan Ariely


Disagreements about the optimal level of wealth inequality underlie policy debates ranging from taxation to welfare. We attempt to insert the desires of “regular” Americans into these debates, by asking a nationally representative online panel to estimate the current distribution of wealth in the United States and to “build a better America” by constructing distributions with their ideal level of inequality. First, respondents dramatically underestimated the current level of wealth inequality. Second, respondents constructed ideal wealth distributions that were far more equitable than even their erroneously low estimates of the actual distribution. Most important from a policy perspective, we observed a surprising level of consensus: All demographic groups – even those not usually associated with wealth redistribution such as Republicans and the wealthy – desired a more equal distribution of wealth than the status quo.

For the full report click here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

112. Emission Pledges Fall Well Short of Halting Climate Change, Say UN Scientists

By John Vidal, The Guardian, November 23, 20101
UN research shows that the pledges and promises made last year by 80 countries to reduce climate change emissions fall well short of what is needed to hold the global temperature rise to 2C and avoid the worst consequences of global warming.
The findings by 30 leading scientists suggest that if countries do everything they have promised, there will still be a 5bn tonne gap per year between their ambition and what the science says is needed. This gap, said the UN, is the equivalent of the emissions released by all the world's vehicles in a year. Many countries have committed themselves to holding temperature rises to no more than 2C (3.6F) by 2080 but to achieve this global emissions must be reduced from 56bn tonnes annually today to 44bn tonnes by 2020.
If only the weakest pledges made last year in the Copenhagen accordare implemented, emissions could be lowered to 53bn tonnes a year by 2020, leaving a gap of 9bn tonnes.
In the best case, says the report, emissions could drop to 49bn tonnes, reducing the gap to 5bn. But if nothing is done, then the emissions gap would rise to 12bn tonnes by 2020 – roughly what all the world's power stations emit.
The report, released in London ahead of next week's climate change summit in Cancun, Mexico, will become a key document at the UN talks, adding weight to developing countries' demands for more ambitious cuts by big emitters. Tonight it was welcomed by the energy and climate change secretary, Chris Huhne, who said: "[It] shows that despite some progress the world still needs to go further and faster in cutting emissions – and that includes the EU which must accept a more ambitious goal, of a 30% cut in emissions by 2020."
Achim Steiner, UN environment programme director, said: "There is a gap between the science and current ambition levels. But, what this report shows is that the options on the table right now in the negotiations can get us almost 60% of the way there. It can be bridged by higher ambition by developed and developing countries, perhaps complemented by action on a range of other pollutants such as methane from waste tips, animal wastes and the black carbon from the inefficient burning of biomass." The scientists said that the faster emissions are cut now, the easier it will be later to hold temperatures steady. "To hold temperatures to no more than a 1.5C rise, a figure which more than half the world's countries are pressing for, would need annual 4-5% cuts in emissions after 2020," said UNep chief scientist Joseph Alcamo.
Alcamo said the consequences of allowing temperatures to rise over 2C were serious. "Over 2C the intergovernmental panel on climate change (Ipcc) suggests there is an increasing risk of icecaps melting, leading to sea level rises, and increased risk of extreme weather events like droughts and floods."The UN report does not put a figure on the potential cost of reducing emissions, but Steiner said that even in a recession it should be possible to find because between $500 and 700bn a year is presently used to subsidise fossil fuels.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon called on countries to make good on their pledges and to further the negotiations in Cancun. "There is no time to waste," he said. "By closing the gap between the science and current ambition levels, we can seize the opportunity to usher in a new era of low-carbon prosperity and sustainable development for all."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

111. The Text of the Guidelines for Economic and Social Policy for Mass Discussion in Cuba

Raul Castro at 2nd Day of Seminar on Draft Party Program

Last week the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) released Guidelines for Economic and Social Policy, the key document for the Sixth Congress.  It contains 291 proposals regarding wide range of public life.  But the economic imperative dominates the document.  The document envisions new or expanded role for market forces in employment, housing, and foreign investment, something the leadership of the revolution had tried hard to avoid.  

In discussing the proposed market reforms, some of which are already underway, President Raúl Castro indicated that Cuba has "no alternative" but to embrace them (Miami Herald).  He also stated that mass participation will be a crucial element for the success of the Congress that will be held in April 2011(Cuban News Agency).  

So far two preparatory meetings of national leaders and experts have taken place. In the second "seminar" held November 16-18, 523 leaders and experts participated.  They will lead discussions of the document in mass meetings across Cuba.  Cuban news  (Escambray) reported extensive exchange of questions and answers between the members of the Sixth Party Congress Political and Economic Commission, which composed the draft program, and seminar participants. Issues discussed included the economic management system, macroeconomic policies, and foreign economic policy included in the document. Other issues discussed related to investment, science, technology and innovation. The meeting concluded with discussion of social policy.

I will post an English translation of the Guidelines for Economic and Social Policy as soon as one is available.
Related posts:
105. The Cuban Communist Party to Hold 6th Congress
106. Cubans To Discuss the Key Document for the 6th Congress of PCC

Monday, November 22, 2010

110. The Wisdom of Indigenous Cultures

By Rajesh Makwana and Adam Parsons, Dissident Voice, November 19th, 2010

In late October 2010 a group of eight indigenous elders travelled to London, UK, to share the message that it is time to re-connect with Mother Earth in order to overcome a global environmental disaster. Motivated by a deep concern for humanity and the planet, their visit formed part of a wider movement in which indigenous peoples are calling on the world community to urgently rethink modern notions of progress and development.

The indigenous approach to living sustainably is not religious, but one that conveys a spiritual truth which the elders believe is common to all people. The importance of nurturing relationships in communities through sharing is at the heart of this approach, alongside the understanding that our planet is a living entity that must be cared for and preserved for future generations. This ancient perspective clearly has immense implications for sustainable living during this period of global economic and environmental crises, and aligns closely to the views of a growing number of economists, policymakers and concerned citizens.

Share The World's Resources (STWR) interviewed two of the elders during their stay in London to further explore the indigenous call for people to reconnect with the basic community and ecological values that should define what it means to be human. Freddy Trequil is an artist and longstanding prominent member of the indigenous Mapuche community in Chile. He also founded and directs the Native Spirit Foundation, a non-profit charitable organisation which promotes the knowledge and preservation of indigenous cultures and supports education in indigenous communities. Victor Lem Masc is the Mayan spiritual guide of his Mayan Community in Guatemala, Latin America, who travels with Freddy and conducts workshops on the mysteries of the Mayan Calendar and the ancestral wisdom locked in the symbology of its intricate design. The spoken interview was translated from Spanish by Agustin Bazzini.

STWR: In your opinion, what are the key differences in the way indigenous people relate to each other and the planet compared to those of us who live in the so called `modern world'?

Freddy Trequil: Every indigenous community, wherever they are located, has a cosmology which is related to Mother Earth and a relationship between individuals and people, as well as an economy. But our economy was very much linked to the spiritual life. If we cut a tree, for example, we would always plant another one, and some indigenous cultures would hunt certain animals only for eating, not to accumulate wealth. They hunt to share. In indigenous communities the ones who share the most are the most appreciated, the most important. In Western modern societies, the value of a person is based on how much they have.

The indigenous people hold on to their memory of the past, which they identify with the present. But in the Western world the way of life has become like a huge, big machine that has led millions and millions of people into a labyrinth from where there is no way to get out. The consequences of following this life system, this model of development, can be seen in the suffering of the indigenous people. There is the contamination of the waters which results from the exploitation of oil; the construction and building of dams to generate electricity; the cutting of the forests; the extinction and disappearance of different animals and species. In this sense, we indigenous people are confronting people so they can understand that these models of life that have been imposed through religion and economics cannot in any way help develop humanity.

From our point of view, the heart of humanity has been lost and the indigenous communities who have maintained the memory [of a more spiritual and sustainable past] are an alternative to this [present way of] life, and our people are united with all the different `life alternatives' around the world. It is not through religion, but through faith and life that all these different people [who uphold an alternative way of living] are united.

The one who understands his culture can understand his past. In this sense we know our past history, how we have been invaded, and how the different religious, economic and military systems have been imposed. The problems we face in the indigenous communities are a result of all this imposition.

To give an example, for us it is very important to respect the elders, the children, the women, and Mother Earth. But a foreign educational system unrelated to our traditional way of life has been imposed on us and has effectively destroyed the community in the name of so-called progress. Sometimes we find ourselves between two worlds: the imposed one and the ancestral one that we are now trying to revive.

Another example of how our traditional way of life has been eroded is the use of pesticides on the lands. These changes are not changes that have developed from the community, but they have been imposed on us from outside. And this exact same problem possibly exists everywhere in the world. But those who have the memory of their past and who have strong roots in their cultures, we know where we are going. The solutions are not only in future progress, but also in recovering our old culture.

In our visits to different countries and cities in Europe, we have found many organisations and communities that promote exactly the same things that we are promoting, and that are searching for the same balance in life. So the indigenous elders that have come to Europe are working to relate these two different worlds together, to develop new possibilities of collaboration between the grassroots organisations of many countries. We do not come here with anger, or to seek revenge, but to promote a different philosophy. We come with positive and constructive ideas, to help.

STWR: Could you explain in more detail what you have referred to as the spiritual `cosmology' of the indigenous people you represent. What is the relevance of this cosmology to the modern, consumer-driven economy that shapes the lives of increasing numbers of people around the world?

Victor Lem Masc: The indigenous people that we are representing in this visit are the Aymara, the Mapuche, the Kuna, and the Maya. We have come to the conclusion that there are common elements that unite us in our vision, no matter the distances between the different people. The distinctive characteristics of each people and each community are very similar, especially in relation to their cosmology or the way that we each see life, to our spirituality, and to the concept that everything that exists has life and energy.

The great effort that we and the elders have made to come here is to share the wisdom of the indigenous people. We have faith that the knowledge we bring based on our ancestral traditions and our ancestral practices of life can contribute to the equilibrium of the universe. The most important aspect of this process is the spiritual part, the search for a balancing of the energies of the earth. This is something that we can now see in the science world through their discussions about quantum physics. The indigenous people already know all of this – it is the way that they have understood life for thousands and thousands of years. The only difference is between visualising and conceptualising these ideas. Because we try to live close to nature, we experimented and developed our approach to life that is harmonious and in balance with the universe. We are now telling other people in the cities of Europe about our view of life, because we believe it is necessary that all the people around the world should wake up and that we should work together.

In each city that we have visited, we have found that people are interested in change and have a desire for a new way of living. However, as reality is so immense, we see this willingness to change as a single seed in a big grain silo. There are many people who are in need of that change or that transformation. The only problem is that they cannot see how to sustain or realise it. We have many tools, many elements that are within their reach, but what they need is this spiritual relationship and connection. That is what it has to do with – mass unity. For the indigenous people, the concept of spirituality is all-encompassing and integral, a wholeness, we don't see it as separate from our daily activities. Everything is equal; culture, economy, spirituality, social life, work – everything forms a part of this wholeness and is interrelated.

For example, in our culture the economy has its spiritual component. But the consumerist society dominates people and makes them subservient to the consumer culture. People become dominated by consumerism and they get stuck in this way of life; the accumulation and possession of material things. People caught up in this process, in this consumerist way of life, are not happy, not satisfied. They have everything, but at the same time they are empty because they don't see the spirit in things. In our culture, balance and equilibrium is therefore encouraged. We should only consume what is really necessary. In that way we are contributing to the sustainability and equilibrium of the universe.

Part of our work in this visit to Europe is to share with society the many worries and problems that we have seen and been told about by other people. There is a need for people to reconnect with their spirits. So we share with them that it is important to come back to oneself, to go back to our origins, to find out your own culture. Because we notice that history has been fragmented, so there are many people who are not strong in their identity. We don't come here to impose our cultural values. We simply want to share what we think is important, which is to invite people to reflect on and find their spirituality and to connect with the universe, with everything that exists, with the sacred.

FT: We don't see with the same eyes that you see. You might see what is apparent, the material part, but if you ask me about the people, the humans that live here, I can tell you what I see. There are many people that want to be forever young – to party. They are empty, they have built in themselves an emptiness from their vanity. They are in competition on all the different levels of the material world, like sexuality, all the clothes, everything that you have; all the different material aspects. Here [in London], for example, they spend double what they earn.

But we also find people and organisations that are different from what I just described; they are educating their children in a different way, they work the land, they are searching for ways of living a sustainable life. Like working in the community, collaborating with each other. In fact we are here with some old indigenous people, one of whom is 115 years old, and when he met with some of the different groups, he said `But these people are indigenous, like us'. Because we share food, we share singing, we dance together in a great human community.

Rather than just observing, what we try to do is reflect on what we have seen, because we also have a lot of work to do in our community. The other important point that we have to work on in our community is our indigenous culture, because our culture is still alive. Many people talk in the name of the indigenous, but it is never the indigenous who can speak for themselves. This is our contribution to this great rainbow movement for change that is growing at the moment.

So we work on an individual level, we talk with people and help discover the power inside each one of us as individuals. The same way you feed your body, the same way you have to feed your spirit. And that helps produce a balance in life. As Victor was saying, for the indigenous people everything is connected. If we don't make a change in the balance of our individual life, we won't be able to see that the earth is also out of balance. We cannot be conscious of how our individual behaviour and actions in life also create bad effects to other people around us. The indigenous people are culturally and spiritually rich. We can also build on our materialistic wealth, but it has to be in balance, without harming the other. That should be done from our humanity, from us as human beings, because life is very fragile. This is something that people generally cannot perceive – that life is very fragile.

So this is the message that we have been sharing, this is what we came to share with the different people, communities and organisations in Europe. One of the Elders said "My heart is going back home full, because we have identified that there are other people who see the same way as we do". The same things that we are telling you now, many other organisations also know because they are also choosing the same path in life as us. And they are of all different nationalities; English, Spanish, French, German…

STWR: Your call for individuals to live spiritual and sustainable lives is clearly one that resonates with many people around the world, even those who do not consider themselves as indigenous. What more do you think needs to be done if the transformation you are calling for is to be become a truly global phenomenon?

VLM: On our visit to London, we have watched how different human beings live their life, and the fast pace that society lives life in general, with the end result of a psychologically ill society and a general stress level that affects our bodies and in the end our DNA. So what hope do we have for this new generation and for the future if we continue with this pace of life? However, we have hope that many people, as Freddy was explaining, are interested in and fighting for change. But change has to come bit by bit. I was telling you about the groups of people in this region of Europe who are fighting for change in the world, and who are already starting to change by starting with themselves.

I have also perceived and noticed that many people are fearful. There is a general psychosis that has been growing in Western society, and that weakness is a result of the repression of the spiritual life. So here is where our call of attention is needed, because society in general is facing the loss of many important values. Where there is no value for life, it is very difficult to ask someone to act from the heart, because they live or they act automatically, without feeling. So the elders have mentioned various values – spirituality, respect, gratitude – that can sustain a balanced life. As long as a human being is conscious about themselves and their actions, human life can achieve a level of equilibrium.

It is also important that governments and nation states get involved in this process of change. In the case of indigenous peoples, policies are implemented from the top down and there is no consultation with the people about what they want. To give an example, in many indigenous areas there is opposition to the exploitation of open mines. As a result of these activities, contamination and many other problems are passed on to the indigenous people and also to the planet in general. So our future depends on the work that what we do here in the present. At least in our indigenous communities we work on instilling the correct [spiritual] values in our people, and we encourage the practice of these values in all the different aspects of life.

Personally, I see it as the obligation of the government of each country to share [their resources with other countries]. It is not just a suggestion or proposal, it is an obligation. But unfortunately the reality is that in many communities and Latin American societies the people are divorced from the state. We all know who controls the state in Latin America and I assume in other parts of the world: those who hold and wield the economic power also exercise political power. And so when we talk to the indigenous populations in our area, we can see that it is an elite group who exercise the power. So from an indigenous point of view, politics and policies that are on behalf of the people will never develop.

But we are optimistic about the future, and believe in our spirituality; that it will keep us alive and strong and full of energy to continue with this struggle. And this leads us towards a very clear future. According to the cosmology of the Mayan people, the year 2012 is the beginning of a new era, a time of changes and the flowering of cultures in which the indigenous people are being reborn, and the indigenous culture is re-emerging.