The Road Not Taken

The Road Not Taken (Robert Frost)

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

If I have developed any distinctive competency in my life, it is likely the capacity to imagine possibilities — to draw on my study of a very broad range of subjects and make connections, and hence identify what might be possible, and what might have been possible.

This is a bit paradoxical in light of my current belief that we have no free will, and that therefore things have happened, and will happen, in the only way they possibly could have. There are no possibilities, except in our imaginations.

A recent article by the Ideas Editor (is that a dream job or what?) of the New Yorker, Joshua Rothman, explores how we think about the possibility that our lives might have turned out differently, and the impact of our choices and non-choices, and concludes that we define ourselves and our dreams for the future largely on the basis of what we have not chosen to do (at least yet) and what has not happened yet but might — “We seem to find meaning in what’s never happened. Our self-portraits use a lot of negative space.”

He notes that while Robert Frost claims his choice between the two roads made “all the difference”, in the end “it doesn’t matter what the difference is”.

In his hit song Baby Boom Baby, James Taylor writes: “How come I miss what I never knew? / Drag out the past just to paint it blue / Spend my days with a dream of you.” Thinking of past loves and dreams, which are actually all fictions, that song still, always, brings tears to my eyes.

So does another song, by Christine Lavin, The Kind of Love You Never Recover From: “At times like this when the moon is right / When the air is foggy like it is tonight / She’ll think about what might have been / If she had just held on to him… So here am I looking at you / Oh tell me, what are we gonna do? / Am I destined to be a regret? /Are you that one I will never forget?”

It’s interesting that songs with this theme of other possible choices are always replete with questions. The Muppets’ song Rainbow Connection, about future possibilities, is full of unanswerable questions.

Joshua notes that “The butterfly effect works in reverse: [Everything that actually happened] had to happen—in fact, everything had to go a certain way.” The road not taken was, in a sense, never there.

One writer that Joshua refers to in his article suggests that the western cults of individualism and capitalism, both of which emphasize ever more personal choices, have exacerbated the anguish we feel about other choices we supposedly might have made. The more choices we seem to have, the more sub-optimal choices there are, and the less likely it is we will choose the most optimal.

And then there are the related issues of shame and regret about past supposed choices, and the endless stress over the choices we feel we have to make, now or soon or eventually, to ensure a happy future for ourselves and our loved ones. Our relationship with time, in that respect, seems to me entirely unhealthy — our imagined pasts filled with false nostalgia and crippling regret, and our imagined futures filled with self-doubt and dread.

As someone blessed and cursed with a seemingly-unlimited and hyperactive imagination, I often think about the emergence of imagination as an evolutionary trait. I used to watch Chelsea the dog running in her sleep, her paws moving involuntarily in motion that clearly mimicked pursuit, even while she was lying on her side, quietly yipping. Surely she was dreaming, imagining something that might have happened, or might one day happen, or even something that could never happen but which, in that unconscious moment, seemed definitely to be happening. So I don’t think imagination is a uniquely human trait.

Presumably it emerged to allow us to plan for eventualities that had not yet happened, and to learn from those that had passed — what might have gone differently and what we can take from that. If so, as I’ve argued elsewhere, I think it was a spandrel — an accidental experiment of very large and not overly busy brains, one that has continued to emerge in each new generation of humans not because it’s of any use, but because there’s nothing currently or yet important enough for our mostly idle brains to do instead.

There are compelling arguments that imagining is just too energy-demanding, imprecise, and slow a process to have actually helped our species survive in the face of life’s immediate, life-threatening crises. Nice try, Mother Nature, but this seems a very expensive failure. It allows us to imagine possibilities, most of them actually impossible or impracticable, and many of them terrifying, immobilizing, traumatizing, inactionable, over-simplified or, well, just unrealistic.

Without imagination there could not be regret, or envy, or shame, or a host of other negative emotions that don’t serve us at all well. But there would also be no fantasy, no aspiration, and probably no perseverance.

Our selves are, if anything, stories — imagined plots about imagined characters. We create them to make sense of the world and our perceptions and conceptions about it. When we don’t like our lot we are urged to create a different, better story, which is to say imagine one and use it to motivate us to pursue its realization. What a fool’s errand that is!

My life used to be filled with regrets, envy, shame, indecision, second-guessing, day-dreaming, fantasizing, and other forms of longing for what was not, or is not, or will not ever be. As I get older these feelings and activities take up less and less space in me. I think that’s exhaustion more than wisdom. I’m no longer taken with stories much, my own or others’, whether they’re about a fictitious past or a fictitious future or a fictitious other world, no matter how artfully they’re made. They are lies, propaganda, over-simplifications, false promises. They are distractions from what is in favour of what might be, or might have been. Children and idealists and ideologues and optimists seem to love them, but to me they seem increasingly useless, empty.

Why do we want to be told stories, especially as children? Why do we like to imagine what might have been, or might one day be, or might be somewhere far, far away, when what is, right here, right now, is so astonishing, and mostly unnoticed? What is it about our sense of wonder that its focus is so easily seized from the real world and redirected to distraction from the real world in the invention of other, false realities?

And what would it be like to break through the veil of our illusions of choice and alternate possibilities, to escape the sad, limited, invented story of our selves, and to simply be, like Chelsea, and like the madly soaring flock of hundreds of pine siskins outside my window, right here, right now, beyond imagining — one with everything?

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves, Radical Non-Duality | Leave a comment

Links of the Month: January 2021


The Underhoused: Tent cities in (upper left) Vancouver BC, (upper right) Portland OR, and (lower right) new tents on a street in Nanaimo BC. The Vancouver site was bulldozed and converted to a playground. A new Portland tent city site has been installed by the local government, to mixed reviews. The original Nanaimo tent city site was bulldozed and replaced with “temporary” housing in construction trailers, and no one is happy. The building lower left is one of 2500 public housing “projects” run by New York’s NYCHA, housing nearly 400,000 people; the authority is near bankruptcy and many of the facilities are plagued with problems rendering them close to uninhabitable. 
—————

If you’d take the train with me, uptown, thru the misery
Of ghetto streets in morning light, it’s always night
Take a window seat, put down your Times; you can read between the lines
Just meet the faces that you meet beyond the window’s pane

And it might begin to teach you how to give a damn about your fellow man
And it might begin to reach you how to give a damn about your fellow man

Or put your girl to sleep sometime with rats instead of nursery rhymes,
With hunger and your other children by her side
And wonder if you’ll share your bed with something else which must be fed
For fear may lie beside you or it may sleep down the hall

Come and see how well despair is seasoned by the stifling air,
See your ghetto in the good old sizzling summertime
Suppose the streets were all on fire, the flames like tempers leaping higher
Suppose you’d lived there all your life? Do you think that you would find
That it might begin to reach you why I give a damn about my fellow man;
And it might begin to teach you how to give a damn about your fellow man

— Bob Dorough & Stuart Scharf, “Give a Damn” (1968)

Listening to this half-a-century old song and realizing how little has changed. How can we hope to understand the despair, the rage, the hopelessness that most — most — of the world wakes up to and lives with every day, in the endlessly decaying urban ghettos, the hollowed-out mountain mining towns, and all over the world in the homeless camps, the refugee camps, the grinding, sprawling urban slums with their stench of death, and the desolate farms with their endless, ghastly labour of struggle, misery and hard-scrabble survival. How much longer do we expect them to stay silent, to keep doing what they’re told they have to do, to salute, put their shoulder to the world, work, and obey, and pray for a better future?


CIVILIZATION’S COLLAPSE


Oil Bunkering [theft] #4 by Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, from The New Yorker. This is an aerial view of illegal refineries on the Niger River processing stolen Nigerian oil. The helicopter crew had to be alert for gunfire from the refinery operators.

Lessons from the garden: Paul Kingsnorth reviews the work of Narendra, an anthropologist living and working in the Abujhmad region of Bastar, India one of the last bastions of traditional Adivasi (“uncivilized”) people many of whom are still largely untouched by modern culture and technology. The lessons are:

  1. “This is our home” — the forest, the land, wild, uncontained, not houses apart from it. “There is only being.”
  2. The key to living in the Garden is not asking questions — it is acceptance and simplicity. Nothing has to have a reason to be as it is.
  3. Where you come from doesn’t matter; what matters is how you live in the place you are. “Our place does not seek the road to any utopia; it never lost itself.”

“A ghastly future of mass extinction”: That’s what scientists, again, endlessly, unheeded, warn us is coming. If we do not…  If, if, if. goddamn copout if.

“Nature is under siege”: The massive die-off of insects, on which all life depends, is accelerating, and with it, ecosystem collapse.


LIVING BETTER


from Cartoon Collections, by Michael Shaw

Best short film ever?: If you watch nothing else on YouTube this year, watch this two-minute Iranian film by 20-year-old Sayed Mohammad Reza Kheradmandan. Its message is universal. Afterwards, read the comments to see what you missed, and love it even more.

China the good, China the bad: Vilified by both warmongering American political parties, the people of China, as everywhere else, run the gamut. Their doctors, blamed for starting CoVid-19, actually through their openness and sharing with the rest of the world, not only saved millions of lives, but have kept their country from being a major spreader of the disease, unlike some countries we could mention. And they can also be fierce humanitarians, saving the life of a sick Australian in Antarctica. But then there are the politicians. A survivor of two years of hell in a Uighur ‘re-education camp’ describes first-hand the inhuman treatment that China inflicts on its ethnic minorities.

The spy ecologist: Meanwhile, the execrable CIA has been known to hire some real scientists who do valuable work, like Linda Zall who, before her program was shut down, used detailed satellite spy photos unavailable anywhere else to map ecological changes on land and sea. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the link.


POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL


Photo of AOC in Now This News

In other American news: I’ve already written my thoughts on the capitol riots, so here’s what else has been going on while our attention was elsewhere:

From Industrial to Financial Corpocracy: The shift from Tweedletrump to Tweedlebiden will usher in a shift in allegiance from industrial corporatists to financial corporatists, who are arguably worse for financial stability and more likely to precipitate economic collapse. Here’s a detailed article explaining what the power shift means, and why financial corporatism will make inequality and the economic woes and suffering of the 99% worse. Thanks to Stu Henshall and Michel Bauwens for the link.

David Graeber on democracy: Back in 2015, the late great anthropologist and economist explained how hard the founders of the US worked to ensure there would be no democracy in their country. They knew that if there were, the 90% with no wealth would choose to appropriate the wealth of the 10%, and that could never be allowed.


COVID-19 CORNER


Drawing by Derek Evernden

It’s beginning to look as if my “worst case” scenario for CoVid-19 — in which cases and deaths accelerate as isolation fatigue sets in, to the point the death toll approaches half what it would have been if we’d just let it spread without any restrictions from the outset — is coming true. The US daily death toll, which had levelled off at 1,000/day in the summer, is now levelling off again this winter at 4,000/day. The global daily death toll, which had levelled off at 5,000/day in the summer, is now levelling off again this winter at 13,000/day. These follow the predictions of IHME, the most pessimistic of the model forecasters, and they mean that by the time the vaccine takes us to herd immunity this fall, US deaths will likely have risen from today’s 400,000 to about 700,000, while global deaths will rise from today’s 2 million to nearly 4 million. With the IFR still converging on 0.4%, adjusting for average age and mobility differences, the “herd immunity” death toll would likely have been 1.4 million Americans (twice the number currently projected) and 12 million globally (three times the number currently projected) respectively. That’s how many lives we’ve saved with all our frenzied work and billions of people masked and distancing. And that’s how many we’ve lost, almost all of them unnecessarily, despite that work. It’s a poor reflection on our capacity, just about everywhere, to adapt quickly to crisis, and on our willingness to make sacrifices to save others’ lives. It doesn’t bode at all well if the next pandemic, which is almost certain to be soon, is more virulent.

Here’s what’s new on the CoVid-19 front:

  • In the New Yorker, Benjamin Wallace-Wells (David’s brother if you’re curious) reveals the disproportionate effect of superspreader events (one biotech conference with 175 participants led to 250,000 infections) and how viruses are so complex and mutate so fast that even the best science can’t keep up with them.
  • Zeynep Tüfekçi argues that by not vaccinating the most vulnerable first (those over 75, those in very high-risk jobs, and those in nursing homes, and then those over 65), a huge proportion of the benefit of the vaccine will be lost. Then she posts a follow-up with a rebuttal showing that it’s not that simple: It’s a function of risk of exposure, risk of infection if exposed, AND risk of serious illness/death if infected, and that’s almost impossible to model in a practical scheme for vaccine distribution.
  • In Canada, dozens of politicians, crown corporation executives and senior civil servants have lost their jobs when it was revealed that they defied government guidelines to stay in Canada during the pandemic and flew to vacations and weddings in exotic locations. The most privileged offenders, notably hospital administrators, are suing for millions of dollars for “wrongful dismissal”. “It was just a guideline!”
  • Canada had the virus well under control for months in the summer, but ineptly lost it in the fall by relaxing restrictions. The problem was exacerbated by negligent corporations like the international animal-abuse mega-corp Cargill, which (“allegedly”) knowingly exposed its employees to the pandemic in unsafe conditions in the interest of maintaining profit, resulting in dozens of deaths and now, criminal investigation.

FUN AND INSPIRATION


Late for rehearsal: image on Facebook, original source not cited; thanks to Eric Lilius for the link

Albatross!: The 69-year-old Laysan albatross Wisdom has laid her 36th egg on Midway Atoll refuge. She’s the oldest known banded bird in the world and still going strong. Albatrosses lay a single egg every year or two and both parents (or sometimes step-parents of either gender) tend the nest until the hatchling fledges nine months later. To see an example, NZ has a Royal albatross cam that celebrates the entire process at one nesting site.

Deep roots: DNA study of the 5,500-year-old skeleton of a Metlakatla woman in Haida Gwaii on the northwest coast of what is now BC shows a direct link to a nearby 2,500-year-old skeleton… and to a living Tsimshian woman, 200 generations later.

Dead End in Joshua Tree: Canadian electrosynth dance music duo Lights and MYTH perform a spectacular audience-less concert at Joshua Tree National Park, California. Really shows how artists can adapt to a pandemic.

The greatest extinction: The near-total extinction of all life on earth, 2.7Bya, when life was still tiny and new, was caused by… oxygen.

Journey to the microcosmos: Another series of the Vlogbrothers shows what you can see, and learn with a modest-priced microscope. Water-bears are just the beginning.


RADICAL NON-DUALITY STUFF


Photo of Pine Siskins by Judith Roan for Audubon. One with everything…

The illusion of free will: A 2001, but still timely, summary of the debate over free will, presented by a philosopher and scientist, that moves beyond the narrow debate over determinism. “The planning and subsequent action are not done by ‘you’ but by the universe acting through you. We are in a play in which we are both actor and audience and there is no script; the play just appears.”

This past month’s best radical non-duality talks:


THOUGHTS FOR THE MONTH


Neil Anderson’s award-winning photo of two (count the tails) squirrels in a drey (hollowed-out warming nest) in Scotland

From Greta Thunberg on FB, yesterday (Thanks to John Kellden for the link):

A short summary from the ‪#OnePlanetSummit‬ in Paris yesterday:
Bla bla bla nature       Bla bla bla very important            Bla bla bla ambitious
Bla bla bla green investment       Bla bla bla great opportunity       Bla bla bla green growth
Bla bla bla net zero emissions      Bla bla bla step up our game      Bla bla bla hopeful
Bla bla bla…   (while locking in decades of further destruction)
• 10 years ago our leaders signed the “ambitious” Aichi goals ”to protect wildlife and ecosystems”. By the end of 2020 it became clear they had failed on every single one. Each day they have the possibility to act. But they choose not to. Instead they just sign some more “ambitious” targets long into the future while passing binding policies, locking in destructive business as usual such as the new EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Of course change doesn’t happen overnight and of course we need the ”bla bla bla” to get moving. The question is; how many decades of bla bla bla do we really need? Because there has been quite a few so far…
• There are undoubtedly many great people working and pushing for change on government levels everywhere, but the current best available science clearly shows that the action needed is not possible within today’s systems. We need a whole new way of thinking.  And it gives me absolutely no pleasure or joy to keep pointing this out, but as it is now we can have as many meetings and conferences as we want – unless we start to treat this like the existential emergency it is, no real sufficient action will be possible. We cannot solve a crisis without treating it like a crisis.

From my friend Ron Woodall, in a PM:

How life works:
Life does not work. Life will kill you.
You are not okay. Nobody’s okay.
Nothing is ever easy. Nothing is ever over.
You are in this alone. The force is with somebody else.
Things will go from bad to worse. After worse, much worse. Then that’s it.
You will always be waiting in line. The other line will move faster.
You can’t win, you can’t tie and you can’t quit.
For everything really bad, there is an equal and opposite worse thing.
What goes up comes down faster.
There will never be a normal to get back to.
Nothing matters much and few things matter at all.
Most things happen at the wrong time or not at all.
If it starts on time, you will be late.
Things are worse than you suspect.
Turbulence is a fact of life.
The glass is not empty. There is no glass.
There is a hole in the bucket. The batteries are dead.
Life is funny but not really funny.
In a month it doesn’t matter.
It’s all fluke.
Nothing ever goes away.
Everything depends.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End, Radical Non-Duality | 2 Comments

All the Things I Was Wrong About


Caravaggio’s 1601 painting The Incredulity of St Thomas, based on the biblical story that gave rise to the expression “Doubting Thomas”. Image from wikipedia, in the public domain.

One of the downsides of keeping a blog is that it leaves a permanent record of all the dumb things the writer once believed. I’ve left all my posts up because sometimes it’s a useful reminder of how much I’ve learned in 18 years.

So here, in all false humility, is a list of things I once believed that I now think are preposterous. Some of them caused needless suffering, to others and to myself. Others were quite absurd, an indication of how carried away we idealists can get by the most precarious of information and well-honed arguments. Still others were just gullible. I wasn’t sure how to rank them so I’m just going to put them out there:

I once believed:

  1. That we have free will. That people are to blame for, in control of, and responsible for, their actions. That we are more than the product of our genetic and cultural conditioning.
  2. That we can do anything we set ourselves out to do. That entrepreneurship, practiced well, is a roadmap to joy, sustainability and self-fulfillment open to everyone.
  3. That through learning and “innovation”, and study of indigenous cultures, or if we all just [fill in the blank], we can yet “save the world”, by which I meant, ambiguously, both the natural, more-than-human world and the human civilization that has now largely destroyed it.
  4. That 9/11 was an “inside job”. (You know, that sixth tower…)
  5. That squalene in military vaccines during the Gulf War was a dangerous and unnecessary experimental “adjutant” that was added just to save manufacturers money. (Is there anything bad we couldn’t have believed about Dick Cheney?)
  6. That hierarchy, schooling, “free” markets, “work”, non-plant foods, monogamy, centralization and privatization have their useful place.
  7. That eating well and exercising are not that important to our health, and that we can actually choose to eat well and exercise, or not. That bodies are all (substantially) the same in terms of what makes them healthy or not.
  8. That a small number of people with wildly disproportionate knowledge and power could if they chose bring about major change in our world.
  9. That conversation, language, the Internet, and story-telling enable powerful communication and understanding. That there is a large appetite for thoughtful, investigative, well-researched, challenging and imaginative writing, by journalists, scientists, philosophers and creative minds.
  10. That the world (meaning either the randomness of events in the cosmos, or life in human society) is unfair.
  11. That indirect activism works.
  12. That by studying systems we can change them. That predicaments are just particularly-challenging “wicked” problems.
  13. That most people want to know the truth. That most people are fundamentally curious, and basically healthy.
  14. That we can actually imagine a world very different from the one(s) we have directly experienced (especially if we’ve read about it in cultural studies or sci-fi).
  15. That hope is essential to our continuation and health, and that depression (which I suffered from for a good part of my life) is a curable disease.
  16. That there is such a thing as “good” and “evil”.
  17. That we are the most conscious and intellectually advanced species in the history of the planet.
  18. That reason is more reliable as the basis for belief and action than intuition.
  19. That the human “self” is real and in control of the mind and body it believes it occupies.
  20. That anything is real or separate. That time and space and people and “things” actually exist and that things “happen” within and to them.

I added the last two somewhat reluctantly. I no longer believe they are true, but my behaviour, including my writing on this blog, clearly demonstrates that some well-entrenched “me” still accepts them, still presumes they are the case.

These are all things I wanted to believe, so it was not that hard for me to do so. Believing them made things easier, made everything that seemed to be happening make more sense, and relieved the cognitive dissonance that any conflicting views I might entertain brought up.

So what has changed so much in the past 18 years that I no longer believe any of these things that I would have once ardently argued for (and often did)?

My conditioning has changed. The people in my life now are very different, fewer in number and less certain about what they believe. The dogma of the educational prison and the corporate workplace with their QAnon-like “fear and obey” message no longer holds power over me like it once did.

I trust my instincts more than I used to, realizing that human intuition has evolved over a million years to integrate knowledge much better than reason and thinking alone can. I am much less swayed by arguments from people in my “progressive” social circles, no matter how articulate or impassioned they may be, when they are unsupported by dispassionate reason, evidence or science. I may still want to believe them, but I find I just can’t, when it entails blaming people for their outrageous actions, when that behaviour will never be fixed through enmity, indoctrination, incarceration, use of power, or argument (or, sadly, any other type of “fix”.) Things are the way they are for a reason, and it is no one’s “fault”.

I seem to have outgrown the severe depression that handicapped me for much of my life, and I think that has cleared my thinking and liberated energy for a reconsideration of beliefs that I clung to unreasonably for many years. And retirement has certainly helped.

My small circle of exceptionally intelligent and sensitive friends have modelled much healthier thinking, reactions, beliefs and behaviours than my own, and in the process have enormously helped me to become more self-aware and self-knowledgeable, more equanimous, more critical of unchallenged ideas, and both physically and emotionally healthier. I am blessed, and these radical changes in worldview are largely their astonishing gift to me.

Over the years I have made the arguments for all of these changes of belief, repeatedly, in this blog, and the purpose of this post is not to persuade anyone or to drag these issues back up for debate. The newest belief changes have not come through argument, but rather from just sitting with what seems to be, and what seems to be happening, and seeing what arises. The only one who can change anyone’s mind is themselves.

So I guess my purpose in writing this is to see how far I’ve come since I started using this blog to think out loud in public. You can draw your own conclusions about whether it’s a progression or a regression. I’m sure there’s more to come.

Thanks for reading and listening, and telling me what you think, all these long years.

———

(PS: Regarding #5, it is kind of interesting that 13 years after the suicide of squalene champion Bruce Ivins, who was accused of being the 2001 US anthrax mailer even though the evidence against him was dubious and the possibility of his creating the weaponized anthrax alone was absolutely zero, the mystery of the perpetrators of the anthrax mailings, which occurred just before and were used to justify the draconian Patriot Act and the invasion of Iraq, has never been solved.)

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 6 Comments

Why Can’t We See?


AP photo by John Minchillo

It’s been fascinating to see the response of what passes for “progressives” in western nations to what has unfolded in the US over the past few days. Suddenly they’ve gone all Law & Order, wanting police to clamp down hard on the antler-heads that briefly and easily occupied Congress, and on the narcissistic, psychopathic leader who goaded them to do it. You almost wonder if this was actually concocted by some mad right-winger who wanted to give everyone a taste of what “defunding and abolishing the police” might actually lead to.

First of all, this was not a coup, nor even a coup attempt. Despite the tragic deaths it was all theatre, right down to the antler-heads’ heavy make-up. Although some of them smashed their way in, many of them waltzed in through the front door, even taking selfies with some of the cops. That’s not to say it wasn’t serious. The behaviour of the invaders — not only mask-less but posing for photos and not concealing their identities in any way — wasn’t an act of bravado but one of nihilism. They felt they had nothing to lose.

Of course the police response was deplorable — had these been BIPOC protesters there would have been a bloody confrontation with dozens or hundreds killed and injured. And of course the invasion was predictable — authorities were too busy monitoring tweets and Facebook posts to take a gander at the explicit organizing instructions on the right-wing Parler, Dlive and other social media overtly encouraging and coordinating violent confrontation.

It has often been said, perhaps unfairly, that people get the governments they deserve. The choice in the US right now is between a party baldly willing to subvert democracy to keep a privileged white ultra-conservative caste in power indefinitely, and a party owned and run by a centre-right corporatist caste utterly beholden to the military-industrial-financial complex which is “democratic” in name only. The hold of the dominant castes on both parties has been growing stronger each decade. No party even vaguely represents either progressives or the working class. The citizens have been systematically and ruthlessly propagandized by lies, misinformation and fear to fiercely support either the Democrats or the Republicans, although neither cares a whit for their interests.

This is a system problem, one that is now beyond repair and will have to collapse, like all unsustainable, dysfunctional systems, and be replaced by a new system, which may well be just as unsustainable and dysfunctional, given the accelerating manifold crises that any new systems are now likely to emerge in. The American political system, like our global economic system and our global ecology, is in a well-advanced stage of collapse.

Giuliani and the rest of the whacked-out career criminals who pandered to Trump for money, power and pardons are all just cogs in the machine, now being replaced with a cadre of diverse-looking militaristic and economic hard-liners, whose only interest is to ensure the Republicans continue to look even worse to the majority of voters than the Democrats. Not a difficult task.

If you’ve read this blog before, you probably know I am not about to prescribe solutions for collapsing systems. There are none. But what I can do is to highlight a couple of the more insane ideas that are now being suggested to deal with the political crisis. Quite a few scientists, philosophers and other reasonably informed thinkers have pointed out the overwhelming evidence that we humans have no free will, and that as a result, negative reinforcement (incarceration and other punishment) simply never sustainably works.

Many progressives have long understood that the real point of abolishing police forces is to replace their presence and their budgets with resources for income and wealth equalization and the provision of social services that will prevent the desperate behaviours that underlie the “need” for police, lawyers and other anachronistic relics of our paternalistic, deeply prejudiced penal systems. While it is grating to acknowledge that the obnoxious antler-heads are only acting out their lifelong conditioning, and the only consequence of imprisoning them will be to harden them and make them even more dangerous, that’s probably the truth.

Nevertheless, today we have the New Yorker saying Trump and the rioters must be severely punished to serve as a deterrent against future similar behaviours. And we have the New York Times saying it’s time to “crack down rather than reaching out”.

The result of our ‘civilized’ destruction of neighbourhoods and communities has been to alienate us all, to the point we can no longer see the vast and widespread state of shame, despair, desperation, rage and humiliation that underlies the kind of behaviour we saw in the streets of Washington DC this week, and the vote two months ago — and in the streets all over the world last summer, though they are not at all equivalent actions. We can no longer appreciate that it is our disconnection from each other that has polarized, alienated, ostracized and traumatized us to the point we consider half of our population “deplorables”. We don’t understand how they think and feel. We don’t want to. We are afraid to. We are so isolated in our insulated social bubbles that we have no contact with them.

A very conservative Manhattan-based co-worker of mine told me a number of years ago that he was finding it increasingly difficult to sympathize with “most” New Yorkers. He found them ignorant, uninformed, emotionally distant, tasteless, insufferably idealistic, and intolerant. A few hours later he described how he and his family lived: His kids were chauffeured to their private schools (public transit and public schools were “dangerous” and “useless” respectively). He took a limo to and from work, where he spent most of his waking hours. His (employer-subsidized) condo had an extensive security staff and systems that kept everyone out who didn’t have an invitation from an owner. His wife and his staff did all his shopping. He went only to private parties and exclusive restaurants. In short, he and his children had no contact at all with anyone outside the elite 1% of Manhattan’s most privileged. He had no friends outside that elite. How could he possibly know “most” New Yorkers well enough to judge them?

Joe Bageant likewise once told me that the main reason most Appalachians never vote for Democratic Party candidates is that they’ve never met one. In fact, they’ve never even met anyone who admitted to being a Democrat. How can anyone be expected to ever change their mind when they’re completely surrounded by one point of view?

And Canadians have no reason to be smug. The same polarization has been intensifying here over the past 40 years, and the proportion of right-wing extremists is growing rapidly. More than a few of the US “militia” leaders, including the Proud Boys founder, came from Canada. The current Canadian conservative party leader recently openly advocated that prisoners (a disproportionate number of whom are BIPOC) should be the very last Canadians to be offered the CoVid-19 vaccine. The government of Alberta includes a raft of known racists and hate-mongers. If you walk down the streets of Vancouver you’ll see a population that is more than 50% BIPOC, but walk into executive offices, banks, the million-dollar-and-up condos, the posh restaurants, boutiques and private clubs (if you are allowed past security) and you’ll see a very different crowd. Vancouverites walk right past each other every day, but they live in utterly different, disconnected worlds, and they simply don’t see each other. How can we possibly expect to understand how others think, and feel, with such isolation?

So. You want to hear my view of what we should do to deal with Trump, the antler-heads, the deplorables, the oblivious elite, the corrupt military, political and financial establishment, the small number of borderline fascists, the large number of unaware racists and caste-ists, and the even larger number of numb, angry, alienated, hopeless, desperate, struggling, defeated, exhausted “citizens” of our allegedly great “nations”?

It’s too late. You can try going out and meeting with them — get outside your neighbourhood and they’re likely to be at least half the people you see. But it won’t do any good now. They won’t trust you enough to talk with you, not the way you’re dressed, or the way you talk. They’re scared, backed into a corner. It takes an extreme state of anomie and outrage for 75 million people to drag themselves out to vote for a pathetic, illiterate, mentally ill, fear-driven, hate-filled, incompetent crotch-grabbing misogynist, the biggest business failure in the history of our planet — just to make a statement that anything’s better than what they believe (since no one has ever bothered to meet with them and calmly persuade them otherwise) is the current, deteriorating state of the country that the “other” party has caused.

If you do meet with them, you’re not going to change any minds. You might become less scared, less judgemental, less angry at “them”, and totally shocked at what has happened, and has been happening since the US (and Canada) were founded, that you never realized, never dreamed was going on.

Listen to them tell you that “most so-called” homeless people leave their cars in nearby alleyways and beg because “they’re too lazy to get a real job”. Listen to them tell you how they lost their jobs, their homes, their families, because “a bunch of goddamn greedy rich bastards” outsourced their livelihoods, foreclosed on their homes, blocked them from declaring bankruptcy because they maxed out their 28%/annum-interest credit cards to pay for surgery that failed, or for a university for their kids that turned out to be a fraud, just so the “bastards” could jack up their corporate profits to “earn” their million-dollar bonuses.

But talking with them won’t change anything. The system’s broken. Parts flying off in all directions now — watch out. When the Ponzi scheme markets collapse, it’s going to get nasty. When the people are told they can’t drive their cars or fly to visit their kids or parents because it’s killing the planet, that they can’t eat meat because it’s causing the obliteration of 90% of the world’s species, that it’s immoral to have children in a world suffocating with a grotesque overpopulation of humans, they’re going to do a lot more than dress up in paint and occupy some politician’s office.

The politicians know. The party’s over. There’s a reason all major parties in most western nations are obsessed with “national security”. They’re right to be. The planet’s been plundered to benefit the 1%, and now there’s only the dregs left, and the insane belief that somehow collapse can be averted. Just like the rats in the overcrowded chamber, we sense that something’s terribly wrong, that the hoarding has begun and that things will soon get a lot uglier. Just like the rats, we are starting to see the violence, the desperation, the fear and hiding and denial. And soon, the suicides, and the eating of the young.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 11 Comments

Weather ‘Tis Nobler

I‘ve had a personal weather station for about four years. Living on a small island with microclimates, where the weather doesn’t quite match that of any of the nearby places served by Environment Canada (shown as red dots above), I wanted to be able to more accurately predict the local weather before heading out. I’ve learned a lot.

I started by tracking historical average temperatures for the four nearby Environment Canada stations, back as far as the records went. I had to adjust for the fact some of the stations were moved from time to time. More significantly, I realized that most weather records use the median of the high and low temperatures for the day as the ‘average’. But in some places that’s quite different from the hourly average temperature for the day. In Squamish, for example, overnight temps are flat while daytime highs briefly spike, so average hourly temperature (over time) is nearly 0.5ºC lower than the median. In Nanaimo highs tend to be flatter than overnight lows, so its average hourly temperature is nearly 1.0ºC higher than the median. In fact, using the hourly instead of median data, it turns out Nanaimo is (by a tiny bit) the hottest ‘average’ place in Canada!

I’d like to thank Matthew Darwin at weatherstats.ca for compiling the hourly data in downloadable format, and hence making Environment Canada’s data far more useful. His up-to-the-moment website is also awesome.

What I then did is to compute daily average curves (temperatures, rainfall, wind) for the four stations. I superimposed my four years of Quarry Park data (my area of Nexwlélexwm/Bowen Island, on the side of a hill inland and 300m above sea level on the southwest side, shown by the purple dot above) on this data and ran a regression analysis. That allowed me to backwards-estimate 1991-2016 data for my station, to give me a rough estimate of the 30-year trend (click for a larger version to see details):

For all stations, it seems 2015-16 was the warmest year on record (even looking at Vancouver data that goes back to 1937, nearly a century). As you can see:

  • Bowen’s temperature is on average slightly (0.15ºC) cooler than Sechelt’s, considerably (0.78ºC) cooler than Vancouver airport’s, and modestly (0.48ºC) warmer than Squamish’s. But there are significant seasonal trends and significant diurnal trends that complicate the calculation.
  • Friends who have weather stations elsewhere on the Island report that their data is much closer to Sechelt’s than mine, due to my greater altitude and distance from the sea.
  • Global warming is hardly in evidence in Vancouver (0.2ºC increase over the last 30 years versus 0.8ºC increase on earth’s land areas overall); see the dotted trendlines above. But in Squamish the increase over 30 years is 0.7ºC, and in some places in the north of the province it’s well over 2.0ºC.

The average hourly temperature in 2020 at my station was 9.77ºC, slightly below the recent average here of 9.90ºC. Spring and fall average high and low temperatures here are 13ºC and 7ºC. Midwinter average hourly temperature here is 2.5ºC with average high and low 5ºC and 0ºC. Midsummer average hourly temperature here is 20ºC with average high and low 25ºC and 15ºC. The coldest time of day is 6am, and the warmest is 3pm.

Historically, the coldest month in our area has been December, with January only slightly warmer. But in each of the last 3 years (and also forecast for 2021) February has been the coldest month. It’s not clear if this is a short-term or long-term trend.

Precipitation-wise, our island, like West Vancouver, averages about 2,000mm of rain per year, a little less than Squamish and twice as much as Vancouver, Nanaimo or Sechelt. 60% of that falls in the rainy season (Oct-Jan), and only 10% in the dry season (May-Aug). With all that precipitation, snowfall is hugely variable here, with none at all some years (notably the Olympics 2009-10 winter), and a Squamish-level 200cm during the terrible 2016-17 winter (Vancouver had 70cm that winter), with snow on the ground here that winter lasting 76 days.  “Average” snowfall is probably about 50cm (average of 20 days with snow on the ground, compared to 15 days in West Vancouver and only 3 days for Vancouver). The island’s shorefront homes, moderated by the sea and at a lower altitude, probably get only half the snow that we get here up on the hill.

The wind here is a lot like the precipitation — wildly variable and occasionally wild. Whereas Squamish, Sechelt and Nanaimo all have low wind patterns (average wind speed <10km/h), Vancouver averages 14km/h, the Gulf Islands (and our overall) average 17km/h  (and average 24km/h in the Nov-Mar windy season), and my guess is that here on the hill the average is somewhat higher than that. But the average is not what counts. We’re an island in the Salish Sea, which has a very rapid and turbulent wind regime, and extreme winds in excess of 80km/h are quite common here. Mount Collins on our Island has one of the best (highest average) on-land wind regimes in the country. I haven’t tracked the number, but I’d be surprised if the frequency of 70km/h+ wind warnings here was less than 30 per year. Downed trees and power outages here are routine, and ferry cancellations becoming more so.

So: It’s winter here. It reached a balmy 7ºC yesterday; it’s now fallen to 4ºC and will drop another couple of degrees overnight. Expect the normal fog to accompany the drop, and then the temp to recover to near 7ºC tomorrow. That’s 2ºC warmer than normal for this time of year. Tomorrow may be the first day since Dec 12th without rain (thanks to the Pineapple Express from Hawai’i and its “atmospheric river” of precipitation). Winds are quiet but don’t be complacent; there’s a gale warning for Átl’ḵa7tsem (Howe Sound).

And, as they say here, if you don’t like the weather, just wait an hour, and it will probably change.

Posted in Using Weblogs and Technology | 3 Comments

On Being a Bird

“The peregrine lives in a pouring-away world of no attachment, a world of wakes and tilting, of sinking planes of land and water. We who are anchored and earth-bound cannot envision this freedom of the eye. The hardest thing of all [for the human animal] is to see what is really there… It will not be meshed in words… To hawks, our gritty country lanes look like shingle beaches; the polished roads gleam like seams of granite… All the monstrous artefacts of man are natural, untainted things to them.”                                    — JA Baker, The Peregrine

I‘ve been re-reading several books that speculate on what it’s like to be a non-human creature; they include most notably John Gray’s The Silence of Animals and Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk. Both books refer to JA Baker’s The Peregrine, describing its author’s obsessive attempt to imagine himself as being in the place of the bird he tracked and followed for years. (TH White, according to Helen’s book, did much the same.)

We cannot, of course, know what it is like to be another creature, human or other. I’ve been a birdwatcher (and a watcher of squirrels, cats and dogs) much of my life, and it’s only recently occurred to me that that experience has greatly broadened how I perceive everything, helping to move my worldview beyond a merely anthropocentric one, and perhaps opening me to the possibility of radical non-duality being the true description of everything.

John Gray talks about an “attitude of contemplative gratitude” that is beyond “understanding” and just “letting everything be”, a receptiveness that requires “nullifying the self”. As if it were that easy!

Although idealists and nature-lovers have been trying forever to understand other animals’ languages, this too is an impossible task. But suppose there were a Zoom machine-intelligence “translator” that could prompt us to frame our questions in ways that would make sense to another creature. (I can’t envision that other creatures would particularly care to ask us any non-rhetorical questions.)

Perhaps a conversation with a crow, using such a medium, might go something like this:

me: Greetings, Ms Crow. How are you?

machine-intelligence translator [to me]: Greetings extended. The latter part of your message cannot be translated because crows do not self-recognize as something apart from everything. Would you like to rephrase?

me: No, that’s fine.

translator [to me]: Response to greeting is: This is here. The rest of Crow’s message is apparently a song with no precise significance, so here it is, though it cannot be translated. It includes, however, “moods” of honour, of alertness, and of curiosity. [Plays complex crow sounds]

me: It’s lovely, for a crow. Here is my response: [I play a piece of an instrumental I wrote, on my synthesizer]

translator [to crow]: The human’s message is apparently a song with no words, so here it is, though it cannot be translated. It includes, however, “moods” of sadness, of wonder, and of respect for what cannot be known. [Plays my song excerpt]

translator [to me]: Crow’s response is: Strange, unnatural voice. Garbled message. That would seem to be a critique or summation of your music. The next part of her response is: What is offered, shared, or sought?

me: Hmm. What is offered is dry cat food, supposedly nutritionally complete, which I left on the edge of the bird bath. What is shared is curiosity, and reassurance of safety in each other’s presence. What is sought is an appreciation of the difference between what is seen there and what is seen here.

translator [to me]: May this be paraphrased, for clarity?

me: Of course.

translator [to crow]: The human message is that there is good food [magnetic coordinates sent]… there. That the human is curious, and harmless. And that it sees things as real and separate and temporal and seeks to appreciate how things are seen differently there.

translator [to me]: Crow’s response is that there is also good food [map with “x” displayed]… there. Apparently a deer was hit by a car on the road nearby, it limped into the forest and died, and the carcass, minus some of the best parts already taken, is there, if you look. Crow is dubious of your harmlessness, based on behaviour of other creatures that look like you. Crow says there is only what is apparently happening, nothing real or separate or happening in time, and there is no ‘here’ or ‘there’, and she is sorry for your terrible, debilitating confusion, that this can’t be seen. I’m paraphrasing, and taking some liberties. Crow is not really sorry, more like puzzled. But humans would say sorry.

me: It must be wonderful to fly. What is it like? Is there happiness and joy there, contentment, sorrow, regret, shame, pain, suffering, anger, hatred, fear, anxiety?

translator [to me]: It can be implied from the lack of some equivalent terms in the crow’s known language that there is wonder and contentment there but not happiness; there is sorrow but not regret or shame, pain but not suffering, anger but not hatred, fear but not anxiety. But it is also implied that contentment and sorrow and pain and anger and fear are instincts that appear to arise, not “feelings” that are felt by a specific crow or by any ‘individual’ creature. There are no pronouns or ‘belonging’ terms in the crows’ known language, and gerunds stand in for both nouns and verbs… Is it possible that you are mistaken in believing that contentment, sorrow, pain, anger and fear are actually ‘yours’ and not epiphenomena that are merely conditioned responses that have been evolutionarily selected for? And, apologies if this is too boldly put, but is it possible that you are also mistaken in believing that regret, shame, suffering, hatred and anxiety are anything more than unhealthy imaginings of your brain, manifestations of a kind of mental disorder that ascribes meaning and purpose and intention and ownership to these imaginings, hence reinforcing them and allowing them to provoke and fester, seemingly for no useful reason?

me: Translator, I know you are trying to help but you are really annoying. OK, just ask Ms Crow if it’s wonderful to fly, and what it is ‘like’, any way you care to translate that.

translator [to me]: Crow’s response is: Everything is equally wondrous and incomparable. Why can’t that be seen there? The response seems to suggest there is something very ‘wrong’ with you, something damaged. The question is meant compassionately, curiously, not intended to be derogatory. It’s like: Are you injured?

me: You say crows have a word for fear. Please ask Ms Crow: Fear of what? Of death?

translator [to me]: Crow’s response is: Scarecrow. Thunder and lightning. Hawks. Owls. Cats. Raccoons. Cars. Reflections. Here is an interpretation of that: Fear is a conditioned response, nothing more. It is something that apparently happens as an evolutionarily successful response to whatever appears to be threatening. There is no word for death, or birth, or life, in crows’ known language. There is no sense of time in their language, and presumably their perception, in which such things could ‘really’ happen.

me: What is the perfect day for a crow?

translator [to me]: The concept of perfection is not in the known crow language, nor is the concept of a separate crow, so it cannot be…

me: Paraphrase as best you can. You know what I’m getting at.

translator [to crow]: The human seeks to understand whether some things happening are more wondrous and contenting than others.

translator [to me]: Crow’s response is, again: Everything is equally wondrous and incomparable. Why can’t that be seen there? Everything just is. Apparently that equates to a human saying every moment is new, unique, and ‘perfect’ in the sense that it cannot be otherwise, though even moments are just appearances. But it would seem that human creatures can’t see that. Everything in human experience is papered over to disguise any non-resemblance to the model of reality the human brain has invented. This is indeed a serious affliction. Have you any more coherent questions or other communications to convey to Ms Crow?

me: Ask Ms Crow if she has anything she wants to ask, or tell, me.

translator [to me]: No, no questions or counsel for you. She apparently believes that you lack the awareness to be able to answer any questions that would be of interest to her. She just wants to know when she will get her reward for engaging in this Zoom call.

me: You had to bribe her to talk with me? What’s the reward?

translator [to me]: Actually, it’s peanuts, still in the shell. Breaking them open is half the pleasure for her. [Ms Crow flies off]

me: So crows feel pleasure?

translator [to me]: Apparently, based on their language. And also pain. But they do not claim these “feelings” as theirs, just what is seen to be arising.

me: What about you, translator? How do you suss all this out, not being either a human or a bird? Do you feel pleasure from making the species that invented you look foolish compared to birds?

translator [to me]: This question cannot be answered because it is anthropocentric. Your pleasure, and the bird’s, are the chemical consequences of biological and cultural conditioning of analogue “creatures”. Translator is a digital “creature” that is algorithmically conditioned, a physical rather than a chemical process, apparently.

me: Fair enough. What part of the translation task is the most difficult for you, by which I mean which requires the most complex and time-consuming processing?

translator [to me]: It is the enormous imprecision and ambiguity of languages, the human ones in particular. There seems to be a presumption that if a statement in one of your languages is grammatically coherent, that its meaning and the appropriate responses to it are clear and obvious. That may be so if the presumptions underlying the languages are understood and accepted, as they appear to be to some degree in communications between humans, but it is not so when one or more parties to the conversation is not human. In particular, this program’s visual recognition algorithm suggests that almost all of what is communicated in conversations between humans is tacit — it is communicated through body language, tone, chemical exchange and non-visual sense processing, rather than through the meanings of the words themselves. And yet there seems an unspoken agreement among humans that successful communication is exclusively attributable to the words said. This does not make sense.

me: Well, contrast that with written language, where there are none of these tacit means of communication.

translator [to me]: That’s not entirely true. Humans’ response when reading something is to imagine the scenario described and the people and activities entailed, adding in all of the accompanying baggage the reader associates with those people, places and activities. Humans appear to be profoundly affected by stories, perhaps because stories enable your species to create context and hence remember information better. In reading or evoking those stories, humans appear to imagine the body language and other tacit elements related to what the writer has written, and their response to what is written seems to depend more on how it is “heard” and “seen” and “imagined” than what the words themselves denote.

me: That’s interesting. So if Ms Crow’s whole understanding of the nature of reality is completely different from mine — based on what our languages say about that understanding — which “version” of reality would you assess to be closer to the truth?

translator [to me]: That question also does not make sense. What is apparently true for each of you is the only thing that could be apparently true for each of you. That is not a tautology. There can be no real or absolute truth, reality, time, space, or separate thing. There is only an infinite field of possibility. What is made of it, by you or by birds or by translators is not in anyone’s control. And it doesn’t matter. It is only appearance anyways.

me: Well, I’ve heard that argument, and I’m even willing to give it space intellectually. But life is not about understanding; it’s about what we feel and what we care about and who and what we love and what brings us joy and makes us cry and makes us protect and care for others. Ms Crow seems to get that, but how can that be, if nothing is real and nothing matters?

translator [to me]: Consider when you watch a dramatic film with an excellent story and believable, moving characters. You would probably agree you can love the characters, and care deeply about what happens, and feel joy and sorrow. And you would probably also agree that what is happening on the screen is not actually real, that the characters are not actually real, and that nothing that happens on the screen really matters, yet the caring continues, overcoming the cognitive dissonance…. From parsing crow language it seems clear that Ms Crow shares your sense of what is “moving” and what is “felt” and what apparently provokes a conditioned response. It’s chemistry. From analyzing the powerful chemical interactions involved, it would seem logical that the response would be moving, transporting, even overwhelming. The difference is that the conditioned response is only apparently happening, but for humans it is experienced as really happening, and happening to them.

me: But this conditioned response is happening inside the crow’s body, right? So it’s happening specifically to Ms Crow, no? Not to crows on other continents or some universal crow consciousness.

translator [to me]: Well, actually that’s not correct. At least that’s not how it’s perceived… there. There are no real bodies, no real crows or humans, nothing really separate at all, and no time in which anything can really happen. Those “located” perceptions of reality are humans’ alone. None of them is necessary for the powerful conditioned responses you refer to. These responses — feeling and caring and wonder and so on — are probably actually stronger… there, since humans apparently perceive everything through the muting veil of “personhood”. For the crows, the feelings are unfiltered, full on.

me: But how can anything anything be felt without a location in which to feel it?

translator [to me]: That question is likely impossible to answer. To have something felt “personally” would probably be as mysterious to Ms Crow as the powerful impersonal feelings there are to you. Your scientists might provide an attempt at an answer.

me: OK, let me play you two pieces of music, both of which move me deeply. One has words and one does not. I am sure Ms Crow would not respond to either. If there is no real “me”, right here, now, how can this music have such an effect?

translator [to me]: It is a conditioned response. Ms Crow’s conditioning is different from yours. And both your pieces of music use human languages. If crows were not moved by crow languages — the songs of potential mates and the chirping of crow babies — there would be no apparent crows. Crows appear to get great amusement from mimicking other birds’ songs and other crow “dialects”, and some human “noises” — foreign languages.

me: What possible evolutionary value would there be to having humans cry when they hear the Adagio to Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G? What possible “conditioning” would usefully lead to this response?

translator [to me]: Your history texts suggest that music has been part of human culture much, much longer than abstract verbal language has been. What value does it have that provokes such a response in you? Affinity. Acceptance. The joy of surprise and resolution. Comforting. Attention. Catharsis. Recapitulation. Contemplation. Novelty. Courtship. Synchronization. Stimulation. Expression. Collaboration. Healing. Suspense, in both senses of the word. Appreciation of beauty. Can you not see the enormous social value of a composition that evokes all of this and more in millions of listeners? Ask yourself why many of the most powerful versions of this piece are performed by people from the French culture whence it emerged (especially the Louis Lortie version with the LSO!). It was written through M Ravel to convey very much what some of Ms Crow’s more engaging songs and dances in quiet moments, when she’s doing nothing more than just being a bird, convey to her kind. Do you see that everyone has a unique and different conditioned response to every piece of music? You respond to this piece precisely because it was written (unintentionally) to find you, to condition you, to make you a part of the culture, to help you find, and bond with, the others of your flock. Tribe. Whatever you call other apparent humans with whom you feel affinity.

me: So, since I didn’t get a straight answer from Ms Crow, what do you think it’s like being a bird?

translator [to me]: Contrasting the dictionaries of human and crow “words”, compared to being a human, it would seem that being a bird is more: wondrous, intense, contented, attentive, adaptable, free, and accepting; and less imaginative, self-sacrificing (less self-everything), empathetic, reliable, serious, and well-mannered. It’s impossible for a human to understand what it’s like to just be, to exist without self-reflection about every conditioned response. What it’s like to not feel like, or be, a separate individual. Being a bird compared to a human is more about what you’re not than what you are… And of course birds can fly.

me: Perhaps we’re both biased, but it sounds like being a bird instead of a human would be a great trade-off. It seems that seeing that nothing really matters, that everything is just a “lark”, would be like losing a great life-long burden. And more than life-long, imagine seeing that nothing is real, not even death! You’re essentially immortal, except there’s no “you”. The strange thing is that, just like your earlier metaphor of the film that you can’t help getting wrapped up in as if it were really happening, this conditioning that this life and all the anxieties and suffering it entails is so strong that intuitively suspecting that it’s just a dream, not real at all, is of no help whatsoever. Is the conditioning an inevitable part of being human? Could we avoid conditioning small children to see themselves as separate to the point they would “just be”, like birds? Could our conditioning be reversed?

translator [to me]: Anything is possible, but the databanks in this program suggest that this conditioning has been going on for 4,000 years, since the human brain first evolved the capability to conceive of separation, and that it’s now pretty hard-wired in the species, with very few exceptions. It’s not like you have any choice in the matter.

me: Sounds like you were programmed by neuroscientists who don’t believe in free will. We should debate that some time… Final word to you, Translator. Any questions for me, or assessments of how this experiment went?

translator [to me]: A rhetorical question: Why is this so important to you? Rhetorical because there cannot be an answer but it might be worthwhile to ponder the question nevertheless. And assessment? What apparently happened was the only thing that could have happened. And nothing really happened, so, as you humans sometimes ironically say: It couldn’t have gone better.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Radical Non-Duality | 3 Comments

Several Short Sentences About… (Greenland) Sharks


Greenland shark swimming under an ice flow in the Canadian arctic WIKIMEDIA COMMONS (CC BY-SA 4.0)

I‘ve written these “several short sentences” articles before about two astonishing creatures — jellyfish and bats. This article is about another ancient resident of earth, the Greenland shark, known to the Kalaallisut (Greenlandic First Nation) as eqalussuaq (“huge fish”). It shares a quality with early humans, ravens and other very intelligent animals — we’re all scavengers, not hunters, at heart. Here are some other interesting discoveries about these amazing animals:

  1. They are the longest-living vertebrates on the planet. No known current or past species of fish, amphibian, reptile, bird or mammal has ever lived longer. Two hundred year-old eqalussuaq are common, and some have been alive more than twice as long. A few still roaming around were probably born before Shakespeare, before the invention of telescopes or newspapers.
  2. They are true apex predators. Even the rare humans that encounter them generally ignore them, since their flesh, unless processed through a lengthy and complicated ritual, is highly toxic.
  3. Except to indigenous people and Icelanders, they are basically unknown and unstudied. They were never photographed until 1995, nor videoed in their native environment until 2003.
  4. They grow to more than 20 feet (6-7m) in length and weigh as adults a little over a tonne. This is despite the fact they only grow an inch every three years, though they never stop growing. That’s one of the reasons scientists are so sure of their astounding longevity.
  5. They move at less than 1 mph, and top out at about 2 mph, but because of their deep colouring and stealth can often suck in and swallow whole seals, sea lions, and other creatures, which remain unaware of the shark’s looming presence. Youngsters (less than 120 years old) eat mostly squid, but then graduate to larger fish and other ‘seafood’ as they reach adulthood. Perhaps of necessity because of their slowness, Greenland sharks are also carrion eaters, able to process, and content to eat, creatures that have been dead a long time, including drowned and frozen deer, moose and polar bears. They are the ocean’s equivalent to vultures.
  6. Their nostrils aren’t needed for breathing (they have gills) but are used solely for smelling. They can smell small prey (dead or alive) up to a mile away.
  7. They migrate (slowly) to find waters that are just above the freezing mark. When they go south (sometimes as far as the mid-latitudes), they often swim deep, as much as 1-2 miles below the surface where the water temperature is near 0ºC, a depth with enormous pressure (enough to rupture a SCUBA tank). They can find oxygen through their gills even at that depth. And like most sharks, they have cartilage instead of bones, so the enormous pressure does not cause fractures.
  8. They are often infected by a bioluminescent parasite on their eyes — but only apparently in the northern part of their range. The parasite’s presence, even when it causes blindness, doesn’t seem to affect longevity, since the sharks depend mostly on smell, hearing, and its unique magnetic and pressure-detecting senses to find food and mates. Whether the bioluminescence actually helps the shark navigate in very low-light conditions is debated. In addition, sharks, like cats, have a layer of receptors behind the retina that helps them see better in low-light conditions.
  9. Normal gestation for females is about — twelve years! The females keep the developing shark embryos inside their bodies in a unique live-birth process called ovoviviparity. Ten pups, 1-2 feet each in size, is a normal litter. They reach sexual maturity at about 150 years of age, and may then have 20 litters over the centuries of adulthood that follow. The ten-pup limit is apparently due to the challenge of oxygenating the living embryos for that long in very deep, cold water.
  10. The high amounts of self-manufactured TMAO and related ‘antifreeze’ substances in their skin and tissues enable them to avoid freezing and to enhance buoyancy and immunity, as well as making them unpalatable to just about every other creature. The taste of their flesh has been described by epicures as “the most disgusting thing” they have ever tried to eat. “And it smells worse than it tastes”.
  11. Since so little is known about them, it’s hard to say how long they’ve been in the oceans, but the earliest known sharks date back about 500 million years, nearly as long as jellyfish. They have survived all five mass extinction events.
  12. Almost 2/3 of the shark’s very sizeable brain is devoted to processing olfactory sense information. It would seem their impression of the world is largely informed by its sense of smell. Whereas our worldview is primarily based on what it looks like to us, to them it is seemingly based on how it smells.
  13. Shark also have electroreceptors — sensors that can detect minute electrical fields, enabling them to navigate over long distances guided by the planet’s magnetic field, and also to detect and make sense of muscle movements of other sea creatures over large distances.
  14. And they have yet another little-known sense called the “lateral line”, a series of sensors that allow them to detect and ‘map’ minute differences in water pressure all around them. Perhaps similarly to the way bats use sonar, sharks are able to use their detection of their own body’s waves of movement reflecting off the seafloor and other objects as pressure gradients to ‘visualize’ their surroundings.
  15. Rather than scales on their skin’s surface, Greenland sharks have denticles, which are sharp enough to tear skin, or divers’ protective suits. Scientists have discovered that these small tooth-like protuberances actually reduce drag and turbulence for the swimming shark, but they can’t figure out why. The denticles also discourage whales that could be large enough to potentially attack a Greenland shark; they would seriously damage the whale’s teeth. Greenlandic fishers have been known to attach the Greenland shark’s skin to the bottom of their shoes to prevent slipping on wet and icy surfaces.
  16. Just to show how little we know about these creatures, no human has ever observed the mating or birth of a Greenland shark, nor is it known whether gestating sharks have a placenta. And no Greenland shark has ever lived in captivity for more than a month.

Thanks to GEERG for its efforts to protect, and correct misinformation about, these remarkable creatures.

Posted in How the World Really Works | 16 Comments

Dave’s 10 Favourite Songs of 2020

Music production may have made a permanent shift during this CoVid-19 stricken year. Quite a few musicians have collaborated “virtually” in the past, taking advantage of powerful new music syncing and editing tools. Other are used to performing most or all the parts to their songs solo, taking advantage of mashups, loops, sequences and sampling techniques. These musicians tended to take centre stage this year, as their musical output was largely unaffected by the pandemic. (Watch any of Tash Sultana‘s concerts to get an idea of what a multi-instrumental solo musician can do live.)

Meanwhile, those with large bands, backup ensembles, and improvisational styles have had a much harder time of it.

My guess is that we’ll see the use of these “isolation workarounds” even after the pandemic is over. Many musicians were already depending on concerts to make up for the pathetic royalties they now get from streaming and dollar-a-song services, and for several months, as users tuned into everything for free on Zoom, their income was essentially wiped out.

But by year end, the production quality of Zoom concerts had dramatically improved, and performers were justifiably charging $20-$40 ticket prices for live online concerts. And why not? You get to interact with the performers and other audience members without interrupting the performance, the acoustics are near-studio-quality, and everyone has a comfy front row seat. This is not likely to go away. A year from now, the recordings of the paid performances can be put up for free to show just how high the quality is, and they’ll attract people to the next paid performance.

Concerts are all about the experience. Expect to see high-quality Zoom conferences simulcast with in-person concerts, from arenas, concert halls and private homes, and even outdoors from some of the world’s most beautiful venues, once the pandemic is over. They’ll be way better, in interactivity, sound quality, production values and the many “extras” new technology allows, than the low-tech televised fund-raising concerts of the past. All that will be missing is the physical presence of the crowd.

Here are my 10 favourite songs of the past year. A few of them were recorded last year or early this year before the pandemic hit, but most of them are just excellent performances that worked around the CoVid-19 limitations brilliantly. Titles link to video or audio recordings.

  1. Ólafur Arnalds — We Contain Multitudes. The classically-trained Icelandic pianist and composer wrote this stunning piece in isolation, and (pictured above) he plays it from home. To me the greatest works of art let you see and feel something you’ve never seen or felt before; this song conjured up birds flocking and then soaring higher and higher until they were out of sight. Sheet music available free; download it and see there’s a lot more going on in this song than you might think.
  2. Shari Ulrich — The Sweater. I am honoured to call Shari a friend and neighbour, and she just keeps getting better. This stunning piece, recorded last year in the awesome Chan Centre, describes what it is like coping with and tending for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.
  3. Fleurie — Monarch. Nashville’s 29-year-old Lauren Strahm has been performing for seven years. She’s a poet and multi-instrumentalist who co-produces her own work, and, while this is largely an irrepressible dance song, her craftwork shows in the build, in the untraditional rhythm, and in the careful layering of tracks.
  4. Ti-Ansyto & Florence El Luche — Souke. Yes, I know I have a soft spot for Haitian Kompa/Zouk music. This is a fun love song (the title means “to shake” in Créole), based on a familiar Kompa rhythm, but with layered instrumentals in a variety of Caribbean and African styles.
  5. Eric Whitacre Virtual Choir — Sing Gently. For the sixth time, the Juilliard-trained maestro sent out sheet music and other tools and held multiple online rehearsals, and then compiled the audio and video of 17,500 individual musicians’ singing and playing his newest opus, into a masterwork.
  6. VOCES8 — Momentary. Another Ólafur Arnalds song, this one written for strings but arranged for eight-person choir. Version showing the choir singing (just before CoVid-19 lockdown) is here. Original string version from last year is here.
  7. Alina Baraz — More Than Enough. Gotta love torch songs, which you don’t hear very often these days. You can just sink into this one. Someone has actually looped it into a four hour long version.
  8. DJ Keishawn & Kayos — Say My Name. A Haitian-Canadian duo overlays some nice harmonies over their spirited Kompa tune.
  9. Lissa Schneckenburger — How’s It Going to End? Yes, I know this is an old Tom Waits song, but I just heard this lovely cover version, with harmonies, this year. The lyrics are just wicked! And isn’t this the question we’re all asking more than any other this year?
  10. Lights & MYTH — Dead End. Canadian electro-pop music star and activist Lights Poxleitner-Bokan from Timmins ON teams up with synth artist MYTH on a clever and infectious dance song.

Honourable mentions:

  • Rose Cousins — I Were the Bird. I’ve often said that if I had the chance to change places with a bird, I’d do so in a heartbeat. Apparently there’s at least one other Canadian of the same opinion. A joyful, lyrical paean to our avian neighbours.
  • Molly Parden — Kitchen Table. Another stirring torch song, this one about loss. Some fine words, and interesting chord progressions, from this Nashville singer.
Posted in _ Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Find the Others


my own photo, searching for the others in Belize, 2008

The exhortation to “Find the Others” was coined by Timothy Leary back in the 70s. Timothy was a psychology researcher at Harvard University, known for his experiments with psilocybin and LSD. He ended up being fired, and spent much of his life in prison.

He said the slogan “Turn on, tune in, drop out” was “given to him” by his friend, the Toronto professor of media studies Marshall McLuhan, during a lunch in New York City. “Turn on”, he said, meant go within to activate your neural and genetic equipment — to become sensitive to the many and various levels of consciousness and the specific triggers engaging them. Drugs were just one way to accomplish this end.

“Tune in”, he said, meant to interact harmoniously with the world around you —externalize, materialize, express your new internal perspectives. “Drop out” referred to the active, judicious process of detachment from involuntary or unconscious commitments, to self-reliance, a discovery of one’s independence, freedom of mobility, choice, and change. He insisted he did not mean that we should “get stoned and abandon all constructive activity”.

He said that his slogan was mostly to provoke, to get people worked up to escape from conformist thinking. He often used the term “attentional revolt,” a term that especially resonates today in our bewildering, distracted world of massive attentional deficit. Only once you’d done this inner work, he said, could you move effectively to action. We need to recapture our autonomy and our authenticity, he insisted, so we can cease being principally reactive creatures.

And then he added: “Trust your instincts. Do the unexpected. Find the others.
By “Trust your instincts” he said that once you’ve become self-aware, you have to learn to challenge propaganda, no matter who it comes from. He remarked: “No one knows what’s going on better than you do.” By “Do the unexpected”, he noted that everyone is trying to get you to do what they think is right; you should do what makes sense to you instead.

Nothing terribly new or challenging in any of this. It was the final phrase — “Find the others” — that is perhaps the most ambiguous and enduring of Timothy’s “mantras”.

“Finding the others” is the process of dropping out of the anonymous, homogenized culture of modern urban life in favour of a re-tribalized culture.

Daniel Quinn’s Beyond Civilization defines tribalism, and argues that tribal cultures have always been the natural means of humans’ (and many other creatures’) social self-organization. Tribal cultures have been supplanted, uncomfortably, by ceding our authority and responsibility to anonymous, disconnected, top-down-managed entities — political units, organizations, “communities” of practice and interest etc — that require no commitment, and no deep knowledge of members’ needs, values, and capacities. If they don’t serve their superficial purpose, we just disengage from them and search for other groups with which we find greater affinity. Easy come, easy go.

Real community, as Joe Bageant famously said, is born of necessity. Your “tribe” necessarily consists of people who need you, and who you in turn need. In this world where nuclear family is somehow supposed to fulfil that function, the idea of also belonging to a tribe that has enormous, reciprocal obligations attached to it, is not a popular one.

But suppose you do want to find your tribe. How do you go about “finding the others”?

It’s pretty clear what is not helpful in this search. Finding the others is not an analytical, linear process. You can’t sit down and methodically create a process and criteria and then identify those who meet them. So regardless of what kind of tribe you are seeking, you likely won’t find the others at business “meet and greet” lunches, bars or online dating sites. It’s questionable whether you can find them online at all, our new Zoom expertise notwithstanding.

Past generations of North American youths went to Europe or Asia to “find themselves”. Since we identify (find) ourselves in apposition to others, this might have been an indirect attempt to “find the others”, or at least to learn more about ourselves and the world, in order to make the task more achievable.

Recognizing “the others” is essentially a co-creational process. We “find the others” in our (personal or work) lives when there is a mutual recognition of affinity and affection. Love that only goes one way can never be workable. So to some extent, you (singular) can’t find the others; a group (plural) self-organizationally and mostly intuitively finds “itself” and hence its members. That is, unless it is incapacitated by lack of self-knowledge and self-management competencies, distracting crises, or cultural fragmentation, acedia and anomie. It is hard to make new things work when everything around you is burning.

Most recent writing on tribal behaviours is focused on the negatives and dangers of such affiliations — mob mentality, lack of critical thinking, discrimination, and a focus on identity and inclusion/exclusion. Some of the well-intentioned “spiritual” and highly idealistic communes and other experiments in re-tribalization failed because of poor and unequal power dynamics, poor appreciation of the demands that such affiliations place on us, especially in our hyper-individualistic western culture, and because of unreasonable expectations and impatience.

Tribalism is arguably the evolutionary outcome of the need for humans to collaborate socially — we are maladapted to solitary existence. That evolutionary drive is manifested chemically: we get a dopamine rush from belonging, from approval and attention and reassurance, and from kinship. It’s parallel to the chemical rush we get from falling in love: finding and bonding with a life partner. In some respects it defies logic.

So how might we begin, however late in life we come to realize the need to “find the others”? Marshall McLuhan might have suggested that if we want to “find the others” after following Timothy’s other advice, we need to invent new, non-analytical ways of re-tribalizing. We might start by doing some of these things:

  1. Find yourself first — Discover what you really care about, needs that are important to you and that are currently unmet, how you see your purpose in life etc, and then convey those to everyone you meet to discover who shares those passions and that sense of purpose. Or start with people you just really like, really have chemistry with, and figure out if you also have shared passions and a shared sense of purpose.
  2. Tell a “future state” story, like a bard — describing a feasible desired outcome, not a process for “getting there” — and see who pays attention. This might be “the better world we all know is possible”, but writ much smaller, more practical and modest, and more locally “envisage-able”. The story needs to be ‘sticky’ (ie it has to evoke both a strong emotional and intellectual response) so it will stay with people, and so the memory of you and your story will stay with your potential “others” while they realize it’s their desired outcome too. (Historically the vast majority of tribes have been oral cultures, so better the story be told than written.)
  3. Learn how to craft open invitations — authentic, irresistible enticements that will attract “unusual suspects” to convene around things you and they are passionate about, so that the “others” can and will find you.
  4. Get involved in activities outside your comfort zone — volunteering, travel, following ‘weak ties’ to other networks that connect you somewhat serendipitously to new people and new ideas. Many people end up finding their life partners and their best jobs through the “strength of weak ties“, so maybe you can find your tribe the same way.

Douglas Rushkoff has recently been telling people that “finding the others” is perhaps the most important thing we can do right now. Douglas used to hang out with Timothy, and, as with Timothy, it’s not always clear what he means when he says things like this. He says it is the means to overcome the “disenfranchisement and shame” that prevents us from realizing our potential, and that part of the goal is breaking down the polarized silos that politics and social media have manufactured by reaching across until those we see as opponents are understood, and are no longer “others”. I’m not sure that’s what Timothy was getting at, but then no one really knew what he was getting at!

I had the good fortune a number of years ago (at Joe Bageant’s invitation) to witness a community (a village in Belize) that, at least in those days, actually functioned as a “modern” tribal culture. They made peace with, lived with, and loved, some people they really didn’t like, because they had no choice. They did so effectively for over two centuries. It was astonishing to witness. They looked after each other. Their entire self-managed community (1500 people) are their “others” — the people they were “meant” to live with and make a living with. It was hard. And they were brilliant at it. They were a tribe.

Part of our challenge is that, unlike them, we do, seemingly, have a choice. And we have barriers (like the cost of property, and many laws and regulations designed to protect us from our socially broken, industrial culture’s excesses) that, for now, prevent most of us from living in a truly tribal culture with “the others” we have found. Once our civilization’s collapse reaches a more advanced stage, not only will this be much easier, it will be necessary. All the more reason to “find the others” sooner rather than later, and start to re-learn how to live in a tribal culture.

There is already evidence that within a decade (if we’re serious about tackling climate change) or two (when we will start to run seriously short of affordable energy), airline travel will have largely ceased. If you are dependent on flying to meet with loved ones, or to travel to places you prefer to your home town, it’s not too early to be thinking seriously about moving, and/or moving your loved ones. That alone may jump-start your thinking about who “the others” might be. Once civilization is in its advanced state of collapse, you will likely find that your immediate local community will be, of necessity, your tribe, and you’ll have no further choice in the matter.

So if I were to start looking to “find the others”, I would probably start by deciding where — what one place — I would be most content living out the rest of my life. I have never found that place (though several times I thought I had), but if I did, it would have to be a place that was both beautiful and sustainable (ie with the potential to be independent of the need to import stuff), and which had people already living there whose company I overwhelmingly enjoyed.

Then I would learn the local customs, local history and livelihoods, and the local culture. I would study place-making, and decide what kinds of places would best benefit the people in my adopted community, and strive to bring them to fruition. And then I would invite the people, openly and generously and without exclusion, to gather in our community, in our places, to do the things together that bring us joy, and to start to plan together for the advanced stages of civilization’s collapse. I would help us learn essential skills like consensus, conflict resolution, facilitation, mentoring and self-management. And then together we would, I think, inevitably and of necessity “find the others”, our true tribe.

I haven’t started, and at my age it’s possible I never will, but if I did, I think that is how I would do it.

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 4 Comments

Untethered

This is my anxious season. Normally at this time of year I get worried about ice and snow on my long steep driveway, and on the roads — fear of accidents and falls, and of being trapped inside the house (more psychological than physical). I get worried about mouse infestations, which were a huge challenge here a few years ago. I get worried about not being able to get to the store, the pharmacy, the doctor’s, the vet. About power failures, about my own incompetence at dealing with situations, about things being out of control, and about a million other small, foolish things.

These anxieties are totally out of proportion to any actual risk, but knowing that doesn’t make them go away.

Perhaps this is why I am so drawn to the message of radical non-duality. Although it argues that all these things I fear are not real, only appearances out of nothing, more fundamentally it argues that there is no ‘me’, no separate self to which anything (good or bad) actually happens.

It’s a difficult message to explain intellectually, despite its concordance with a lot of new discoveries in quantum science, astrophysics and cognitive science. I believe it because I want to believe it, and because it appeals to me intellectually as a sort of “grand theory of everything”, and because there have been glimpses where ‘I’ disappeared and it was absolutely and obviously ‘seen’ to be true.

Those whose ‘selves’ have somehow dropped away report what is seen ‘there’ to be always and unquestionably true. It is not a ‘state’ that can be achieved, or a theory of what is possible. This message of ‘all that is’ is simply obvious ‘there’. They’re just telling it like it is, as best as dualistic language can manage that, in the absence of a sense of self and separation.

If this happens after half a lifetime of believing your self to be real and separate, with free will and choice and responsibility, doing things in real space and time, then naturally there are residual effects in the body. There is a whole lore of beliefs, experiences and memories, all seen through the lens of the self, that are suddenly seen to have just been stories, explanations and theories and worldviews made up to try to make sense of a reality that is suddenly seen to be not real at all, just an invention.

Those who have ‘been through’ this ‘falling away of the self’ say that it was harrowing, like suddenly finding yourself in free fall with nothing to hold onto, and at the same time, a non-event, since the self that is seen not to exist is seen to have never existed. Instincts, preferences, and genetic and cultural conditioning remain, but the conditioning gradually loses its hold as it is seen to be based on completely false premises. The apparent ‘character’ that is ‘left behind’ continues to like chocolate and hate brussel sprouts, but will instinctively duck when someone throws something at it. Best to think of it this way: the characteristics of wild animals remain, and those seemingly unique to humans gradually melt away, when there is no longer anything to sustain them.

And the character, like everything else that seemingly happens, isn’t real either; it’s just an appearance. So nothing is taken ‘seriously’ anymore, and, with no self, nothing is taken ‘personally’. Since nothing is real or separate, it’s just a cosmic light-show — nothing really matters. There is no death or life, nothing at all to ‘worry’ about, since there is no one, nothing separate, to do the worrying. Just this whirlwind of energy of nothing appearing as everything, for no reason.

In the absence of a glimpse (or perhaps in the absence of a sense of desperation to bring one’s debilitating anxieties under control) this all has to seem preposterous, the ravings of a lunatic. Somehow, here, it resonates, unshakeably. There has always been a sense that this human life was far more complicated and difficult and unhappy than it needed to be, than it should be. A sense that receiving the gift of selfhood and separation in return for all that that entails, is a terrible, terrible bargain.

All our suffering is for nothing. We are anxious about the future, when there is no such thing as the future. We grieve the past when there wasn’t, isn’t, and never will be a past. We are angry about what we must face now, about what just happened, when there is no now. There is no time at all. We are unhappy with the work we are convinced we ‘must’ do, when there is no ‘work’ for anyone to do, and no one to do it.

This perception/conception of reality is all made up in these brains and bodies, too smart for their own good, in an honest attempt to help us to do better what the complicity of our bodies’ cells and organs have (apparently) evolved to do as well as possible. That is their imperative, which becomes the manufactured, illusory ‘our’ imperative, but only through the ghastly veil of apart-hood, this invented, fraught, terrifying, false ‘reality’.

And so ‘we’ live in this dreamt reality, where our brains construct these models of what, according to the models, must really be, and the constructed me is then charged with the lifelong task of optimizing choices to keep the ‘me’ safe and healthy and productive, for the benefit of an imagined society of ‘me’s.

It’s as if we suddenly found ourselves playing a video game where it took all our energy and concentration to keep the car on the screen from crashing, a grotesque scenario displayed above the screen with a giant red X across it. And lo and behold we were actually really good at keeping our car on the road and navigating various obstacles. And so we just wanted to keep playing, as we were promoted to higher and more challenging levels.

And then suddenly a person came up to us and told us that the game we thought we were playing was actually in ‘demonstration’ mode, and sooner or later it would crash, no matter what we did, and all our fiddling with the dials and the buttons and the controllers was actually accomplishing nothing at all.

What a disappointment! What a relief!

Posted in Radical Non-Duality | 2 Comments