What Happened Next, Apparently

image by amira_a from flickr, via pixhere, cc by 2.0

What apparently happened was that among the eight humans who had seemingly gathered on the beach to watch the sunset, it was suddenly realized that there was no one. That nothing was real, or unreal. That there was only everything — everything apparently happening.

At first, nothing was said about this. There was just looking in awe at everything, that had always been there but never seen. This was not an awkward silence, as there was no one left to be awkward.

There was much smiling, but not by anyone, or towards anyone or anything in particular, since there was nothing particular to smile at.

No one remarked about how astonishing it was that everything could not have been seen before when it was now so obvious, because there was no one to remark about it, and never had been. Everything had seemingly changed, but it was actually quite ordinary, and nothing had actually changed at all. Just some illusions had disappeared.

The behaviour of the humans did not seem to change at all. As before, the eight humans did what they were conditioned to do, the only things they could have done given the circumstances of the moment, or so it appeared. A careful observer might have detected more (or fewer) far-away looks, less urgency, less anxiety, but the two couples still acted like couples, and the others still acted very much as they seemed to have before, even though there was no longer anyone purporting to inhabit these humans’ bodies.

There was no inclination to start a movement to tell people how awesome it was to see everything, and how tragic it was that, being people, they could never hope to see it. There was no need to do anything. It was just suddenly obvious, but not worth talking about, and besides, there was no one to talk about it, or talk about it with.

None of this happened for a reason. There was nothing special about these particular eight humans, or where they were, or what they were doing, or had been doing in past, when it was realized there was no one. It just happened, apparently. Nothing remarkable at all.

When nothing is real, anything is possible.

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Links of the Quarter: March 2019

I posted a special ‘links of the month’ in January to showcase some important new writing about civilization’s collapse, so this quarter’s links are a bit lighter in both volume and tone than usual. Hope you enjoy them.


cartoon by the brilliant Michael Leunig

David Suzuki Says “We’re not going to make it”: He still talks about what it would take, but he’s given up hope that climate disaster can be averted. Noam Chomsky is getting close to the same viewpoint.


image sent to me by my friend Ron Woodall

Irish Koans: A new collection and translation of Zen koans suggests that the Irish language, with its propensity for mystery and ambiguity, is particularly suited to the understanding of ancient koans, and that a core message of them is non-duality:

What became abundantly clear to me when I started investigating the koans more closely was that there is one fundamental message permeating through a great number of many of the more well-known classical koans and that is the message of non-duality. Non-duality simply means ‘not two’. We all have the perception that there is an ‘I’ inside our body and that ‘I’ is looking out at a separate world. In other words, that there is a subject and an object observed by that subject, a knower and a known, a seer and a seen, a hearer and a heard. What many of the koans help to discover is that the knower and the known are, in fact, one and the same.

A Theory is Often a Reflection of its Creator: A brilliant critique by the Corporate Rebels of naive thinking that organizations can ‘reinvent’ themselves, that some oft-cited large organizations epitomize sustainable democratic principles, and that the “integrative thinking” model (of Wilber et al) is anything more than an arrogant idealistic exercise in wishful thinking. One of the best and most courageous examples of critical thinking I have read in a long time.

The Lancet on Diet: The esteemed medical journal weighs in on the advantages of a balanced plant-based diet for our health and the health of our planet. And so does the new Canadian Food Guide, free for the first time from food industry lobbying.

Craigslist Founder Refuses to Sell Out: Craig Newmark is a billionaire despite the fact that he’s never sold out to venture capitalists who want to ‘monetize’ (ie charge money for) the amazing free service he offers.

Why We Feed Birds: The wonderful Cornell Lab of Ornithology asks if we even should. The answer is a resounding yes, but mostly for our benefit, not theirs — they don’t need us.

How Not to Dominate the Conversation: Chris Corrigan suggests that rather than ignoring or fighting the power dynamics in a conversation or discussion, acknowledge and work with them.


image from a post by Lulastic, uncredited

All Depends on How You Ask the Question: But have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too Canadians seem to want more pipelines, urgently, plus actions to stop climate change. The increasingly right-wing Trudeau “Liberal” government seems hell-bent on ruining our environment and climate with its reckless energy development agenda, and ultra-conservatism is now creeping into its public political stances, notably its ganging up with other conservative regimes calling for the undemocratic overthrow of the government of Venezuela. Astonishing that it takes the conservative Globe & Mail to call them out on this, and also to call them out on our government’s tepid response to the rise of right-wing extremist white nationalist terrorism.

The Colonization of Activism: Jane Anne Morris explains how the work of activists has been colonized, coopted and de-activated, and what would be needed to make it effective again. Thanks to Tree Bressen and Paul Cienfuegos for the link.


image from the Bizarro facebook page; thanks to Sam Mills for the link

Scary Time for Men and Boys: Lynzy Lab sings a brilliant, scathing rebuttal to 45’s assertion that thanks to the metoo movement it’s a “scary time for men and boys”. The unusually large number and proportion of anonymous “thumbs down” for this video is telling.

Not Going Back: Another compelling appeal for us to stay on daylight savings time all year round.

Time Lapse Map of Europe Since 400BC: Learn more about European history in 11 minutes than you did in any of your history classes.

Stunning HD Footage From Hawaii: Ryan de Seixas shows you some of the incredible scenery we get to see in Hawai’i (from where I’m writing this). Extra: manta rays’ mating ritual.

The Return of Humpbacks: My friend, geologist and videographer Bob Turner, chronicles the recent return of humpback whales to the area of my home, the Salish Sea.

Georgian Music: Georgian music boasts a unique, somewhat haunting form of polyphony. If you’re not familiar with it, check out Orera, or the astonishing voice of Salome Tetiashvili. Thanks to Raffi Aftandelian for the first link.

Beautiful Maps of the Earth’s River Systems: Cartography as art. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the link.

We Don’t Stay: A lovely new song about our disconnection from our past. Watch the eclectic, subtle electric guitar work of Anthony da Costa quietly steal the show.

Speaking Shetlandic: Let your ear accustom itself to Scottish poet laureate Christine De Luca’s conversation and it will teach you much about language in general. The poem she reads is transcribed below.


image from Quantum World

From Nicolette Sowder, at Wilder Child (thanks to my friend Kim Howden for the link):

May we raise children who love the unloved things – the dandelion, the worms and spiderlings. children who sense the rose needs the thorn, who run into rainswept days the same way they turn towards sun. And when they’re grown and someone has to speak for those who have no voice may they draw upon that wilder bond, those days of tending tender things, and be the ones.

Little wild one, remind me how to run again barefoot through the pathless woods. Show me where the fairies hide messages in curled up maple leaves. Show me treasures, rocks and feathers, frogs that beckon us forward, forward through the curling grapevine. Lead me under a moon that is as full as our pockets, past chicory & mushroom rings, down, down to the river where I can see myself, as if for the first time, peering back at me.

If you want a child to listen to their heart, start by teaching them to listen to the wind, the rain and the littlest birds.

From the Writing About Writing FB page:

The Grammar Bar:

  • A dangling participle walks into a bar. Enjoying a cocktail and chatting with the bartender, the evening passes pleasantly.
  • A bar was walked into by the passive voice.
  • An oxymoron walked into a bar, and the silence was deafening.
  • Two quotation marks walk into a “bar.”
  • A malapropism walks into a bar, looking for all intensive purposes like a wolf in cheap clothing, muttering epitaphs and casting dispersions on his magnificent other, who takes him for granite.
  • Hyperbole totally rips into this insane bar and absolutely destroys everything.
  • A question mark walks into a bar?
  • A non sequitur walks into a bar. In a strong wind, even turkeys can fly.
  • Papyrus and Comic Sans walk into a bar. The bartender says, “Get out — we don’t serve your type.”
  • A mixed metaphor walks into a bar, seeing the handwriting on the wall but hoping to nip it in the bud.
  • A comma splice walks into a bar, it has a drink and then leaves.
  • Three intransitive verbs walk into a bar. They sit. They converse. They depart.
  • A synonym strolls into a tavern.
  • At the end of the day, a cliché walks into a bar — fresh as a daisy, cute as a button, and sharp as a tack.
  • A run-on sentence walks into a bar it starts flirting. With a cute little sentence fragment.
  • Falling slowly, slowly falling, the chiasmus collapses to the bar floor.
  • A figure of speech literally walks into a bar and ends up getting figuratively hammered.
  • An allusion walks into a bar, despite the fact that alcohol is its Achilles heel.
  • The subjunctive would have walked into a bar, had it only known.
  • A misplaced modifier walks into a bar owned by a man with a glass eye named Ralph.
  • The past, present, and future walked into a bar. It was tense.
  • A verb walks into a bar, sees a beautiful noun, and suggests they conjugate. The noun declines.
  • An Oxford comma walks into a bar, where it spends the evening watching the television, getting drunk, and smoking cigars.
  • A simile walks into a bar, as parched as a desert.
  • A gerund and an infinitive walk into a bar, drinking to forget.
  • A hyphenated word and a non-hyphenated word walk into a bar and the bartender nearly chokes on the irony.
  • A woman walks into a bar. She tells the bartender, “I need an entendre, make it a double.” So he gave her one.
  • Pronouns entered the bar, replacing everyone and everything.
  • A spoonerism balks into a war.
  • Who and Whom walked into a bar. The bartender didn’t know which to serve.
  • A split infinitive decided to boldly walk into a bar.

From Christine De Luca (transcription by Vira Motorko):

Spelling it out

It’s the way a cat fawns, a bird flaunts,
a dog recoils and whimpers;

it’s the way a cricket
chooses from his bag of chirpings

or a whale sends a long distance message.

It’s the way our fore-fathers moved
to the forest floor, and in the tonality

of their vocal chords said ‘I’ and ‘you’
in a thousand different ways;

picked up the grammar of polemic
and persuasion,

the lexicon of lewd and lovely,

the tenses that made sense
of time past and time to come.

It’s the borders, armies and classes
that cornered the limits of Language:

Patois or Pidgin; Colloquial or Kailyard;
Vernacular or Slang.

It’s the famous thesaurus that suggests
three meanings for dialect

other than
dialect in language –

speciality, intelligibility
and speech defect.

It’s the funding that flows
from decisions;

it’s the boundaries and commissions

that decide that ‘pub’
is kosher in Norwegian,

but only if pronounced püb;

dat Heron Heights an Hegrehøyden(1)
is baith languages

but Hegrie-heichts(2) is dialect,

dat Hrossagaukur(3) an Snipe
is language

but Hrossgauk(4) is dialect.

Hit’s da passion we hadd
whin we nön ta wirsels,

whin we bal soond fae
wir bosie inta da heevens

whin we lay a wird o love apön een anidder

whin we dunna budder

wi nairrow definition.


(1) the Norwegian word for heron
(2) the Shetlandic word for heron is hegrie
(3) the Icelandic word for the snipe
(4) the Shetlandic word for the snipe

Posted in Preparing for Civilization's End | 1 Comment

We Can’t Imagine

image from spirit111 at pixabay cc0

to see that there is no ‘us’, nothing apart,
that everything is just a wondrous appearance,
that there is only ‘oneness’
(though that poor word doesn’t begin to describe it,
it’s as close as a ‘language of separation’ can come).

to see that nothing is personal, or important,
nothing is about us, or happening to us or to anyone,
it is just what is appearing to happen, outside of space and time.

to see that it’s just an amazing show of serendipity and joy
a magical expression of endless possibility,
a gentle, eternal wow.

we can’t imagine how perfect this is, right here, now,
unceasingly and everywhere,
as long as we are caught in the terrible prison of our self,
sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

we can’t imagine how it is to be free,
to see everything as it really is, to be everything,
a song and celebration without end.

but we will.
even for ‘us’,
(though there will then be no ‘us’),
beyond the struggle and the suffering,
beyond the anger and fear and sorrow,
one day everything will be free.

it is already,
but we can’t imagine.

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Collaboration is the Hallmark of Community

I‘ve spent many hours over the past four months rehearsing for a choir performance, a benefit for our local food bank. The world premiere concert was last night and played to a sold-out crowd, and it was a huge success for the works’ composer, my friend Brian Hoover.

As our chorus of 25 rehearsed, I was reminded of the incredible sense of community and joy that learning and singing great music together brings. I haven’t performed music publicly since my high school days, and the rehearsals brought back some of my finest memories. There is just something about such collaborations — working personally and collectively towards a common goal where everyone’s work has to mesh. What’s amazing is that this sense of community arises despite the fact most of the chorus members are not personal friends, and are probably unlikely to ever be. I have learned from such collaborative work that you don’t have to know, or even particularly like, your fellow collaborators to get astonishing joy from the experience, and end up feeling towards them what can only be described as love. And of course, nothing can compare to the exquisite pleasure of being in the middle of 25 voices blending skilfully and harmonically into a wall of gorgeous sound.

We have been collaborative creatures, as much as we have been social creatures, since our prehistoric emergence on this planet. Collaboration is evolutionarily selected for: Before the recent advent of scarcity driven by technology, overpopulation and our perverse modern industrial economy, we were inherently collaborative, and only competitive and individualistic in rare moments of extraordinary stress. That’s easy to forget when everything in our indoctrinated, conditioned modern society has been made into a competition.

The experience got me thinking about the roles in collaboration. In our modern hierarchical culture every collective activity we pursue is imbued with the cult of leadership, with the idea that things only happen under great leaders. Despite the pro-hierarchy propaganda to the contrary, there is absolutely no evidence that leadership, in the sense of extraordinarily gifted people telling others what to do, actually works in our or any society. My experience in nearly 40 years of business, with organizations of every size, was that what gets done that is of value in these organizations occurs when front-line people do what they know is best, despite instructions from self-proclaimed or anointed ‘leaders’ who are generally removed from contact with customers and no more experienced or skilled at the hands-on work needed to accomplish the organization’s work than anyone else. In fact, in many cases the best work in organizations is done despite the ‘leaders’, as employees have to find workarounds that contravene the directives from the ‘top’ and the policy manuals, a politically challenging and sometimes even dangerous act, to do what they know needs to be done. Many others have told me that is also their experience, including more than a few purported ‘leaders’.

But surely, I thought, recalling the many hours of patient guidance, instruction, correction and repetition that Brian, our organizer, composer and teacher, and Alison Nixon, our indomitable conductor, had to endure to hone our work to the point it was ready for last night’s performance, these are the kinds of situations that really require exceptional leadership, aren’t they?

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, despite the appearance of teachers and conductors ‘leading’ a group, what is actually happening is nothing of the sort. Unlike ’employers’, Brian and Alison were drawing on a pool of volunteers, and our entire participation, attention and energy was voluntary. What they did so brilliantly was to elicit those three qualities, and impart their own experience as a suggestion for us to draw upon. They did so without the kind of command and control that so-called ‘leaders’ can exercise from a position of power. And therein was the magic of our work together, and perhaps of all true collaboration: A group of disparate individuals voluntarily came together and worked very hard and diligently together, paying attention to each other as well as to Brian and Alison. We were, including Brian, Alison and the others who contributed to making this happen, a substantially self-organized group, participating and supporting each other for no other reason than because it gave us joy. That’s collaboration.

I’ve said before  that what I think are the two most important skills for the 21st century are facilitation and mentoring:

Facilitation is the process of skillfully helping a group of ordinary people do their best collaborative work. Facilitation includes supporting the group, process stewardship, watching and helping manage the vibe and flow, and ‘holding the space’ for the group to achieve its goals. Tree Bressen describes the role as akin to that of a midwife, enabling delivery without being the actual producer of the ‘product’.

Mentoring is active, empathic listening and providing a sounding board for self-directed learning. Sometimes a mentor’s gift is just to be present, to listen with compassion and appreciation. Sometimes it’s to demonstrate, a suggestion of “you might try this”.

This is far from the textbook definition of ‘leadership’. But these two roles are, in my experience, the only ones that actually work, enabling self-management rather than trying fruitlessly to impose management.

The etymology of director and conductor is substantially about ‘keeping straight’, not about giving expert instruction. As our educational systems have endlessly proven, instruction is not the way to impart knowledge or learning or to get anything accomplished effectively. Leadership and instruction are anachronisms of the industrial era where those in power felt obliged to impose their will to prevent disobedience and to demonstrate their own importance. This has never worked.

When we listened to Brian and to Alison, and paid attention to their movements of direction (what might best be described as impassioned suggestions) and to their facial features, we were acknowledging their enormous competence as facilitators and mentors — as co-creators of the amazing work we heard, movingly and confidently, last night.

I thank them both for showing us how collaboration, at its best, works, and how such collaboration is the essence of community. Last evening, right up to the final sounds of applause, we were all — facilitators and mentors, singers and audience — collaborators, and we were a true community.

I will post the video of the performance when it’s edited and published, here. I would also like to thank the musicians, soloists and crew who made every moment of this experience so delightful and rewarding.




Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves | 2 Comments

A New Model for Transition?

It’s been a while since I’ve written on this blog about a real ‘aha!’ moment. Thanks to Kate Raworth, I just had one.

Kate is the author of The Doughnut Economy, an astonishingly simple economic model that captures our current predicament, and the inadequacy of the current economy, perfectly. It’s illustrated in the diagram above, and explained in this one-minute animation, the full text of which is as follows:

In the 20th century, economics lost its purpose, and started chasing the false goal of GDP growth, pushing us to deepening inequality, and pushing us all towards ecological collapse. This century calls for a new goal: meeting the needs of all, within the means of the planet. It’s time to get into the doughnut: the sweet spot for humanity [green area of the diagram below]. But that’s no easy task: Today billions of people still fall short of their daily needs, from food, housing and energy to health care and education, and yet we’ve already overshot our capacity in some of earth’s most critical life support systems, driving climate change and the breakdown of biodiversity [red areas of the diagram].

What we do in the next 50 years will shape the next 10,000. So let’s replace that last-century goal of endless growth with the goal of thriving in balance, and if we’re to have half a chance of getting there, what economic mindset will be fit for the task?

As for any predicament, this one has no solutions, only adaptations and coping mechanisms. Our technology-fuelled capitalist, industrial-growth economy only encourages overshoot. But this economy is the evolving result of the actions of billions of people: No small group created this economy, no one is to blame for it, and no group has the power to change or replace it. We just have to acknowledge its reality, and its inevitable collapse, and adapt ourselves to its unfolding as best we can.

That doesn’t mean doing nothing. Kate’s website has many ideas on how to deal with the apparent Hobson’s choice of reducing overshoot by eliminating growth at the global scale (hence increasing inequality, scarcity and suffering for most), or reducing inequality, scarcity and suffering by accelerating even more quickly towards economic collapse. In our current economy, we can’t do both. But in small ways we can (and must) reduce both scarcities and overshoot, even if our actions are unrecognized and merely what Joanna Macy has called “holding actions”. Even if we will have no idea whether they did any good.

We could quibble about which essential human needs belong in the inner circle of the diagram (Michael Dowd’s new video based in part on one of my articles summarizes what I think are eight essential human needs that deserve a place in this centre circle):

And we could quibble about the dimensions of overshoot in the outer circle. But what is important, I think, is that we start to think of human activity as a balancing act, the ultimately impossible task of reducing the red areas in both the inner and outer circles, so that we ultimately live at least a bit more in “the safe and just space for humanity”. In other words, we must learn to live within our means, as we did brilliantly during the first million (“prehistoric”) years of our time on earth.

The chart also shows that we don’t have to worry about other creatures in striving to do this. It’s hubris to think that we are responsible for stewarding this planet. If we take care not to be in overshoot (and when we are no longer around), the rest of life on earth will take care of itself, as it has always done.

Another feature of this model is that it clarifies the role that human overpopulation plays. The more humans on this planet, the more potential shortfall/scarcity we create trying to accommodate them, and the greater the risk of overshoot in doing so. Population is the denominator in the equation, but it is not the only cause of overshoot, and not the only thing we must reign in to reduce it. Waste, inequality, and the vast inefficiencies of scale that globalization (in its well-intended but ill-conceived attempt to reproduce first world wealth) contribute much more to both the inner and outer red areas on the diagram, than raw human numbers.

Finally, this amazing and simple model really presents a blueprint for what any proposed Green New Deal must try to accomplish. Their goals are the same.

So as a joyful pessimist, a student of our culture, and as a collapsnik, I love this new model. We cannot prevent collapse, but this model shows us what we did wrong, and what we continue to do wrong, and how we can at least moderate some of the most devastating effects of our economy and human activity, before collapse makes all our efforts moot. It is a predicament, and as such it is far too late to “get the red out” and restore our economy and ecology to health and balance. But at least, and at last, this gives us a picture, and a useful, meaningful scorecard, as our civilization enters its final decades, to chronicle its, and our, demise, and our attempts to reduce and undo what cannot be undone.

Thanks to Jae Mather for pointing me to David Suzuki’s reference to this model, to the Rockstrom team who developed the first iteration of the model, and to Kate for saying so eloquently what should always have been obvious.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Preparing for Civilization's End | Leave a comment

Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That

image from youtube video by principieuniversi.com 

I‘ve always had a deep-seated, intuitive preference for explanations and theories that are at once simple (“a theory should be as simple as possible, but no simpler” as Einstein possibly said), and complex (not mechanical or reductionist, and respectful of the impossibility of complete understanding, and appreciative of the inextricable interrelatedness of all things).

Since I was a child I have been intrigued by the effort of scientists and philosophers to come up with a compelling explanation of the nature of reality, and why every new theory seems unduly complicated, dubious, and unsatisfying.

Part of this, I suppose, is my inherent skepticism of convoluted theories (like string theory), which remind me in their earnestness of the 16th century Ptolemaic anti-Copernican models of complicated circles circling around other circles around earth, to refute the simple but then-outrageous truth of a heliocentric solar system.

Part of it is something inside that somehow ‘remembers’ when everything just made sense as it was, and which found the subsequent vehement teachings of tortuous and labyrinthine alternative explanations for the way things are, to which we are all subjected from early education until we die, so utterly absurd. When I heard these assertions, about morality, about mortality, about progress and struggle and creation and purpose and human nature and later the nature of time and the universe, I kept saying to myself: “Is this just a joke that they’re soon going to let me in on, or do they really believe this preposterous nonsense, and if they really believe it, why?”

So it’s not surprising I suppose that I’ve taken a liking to the message of radical non-duality. It’s the simplest, and most outrageous, “theory of everything” I have ever studied. It is unprovable, and irrefutable. It is utterly useless, and, for those looking for something useful or better than established models old and new, totally hopeless. It’s just this:

There is no you. The sense of a separate person with free will and choice inhabiting a body is an illusion, an evolutionary misstep, a psychosomatic misunderstanding that arises in creatures with large brains. The brain and body have no need of a ‘self’ in order for the apparent human they are seemingly a part of to function perfectly well. Since there is no you, there is nothing you can do or learn or become to dispel or see through this illusion. It’s hopeless.

Nothing is real. Nothing is separate. There is no thing. There is only this (or everything, or whatever word you want to use), appearing as things and actions in (apparent) time and space. These appearances are not illusions like the self, and they’re not real, or unreal; they are just appearances. Inexplicably. For no reason or purpose.

That’s it. That’s the message. Everything else that radical non-dualists talk about is just an elaboration, an illumination, of the essence and consequences of this simple, hopeless message. There are lots of terms that can be used interchangeably with ‘you’ and they are all describing the same illusory thing: the self, contracted energy, the individual, the person, the seeker, the experience (of seeking etc), the experiencer, separation, knowing, understanding, the dream, the dreamer, ‘I am’, the story of ‘me’, consciousness, awareness, duality. All just a dreadful illusion.

There are lots of terms used to describe things that the self believes are absolutely real, but which are simply appearances ‘out of nothing’: time, space, distance, objects, position, meaning, purpose, intention, need, perception, beginning, end, life, death, events, result, cause, free will, choice, control, agency, change, right and wrong, responsibility, thoughts, feelings, sensations, continuity. These are not illusions, but neither are they real. They are just appearances. (I would add “Enjoy the show!” but the self can’t see these things as just wondrous appearances, so it is doomed to ‘miss’ the show, and to be hopelessly unhappy seeking to solve its apparent unhappiness and struggle.)

Not much more to say about it. It’s an elegant, totally internally consistent message. If there is a remembrance or a glimpse of a moment when there was no ‘you’, this message may be intriguing, or even very compelling. Otherwise it will probably just make no sense. Even when, as I think will happen in this century, scientists and philosophers start nodding that this message really does best describe the nature of reality and of human nature. Like Copernicus’ heliocentric model a mere half-millennium ago, it is just too outrageous.


Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves | 2 Comments


“April is the cruellest month” — The first line of TS Eliot’s The Wasteland, originally read “February is the cruelest month”, but Ezra Pound insisted it be changed, not to make it truer, but because it sounded better poetically. Image is from iTunes visualizer.

It’s been a stressful and anxious month for me, capping off a third consecutive hard winter in this usually balmy (perhaps in both senses of the word) part of the world. In some ways it’s been good for me — forcing me to face some fears that sometimes border on phobias, and beginning to move past them.

Such is the state of cognitive dissonance in which I live. On the one hand, I know, intellectually and intuitively, that everything I perceive, including my self and its sense of free will and choice and control over my actions and beliefs, is illusory, a trick of the brain, an unfortunate and useless evolutionary accident, a psychosomatic misunderstanding; research (and glimpses) have persuaded me that there is nothing separate, there is no time, and there is no individual person — there is only this, which cannot be known or experienced by any individual. Though there can be glimpses.

And on the other hand, afflicted with this illusion of self-hood and self-control, I am incessantly triggered by what seem to me incredibly stressful and anxiety-creating events, happening to me and those I love, leaving me exhausted and sometimes seemingly hanging by a thread from emotional collapse. It’s really insane.

It’s like watching a horror movie that you don’t want to watch any more, but discovering you can’t stop — you’re utterly immersed in the movie, and knowing it’s not real doesn’t help at all. Or like suffering from ghastly hallucinations that you recognize as such but can’t stop viscerally and endlessly reacting to. Or, of course, like finding yourself in a nightmare from which you cannot wake up.

It’s not usually like that, of course. Most of the time I’m my usual, grateful, blessed, joyful pessimist. Few people have less reason to be stressed or anxious than I do. Doesn’t matter a damn. Every prison-of-the-self is its own unique, inescapable and incomparable hell, much of the time, and knowing it’s a dream makes not one iota of difference. Like everyone, I am merely a reaction, with no control over what is apparently happening or how I apparently respond; on an endless roller-coaster alternatively laughing, and (uselessly gripping tightly) cringing in fear. Lost and scared. For no reason. And there’s no escaping it.

Of course, this is a very dismal and hopeless way of seeing the world. I think my interest in this radically non-dual suggestion of what is really real would never have seriously arisen or lasted (three years now) were it not for the glimpses. So what are these glimpses? Here’s what I wrote about the last apparent glimpse, three years ago:

  • It felt more like a ‘remembering’ than an ‘awakening’. Some memories of very early childhood (some of which had been just a blur until then) and a few memories from more recent, very peaceful times, flooded through my body, which felt ‘flushed’ in the way it feels during a sudden ‘aha’ moment, or during feelings of intense love.
  • It felt amazingly free of anxiety or fear, very peaceful and joyful in a ‘boundless’ kind of way. Everything was awesome, more-than-real, unveiled, unfiltered and just perfect, exactly as it was.
  • There was no temptation to grasp onto it lest it be quickly lost again. It was clearly always here, everywhere, not ‘going’ anywhere, accessible always. My self would have been anxious not to lose it, but my self was, in that moment, not present. The glimpse was completely impersonal, not happening to anyone.
  • A silly grin came over me, and stayed for hours.
  • If this is a glimpse, it is not my first, though this one seemed to connect me, through those suddenly recalled memories, to past glimpses. It felt wonderful, but also completely ordinary and obvious. Oh, that! Of course; how could I not have noticed?

My sense is that such glimpses are not rare among humankind. I suspect they happen all the time, but when the self returns, it just rationalizes that it was a nice blissful state that lasted for a while. The self takes ownership of what happened, and assumes it was a pleasant, temporary, possibly ‘out-of-body’ experience that happened to it. It cannot and will not recognize its own absence, its own unreality; its self-selected job, after all, is to be in control taking responsibility for and making sense of everything that seemingly happens to it.

This is a staggering tragedy. Not that the self is unable to see the truth of its own illusory and dysfunctional nature, but rather that the self, which afflicts us with such needless suffering and misery, such endless anger, rage, sadness, anxiety, fear, shame and depression for no reason whatsoever, evolved in the first place, probably just as an accidental consequence of the evolution of large brains and their capacity to conceptualize a separate ‘self’, which then came to accept and believe that self was real, and in control.

It’s a ghastly, awful cosmic joke that no self can ever get. There is no awakening, no enlightenment for the self, for the individual. Only the endless prison of its own invention. Awakening or enlightenment, or whatever one chooses to call it, only (apparently) happens when the self, mercifully, drops away, leaving only this. And the realization, by no one, that this is everything, this is all there is, a perfect and meaningless and astonishing appearance out of nothing, that needs nothing to be done.

My guess is that we’re getting close to a scientific and philosophical consensus that this is so. But just as there is a growing consensus that there is no such thing as free will, for the billions of human selves on the planet, this consensus will be mostly ignored, ridiculed, even condemned as cruel and escapist and dismissive of the misery of the human condition. The fact that this philosophical, existential schism will probably emerge just as the latest and largest (apparent) human civilization accelerates into chaos and collapse, is going to make the next few decades a fascinating and dreadful unfolding to witness.

In the meantime, if my description of a glimpse doesn’t resonate, I can fully understand that my recent writing must come across as non-sensical, preposterous, and probably annoying. Although there’s nothing any of us can do about it, I wish us all freedom from our selves, and the realization that, always and everywhere, all there is is just awesome, perfect, this, simply, obviously, beyond knowing, and beyond doubt.

But right now I’m still anxious, lost and scared, and this month seems (*sigh*) endless.

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | 7 Comments

Links of the Month: January 2019 — Collapse Watch Edition

image from Gail Tverberg’s article, described below

For the last few years I’ve been posting links to the best (in my opinion) articles, videos and quotes published in the past quarter, on a variety of subjects. Since my December list there has been a rash of very interesting articles about economic, ecological and societal collapse, so rather than waiting until March I thought I’d do a special monthly post on them. Here we go:

Reaching the Limits to Growth: Gail Tverberg exhaustively reviews the latest data in light of the updated Limits to Growth report, says we are now on the cusp of those many interconnected limits, and predicts a huge and enduring global economic depression is coming, bringing with it the possible end of human civilization.

The Collapse of China: Ilargi at the Automatic Earth weighs in on the economic crises (energy, demographics, trade deficit, debt) now facing China, now the world’s largest and fastest-growing economy, and one of the most politically repressive places on earth. Now, as “Chinese stock market conditions resemble those during the 1929 Wall Street Crash”, the economic, political and social fabric of the country is extremely vulnerable. Students of China’s long, violent and unstable boom-and-bust history must be alarmed. And so are economists who know the entire global economy is increasingly dependent on China’s.

The Bankruptcy of the US: Dmitry Orlov goes through the numbers to explain why the bankruptcy of the US government is an inevitability. He also compellingly updates ‘progress’ towards the five stages of collapse for 2019, from his 2013 book of the same name.

Burned Out on Collapse: Carolyn Baker links us to Umair Haque’s new article about the traumatizing effect of the endless litany of bad news about our world and its future:

To be traumatized is to be exposed to death, of violence, to feel threatened with one’s own nonexistence, or that of a loved one. And a good psychologist would know that none of that has to be “direct.” You don’t have to be the one who is hit by an abuser to be traumatized by abuse. You merely have to be in proximity to such a thing, for the experience to ripple out and strike you, too.

But isn’t that precisely what this age feels like? Proximity to, if not direct experience of, relentless, gruesome, needless, abuse after abuse? Abuse of power. Abuse of societies. Abuse of democracy. Of technology. Abuse of the planet. Violence against the vulnerable. An indifference to life and truth and decency. Capitalism, greed, devastation. Fire, famine, flood. Skyrocketing poverty amongst soaring riches. Wouldn’t watching all of that make any sane person burn with rage, pound with anxiety, shudder with dread, go cold with panic? It does me, and I think that the only person you’re kidding is yourself if you pretend it doesn’t do just that to you, on some level, too. This, my friends, is a traumatized time, generation, milieu, society, world.

The Dark Places of the Future: John Michael Greer predicts what will happen in 2019, which he thinks will be a rather uneventful year in the slow decline of our civilization:

Despite the claims still retailed by the increasingly ragged chorus of believers in perpetual progress, industrial civilization is no longer progressing. Rather, it’s slipping bit by bit down the trajectory I’ve titled the Long Descent—the process, averaging one to three centuries in length, by which every previous human civilization has ended in a dark age. That’s not something that can be stopped or reversed; it unfolds from conflicts hardwired into the basic ecological and economic structures of civilization; several familiar milestones are already past, others are coming into sight on the road ahead, and one implication of that reality is that the rest of your life, dear reader, will be spent in a civilization in decline.

We Are All Syrians Now: Albert Bates draws parallels between the improbable and catastrophic decline of Syria into chaos and war, and the decline we will all be facing in the decades and centuries to come:

[Based on our current trajectory] the climate will continue to warm for several more centuries until it reaches its new equilibrium temperature based upon the changed chemistry. That could be at 7 degrees, 9 degrees, 12 degrees, we really don’t know. We just know it is a lot hotter than mammals like homo can tolerate.

The Madness of Geoengineering: At a recent global conference on geoengineering, it became clear that it is no longer a matter of if, but when, we will start mucking with the stratosphere to try to mitigate the damage we have done to the atmosphere and the planet. Get used to hearing about Solar Radiation Management (SRM). Of course, we have no idea what we’re doing, the potential consequences of the inevitable errors are so unimaginably horrific that some experts want geoengineering completely banned, and in any case it only addresses a small part of the climate change problem. And once we start, there’s no turning back.

Posted in Preparing for Civilization's End | 4 Comments

How Can We Prepare For an Unknowable Future?

Last Sunday, Bowen in Transition, the local chapter of the global Transition Network, held a meeting to discuss “our growing feelings of anxiety and insecurity as the news of climate collapse (and economic and social precarity) gets ever worse, how to deal with it all, and how to adapt to what is to come”. This was the first of several facilitated group discussions on this topic, and we started out with what the Transition Network calls the “inner transition” aspects: the internal work of understanding, coping and helping others cope emotionally with what we are now facing and expect to face in the future.

This idea of precarity (it’s the noun that relates to the adjective precarious) refers to uncertainty and the perception of possible risk or danger. It’s what I think underlies our anxiety, insecurity, and perhaps the grief, anger, fear and shame we feel about what we have done to this planet and what this bodes for the future of all life on earth, including ours and our descendants’.

We talked briefly about what we the members of Bowen in Transition can possibly do to help us prepare for a future we cannot possibly predict, and how that might lead to a kind of paralysis where we do nothing.

Brian Hoover and our brilliant facilitator Shasta Martinuk had raised the point about how, early in our civilization’s history, workers often spent their whole lives working on a single project like a cathedral, without any hope of ever seeing the culmination of their work, which might take decades if not centuries to complete. And how today, with the sense that we may not have decades or centuries left to do whatever work we now have to do, and with no real idea what we can or should do that will really make a positive difference, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

Afterwards, I had a conversation with local activist, writer and artist Pauline Le Bel, who was part of our earnest group at the meeting, and I said to her:

What you said stood out for you (“the importance of deciding what to pay attention to; embracing insecurity; and letting go of outcomes”) also stood out for me. I think insecurity is the consequence of precarity — we can’t possibly be secure when we have no idea (but lots of fears about) what the future holds. That’s why for me Transition is all about those two elements of preparation for whatever might happen: re-skilling, and building community.

And why to me it’s so important to look past the grim decades to come and see how our work (both artistic and preparatory) might provide useful grounding for the human societies (plural — I think they will be amazingly diverse) that emerge in the millennia after collapse, even though we can’t possibly know or imagine how what we do will benefit them. We are cathedral-builders for the generations that will rise from the ashes of our unsustainable and crumbling industrial civilization. We are laying possible foundations. They may choose not to use them, and in that they may be wise. That is not our business.

So at this stage that would seem to be my answer: First, re-skill our community’s people (learn the essential skills that we will need if and when economic and ecological collapse leads to bankrupt governments and corporations and broken infrastructure). That doesn’t mean everyone needs to learn permaculture skills, for example, but those with the talent and passion for such work should, and we need to know who they are. Local communities left to manage by our own devices are going to have to be ready to be self-sufficient, and that means everyone needs to learn some relevant skills (both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’) that will be useful in collapse (and no, coding and financial arbitrage and marketing and accounting and litigation are not those skills). And we’ll have to be prepared to offer our skills to our community in return for others’ work in areas they have relevant skills in. Forget the use of currency, if there’s any left, or keeping score.

And second, build community. That means relearning how to relate to each other, to collaborate, coordinate, research needs, build local capacity, deal with conflicts, create local infrastructure and resources to replace the centralized ones that will no longer be available, and identify and overcome obstacles. It means that personal and family priorities (and possibly property) will have to give way to the priorities and needs of the whole community. It means dealing with dysfunctional, discordant and unpleasant community members, modelling needed behaviours, showing (not telling) people how to do things, learning to need and want less, learning greater self-awareness, and continuously adapting to ever-changing circumstances. It may mean migrating our whole community, if climate collapse makes ours practicably uninhabitable.

I have no idea how, even in our relatively small and self-contained community, we can go about doing these things. I guess we start by studying other cultures that do them well.

In past generations, much effort and pride went into creating a better world for following generations than the current one had. That’s no longer a reasonable hope. But if we look past the struggles of the coming decades, and learn from the ancient cathedral-builders, we might see that our work now will see its ultimate fruition not during collapse but in its aftermath, centuries and millennia in the future.

We have passed the point where sustainability and resilience are reasonable markers for what we should be doing. Nothing we do in our modern industrial civilization is sustainable, and resilience (“bouncing back” from hardship to some previous state of prosperity and growth) is a foolish ideal. The new markers for our actions are self-sufficiency (at the community, not the individual, level), adaptability, local knowledge (of the land, its life and its interdependencies), self-management, collective well-being, and equanimity — finding joy in spite of everything.

We have no way of knowing how our success (or failure) with these new markers will inspire (or incapacitate) the new human societies (probably much smaller and more local than anything humanity has witnessed in thirty millennia) that emerge from the ruins of our doomed civilization. But their affect will surely be substantial. Even if it’s 70 generations hence rather than 7, their astonishing societies will bear the hallmarks of what we do in the years and decades to come.

And the natural world, the more-than-human world, will recover in time no matter what we do, but the time it takes before it once again thrives will depend on our actions, or our inaction, today.

If we set aside blame and think of them and not ourselves — think of the cathedral whose walls and spires we will never see in our lifetimes as we struggle with its foundation — we can do right by these far-future generations, human and more-than-human. We owe them no less.

Posted in Preparing for Civilization's End | 4 Comments

Curious About Radical Non-Duality But Hate Videos?

The essential message of radical non-duality, as opposed to more historical types of non-duality, is that there is no ‘you’ — no separate person or thing, no self, no ‘awareness’ or ‘consciousness’ or ‘enlightenment’ or liberation, no self-control or choice or volition or agency or responsibility, no time or space, no life or death, no path or process to get closer to the ‘truth’, no knowledge or experience, no meaning or purpose. ‘You’ are an illusion, a “psychosomatic understanding” that evolved accidentally in the brain, a “useless piece of software” that is not needed, and the absence of which changes nothing. All there is is nothing appearing as everything.

This is not a teaching, nor is it spiritual. It is a message, an attempt to illuminate this understanding. Apparently, that illusory self can seem to fall away, and all that is left is everything. But there is no process for making it happen or even making it more likely to happen. You can get a pretty clear conceptual understanding of this message, but that doesn’t get ‘you’ anywhere. ‘You’ are separation, duality.

It is possible for ‘glimpses’ to happen — the self appears to fall away for a while, revealing the truth of this message, revealing, amazingly, everything as it really is, but then the self comes back. When that happens the self is left in a kind of limbo — it knows intellectually and intuitively that it does not exist, but it has no choice but to continue to navigate its apparent life and world as if it and they were real. That is where ‘I’ am ‘now’.

Tony Parsons and Jim Newman have made many videos of their meetings, available on YouTube. They both say that there is no longer a Tony or Jim, and in fact there never was. ‘No one’ makes these videos and ‘no one’ attends the meetings. But there seems to be something in the character known as Tony or Jim with a predisposition to present this hopeless, uncompromising message, and discuss it with whoever is interested in doing so. They prefer the dynamics of meetings and videos over essays or books about the message, which tend to be dry and lack the useful interactivity of the meetings’ Q&A format.

Some people have told me that while they’re interested in the message (which seems more and more aligned with the latest learnings in neuroscience, quantum theory and astrophysics, and consistent with the ideas of several modern philosophers), they can’t bear watching or listening to recordings. So for them I have made lightly-edited transcripts of the opening remarks from three of Tony’s recordings:

  1. 2012 meeting: Original audio here. My transcript is here, part of a blog post which also discusses what were perhaps ‘glimpses’ in ‘my’ apparent past.
  2. 2018 meeting: London, June. Original video here. My transcript is here.
  3. 2011 meeting: Original audio removed. My transcript is here.

I’m working on transcripts of parts of Jim’s meetings too. I attended Tony’s meeting in Wales in the summer of 2017, and Jim’s in Vancouver last October (2018).

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | 2 Comments