Dave Pollard's chronicle of civilization's collapse, creative works and essays on our culture.
A trail of crumbs, runes and exclamations along my path in search of a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works.



November 6, 2014

The Wild Man

Filed under: Creative Works — Dave Pollard @ 22:32

wild-human-initiative

He asked me if I was going to West Vancouver, and if so, if I could give him a ride. We were on the ferry to the city, and I said sure. Raincoat, waterproof backpack, the guy was appropriately dressed for a car-less island resident in our region’s rainy winters. He thanked me, and said he was going upstairs to the ferry’s passenger deck, but he’d be back before we landed.

When he got back, and climbed into the passenger seat, he turned his backpack, which was slung over his shoulder, around, revealing the small white head of a very contented-looking little dog, peeking out at me. This was clearly my rider’s way of breaking the news to me that he wasn’t traveling alone. No doubt he’d tried asking drivers he was hitching with if it was OK he had a dog in tow, and found the results wanting. Better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.

He introduced me to the dog, a 16-year-old female he’d raised from a pup, after his previous dog had died at age 17. He’d found the vet of his previous dog presumptuous and expensive, so his new canine companion had never seen a vet.

My strange traveling companion was actually headed to North Vancouver, a 30-minute bus ride or 90-minute walk beyond where he’d asked a ride to. Better chance of getting a ‘yes’ answer if you give a closer destination, as every hitcher knows. He told me the dog stayed quiet and hidden when he took the bus, because when he’d showed the dog to bus drivers they’d refused him passage because his backpack wasn’t a ‘proper’ carrier.

From then on he just didn’t ask, and the dog had learned to be a conspirator in silence. He’d learned that lies of omission often work better than total honesty. He did what he had to do. If the rain held off, he’d sooner walk the 90 minutes to North Vancouver anyway, let the dog stick her head out instead of hiding. Save the bus fare, too.

He said he’d lived up and down the BC coast all his life, which I’d guess was 30-something years, though he looked older. He didn’t volunteer what his appointment was, which he said he’d just make if he chose to walk. I wondered if it was a medical appointment of some kind, or a check-in for social assistance, but I didn’t ask.

He said his work was mostly out-of-doors, and involved a lot of standing, and there wouldn’t be much for him until the rain eased. Was he a roadwork labourer? A busker? He had a musician’s hands — nails on the right hand longer than on the left — though he had no instrument with him. Nothing in the bag, in fact, but the dog, whose head he stroked constantly as we rode. It was the most serene-looking dog I’d ever seen. He told me his previous dog had separation anxiety. And why not — with the bag, what reason ever to be apart?

I hadn’t seen the guy on the island before, though he suggested he was living there, and had from time to time before. He mentioned some other places he’d lived, all of them small coastal or island communities, not cities. I wondered if he was just a nomad, doing the circuit of people he knew enough to crash with, and then moving on when he thought he’d worn out his welcome.

All of this was just conjecture on my part. He didn’t volunteer anything more about himself, and I thought it would be nosy to ask. He had the sad, tired, wary, slightly anxious and cowed look and style of someone used to being told ‘no’ and being asked to move on.

But as I talked with him, it occurred to me he had everything anyone could really need. He had, I figured, a network of people with warm houses where he could stay and sleep. He knew how to get enough money to feed himself and his beloved dog, and to pay incidentals like ferry fares. And he carried his loved one with him everywhere, easily, and they basked in their obvious, easy, unconditional love for each other. He was perhaps as free and independent of our oppressive culture as anyone can be. He knew how to ask for what he wanted and needed. He could go anywhere, quickly, easily, and call it home.

Was this gentle, weary stranger, the exemplar of a collapse survivor? Though I had no way of knowing what trauma and hardship he might have endured, it seemed to me that coming to live this simple way might have been his way of coping, his way out of the darkness.

I’ve argued that when the teetering systems of our crumbling and ruinous civilization fall, we will have to learn a different and better way to live and make a living. I always assumed that would be, inevitably, in community, in some ‘settled’ way. But we were gatherer-hunters long before, and for longer, than we were settlers. We may not be well-designed to catch and eat animals (we lack particularly the capacity for rapid acceleration, and the requisite teeth and claws), but we are certainly designed to walk long distances, to migrate, to be nomadic.

If our climate shifts suddenly and repeatedly, making the places we live successively inhabitable, maybe transition, adaptation and sustainability are more about our capacity to scavenge, to re-form relationships with ever-changing and ever-moving neighbours, to ask and share in the moment and then bundle up our loved ones and move on, than our capacity to create and build community in any kind of enduring place or durable form.

I find this thought strangely liberating. The idea of having to learn to make and maintain community, the whole mess of getting along with others, of learning to love people we don’t even like, offends the ‘wildness’ that cries out within me. I want to be free.

As anarchist writer Wolfi Landstreicher wrote:

In a very general way, we know what we want. We want to live as wild, free beings in a world of wild, free beings. The humiliation of having to follow rules, of having to sell our lives away to buy survival, of seeing our usurped desires transformed into abstractions and images in order to sell us commodities fills us with rage. How long will we put up with this misery? We want to make this world into a place where our desires can be immediately realized, not just sporadically, but normally. We want to re-eroticize our lives. We want to live not in a dead world of resources, but in a living world of free wild lovers. We need to start exploring the extent to which we are capable of living these dreams in the present without isolating ourselves. This will give us a clearer understanding of the domination of civilization over our lives, an understanding which will allow us to fight domestication more intensely and so expand the extent to which we can live wildly.

Yes, I say excitedly, each time I read this passage. This is how I want to live. Unsettled, uncompromising. “Needing nowhere to stay.” Feral. Like a bird, ready to fly.

Thank you, stranger, for the reminder.

image above from the wild human initiative

November 4, 2014

Living With Civilization Disease

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 22:34

Bayt Abdullah Children's Hospice

image above: children’s hospice in kuwait, from the website of the architects, nbbj

“It’s easy to get buried in the past, when you try to make a good thing last”
- Neil Young, Ambulance Blues

There is, of course, only the present moment. The past and the future, who we ‘were’ and who we ‘will be’, are just inventions of our minds. Yet many of us live as if they were real — more real and more important than the present. These are perfectly understandable coping mechanisms. If the best part of our life seems behind us, if we’re grieving the loss of someone who seemed our only reason to live, it’s easy to get buried in the past, to live in the past.

And if the current time seems impossible to bear — the stress, the suffering, the inhumanity, the crises that seem never-ending — it’s easy to invent a story of the future, a better story for ourselves or at least for our children and grandchildren, and then to live in the ferocious hope of that future dream coming true.

In order to make ‘sense’ of the world, our minds create a very simplified representation of reality, one that enables ‘us’ to make quick essential decisions about what to do, now. This capacity evolved because we were fortunate enough, as we made the transition from a spontaneous, present species to the one we have become, to have space in our crania to construct useful representations of reality, and a diet sufficiently rich in proteins to fuel this construction.

So we have evolved from a species that lives presently to one that lives representatively, from one that makes simple decisions in the moment in the real world, to one that makes sophisticated decisions based on a model of time and space that represents the real world. That evolution confers great survival advantages — it allows us to make decisions based on inference and logic, rather than just instinctively. But this evolution comes at a huge cost: We no longer really live in the real world. Our minds have so preoccupied us, from shortly after birth, that we have come to believe that the representation of the world that they (our minds) have constructed for us, is, somehow, reality — not just a representation, but the ‘real’ thing.

Much of this illusion comes from the ‘stories’ we come to accept as ‘true’ and ‘real’ — stories about who we are, about others and the world in which we live, about the past, and about the future. Stories are the most memorable ways of synthesizing all of the sensory inputs we receive into ‘truthful’ representations about the world. Our stories represent reality much the way motion pictures represent ‘real’ experiences. Some of them are reasonable representations; others are pure fantasy, that we believe ‘true’ because of misinformation or misinterpretation or because we just want to, or have to, believe them ‘true’ in order to cope with our cognitive dissonance, trauma, fear, rage or grief. If enough people come to share what they believe to be a similar story, whether it be a ‘true’ representation of reality or a complete fantasy, we call that story a myth.

These representations require us to believe in an invented, fictitious space-time framework of reality, and to believe that this collection of trillions of cells our mind imagines to be ‘us’, separate from the ‘rest’ of reality, somehow exists integrally and moves integrally and smoothly through time. We are, of course, not individuals, and not separate from the rest of the universe, and time is just a mental construct — even scientists now acknowledge that time does not exist and that their models of reality are more accurate when the entire concept of time is jettisoned.

Living largely in our minds, in this fabricated and absurdly simplified representation of reality, this grand illusion, believing that the stories we are told and the stories we invent are somehow ‘true’, it is not surprising that we have become physically and psychologically ill from struggling with the massive disconnect between these stories and reality, from suffering with this tragic frailty of the human mind I call Civilization Disease.

So instead of seeing a loved one die and accepting their death for what it is, for example, we construct this massive story about whether that life and death had meaning, whether that loved one’s cells have been and will be somehow transmogrified into other ‘lives’ in space and/or time, and that their love for us, and vice versa, will transcend space and time and be eternal. It’s the only way we can cope with the sudden, unbearable loss of this intricate story, the wrenching away of this invented representational connection between them and us — when we cannot relate to that death in the real world that neither they nor we ever really lived in.

When we are mistreated, or terrified by some real world event (or even just the threat of it), we have no choice, cloistered in this fictitious world inside our heads, but to assign blame and/or self-blame, evil intention, supernatural cause, inevitability, permanence, and other ‘purposeful’ qualities to this occurrence. We do this by inventing stories about ourselves, others, the world, the past and the future that somehow make sense of the occurrence within the model and representation of reality we have constructed and been told is ‘real’ and ‘true’. We can’t just acknowledge it for what it was, past tense, and let it go, immediately and forever, the way creatures who live free of the scaffolding of artificial represented reality we inhabit, can.

Similarly, we cling to fond memories of the past, longingly, nostalgically, and get buried in that past, and even more disconnected from the present and the real.

And just as we can’t let go of the fiction of the past, neither can we let go of the fiction of the imagined future. We strive, we hope, we dream, we intend, we want more than anything for the imagined future to be better than the imagined present, and we dread that it could be worse. That dream is what, more than anything else, drives our behaviours, actions and decisions. Unable to just be in the ‘real’, no longer accessible present, we live in that imagined future instead, with the lottery winnings, the perfect partner, the never-ending ecstasy, and most of all, the sense of peace, love and joy that so eludes us and fades so quickly from our sad, fictitious representational lives, this motion picture whose plot we can’t follow and whose ending we hope will bring resolution but fear will bring tragedy, that seems real but yet unreal, missing something absolutely essential, some whole dimension.

~~~~~

Five years ago I was still working, living with my ex (because although separated we’d been unable to sell our house) in another province. My dream then for today was to be living alone, on Bowen Island, in some beautiful place with lots of privacy and quiet and a view of the forest and ocean, retired from paid work, and free to do anything I wanted each day when I woke.

That dream has come true in all respects. But it was not an unreasonable dream. Lots of good fortune, but nothing insanely unpredictable or unexpected. The trajectory that took me from there to here was quite plausible, and much of it intentional, given how blessed my life has been.

Only a tiny percentage of the planet would not be thrilled to live the life I live today.

So now I think about what I would like my life to be like five years from now. I dream of living in a warm place all year round, mostly outdoors. I dream of making love several hours a day with lovers who are content with their own lives and content just to do that with me, and who then go home to do whatever they choose to do when we are apart. I dream of spending much of the rest of my time in various forms of play with people who are bright, attractive, articulate, imaginative, creative, thoughtful, emotionally grounded and joyful, or in solo activities, writing, composing, practicing. I dream about not worrying about people (even loved ones, suffering) and things (even cruel, destructive ones) I have no control over.

These are unreasonable dreams. There is no perfect place to live, even if I were to surrender the enormous security of my Canadian health care coverage. Warm places are crowded, expensive, mostly impoverished and made violent by rich corporations and rich individuals displacing the poor, stealing their resources and barricading themselves behind walls. Or they are overrun by gangs and warlords and wracked with suffering that cannot all be hidden from view by resort fences and barbed wire.

There are no perfectly healthy people either, or even people healthy enough to leave their baggage at the door for long and frequent trysts, even if they had the time and inclination for them. Those I would find stimulating enough for play and deep conversation are caught up in their own immediate journeys and struggles, and exhausted from supporting all those even sicker of Civilization Disease than they are. As for ceasing my worries and grief, that could only happen if there were no longer cause for them, which is an impossibility.

And even supposing some of these dreams could be realized — then what? Would I simply long all the more for those not realized, and new dreams even more perfect, even more unreasonable?

A study done by Daniel Gilbert showed that, one year after they lose a limb, people are on average as happy with their lives as those who, one year earlier, had won a major lottery prize. We accommodate. If things are bad, we make the best of them and imagine they could be worse. If things are good, we want and expect them to be better. That is what it means to be human.

If I could escape this representation of reality, this hologram inside my head, and just live in the moment, the way creatures not burdened with this synthetic scaffolding, this veil, are able to do, then it wouldn’t matter where or how or with whom I lived and spent my time. My ‘past’ wouldn’t matter. My dreams of an ‘even better’ life wouldn’t matter, or even ‘occur’ to me. My perceptions of myself and others and the state of the world would just fall away, along with my illusions of control over them, and all the anguish that goes along with all of these things.

But I cannot escape. I cannot be other than who I am.

So what, then, might I do to dissolve these stories, these fictions of my mind, that cause me to be unhappy with my incredible good fortune, that fill me at times with anger, grief and sorrow, and constantly with anxiety and fear, that bury me in feelings of nostalgia for an imagined past or longing for an impossible future? Why can I not be free of these stories when I know that all that I am, and all I need be, is right here, now?

It helps to be clear that my stories of the future are impossible dreams or imagined nightmares. It helps to know that I am not “all of a piece”. It helps to appreciate that time is an invention with no basis in reality, and that my negative emotions are figments of my imagination, artifacts of my mind’s propensity for absurdly oversimplifying pattern-seeking and sense-making, symptoms of Civilization Disease. It helps to know why I am suffering, and from what, and why I am disconnected from reality. But knowing all of this doesn’t make it better. Cognitive behavioural therapy, psych meds, meditation and many other ‘solutions’ are being tested on us, all of them vaunted but (for different reasons) highly suspect treatments with dismal success records. We seem to have invented a uniquely incurable disease, and made the world our hospice.

So maybe I, and others suffering from this ghastly disease of our minds’ making, just need to make peace with our lot, this terribly human and ubiquitous incapacity to just be, here, now, real, healthy and free. Perhaps making peace with our illness is the first step towards grace.

Thanks to Bowen photographer Chanelle Walker for my new blog photo, in the right sidebar.

October 25, 2014

lessons from a bird, again

Filed under: Creative Works — Dave Pollard @ 14:01

swallow cool

1. self-healing:

first, you breathe.
then, gently, take stock of your wounds, your fever,
whatever is not well.

if you’ve been in shock, shake it off,
violently, with every muscle in your body,
don’t give it purchase to haunt you,
let it go entirely, now. it’s over.

next, find a warm, quiet, safe place,
near water, and
rest. as long as it takes.

that’s all.

2. healing others:

fend off the danger, get the obstacles
to the other’s self-healing out of the way.

bring fresh food and warm liquids.

let the other know you’re there, close by,
listen,
and sing your empathy and love.

no more, no less than that.

photo by the author

October 23, 2014

Links of the Month: October 23, 2014

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 19:53

facebook update

image by Marsel van Ooosten via overgrowthesystem.com 

My worldview continues to shift between those of 5 of the ‘camps’ in my New Political Map:

  • The Existentialist/Dark Mountain camp (J), where my heart lies, and which calls on me to focus attention, for now, on learning presence, self-awareness, healing and becoming less dependent on industrial civilization as it collapses;
  • The Communitarian/New Tribal camp (I), which calls on me to focus attention on the collective work of building resilient communities and collective (rather than personal) capacity where I live, now, so the survivors of looming collapse will be ready;
  • The Deep Green Activist camp (H), which calls on me to fight the destruction of the natural world with everything I have and regardless of the risks, even if successes are localized and transitory;
  • The Transition/Resilience camp (G), which calls on me to focus on projects that just might make things better in my community before collapse or at least mitigate the hardship of collapse;
  • The Humanist camp (F), which calls on me to act as if we can reform civilization before it collapses, even if I believe it’s futile.

Camp J seems the most sensible but too internally-focused, camp I seems pragmatic but premature, camp H seems the most responsible but ultimately pointless, camp G seems pragmatic but ultimately pointless, and camp F seems responsible but delusional. Camps F and H, and camps G and I, share similar worldviews but are on opposite sides of the salvationist/collapsnik “can we really do anything in time?” divide. It’s a difficult straddle, but somehow I manage it. Camp J is safer, but runs the inevitable risk of being labeled a selfish defeatist.

And I keep peering at the disturbingly compelling arguments of the Voluntary Human Extinctionists (camp K) and the Near Term Extinctionists (camp L), but I am not ready to concede that humans are inherently violent and destructive, or that no complex life will possibly survive this century’s climate change. Too big a leap for me to make yet, though I fear they may both be right.

John Michael Greer (who, like James Kunstler is clearly a collapsnik but vague in his worldview on how we should prepare for it and hence hard to put in any of these ‘camps’) this week summarized how the decline and fall of civilizations occurs:

It takes between one and three centuries on average for the fall to happen—and no, big complex civilizations don’t fall noticeably faster or slower than smaller and simpler ones.  Nor is it a linear decline—the end of a civilization is a fractal process composed of crises on many different scales of space and time, with equally uneven consequences. An effective response can win a breathing space; in the wake of a less effective one, part of what used to be normal goes away for good. Sooner or later, one crisis too many overwhelms the last defenses, and the civilization falls, leaving scattered remnants of itself that struggle and gleam for a while until the long night closes in.

Alas, after this quite sophisticated explanation of how complex systems fail, John provides a rather fanciful collapse scenario of one possible future, taking two centuries and involving mostly lots of ghastly wars. My view of human nature is rather more charitable, and I think our decline to below a billion will result more from voluntary and involuntary reductions in birth rate, and from diseases, mostly old ones modern technology has temporarily kept at bay. Because I see economic collapse as a great wealth equalizer (most wealth is now, after all, only vulnerable paper wealth), and because it will make war extremely expensive, I do not expect collapse to be nearly as violent as many collapsniks envision. I keep thinking of the millions of Irish during the potato famine, sitting in their homes with their families slowly starving to death, because they felt (wrongly as it turned out) that everyone was in the same situation and there was no one to blame. The Great Depression had many similar qualities of personal struggle and mostly egalitarian charity.

But I may be guilty of wishful thinking. The societal collapse in Germany in the last century brought out the worst in everyone. And today, many impoverished and desolated places, from inner cities in North America and suburbs in Europe to whole swathes of Africa, Asia and Latin America (like this community in Honduras) have degenerated into tribal thuggery, and are now largely run by warbands filling the power vacuum created by corrupt or dysfunctional governments. John Gray recently wrote an article arguing that our species has always been cruel, violent and destructive, and that it is in our nature to be so. [thanks to Richard Saunders for the last link above]

I hope they’re wrong. I have to believe they’re wrong.

 

~~~~~

PREPARING FOR CIVILIZATION’S COLLAPSE

xkcd climate change

image from xkcd; thanks to Leif Brecke for the link

World Population to Hit 11B This Century and Keep Rising (Barring Collapse): As I have said before, the rosy UN and US population bureau statistics forecasting a levelling off of human population by 2050 were always nonsense. Now at last they’re admitting their estimates were far too low.

Including Our Farmed Animals, We’re At 7x Earth’s Carrying Capacity: A new analysis by Paul Chefurka notes that our farmed animals actually weigh more than we do, and combined our biomass is seven times as much as the planet can support. And this intriguing summation of the state of the world by economist Nate Hagens contains some fascinating data (download the key slides here):

1. Almost all the fossil fuel energy we use today was formed between 200M and 400M years ago — it’s almost meaningless to try to figure out how much we consume compared to how much new fossil energy is being “created” each year.
2. Since 2000 96% of all GDP growth has come from more consumption of primary energy, not from increases in productivity or efficiency or “innovation”.
3. Essentially we’ve reached the stage where “money is a claim on future natural resources and debt is a claim on future money”, such that in the US now it takes creation of $14 of new debt (printing of currency) to produce $1 of GDP. Those holding the debt are in a bind: they know it can’t be repaid, but if they try to reduce their holdings they’ll collapse the faith-based economy and their wealth, which is mostly paper and real estate, will evaporate.
4. Paradoxically when the economy collapses it will reduce energy consumption and produce a temporary energy surplus: one that no one can afford to buy and use.
5. Metabolically, we are each the equivalent of 30-ton primates.

Derrick Jensen and Guy McPherson: The definitive Deep Green Activist chats with the definitive Near Term Extinctionist. It’s interesting to hear Derrick, who believes we have to fight against the destruction of the natural world with everything we have, agreeing with Guy, who says it’s too late to stop it. The intersection of their worldviews is that we should work as hard as we can to ensure that if/when our species goes extinct, life is not impossible for the other species that remain. That means e.g. a focus on decommissioning nuclear reactors, since they will overheat and explode when we are no longer present to tend them, doing horrific damage in the process. It’s a rather strange chat, and I’m awaiting the promised sequel.

Richard Heinberg on Effective Change: “Start by identifying your core values—fairness, peace, stability, beauty, resilience, whatever. … Figure out what ideas, projects, proposals, or policies further those values, but also fit with the infrastructure that’s almost certainly headed our way. Then get to work.” Thanks to Paul Chefurka for the link.

Leaving the Planet Gracefully: Robert Jensen writes about a friend who knew exactly what was happening to our world, and what is likely to happen, and lived a calm, conscious, purposeful, exemplary life despite his knowledge. He elaborates in this Cascading Crises video. Thanks to my friend Don Marshall for the link.

Pentagon Preparing for Civil Breakdown: “The unwillingness of DoD officials to answer the most basic questions [about surveillance, and massive internal “counterinsurgency” programs] is symptomatic of a simple fact – in their unswerving mission to defend an increasingly unpopular global system serving the interests of a tiny minority, security agencies have no qualms about painting the rest of us as potential terrorists.”

Where Will the Water Wars Erupt?: A map of the hot spots where large areas are most vulnerable to exceptional drought.

Have We Killed the Jet Stream? Recent research on weather patterns suggests that atmospheric warming may have already produced some dangerous and dramatic shifts in our climate systems, notably the jet stream and ocean currents. Thanks to Earl Mardle for the link.

~~~~~

LIVING BETTER

LOTM leunig bite

image by Michael Leunig 

Let Them Eat Cash: Experiments with giving large amounts of cash to the poor and homeless, instead of patronizing services, show excellent results.

Two Couples One Mortgage: Communal living takes on some new and pragmatic variations. Thanks to Renee Hopkins for the link.

My Body is Not a Problem: How the media and corporations belittle us (especially women) to try to sell us stuff. Thanks to Tree and Pax Calta for the link and the one that follows.

Not So Different: Homeless people share one thing about themselves that may surprise you.

Making Do in a Refugee Camp: In the Zaatari refugee camp in Syria, some inspiring clues on how to live in collapse. Thanks to my friend Pauline Lebel for the link.

Stopping the Inner Chatter: In an interview with KMO, Gary Weber explains why “people with a handful of psychedelic experiences under their belt have a significant head start in silencing the self-referential mental chatter” in their heads and achieving a constant state of presence. His books are free online.

Showing Truth to Power: Demonstrators have begun holding large mirrors up to show police, often now dressed in paramilitary armour, how terrifying they appear to peaceful protesters. Since some police are now wearing cameras to use in case of accusations of misbehaviour, the combination of the two would be fascinating.

Right to Die Sane: A fellow Bowen Islander took her own life this summer, in accordance with thoughtful, long-standing plans, as she began to slide into more advanced stages of dementia. My fellow Islanders have been universally supportive of her decision. Meanwhile, the first Canadian province to make end-of-life care legal has been challenged by the ultra-conservative Harper government.

The Toxicity of Hierarchy and Trauma: Robert Sapolsky explains how hierarchy inevitably creates stress and trauma, and how removing hierarchy produces empathy and peacefulness. He and Gabor Mate then dismantle the false dichotomy of nature vs nurture, explaining how our genes are determined and created by our environment and life experiences, more than the other way around. Most mental and physical illnesses stem from trauma.

Resilient Communities + Sharing Economy: A new survey from the Post Carbon Institute shows how the two movements can support each other.

Resilient Activism and Productive Writing: An interview reveals how Derrick Jenson’s work habits and mindset keep him sane in his difficult work.

~~~~~

POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL

asia-nuclear

image from Fortune Magazine article “Fission Frenzy” April 2014

The Truth About the Tar Sands: Short videos remind us of the utter atrocity of this project. Thanks to Jon Husband for the link. In related news, no surprise that Harper approved the Northern Gateway pipeline. Some believe overwhelming public opposition will yet stop the project, but the real shift, I think, will come when people realize that these lucrative (to political donors) projects will always be approved despite public opinion. And the even bigger shift will occur when corporatists realize that the public have now been sufficiently cowed that they will accept such unpopular and undemocratic decisions as just how things are, and that public support is no longer necessary for them to achieve at all. Here are some photos of what they are doing now, with the real ramp-up still to come. Here’s a description of the massive seepages, blowouts and groundwater contamination the operations are causing.

Obama’s Recovery: Interesting graph showing how the disparity between rich and poor has accelerated under Obama‘s watch.

I don’t see the point in linking to further articles about the endless political and economic outrages being perpetrated throughout the world by corporations and the corrupt and inept governments they now own. You know what’s going on by now.

~~~~~

FUN AND INSPIRATION

LOTM via tree witches

image by Mark Parisi; thanks to Tree for the link

Haunting Music: Spacedrum played by Yuki Koshimoto. Thanks to Cheryl Anderson Spencieri for the link.

The Four-Way Stop vs The Roundabout: Guess which is faster? Thanks to Euan Semple and Flemming Funch for the link.

Stuff of Dreams: Some breathtakingly beautiful photos taken on a Russian farm. Thanks to Sue Braiden for the link.

parking space

What parking space is the car above in?: The math problem Hong Kong kids could solve but I couldn’t. Don’t look at the answer in Joyce’s link before you try solving it.

John Green’s Unlikely Superstardom: The co-producer of the great vlogbrothers videos is a hero of many young people for his other work.

The Gurus of Innovation Were Just Wrong: For many years I wrote about innovation and provided innovation services to clients. The bible on the subject, then as now, was Clay Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma. Turns out, most of what Clay wrote was dead wrong. Jill Lepore courageously explains how and why. Her reward has been to be savaged by academics and business ‘experts’ alike, for daring to question the orthodoxy that has generated so much revenue, and ‘scholarly’ work, for those in the field.

111 “Retired” Lab Chimps See Sky and Grass for the First Time: Just watch, cry, and feel good. Sometimes some people do the right thing. Thanks to the Humane Society for the work they do.

How to Make Love Stay: From Rebelle Society, 6 tips for lovers of women and 6 tips for lovers of men on how to keep your relationship healthy and joyful. Much better than the usual Cosmo crap you read on this subject. Also from the same source, an article on facing the truth about relationship breakup.

My Favourite Meditation Music: Deva Premal’s best music, I think, is from the CDs that were a little more rhythmic, jazzed up and harmonized than her ‘purer’ work. My favourites are Om Namo Bhagavate and Moola Mantra. Fans have added some lovely graphics to these YouTube versions.

What Your Bike Can Teach You About White Privilege: The second-class treatment cyclists often get from motorists and legislators can be an education for those of us used to privilege. Thanks to Gen Alpha for the link.

Mission Statement: A hilarious send-up of management-speak and corporate dysfunction from the much-grown-up but still Weird Al Yankovic. Terrific graphics too.

Black Holes Do Not Exist: Neither does time, or a fundamental particle/wave/string/thingy that makes up everything else. Nor was there a big bang. But then you knew all that that didn’t you?

7.1 Billion Demonstrate in Favour of Global Warming: From the Onion, of course. Thanks to Dark Mountain for the link.

~~~~~

THOUGHTS FOR THE MONTH

torb history

image from The Mind of Torb; thanks to Paul Chefurka for the link

Telling Stories: PS Pirro on the power of stories told aloud, and community music. “Nobody is chastened for getting it wrong, and by the ninth or tenth time through, we have something, and then we just keep going, because it’s magical and we don’t want to stop. Sometimes I feel bereft. The world is on fire, and I don’t know how to fix what’s broken. But I am suffused with these stories. These songs. These connections. This life. This astonishing magic.”

Homeless: Jim Kunstler (via PS Pirro) on collapse being like a house falling apart:

That fading modern world is the house that America built, the great post World War Two McMansion stuffed with dubious luxuries in a Las Vegas of the collective mind. History’s bank has foreclosed on it and all the nations and people of the world have been told to make new arrangements for daily life. The USA wants everybody to stay put and act as if nothing has changed.

Therefore, change will be forced on the USA. It will take the form of things breaking and not getting fixed. Unfortunately, America furnished its part of the house with stapled-together crap designed to look better than it really was. We like to keep the blinds drawn now so as not to see it all coming apart. Barack Obama comes and goes like a pliable butler, doing little more than carrying trays of policy that will be consumed like stale tea cakes — while the wallpaper curls, and the boilers fail down in the basement, and veneers delaminate, and little animals scuttle ominously around in the attic.

Thinking About Not Thinking: From Alan Watts, drawing a metaphor to explain why it is so difficult to meditate or be truly present and not bound up in your thoughts and ego: “To understand music, you must listen to it. But so long as you are thinking, ‘I am listening to this music,’ you are not listening.”

Seen Recently On a T-Shirt: “If a man speaks in the forest, and there is no woman to hear him, is he still wrong?”

leunig angelMore to Life: A poem by Michael Leunig:
An angel came and landed on the shed,
The little shed on which my life is kept.
“There’s more to life than this” the angel said.
We looked into each other’s eyes and wept.

I hurried back inside and shut the door,
And all surrounded by the life I love
I lay there weeping on the concrete floor
And heard the angel weeping up above.

October 19, 2014

Grimly Letting Go of the Old Story

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 21:07

sipress cognitive dissonance

cartoon by David Sipress  from the New Yorker

I have noticed a subtle change over the last year or two in what (and how) both mainstream and alternative media are reporting (worse news, more indifferently, more dishonestly and more under-reporting). I’ve also noticed a gradual increase in the general level of non-specific anxiety, pessimism, guilt, shame, premonition and overwhelm of my friends and acquaintances (it’s even worse now, I think, than it was right after 9/11). And I’ve noticed a similar disturbing increase in the general level of malaise, meanness, insensitivity, and demonization of others in general public discourse.

I think these are all symptoms of the early stages of collapse.

Here are the shifts I am seeing more tangibly that would seem to epitomize early collapse:

  1. Corporations have given up the pretence of being ethical. At first, a decade or two ago, many corporations tried to convince the public they were really concerned about social and environmental issues. Then they discovered that whitewashing, greenwashing, and lies in their advertising and PR were more effective and cheaper. Now they don’t even bother to lie. They just say they are forced to do what they do because their mandate is to maximize profits. Now they settle their malfeasance out of court because it’s cheaper than obeying the law, and hush it up with gag orders, whistle-blower prosecutions and threats of costly and protracted litigation against anyone who dares challenge their illegal activities. Now they buy their politicians openly. Instead of them serving us, as they were designed to do, it is now us against them. Now it is illegal for citizens to film animal cruelty atrocities in factory farms and slaughterhouses, but not illegal for corporations to commit those atrocities.
  2. Politicians have given up the pretence of being representative. Speeches no longer talk about “the people” or a better society or collective interest, but solely about response to intangible, invented or inflated dangers like “terrorism” and “illegal” immigration (but not the real dangers, since that would offend their owners). Gerrymandering, bribes, voter disenfranchisement and vote-buying are now accepted as just how the system inevitably works. Political influence and political decision-making are now totally and overtly a function of the amount of paid lobbying and money spent. The term “democracy” is now conflated with “freedom” and Orwellian use of language is openly employed to suppress public opposition, dissent and outrage.
  3. Lying has becoming rampant, overt and even socially acceptable. The biggest and easiest lies are the lies of omission: burying corporatist and ideological legislation and pork in “omnibus” bills and “riders”, gross distortions of measures like unemployment and inflation, burying junk investments in opaque repackaged and overpriced offerings to the public, activities couched to offer perpetrators “plausible deniability“, and unlisted ingredients and unlisted dangers on product packaging. Another example is lawmakers passing “popular” laws but telling regulatory staff not to enforce them or “look the other way”, or starving the regulators of resources. But more egregious is the overt lying, led by the outrageous (and again Orwellian) untruths of almost all modern advertising and PR (including political campaign advertising), which we are now forced by every means possible to watch/listen to/read. And of course, just about everything done by the legal “profession” who are paid to obfuscate, threaten and lie, and the mainstream media, who are paid to report only distracting news that does not offend corporate sponsors, and to oversimplify and distort to pander to their dumbed-down audience.
  4. Widespread use and acceptance of “ends justify the means” rationalizations. This is the hallmark behaviour of the Dick Cheneys and other severely psychologically damaged people who prevail disproportionately in position of power. Consequentialists rationalize that, immoral as their actions might be (or might have been), the outcome will be (or was) a desirable one, so their conduct in achieving it is moot. This argument allows them to decide to wage wars and commit other acts of violence (and almost all major recent wars and major acts of violence have been rationalized on this basis). What’s worse, when the desired “ends” are not achieved (liberation of women in Afghanistan), the shifting of blame to others for the failure to achieve the ends is used to excuse both the failure to achieve the ends and for the abhorrence of the means. Probe just about any act of violence, any lie, or any illegal or immoral behaviour that someone is justifying or excusing these days, and you’ll find an “ends (would have) justified the means” rationalization. It’s endemic, and not only among right-wingers. And few of us have the critical thinking skills to see its dangers.
  5. Human activity (litigation, security, financial “products” etc.) is focused on defending the status quo rather than producing anything of value. The reason most of us could not survive today in the radically decentralized, low-complexity societies that will take hold after civilization’s collapse, is that most of us don’t produce anything that peers in our community value, or ever will value. We are “managers” of useless hierarchies, paper pushers, systems people, guards, number crunchers, packagers, transporters and vendors of goods we do not know how to make, with parts we don’t know the origin or makeup of. Because we intuitively “know” that this is so, we are desperate to keep civilization’s crumbling systems operating. What else could we do?
  6. The illusion of growth has become totally dependent on increases in oil and in debt. In a presentation here the other day, economist Nate Hagens revealed that since 2000 96% of all US GDP growth has come from more consumption of primary energy, not from increases in production or efficiency or “innovation”, and that it now takes creation of $14 of new debt (i.e. printing of currency) to produce $1 of GDP. So when economists and politicians say they want a return to growth (to avoid a collapse of the Ponzi scheme stock and housing markets, among other reasons), what they are really saying is that they want us to burn more fossil fuels and print more money.
  7. Acceptance of obscene inequality. People just shrug when they learn that the entire increase in global income and wealth since the 1970s has accrued to just 1% of the population — everyone else’s real income (purchasing power) and wealth has declined (i.e. they’re further into debt), in many cases precipitously. This is despite the fact that this increase in income and wealth has come at a ghastly and accelerating social, political and ecological cost. The Occupy movement tried to challenge this, but the movement is dormant.
  8. Denial of reality, across the political spectrum. Most of us (except in the US and a few other backward countries) now appreciate that climate change is caused by burning fossil fuels and is dangerously accelerating. But most of us still believe, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that it is somehow possible to change global behaviour so radically that we reverse emissions and prevent runaway climate change, or that we’re going to somehow replace most emissions with renewable energy or other “innovations”. Most deny the reality that our education and health care systems are dysfunctional and unsustainable, that the Internet is a huge consumer of energy dependent on the industrial growth economy for its existence, that species extinction has already accelerated to a point unprecedented in the planet’s history and threatens the stability of every ecosystem, that our political, economic and legal systems are so dysfunctional they cannot be salvaged, that industrial agriculture has already destroyed most of the soils crucial for our survival, that choosing short-term jobs over long-term economic and ecological health is disastrous, and that “sustainable growth” is an oxymoron. For those who aren’t in denial, the ever-growing cognitive dissonance in the media and in public discourse is staggering.
  9. Widespread cynicism and acceptance of conspiracy theories. Stephen Colbert wrote “Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us.” Cynics are, as George Carlin said, disappointed idealists. The rampant growth of cynicism reveals a similar increase in fear and disappointment. Conspiracy theories are popular because they give us someone else to blame (someone huge, mysterious and unstoppable, hence relieving us of the obligation to do anything or even to understand what is really happening), and because they feed our cynicism, and because we all want something simple to believe instead of the impossible complexity of the truth. And that desire for something simple to believe also inspires…
  10. Search for and willingness to believe in charismatic people and magical solutions. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t see another promise of a technology that will provide infinite, cheap, climate-saving energy. Judging from the number of views these articles/videos receive, they are magnets for public attention. And when we’re constantly disappointed by “leaders” to promise us “hope” and change, it is not surprising that so many fall under the influence of zealous charismatic people with absurd (and discredited) but miraculous (and simple) political and economic and technological “solutions” to every problem. The world’s last powerful charismatic leader, the despotic Mao, killed 80 million of his country’s citizens while keeping ten times that number in thrall. Notice the charismatic tilt of many of the new leaders of the fearful Randian/Thatcherian/Reaganite right, and the leaders of many popular new age cults.
  11. Ubiquitous spying and corporatist surveillance. I don’t think I need elaborate on this, except to note that the corporate sector’s use of collected intelligence and surveillance in its many forms dwarfs that of the more obvious government and military sector. The military-industrial complex is back. So far it’s too incompetent to figure out how to use the data it’s collecting, but they’re spending an awful lot of our money working on that. Their level of anxiety is rising too — they’re tuned into the general dissatisfaction and are afraid of civil insurrection upsetting their lucrative and high-maintenance apple-cart. (If only.)
  12. Self-colonization and the emergence of “apologism” and mandatory optimism. We’ve seen the emergence of mandatory optimism in the corporate world, and more overtly in the prerequisite for being a TED talker and other “positive thinking” movements. But now the vilification of criticism and pessimism (as distinct from cynicism) is becoming more ubiquitous. Critical thinking and doubt are dismissed out-of-hand as negativity and a “bad attitude” even in peer conversation. When internalized to the point we feel bad about feeling bad, it’s an essential tool of self-colonization — the co-opting and self-censoring of our own anger, skepticism, fear, sadness, grief, and ‘unpopular’ beliefs in order to be socially accepted by others, and in some cases to brainwash ourselves into denial of our own feelings and beliefs that we are struggling to cope with — and reconcile with what others are saying they feel and believe (there’s that cognitive dissonance again: “If I’m the only one thinking this, I must be crazy, so I’d better not talk about it”). What all this produces is something now called “apologism” — a propensity to make excuses and minimize an event or belief or feeling because you don’t want to seem “always” critical or out of step with the mainstream or peers. In its worst form it emerges as a victim-blaming defence for atrocities like assault, harassment or abuse. But in its milder form it can lead to dangerous group-think, the suppression of new and important ideas, and destructive self-blaming.
  13. Widespread anomie and the trivialization and co-opting of dissent by professional activists. The term anomie means a disconnection between ones personal values and one’s community’s values. It refers to a state of ‘rudderlessness’ where it is difficult to find one’s authentic place or engage in meaningful social interaction with most others, especially those in different demographics. In a major international study, pollster Michael Adams found it increasingly prevalent in young people, and on the rise in all age groups. Adams remarked on how Americans in particular were becoming increasingly “suspicious of and indifferent to the plight of their fellow citizens”. The disengagement of the young explains why so many activist groups are dominated by older people (a new phenomenon in the last half-century). Unfortunately, the activist vacuum has allowed professional environmental groups (Greenpeace, 350 etc.) to co-opt much of the activist movement’s activities, creating a constant manageable “trivial theatre of dissent” that is comfortable for many older people opposed to violence and confrontation, and comfortable for the corporations and politicians because it’s controlled and unthreatening. Mainstream media like it because it’s simplified, dichotomous and often specifically orchestrated for their cameras. And it creates easy, stable, well-paying jobs for mainstream environmental group spokespeople, while changing absolutely nothing.

While I believe most of these trends and emergences are complex collective responses to changing realities, and either well-intentioned or unconscious (i.e. without malicious intent), taken together they would seem to evince a broad, intuitive shift in our collective gestalt, our way of coping with the world. They reveal more than anything, I think, a giving up of the belief in fairness, justice, controllability, understandability and consensus as means of “making sense” or taking action reliably to achieve desired objectives in the current reality of how things work. They reveal both the incapacity of our now massively-overgrown, fragile and unwieldy systems to function sustainably or effectively, and the incapacity of ourselves and our broken communities to function effectively within their purview.

In other words, just as we became, over the last few millennia, increasingly disconnected from nature and from our integral place in the web of all-life-on-Earth, we are now quickly becoming disconnected from human-made systems that we realize, at least subconsciously, no longer function or support us — indeed they imperil our existence. This second disconnection is a healthy one, a sensible coping mechanism, a first step in preparation for the perilous and rocky shift to a possible new way of living in both a human and more-than-human society, at least for the survivors of collapse. Intuitively, it’s the only sustainable way for us to live.

This letting-go of our belief in and reliance on and support for civilization’s systems is of course frightening — we want the new connections, the new ways of living and being, to be securely in place before we give up on the old ones. We want to know the new story before we can honestly accept that the old one, the one we still cling to and believe in so utterly, so passionately, and now so desperately, has always been a lie.

October 10, 2014

something to believe in

Filed under: Creative Works — Dave Pollard @ 21:22

“though we rush ahead to save our time, we are only what we feel” — Neil Young

“well we’ve both lived long enough to know we’d trade it all right now
for just one minute of real love”
– Patrick Henderson/Michael McDonald

Rickie-Lee-Jones-Piratesand then, after all —
after all the struggle, all your life, to fit in, to belong,
to do what you’re told you’re supposed to do,
to be who you’re supposed to be,
after you’ve finally figured out how this world actually works,
how this civilization makes us all ill,
and how it’s falling apart faster than we can imagine,
after you start to begin to begin to understand
what it means to be human,
and that your sense of self is all illusion
that you are a nothing less than the complicity of a trillion cells —

after all that,
you realize that none of this matters without love.

you tell yourself that your life is, still or finally,
full of love,
but why, then, do you so crave appreciation and attention,
love’s sad substitutes?

you say you love this person,
but it’s really not the same as what you once felt,
that incredible rush, that delirious invincible feeling.
you want proof that it’s still love,
it’s just you that’s jaded,
that the person who sits across from you at dinner,
listening attentively, you imagine, to your words,
that the crowd before you when you speak, or perform,
nodding and applauding enthusiastically, it seems,
that the work you do, for which you’re paid and highly rated,
prove that you are loved,

and that you love them in return.

but something’s missing, something that was once there,
making you joyful and filled with purpose, has somehow
quietly stolen away, leaving a silence, an emptiness.

you try to blame this loss on many things:
on our monogamous, love-stingy society
in which “the best ones are always taken”,
and in which the work of trying to keep love alive
becomes just another grinding job.

or on the insensitivity or stupidity of others,
and the exhausting slavery of modern work,
which make our hearts hard and cold.

though mostly you blame yourself,
for not caring enough about all you have,
for hurting, and letting down, the ones you claim to love,
for always wanting more, and what and who you can’t have.

but who you blame doesn’t matter either;
it changes nothing —
doesn’t lessen the pangs, the yearning
for more love, new love, real love,
love that makes life meaningful,
makes it all worthwhile.

so you retreat back to distraction:
you love this music, these stories, these videos,
your snuggles with the dog,
the cutie at the store or down the hall
who always smiles at you.
surely these count as love, most of them:
they lift you up, give you hope that real love can be found
or found again,
that that feeling for which you live, body and soul,
is still possible, is not gone forever.

image from the cover of Rickie Lee Jones’ album Pirates

October 7, 2014

Black Swan: A Thought Experiment

Filed under: Creative Works — Dave Pollard @ 13:22

hungry child

Photo from Agence France Presse via Global Policy Forum

This is a thought experiment, and an idea for a possible new video game, one that might actually help us learn about the world most humans live in, appreciate our personal fortune, and help us increase our resilience to cope with the times ahead. It came to me last night:

Imagine this:

ONE

You wake up suddenly, wracked with pain. You don’t know who or where you are. It is early morning, and you are lying on the grass, covered with several layers of old newspapers. You are a middle aged woman. Vaguely, you recall an accident, fire, explosion, terrible suffering.

You sit up and look around you. You are in a field near a huge garbage dump, and the smell is bad. Beside you there is a young child, still sleeping, also wrapped in newspaper. You are hungry, thirsty, and cold. Your body is hurting in several places, as if something inside you is broken. Your clothes are torn and streaked with blood. You have no idea how long you have been there. You have no purse, nothing to help you identify who you are or where, if anywhere, you might live.

Nearby, in the opposite direction to the dump, there is a large farm. Endless rows of corn meant for cattle feed are growing there. There is no sign of a building or human activity anywhere. There is a lot of barbed wire around, much of it fallen to the ground.

You hear a voice, and in the distance you see two men in uniforms walking towards you. They are white, and suddenly it occurs to you that you are not. Nor is the child beside you, who is just waking now, crying.

Tell the story of the next 72 hours of your life. Your situation doesn’t suddenly change for you in this time, so no deus ex machina allowed. Just describe what you do.

TWO

It is some time later. You and the child have been taken by some people to a hospital, and then to a shelter. You don’t speak much of the language these people speak, so you have trouble understanding them. Apparently they don’t know who you are, or who the child is. No one has identified you as a friend or family member.

You’re having terrible flashbacks of the accident, but the details are all jumbled together and don’t make sense. You still hurt all over. Occasionally you have brief memories of your early childhood, warm and laughing in the outdoor sun. Or perhaps they’re just imaginings. You don’t see any faces or details of places, homes, in these memories.

The people show you to a tiny house, perhaps 12 by 12, and indicate that it is now your residence, yours and the child’s. They say you are fortunate, because you have the child you do not have to board with others, and you get food stamps and a cheque that will be sent to you each month, to the post office, with your rent already deducted. They give you a book about their language, to study, and information on a language course nearby; this will enable you to find work. You try to remember how to do things, how to operate the stove, how to mend your tattered clothes, how to read the map they’ve given you, but it’s all a blur. Then they leave.

The child comes up to you, looks in your eyes, imploringly, and takes your hand. You walk into the tiny house, which has two mattresses and blankets on the floor. The child sits on one mattress and begins to play with a toy truck, a gift from the people who just left.

Tell the story of the rest of your life.

 

September 24, 2014

Fireproof

Filed under: Creative Works — Dave Pollard @ 16:10

My new short story, Fireproof, is up at SHIFT magazine as part of its fifth edition. Check out the whole magazine! And if you like what you read, or prefer to read hard copy, please get this issue as a digital download (beautiful magazine layout) or sign up for an annual subscription (6 issues).

~~~~~

Fire photo Courtney Schoenemann

Jeez, look at that. There’s fires up ahead as far as you can see, some of them right beside the highway! I wonder if this is part of that combined mega-forest fire they’ve been fighting for a month now. Awesome.”

Rafe took his cap off as the four of us stopped our bicycle ride home to survey the flames running along the ridges ahead and to the right of us, on the far side of the highway our trail paralleled. He looked frightened and awed by the sight. There were dozens of fire trucks with flashing lights along the highway, and several helicopters hauling water from the river to the fire sites. Smoke blew across the highway and the bike and hiking trail beyond.

(Read the rest at SHIFT.)

(This is a work of fiction. The characters are invented, and build upon the characters in the stories Flywheel and Distracted. The painting is real, and awesome. And the fires were real. Fire photo by Courtney Schoenemann. Artwork “Burden of Guilt” is by Rogene Manas.)

September 20, 2014

Accepting That We Can’t Get There From Here: A Meditation

Filed under: Creative Works,How the World Really Works — Dave Pollard @ 10:26

In 2005, I wrote this little story. I think it’s held up quite well (I was smarter than I thought, back then), so I’m going to start this meditation with it.

MESSAGE FROM A MUSHROOM

mushrooms

photo by Inda at givnology.com

Good morning, Dave, and any other humans who are reading this message. It will be interesting to see how good a job this ‘software’ (we love that word!) does at translating our thoughts and feelings into a language that you can understand, that has some meaning to you. We are the collection of mushrooms under the Spruce trees in Dave’s back yard. This, to our knowledge, is the first attempt to capture our message in human-readable form.

The first thing you need to appreciate is that we are unable to use, in any meaningful sense, the first person singular ‘I’ in describing who we are or what we feel. We are collective, we are plural, in three senses.

First, we are simple and integral enough to recognize that we are a collection of cells, working in harmony to do our job, which manifests itself as one organism but is in fact more like a hive, a plural presence, a billion cells each aware of each other, and each cell in turn is a collection of its parts, its members, and so on infinitely.

Secondly, as a group of mushrooms, we are indivisible, our interest is collective. We are concerned with our survival, as a group, in this lovely damp dark place in this yard you call ‘yours’.

And thirdly, our collective interest is subordinate to the interest of this entire community, this ecos, so if the bunnies who live in that burrow over there come and eat us, that is just fine — we live on as a part of their consciousness and as part of this place. We are essentially of this place, that is what defines us, the mushrooms, the bunnies, the rock and the soil and the rain, the animate and the inanimate. We are this place.

This must be very difficult for you to understand, as we see that your species lives a very lonely, individual and detached life. You are in such conflict with other humans, all of you, and with us too, as your insensitive and destructive ways, your possessiveness, this need you have for ‘property’, to own things that can never really belong to you indicates, because, you see, although you seem to have lost the instinctive knowledge and the ‘sense’ to understand it, you are in fact a part of us. You are just lost, confused by the separateness that your minds have created for you, that frightening, alien and dissonant world inside your individual heads. Perhaps one day you will master this admirably complex machinery between your ears, and rejoin us. You cannot be happy, and cannot stop being insensitive and destructive, until you do.

All of this is easy for us to understand because we are not burdened with a complex brain with all the noise and the imaginings it seems able to conjure up. We have no choice but to live here, now, in the real world and in the moment. By all rights you should be much more ‘alive’ than the rest of ‘us’, yet somehow you seem not to be, you seem very dead to the world, and your brain looks as if it spends most of its time examining itself, lost and disconnected from the whole, and its purpose, your purpose, our purpose, which is to help Gaia — that is, to help the collective us — thrive on this amazing blue ball in the dark night of space (as the birds and insects describe it to us), thanks of course to the Sun, one of our other sacred things (or gods as you call them, or at least used to).

Look now, see there the sun peeking through the Spruce needles, and the droplets of dew dripping down from them onto us. Are these not wondrous to you, the epitome of joy, a reason to live and to fight to keep Gaia whole, prevent it from dying again in what you call an ‘extinction’? And look there, a tiny spider weaves her web, its lovely pattern caught in the rays of the morning sun — how can you not see this as sacred, how can you not see it, period?

We feel so badly for you, poor conflicted humans, so unhappy, so misguided, so dissatisfied. What can we do to show you that you are still welcome here, you are still part of us, though you have renounced your Gaia citizenship and lost the intuition and the sense to see it? All you need to do is come close, really see us, feel us, sense us, trust your instincts, listen, pay attention, stop thinking and just be, let go, and you will understand?

We are using your words, your language to try to explain to you what we feel and what we want for you, but still you do not seem to understand. Your language, far from being a vehicle for understanding, seems to us so poor in its capacity to communicate anything important, anything essential! Instead it seems to further isolate you, disconnect you from us, from your home, from where you belong. It is so abstract, so weak in vocabulary of the concepts that have real meaning to us, to all of us.

If only you still had the capacity to understand our language, this communication would be easy, effortless. But your software seems able to translate in this one direction, alas.

We don’t know what else we can tell you, beyond this great important truth of belonging, of paying attention, of seeing the sacred. Keep practicing, stay close to us, pay attention and in time it will, we hope, come back to you. We are waiting here to welcome you, joyously, home.

Now, is there something you would like to say to us, something we can learn from you, with that massive human brain of yours? For a start, we love your music, and we would like to know what it means. And, please tell us, why are you crying?

~~~~~

I want to save the world, and to change myself. It’s taken me decades to appreciate that I can do neither. If only I were there, I might know how to get there from here. But in the absence of that knowledge, there is no way.

It’s the nature of complex things, I see now. So many moving parts, so many unknowable truths. I am an emergent property, “the creative open source project of a trillion cells”. ‘I’ separately am nothing; a fiction, an invention. Even time is an illusion of my mind, and every instant those trillion cells cease to be and in another instant they are there again, but different, not the same.

So I am starting to accept that I can’t get there (to being-something-else) from here, and that we can’t get there (to a world not plunged headlong into the sixth great extinction of life) from here. To accept it, and to appreciate it. To stop fighting it. To just be who I inevitably am, in this world that is as it inevitably is, here, now.

Our language, it appears now, was designed for instruction and information dissemination, not for feeling or philosophy or expression of identity. Or of anything important outside of and greater than the context of the culture in which our minds are imprisoned, minds within which we are in turn imprisoned.

The Internet depends utterly on language, as do books, conversation and teaching, even in the form of videos and demonstration. We can’t know how to do something until we do it, try it, practice it. Copying may help, but doing something ourselves is a unique, personal experience. We can’t explain, in language, who we are or how we feel or how it feels, how it is to do something. No wonder human art has been around three times as long as human language — it’s a far more useful, meaningful artifact.

In its application to meditation or presence, Gary Weber has tried to convey this limitation of language in his short, free book Happiness Beyond Thought on meditation, confessing that what is supposed to take years of diligent practice should be possible in a moment, if only we knew how, if only we could see what we can’t see, if only we could experience what we’re trying to experience. He says people who have tried LSD or ayahuasca, experienced the disruption of our minds’ usual program, find it easier, as do those who can watch the changes in their brain waves on so-called fMRI machine displays as they do their ‘presence’ practice and notice what wave patterns are closest to the ones others produce in the pure connected meditative state. Sleights of mind to try to show us how to get there from here, when it can’t be explained in language. When you have to be ‘there’ to understand how to get there. When there is no ‘way’.

And it’s the same at a different scale when it comes to changing, or ‘saving’, our culture and ‘the world’. We still have this conceit that we’re in control, or at least someone’s in control of what the human species does. Every article advocating change contains something along the lines “we all need to…”, or “all we need to…”, or “if only we would all (just)…”, as if humanity were the Borg, or all the same, changeable with some magic formula the same simple way. It betrays an unwillingness to accept the staggering complexity and unknowingness of our selves, our culture, our planet and our universe, the unwillingness of idealists and salvationists and others that long for everything to be simple, fixable, made the way we want it, or think we do anyway.

Our culture, which is inadvertently precipitating its own collapse as well as that of our biosphere and all the life that depends on it, is, just as ‘we individuals’ are, an emergent property, the creative open source project of a trillion trillion cells. Like our ‘selves’, our culture is separately a nothing; a fiction, an invention. A map. A way of seeing things simply that are not at all simple.

Sometimes I despair that I will ever find ‘presence'; it’s certainly a long shot, and possibly a Quixotic search. And I despair the amount of suffering we are all  unintentionally inflicting on the world. It’s easy to be angry, sorrowful and fearful about these things, until we realize there is no use in being these things. Even then, it’s hard just to accept, and to appreciate our wounded, disconnected selves, and our terrible, battered world, for what they are.

So, my dear mushrooms, the meaning of our music, and the meaning of our tears, is the same: that we love, we care, and we grieve. It’s all we can do. It’s who we are.

There are no words for it.

August 31, 2014

Why I Don’t Want to Hear Your Story

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 12:25

meMost of us have developed a variety of different ‘bios’ for different purposes. We have one for work, that basically describes our acquired skills and experience and what we ‘do for a living’. We have one for meeting new people socially, whether that be on a dating site or just something we relate at cocktail parties or potlucks. (For most of us, thankfully, that is no longer mostly about what we do for work.) It is more likely to be aspirational — what we want to do in our future, and who (known or not yet met) we hope to do it with, though it likely also includes some data like our marital and family status. And then we have a third ‘bio’ that is the story we tell ourselves, and selectively our loved ones, about ourselves. It’s about how we define ourselves: what we love and care about, our purpose and intentions, our philosophy or worldview, and the adjectives and other ‘labels’ we assign ourselves.

Trying to combine these three bios is a messy business. They have different ‘audiences’ and there are many things about us each audience just doesn’t want to know. And most interestingly, each has a different predominant tense: the work bio is past-tense focused (what have we shown), the relationship bio is future-tense focused (what are we looking for), and the self-bio is present-tense focused (who we really are, right now). Sadly, because most of us live such busy and struggling lives, the third bio is probably for most the least developed, the most unknown.

When I was interviewing people, or looking for suppliers at work, I looked at their (mostly past-tense) bios, but I found I really didn’t care about them very much; people selling their services generally know if they have what it takes, and tend to self-select out of the application pool if they don’t think they have what’s needed. So when I was interviewing, I generally took it for granted that the applicants were qualified. What I wanted to know was a bit about their aspirations (to know if they would likely stick around long enough to have been worth hiring), but mostly I wanted to know about who they were right then — what they cared about, what they had passion for, what their personal ‘purpose’ was. That’s what differentiates people most, and what I wanted in work colleagues was shared passion and purpose. Those are the people we want to work with, and who will want to work with us.

But it’s awkward getting to that: We can’t just baldly ask someone, in an interview (or a cocktail party or potluck) what they care about. It sounds too nosy, too personal. Besides, many people really have no idea what they care about, what their personal passions and purpose is, so asking them is just putting them on the spot.

Likewise, when I belonged to OKCupid, the alt-culture dating site, I looked at their (mostly future-tense) bios, but I found I really didn’t care about them very much either; they were useful for eliminating inappropriate potential partners (in my case, those looking for the one perfect person to “complete” them, or looking to have children, or demonstrating a high level of neediness, or lack of intelligence, creativity, curiosity, self-knowledge or self-awareness) but not for identifying people with whom I might have an extraordinary connection. The list of what people like to do ‘in their spare time’ is not very helpful, either, since it really relates to their past story and what they’ve stumbled on that they’ve found valuable enough to continue doing. Knowing someone likes birdwatching or hang gliding or even shopping doesn’t really tell me if I’m going to enjoy their company. No, again, I want to know what they care about, what their ‘purpose’ and passions are — not whether they like seeing a rare Meriwhether’s Falcon, but rather whether they like studying birds’ behaviour to see what it teaches us about our own. Not whether they have liked something they’ve seen or done in past, but whether, based on their stated passions, whether there is something we’d likely like to do together right now.

So how can we tactfully and skillfully ask these questions that unearth who people really are right now, so that we can discover quickly whether the person we have just met is destined to be our brilliant colleague, life partner, inspiring mentor or new best friend?

Asking them to tell their story is precisely the wrong way to do this, in my experience. Most people (including me) are terrible story-tellers, and their stories tend to dwell on past facts and details that mostly have no bearing on what they care about or who they are now, or why. And most people love to tell their stories, because it’s easy and comfortable and they can censor out whatever they don’t like, or think you won’t like. Most people’s stories are polished fiction.

Before exploring what might work better, let me summarize what I think are the 6 most important questions to probe to find  that potential “brilliant colleague, life partner, inspiring mentor or new best friend”:

  1. What adjectives or nouns would you use to describe yourself that differentiate you from most other people? When and how did these words come to apply to you?
  2. Describe the most fulfilling day you can imagine, some day that might actually occur in the next year. As you describe each event in the day, explain why it would be so fulfilling to you. What are you doing each day that might increase the likelihood of such a day occurring?
  3. What do you care about, right now? What would you mourn if it disappeared? What do you ache to have in your life? What would you work really long and hard to conserve or achieve? How did you come to care so much (now that’s a story worth listening to)?
  4. What is your purpose, right now? What would elate you if you achieved it, today, this month, in the next year? What would devastate you if you failed, or didn’t get to try? How did this become your purpose?
  5. What’s your basic philosophy or worldview about why you, and other humans, exist? Not what you believe is right or important (or what you, or humans ‘should’ do or be), but why you think we are the way we are now, and why you think we evolved. It’s an existential question, not a moral one. How did you come to this philosophy?
  6. What’s your basic philosophy or worldview about what the next century holds for our planet? What do you see as your role and approach to dealing with that eventuality? How did you come to this philosophy?

It seems go me that the best way to broach these questions, without seeming too abrupt, with someone you have just met or are just getting to know, is to go first. Be an example of openness and candour that makes it easier for others to follow. I would volunteer my own answers to these questions, probably in the order they are above (i.e. simplest and easiest first), by prefacing my answer with something like “someone asked me the other day…”.

I would answer only the question in bold, unless prompted to elaborate, and then leave open the space for the other person to proffer their own answers. Once they did, or if they tried but struggled, I’d throw out the supplementary questions, especially the story-evoking ones in italics that elicit stories.

That’s it. My newest idea for avoiding small-talk and useless bios, and hopefully finding more meaningful connections more quickly and reliably.

So let me tell you what I care about, my purpose, my sense of who I am and how I see us, now. And then, rather than telling me your past or future story, tell me who you are and what you care about right now. If we find we care about very different things, then we can part company politely, knowing that. And if we find our answers to these questions largely overlap, who knows what might be possible?

My answers to the 6 basic questions follow. If you want to know the why’s and how’s, that the subject for another conversation.

~~~~~

  1. I am above all hedonistic, vegan, deschooled, unspiritual, joyful, imaginative, curious, and reflective. The decision to put hedonistic first is new and deliberate. Etymologically it means “attuned to sweet and pleasant things”. It in no way means shallow, reckless or insensitive. It acknowledges that there is only now, and that ‘just being’ — aware in this moment of what is — sensing and responding presently, intellectually, emotionally, sensuously, and intuitively, is probably the most honest, appreciative and authentic way of being anyone can aspire to.
  2. My perfect day would be spent gently exploring wild and beautiful places, talking, eating, playing, making love and co-creating things with a small group of physically, emotionally and intellectually strong, fit, self-aware and beautiful people.
  3. I care about the ongoing sixth great extinction of life on Earth, and the suffering it is causing. I care about making every moment of this short and amazing life count. I care about knowing how I, and the world, really ‘work’ and how I can be of use to all-life-on-Earth in the years I have left in ways that make a real difference.
  4. For now, my purpose — what drives me — seems to be making the women in my life that I care about, happy, in any way that I can. That may sound strange, but it seems true for me, and brings me a lot of joy in return.
  5. I believe we have evolved, each creature in its complex container of cells and organs, to experience the pure joy of being alive. Just that. Just to be, joyfully alive. Nothing spiritual in that — life emerged as an accident and has since deliberately been working to perpetuate itself when life is joyful and to extinguish itself when it is not.
  6. Because of living far beyond our material means, exhausting the planet’s resources on which we depend, and polluting the planet beyond its capacity to cleanse itself, I believe human civilization will collapse in fits and starts, globally, over the coming decades and centuries, until what remains of humans is a small number of people living diverse, simple, tribal lives a few millennia from now, without infrastructure, hierarchy, technology or even connection with other tribes. I have to believe theirs will be joyful, leisurely, sustainable lives, which is more than we can say of our wonderful, terrible civilization.
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