Ten Things I Wish I’d Learned Earlier

barsotti-nobody-knows-anything
 New Yorker cartoon by the late Charles Barsotti
I‘m such a slow learner. I am capable of learning, but it seems I need to be hit over the head before I recognize a truth, and to work twice as hard as others to acquire a capacity to do something. It’s not that I’m set in my ways and not open to change — it’s more that I just seem incapable of paying attention. Not paying attention, alas, has been one of my ways of coping with what I did not dare to see.

So here’s yet another list, in no particular order: I wish I had learned earlier…

  1. That unschooling and deschooling are essential prerequisites to learning. Not that my teachers and parents and others who presumed to tell me useful truths were lying — they were doing their best, and just didn’t know any better. They were passing along the myths that they’d learned. Only after being exposed to unschooling, and then deschooling myself, did I finally learn how to learn, how to make real sense of the world.
  2. That work is an abomination, unnecessary in any healthy society. When I first sensed this, I was called lazy, a coward, a parasite. Work is good for you, I was told. It’s an essential part of building character and of good relationships. But despite some joyous moments, work has mostly made me sick, angry, bitter, tired, and cynical. The people who benefit from the “work world” are those fortunate enough to be privileged with wealth and power, and as Trump has shown these have nothing to do with competence, character or capacity. We are meant to be wild, not to work. My greatest wish is that after the collapse of our industrial civilization, the concept of ‘work’ will not be reinvented.
  3. That our culture makes us utterly dependent on it, and that dependence prevents us from being who we really are. Complex systems evolve to self-perpetuate and resist change, and our culture — social, political, economic, financial, educational, technological, food and pharmaceutical — depends on us remaining dependent on it, and doing what we’re told no matter what the hardship. A global, complex, interdependent set of systems cannot allow people to walk away in significant numbers or it will fall apart. We can criticize the system, and play at the edges of it, but we are all caught up in it, and belief that we could survive long outside the system is fanciful thinking. We are all in thrall to what we have collectively created. Until it collapses.
  4. That there is nothing ‘natural’ about loving only one person. We romanticize couples who have stayed together for 50 years or more, and wild species which supposedly ‘mate for life’ (which very few actually do). The wedding business is just the pinnacle of a complex system that has evolved to venerate monogamy, because it makes us more dependent on all of our cultural systems, isolates us in ‘nuclear family’ units, and creates an artificial scarcity of love that is enormously profitable to exploit. It may require more self-knowledge and honesty than most of us have the time and fortune to be able to cultivate, but loving abundantly, without limit and without boundaries, was the prehistoric norm, and is our natural birthright.
  5. That most of us are biologically best suited to eating a varied whole-plant diet. Yes, when, after 30 million years in balance with the rest of the natural world, our tree-living simian ancestors left the abundant tropical forest only a million years ago, we had no choice but to alter our diets, and our bodies are, with some considerable struggle but reasonably successfully, adapting themselves to our changed diet. But most of us still thrive best on a varied whole-plant diet. And there are many other reasons to eat that way, mainly to thumb your nose at the horrific industrial food system.
  6. That every body is different, so we have to take responsibility for managing our own health. For those competent at research (don’t get me started on that), the internet finally allows each of us to partner with health care practitioners in diagnosing and treating what ails us. Ignorant doctors, with my complicity, did some severe if well-intentioned damage to my body when I was young. Since the internet, I’ve co-managed my back spasms, kidney stones, ulcerative colitis and shingles, and am now in the best health of my life. I use regression analysis to track what correlates, for me, with health (eg regular aerobic, core and upper-body exercise , working standing up, vitamin B12 and D3, anti-inflammatory foods, stress-reduction activities) and with illness (prednisone, stress, being cold, sudden weather changes). In this one area, at least, I am less dependent.
  7. That nobody knows anything. So much — our personal and professional reputation, our self-esteem, our perceived competence — depends on the pretence of knowing more than we really do. Humility generally doesn’t garner much reward. Once we realize that we’re all faking it, making it up as we go, suddenly we’re freed from expectations (and especially self-expectations), disappointment, and over-reliance. Forget the gurus, the ‘leaders’, the experts, the consultants — they’re just better than we are at persuading others (and themselves) that they know something. Realizing that no one knows anything is the most liberating thing that can happen to you.
  8. That we’re all healing. And no one is to blame. When I was young, you didn’t talk about mental illness. Sufferers of that sort had character weaknesses that they needed to work on. Awareness of childhood trauma was pretty much non-existent; it was ignored, as was the damage it did to abusers and victims alike. Only recently has the breadth and depth of trauma inflicted by one form or another of the emotional damage that is part of what I call Civilization Disease become apparent. Even now, acknowledging that we’re all victims of Civilization Disease can be taken as belittling the experiences of those most hurt by abuse, or even justifying the abuse. And saying no one is to blame is seen as letting the worst apparent perpetrators off the hook. A friend has a sign in her window saying “Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I think of this now whenever I hear or see anything that upsets me or makes me want to judge them.
  9. That we’re wise to trust our instincts. Several indigenous creeds refer to four ways of ‘knowing’ — intellectual (with our heads), emotional (with our hearts), sensual (with our senses), and instinctual (with our intuition). They describe the wisdom of ‘sleeping on’ a difficult decision to allow these four types of knowledge to be integrated subconsciously. As I’ve grown older I’ve come to be less trusting of my intellectual and emotional assessments and reactions — to some extent I sense they’re not really ‘mine’, and are instead entrained, enculturated, patterned behaviours. So now I trust my senses, and my instincts, more. They seem somehow more deep-rooted, and hence more reliable. And even in the rare cases when I conclude that my instincts were flawed, it’s immediately apparent to me why they were telling me what they were telling me.
  10. That you don’t approach predicaments the same way you approach problems. Problems may be complicated, but they can be solved. Predicaments cannot; we can only accept, appreciate, probe, and then adapt ourselves to them, work around them. Almost everything seen on the news, and dramatized in novels and films, are predicaments. On the news politicians and pundits are always quick to proffer their ludicrous “solutions” to them. In novels and films they always work out somehow to be soluble, usually thanks to some heroic effort. They do us a disservice and don’t prepare us well for the many monumental complex and interrelated predicaments that climate change and civilization’s collapse are going to present us with.

Of course, there is an 11th thing for the list, my newest and still most tenuous learning:

That we, separate individual ‘selves’, don’t exist.

I’ve written endlessly about this over the past three years. If you want a succinct explanation of this, here’s one. I don’t expect most readers will understand what I mean or why I believe it, because to the individual self, it just doesn’t — can’t possibly — make sense, unless and until the self momentarily drops away and there’s a glimpse of ‘this’ directly. After such a glimpse, the self lives in a kind of limbo. There’s a realization that the 10 things on this list aren’t so much a list of things to learn as a list of things the opposite of which are to be unlearned.

I can only hope that I am a faster unlearner than I am a learner.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves | Leave a comment

only this

only this

i walked along the ocean shore
and suddenly i was no more
my self had simply ceased to be
and for a while there was no ‘me’.

and at that moment all was clear —
a Cheshire grin from ear to ear,
a sense of calm, remembering
that there’s no time, no one, no thing

no doubt, despair or anxious fear,
no question: this is always here!
and all is wonder, life full on,
the veil that was the self was gone.

but soon the self reclaimed this skin;
the glimpse had passed, i was back in
the dream of what seems real, and then
i sadly was my self again.

so now i sit upon the sand
and try to deal with what’s at hand;
i seek in vain to simply be
and let my senses cut through ‘me’ —

a light, a whisper, taste of rain
i long to lose my self again;
out in the wild i feel so near,
so still that ‘i’ might disappear

yet i remain, afflicted still,
without control or choice or will
i seek the perfect lover’s kiss —
to see that all there is, is this.

Posted in Creative Works | 4 Comments

20 Lines of Work to Encourage Your Kids to Avoid

(Haven’t done a rant for a while; let’s see how many people I can inadvertently offend this time around. Be forewarned that this post contains immoderate, highly-judgemental language, inadequately-defined terms, Oxford commas, and unsubstantiated opinions. I’m not proud.)


THE ROGUES GALLERY

One of many reasons it’s such a struggle to power down the massive destructiveness of industrial civilization is that many of the industries that cause the most harm to the planet and its aggrieved residents are the most lucrative to work and invest in, and in some cases they remain among the most prestigious roles in our society.

So I decided to make a list of the criteria that make a particular line of work particularly deplorable. I came up with this list:

  • exploiters: those who profit from scarcity, ignorance, fear-mongering or exploitation
  • thieves: those who essentially steal from the land, the commons, and future generations
  • usurers: those who profit from amassed wealth rather than productive work or value added
  • destroyers: those who produce large amounts of waste, pollution and/or physical suffering
  • elite-panderers: those who produce goods and services only affordable to the 1%
  • junk-producers: those who produce low-quality junk that quickly ends up in landfills
  • money-sucks: those who receive salary/profit obscenely disproportionate to value provided
  • parasites: those who depend upon the above groups and do little or nothing of value themselves

The reason that seemingly-harmless elite-panderers and money-sucks are on this list is that the vast amounts of money they acquire (and sometimes launder) are often thence removed from general circulation — it’s passively invested, loaned out with interest, used for speculation, used to buy elite luxury goods, snorted etc. The key to a healthy economy is that money keeps flowing, and these guys overwhelmingly stop it up. (They’re also on the list because they’re generally assholes.)

Then I went through the industrial classification lists to compile a list of possible contenders for my “Rogues Gallery”, and checked off which of the above criteria of deplorableness I felt they met. Of course I jury rigged the list so that the lines of business I worked in before I retired just missed the cutoff. The lines of business that IMO met at least two of the criteria, in no particular order, are shown in the table above. This is entirely subjective and engineered to profile the lines of business I generally least respect, so take it with a grain of salt.

I should stress that there are some people and organizations in many of these categories that probably don’t meet the criteria and don’t belong on the list. Sorry for offending you if you’re one of them. There are also many that “greenwash” — advertise endlessly and dishonestly that they’re the exception (and sometimes protest furiously, and much too loudly, that their whole much-maligned industry is actually doing good for the world).

It’s hard to be a good guy in this economy. But perhaps we can aspire to be less bad, and avoid the industries and professions that are doing the worst to our planet. We can at least stop holding them in high esteem, and instead of congratulating or nodding admiringly when someone announces they’ve just joined or work in these lines of business, we might consider instead raising an eyebrow and ask (if you can pull it off) whether they eventually hope to find a more ethical line of work. And we can at least not give any of these industries any more of our money than is unavoidable.

And we can try to discourage our kids from these kinds of work — they’re going to be pretty unpopular, and pretty useless, when TSHTF. Sadly, it’s hard to find work that isn’t on this list these days, so until there’s appropriate training for them in how to start their own, ethical businesses, we can’t blame the kids for doing what they must to make a living.

Posted in Preparing for Civilization's End | 1 Comment

10 Things That Are Less Complicated Than They Might Seem

Some people are likely to enjoy the first part of this and loathe (or be bewildered by) the second part; others are likely to find the first part boring and the second part a fun thought experiment. I considered posting them as two separate articles, but later thought better of it. Not that I had any choice in the matter.

Everyone wants things to be simple. So I am delighted to tell you that many of the most important issues and questions we face during our bewildered lives are not as complicated as they might seem.

Unfortunately, the reason they are not complicated is that they are complex. There is an important difference. Complicated things, such as cars, computers, and anything you buy from Ikea, can be more-or-less completely understood (except for the Ikea pictographs) and analyzed. They can therefore, with some work, some intelligent deduction, and appropriate intervention, be made, improved, fixed, or renewed. They also quickly break down (except for those $9 plastic-coated side tables from Ikea), and end up thrown away.

By contrast, complex things, such as bodies, ecosystems, and social groups, cannot be fully understood, and some (like jellyfish, cults, climate systems and zombie fan-fiction writers) cannot really be understood at all. The more we study them, the more we realize how little we understand them. They defy effective analysis — there are just too many variables, and oversimplifying their complexity and treating them as merely complicated can lead to huge, tragic, unforeseeable consequences. You can never reliably predict their behaviour.

What you can do is to appreciate them for what they are, and try to at least get a rough sense of why they are the way they are, and what their presence means for you. Complex things evolve slowly, and sometimes randomly, but they usually have arrived at the way they are for a good reason. Most indigenous humans and wild creatures know this, and they appreciate and accept the way things are. What they do is explore or “probe” them, to try intuitively to make sense of why they are this way. If I eat this food, or this medicine, will it apparently make me feel better or worse? If we add this to our (admittedly simplistic and imprecise) climate change model, does it better approximate what has happened and is happening? If I “hold space” in a group to allow everyone to have their say and feel safe and respected for doing so, will that help the group move forward on their current issue, or just waste valuable time? Dealing with complex situations (as distinct from chaotic ones) revolves around paying attention, not around planning and implementing.

Responses to complexity entail adaptations and workarounds, not “fixes” — the best that we can hope for is that they seem to help, for now. While solutions can solve complicated problems, only adaptations and workarounds can help us acclimate to complex predicaments. (To acclimate, or acclimatize, to a situation means to adjust oneself to something different or unforeseen; for most of our time on earth most humans were nomadic and learned to acclimate to different “climates” and to “weather” the difficulties they presented — definitely a good skill to have!)

Predicaments, by their nature, cannot be solved. (Likewise, if you try to “acclimate to” a complicated problem, say, by constantly adding oil to your car’s engine because it always reads empty, that is not a solution.)

This is ancient knowledge. Watch birds deal with unexpected weather, or listen to how indigenous peoples deal with what we would call “crime”, or study how ecosystems (and many other complex systems) evolve to work around obstacles and self-perpetuate, and you’ll appreciate that most of what we’re unhappy with, most of what’s seemingly not working the way it should, cannot be “fixed”, and that when we accept, appreciate, adapt to and work around — ie acclimate to — the predicaments we face, we’re way further ahead.

So the good news is that, since most of the major challenges we face personally, culturally and globally in the modern world are complex predicaments and not complicated problems, we need not waste time, energy or peace of mind trying to understand and solve them. This will, unfortunately, be bad news to political megalomaniacs, “true path” spiritual gurus, economists of every stripe, obscenely overpaid business “leaders”, most consultants, and many others rewarded for allegedly fixing complex things (or telling you how to fix them). Happily for them, they are too busy and self-preoccupied to learn about complexity.

I promised you a “top 10” list, and you’re probably getting impatient. So here’s the list. Here are ten things — mostly life challenges — that are less complicated than they seem — because they’re complex.

  1. Becoming a better person: If you are going to become, in your own judgement and/or the judgement of others, a better person, that will happen despite any volition on “your” part. There is, fortunately, no “you” — what appears to be a separate person with choice and free will is a mirage, a hallucination, a dis-ease, an unfortunate and accidental evolutionary misstep that emerged along with large, underutilized brains. This has nothing to do with predestination or fate. There is an apparent character that “you” think you inhabit and control, but what that character apparently does has nothing to do with “you” — the brain just conveniently rationalizes the character’s apparent actions after the fact in a way that lets “you” believe those actions were “your” choice and decision. So go easy on your self — the character in whose apparent watery bag of organs you believe you reside will do what it will do. You should assume no responsibility, and take no credit or blame for any of it. In fact, “your” presence most likely interferes with the character doing its best. Nothing for “you” to do, really. Easy, huh?
  2. Deciding what to do with your life: From the above, it should be clear that “you” do not and will never make any such decision. The character you believe you inhabit will do what it will do, every moment, every day. If you want you can be pleased (but not proud) when the decisions seem ameliorative. You should not blame your self when they appear in hindsight disastrous. You should also know that humans are not meant to “work”. “Work” is an abomination that human selves, trying (with the hellish best of intentions) to “fix” complex predicaments (like overpopulation, and ice age resource scarcity) with complicated “solutions”, developed to try to mechanize human behaviour, suffering from a collective madness that they controlled the characters they believed they inhabited and had to “improve” them. Like all creatures, humans evolved and thrived as wild beings, adapting to scarcity, not trying to “fix” it. Be delighted if the human you think you inhabit refuses to “work”. But don’t claim it was “your” idea.
  3. Living a healthy life: Before they were made neurotic by selves like “you” (and “me”) human creatures lived extremely healthy lives completely connected with and part of all life on earth. Prehistoric humans had no dental diseases, no immune system diseases (which most modern chronic diseases are) — in fact few diseases at all until they reached geriatric age. They suffered no famines, since famines result mainly from overpopulation and epidemic diseases of monoculture crops. Most likely cause of death for them was being eaten, which happened at any time of life, depending on fortune and evasive capacity. There’s evidence they didn’t stress about this. It just happened — they and it were all part of what happened, and there was no fear of death, no judgement of right or wrong, just acceptance of the reality of the wondrous complexity of their lives. (The next leading cause of prehistoric death was accident, not disease.) Where humans evolved, a huge variety of whole plant foods were abundant, and for a million years human bodies evolved to thrive on that diet. It’s now becoming clear that while we live on average longer lives than ever before, we spend a larger proportion of our lives ill with one disease or another than ever before. This is not natural, evolutionarily sensible, or healthy. I could suggest that the key to a healthy life is eating a varied whole-plant based diet, getting vigorous regular exercise, avoiding accident risks, avoiding the number one disease trigger — work-related stress (good luck with that), and avoiding the modern medical system (now the number three killer in the US). But that would suggest that “you” have some say over the what the character you still foolishly claim to inhabit and control, will do. And “you” do not. That character will eat, do, work, medicate, and everything else regardless of what “you” think. And despite the fact that many of these actions will likely be unhealthy, the only one that will die is “you”! Without all us “you’s”, there is no death — just the wonder of all that happens, timelessly. Wouldn’t it be great if all the selves on earth would just die now, so that no “one” would have to go on suffering and worrying about all these things for no reason? But unfortunately “we” (“our” selves) don’t even have the ability to make that decision; “we” don’t really exist. We are figments of our own recursive minds. Such a shame — all that anxiety for no purpose or end. Perhaps we need a support group.
  4. Finding love, and the right partners (for life, work, crime etc): You’re probably catching on by now, and will guess correctly that I’m going to say that “you” have nothing to do with whether the right partners are found or not. If “you” are constantly amazed at how seeming clueless idiots somehow get along with each other idyllically while the character you (really, still?) think “you” control is on their eighth serious relationship and it’s fucking hard work, you should not be. All your earnest efforts are for nought. It’s all serendipity, chemistry, accident, the game being played through all the characters. Sorry to offend any Buddhists, but there is no “right” (or “wrong”) anything. There is only what happens. Like the Howard Jones song says, “no one is to blame”.
  5. Reducing injustice (inequality, corruption, abuse, discrimination etc): The word justice comes from the same root as the word judgement —  the Latin ius meaning “righteous, true and perfect”. The word only has meaning to “you” and “me” and all the selves of the world, and we’re just living in a dream. In the real world there is no one, there is no judgement, there is only everything that, fearlessly and eternally, is. It is the real truth. So why are “we” continually outraged at the endless atrocities committed by human creatures, largely against other human creatures? Because “we” think things could be otherwise. Because we believe in time, and in progress over time. None of this is true, but “we” remain outraged. This is perhaps the hardest thing for “us” to accept. Like all creatures we evolved to love and collaborate with each other, to “fit” as well as possible into the whole of Gaia. How can we accept that the human experiment is going so wrong, and that it is not anyone’s fault, and cannot be fixed? “We” cannot. Some truths are too much for the self to bear.
  6. Understanding Appreciating how the world really works: If you get the explanation above about the difference between the complicated and the complex, this is slightly less impossible than the previous five items. Almost everything of consequence is complex. Most real problems are relatively trivial, as long as you follow the instructions from Ikea. Complex predicaments are everywhere, and they’re insoluble, unknowable, and unpredictable. We can only appreciate them (grasp the little piece of the whole that we can really fathom, and accept the vast amount we can never know), explore, make a little sense of them, and adapt ourselves, working around what cannot be changed. And we can wonder — we can try to get a glimpse, a memory what it was like to see the world as a young child, before its self emerged and began to identify as a separate being, apart from (and endangered by) everything around it. Only with eyes of wonder can we appreciate, and perhaps self-lessness might then happen.
  7. Solving “wicked” problems (climate change, healthcare crisis, education crisis, natural disaster and pandemic disease preparation, addiction, species loss and environmental degradation and waste, nuclear weapons, “terrorism”, peak oil, the limits to growth etc): Yep, “wicked” is a judgement, and none of these are problems; they’re all predicaments. We cannot solve them. At a local level, the complex predicament “appreciate, explore, make sense, adapt” approach can yield some short term, apparently positive results, and that’s the best we can achieve. Moving beyond hope that these predicaments can be “solved” on any significant scale can move us to accept and start to appreciate why things are the way they are. As misnamed “wicked problem” experts (all three words are misnomers!) will tell you, the process of exploration and sense-making allows understanding of the predicament and possible adaptations and workarounds to “make the best of” the local situation, for now. That doesn’t rule out the value (at least psychologically) of activist actions like (safely) turning off the tar sands pipeline valves, or even (safely) dismantling small dams, if you know what you’re doing (those specific tasks are problems). But it does acknowledge that these actions, no matter how admirable, won’t be more than delaying actions — they won’t “solve” the larger predicament. If the character you inhabit has a propensity for this type of activity, don’t “you” get in the way. As if you could anyway.
  8. Deciding where to live and whether or not to have children: You get it, right? “You” can have your opinion, and agonize over it, but it will change nothing. Next.
  9. Dealing with emotional illness: So “you” have realized that everyone seems to be struggling, as if some emotionally destabilizing illness has infected just about everyone on the planet. I have called this “civilization disease” — it’s the ongoing sense of unhappiness, hopelessness and dread that things are getting inexorably worse and no one is paying attention. What is to be done? My advice on this hasn’t changed since I wrote about ten things to do when you’re feeling blue, and later ten things to do when you’re feeling hopeless, starting with the advice from The Once and Future King (it’s the only thing that has ever worked for “me”):
    • “The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then–to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you. Look at what a lot of things there are to learn–pure science, the only purity there is. You can learn astronomy in a lifetime, natural history in three, literature in six. And then, after you have exhausted a milliard lifetimes in biology and medicine and theocriticism and geography and history and economics–why, you can start to make a cartwheel out of the appropriate wood, or spend fifty years learning to begin to learn to beat your adversary at fencing. After that you can start again on mathematics, until is it is time to learn to plough.”
  10. Learning to love your self: Haaah! Here’s where I paint myself into a corner. Your “self” is an illusion, but it is nevertheless complex. And while it isn’t real, it is still “part” (no other English way to say it though it’s not quite right) of all-there-is, all of which is real and unreal and eternal and miraculous and unknowable, and all those other words that don’t even get close to it. Nevertheless. Dealing with anything complex, including your miserable, bewildered self, begins with attention, acceptance and appreciation. Appreciating something is allowing yourself to see its value as ever greater. How do you appreciate something that causes you such suffering? Marvel at its complexity, at how our brain was able to — incredibly — invent an identity that recognized itself! Recognize that while it is impotent, and while its efforts are hopeless and futile, it is really doing its best to try to make this strange creature full of watery organs do things that will improve the lives not only of the creature but of all the other creatures on the planet! How un-self-ish is that! “You” cannot know what is real, or how things really are or really work, but you can get to know your self better. You’re on a first name basis. The more aware “you” are of your self, the more “you” know about yourself — what good intentions motivate you, how hard you’re trying, how hard you’re working, how desperately you want the best for everyone and everything — how can you possibly not love such a person?

They don’t call this blog How to Save the World for nothing. Hope you’ve found this fun, and maybe even a little insightful. More coming up over the next few days.

Butterfly clip-art CC0 from the good folks at pixabay.com — love these guys for the service they provide! Pretentious scribbled words on the butterfly are mine. 

Posted in How the World Really Works | 3 Comments

this moment

there is no word to describe this moment —

it is not silent or quiet, because while there are no words being spoken or thought, there is yet sound

it is not still, because there is movement, though without plan, direction or purpose

it is not peaceful, because it is not about the absence of anything that is not calm or serene

it is not presence, because it is not about witnessing something apart from a witnesser

this moment arises, or appears to do so, before and outside of language, and is recognized (though by no one) before thought or concept or naming attempts to make sense of it, and is independent of sense-making

Heidegger speaks of young humans being “thrown into a clearing in an inherited world” of language and culture in which they then self-orient; this moment is outside of that world — it has no need for that world, its conceptions and conceits, or for meaning at all

it is not even beingness, that awkward new-agey attempt to eff the ineffable, so hopelessly attached to the being that it is ness-ing; it has no need for beings to see it —
trees falling in the forest be damned

it has these apparent qualities — (apologies for the ‘-ness’s) — timelessness, obviousness, resonance, wondrousness, unexpectedness, effortlessness, unconditionalness, intensity, lightness (but by no means an ‘unbearable’ lightness); though it has these qualities not in these words’ dictionary sense but more metaphorically, and I could not presume to explain how

a poem full of descriptions of wild creatures and wild places, were I able to write one even half-competently, would probably convey this moment much better than a list of qualities or assertions about what it is not

so instead I will suggest a phrase for it, a phrase that attempts to capture the essence of this moment that cannot be described with English words: llon nur tiu cxi

llon- is a word root from the Celtic that dates back to ancient times when the words and ideas for ‘stillness’ and ‘joyfulness’ were, perhaps tellingly, the same (in Welsh llon means joyful and llonydd means stillness); this might be what the ‘peace that surpasseth understanding’ was getting at

and nur tiu cxi is Esperanto for ‘only this’, a pointer perhaps to that which is nothing and everything, beyond duality

although the Welsh ll is a challenge for English speakers, pronouncing the entire expression as ‘hlon-noor-tioo-chee’ is good enough and has a nice lilt to it

so, llon nur tiu cxi — ‘this calm and joyful moment that is all that is’

may’t find you

Posted in Creative Works | 4 Comments

The Shaman

this is a work of fiction

 So I went to a shaman, asking for guidance about liberation and enlightenment. And she told me that she couldn’t help me find enlightenment, but she could possibly help me to see what was not enlightenment. I thought that might be a start.

So she took me to a forest clearing and we sat together on a fallen log, and she gave me a foul-tasting concoction to eat, and asked me to describe what I was experiencing. For a while, nothing happened. And then suddenly I began to see colours and hear strange sounds and then I experienced being in the middle of a scene of utter madness. All around me there were atrocities being committed, and strange creatures told me they had always been happening but I just hadn’t noticed, or perhaps I was just being kept in the dark. These were ghastly, cruel, miserable acts of unspeakable horror and violence, and soon instead of just happening to others they began happening to me. I was forced to eat poison and felt my teeth rotting and falling out. I was yoked with strangers and whipped to dig a hole in the ground and then to fill it up again. When I shouted about the insane things I was witnessing I was told by the obviously deranged mob of people all around me that I was the insane one, and that all that I was seeing was perfectly normal.

I said this to the shaman and she told me to just sit with this, that this was not enlightenment, and that none of this was real, and I would awaken from the nightmare. And then there was an explosion and everything was screaming and blood, and I passed out.

When I awoke I was, somehow, unharmed, and the shaman continued to hold my hand and asked me again to describe what I was experiencing.

In the distance I could see someone walking toward me, dressed in a robe of astonishing colours, with a golden aura around them. Even when this person came close I could not tell if it was a male or female, or its age, or even if it was quite human. But when this person, or creature, smiled and touched me I immediately understood that all was love, and that nothing else in the world was real. I was filled with this enormous feeling of peace and energy and well-being, and knew my purpose was to love this creature, to become one with it. That nothing else mattered.

I smiled at the shaman and thanked her for staying with me through the nightmare, and told her now I understood about liberation — it was all about losing your self in another.

The shaman smiled back at me and asked me, once again, to just sit with this, and told me to my dismay that this was not enlightenment either, and that none of this was real, and I would awaken from this dream, too. I insisted I did not want to awaken from it, if it was in fact a dream. It was the only thing in my life that had ever made sense. And suddenly the creature I loved with every fibre of my being moved even closer and our bodies merged into one, and with a rush of ecstatic bliss I again lost consciousness.

And when I awoke the magnificent creature was gone and once again there was just me and the shaman, still holding my hand. And I sighed and wept for what I had — at last! — found and then just as suddenly lost, and the shaman just sat quietly and asked me to describe what I was now experiencing.

I replied that I seemed to be back in the real world, but I was now full of grief over what I had lost. I kept waiting for a third surreal experience, but nothing seemed to happen. I felt bereft, impatient, dissatisfied. We sat together for what seemed like hours, and I just kept describing my thoughts and feelings, and the mundane things I saw and heard, there at the edge of the forest.

The shaman said to me that none of this was real, either, and that I was still dreaming, not really seeing at all, and that at some point that dream would end and what would be left would be as close as she could imagine to enlightenment.

I listened and sighed and finally, exhausted from all these unreal experiences, I again lost consciousness.

I am not yet awake, not sure I want to be. My instincts tell me that I would not, will not, survive awakening. Every once in a while I remember, back when I was very young, even before there was an ‘I’, what it was like to be awake, to just be, to see everything as it really is, and always has been. When I said that to the shaman, she smiled at me and nodded, but said nothing.

So now I sit here, on this log, living in my sleep, and every once in a while there is a glimpse, a suggestion of something I remember, something beyond understanding. There seems to be a clue in the gaze of wild creatures, the shadows in the moonlight, the water gurgling in the stream, the whisper of the wind. Something waiting. Something beyond me.

top image above from Pixabay CC0, by Cor Gasbeek; bottom image is mine

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Smart Women

(The following is fiction — just a fanciful story I made up that I wish were true. Since the email version doesn’t include the article category (“creative works” in this case) when it sends out feeds of my blog, I apologize to email subscribers for thinking it was real reportage.)


image CC0 from pexels.com

I guess it had to happen someday soon
Wasn’t nothing to hold them down
They would rise from among us like a big balloon
Take the sky, and forsake the ground…

Hold them up, hold them up
Never do let them fall
Pray to the dust and the rust and the ruin
That names us and claims us and shames us all
      – James Taylor

I‘ve always had a thing for exceptionally intelligent women. So when I agreed to act as seminar leader and graduate TA for the Philosophy of Science program at our university, I was delighted to discover that more than half of the class was women, and that in particular two of them brought with them reputations for brilliance and controversy. I had no idea what I was in for.

I met them both personally for the first time at a seminar entitled Dawkins vs Gould: The Philosophy of Biology, which I was ostensibly facilitating. When Karin and Marina squared off, I was expecting the fireworks to be around the two male philosophers’ differences over the role of religion and spirituality in science, or about the whole issue of “selfish” genes, but the debate immediately leap-frogged past that and into a far more (to me at least) interesting and existential discussion: It was about what we intuitively know (but cannot scientifically “prove”) versus what we intuitively “know”, or sense, that we cannot know.

It would be impossible for me to accurately summarize the different perspectives that Karin and Marina espoused, and after their animated discussions became something of a worldwide phenomenon in philosophy circles, I can only say that to some extent, as I listened to them, I felt I was witnessing The End of Philosophy — their thinking was so advanced that I felt they were, rapid-fire, rendering many of the most-discussed philosophical subjects of our time completely moot. They made what thousands of philosophers and scientists had spent their lives thinking and writing about seemingly completely irrelevant. The most important realization that came out of many hours listening to their dazzling intellects expound mind-blowing ideas that were way beyond anything I had conceived or read, was simply: Nothing matters. 

What was more remarkable is that they forced the listener to this astonishing and unexpected realization from almost diametrically opposite threads of reasoning and intuition: Karin from the Gould-ian scientific perspective of everything being random and unpredictable, and Marina from the metaphysical perspective that evolutionarily “consciousness” and everything that arises from it could not be real, and that therefore what is real cannot be known by the mind.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. These two women had already, as undergraduates, wowed their colleagues and professors to the point that whenever they volunteered to speak the rest of the class suddenly sat in hushed silence diligently taking notes — including the instructors. They were way over all of our heads, in an intellectual (and perhaps emotional and sensory and intuitive) world of their own, which we could never dream of being a part of. We were just delighted that they took the time to articulate what they were thinking so that we could just appreciate it. We were in the presence of genius — genii in fact, feeding off each other, and we could only bask in it, as full of awe as if we were watching two Grand Masters painting together.

That is to say that, while they didn’t “agree” with each other, they saw no purpose in debating. There is no absolute truth, after all, and they saw every point of discussion as being a way to move closer to an understanding, to explore, not to change the other’s position but to understand it and hence move forward towards a synthesis greater than either had thus far come up with individually. There had been an attempt, by the faculty leaders, to get them to have a formal debate, with structure and an audience voting for the winner, but neither woman would have anything to do with that, dismissing it as an “anachronistic male spectacle of no value”. Instead of responding to each other with “but…” they responded with “yes, and…”. Listening to them was like being in dizzying free-fall — they didn’t know where they were going, only that it was productive, creative, moving forward, and any formal structure would simply hamper that.

When our first session was winding up (we had run over our time and were being kicked out of the seminar room), I fatefully suggested that we retire to the campus lounge and continue the discussion (more accurately a two-woman dialogue — none of the rest of us had the audacity to interrupt their discussion with our own clearly-outclassed thinking).

I was a man in love, with two superhuman women, and as I ushered them and the entranced class to the lounge, I was trying to figure out how to capture this brilliance, before it was lost, before these two women just rose magically into the stratosphere together and disappeared, leaving us mere mortals behind, ashamed and dumbstruck. Fortunately there was a tripod on the stage of the lounge, left behind by the latest performing musicians I supposed, and I grabbed it, mounted my cellphone camera on it, pointed the camera at the two prodigies, said 50 words to (utterly inadequately) recapitulate what had already been exposed in their shattering discussion to date, and let them continue.

Four hours later we called it an evening. I put the recording up on YouTube, thinking it was the most important posting that impoverished medium had ever received, and for a couple of days it was almost completely ignored. Then to my surprise the number of viewers started to soar. At the next seminar date a week later, the room meant for a dozen discussants in the class was impossible to reach due to the crowd clamouring to attend and hear Karin and Marina expound further. I told them we would rendezvous at the lounge after the class, and that only registered students could attend until then. Two hours later the din outside the room was so loud we could no longer hear Karin and Marina speaking, so we retired to the 200-capacity lounge, surrounded by numbers so large that, once everyone had filed in, the lounge closed its doors to additional students to avoid violating fire regulations.

If you’ve been following this at all, you know how it snowballed after that. The second four-hour video racked up millions of views, the post-seminar meetings had to move from the overcrowded lounge to the university theatre, Karin and Marina were besieged by the media for interviews and by universities all over the world offering inducements for them to go there (none of which they accepted), and some of the world’s leading scientists, philosophers, intellectuals and “teachers” began sitting inconspicuously in the theatre during the talks (which were now broadcast live), furtively but energetically taking notes.

At the insistence of Karin and Marina, there was no Q&A during or following these discussions. They offered no explanation for this demand, perhaps wanting to spare the feelings of those who might be inclined to ask something.

After the fourth session — sixteen hours of staggering genius, enough for a lifetime’s exploration by lesser thinkers, in the can — I finally got up the courage to invite them to my place, just to take stock of what was happening. I think mostly because they found the sudden celebrity a bit overwhelming, and knew that my place was peaceful, private and unlisted, they accepted. Marina, who sat in the front passenger seat during the car trip there, spoke quietly and incessantly to Karin seated behind her, at a volume I couldn’t quite hear — I was so intellectually exhausted I was somewhat grateful for that.

At home I put on a playlist of instrumental music (enough words for me that day) and we sat together on my couch, wordlessly, drinking chai tea. Because they were both so quick in their thinking, at one stage my students had asked them to slow down and not talk over each other (which they did not as interruption, but as a kind of running counterpoint), Karin had the brilliant (and awesome!) idea of having me, as the facilitator, sit slightly behind and between them, lightly hold one of each of their hands, and gently squeeze only the hand of the woman who was talking, as a way of “moderating” the conversation and slowing down the flow of ideas unobtrusively. It worked. I was, of course, elated. To me, nothing afterwards could ever compare to this quiet alternating touch for sheer, raw eroticism.

So we sat on the couch together, holding hands just like that, as a nod to the roles we had found ourselves in. Finally Marina broke the silence:

“Josh — Karin and I have decided something, and we hope you won’t be disappointed with us. Today, if you were following, our discussion reached something of a dénouement. We’ve realized that we’re at an end. We’ve unraveled all we can together, and there doesn’t seem to be anything more that is essential to say. So as grateful as we are for the forum you have granted us, we think that the song is over. We can’t see the point in talking more. We’ve said all that we can think to say that’s of any value. So we’re going to take a vacation, and hope that what we’ve produced is good enough to meet the requirements of the seminar, and that you won’t be upset if we don’t return. This has been the most important experience of our lives, and we’ll always be in your debt.”

“The Masters’ painting is done,” I said, mostly to myself, with a sigh. Marina gave me a concerned look, but then, with a glance at Karin, immediately understood the reference, and smiled, and nodded.

“Yes, it seems so,” she replied.

We sat there quietly for a while and then Karin asked if there was “a spare bedroom” they could sleep in — they were dead tired and didn’t relish the trip back to the university to retrieve their cars and drive home. And I realized they were lovers.

I spent that entire night, sleeplessly sighing, fantasizing about what might be possible, what I wanted, what would be best for them. They obviously made love, and for what seemed a very long time, but they were discreet about it. My dream of course was that, in their blossoming personal lives together, I might play the same essential, connected role, holding them together, moderating and mediating their genius, that I’d come to play over the past month in their public lives. That would have been enough for me. I told you I had a thing for smart women, and I knew nothing like this would ever happen again.

It took until the early hours of dawn before I finally collapsed into sleep, and of course when I awoke, much later, my delightful charges had gone. They made the bed with fresh sheets, put the soiled ones in the washer, left me an absolutely wonderful, handwritten note that I will cherish forever, left some cute and provocative ‘selfies’ of the two of them in my email, and disappeared from my life forever.

I’ve watched the videos so often I can practically recite them from memory, and they were right — there was nothing more to say. Of course the deeply-threatened patriarchal establishment took their departure and unavailability as evidence of their arguments’ frailty, and in less than a year hundreds of articles in professional and popular journals had disingenuously criticized and finally dismissed their brilliant, fleeting work. I removed all the jealousy-tinged comments from the videos and closed off further comments. The videos spoke for themselves, and I’m sure their genius will eventually be vindicated.

So yes, nothing matters. But still, my heart will never be the same. I grieve I suppose for what never was, yet what happened was enough. I am honoured to have been there, and played a role. It is all just a story, and every story is meaningless, but it’s the only thing I have.

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Several Short Sentences About the Welsh Language

This information is based solely on somewhat unsubstantiated internet research and as such may not be entirely true, but it is certainly interesting. I explored the subject because I’m planning a trip to Cymru (Wales) this summer and wanted to be able to at least pronounce the place-names correctly. Of course, I quickly got side-tracked into etymology. Apologies for any misspellings, misinterpretations, (unintended) insults or factual errors.

1. The Welsh have at least four ways of saying “sorry”: They translate as “I apologize”, “I was wrong”, “Please give me a way out (of this)”, and “That’s unfortunate”. They mean quite distinct things and require different responses.

2. The Welsh phrase for “please” translates literally as “may it be seen to be good”.

3. The most common Welsh phrase for “you’re welcome” translates literally as “no problem”. Alternatively you can just use the same “may it be seen to be good” phrase to reply to a “thank you”.

4. The Welsh word for “goodbye” (hwyl) has no English translation and is apparently an ancient Brythonic word (the Welsh and Bretons from Brittany France are perhaps the only true “Britons” — the only people whose language remains unassimilated by the invading Angles, Saxons, Normans, and/or French). The meaning of hwyl is something like “joyous energy” or more colloquially “have fun”. No “god” involved in their farewells!

5. The Welsh greeting Siwmae/S’mae (North Wales) or Shwmae (South Wales) is an ambiguous expression that can mean either “how is it (going)?” or “it is how it is”, so it can be used either to ask informally how someone is doing or as a non-committal reply to that inquiry. (The French language has evolved a similarly functioning expression — Ca va? Ca va!). No need to lie and reply “I’m good, fine” if you’re not. It is how it is.

6. There are no general Welsh words for “yes” or “no”. You use the terms for “there is/isn’t”, “it is/isn’t”, or “I am/am not” or “I do/don’t” depending on context of the question, to reply in the affirmative or negative.

7. The Welsh language does not support the possessive concepts of ownership or property, so there are no prepositional words equivalent to “my”, “your”, “their” etc. So to translate “our car” you say something like “the car that is with us”; likewise for spouse, child, money etc.

8. The Welsh names for months are somewhat more Pagan and harvest-oriented, and less Roman than the English names (though somehow Augustus got his name in there). The names, English equivalents and their most likely original Welsh meanings are:

Ionawr — January (Janus / “Going Back to Roots”)
Chwefror — February (“Purification”)
Mawrth — March (Mars, Guardian of Agriculture [and war god])
Ebrill — April (Aphrodite, “The Opening”)
Mai — May (Maia, symbol of Fertility)
Mehefin — June (“Mid-Summer”)
Gorffennaf — July (“End Summer”)
Awst — August (“Augustus”)
Medi — September (“Reaping”)
Hydref — October (“Drying Up”)
Tachwedd — November (“Slaughtering”)
Rhagfyr — December (“Shortening Days”)

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | 6 Comments

Nutrition Facts


Image CC0 from Pixabay
I‘ve recently spent a fair bit of time reviewing the vast number of reviews of clinical research done on the connection between nutrition and health, that have been reported on Michael Greger’s nutritionfacts.org site. Michael is a doctor and a vegan, but he receives no payment for anything he does on the site, and has shown he has no axe to grind, other than to lament the fact that lots of evidence connecting a whole-plant based diet with much better health and with much lower rates of the diseases that cause most deaths in affluent nations, gets ignored because there’s no money in it, and no emphasis on it in medical schools.

Much of this research is small-sample, and some but not all is rigorous, but Michael doesn’t cherry-pick the research he cites, or exaggerate its findings. He does amazing annual reviews of the latest research on the nutrition-health connection, and produces a prodigious volume of short, excellent, factual summaries. You can watch the videos or read the transcripts, whichever you prefer.

I’m reporting on this because I think it’s useful, interesting and compelling — it’s caused me to shift quite a few of my eating habits, and I’m already seeing some benefits. I am not advocating that anyone or everyone should become vegan — every body is different. These are just my notes from the 150 or so videos or transcripts I’ve viewed/read so far, in case they’re of interest to others.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Bottom line: There is overwhelming evidence, and almost no counter-evidence, that a whole-plant based diet is just about the healthiest diet available for most people, and that (unlike just about every other diet out there) it’s lacking in almost none of the essential nutrients needed to live a long and healthy life (though he does recommend even healthy eaters supplement their daily diets with up to 5000 IU vitamin D3 and 2500 mcg vitamin B12). Poor nutrition is also the only highly-plausible explanation for the epidemic of autoimmune and other diseases in affluent nations that are rare to uncommon in nations with very different diets to ours.

  2. For general health: Eat more of the following: vegan smoothies (use whole fruit not juice), all kinds of berries, raw spinach, bananas, coleslaw, kiwis, nutritional yeast, mushrooms, seeds especially flax seeds (especially good for sensitive skin) and sesame seeds, nuts especially almonds, pecans and walnuts, tea, most spices, beans/legumes, and whole grains. Avoid hydrogenated oils, eggs, poultry and all other meats, including fish (avoid these for a variety of reasons detailed on the site, which includes a comprehensive index by food type). Reduce but do not eliminate consumption of vegetable oils. Reduce or, even better, eliminate dairy products.

  3. For ulcerative colitis sufferers (I’m one): Diverse whole-plant-based diet is the best way to minimize inflammation. Turmeric (curcumin) is worth adding to tea and other foods daily as a natural anti-inflammatory. Get adequate sun exposure and/or take vitamin D. Eat broccoli and cauliflower especially. Avoid all dairy, and the sulfates in alcohol.

  4. For fibromyalgia and CFS sufferers (I know many): Diverse whole-plant-based diet is the best way to minimize symptoms. Supplement with at least 6 minutes/day strong exercise or 30 minutes/day walking. Avoid aspartame. For CFS, add 2.5T of cocoa powder a day to your coffee/smoothie.

  5. The best natural sweeteners: are molasses and date sugar (stevia is OK in moderation no more than twice a day if not adulterated with maltodextrin or other additives). Erythritol is the best non-sugar sweetener — it’s found naturally in grapes and pears but is now manufactured from yeast; it has no calories, causes no tooth decay, and produces no sugar index spike. The only downside is that it may cause you to eat more, so like anything, use in moderation. And avoid erythritol spiked with other substances.

  6. Non-diary “milk” and “protein” substitutes: Soy and almond milk are better than coconut milk, but not as good as whole soy/almonds. The site has no reviews on hemp milk, which is reportedly as good or better. Tempeh is better for you than tofu or edamame.

  7. Aromatherapy: Consider orange or lavender aromatherapy for anxiety, mild rosemary aromatherapy for alertness, and lavender aromatherapy for migraines. And if your anxiety is a social anxiety, consider butternut squash seeds (raw or toasted); they seem to alleviate it.

  8. The best teas: Green tea is better than black and has enormous health benefits; white tea is even better. Bergamot makes Earl Grey the best black tea. Dandelion, chamomile and (in moderation) hibiscus are the best herbal teas. Chai tea is excellent with its five healthy spices (cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger). Adding cocoa powder to tea is good for you; cold steeping your tea is even better. Tea is as good for hydration as water (as an aside, carbonation, without adding anything else, has no effect on the health of water, except perhaps to make people drink more of it).

  9. Some whole plants that are less good for you: Rice (especially white) is not really that good for you. Neither are potatoes (sweet potatoes, which are unrelated, are excellent). Eat avocados in moderation — naturally occurring persin in them can be hazardous.

  10. Beware some forms of alternative medicine and nutrition regimes: There is now a large amount of medical evidence that homeopathy is just an expensive placebo, and hence in the long term “useless” (the British Medical Association now agrees). Take care with ayurvedic and other specialized supplements — they are mostly unregulated and often contaminated with lead, mercury and other dangerous metal toxins. Michael is dubious about “paleo” diets in general but these are so varied that it’s hard to generalize; see the paleo category in his index for more explanation on the specifics.

  11. Raw versus cooked versus frozen versus canned: Carrots and celery are the only vegetables whose nutritional value increases with cooking. Microwaving actually has the least negative effect on nutritional value of most foods; boiling is the worst. Bell peppers are most negatively affected by cooking and are best eaten raw. Chop cruciferous veggies like broccoli at least 40 minutes before cooking (chopping or chewing releases the essential nutrient sulforaphane, but cooking first destroys it), or add a pinch of mustard powder to the cooked veggies if you can’t (see the site for explanation of the chemistry). I know I eat more vegetables if I eat mostly raw vegetables (easier and to me tastes better). Frozen foods, unless preservatives/salt have been added, are actually as nutritious as fresh. Canning can destroy a lot of the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables and contaminate them with liner chemicals, though one exception is beans (but don’t buy beans processed with salt, and don’t rinse away the nutrients in the water the beans are stored in).

  12. Organic versus conventional: The main advantage of organic and non-GMO produce is that it is less likely to be contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, hormones, and the other crap of industrial agriculture. That’s more important in some fruits and veggies (with skins that are eaten or permeable) than others.

  13. How to make a safe healthy effective natural mouthwash: Place 7 Tbsp green tea (+ peppermint if desired) in 1.5 litres boiling water and steep for 1 hr. Strain and add 1/2 litre water into 2 litre glass bottle; store in fridge. (This specific recipe is from another site, though the ingredients are the same suggested in nutritionfacts.org.)

Again, the above are just my notes from the site; your mileage may differ. And again, I’m not saying a whole-plant-based diet is right for everyone. But it sure has worked for me.

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | Comments Off on Nutrition Facts

Links of the Quarter: March 2017

The events of the last three months have made it increasingly clear that we’re well into the first wave of global industrial civilization’s collapse.

  1. There’s been an astonishing increase in extreme weather events and climate anomalies, attesting to the rapid and unpredictable destabilization of our global climate.
  2. There’s been a sharp increase in the level and breadth of psychopathy of the so-called “leaders” of our political, business and economic systems — to the point there’s no longer even a pretence of honesty in public proclamations, a pretence of fairness in the simultaneous overregulation in some sectors (the security apparatus and corporate interests) and massive deregulation in others (any laws and institutions protecting the public interest), a pretence of justice or civility in the outrageous actions of the judiciary and law “enforcement”, or a pretence of legality or decency in the wholesale pillaging of public lands, resources and the commons by the corpocracy — attesting to the fear and desperation of those with wealth and power to protect and hoard what they have in the face of the inevitable crises ahead.

How does one ‘deal’ with the simultaneous collapse of so many systems upon which so many of us now utterly depend? How does one explain to one’s children that the idea of progress was a myth and that the future we are bequeathing to them is likely to be grim, desolate, unhealthy and, worst of all, completely unpredictable, as we swing from one wave of collapse, through temporary periods of stability, and then into the next even more bleak and bewildering wave?

I can see no way of coping with it beyond doing what one can at the local level to help those in our communities adapt to its fallout, and to do so with as much compassion, joy in the moment, generosity, and equanimity that we can muster. We can’t plan, or control, or predict, or even really prepare, beyond self-knowledge, staying healthy, and learning essential skills, for what may come next.

Not much else to say.


PREPARING FOR CIVILIZATION’S COLLAPSE


Winning caption, submitted by Audrey Orr, to a recent New Yorker cartoon caption contest; cartoon by Joe Dator

Will the Crash of 2018 Be the First Stage of Civilization’s Collapse?: The thorough and fearless British investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed explains how by 2018 the short-term glut of energy will yield to a long-term intractable deficiency in affordable energy that will quickly bring about a massive crash of the global industrial food and economic systems that depend on an abundance of cheap energy. (Thanks to Guy Fraser for the link.) It’s looking more and more likely that America’s hapless current buffoon-in-chief will become known as the Peak Oil President.

Why Climate Scientists Fear to Tell Us The Truth: The climate is changing so quickly, and even the most pessimistic models of climate instability are being so quickly exceeded by alarming new data, that many climate scientists are beginning to suffer from PTSD-like symptoms and are self-censoring because (a) they don’t know how to tell the long-deceived public how quickly we’ve passed the point of no return, without inciting anger, hopelessness and denial, and (b) they will lose their jobs if they do so. They will tell you that the idea of containing climate change to under 2ºC is absurd, and that a catastrophic 6ºC of average global warming this century (with up to 15ºC warming in some polar and other areas) is increasingly looking like an optimistic forecast. Thanks to Andrew Campbell for the link.

Massive Arctic Temperature Anomaly Wreaks Havoc on Global Weather: Temperature variances in the arctic of as much as 40ºC within a few hundred kilometres have occurred on and off all winter, as the far north continues to see sustained long-term temperatures 5+ºC warmer than historical averages, contributing to massive glacier melt and the imminent complete disappearance of the arctic ice pack. British Columbia has, as a result of high-level polar winds produced by these anomalies, had the coldest, snowiest winter in decades, while in Eastern Canada record high temperatures are now yielding to massive early spring blizzards. Similar stories abound on every continent. At least one climate scientist says the jet stream, which moderates temperatures, may have been permanently disrupted, rendering the models used for long-term forecasting here on in more or less useless.

What 6ºC of Average Warming Means Locally: As optimists about our ability to deal effectively with climate change sound increasingly deluded and in denial, some communities have given up hoping for large-scale action on climate change and are commissioning reports on what 6ºC of warming will mean for agriculture, infrastructure and security in their communities.

Other Disasters On the Horizon: If economic and ecological crises weren’t enough, there are signs that the stop-gap measures at Fukushima’s nuclear reactors, five years after the tidal wave damage, are not working and full-scale melt-down may be inevitable. And there is other evidence, such as the potentially disastrous crumbling of the Mosul Dam (“a bigger problem than ISIS”) and the breaching of the US’ Oroville Dam and critical damage to the Clifton Court Reservoir, that our fragile and funding-starved infrastructure will rapidly crumble as extreme climate events become more commonplace. And we already know that we’re utterly unprepared for the type of major earthquake that will hit the North American West Coast likely also in this century, as worrying signs of its arrival are increasingly evident.


LIVING BETTER

Science Fiction for the Real World: John Michael Greer (who has recently been waxing philosophical about collapse and even touching on non-duality) suggests that some of the best ideas about what collapse might look like, and how to live through it and after it, might come from intelligent, non-formulaic speculative fiction; he contributes regularly to Into the Ruins, a quarterly compendium of such writing. Editor Joel Caris brings to it an interesting philosophy and writes thought-provoking intros to each edition that alone are worth the cost of a subscription.

Symmathesy: Nora Bateson has been developing new language around complexity, perceiving that the traditional mechanistic language of “systems” is simplistic and flawed and can lead to illogical and ineffective thinking. Symmathesy is her replacement for “complex system”, or more precisely for “adaptive co-evolving interaction”. Only by changing our ways of thinking about such interaction to a more holistic, less analytical one, she argues, can we start to appreciate how symmathesy actually works and how to work within, rather than upon, it. Thanks to Tia Carr for the link.

Risking Jail For Your Beliefs: On a par I think with whistle-blowers and truth-exposers like Edward Snowden, the five brave and principled valve-turners who safely shut down the Tar Sands pipelines for one day, made a huge personal sacrifice to show us all how to behave in the face of social and environmental outrages when other means have failed. They continue a long line of non-violent direct action heroes who deserve our commendation and support. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the link.

Eating Better: Michael Greger’s NutritionFacts website is a completely free, non-profit, comprehensive searchable (and entertaining) guide to everything there is to know about clinical research on the nutrition-health connection. Nothing for sale there, and nothing on offer except the truth, and it’s surprisingly simple and affordable. (For an overview, start here.)

Rebooting the Democratic Party: Young blogger Rebecca Meyer, a lifelong Democrat, articulately urges progressives to abandon the failed strategies, platforms and standard-bearers of the DNC establishment and reposition the party as a true progressive party.

Reinventing Organizations: Fredric Laloux’s book about how to structure and operate your organization as “teal” is generating much warranted enthusiasm — possibly the most useful set of new OD ideas in the last decade. One recent article presents a pretty thorough and mostly fair review of the basic principles of “teal” organizations, and then (IMO somewhat unfairly) criticizes the book because it fails to acknowledge that none of its ideas are new (they have been employed in different cultures for millennia). Thanks to Tree Bressen and Ben Collver for the link.

Could the Post Office Be the Solution to Hunger in Affluent Nations?: A fascinating new proposal suggests the USPS and its counterparts in other nations have precisely the infrastructure and processes needed for effective food distribution to the poor. Thanks to Lorraine Suzuki for the link.

Complexity-Based Approaches to Planning and Design: A new article from my friend Chris Corrigan suggests four shifts from traditional planning approaches that are often idealistic and assume we know more than we actually do: (1) Shift from Environmental Scans to Discerning Patterns through Anecdote Circles (making sense of rich stories about what is happening/needed, rather than analyzing less granular broad brush trends); (2) Shift from Visioning & Goal Setting to Scenario Planning (being prepared to adapt to alternate possible future states, rather than banking on one); (3) Shift from Goals & Objectives to Probes & Prototypes (trying iterative experiments informed by continuous intelligence-gathering, rather than creating things that might be vulnerable to shifting goalposts); and (4) Shift from Summative Evaluation to Developmental Evaluation & Continuous Learning (learning and constantly making incremental improvements and adaptations, rather than waiting until the process/project is complete for formal measurement and assessment). In a related line of thinking, Aleks Savic suggests that, because confirmation bias is evolutionarily selected for (it helps us communicate better and be more persuasive, even though it often leads us to make bad decisions) we would be better learners and designers if we acknowledged and embraced conflicting and unsettling beliefs and ideas.

Disentangling the Issues of Gender Identity: Rebecca Reilly-Cooper’s Sex and Gender: A Beginner’s Guide is a very long and very thorough explanation of the rationale for radical feminists’ heated and controversial disagreement with the trans community on the issue of gender identity.


POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL


Photo taken shortly after version one of the US President’s anti-Muslim decree; original source unknown

Move Along Folks, Nothing Important Happening Here: While pundits ponder whether Der Drumpf is even more mentally ill than other current and recent global “leaders”, it might be worth speculating whether any sane person would go through what Bernie Sanders or Keith Ellison (thanks to Antonio Dias for the link) went through to fight the intractable bought-and-sold party machines that control most so-called “democratic” governments. Mental illness also underlies the utter despair and anxiety of those most at risk from Drumpf’s arbitrary and frivolous wrath, and the testosterone-fueled rage (thanks to Earl Mardle for the link) of his supporters in America’s surging neo-fascist movements. Even die-hard conservatives are aghast. And the corporate-controlled for-profit American “health care” system is so bloated and incompetent (thanks to Nancy Ryder for the link) even its supporters question how long it can continue. When we live in an insane culture, we should not be surprised at what it wreaks. In other countries — Canada for example — signs point to the same evolving trends: corrupt governments, emboldened hate groups, uncontrolled business scams, ultra-rich corporatist tax cheats, and a general feeling of anomie that anything can be done about it. And in states like Russia further along the path of collapse, in the remote outposts not protected by the power kleptocracy average life-spans have plunged back into the 50s as death begins to look like an attractive alternative to what the future holds. This is what large-scale system failure looks like.


FUN & INSPIRATION


Another New Yorker cartoon contest cartoon, this one by PC Vey, with three excellent ‘finalist’ captions: (1) “Is that a new outfit?”; (2) “We had meth on Tuesday.”; (3) “Are you sure the directions said to add mustard gas?”

When the World is Going Crazy, Sing: The phenomenal “pop-up” Toronto Choir! Choir! Choir! presents a haunting, stirring 1300-voice strong version of MILCK’s anti-Drumpf protest song I Can’t Keep Quiet. They’ve also covered Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours, Patti Smith’s Because the Night, and many other other songs. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the links. And for more moving music, watch The Black-Eyed Peas and many celebrity guests sing Where’s the Love?

All Consuming Tasks: Playing off our passion for categorizing things, John Kellden spoofs Seneca and Jorge Borges with his hilarious categories of convivial tasks. Read his links to Seneca and Borges first if you want to get the joke.

Albatross!: A baby at that, mostly ignored by the blathering adults nearby. On Kaua’i, just a few miles from where I’m writing this. Camera pans around often, so wait for the baby. Awwww!

New Species of Jellyfish Found: Deep in the ocean, looking like the animate alien vehicles they are.

The Phenomenon of Yacht Rock: If you enjoyed the rich harmonies and intricate compositions of late-70s/early-80s impresarios (think: Michael Macdonald, Christopher Cross, — etc) you may not have even realized that it was a recognized genre. Here’s a playlist of 200 of the best Yacht Rock songs. (My list of favourite Yacht Rock songs is here.)

Video For Your Treadmill Marathon: The national Norwegian railway has filmed dozens of hours of stunning silent footage out the front window of its cross-country passenger train locomotive, prompting other countries to do likewise. Mesmerizing way to distract you from your boring treadmill activities.

Drumpf Pie: Jonathan Pie sums it up in 3 minutes. Falling-down funny. Thanks to Jon Husband for the link.

Words for Emotions That Don’t Exist in English: A fun list of foreign-language words that mean things that can’t be said in one word in English, if they can be said at all. Language gets slippery, though: we can say what they words denote, but not necessarily what they connote; that requires a cultural framework to understand them. Thanks to Jae Mather for the link.

What the Vietnam War Looked Like From the North: Astonishing photos taken by North Vietnamese photographers, often at enormous personal risk. Thanks to Lorraine Suzuki for the link.

Ants Have a Global Monoculture Too: Research suggests hundreds of billions of Argentine ants, spanning four continents, may belong to a single mega-colony, and recognize each other immediately and peacefully as colony-mates. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the link.

Zip It Up: Research proves that filling in emptier lanes leading up to a zipper merge and then alternating at the merge point is not only not rude, it’s the best way to optimize traffic flow.


THOUGHTS OF THE MONTH

From Kim Stafford (son of the US poet laureate) (thanks to Tree Bressen for the link). Audio version here. Full book of post-election poems sold here.

The Flavor of Unity by Kim Stafford

El sabor que nos hace únicos.
— Inca Kola slogan

The flavor that makes us one cannot be bought
or sold, does not belong to a country, cannot
enrich the rich or be denied to the poor.
The flavor that makes us one emanates from the earth.
A butterfly can find it, a child in a house of grass,
exiles coming home at last to taste wind off the sea, rain
falling into the trees, mist rising from home ground.
The flavor that makes us one we must feed
to one another with songs, kind words, and
human glances across the silent square.

A Lesson in Time by Kim Stafford

We stood on a forest road at the meadow’s edge
so Joe could teach the story of geologic time.
Mateo set a little flag—red tatter

on a rusted wire—to mark the miasmic
gathering when earth first clenched dust
by the stern affection we call gravity.

In the meadow, grass wavered, and was still.
Then Charles began to step off eons
through the Hadean Period, as low sun

lit the pines gold. We arrived at
the Iron Catastrophe. Mateo set a flag
and Ruby laid down a stem of grass.

Under a sky made blue by oxygen
bacteria had formed, once volcanism
spewed steam from burnt stone, we

marched on. At each extinction, or
new creation, Mateo set a flag
and Ruby placed her stem of grass,

until Joe pulled two hairs from
my head to set in the dust. “The thickness
of these two strands,” he said, “we’ll call

the span of civilization.” Mateo set a flag,
and Ruby placed a stem of grass.

Some definitions from The Devil’s Dictionary (1906), by Ambrose Bierce

• absurdity — a statement of belief manifestly inconsistent with ones’ own opinion
• accident — an inevitable occurrence due to the action of immutable natural laws
• admiration — the polite recognition of another’s resemblance to ourselves
• adore — to venerate expectantly
• apologize — to lay the foundation for a future offence
• brain — the apparatus with which we think that we think; that which distinguishes the person who is content to be something from the person who wishes to do something
• corporation — an ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility
• debt — an ingenious substitute for the chain and whip of the slave-driver
• economy — purchasing the barrel of whiskey that you do not need for the price of the cow that you cannot afford
• hope — desire and expectation rolled into one
• mind — a mysterious form of matter secreted by the brain; its chief activity consists of the endeavour to ascertain its own nature, the futility of the attempt being due to the fact that it has nothing but itself to know itself with
• mine — belonging to me, if I can hold or seize it
• novel — a short story padded; a species of composition bearing the same relation to literature that the panorama bears to art
• oppose — to assist with obstructions and objections
• opposition — the party that prevents the government from running amok by hamstringing it
• outdoors — the part of the environment upon which no government has been able to collect taxes; chiefly useful to inspire poets
• peace — a period of cheating between two periods of fighting
• photograph — a picture painted by the sun without instruction in art
• plan — to bother about the best method of accomplishing an accidental result
• please — to lay the foundation for a superstructure of imposition
• prehistoric — antedating the art and practice of perpetuating falsehood
• presentable — hideously appareled after the manner of the time and place
• reality — the dream of a mad philosopher
• recollect — to recall with additions something not previously known
• resident — unable to leave
• responsibility — a detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of god, fate, fortune, luck or one’s neighbour; in the days of astrology it was customary to unload it on a star
• rich — holding in trust and subject to an accounting the property of the indolent, the incompetent, the unthrifty, the envious and the luckless
• riches — the savings of many in the hands of one
• self-evident — evident to one’s self and to nobody else
• talk — to commit an indiscretion without temptation, from an impulse without purpose
• ultimatum — a last demand before resorting to concessions

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