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.



April 30, 2015

Poster: A Community-Based Resilience Framework

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 21:27

BLOG BIT Community Based Resilience Framework rev

Thanks to some suggestions from Transition Network co-founder Ben Brangwyn and others, I’ve revised and condensed the Community-Based Resilience Framework I published here a few months ago. The two main changes are the elimination of the accompanying explanation (my hope is that this can stand alone as a poster for Resilience groups to use), and reordering it into five “stages”, from the inner work of knowing ourselves better, to the collective work of building community and preparing communities for dramatic and permanent change.

I’ve also eliminated the rhetoric about the inevitability of civilization’s collapse, in the hope that will make this model more accessible to the whole spectrum of groups concerned about the grave crises we are facing.

You can download it full-size as a PDF poster here.

Hope you find it useful.

April 26, 2015

Wild Women

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 17:06

owl alan pollard

(photo by my brother Alan)

Over the past two decades, most of what I consider the best creative writing, the best musical compositions, and the best performance and visual art have come from women.

There’s something just odd, I think, about people singing other people’s work, unless the voice of the composer is truly awful. Most of my favourite recent music is hence by women “singer-songwriters” (that’s apparently a genre of music now). What surprises me, as a writer and lover of language, is that in much of this music the words aren’t essential to conveying profound emotional meaning (Sarah McLachlan’s songs come to mind). These songs just reach you, and the role of your conscious mind in appreciating them is pretty minimal.

Likewise, almost all of the art that decorates my walls is by women artists.

In recent years, I’ve found it harder and harder to find music, art or literature that I find worthwhile spending time on. Perhaps my standards are impossibly high or my attention span is impossibly low. I start to read a lot of novels and short stories, but rarely finish them. I can spend three hours in a bookstore, reading first pages and last paragraphs of hundreds of creative works, and leave the store empty-handed.

But this year I’ve found two books that I have read, carefully and patiently, cover to cover. Neither is fiction, though both are highly creative and brilliantly crafted. Both are memoirs — kind of. Both are by women.

Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams is described on the cover as “essays about empathy”, and described in the afterword with the marvellous expression “confessional writing”. It is written in the first person singular but it reads as a collection of stories told by an astute observer, about various experiences of unbearable suffering and how people have and have not coped with it. Revelations about the author’s own suffering emerge with the stories of others’ (people both real and fictional), along with diversions into what it all means, particularly from the perspective of women.

Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk is described on the catalogue page as about “hawks”, “grief” and “spirituality” — pity the librarian trying to decide where to shelve it. Amazon has it categorized under “field guides”! It is also written in the first person singular, and is ostensibly about her experience raising a goshawk, but includes lengthy asides about TH White’s life and his experiences with a goshawk, and is mostly about her own life and her revelations about herself and the world around her. Like Leslie’s book, Helen’s invites us to look unsparingly at the author’s true self and what it means to be human, as if we were seeing from the perspective of the ruthless bird.

If you want a taste, you can read a story from The Empathy Exams here, and an excerpt from H is for Hawk here. If you’re like me, that’s all you will need to buy these books.

They defy synopsis much as they defy categorization, so I won’t attempt a review here. What I will say is that the two books share the following (terribly rare) qualities:

  • They are so well written that if you care about what it means to be human, and in particular to be a woman, you’ll never get impatient with the pace. Every word counts. (Readers looking for advice on self-“improvement”, or for a field guide, will, however be disappointed.)
  • The writers’ choice of words is often unorthodox, even jarring, revealing a stark insight into the writers’ true personalities and situations that defies any banal, conventional description. How and where did these two young women learn to write so damned well?
  • These books (like Derrick Jensen’s A Language Older Than Words) are extremely hard to read. They depict events and realizations unflinchingly, starkly and unapologetically. The language is so perfect, the choice of words so ingenious and precise, that the reader can’t help but feel absolutely what the writer was feeling, which is, more often than not, excruciating misery or pain. Pick them up and you can’t put them down; put them down and breathe a sigh that you needn’t pick them up again.
  • They give you an astonishing insight into what it feels like to be a woman. At least it seems so to me, someone who is not. After reading these books, I look at all women, and their relationships, and the issues of male privilege and patriarchy, a little differently.

They’re roller-coaster rides for a writer of words. The wonderful prose, the delicious imagery, the astonishing juxtaposition of words to capture something you never quite realized before, leave you gasping. But the truths they reveal about who we are, are jagged and harsh, and sometimes almost suffocating.

My guess is that (a few) women are able to write such powerful books because they are more grounded, more connected with their feelings and their true selves, “wilder” (in the sense of less susceptible to intellectual colonization and civilization’s groupthink), more self-aware and self-honest, and emotionally stronger than most men. These two authors’ writings make me wonder if I could bear to be a woman. And they fill me with awe that anyone can be at once so alive, so aware of one’s own suffering, and so accepting.

Those suffering, without end, in situations they did not ask for and cannot change, know all this, I suppose.

I can only wonder.

April 24, 2015

What It Means to Let Go

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 22:25

broken eggshell

Most of my energies of late have been channeled into preparing myself to really see, at an experiential level, that my self, my mind, my sense of being all-of-a-piece, my sense of separateness, my sense of self-control and my sense of time are all illusions, conceptions, ideas that are extremely useful in surviving day to day, but ultimately false.

As I wrote last month, my reason for this search, and this strange journey, is to learn to cope better with stress, instead of trying to avoid it and hide from it.

With some effort, I have been able to appreciate intellectually that these six ideas are illusory; the arguments for their ‘real’ existence are flimsy, circuitous and defensive. And I have started along the harder path of learning to let my feelings (emotions) just be felt (without denying or suppressing them in case they hurt too much), and to let my sensations just be sensed (without labeling or attaching meaning to what I see, hear etc.) so that I will be able to cope with the feelings that ‘liberation’ from these illusions might engender. I appreciate why my mind always wants to intervene (with the best of intentions), and I also appreciate the ancient fight-flight-freeze purpose behind our acute feelings of fear, anger and grief (ill-adapted as they are to the modern world of constant stress).

I’ve found the book The Feeling Path by Joe Shirley (who I met during a recent trip to Seattle) helpful in learning to let my feelings ‘just be felt’. Joe’s book teaches you how to ‘map’ each of your “distressing, reactive states” to an at-peace “ideal state” it pulls you away from, and to appreciate that their purpose is “to help you identify the source of an imbalance and correct it”. He writes:

The ideal state you revealed through the Feeling Path Mapping process is not some kind of optimal state for continued existence. It is an ideal. It establishes the origin point for this particular feeling path, the ideal end of the full continuum of feeling states possible on this path. This feeling path has a job to do. Its job is to provide you with accurate, highly responsive feedback about your state of balance in the world. It needs to be fluid, ever changing according to what is real inside and around you. To live with the full capacity to feel, right here, right now…

Allow yourself to feel the reactive state, knowing you no longer have to fear that state. Let yourself notice the positive intention it always had for you. What was it trying to do for you, back then when it first took this form? Now reverse and shift the feeling state back into the ideal. Recognize that the ideal is just that: a beacon, a direction, an invitation to shape your life in ways that create harmony. It is not an arrival place…

The pain you [will continue to] feel will be real, responsive to in-the-moment losses or threats or violations. You will feel it and you will respond to it, and the pain will have done its job and will subside. The pain you feel will do its job quickly, and you will no longer get stuck in suffering, disconnected from reality and perpetuating a reaction from the past. You will be grateful for your pain, your sadness, your fear, because you will recognize it for what it is: aliveness and truth, and the authentic engagement with the awesome mystery of being.

As I continue on this journey, I also appreciate the anxiety of those who worry about what might happen to me (and them) if I am able to really see what I now ‘know’ to be true (there is something unsettling about intellectually appreciating that the very basis of much of what I have intellectually appreciated and valued all my life is illusory and unhealthy). They see a fine line between un-attachment (equanimity) and detachment (emotional insensitivity, inattention, disengagement and withdrawal). They worry that letting go of the illusion of self-control will mean letting go of responsibility and “good” judgement. I harbour some remaining concerns about these things myself, but not enough to turn back.

This journey is particularly hard for me because I realize that, for most of my life, I have been driven by fear and aversion, and have become afraid to feel (in case it makes me melt down or do something harmful) and afraid to pay attention (in case I notice something too hard to bear). As I’ve said, I’m the opposite of resilient, in an age when resilience is becoming essential to survival and usefulness in facing the challenges ahead. While I’ve written that I’m no use to the world broken, I now realize I’m also not much use to the world fearful.

So I’m persevering, identifying and moving aside the inner obstacles to really looking and really seeing what really is, and what is just illusion. Those who have been guiding me in this multi-modal journey are understandably impatient (“just fucking look!“) but I am patient, going at a pace that is right for me, and not (for once) over-analyzing or over-thinking it.

And while the journey is unfinished (and if I complete it, I am sure it will be just the start of a longer if less tedious journey), I am already curious about what the ‘I’ that recognizes there is no ‘I’ will do with this realization, what it will mean to see the world through such utterly different eyes.

Here, to motivate me, is what I imagine it could (ultimately) mean:

  1. Taking just about everything less seriously. That doesn’t mean being dismissive or ridiculing, but rather being more at peace with what is and less driven to change things, to strive, to achieve. Less angry and less blaming (can’t blame your ‘self’ if you don’t have one), and more accepting. There is a Buddhist text and song about what is left after ‘enlightenment’ (loving kindness, compassion, selfless joy and equanimity). I doubt one can reach a state that free from ‘negative’ feelings, but I sense that these four ‘positive’ feelings will be more prevalent in my life. They are already.
  2. More attentive and less distracted. Better able to see what really is and less distracted by attaching meaning, purpose, consequence or intent to it. And hence better able to see what is really needed and how to be of use, with the right, gentle touch.
  3. Dealing, with a mixture of frustration and delight, with how this new understanding of the world affects the language that I use (that infuriating tool that we writers wrestle with so passionately and endlessly). How will I seriously be able to use pronouns if there is no ‘self’? How can I coherently write about anything without using them?
  4. Better able to really feel, to really sense, to really tap into intuition, and to “make sense” of things in an appreciative, open, pattern-noticing way instead of an analytical, reductionist way.

What’s most interesting to me about this journey is that I think it might be fruitless. There is a part of ‘me’ (which I wrote about in my story The Opposite of Presence) that thinks the only journey that I am truly capable of is one of self-acceptance, of embracing my ‘self’ warts and all instead of denying its existence.

If that’s Plan B, it’s a pretty good one, I think. No matter where the journey takes me, ‘I’ will be in a better place than I am now.

I’ll keep you posted. And I promise not to wax rhapsodic at whatever I find, and not to tell you, dear friends and readers, that you ‘should’ (or shouldn’t) make the same journey.

Now I’m going to wander out onto the deck with my mug of tea and stare out into the darkness, at the forest, at the Salish Sea, and the mountains beyond. I’m going to try, once more, to stand still and look until I really see.

April 8, 2015

Several Short Sentences About Learning

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves,Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 17:00

facilitator_group  mentor

  1. The only useful learning experiences I have ever had have been at least initially self-directed and exploratory.
  2. This is despite having attended educational institutions, conferences, workshops and seminars that were generally led and organized by smart, caring people.
  3. Because our culture is so pervasive, it’s hard to imagine a real alternative to today’s institutional educational systems, programs and processes. So it’s not surprising that most people (including most progressives) are horrified at the suggestion that our colossal investment in public and private educational institutions is almost entirely a waste of time and money. But there is substantial and growing evidence that it is.
  4. As Dylan Wiliam has explained (thanks to Michael Wiik for the link and precis of Dylan’s presentation), two preconditions for effective learning are (1) interesting, real challenges, and (2) a belief that this learning is urgent and important. Without them, there is no curiosity, no engagement, real attention or motivation to learn. Self-directed learning also requires (3) the capacity to take ownership of one’s own learning (which takes some effort and practice to develop), (4) a network of accessible mentors and facilitators (and of peers who can learn together from each other), including demonstrators of the learning in the real world where learners can appreciate and practice using what they’re learning, and (5) well-designed resources that provide context-rich learning content, self-assessment tools, and ideas for remedial and supplemental study.
  5. In undamaged (by civilization) indigenous, tribal cultures, everyone is engaged to learn, because at least the first four of the above preconditions are present for young people (and for that matter all tribe members).
  6. Modern educational institutions, on the other hand, generally provide none of these preconditions. The subjects we are “taught” are mostly academic, dry, and unrelated to the needs of the real world. We are taught that our role is to be consumers not providers, and that if we do as we’re told what we need will be provided to us. The capacity for independent thinking and learning is underdeveloped and even discouraged in favour of passively being “schooled”. People doing real, useful work are too busy struggling to make ends meet to afford much time to mentor or facilitate others. And what few self-assessment tools we have are “standardized”, context-poor, and designed to require us to repeat exactly the schooling that didn’t work if we “fail” to learn.
  7. We can’t replace our largely useless educational institutions until we live once again in a society that meets the five preconditions above. That society will eventually re-emerge after civilization’s collapse and retribalization (with the commensurate relocalization, downscaling and decomplexification of everything), but for most, effective learning will be almost impossible until then.
  8. This presents a particular challenge because re-learning essential skills for local self-sufficiency and community-building is paramount to creating the resilience we will need as civilization’s collapse progresses. How can we do this self-directed learning if effective self-directed learning is rendered so difficult by our civilization?
  9. While we’re each going to have to find the first three preconditions within ourselves (and most people who have realized the imminence and inevitability of collapse have, almost by definition, done this), there are both social and technological things we can do to establish the fourth and fifth preconditions.
  10. Suppose you want to learn how to fix (or even build) your own bicycle. YouTube videos can only show you how one person fixes one thing on one kind of bicycle. How might we reinvent online media in such a way that they would replicate, as closely as possible, the personal, iterative, interactive, real-time experience of taking a Bicycle Maintenance 101 course from your local bike shop?
  11. And how then might we supplement that reinvented online learning experience with a network of real-time mentors and facilitators you could turn to, both online and in your own community, and a network of peers learning the same competency so learners can also learn from each other?
  12. And then, how might we further supplement this learning experience-plus-network with self-study resources that include context-rich self-assessment, remedial and more advanced study resources?
  13. We learn much more by experiment, and by making mistakes, than by doing things correctly. Unless we don’t know that they’re mistakes, or why they’re mistakes, or how to do the thing better.
  14. In most cases there’s not much point learning something unless you’re going to practice it regularly starting soon after you learn it. We forget as quickly as we learn. The key to making learning last is, alas, lots of attentive and passionate practice. (Perhaps that’s also the key to making love last. In both “there is no mastery, only practice.”)
  15. We do have our own personal ways of learning, which is why self-directed learning works better than schooling (which can only hope to accommodate a few different ways). By learning with others, however, peer-to-peer, we can actually learn to appreciate other ways to learn.
  16. It’s at least as hard to unlearn something as to learn something new. George Lakoff: “Frames trump facts. All of our concepts are organized into conceptual structures called “frames” (which may include images and metaphors) and all words are defined relative to those frames. Conventional frames are pretty much fixed in the neural structures of our brains. In order for a fact to be comprehended, it must fit the relevant frames. If the facts contradict the frames, the frames, being fixed in the brain, will be kept and the facts ignored.”
  17. If you want a conference or workshop to be a great learning event, write an invitation geared to the five prerequisites, above: It should set out an interesting challenge for attendees, persuade them that this learning fills an urgent and important need, encourage them to believe they can self-manage their way to competency with it, promise to demonstrate it well, and undertake to connect them to mentors and facilitators and resources for ongoing self-study and additional learning. If you can do all that honestly, who could resist? If you can’t, why would anyone want to go?
  18. Conversation is the way most informal learning is imparted. This is because it’s iterative, context-rich, and among people who generally care a lot about the subject. But most of us have poor conversational skills (I confess to this). Improving these skills would make us much better learners (and mentors).
  19. Likewise listening skills.
  20. Our minds resist new ideas, and we’ll often think “I already knew that” when in fact we didn’t. Roger Schank: “Because people understand by finding in their memories the closest possible match to what they are hearing and use that match as the basis of comprehension, any new idea will be treated as a variant of something the listener has already thought of or heard. Agreement with a new idea means a listener has already had a similar thought and well appreciates that the speaker has recognized his idea. Disagreement means the opposite. Really new ideas are incomprehensible. The good news is that for some people, failure to comprehend is the beginning of understanding. For most, of course, it is the beginning of dismissal.” This is a major challenge to new learning.
  21. We learn more from ‘play’ and art than from work. Our minds are more open to possibilities.
  22. We learn more from sensory media (visuals, recordings) than from written text. It’s how we made sense of the world for hundreds of millennia before we invented symbolic languages.
  23. When our intuition and imagination are sparked, we learn more and faster.
  24. Appreciation is essential to learning. You have to care, to be curious, to be open, to be driven more by really wanting to know (just in order to know) than by having to know (for work, or out of fear etc.) to get the most from a learning experience.

And finally, from a post I did way back in 2004, is my list of the top 10 constraints to learning in our modern culture:

  1. We don’t allow ourselves (and society doesn’t allow us) enough time for wonder.
  2. Our workplace activities and our home routines are often repetitious and stimulus-poor.
  3. We don’t do much together anymore.
  4. We get too much of our life experience second-hand (from books & movies, and online).
  5. We suffer from imaginative poverty — we won’t let ourselves imagine, and now we’ve largely forgotten how to imagine.
  6. Our lives are too organized and too scheduled to allow serendipitous experiences and hence serendipitous learning.
  7. In this world full of terrible knowledge and awful realities, we are becoming afraid to learn. We cannot bear too much reality, too much bad news, and we don’t want to accept the awful responsibility that knowing and learning brings with it.
  8. Everything about the current Western educational system impedes and discourages learning.
  9. The media have addicted themselves, and us, to facts rather than meaning.
  10. We have ‘desensitized’ ourselves — we process everything mainly with our left brain, so we no longer really see, really hear, really smell, really taste, really feel. We live, and learn, through a veil of cognition, that makes both much harder.

(Image of facilitation from NCSU; image of mentoring from UConn)

March 25, 2015

The End of Politics

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 17:17

My latest article, The End of Politics, is up at SHIFT magazine as part of its eighth 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).

endofpolitics

Here’s the beginning of the article:

If you’ve contemplated the possibility of civilization’s global collapse, you likely envision its social and political consequences to be violent and chaotic — a world dominated by struggle to fill the power vacuum, leading to despotism and ruthless ethnic, class, intertribal and inter-gang warfare.

A study of history, and of collapse scenarios, suggests however that Mad Max, Taliban, clash-of-civilizations, and history-going-in-reverse outcomes (like those portrayed in Jim Kunstler’s wild-west-again cli-fi novel World Made by Hand) are improbable. If the prognostications of futurists and sci-fi/cli-fi writers seem imaginatively impoverished, perhaps it’s because our global human civilization is now so all-pervasive and homogeneous that even creative writers can’t imagine a future radically different from our present, or from our recent colonial and industrial past, projected forward or run in reverse.

If you want a more nuanced sense of what politics in a post-collapse future might look like, here are a few things to consider:

  1. Cultural homogeneity is abnormal and maladaptive: For at least 1000 millennia, up until just a few millennia ago, our planet probably offered a staggering diversity of human cultures, behaviours, languages, and political systems. There was likely very little contact between these cultures, since human population was less than 1 person per 30 habitable acres, and not perceptibly growing, so even ‘adjacent’ human cultures would likely have been unrecognizably different in their social and political makeup. Most collapsnik demographers envision human population quickly falling back to these levels, and similarly low-complexity, low-tech, low-interaction, widely-divergent societies emerging.
  1. Politics is a very recent human phenomenon: The whole idea (and even the etymology) of ‘politics’ came about with the evolution of fortressed city-states: high-density, high-hierarchy, resource-scarce societies where the need for arduous work, slavery and repression of human freedoms meant that the powers of decision-making and law-making needed to be delegated to expert, elite ‘representatives’. The concept of politics was unknown in pre-civilization rural areas, where, presumably thanks to abundance of space, resources and leisure time, politics was simply unneeded. Anarchy worked just fine. Unfortunately, the repressive, political city-states quickly colonized and destroyed the surrounding apolitical societies, and warred with neighbouring political states, until politics became endemic to human presence on the planet.
  1. Political states are extremely costly to run and inherently unsustainable. They require massively complex systems to be constructed, and massive levels of security, repression, bureaucracy, law enforcement, maintenance, concentration of wealth and power, and continuous expansion to acquire ever more resources. These needs grow exponentially as size increases linearly, so political states and civilizations (urban-centric social-political-economic states) will inevitably collapse.
  1. Despots, warlords and gangs require the machinery of a still-functioning political state to operate. They need weapons, security forces and armies, which in a collapsed society are too expensive to manufacture and maintain. They need access to wealth when, after collapse, the preponderance of pre-existing wealth, being either paper or resources (like gold) with no intrinsic utility, will be worthless. They need access to people in power they can bully, bribe and corrupt, but since collapse bankrupts governments there is no one, after collapse, with power to do much of anything. When the collapse is a global one, and everyone is broke, poor, and powerless, there is nothing to do but cooperate with one’s equally destitute neighbours to just get by. The collapse of a global civilization culture means, essentially, the end of politics.
  1. Collapse does not happen all at once — in a week or a year or even in a single ‘fall from grace’. Whether collapse is ultimately brought about by the end of the unsustainable growth economy, the end of affordable energy and resources, or the end of stable climate, or a combination of all three, we will likely see periods of partial collapse and then partial recoveries, until the crises begin to pile on faster than our reeling civilization can cope with them. We will have at least a few years to learn how to deal with collapse, which means we will be able to learn from some of our mistakes. That won’t prevent or mitigate collapse, but it will at least psychologically prepare us for it, so that rather than panicking, most of us will be able to accept it with some equanimity…

Read the whole article at SHIFT.

image from SHIFT magazine

March 15, 2015

Self-less

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 16:32

Darren Hopes New Scientist

(image by Darren Hopes from NewScientist.com)

Frequent readers of my blog are likely aware that, beyond my creative works, my posts focus mainly on two subjects:

(1) how the world really works, what state our civilization is in and what we can do to prepare for its inevitable collapse, and

(2) what it means to be human, and who ‘we’ as individuals and cultures really are.

As a result of an extremely stressful situation late last year, I have been preoccupied in recent months with the second subject, and in particular with discovering some means of better coping with both chronic and acute stress. For most of my life, depression was my primary coping mechanism; more recently my body has responded with ulcerative colitis outbreaks. These are understandable but obviously maladaptive responses to stress. The epidemics of depression, attention dysfunction and autoimmune diseases in modern western societies suggest that I’m hardly alone in this. I have labeled these, collectively, “Civilization Disease”, and just about everyone I know is afflicted. “The whole earth is our hospital”, TS Eliot wrote, and his prescription for the disease (perhaps consistent with John Gray’s objective of achieving “an attitude of contemplative gratitude”), is stillness:

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

One avenue I have been exploring in my search for a means of coping with this existential Dis-ease is the notion of “self-less-ness”, the idea that there is no “self”, no “I”, no autonomous separate being with free will or agency or control over what happens or doesn’t happen to the body or its contents. The idea is that if I can get my body to appreciate this viscerally, to stop furiously trying to do and be what it cannot, then the self-inflicted damage that Civilization Disease wreaks upon me might cease, or at least abate.

But though I can appreciate my self-less-ness intellectually, I seem incapable of the difficult task of feeling it, experiencing it, realizing it, seeing “through” my self, which is constantly asserting its existence and making this body (and at times others’ as well) suffer for it.

I have recently been studying three approaches to overcoming this incapacity, all of which suggest that it may not require 10,000 hours of meditation or other practice:

1. Gary Weber’s free-online book Happiness Beyond Thought. Gary outlines a series of practices, traditional and modern, that he says can lead you to what he calls “awakening”. He writes: “It is the clear recognition that we aren’t our thoughts or the stories that we tell ourselves. We aren’t the bodies that we worry about so much. We aren’t the sensations that we crave and fear. We are the already present happiness, the still awareness beyond thought within which all of this occurs. That awareness is beyond fear, beyond suffering, beyond death itself… There is a knowing of a deep ‘yes'; of acceptance that you are not in charge, in fact that you are not. Rather than seeing that deep stillness as an observer, you dissolve in that deep stillness. You realize that you are that and have always been. There is an unshakable certainty, a knowing of completeness, fullness and limitlessness beyond any doubt. There is also the knowing that this is nothing special, nothing special at all and that no one created it or has it as an achievement. There is the wonderment that it could have been overlooked for so long as it is so clear, intimate and simple.”

2. Thomas Metzinger’s book The Ego Tunnel. Thomas argues that the illusion of self arises because the model of reality (and of self) that the evolved brain creates to function effectively is integrated, coherent and transparent (i.e. it doesn’t seem to be a model at all; it seems to be real). It is a conundrum to try to rationally appreciate that it is a model when the only tools we have to achieve that appreciation function within that model. He writes: “The Ego and the Tunnel (the way we perceive the world and our ‘selves’) are evolved representational phenomena, a result of dynamical self-organization on many levels. Ultimately, subjective experience is a biological data format, a highly specific mode of presenting information about the world by letting it appear as if it were an Ego’s knowledge. But no such things as selves exist in the world. A biological organism, as such, is not a self. An Ego is not a self, either, but merely a form of representational content—namely, the content of a transparent self-model activated in the organism’s brain… We could say that the system as a whole (the Ego Machine), or the organism using this brain-constructed conscious self-model, can be called a ‘self’. A self, then, would simply be a self-organizing and self-sustaining physical system that can represent itself. The self is not a thing but a process.”

3. Experiential Guides using the method of philosopher Ciaran Healy. Healy learned that it is possible to recognize the illusion of self by examining the reality of experience, by just really focusing on ‘looking’ at how we actually experience our ‘self’ until we see that it does not exist. Some iffy groups (like Ruthless Truth) emerged to try to beat down participants’ (perfectly understandable) resistance in order to ‘help’ them in this realization. The group I recently joined is gentler (and completely free, run by volunteers), and is called (a bit hyperbolically) Liberation Unleashed. Its sole purpose is to help others “see through the illusion of the separate self” and then deal with the meaning and consequences of that realization, which they describe (in Zen terms) as “walking through a gateless gate”.

These approaches all have their detractors, from those who warn that the consequence of this realization will be suicidal nihilism, to those who see it as a means of unhealthy detachment from genuine connection and empathy with other humans, to those who hold that such realization is a tautological impossibility and hence can only be self-delusion.

Ilona, one of the founders of, and my ‘guide’ at, Liberation Unleashed, has been helpful in getting me to the following realization, but so far no further; this is my most recent message to her:

In the book Figments of Reality, Stewart & Cohen describe us as ‘complicities’ — self-organizing collections of cells and organs. Organisms, including humans, are just another level of aggregation of this complicity for mutual benefit, up to the highest level, which we call Gaia, an apparent collective consciousness that clearly has no controlling ‘self’. Thinking back downwards from there, if these complicities have no self, is there some fundamental constituent that does? Clearly not. Again, I get this intellectually, but experiencing it as real still eludes me.

So to answer the question about what these seemingly coherent collections of memories and experiences and beliefs ‘are’, if not constituents of a ‘self’, I guess they are analogous to a ‘program’. I often tell people “you cannot be other than who you are”, which I suppose I might restate as “what you think of as you is just a program that has evolved to help your body’s complicity survive and thrive in concert with the rest of life on Earth”. Then we get into the semantic debate about whether that ‘program’ is one’s ‘self’. Hopefully I will be able to work my way through that next.

[So my concept of ‘self’ is that] it is a program (or set of programs), a set of memories, ideas, beliefs, experiences stored in neurons in my brain (and in my gut), that the constituents of my body use to decide and act (e.g. to fight a disease parasite, to run from an attacker, to console a hurt friend) in a way that is optimal for the health and survival of the collective, the complicity that comprises what I self-identify as ‘me’ and the complicity of my community and of all-life-on-Earth. The content of these memories, ideas etc. are all stories, which don’t exist; they are just ‘made up’. But these memories, ideas etc. do exist and collectively they comprise what I might choose to call my ‘self’. There is no ‘I’ in control of them or in control of the process/program that determines how they are drawn upon to produce decisions/actions. But as valid as the description of ‘self’ above seems intellectually, I cannot seem to transcend the intellectualization of it and experience or feel ‘self-less-ness’.

(The concept of ‘presence’ is similarly an illusion, an invention; in fact the entire conception of “now” and “present” and “time” is just a useful modelled representation of apparent phenomena in the ‘real’ world, much as the scenes in a film (and the pixels that display them) are useful and compelling representations of reality. As scientists (even Stephen Hawking) are now realizing, time does not exist either (and formulae about the real world become much simpler and more precise representations of reality when the concept of time is done away with). Somehow it becomes easier to believe the self does not exist when something else (time) that seems to exist is understood to be a fiction. So when I say that I want to learn to be more ‘present’ to cope better in the moment with stress, perhaps what I really want is to appreciate viscerally that there is no me to be ‘present’ and no present to be ‘present’ in. It is hard (but exciting) to imagine what that might feel like.)

One of the veterans of Healy’s experiential guides approach, who calls himself (or herself) GhostVirus2011, has become disenchanted by the high failure rate of the guides and the number of people they have alienated by their rigorous (or some might say obstinate) approach, but is still in the process of trying to formulate a better ‘do-it-yourself’ approach to personal ‘liberation’ from the perception that the self is real.

The key element in the approach that the guides lead you through is called “looking” at your direct experience. As valid as my conception of ‘self’ as a program (as I described above) may be, I am told it will not be of any use in ‘realizing’ self-less-ness. Ilona is clearly impatient with my intellectualization, and I can appreciate why. (It is the same impatience I have experienced from swimming teachers and dancing teachers and music teachers who say I am ‘overthinking’ what I have to do, that I should just let go and do it.)

Ghost has a whole post just on what this “looking” process means, but essentially it is quite similar to the process in meditation of being aware of your thoughts (conceptions) and recognizing them as such and letting them go, so you just focus all your attention on your experienced reality: what you are perceiving, what you are sensing, what you are feeling, what you are doing/moving — until you realize that these perceptions and sensations and feelings and motions (collectively “noticings”) do not require an actor, a self, a noticer, and that the imagined self and ‘its’ thoughts just get in the way of that realization.

This may not require 10,000 hours of practice, and the realization may come in only a few seconds of focused noticing/looking, but it is not an easy or explainable step-by-step process; some have compared it to the struggle you have seeing the ‘hidden’ alternate view in an image or the sense of 3-dimensionality when looking through a two-lens stereoscopic viewer or achieving balance on a bicycle for the first time. Ghost says it takes courage and honesty but perhaps what it takes most is focus, determination and perseverance; Ghost’s own breakthrough came as follows:

I think more than anything, I was tired of having the constant headache from thinking too hard, in some ways I think that the pattern of self became exhausted and when I smashed through the dishonesty to look in real life, it was actually fatigue of the patterns that reinforce self. I think that break allowed me to realise that I was not in fact being honest. That was it… two weeks of fretting and all for the requisite five seconds of honesty to look at real life. That is how long it took me, when in reality five seconds is all that is required.

I have spent many hours over the last month trying to do this, and if as the guides say frustration is an indication you’re on the right track I must be very close. I do sense that I am close. I am skeptical about all this but persuaded by the sheer volume and diversity of people who have succeeded in this realization that there is something to it.

I’ll keep you posted, though if I experience a breakthrough, that in itself will likely be of no use to anyone other than me. If it happens, judging from what others have written, I expect I will not call it enlightenment or awakening, but rather just ‘realization of self-less-ness’. What might change over time as a result, in addition to my capacity to cope with stress, are some of the ways I interact with the world, including my writing (human languages are intractably bound up in this sense of self, beginning with pronouns).

I also appreciate that this ‘realization of self-less-ness’ is probably a one-way trip and a first small step to other changes that will happen in me. After all, the neurons in our brain have self-organized all our lives to reflect and sustain our self-centred worldview, and the sudden realization that there is no self will probably require some gradual rewiring to accommodate. Ghost describes it this way (I have taken the liberty of correcting Ghost’s spelling and grammar):

Suppose I dragged you to a mirror and said ‘you are a monkey, look’. When you looked in to the mirror, you saw the reflection of a monkey. Your whole world view would shatter. You look at your body, it’s covered in hair, you were always quite short, you look at the very primitive opposing thumbs and then at this point the brain will accept that its model of reality needs updating. Of course this would be quite a shock (being turned into a monkey overnight with my genetic transmorpher ray) but this is how the brain works when it comes to accepting an updated view of reality. Once you see there is no self, then reality is updated to incorporate this new fact…

There is further to go after no-self, so it is just one step on a much larger journey. If you have seen it once, that is crossing the gate. It is like taking sunglasses off and noticing the true character of reality. We cannot unknow what we have seen. Nothing changes after the realisation except you get a new angle on suffering and you get a sense of clarity. It is a subtle psychological knowing rather than being something overtly noticeable, so don’t get caught in the trap that there is some seismic shift that happens, or some transition to instant bliss. It is waking up to life as it is, and life is what it is to be experiencing this moment right now. You are still prone to misery, ecstasy, the full range of human emotions, but they cannot consume you in the same way.

This process seems appropriate for me at this moment. Sometimes you reach a stage in your life at which you realize the way you live is not working for you, and something needs to shift. I feel as if I am girding up my strength to walk away from an abuser after many, many years of silent suffering. The only difference is that my abuser is my self.

Walking away now.

February 7, 2015

Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 20:01

miasma

wallpaper from psp.88000.org

Marshall McLuhan had the right idea about striving to be present in a world that is ever-more absent, preoccupied, disconnected, and distracted. The process to move from absent-mindedness to presence, I am learning, involves three steps, and they are captured perfectly in the famous expression Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out (the expression was popularized by Timothy Leary, but at least according to Wikipedia he acknowledged that it was coined by McLuhan).

Turn On means let go of the myth of self and reconnect with and be carried along as part of the staggeringly complex indistinctness and ambiguity of our collective existence, using whatever method works for you — meditation, psychoactive drugs etc. That entails acknowledging that what we think of as our “self” is just an invented story, a collective myth. The emergence of the ego, the sense of self, would seem to be an unintended consequence of our large and protein-rich brains’ compulsion for finding patterns and representing reality through the use of abstract models. These are useful tools until they bring on a psychosis — until “we” believe these representations to be real, and our “selves” to be real and separate. This abstracted sense of separate self and identity is taught to us relentlessly from birth, and it has been reinforced and exploited, with the best of intentions, by our culture.

Our sense of separateness has enabled us to do some astonishing and ghastly things. One of the hallmarks of civilized human culture was the discovery and use of the arrowhead — the ancient invention that allowed us, for the first time, to kill “impersonally” — without putting ourselves at risk or physically contacting our prey at the moment we destroy and devour them. The drone, the unmanned flying vehicle capable of wreaking mass destruction on millions, is merely the latest high-tech manifestation of the lowly and terrible arrowhead. With these inventions we lost the sense of sacredness when one part-of-the-collective-us consumes another, for “our” collective benefit. With these inventions we could, for the first time, refuse to accept the inevitability of our sacred demise as essential food for another part of us, for “our” collective benefit. Our fear and loathing of death was, I think, a direct consequence of our new false sense of apart-ness, our disconnection. To Turn On is to reconnect, to let go of the myths of self and separateness, and to be, real and alive.

Tune In means learn, appreciate and understand how the world, and its complex adaptive systems, really work. That entails acknowledging that complex systems (i.e. all organic, social and ecological systems) are inherently largely-unknowable, uncontrollable, and unpredictable, unlike the mechanical systems we try to represent them as. It entails acknowledging that, by sheer dint of the collective actions of billions of well-intentioned humans, past and present, each doing their best, the economic and ecological systems on which we utterly depend have become overextended, exhausted and damaged to the point they are now unsustainable and are in a process of accelerating and unstoppable collapse. And that collapse is bringing about the end of global civilization culture, and with it a drastic reduction in human numbers and in the complexity of human society and, depending on the severity of runaway climate change, the extinction of either most or all living species on the planet in this century. To Tune In is to appreciate the wonderful and terrible knowledge of where we all are, now, and how we got here.

Drop Out means walk away from this damaging, unhealthy and dying culture, and cease participating in it and supporting it. That entails non-participation in any of the now-global culture’s interdependent and crumbling systems — political, economic, social, educational, health, technological, legal, media etc. It means no longer abiding by the rules of these systems that are killing our planet and which have made us all physically and emotionally ill. Most civilizations end not with devastating clashes among their citizens, but when their citizens realize the civilization can no longer sustain them advantageously, and simply and en masse, walk away from them. To Drop Out is to achieve and act on this realization.

I have spent much of the last decade on the Tune In part, studying complex systems and the nature and history of our economic, energy and ecological systems. It has made me a joyful pessimist — a pessimist because I realize that collapse will bring huge suffering and loss, and joyful because I have given up stressing over trying to reform or mitigate these systems. I am learning to just appreciate the wonder of life and love and learning, and the astonishing possibilities for a much better world after the collapse of this terrible but (in the larger scheme of things) short-lived agri-industrial civilization. It will be a world with many fewer, lower-impact, re-tribalized humans, or perhaps no humans at all.

That part has been easy, despite the sense of grief, shame and dread that the realization of inevitable collapse has brought me. The other two parts, the Turn On and Drop Out parts, are seemingly beyond my current capacity.

While I continue to try different modes of Turning On — meditation and other thought-quieting methods that will hopefully lead me beyond the myth of self towards real presence and reconnection, I don’t feel I’m making much progress. And I confess to being impatient: I give up (too) easily. I’m looking for an easier and faster way. I’m curious to try biofeedback techniques such as those Gary Weber has suggested. I am still too much a coward to try ayahuasca or similar psychoactives that are said to make it easier to reach a sustained state of reconnection. Nevertheless, I am motivated, and sometimes feel infuriatingly close to achieving a breakthrough in realizing that state of presence, reconnection and “self-less-ness” that I know intellectually is possible, and that I yearn for so profoundly.

I can understand why many of those trying to heal from Civilization Disease seek a simpler and more accessible path — such as appreciating their “self” more instead of berating themselves, and such as building self-confidence and personal resilience through self-affirming rather than self-transcending methods. But it seems to me that if you can transcend the self, doesn’t the need to heal it go away?

When it comes to Dropping Out, I am starting to learn some of the essential capacities for personal and collective self-sufficiency, so that I will be ready to be a useful member of a drastically relocalized community when centralized systems reach a more advanced and obvious stage of irrevocable collapse. But I am doing so very, very slowly. I’m still far too comfortable as a dependent of civilization culture, even though I know it won’t last much longer. It’s too early, I tell myself, for many of these capacities to be immediately needed or valued, so I’m pacing myself. If things start to get worse faster, I’ll pick up my pace. It’s not in our nature, I think, to learn things that are not currently of much use, even if we expect they will be sooner or later.

So here I sit, Tuned In, trying unsuccessfully to Turn On, and getting ready to Drop Out. While I’ve done my homework to learn, appreciate and understand how the world works and where we stand, I am by nature a Doubting Thomas, and continue to critically challenge everything I hear and believe. While I’ve so far fallen short of achieving the capacity to let go and reconnect with all-life-on-Earth, it will be a life-long quest, and I take heart from the stories of many people who, after years of struggling with the seemingly-impossible task of “getting there from here”, suddenly find themselves there and wonder why, in retrospect, it was so difficult. Perhaps it’s the existential equivalent of learning to ride a bicycle: I remember the immense struggle and frustration I felt trying to learn to ride, and immediately afterwards I couldn’t understand why it was so hard. And while it is likely too early for me to learn more of the essential skills needed to be of use in real, self-sufficient communities (and which skills to learn will depend somewhat on where that community is and who else is in it when collapse reaches an advanced stage), I have a list, and I’m working slowly away at it (top of the list this year is improving my self-awareness, attention and conversation skills, and learning, at last, to swim and to dance).

These days I feel impatient, dissatisfied and restless, and am not exactly sure what to do with myself each day, or what I am meant to do with with the rest of my life. I have reluctantly realized that I can’t hide from stress and am going to have to live with a lot of uncertainty, ambiguity, seeming lack of accomplishment, and continuing lack of personal resilience for quite a while yet, and perhaps for the rest of my life. Still, at what seems to be another turning point in my life, I am extraordinarily grateful for all I have and how easy my life is compared to most people’s. Unlike most people struggling to survive in an increasingly harsh world, I have had the luxury of sufficient time and resources to Tune In, Turn On, and Drop Out. Far from being a slogan about escapism and irresponsibility, it is, I think, a path to becoming a model of how to live during collapse, and showing others how to do likewise. I believe it would be foolish not to take it.

 

January 29, 2015

Links of the Month: January 29, 2015

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 07:49

new political map 2014

The enormous cognitive dissonance between our growing awareness of our civilization’s accelerating collapse, and the ‘news’ in the media and the subjects of most public discourse, continues to baffle me. Though I suspect it shouldn’t. We are all slow learners, preoccupied with the needs of the moment, with a preference for reassurance over truth. I often find myself, these days, at social and other events, at a loss for words, not saying anything, as a result. It’s as if I speak an utterly different language from the people I meet in my day-to-day life, so what’s the point of saying anything? Perhaps this is Gaia’s way of teaching me patience.

I continue to vacillate back and forth all the way from the humanist worldview (F. on the ‘map’ above’) to the near-term extinctionist worldview (L.), depending on what I’m doing and who I’m doing it with, or what I’m reading (Charles Eisenstein seems to best represent worldview F. and Guy McPherson best articulates worldview L., and I greatly admire them both). I’m happy with company anywhere along that continuum — they both speak my newly-acquired language, though with very different dialects. It’s sad to me that most people find collapse too terrifying to contemplate. I find it liberating. I guess that stems from what we each are invested in, and what we have divested.

Fellow existentialist (J. on the map, if you’re following along) and taoist Paul Chefurka has been reading about the nature of the human species, and seems to be shifting, a bit, toward the voluntary extinctionist (K.) camp. There’s an interesting tension between the two worldviews. Dark Mountain, I think, exemplifies the existentialist view and John Gray [thanks to Richard Saunders for the link] exemplifies the voluntary extinctionist view. Both views acknowledge, I think, the inevitable collapse of our civilization in this century and the futility of acting to mitigate its timing or severity, and both accept that humans are likely to survive, though in much smaller numbers and in a much more marginal role in the surviving web of life. Where they differ is in their fundamentally different (positive for J. and negative for K.) views of the essential nature of the human animal. Paul is finding, it seems, some comfort and solace in the negative view — that if we are an inherently violent and destructive species perhaps the world will be much better off without us, painful as the collapse process will be for all.

I continue to find more comfort and solace in the positive view — that we are an inherently caring and peaceful species that is simply suffering from the profound emotional ills of a deeply ‘dis-eased’ and stressful culture, and that the demise of that culture will usher in a new era in which, like Robert Sapolsky’s Keekorok baboons, the human survivors will live in a much more joyful, healthy and sustainable way. [More on this nature-vs-nurture debate, for those interested, in this interesting video].

We can’t know, of course, which is why it’s so easy, as we continue to ponder and learn and converse, to shift back and forth along the F.-to-L. continuum. Perhaps one way to think about it is to consider the current debate about pit bull dogs — some holding that they’re biologically dangerous and should be prevented from further breeding (a worldview K.-like stance), while others hold that they’re inherently loving and it’s the way we have trained them that has caused them to act violently (a worldview J.-like stance). The truth, of course, as for the truth about our true nature, probably lies somewhere in-between, or elsewhere along the continuum, or all along it at once.

But ask me again tomorrow.

~~~~~

PREPARING FOR CIVILIZATION’S END

adam and eve stevens

cartoon by Mick Stevens from The New Yorker

10℃ and Counting: Just one thing to add to what I wrote above: David Wasdell (a physicist, admittedly, not a climate scientist) has aggregated all the recent reports and projections of climate change from climate scientists, and written a technical but thorough and understandable synopsis that leads to a compelling prediction of a 10℃ rise by end-of-century, and a conclusion that nothing short of an implausible, immediate and radical reduction of carbon emissions can prevent runaway climate change and the end of a livable planet in this century. This jibes with Guy McPherson’s continually-maintained summary and analysis of climate news and forecasts. Not much more to say on the subject.

~~~~~

LIVING BETTER

nothing under control

[from a facebook post by janene smith]

The Myth of the Self: A Buddhist reviews and summarizes Thomas Metzinger’s intriguing (but, in the end, overly optimistic, especially about our human evolutionary potential before civilization collapses) book The Ego Tunnel, in which he dismisses the self, free will, and time as ‘unreal’ mental constructs. Here’s part of the summary by the reviewer [thanks to John Ringland for the link]:

As a philosopher working alongside neurologists, Thomas Metzinger focuses on consciousness and the experience of the subjective self. His evolutionary considerations involve identifying a neural function in complex mobile organisms that allows them to successfully navigate through a changing and unpredictable environment. This environmental challenge he states, requires the internal sense of self-wholeness in order to anticipate and negotiate with events in the world. The constructed “phenomenal self-model within the world-model,” involves not only a sensory impression, but a mental image of a unified center, of a self residing in a world. This self-inwardness or ego, as an inside separated from an outside, characterizes the operation of the ego tunnel. The ego tunnel is a constructed impression that the ego or subject is directly perceiving and contacting a world.

This experience is a naive realism. If mobile organisms were privy to all of the countless neural and other “internal and external” interactive processes that occurred with the act of walking for instance, they could never function. Immeasurably complex events had to be reduced to representational images in order to make sense to the mobile organism. These representational images would of necessity, include a unified and independent subject perceiving a world separate from and external to itself. The feeling of looking directly into the world from the vantage point of a perceiving and cognizant me or self, is a neural representational process that is most convincing. We are not aware of this duality as an adaptive function, but view it as reality. Because we look past and see through the immeasurable neuronal activity involved in the production of an image-based reality, Metzinger refers to this process as a tunnel.

Out of necessity then, there is the appearance of an inward, embodied sense of a self or ego and consequently, of an attachment to this self in the form of mineness, of ownership, as in my thoughts, my feelings, my body, my consciousness, my experience. Selfhood is a function of the ego tunnel and not a reality, writes Metzinger, as there is no self, “no indivisible entity that is us” to be found either in the brain, in the broader neural network, or beyond it. Nor can there be contact with some true reality out there. What we see as truth or reality, is a representational model.

Fighting for the Right to Die: There are few areas where the state abrogates human rights more grievously than in denying us the right to die. Martin Manley asserted that right anyway, in 2013 at age 60, of sound mind and body. For that he’s been pilloried for being irresponsible, Yahoo took down his account, and several back-up sites have been hacked. Fortunately, at least one record of his story remains. Thank you, Martin.

The Value of Peer Interviews: My friend Nancy White explains how, by “interviewing each other”, we surface knowledge we did know we had, allow ourselves much-needed time for reflection, and fulfill our deep-seated need to be heard, seen and loved. A great practice to adopt. Nancy also has some great advice for dealing with the usually-abysmal Q&A sessions after presentations.

Transient Hypofrontality: That’s the new neuro-“science” name for Living in the Now. Achieving it, a new theory says, involves learning how to slow the brain down. [Thanks to Paul Chefurka for the link.]

Charles Eisenstein Rips Old-Story Structure: The usually well-behaved humanist decided to poke fun at what he saw as an overly-structured and old-style-structured conference. Some attendees and organizers weren’t laughing, but Charles, who last got into trouble by proposing a boycott of the forced-positivist TED conferences, didn’t back down.

Rent or Share, Don’t Buy: That’s the mantra of the millennial generation, for a variety of necessary and wise reasons. And it spells big trouble for an economy dependent on ever-accelerating consumption. [Thanks to Seb Paquet for the link.] And millennial Nathan Schneider explains what this means for sharing-economy co-ops and non-profits. [Thanks to Tree for the link.]

Calgary Tries a Bold Housing Subsidy Plan: The very progressive municipal government of the largest city in our least progressive province is subsidizing all but $2,000 of qualified new home-buyers’ mortgages. In return they get an equity stake in each house equal to their subsidy’s share of the total house price — so when the house is sold, they stand to make a profit if the house price rises. Fascinating.

Why Local Investment is So Hard: Michael Shuman explains how local investment benefits us, and why virtually all our investments are still in Wall Street and government, and then offers some workarounds. [Thanks to Liz McLellan for the link.]

The Power to Convene: Rob Hopkins explains why, instead of trying to do all the organizing of projects inside our own organizations, we would be better to first convene all the groups that share the passion or objective of the project, and let them collaborative organize it. [Thanks to Shasta Martinuk for the link.]

~~~~~

POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL

Leunig over

cartoon by Michael Leunig

Ukraine, Putin, Obama and China: What’s Really Going On: You may think oil prices have dropped because of market forces, that Putin is a rogue bully, and that there’s no ‘safer haven’ in these days of turmoil than the US dollar. Wrong on all counts. First read this analysis from Salon to understand the fall in oil prices. The read this analysis to understand Putin’s response, and his brilliant long-term strategy to collapse the US dollar.  [Thanks to Loren Schein for the second link.] Meanwhile, here’s more wisdom on falling oil prices from Automatic Earth’s Ilargi and Nicole. The Canadian economy is in tatters as a byproduct, with the (thanks to Harper) Canadian petrocurrency in free-fall. It’s going to be a rocky year for the economy.

Ex-Parliamentary Budget Officer Calls Canadian Government “Broken”: The mild-mannered non-partisan guy charged with reporting to Parliament on the fiscal responsibility of its budget and integrity of its financial reporting says that under Harper trust has completely broken down, scientists are being threatened and muzzled, and secrecy of government activity has become absolute. Sound like a government near you? He had to sue his employer, the federal government, to get the information he needed to discharge his responsibilities.

Corporations vs Communities: My friend Paul Cienfuegos is involved in the important but thankless activist task of helping communities legally enshrine and defend their values and rights against corporate abuses — the Community Rights movement. Corporations’ response has been, across the board, to sue and intimidate communities that enact such protections. [Thanks to my friend John Abbe for the link]

The Unsustainability of Renewables: Generation Alpha reposts an excellent review of the false claims about “renewable” energy. The only viable alternative, the authors conclude, is to reduce consumption.

Political Correctness Raises Its Ugly Head Again: Jonathan Chait describes the re-emergence of the most repugnant aspects of “p.c.” behaviour in academia and in progressive circles, and how it threatens to stifle discussion, debate and dissent in both arenas. [Thanks to Tree for the link.]

The Meekness of Modern “Innovation”: How corporate risk aversion and consolidation have stifled innovation for the past forty years. [Thanks to Toby Hemenway for the link.]

NYT Calls for Prosecution of Cheney: And in a decided departure from “politics as usual”, the NYT Editorial Board calls for Dick Cheney and others responsible for authorizing and carrying out torture in contravention of domestic and international law, to be prosecuted and imprisoned for their actions.

~~~~~

FUN AND INSPIRATION

Tim Bennett cartoon

[not sure who authored this cartoon; anyone know? thanks to Tim Bennett for the link]

If Climate Scientists and Mainstream Media Told the Truth: A hilarious portrayal of that unlikely scenario on Aaron Sorkin’s fictional (?) series The Newsroom. [Thanks to my friend Janaia Donaldson for the link]

Tim Minchin’s Advice to Graduates: Awesome speech by the musician/comedian. His 9 points: (1) You don’t have to have a dream; (2) Don’t seek happiness; (3) Remember it’s all luck; (4) Exercise; (5) Be hard on your opinions; (6) Be a teacher; (7) Define yourself by what you love; (8) Respect people with less power than you; (9) Take your time deciding what to do with your life. Now go watch and enjoy.

The World’s Deadliest Diseases: A great infographic plots mortality against transmissability for the most common and dangerous human diseases. [Thanks to Liz McLellan for the link]

Best of Dougie MacLean: The amazing Scottish folk singer combines compelling folk melodies with sly, complex and poetic lyrics. My current favourites: Restless Fool, Resolution, and Turning Away. If you don’t know his work you’re in for a treat. Thanks to Tree and the Eugene Avalonians for turning me on to him.

Understanding Depression: A great Stanford lecture on depression by the aforementioned Robert Sapolsky.

Awesome Blues Guitarist: Joanna Connor plays lightning riffs that rival Hendrix, and even riffs off Hendrix.

Guessing Your Age By Your Name: Your given name is a huge clue on how old you are. See how your name stacks up. [Thanks to Nancy White for the link.]

Stefan Pabst’s Astonishing Portraits: The German artist paints precise portraits in about 40 minutes using a dry-brush technique and achieves almost hyper-realistic results.

A Sad “Best Books” List: The top 100 of 2014 list of the NYT revs up (for me at least) the cognitive dissonance: Only two books on the environmental and economic crises (Elizabeth Kolbert’s Sixth Extinction, which is OK but could have been written a decade ago and is already obsolete and wildly overly-optimistic, and Naomi Klein’s equally-OK and equally-rose-coloured This Changes Everything, a call for a shift away from capitalism). The best book on the list by far is The Empathy Exams, Leslie Jamison’s unflinching study of human suffering, on a par with Derrick Jensen’s equally-gruelling but essential A Language Older Than Words. Most of the rest, fiction and non-fiction alike, is focused on, and hopelessly buried in, the past.

Senate Rejects Pipeline Plan That Would Have Created Thousands Of Climate Activist Jobs: From the Onion, of course.

~~~~~

THOUGHTS FOR THE MONTH

From John Berger, on Language and Writing [thanks to Antonio Dias for the link]:

What has prompted me to write over the years is the hunch that something needs to be told, and that if I don’t try to tell it, it risks not being told. I picture myself as a stop-gap man rather than a consequential, professional writer.

After I’ve written a few lines I let the words slip back into the creature of their language. And there, they are instantly recognised and greeted by a host of other words, with whom they have an affinity of meaning, or of opposition, or of metaphor or alliteration or rhythm. I listen to their confabulation. Together they are contesting the use to which I put the words I chose. They are questioning the roles I allotted them.

So I modify the lines, change a word or two, and submit them again. Another confabulation begins. And it goes on like this until there is a low murmur of provisional consent. Then I proceed to the next paragraph.

From Gabor Maté, from When the Body Says No [thanks to Emily VanLidth de Jeude for the link]:

For those habituated to high levels of internal stress since early childhood, it is the absence of stress that creates unease, evoking boredom and a sense of meaninglessness. People may become addicted to their own stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, Hans Selye observed. To such persons stress feels desirable, while the absence of it feels like something to be avoided…

Emotional competence requires (1) the capacity to feel our emotions, so that we are aware when we are experiencing stress; (2) the ability to express our emotions effectively and thereby to assert our needs and to maintain the integrity of our emotional boundaries; and (3) the facility to distinguish between psychological reactions that are pertinent to the present situation and those that represent residue from the past.

From Bernard Werber (my translation from the French) [thanks to Daniel Lindenberger for the link]:

The many possibilities for miscommunication, between:

9 ways

January 27, 2015

Technology’s False Hope

Filed under: How the World Really Works,Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 20:13

crow-cartoonized

My latest article, Technology’s False Hope, is up at SHIFT magazine as part of its seventh 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).

Here’s the beginning of the article:

Only a decade ago, I was part of the Strategy and Innovation Core Team for a huge multinational consultancy, and writing exuberantly on my (then-new) blog about innovation and technology and how they could possibly save the world. The image above, from the Credit Suisse First Boston New Economy Forum Synthesis, describes a universal “technology development process” popular at the time.  One of the leading business speakers in those heady days was Chris Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution, whom I more or less idolized.

And then something happened. My own research into the history of innovation and technology suggested that, rather than being the result of rigorous process, excellence and inventiveness, most enduring technologies of any value seemed to be the result of fortuitous accidents, or were the throw-away byproducts of massive, outrageously expensive military programs. Complexity science was by then throwing serious doubt on a lot of accepted theories about how change actually happens in organizations and societies. Ronald Wright’s book A Short History of Progress, and similar works by Jared Diamond and others, argued that ‘progress’ was an illusion, and that all civilizations inevitably collapse (taking the capacity to support their technologies with them).

We actually likely lived healthier, happier (and often longer, when we weren’t eaten by predators) lives in prehistoric times, it seems, way back before the inventions – or more accurately discoveries – of the first great technologies (the arrowhead, fire, the wheel, and then abstract language and later, agriculture – which Richard Manning, in Against the Grain, says should more accurately be called “catastrophic agriculture”), enabling the unnatural human evolution we call “settlement”. Settlement brought with it a blizzard of new problems for technology to solve (most notably infectious and emotional diseases), and each well-intentioned new technology has produced yet more problems, arguably greater in number, size and intractability than the benefits the earlier technology provided…

Read the whole article at SHIFT.

January 25, 2015

The Only Way There

Filed under: Creative Works — Dave Pollard @ 23:11

Preparing for the Fall 2

dave’s model

“So I had this idea to prepare a Personal Resilience Plan for 2015″, Rafe said, playing with Jag the cat. “You know, using Dave’s model. What could I do this year that would be self-awareness building, healing, liberating, resilience-modelling, loving, community-building, and community-serving. Seems more grounded, more sensible than New Year’s resolutions.”

“A grounded Rafe”, replied Daria, looking over her shoulder from where she stood making vegan pizza. “Not sure I could get used to that. I fell in love with the groundless, idealistic, disconnected Rafe, after all.” Rafe laughed. Jag, sniffing the vegan cheese for the pizza, jumped up onto the counter to supervise.

“While I ponder this improbable transformation”, Daria went on, “chop the veggies. They’re in the fridge.”

“Just look”, said Rafe, taking giant silly-walk steps towards the fridge. “Every step, no matter how high, returns to the earth. Totally grounded!”

“We’re on the third floor of a condo”, Daria replied. “If you want to be grounded you’ll have to go down to the beach, and feel the sand, instead of trying to commune with the imported wood inlay.”

Rafe scowled, thoughtfully. “Sand and pizza do not go well together. Perhaps I could settle for rounded instead of grounded. Or wild, like Jag, the cat no one here seems to own, but who seems extremely comfortable everywhere he goes, and totally free, mooching from room to room, sleeping wherever the last nice meal came from.” He went out on the balcony to see if it was warm enough to eat on the beach.

“She!” Daria shouted after him. “Jag, or whatever her real name is, is a she. That’s why she’s so grounded.”

“Jag needs no name”, Rafe replied, “She is simply who she is. Like me.” He smiled goofily at Daria, who raised her eyebrows and smiled back at him.

“You are not simply anything”, she said. “You are the antithesis of simple, of grounded, of resilient. But I still love you.” As she put the pizza in the oven she added: “If you were to follow Dave’s model, your increasing self-awareness would quickly make you realize that all that other stuff, that self-healing, community-building stuff, is not what you are ever meant to do, not who you are. You’re not empathetic, not self-sufficient in the least, and you are more hermit than communitarian. Just accept who you are, and you’ll be further along in adopting Dave’s model than most people. You have a lot of endearing qualities that are not the stuff of resilience.”

Rafe came up behind her at the stove and put his arms around her waist. “You’re such a sweet-talker. You want me to show you one of my most endearing qualities?”, he said, kissing her on the back of her shoulder.

“That is one of your more endearing qualities, I admit”, she replied, giggling. “And it certainly is resilient.” After a pause she went on: “What I meant was your special qualities that everyone admires in you. Your generosity. Your imagination. Your intellect and critical thinking. Your writing skills. These are important in any resilient community as well. You should settle for those and work with them, and let other people do the other resilience stuff.”

They were quiet for a few minutes. Rafe fed Jag some leftover vegan cheese, which she seemed to like as much as the dairy version. “Vegan cat”, he said, pointing to her. He made a salad while she poured wine spritzers, and with lunch loaded onto a tray they headed down to the beach, settling on backjack chairs, with the tray, and Jag, between them.

Rafe looked pensive. “I want to be wild, and fearless. I know that I’m a coward and impossible at handling stress, and addicted to the comforts of this unsustainable civilization, but in my heart that’s what I want. Who I seem to be is just an act, a persona I put on to be safe and get along with others. I am really wild. I’ve just forgotten how to be real, to be really here-and-now. How to just be who I really am.”

“You are who you are now”, Daria replied. “Don’t be nostalgic for what might have been, for who you think you used to be.” She thought of adding “For who you probably never were”, but thought better of it. She took his hand across the tray. She thought she saw tears in his eyes, but it was always hard to tell with him.

They looked out at the surf and the shorebirds and the surfers and the small boats far out on the horizon.

He looked across at her slyly, and she raised her eyebrows in a “what now?” expression.

He put his hand on his heart and, in a loud and warbly bass, sea-shanty style, sang:

If I were a wild and a fear-less man!…

He frowned, searching for the next line, and then sang:

I’d love you much better, as fully as I can!
Love you recklessly, love you em-pa-the-tic-ly!
Two becoming one, one with all, for all to see!

He grinned sillily and she laughed and went to say “That was terrible”, but he shushed her and said “I’m not done yet”, and then sang:

If I were to learn to be wild and free!…
I’d dance you off your feet, and sail you out to sea!
Connected to the Earth, knowing just what we should do!
Swimming with the dolphins, living raw and true!

He looked for a response and she said, with a smile “Are you done yet?” To which he replied:

If we were brave and wild, we could simply walk away!
Eat, sleep, play, laugh and love all night and day!
Tied to no one place, living free and joyfully!
Let go of illusions, and then just simply be!

He was on a roll, now, and concocted a chorus for his improv song:

Letting go of grief and fear, letting go of pride!
Letting go of guilt and shame, no more need to hide!
Seeking not to save the world or trying to control!
We’ll see just who we are, ’cause we’re all part of the whole!

“Needs some work, but you get the gist”, he said, reaching for another slice of pizza. He pulled his cap down to shield his eyes from the sun, and feigned going to sleep.

“That was… something“, she said. And then, after a few minutes, she sang back to him, quietly:

You will do what you must do,
to seek the self you think is true,
the one inside that’s really you.
But we can’t start our lives anew.

To get to where you want to go
you have to start with what you know
and who you are, and start from Here.
The path to There is never clear.

The answer isn’t found inside;
There’s no safe place where you can hide.
Just try some things and you might see
that loving others is the key.

To ‘wild and free’ from ‘cowed by fear’
it’s harder than it might appear.
I love you as you are today
and I will love you, come what may.

Rafe cocked his hat up, smiled at her, and did the theatrical hand-flourish bowing thing to acknowledge her artistic accomplishment.

“The answer’s close, but never near”, he said.

“And the only way to get there is to start from here”, she replied.

“Sadly, true.” He sighed. “Shall we retire to the drawing room?” He rose and offered his hand to pull her to her feet and hoisted the tray up onto his other hand, waiter-style. They walked back to the condo, Jag in tow.

~~ o0O0o ~~

night beach

Later that evening, they tramped naked back down to the beach, bringing six candles with wind-protector sleeves decorated with stars. Jag was already there, chasing sand-crabs.

“I don’t deserve you, you know.” Rafe laid the candles out in a large hexagon and lit them with a BBQ starter.

“Yeah, but neither of us deserves a lot of the shit we’ve had to put up with, or what we have to do to just remain sane. Somehow or other it usually seems to balance out”. Daria placed two yoga mats in the middle of the array of candles.

Rafe sat on one of the mats facing Daria. “You’re right about love. I, we, have to learn to love others better, more fearlessly, unconditionally, unreservedly. Love each other. Our friends. Family…” Daria made a gagging motion at the mention of loving family. Rafe laughed, and went on: “Even those we don’t like, those we disagree utterly with about everything important. No judgement, no blame. We’re all doing our best. Even Dick Cheney.” They both made a gagging motion. “Why are humility and grace so hard to learn? What’s wrong with us, we humans? We live in the midst of a perfect more-than-human world, yet we choose to create and live inside this human fiction, this unreal culture that believes all these preposterous things and makes us all violent and ill and miserable and destructive. How can seven and a half billion people get up each morning and not think it’s insane, not just walk away from it all?”

“We think too much”, Daria replied, putting some meditation music on. “Om namo bhagavate. Inside us is the unity of all things. But we are compelled to think ourselves apart, think ourselves separate, think ourselves more, think ourselves other, think ourselves in control. We can’t help it. The ego, the self, time, abstraction, apart-ness, anxiety, suffering, fearful imaginings. It’s a serious flaw in the human software. Feedback loop. Eventually the whole neural system is pattern-rewired to conform to these fictions, to believe they’re true, they’re us. And then we infect our children and each other, reinforcing the fictions until there is no longer room for doubt. Were diseased, dis-eased, by an unanticipated consequence of the addition of more proteins and amino acids to our diets — all those extra brain cells, looking for something to do and, as we faced increasing environmental stresses as our population exploded and forced us into new and strange habitats, creating this vast representation of harsh reality and then persuading us to live inside that simple representation instead of in the complex real world.”

“So there’s no hope for us, then?” Rafe said, staring at the stars above and the stars on the candle sleeves.

“Left hope behind long ago”, Daria replied.

Jag curled up at the end of Daria’s yoga mat. In the distance, the Pacific surf pounded in, then slowed to a gentle lapping on the beach.

 (images by the author)

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