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.

December 31, 2009

the courage to be present

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — admin @ 23:55

(in which Dave attempts to psychoanalyze and counsel himself, as part of a practice of learning to be present)

what you can do

As the new year begins, the old me begins yet another evolution. I am in BC, searching for my new ‘summer home’ here. My intention is to live here May-October each year, and in Australia or New Zealand December-March each year, spending April and November as a nomad, visiting friends and loved ones by train across North America. I hope to report on progress on the home search soon.

As in recent years, I have no New Year’s Resolutions, but rather New Year’s Intentions, which I published last fall and reproduce below:

Long-Term Intention Long-Term Practices Short-Term Intentions (Exercises & Projects) Hrs/day
Reconnecting with All Life on
Earth, Instincts & Emotions
Appreciation (1)
Presence/Paying Attention (2)
Heart-Opening/Letting Go (3)
10am to 1pm: personal/group
– Forest/ocean walks
– Presencing exercises
– Gratitude exercises
– ‘Breathing through’ meditation
0 3.0
Increasing Capacity & Competency
Personal and Collective)
Understanding How the World Works (4)
Capacity-Building (6)
2pm-6pm: learning/exploring:
– presentation/conversation skills
– demonstration skills
– creative writing exercises
SSUQIOC exercises
– balance and empathy practices
1.0 1.0
Dismantling Civilization Activism (7) 2pm-6pm:
– Open Space: Stopping the Tar Sands
– Open Space: Ending Factory Farms
0 1.5
Creating Models of a Better Way
to Live and Make a Living
Model-Building (8)  2pm-6pm:
– novel: The Only Life We Know
– film: Earth 2200: A Travelogue
– workbook: Finding Your Sweet Spot
– unschooling: personal practice guide
Joy, Understanding Self-Knowing (5)
Being Myself (9)
– reflection/questioning exercises
– blogging
– play: drawing, photography, with animals (original play)
(activities not directly related to
any of my intentions)
other hours:
– self-care (sleep, exercise etc.)
– networking; serendipitous reading
– self-management (gardening etc.)
19.0 13.0

This evening, as others seek to escape reality at hopeful and inebriated ‘celebrations’, I am comfortably ensconced in a delightful and quiet Vancouver suite, engaged in introspection and self-assessment. I am in the process of reading two books, Jim Hansen’s Storms of My Grandchildren, where he once again states the urgency and utter necessity of a global, immediate, rising tax on all carbon at source of extraction, and a ban on tar sands and shale development, and Karen Wegela’s The Courage to be Present, which applies Bodhisattva Buddhist principles to self-awareness, meditation, and psychological counseling. I am using the latter as part of my Presencing/Paying Attention practices (#2 in the chart above), and the former as part of my Understanding How the World Really Works practices (#4 in the chart above).

I am thinking about how little real attention I pay to what I am feeling, and how little I understand why I feel what I do. Being present, I think, is going beyond just noticing the world around you and being aware of your thoughts and reactions to it, to achieve an awareness of what you really feel and an appreciation for why you feel that way. I think at the moment there are several things I am feeling:

  • With the thought and growing experience of living alone (for the first time in nearly 30 years) I am feeling: an ambiguous mix of freedom/exhilaration and anxiety/trepidation/loneliness. I love being alone, but I also love companionship, stimulation and direct exchange that only comes with being with others — as soon as I’ve been alone more than a few hours I crave company, and vice versa. And, I’m often told, “people who live alone are weird”.
  • I’m feeling delighted at moving to a place that meets all my aesthetic and emotional criteria for “home” (a place of great beauty, warmth, wildness, comfort, connectivity and progressive thinking).
  • I’m feeling a bit guilty that I have so many opportunities to do what I want, while others are trapped in slavery, oppression, thankless responsibility and suffering of one kind or another.
  • I’m concerned and a bit uncomfortable that with retirement, some of my tendencies for depression and procrastination will re-emerge — I love the idea of having “nothing to do, nowhere to go” but when it actually happens (which is rarely) I do tend to do nothing (sometimes not even write, though here I am writing right now) and to go nowhere. I often describe myself as lazy, though this word dates back only to the start of wage slavery in the industrial revolution, so perhaps a more precise term would be unindustrious, self-indulgent or subsistent — I could quite easily be enticed into spending all day eating (organic vegan), sleeping and making love, and would be somewhat unapologetic about it (such actions, after all, do not produce a large ecological footprint). Nevertheless, I’m concerned about it — if I get into this somewhat antisocial pattern I’ll feel guilty and then depressed for not achieving the intentions I’ve laid out in the chart above.
  • I’m annoyed at myself that I can’t shake the adolescent fantasy of having a ‘play-mate’ — someone living with me in a relationship of convenience i.e. frequent sex just for mutual fun, she gets to do her art/music without having to worry about paying the rent, no commitment on either side. I appreciate that relationships are complex, and that the relationship(s) in this fantasy are unrealistic, shallow and unsustainable, but still, part of me keeps asking why not?
  • I’m confused about the fact that, while I will be closer to the people I love with this move, and while I am comfortable with being poly and loving people who are also poly, I am still quite deliberately moving to a place that is quite a long distance from anyone I love. And at the same time, this is a place where I envision house-mates who I don’t necessarily love — beyond my absurd fantasy above, I like the idea of my new home being a beautiful place where friends can stay for a while, or a while longer, on their way to finding their own place. I like the idea of having company around without commitment, of having people I can share ideas with, perhaps mentor, and then send happily on their way.

As I’ve been told to do, I’m sitting with these feelings, trying not to judge, discount or rationalize them. I intend to become more sensitive and empathetic to the emotions of others, and to do that I need first to really understand my own. Using Richard Moss’ approach, I’m trying to understand the myths, the false but reinforced stories (about ourselves and the world, about the past and about the future) that underlie the ‘negative’ emotions above.

Underlying the anxiety, the trepidation and loneliness of living alone, I think, is this story: Alone, I’m lost, incomplete, useless, incompetent, nothing. Perhaps even a little crazy, dangerous, unpredictable, vulnerable. Where does this story come from? Times when I’ve been alone and seriously depressed, or lost somewhere and frightened, or just disconnected, that feeling of not being here or real that you sometimes get when you lose yourself in a novel or in a solo creative project and you come up for air and everything is suddenly very loud and you ask yourself: Where was I? Another factor underlying this story, I think, is my lack of survival skills — fixing things, swimming, anything requiring coordination. And, from painful experiences in my youth, remembrances of poor social skills — inability to dance, to converse with strangers, to be comfortable at parties or in crowds.

Underlying the guilt and concern about my extraordinarily good fortune and my self-indulgence, I think, is this story: You’re lazy and shirking responsibility when the world is full of suffering and poised to collapse, and you’re doing nothing for others. Where does this story come from? My underlying and unbearable grief for Gaia, and my absolute conviction that our civilization will collapse in the latter part of this century. How can I be so selfish as to think of retiring and focusing on my own wants and needs? And is my whole belief (inspired by John Gray’s Straw Dogs) that there is really nothing we can do about the coming extinction just a salve, a cop-out, an excuse for this inexcusable behaviour? The explanation in The Courage to be Present of the Bodhisattva way is “dedicating your life to the benefit of all other beings”. Why does this feel like salt being rubbed into my wounds?

Underlying the annoyance and confusion about my immaturity and nonsensical choice of housemates is, I think, this story: I’m afraid of commitment, and lack the emotional intelligence to cope with real, mature relationships. Where does this story come from? A long history of people saying I have disappointed them, let them down. Of what I perceive as others’ unreasonable expectations of me (“you should be able to do this”; “why can’t/didn’t you just…”) and unreasonable behaviour towards me. This pushes all my buttons, and drives me crazy. It’s so effective in the workforce, with so many people, that bosses now routinely damn employees with “I was disappointed that you…” instead of “you fucked up”. Not only did you do something wrong or fail to do something right, you caused pain and suffering. Damn you.

Some Buddhist and other teachings would have you “out” these stories for what they are, fictions, inventions, tricks used to convert pain to “tamed” suffering because that’s easier than either facing the real pain or acting on it. I’m wary of some facets of Buddhism that encourage you to distance yourself from what’s grieving you, because I think disconnection can be really dangerous, an escape no different than a drug. But I’m impressed by Wegela’s take, which stresses that pain is not the same as suffering (suffering is the consequence of pain, how we deal with it, and pain cannot be diminished or alleviated but suffering can). Pain is real, suffering is invented. You turn towards and understand your pain in order to address your suffering.

The three italicized stories above, that I have been telling myself for so long, are not true, or at least they are not true right now, and now is the only time that matters, that exists. When we see ourselves as ephemeral, as figments of reality, as a part of all-life-on-Earth, these stories dissolve, they have no meaning. When we see this, we can let go of them.

My “Alone, I’m lost, incomplete, useless, incompetent, nothing.” story and my “You’re lazy and shirking responsibility when the world is full of suffering and poised to collapse, and you’re doing nothing for others.” story are stories about me and about my past, or invented ones about my future. Right here, right now, they do not exist, they have no power. I can let go of them, knowing that.

My “I’m afraid of commitment, and lack the emotional intelligence to cope with real, mature relationships.” story is a story about me that I’ve told myself, and others have told me. It too does not exist, right here, right now. I can let go of it, knowing that.

More importantly, none of these stories has any power or meaning unless I choose to believe them, to give them that power. The story that other people, including people I care about, often feel I have “let them down” is my own invention. What is really behind this story is that I believe I have let myself down by not doing what they said they expected or wanted of me. This is what the Buddhists call self-aggression. It is my expectations driving all these negative emotions, not theirs. It is my expectations of myself I must let go of.

And the story that, alone, I cannot cope, is also my own invention. What is really behind this story is that I believe I am afraid to really find out the truth about who I am, to let my heart be broken and to really connect with my emotions. It is my fear of this essential journey back to being truly “nobody-but-myself” that I must let go of.

And if I can find the courage to be present with that realization, and to let go of the self-expectation and the self-fear, who knows what I might discover?

Happy New Year, everyone.

December 30, 2009

Dave’s Favourite Songs of the ‘Naught-ies’

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — admin @ 22:06

Caveat: Extensive list consisting substantially of World-Weary Women Singer-Songwriter (WWW-SS) music ahead. May be hazardous to the health of those with depressive or misogynous tendencies.


Once a decade, for the past five decades, I’ve made a list of my 30 favourite songs of the decade. I’ve just completed the list for the ‘naught-ies’ — the years 2000-2009 (and yes, I know, the decade doesn’t officially end for another year), so I thought I’d share it, with links to YouTube videos where they exist. This is a purely subjective list, and I’m not entertaining discussion on the merits of songs on it or not on it. I should note that some of these songs actually came out in earlier decades, but I didn’t discover them until this one. I have developed a particular passion for the music of women singer-songwriters who combine artistic composition with emotionally powerful words and music, and for African and instrumental music, which is evident in this list. The rest of the music on the list is merely well-crafted or clever.

  1. Saramaya, by Habib Koite (African)
  2. When You Come Back Down / Doubting Thomas, by Nickel Creek
  3. Gaia, by James Taylor
  4. Heal Over, by KT Tunstall (WWW-SS)
  5. Headlock / Hide and Seek, by Imogen Heap (WWW-SS)
  6. Burning Bridges / Driving North, by Chris Pureka (WWW-SS)
  7. Damn Love Song, by Kris Delmhorst (WWW-SS)
  8. Wreck of the Day, by Anna Nalick (WWW-SS)
  9. Fiddle & Bow, by Natalie MacMaster and Bruce Guthro
  10. Maybe That’s What It Takes, by Alex Parks (WWW-SS)
  11. Likambo, by Kékélé (African, Instrumental)
  12. Ledge / In a Song / Lie in the Sound, by Trespassers William (WWW-SS)
  13. Repose, by ChouChou (Instrumental)
  14. Three Fishers, by Nathan Rogers *
  15. Son of a Gun (remix), by Janet Jackson
  16. Carolina (Things We Never Said), by Sheryl Crow (WWW-SS)
  17. Destiny, by Zero Seven (WWW-SS) (absolutely amazing animation video)
  18. Breathe / Desperately / One of These Days, by Michelle Branch (WWW-SS)
  19. Fusion of the Five Elements, by Michael Hedges (Instrumental) **
  20. Lose Your Way, by Sophie Hawkins (WWW-SS)
  21. Cafe Carnival, by Craig Chaquico (Instrumental)
  22. The River, by Toby Lightman (WWW-SS)
  23. The Bridge, by Antje Duvekot (WWW-SS)
  24. 20000 Seconds, by K’s Choice (WWW-SS)
  25. Eternal Holly, by William Elwood (Instrumental)
  26. Somebody Waits, by Blue Rodeo
  27. Said Sadly, by Nina Gordon and James Iha

* this YouTube ‘video’ is actually a performance by Nathan’s father Stan; the song Three Fishers starts at the 5 minute mark

** this YouTube video is a cover version, but it’s damn near as good as the original, and the video is a masterpiece

Now you know a little more about me. I wear this music the way some people wear clothes. I intend that the list for the next decade will include some of my own compositions.

Links and Tweets of the Week (belated): December 29, 2009

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — admin @ 02:36

map of online communities 2007

this map of online communities, c.2007, definitely needs updating; thanks to Howard Deane for the link


Can Communities Collaborate?: Harold Jarche argues that in complicated environments (like groups of people in a company working on a shared objective) collaboration is possible, while in complex environments (like most social and ecological ones) the best that can be hoped for is cooperation, because in these environments there can never be truly shared objectives. In the comments thread, Nancy White says she’s not so sure. If Harold is right, is this why communities struggle to really collaborate? And, tying this back to my earlier post on individual vs. collective intentions and objectives, does this mean we’re doomed to failure because communities (the only sustainable, resilient form of social organization) will forever have their effectiveness and energy drained by squabbles over diverse personal intentions and objectives? This is an important question I intend to write more about.

Sovereign Nation Defaults in 2010?: Jim Kunstsler predicts that after 2009, the year of “extend and pretend” we will see 2010 as the year of realization of the functional bankruptcy of the US, with consequences including the Dow at 4,000, anti-government rioting by mostly right-wing elements culminating in a resurgence of Republican strength in Congress, and massive sovereign national financial defaults including almost all of Europe (except Scandinavia, Germany, France and perhaps UK). He also sees crises in China and Mexico. My prediction is that Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency, is right in his forecasts but wrong in his timing — what he sees happening in one year will, I think, take five, or maybe even ten, and occur in waves not all in one collapse.

How to Prepare for Collapse: Keith Farnish and Carolyn Baker discuss how they’re preparing for the collapse of industrial civilization. Excerpts:

What I will be doing as collapse takes hold is what I’ve been doing for many years. The first activity and the one that started my awakening was and is to become and remain informed about what is actually happening as opposed to what the media of civilization is telling us is happening. I have done many things logistically to prepare–things like food storage, creating a community of allies around me, and of course, relocating to a more sustainable and conscious part of the United States. My most significant relationships are with people who are collapse-aware and with whom I am able to talk about the inevitable–people who are also preparing. Above all, I see the world these days through the lens of collapse which causes me to appreciate all of the modest comforts I have, the supportive people in my life, the food I eat, the clean water I drink, and the health I’m privileged to enjoy. I am consciously preparing myself emotionally and spiritually for the unraveling… Civilization has robbed us of our intimate connection with our own humanity–something that I sometimes call our “indigenous self”, and like indigenous people revolting against colonization, collapse is offering us the opportunity to uncolonize and reclaim the indigenous self within us.

Another part of preparation – and it is of course fundamental to the reconnection of which you speak – is my connection with nature. That connection, if deeply felt and viscerally experienced, will inform our priorities, our relationships, our parenting, how we eat, travel, spend our time–virtually every aspect of our lives.

Transition Training: Transition US is now offering training in the transition to post-civilization culture. Thanks to Paul Heft for the link.

Confronting Collapse: Collapse, the movie based on Michael Ruppert’s book Confronting Collapse, is now out. Watch for it in your area. Ruppert’s prescription for coping with the collapse of oil is radical, and improbable, but he has an almost unblemished record of being right.

Bill McKibben on Copenhagen: McKibben acknowledged what everyone except the mainstream media already knew: Copenhagen was a total disaster, producing essentially nothing. What I am hoping for now is a radicalization of the scientists and environmentalists, combining to work for non-political change to combat global warming, now that political action is clearly not going to happen (thanks to David Hodgson for the link):

The Guardian quickly declared the whole thing a Failure, in large point type, followed by most of the world’s other newspapers, though the American press was a little kinder. Kumi Naidoo, the wonderful head of Greenpeace International, said Copenhagen was a “crime scene.” The leaders of the global youth movement gathered under the Metro station outside the Bella Center to chant: “You’re wrecking our future.”

James Hansen, the great climate scientist who started the global warming era with his 1988 testimony before the U.S. Congress, and whose team provided the crucial 350 number that now defines the planet’s habitability, refused to come to Copenhagen, predicting it would be a charade. He was correct. On Sunday he predicted a greater than 50 percent chance that 2010 would be the warmest year ever recorded. If you want to bet against him, you can. If you want to argue that this non-agreement will help Obama get something through Congress, it’s possible you’re right. If you want to despair, that’s certainly a plausible option.

Psst, Wanna Buy $2.2T in US Debts, Cheap?: Ilargi points out that in 2010, over two trillion dollars of US federal debt (plus tons more at lower levels of government) will come up for renewal. Who’s going to buy it at current interest rates of 1%? At 5%? At 10%? Well if all else fails, maybe the US government will buy its own debt, under cover, just to show someone has faith these debts can be repaid. Oh, wait, they’ve already been doing that. Just don’t tell China.


Does Innovation Start with the Customer?: An interesting NYT piece on customer-centric innovation. This is one of the key messages of my book Finding the Sweet Spot — that natural enterprise starts with meeting an unmet need, not with hawking me-too products developed in a lab. But these corporations still don’t get it — you don’t bring the customer into your innovation centre and show them what you’re doing. You ask the customer open-ended questions that surface needs, and then through creative conversation you co-develop new products and services with your customer. You know you’re there when the line between supplier and customer is so blurred you can no longer tell them apart — they just become colleagues, collaborators, partners.

Four Important Trends in US Consumer Behaviour: Is the consumer becoming smarter? Maintaining more liquidity/resilience, more ethical purchasing, looking for more durable goods, relying more on community purchases, collaboration and recommendations. Thanks to tree for the link and the one that follows.

The Ultimate Alternative Currency: The hour in now being used in some places as a unit of currency. Give an hour of what you do best, take an hour of what you need that someone else does best. Everyone’s time is valued equally.

Ten “Rules” of Homeschooling: Sharon Astyk explains what she’s learned homeschooling her kids. Most important: “The best thing to teach them is how to learn [for themselves]“.


Ten Worst Things About the Bush Decade: A smart summary by Juan Cole. What’s scary is that nothing has been done to prevent a repeat of all these atrocities by the next wingnut president. Thanks to Stephen Downes for the link:

  1. The constitutional coup of 2000, in which Bush was declared the winner of an election he had lost, with the deployment of the most ugly racial and other low tricks in the ballot counting and the intervention of a partisan and far right-wing Supreme Court (itself drawn from or serving the oligarchs), and which gave us the worst president in the history of the union, who proceeded to drive the country off a cliff for the succeeding 8 years. And that is because he was not our president, but theirs.
  2. The September 11 attacks on New York and Washington by al-Qaeda, an organization that stemmed from the Reagan administration’s anti-Soviet jihad in the 1980s and which decided that, having defeated one superpower, it could take down the other.
  3. The great $12 trillion Bank Robberry, in which unscrupulous bankers and financiers were deregulated and given free rein to create worthless derivatives, sell impossible mortgages to uninformed marks who could not understand their complicated terms, and then to roll this garbage up into securities re-sold like the Cheshire cat, with a big visible smile of asserted value hanging in the air even as their actual worth disappeared into thin air.
  4. The Iraq War, in which the US illegally launched a war of aggression that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, displaced 4 million (over a million abroad), destroyed entire cities such as Fallujah, set off a Sunni-Shiite civil war, allowed Baghdad to be ethnically cleansed of its Sunnis, practiced systematic and widespread torture before the eyes of the Muslim Middle East and the world, and immeasurably strengthened Iran’s hand in the Middle East.
  5. The Bush administration’s post-2002 mishandling of Afghanistan, where the Taliban had been overthrown successfully in 2001 and were universally despised.
  6. The Katrina flood and the destruction of much of historic African-American New Orleans, and the massive failure of the Bush administration to come to the aid of one of America’s great cities.
  7. The imperial presidency was ensconced in ways it will be difficult to pare back.
  8. The environment became more polluted.
  9. Health and food insecurity increased for ordinary Americans.
  10. Stagnating worker wages and the emergence of a new monied aristocracy.

The Fastest Depleting Resource: … is credibility, according to George Monbiot, reporting on the claims the International Energy Agency has been inflating oil reserve data to avoid “frightening markets”. Thanks to tree for the link and the one that follows.

Jeff Luers Finally Free: The man who was sentenced to 22 years in prison for blowing up three SUVs in a protest against fuel waste (no one was hurt) is finally free after nearly 10 years behind bars.


Knowing the right time to die: If only we were this sensible, respectful and caring with humans we love.

A helicopter “blows” a deer frozen in the ice back to safety. Thanks to prad for the link.

A bit belatedly, an engineer’s christmas card. Thanks to tree for the link.


From Thomas Traherne (thanks to Sheri Herndon for the link):

You never enjoy the world aright

Till the sea itself flows in your veins

Till you are clothed with the heavens

And crowned with the stars.

December 24, 2009

The Cult of Individualism and the Desolation of the Earth

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — admin @ 20:27

Second Life IC

My friend Paul Heft sent around Derrick Jensen’s article on the need to bring down the industrial systems that are destroying our planet, and my article in response, A Serious Resistance, which argued:

It is time for us to mount a serious resistance. It is time for us to tell the world, starting within our own communities, relentlessly, unapologetically, furiously, that the industrial growth economy that is killing our world must stop — now. It is time for us to start to take back our world from the thugs whose reign of industrial, imperial, colonial terror across the globe has begun the sixth great extinction on our planet, one that is desolating the world, bringing about massive and inevitable economic, energy and ecological collapse.

In this serious resistance, we must each pick our own role, yet work in concert and collaboration with our fellow resisters. We must draft others into the resistance movement, and we must do more than just talk about how bad things are, or how we might get the regime to mitigate its horrors. We must choose and commit ourselves to real measures of the defeat of the regime and the undermining and collapse of the industrial growth systems — economic, political, social, educational, technological, and media. Derrick has listed his measures. Mine include the complete stoppage of the Alberta Tar Sands and the industrial agriculture system, especially factory farming (”confined animal farming operations — CAFO”).

One of the recipient of Paul’s note was our mutual friend Nelda Martinez, who responded with this extraordinary letter:

I have read both Jensen’s and Dave’s pieces, and while I agree that the steps they outline are necessary, they remain insufficient – there is a piece missing, and I think I know what it is.

The problem that both have is in their approach.  In both cases, the proffered perspective is “there’s me, and then there’s everything else.”  Both insist upon individual consideration, individual decision making, individual commitment, and individual action.  Jensen says, “for me, winning means..” and then rattles off a list of states of nature that he, personally, would prefer to see, and then implicitly includes the reader in his conclusion that this must be done by whatever means necessary.  Dave’s step number one is to “build our own personal capacities and competencies” in conjunction with those of our communities, as though our communities’ capacities and competencies might somehow even be identified, much less honed.  It is my belief that that is precisely where the insufficiency lies.

The problem is that our so-called communities are so loosely knit, so diffuse, that they are almost impossible to identify, much less mobilize.  Most such “communities” are utterly non-communal; reliance upon them in any but the most immediate, most dire of circumstances is folly.  And get this: the reason that “community” is such an ephemeral thing is that we collectively agree that we value our individuality more than we value membership, or participation, in community.  It is the one binding characteristic, the one single shared value we place above all else – that our individuality comes first.  In order for community to have meaning in the context of this discussion, the sense of belonging to community must have greater priority than the right to individual thought, belief, or expression.  In order for any meaningful action to work, the self must be subsumed to the group.

I make no apology for this.  I am fully aware that it rubs right against our sense of what is right and good; that’s just what I’m saying.  I welcome any expression of resistance to the idea, and hold up the vehemence of such response as evidence of my assertion.  The more vigorously opposed one is to the idea that individual strength and expression is the very root of our problem, the more surely one is illustrating the truth of the allegation.  It truly is our top number one shared value, and all other values must necessarily fall before it.

Ours is a culture of individuals, and it will be our undoing unless we figure out a way to fix it. (I can hear the name-calling now, beginning with “communism,” “cult,” “beehive mentality,” “fanatic,” and “zealot.”)  The truth of the matter is that it is precisely that very zealotry that will enable us to succeed, and without which, we will be consigned to failing – as individuals – with lots of individual thoughts, suggestions, preferences, and opinions.

What we need is a shared system of values that is, as Dave puts it, “sustainable, responsible, and resilient.”  Fortunately, we know that such a system is available, in that humans succeeded in living quite well, for quite a long time, before corrupting the system.  I have written before about the problems associated with the adoption of agriculture as a way of life [Dave says: see Jared Diamond’s famous essay on this], and Dave has thoroughly elaborated the problems associated with industry.  I submit that it is the values associated with these two patterns of behavior that are our enemy, and that our efforts must be toward the undermining of these value sets, not toward the machinery that is their manifestation.

But the mere prohibition of values or behaviors is rarely effective; witness the efficacy of the Ten Commandments as a moral code.  What is needed instead is a set of replacement values that is simply more attractive than the one currently in place.  And then we, our community, must all adhere to it – all of us.  There can be no compromise on this point; individual expression or interpretation must not be tolerated, especially in a fledgling movement (this is where the zealotry part comes in).

So the answer comes not as some kind of conservation movement, nor as any way to maintain ourselves, or our way of life for future generations.  We must embrace the notion that the system is going to come down, or indeed is coming down now, despite any efforts to halt its collapse, and that our options lie in how we will position ourselves to face that as it occurs, or is occurring.

While we still have some measure of leeway in terms of our response, we must take advantage of the infrastructure that enables rapid communication and transportation, and establish a true community.  It must be a community that is not composed of merely “like-minded individuals”  who put great stock in being “free spirits,” but of people committed to a single ideal, joined in a community whose purpose is greater than the whims or desires of its individual constituents.  And it must be based upon a set of values that is self-propagating, popular and enticing to the point that it sells itself, as we simply don’t have time for a slow-growing, grassroots movement.  It must be framed in such a way that it catches on like a fad, stays in place as unperturbedly as anything written by Beethoven, and is ultimately as universally known as shave-and-a-haircut.  If we can do all of this in the narrowing window of opportunity we have available, we will have made a difference.  Otherwise, I would suggest that we all go back to our televisions, put our feet up and have a beer – we have front row seats, and it promises to be quite a show.

If you are not already as blown away by this tour-de-force of thinking and writing, I should mention that Nelda is only 29 years old.

What she says is simply brilliant. We do have a cult of individualism in North America & Europe. This is not the case in Asia (thought that may be changing quickly) or in indigenous cultures.

What got us into this problem was, I think, a reaction against the fearsome power of propaganda (especially with the new ubiquitous media of radio and TV). Hierarchies got very powerful and very rich and, after Stalin and Hitler and Mao, there was an upsurge of loathing for government and for collective action of any kind (anticommunist hysteria). Americans then began to idolize the cowboy myth — of ‘self-sufficiency’ and rugged individualism and fending for yourself without government or anyone else helping you.

It’s understandable — I’m very fond of ee cummings’ lament about how prone we are to become ‘everybody else’ because our modern culture indoctrinates us into mindless and passive conformity so effectively:

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being
can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know,
you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.
To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day,
to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight;
and never stop fighting.

I do think we take on the ‘everybody-else’ ‘gunk’ that our culture lays on us and which we accept when we’re young and end up (if we’re smart) spending the rest of our lives scraping off of ourselves.

But that’s very different from the cult of individualism. I think we can be altruistic and collectivist and part-of-all-life-on-Earth while still being “nobody but ourselves”. But because we confuse the need to struggle against the loss of our individuality due to cultural indoctrination (a good struggle), with the need to struggle against all government and all collective and cooperative and collaborative work (a bad struggle), we get it exactly backwards: Instead of becoming ‘nobody-but-ourselves’ we become ‘ourselves apart from everybody’.

It takes great self-knowledge and self-confidence, I think, to be truly yourself and think critically, while also committing yourself absolutely to optimizing the collective well-being of the community. There’s a natural and very healthy tension there that I’ve witnessed among (for example) intelligent and sensitive people in the Intentional Communities movement. They are able to BE themselves but still DO everything as integral part of community.

While the rest of us are busy with our logo clothing and brand name cars BEING everybody-else and DOING things only for ourselves, alone, with our own, private and unshared property.

Exactly backwards.

I’d be interested in your thoughts on Nelda’s comment that, in order to be effective, at least initially, “the self must be subsumed to the group” — that model communities must be zealous and single-minded in their pursuit of shared objectives and intentions and that until then “individual expression or interpretation must not be tolerated”. It is true, I think, that indigenous cultures and truly effective communities tend to be of one mind, and fanatic about their values, principles and beliefs. Yet Chris Corrigan, who has worked closely with many aboriginal communities, stresses “passion bounded by [individual] responsibility“, that while the collective must listen carefully and respectfully to all the ideas expressed by community members, ultimately the decision on what to do (or not do) is left to the absolute discretion of the individual.

These ideas are not necessarily irreconcilable, but if we are to posit some theories or principles about the essential nature of an effective post-industrial model community, we need to tease this out. We need to respect and trust individuals in community to BE nobody but themselves and to DO what they themselves have passion and accept responsibility for, while at the same time we need to achieve a much higher degree of cultural cohesion among community members, to overcome what Nelda laments about today’s “so-called communities … so loosely knit, so diffuse, that they are almost impossible to identify, much less mobilize”. And then what we need from these cohesive communities, I think, is concerted, radical action. We can’t wait for consensus among a disparate group.

The question then becomes whether we can identify and coalesce radical model communities of people who know themselves, know what is happening in the world, know what they’re meant to do and must do, and who are willing to subvert their personal self-interest and comfort to the community’s collective programs and practices, and hence to really make a difference — to make measurable substantial progress towards undermining and ending the systems of the industrial growth society.

I agree with Nelda that nothing less than this will make any significant impact on the accelerating desolation of the earth. I doubt, however, that this degree of subsuming of individual wants and privileges to the collective need is likely to happen, even among the enlightened and progressive “communities” of human civilization culture. We’ve become far too “self-ish”, perhaps because that is how creatures respond in times of great stress. What would it take, do you think, for that to change?


Thanks to all my readers for your support and encouragement this past year. 2010 is likely to be another year of great change for many of us. I wish you and your loved ones peace, love and joy in the coming year.

December 23, 2009

Intuition, Chemistry and Heart-Sense

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — admin @ 04:53

jung's quaternity

Regular readers of this blog know that I believe deeply in the value and importance of connecting with, and trusting, your instincts. Recently I’ve been asked to explain what that means, exactly, and to differentiate ‘instinct’ from ‘chemistry’ and from ‘heart-sense’ — what your heart ‘tells’ you.

For a start, I use the terms ‘instincts’ and ‘intuition’ interchangeably. I am sure people could quibble with this, but if there’s a difference it’s not substantive enough for me to care about.

I think the best way to understand instincts is in the context of Jung’s quaternity, illustrated above. Jung believed there are four kinds of learning and ‘knowing': sensual (through the senses), emotional (through the heart), intellectual (through the mind) and instinctual (through the body/genes). Our bodies being complex and synaesthetic organisms, there is no hard line between the four, but, for example:

  1. When we smell lilacs, we ‘know’ them sensually as natural, floral scents. We recognize them, pick them out of the other smells on the breeze. They will evoke an emotional response, an emotional ‘knowing’, based perhaps on what we have associated the smell with in past. They will evoke an intellectual response or ‘knowing’ as we recognize the type of flower, the fact that they bloom only briefly in the Spring, etc. And they will evoke an instinctive response, of attraction to the source of the smell (“pleasant”) but not a desire to eat the flowers (“inedible, except perhaps in tea”). How do we ‘know’ this, even before we know what a lilac is?
  2. When we meet someone new, we assess them sensually (physical size, attractiveness, dress, voice quality), respond emotionally (socially drawn to them or repelled by them, or indifferent), respond intellectually (thoughtful, creative, arrogant), and respond viscerally (aroused, threatened) . Our aesthetic appreciation for someone or something (a work of art, a sunset) that is physically beautiful is a complex amalgam of our intellectual, sensual, emotional and instinctive (visceral, somatic) responses to them.
  3. And sometimes, we ‘know’ when someone is telling us X that they really mean Y. We pick up the subtle clues — the body language that betrays concealment, the sweating, the eyes that don’t meet yours, the catch in the voice, the pheromones exchanged. Is this instinct, or just good observational skill?
  4. What, too, is “good (or bad) chemistry”? We tend to say that we can just “intuitively” like or dislike someone “at first sight”, before exchanging a word with them, across the room. I’ve known people fall in love who speak different languages and hence can’t communicate with words at all. What is going on here? And when the intuitive first impressions are out of sync, non-reciprocal, what are we to make of this?
  5. Gaia theory and complexity theory “intuitively” made sense to me the first time I heard about them. I loved the ideas intellectually, and to some extent emotionally, but at a deeper level they just resonated — I just ‘knew’ they were ‘right’ (or at least as ‘right’ as any idea can be to someone who constantly challenges everything he believes).
  6. And what about the people who “intuitively” just ‘knew’ they were meant to be a doctor, or a musician, or a writer? They carried a passion for these practices in their heart, to the point that they were ‘callings’. It made sense to their heart.
  7. Many indigenous peoples believe that, before making an important decision, it is valuable to ‘sleep on it’. This allows the whole person to integrate and consider the knowledge they have acquired unconsciously or subconsciously, which is, according to most scientific studies, more than 99% of our total knowledge.

So, when I say to someone that I just ‘know’ intuitively that she and I will be an important part of each other’s lives for a long time to come, does that mean:

  • my instincts are synthesizing my intellectual, emotional, aesthetic/sensuous and visceral/somatic attraction to this person?, or
  • my pheromones are quietly telling me that this person and I are chemically compatible and will as a result continue to put up with each other despite occasional disagreements or outrages?, or
  • my emotions are translating and reverberating the intellectual, aesthetic and physical/chemical attraction I have for this person, and the indications of reciprocal attraction, in a way that makes ‘heart-sense’?

And what if, on thinking or saying this, I am then told that my affection for this person is not reciprocal, that my intuition was ‘wrong’? Will I just rationalize it away?

My friend Mushin Schilling argues that we each have a complex multi-dimensional ‘field’ around us that resonates like gravity, and which we can learn to be attuned to. Many religions likewise speak of ‘vibrations’ or ‘vibes’ between and around us, either physically or psychically (or perhaps metaphorically). Perhaps the vibe is chemical, pheromonal, or perhaps it is a synthesis of the flow of energies — intellectual, emotional, sensory and instinctive — between every two objects, such that the energies between the two bodies immediately and powerfully affect each other. Is unrequited love simply a matter of miscommunication (poor transmission, bad reception) of these energy flows?

One could apply a sort of entropy theory to the idea that we all ‘intuitively’ want to be of use in the world, to explain that those who need X will be ‘intuitively’ attracted to those who offer X, and where those needs and offers are in sync the vibe will be good, and intuition is hence nothing more than an understanding of power dynamics, an understanding of who needs and wants and offers what, and whether the energy flows can be sustained.

The thing about intuition is that we know it before we think it. We intuitively blink when something gets too close to our eyes, because if we waited to process and respond to the information it could well be too late. There is much recent research that suggests this applies to most of what we think we know — that believing that our thoughts have an impact on our actions is putting the cart before the horse, and that all thoughts are after-the-fact rationalizations, post-processing.

When I asked the rhetorical question “can we choose who we love?” my answer was ambivalent: We can’t choose who we are instinctively inclined to fall in love with, but we can choose how and whether to act on that impulse. All of our thoughts, I think, are rationalizations, justifications, post-processing for what our instincts tell us to do. They tell us what to do because for millions of years they were wise (and when they weren’t, evolution ‘taught’ them to become wiser). Our bodies and senses and emotions process much more information than our poor, overworked brains, and they ‘know’ more, and faster, than our brains ever will. Our brains, fortunately, have considerable say in how and whether we act on this instinctive knowledge, especially when there is evidence that our instincts were ‘wrong’.

So I think it is wise to trust our instincts because they have steered us right for millions of years, and because our brains, while good at remedial steps, are too slow to set initial direction. Our instincts are integrative — they are rooted in our million-year-old DNA but they also detect and respond to the unconscious chemical signals and subconscious knowledge that is vastly greater and more varied than the feeble trickle of knowledge our conscious minds process. And our emotions — fears, love, anger and the rest — are responses to our intellectual processes, our aesthetic/sensory processes, and our instincts.

So if you diagrammed all this, it would look like this:


So this says that our senses inform our instincts, our emotions and our intellect, and that both our instincts and our intellect inform our emotions and our decisions (though our instincts do so immediately, before we think, while our intellect takes its time, and, with the advantage of hindsight, second-guesses and sometimes overrides our initial decisions). Meanwhile, our emotions dominate our decision-making most of the time.

Our chemistry (e.g. pheromones) is the interplay between our instincts, senses and emotions, while our heart-sense (e.g. our ‘calling’ and my passion for Gaia theory) is the interplay between our intellect, senses and emotions. Our choice of who we are initially attracted to is chemistry; our choice of who we ultimately love is holistic (double-vibe, full-circle energy flow): chemistry and heart-sense. So is the knowledge that comes to us when we ‘sleep on’ a decision or problem. Including the knowledge that someone will, or won’t, be an important part of our life for a long time.

Now you know how you know.

December 20, 2009

A Serious Resistance

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 03:19

Derrick Jensen writes:

A serious resistance movement…means a commitment to winning, which means figuring out what “winning” means to you. For me, winning means living in a world with more wild salmon every year than the year before, more migratory songbirds, more amphibians, more large fish in the oceans, and for that matter oceans not being murdered. It means less dioxin in every mother’s breast milk. It means living in a world where there are fewer dams each year than the year before. More native forests. More wild wetlands. It means living in a world not being ravaged by the industrial economy. And [doing] whatever it takes to get there (and if, by the way, you believe that “whatever it takes” is code language for violence, you’re revealing nothing more than your own belief that nonviolence is ineffective).

If we’re seriously going to try to make the world a better place, we must, as I have written before, do a combination of three things:

  1. We have to build our own personal capacities and competencies, and those of our communities
  2. We have to undermine the industrial growth economy that is destroying our world
  3. We have to create new natural structures and models that are sustainable, responsible and resilient

Before we can do any of these things, we need to reconnect with our instincts, our emotions, our senses, and all-life-on-Earth, understand how the world really works (not what we’re told in school, in the workplace, and in the media), and know ourselves: what we are uniquely good at, what we have passion for, and what our purpose is, what we’re “meant to do”.

Most of us who know what is happening in the world are prepared to do all of these things, except for item #2: “We have to undermine the industrial growth economy that is destroying our world.” Such is the power of the social, political and economic systems and their propaganda machines that we feel this is too radical, too risky, too ungrateful, too antisocial, too much “biting the hand that feeds us”.

We have been culturally indoctrinated, and our minds colonized, to feel this way. This indoctrination is all that is keeping us from walking away, from ceasing to participate in, the industrial growth economy, and from seeing actions that undermine this bankrupt and savagely destructive economy as heroic and necessary rather than as acts of treason or terrorism.

Suppose you lived in a community that was run by a ruthless gang that threatened and intimidated, extorted and stole, murdered and abused and confined, destroyed and poisoned and burned, and pressed everyone in the community into its service. Would you not see the destruction of this clique and its operations as a necessary and heroic act?

Now suppose that gang became so powerful that over time it could buy off the politicians of all the major parties, infiltrate and corrupt the police and regulators and the military to do its dirty work, rewrite the textbooks, and buy up the media, in order to portray itself as the natural order, as the only alternative to communism and anarchy, as democratically elected, as protectors of its community members, as law-abiding and patriotic in the face of conjured-up “terrorist” enemies who threatened your property, your loved ones, your security, your job?

And suppose that, after a few generations, people who had never known anything else began to think that this was the only way to live? Would this thoroughly indoctrinated generation still see the destruction of this clique and its operations as a necessary and heroic act? Or would the very thought of its collapse be terrifying, no matter how destructive it was?

A serious resistance begins when enough people realize that this is not the only way to live, and that continuing to live under a massively destructive, relentless, irresponsible and unsustainable regime is unbearable, indefensible, and a betrayal of future generations and of our own human values. It begins with a breaking of the colonial mindset, and finding the knowledge and courage to imagine a better way to live, and then to fight, ceaselessly, doing what we can each do best, to undermine, to hold back, to defeat, and to dismantle the machinery of oppression and desolation that has held us in its thrall for so long.

A serious resistance is never easy. Just ask those who resisted the brutal totalitarian regimes that killed a quarter of a billion people in the last century, or who resisted invading foreign armies, or armed paramilitary forces well-supplied and trained by rich nations thousands of miles away, or who resisted local warlords or religious fascism or genocides. For most, such resistance will only occur when it hits home, when there is no other choice but to fight.

It is time for us to mount a serious resistance. It is time for us to tell the world, starting within our own communities, relentlessly, unapologetically, furiously, that the industrial growth economy that is killing our world must stop — now. It is time for us to start to take back our world from the thugs whose reign of industrial, imperial, colonial terror across the globe has begun the sixth great extinction on our planet, one that is desolating the world, bringing about massive and inevitable economic, energy and ecological collapse.

In this serious resistance, we must each pick our own role, yet work in concert and collaboration with our fellow resisters. We must draft others into the resistance movement, and we must do more than just talk about how bad things are, or how we might get the regime to mitigate its horrors. We must choose and commit ourselves to real measures of the defeat of the regime and the undermining and collapse of the industrial growth systems — economic, political, social, educational, technological, and media. Derrick has listed his measures above. Mine include the complete stoppage of the Alberta Tar Sands and the industrial agriculture system, especially factory farming (“confined animal farming operations — CAFO”).

I am not a pioneer in this. The resistance has already started, but it is still sporadic, and not yet a real threat to the regime and systems we must bring to an end. It’s time to get serious.

December 19, 2009

Links of the Week/Month — December 19, 2009

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 17:14

I’ve been travelling, so my weekly update links have piled up for three weeks. There is some important reading here, and as usual the must reads are in the first section.

This is a first notice that, as of December 31, this blog will be moving to a WordPress blog at http://howtosavetheworld.ca since Radio Userland, which has hosted this blog since its inception nearly seven years ago, is ceasing its collaborative operations with Salon. If you change your bookmarks to the new link now, it will take you back here until the official switchover. Thanks.

what religion to follow
this hilarious bit of ‘systems thinking’ is from holytaco.com; thanks to fer_ananda (Fernanda Ibarra) and Amy Lenzo for the link


Are We Civilized Humans a Broken People?: Bruce Levine psychoanalyzes the despair and demoralization of Americans in the face of the horrific challenges facing us, but his analysis applies to everyone in our globalized civilization. Thanks to Paul Heft for the link.

Walking Away from Our Colonial Culture: Derrick Jensen explains that the first step in understanding and preparing ourselves to end the damage of civilization culture is to deprogram ourselves from the colonial cultural indoctrination that makes us afraid to bring it down, and reconnecting with all-life-on-Earth, starting with just doing something effective that we are particularly good at doing.

Nopenhagen: Sharon Astyk explains why the process currently underway in Copenhagen is hopeless:

Copenhagen is a trip to hell for those who truly and most sincerely grasp the scope of the problem. In Hell, whether your kids and grandkids have enough to eat, whether we have resource wars over the remaining water are treated as distant tertiary (if that) issues, over how much money we can get for not burning the last bits of rainforest. In Hell, politicians who view this as a purely political issue – they will be long out office before their constituents suffer much – puff themselves and their nation, making small commitments they probably won’t keep, with no real grasp of what is needed, while the people who are already paying the price get hosed again. And good people, who actually really do give a shit and are watching their life’s work be ignored in every meaningful respect get to describe future suffering, and watch people shrug and move on.

The Theory of Anyway: An old post, also from Sharon Astyk, which she calls her favourite, and which explains that the best argument for activism is that many of the things that caring, thoughtful people are doing to make the world a better place are things we should be doing anyway, for other, personal reasons such as looking after our own health:

My friend Pat Meadows, a very, very smart woman, has a wonderful idea she calls “The Theory of Anyway.” What it entails is this – she argues that 95% of what is needed to resolve the coming crisis in energy depletion, or climate change, or whatever is what we should do anyway, and when in doubt about how to change, we should change our lives to reflect what we should be doing “Anyway.” Living more simply, more frugally, using less, leaving reserves for others, reconnecting with our food and our community, these are things we should be doing because they are the right thing to do on many levels. That they also have the potential to save our lives is merely a side benefit.

Learning to Live in Now Time: Many biologists hypothesize that wild creatures, and perhaps some prehistoric human cultures, live/lived “outside of time” as we know it, the linear progression from past to future — without the sense of time as a constraining dimension at all. In times of stress these creatures do suddenly snap into our linear “clock” time, but in times of leisure they lose that sense of time, and their joyful moments are essentially eternal. We apparently lost this capacity — in part because our modern civilization’s stress is ever-present, and in part because our brains form in response to what we are taught in infancy, and what we are taught is that clock time is “real”. We can no longer think otherwise. This, I think, is what Presence is all about, and why it is so elusive to us. Two recent articles touch on this:

The 7 Principles of Improv: Michelle James suggests the 7 basic principles of Improv are also the 7 essential principles for effective collaboration in any complex environment or situation:

  1. “Yes and…” (accept and add forward)
  2. Make everyone else look good
  3. Be changed by what is said and what happens (adapt and evolve)
  4. Co-create a shared agenda (not consensus, co-creation is real time and ever-changing)
  5. Mistakes are invitations (justify and grow from it)
  6. Keep the energy going (move, make something up, don’t stop to analyze)
  7. Serve the good of the whole (how can you best serve this situation, with what you do best?)

The Faith and the Love and the Hope Are All in the Waiting: Melissa Holbrook Pierson talks about how we hope, beyond faith, and keep asking the important questions until we get the answer we already knew:

If I don’t like the answer the Magic Eight Ball gives, I turn it over and try again. Eventually, “It is certain” shows up in the inky window, and I know “Will I be able to write something good?” or “Am I to find love?” will have the outcome I desire. Surely one can trust the Eight Ball to know these things. I can sleep. If I don’t like the way these cards tell my future, I’ll do it two more times. Isn’t this a best-of-three game?

I can reason my way around anything, even the opening “Caution about the present” card. Of course I am being cautious. Aren’t I? Well, yes, in my usual incautious manner of approaching anything. It is the last card that tells the truth, however. I do not need to shuffle the deck again, hurrah. “A good augury.” I will take it. I can live on auguries in the absence of proofs. It is all I need, along with all I already have.

Thinking Differently: Chris Corrigan is facilitating a First Nations strategizing event and is using three principles of the culture of the members to ‘frame’ the event: balance, respect and kindness. Can you even imagine our culture using these principles to underpin a ‘problem-solving’ event?


What Matters Now? Generosity: Seth Godin’s new free e-book with some of the best (unradical) ideas of the year. Thanks to Colleen Wainwright for the link.

The Story of Cap & Trade: From the makers of The Story of Stuff, an explanation of why cap-and-trade systems can’t work. Thanks to Raffi Aftandelian for the link.

Democratizing and Conversationalizing TED: The TED talks are wonderful but terribly elitist, expensive to attend in person, and very much 1-to-n bums-on-chairs affairs. TEDx promises to change that. Thanks to Bee Dieu for the link.

Vegan Comfort Food: Prad points us to a list of thousands of vegetarian and vegan restaurants and markets, while Dave Smith gives us a recipe for vegan smoothies.

Combatting Death by PowerPoint: Chris Lott asks why, despite the immense dissatisfaction and time-waste of traditional conference ‘presentations’, they are still the standard we can’t seem to break free from. “I’d often prefer a speaker simply pull up a chair and have a conversation with the group.”

The Theory of Anyway, Continued: Ten reasons doing the right thing is also doing what’s good for you. Thanks to my Second Life friend Rayah for the link.


Unemployment’s Emotional Toll: Heartbreaking data from interviews with America’s soaring ranks of unemployed.

real unemployment

If You Think the Economy is Improving, or is Collapsing Slower Than Expected, You’re Not Looking at the Data: Ilargi describes our inability to distinguish short-term trends from long term trends and how this may lead us to make foolish decisions or come to foolish conclusions. We have seen this most obviously in the climate change debate — the minute there is a short term negative anomaly in temperature, an outcry occurs that climate change is solved, or is a myth. We’re also seeing it in the trends in the value of the US dollar, which in the long-term will be seen to be worthless, but in the short-term is rallying for some very substantive reasons. His partner Stoneleigh elaborates on this with some sound investment advice for those looking to buy gold as a hedge for the longer-term US dollar collapse:

Personally, I think it far more important for those who have surplus resources to put those resources into obtaining as much control as possible over the essentials of their own existence. There are many hard assets one could buy now that may not be available later – assets that you could use to feed yourself, keep yourself warm or provided clean water. This is a much more important use for your wealth than owning something you intend to bury in a hole in the ground and sit on.

Tar Sands Worse Than Feared: New research shows the amount of pollution and devastation created by the horrific Alberta Tar Sands is much worse than even environmental groups had estimated. Thanks to Paul Heft for the link.


Yes Men and Accomplices Make Canadian Government Look Like Idiots: That’s not hard, since our right-wing minority PM is a climate change denier, but the Yes Men outdid themselves with a triple-barrelled spoof of Canada’s absurd climate change inaction: They faked a “change of heart” Canadian Government press announcement, then they faked the Canadian Government’s response to their own fake announcement, and then they faked a third-world country’s heartbroken response to learning the initial announcement was a fake. Absolutely brilliant.

The Amazing Intelligence of Crows: Like humans, crows and other corvids developed larger brains (and hence tools) because, if they hadn’t they would not have survived. Look at some of the things they do. Thanks to CreatvEmergence (Michelle James) for the link.


Chimonophile/Chimonophobe: Dave Bonta rhapsodizes about the joys of winter, which I am seeking soon to escape forever:

Light unmitigated by leaves can change in an instant. This is what makes deserts both so alluring and so unforgiving — that lack of moderation. Sharp contrasts appeal to the eye as well as to the moral imagination

The condition of the snow can change by the hour: what held you up at dawn might crumble under your boots at ten. The only constant is the need to walk and walk and walk, for warmth more than exercise and for revelation more than warmth.

In a radically simplified landscape there are fewer places to hide, and things that had been hidden are selectively revealed, in strong light and with maximum contrast: that’s what I mean by revelation. Nothing mystical about it. And the extreme conditions should serve to remind us that revelations are not necessarily pleasant; a preference for pleasant news and comforting beliefs can be a real obstacle to an accurate perception of reality.

The desertedness of deserts is of course another big part of their appeal. You can be alone with your demons. The wintertime desert is barren, devoid of fertility — but as anyone who has chosen to remain child-free will tell you, this can be a gift, too. All sorts of things need open space to flourish. Biologically speaking, the extreme environments known as barrens in the eastern U.S., like the western deserts, often accommodate species found nowhere else.

So what seems barren to most might be for some the most fruitful country imaginable, the moment-by-moment mutability as welcome as the phases of an unpredictable moon.

What the Songs Say: From Melissa Holbrook Pierson, after visiting a dear friend in hospital:

He sits and looks at his feet, for a long time. We revisit other memories. Then the male nurse comes in with two hypodermics. This is something he remembers how to do; like riding, it is in his muscle memory, not the shriveled synapses of some tiny portion of his brain that has taken away everything he is–his past.

So, while he’s in the bathroom, I ask, with my eyes, cocking my head to one side, and the nurse knows what I want to know. “Oh, it’s always this way. He’ll get it back, don’t worry.”

So that he has something to do–he is a person whose worst fear is not moving, not having somewhere to go–I ask him to walk me to the elevators. Slowly, in his sock feet. The door opens; a quick hug, and I back in. The door closes.

On the dark highway I move forward into space. Random songs on the radio speak only to me, as they have been doing for a couple of years now. I wonder how it is they can be so specific, then I realize: they are only ever about two things, love, and loss. Both of which are behind me, down the hospital corridor, and ahead of me, in a place called home.

Probably, Then: From Christian Anton Gerard, in Orion:

If I lived in a forest and you lived somewhere else, maybe in the forest, maybe not, no difference, just somewhere else, with a different language, and you found me in my forest and we had to talk, had to find out if the other was dangerous, I would point at a waterfall and say, maybe, waterfall and you would say, la fin du monde. We’d stand there looking at each other as if we were talking about the thing or maybe what we wanted from the other. We’d probably point to a few more things. It would feel important. Like the end of the world or maybe like the world itself. Probably, then, we’d realize the world is big. Much bigger than either of us had anticipated, and one of us, without doubt, would walk away.

December 9, 2009


Filed under: Creative Works — Dave Pollard @ 14:05
This is a continuation, as the year draws to a close, of a set of short vignettes I wrote as the year began.

a couple with urgent, anxious looks in their eyes
enter a vegan cafe;
their basset hound companion lies down in front of the cafe
to wait, as if she were accustomed to this routine

the couple brings in a wheeled baby carriage
piled high with old, worn plastic bags full of what i guess to be used clothes

they sit, squeezed together, in one huge overstuffed chair by the door
and kiss, then order, carefully, from the menu;
he pulls out a newspaper with a bunch of ads circled
and they talk about them, pointing in various directions at the street
to show where, relative to the cafe, the addresses in the ads are located

the cafe worker who brings their food knows them
and they chat for a few moments;
he proudly puts his hand on his partner’s stomach
and she smiles and blushes

he is wearing a pair of sad, threadbare gloves
as he counts out the coins for the bill
reaching twice into his pocket to ensure he has enough

as they leave, the worker congratulates them;
they feed the leftovers to the basset, who eats them enthusiastically
and then the woman takes the newspaper with the circled ads
and walks off in one direction
and the man takes the basset’s leash
and walks off in the other


at a table near the back of the cafe
a young woman sits reading;
she is wearing a cap with cat ears, and a striped jacket with a cat’s tail,
and a giant black felt hat with a slip marked “5 1/2″ tucked in the band

at the next table a woman and her young daughter are eating vegan nachos
and the girl laughs and points at the cat-woman
and is shushed by her mother

the cat-woman smiles and winks at the little girl
and then signals her in mime — a raised finger “wait”
and then the finger curls in and wags slowly “come over here”
as she pulls an ocarina out of her bag
and begins to play a haunting tune

and the little girl, delighted, begins to dance among the tables


a man with a sad smile comes into the cafe
and sits, alone, at a table for two,
pulling out his laptop, logging in,
tapping the keys slowly, hesitantly

a kris delmhorst song comes on the cafe’s music system
and he quietly sings along:

after all of these years, look at me here
with a love song stuck in my throat
got the weight of the world on my shoulders, i won’t let it go

how can i dive right down in the deep blue sea
and still hope to find my way home
when i stumble on my way to the shore,
when all of the airplanes, all of the cars,
and all the miles in the world
are still not enough to quite reach your door

after all of these years, will you look at me here
with this love song stuck in my throat
got the weight of the world and there’s not too much else i can hold

he’s smiling broadly now, a giant grin from ear to ear
but if you look closely, you can see
his face is streaked with tears

Category: Poetry

December 7, 2009

Can We Choose Who We Love?

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 22:21

chemistry of love

Last evening I had an astonishing discussion with three of my colleagues in our Second Life community. The topic was love, and whether we have any control over who we love (whether it is at least in part a “rational” decision, or strictly a matter of chemistry). People in Second Life fall in love (very seriously, and sometimes traumatically) all the time, which would seem to suggest that there’s a lot more to love than pheromones. But that doesn’t mean that what we call “love” isn’t still a construct of our body chemistry, informed by our intellectual and sensory perceptions about the object of our affections. Or so I thought.

My skepticism is rooted in a belief that we love who we imagine someone to be, not who they really are (we can never really know who another person really is). Our body chemistry’s response is to this imagined persona, which may or may not be a close approximation of who that person “really” is. To that extent, Second Life avatars can either amplify or distort our perception of who the person we love “really” is, depending on a host of factors. Avatars are (in the opinion of most, anyway) usually “younger” and more “physically” attractive than the “real” people they represent, and surprisingly few Second Life people communicate with those they love in voice, rather than text. This would almost seem to imply that people feel the need for the artifice of the text interface (the opportunity to “compose” what they say and disguise their voice) to be more “lovable”. Is this a form of dishonesty, or is it just play, and what is our responsibility when it gets serious?

This is not really new — “pen pals” have often fallen in love with each other before they’ve met or even spoken in real time with each other, and, as with Second Life, some of these affairs make the transition to real-time, face-to-face relationships, and others don’t.

What is it, then, that drives us to fall in love with someone, especially someone we have never physically “met”? This is, of course, a complex process, but my assumptions about this process were shaken to their roots by my colleagues last evening. I had always believed it was evolutionary — that we are “programmed” to fall in love with those our body believes would be excellent biological and genetic mates. But what they told me is that what is often most important is security — which has two components:

  • Physical/Financial Security: “Does this person bring to the relationship the skills and resources that complement my own, such that we will be significantly more comfortable together than separate?”
  • Emotional Security: “Will this person be here for me when I need them?”

As obvious as this is, I confess that, when my colleagues articulated it, it blew me away. I had never really thought of this as being a critical criterion in determining whether love blossoms, and lasts. This myopia is probably due to the fact that, having a large ego and never having had to worry about my own security, I was oblivious to how important it is to many people.

It never occurred to me that someone could “choose” not to fall in love with someone who did not offer them security (or actually made them less secure) ot “choose” to fall in love with someone who did offer them security, even if the “chemistry” was less than ideal. Initially I shrugged such “choices” off as cold-blooded or opportunistic, but then I realized how unfair this judgement really was.

The emotional (far from cold-blooded) desire for security in a loving relationship is every bit as evolutionary a development as pheromone chemistry. Falling in love with someone because they’re strong, tall, healthy or beautiful is no more “instinctive” than falling in love with someone because they’re financially independent, or a “good provider”, or, most important of all, committed and caring — willing and able to be there through thick and thin. These are all prescriptions for survival, and hence it is not surprising that the intuitive desire for such qualities in a lover has been selected for in our evolution since we appeared on the planet.

Sara told me last night, sometimes “silly men can’t process their own feelings so they rationalize them to death instead.” She’s exactly right. That’s why, once I acknowledged the importance of security in “deciding” who we love, it explained a whole raft of behaviours, needs and wants that I had always found inexplicable, “irrational”, and even unseemly:

  • Why people put up with so much grief from relationships, as long as the person causing that grief clearly still loves them (or at least says they do).
  • Why young women hook up with men who one would think are too old for them, and who wouldn’t seem to have anything in common with them — provided those men are very secure and/or healthy, and genuinely and deeply care for these younger partners.
  • Why, all other things being equal (which they rarely are) women tend to love men slightly older and more secure than they are (they want them to be around for them when they get older — so many women outlive their male partners)!
  • Why polyamory works (the security sought can be spread among several lovers, so if something happens to one there is still security from others); why it often doesn’t (with no primary relationship, there are constant doubts about whether any of the people one loves will, when push comes to shove, be there for them); and why relationships between poly and monogamous people are so difficult (very different expectations and needs for security).
  • Why, for people secure in themselves, being in love is more important than being loved (it gives their lives purpose, and a good chemical buzz, while they don’t need the security of being loved in return). And hence, why people who lack security in their lives need to be loved more than they need to be in love.
  • The possibility that people (like me) who are very secure in themselves in this terribly insecure, attention- and affection-starved world are just disconnected from their real feelings and needs — and why we tend to find some other people distressingly “needy”, while they find us cold, smug and distant.

To the extent we bring factors such as security into the “decision-making” on who we love and don’t love, this would suggest that we do have some “choice” in the matter. But I’m not so sure this isn’t all part of the involuntary instinctive and emotional assessment we make when we do, or don’t, fall in love. I don’t think we really “think” about it. It isn’t “rational”. Though it makes enormous evolutionary sense.

I think I tend to fall in love with women (plural) who:

  • are unusually intelligent, imaginative, creative and articulate,
  • are emotionally strong and emotionally sensitive (not an oxymoron), 
  • are physically attractive, and 
  • know themselves — self-knowledge is not the same as intelligence or emotional strength, and it is, I’m finding to my dismay, relatively rare (most people just don’t have the time/inclination for it). 

I’m always candid about my belief in polyamory — as soon as I meet anyone that there is even a chance of me having a relationship with. I don’t look for (and rarely find) physical/financial or emotional security in those I love.

This creates a bit of a paradox for me. While I’m physically attracted to younger women, I’m emotionally attracted to self-assured, self-knowledgeable women, and intellectually attracted to dangerous women who walk the line between genius and madness. These rarely come in the same, er, package. And while being polyamorous allows me to seek all of these things in different, simultaneous, partners, I’m not sure that I am able to offer what women with each of these qualities would be looking for from me.

The younger woman I want a physical relationship with most likely wants security and commitment from me. The smart, self-knowing woman (or man) I want an emotional relationship with most likely wants time and attention and emotional sensitivity from me. The mad artist/genius I want an intellectual relationship with most likely wants — what, grounding? — from me. I have no idea.

I’m not sure I can, or necessarily even want to, provide what each of these people would want from me in an enduring, loving relationship. And, if I attempt to give them each what they want from me, will I run out of both security and time by spreading both too thin, and lose everything by trying to have everything? And worse, will I hurt them, let them down, in the process? That’s a prospect I cannot bear.

This has, of course, been covered a million times in the movies and romance fiction. It’s just taken me, the perpetual slow learner, a while to pick up on it.

Well, I guess this silly man has analyzed and rationalized the unanalyzable and irrational to death. Time for me to shut up, turn off my brain, and trust my instincts and emotions, and those of the women I’m attracted to, to tell us what to do, and not to do, and whether we’re meant to love each other or not.

No choice involved in the matter, really.

Category: Human Nature

December 6, 2009

2200: A Travelogue

Filed under: Creative Works — Dave Pollard @ 08:51

image from the 1992 documentary film “Baraka”

For over five years I have been working on a novel tentatively called The Only Life We Know. The novel is set in the year 2200, a century or more after the crash of our civilization. It presumes that in 2009 we are at or near “peak everything”, and that all of the activities that have accelerated up an every-increasing curve since 1800 (or in some cases before) — consumption of land and natural resources, human population, pollution emissions, and production of more and more stuff, most of which ends up in landfills or worse — will soon follow a similar sharp drop down the other side of the normal curve, such that in 2200 we will be back to pre-industrial levels, 90% below today’s. So in my setting in 2200 there are only 500 million people left on the planet, a population that continues to drop gradually. The economy is subsistence and local, since there is no cheap oil to enable significant long-range transportation of goods or people.

But it is the opposite of the popular, violent “Mad Max” scenario of post-civilization collapse. A study of history indicates that, unlike inter-civilizational wars, post-civilizational collapses are generally quite peaceful, although they do entail in their early-collapse stages a lot of death (mostly from starvation and disease), suffering and turmoil. Most civilizational collapses (read Jared Diamond or Ronald Wright) have been mass exoduses, as people flee fragile, unsustainable centralized locations in search of land, food and water to make a new, community-based beginning. They are, on a mass scale, a “walking away” from complicated systems that simply no longer work.

My novel presumes that, as a decreasing number of humans fan out into the countryside, they find much of it degraded, but (especially in more Northern areas) they discover plentiful unused land suitable for small collaborative settlements, with solar power and permaculture providing a new sustainable way of life (I am hoping these recently-rediscovered technologies will not be lost along with our civilization’s soon-to-be useless oil-dependent technologies).

And, as the buffers between communities get larger (with diminishing population) and transportation and other social interaction between communities become rarer, I sense that what will happen by 2200 is what we discover in most isolated gatherer-hunter societies: A staggering degree of cultural diversity, with a de-homogenization of language, adornment and behaviour, to the point that adjacent communities may be so different as to be nearly unrecognizable to each other.

The principal driver for this will be de-urbanization, a hollowing out and abandonment of cities (also very common in civilizational collapses), since cities are inherently dependent on outside resources and hence are inherently unsustainable. We won’t go back to the Wild West or slavery or feudalism, though; instead we’ll go forward to a world that combines ancient indigenous wisdom with today’s and tomorrow’s (to the extent they can be tweaked to be sustainable) innovations — gliders, hot-air balloons, grafting of plants, straw-bale construction, human- and solar-powered looms, cameras, recordings, and other creative, artistic and scientific devices.

The original plan was to bring this out in a series of short stories within the novel, each about one such culture, narrated by a young nomad travelling between them, and interspersed with a gradually-revealed story about the civilizational collapse that preceded this new beginning. I envision a proliferation of new local languages by 2200, completely different forms of art, wildly divergent spiritual beliefs etc., in each community, and I had intended to present these in the novel through conversations between the travelling nomad and the citizens of each community, and her observations and reflections about these communities.

But I recently started thinking about another way to do this, that would get around the challenges of trying to depict such completely alien cultures and languages using written text in our very limited and culturally constrained 21st century languages. What if, instead of presenting this future in a novel, I presented it in a film? And what if, instead of writing a screenplay with dialogue that has the same problems of language as a novel, the screenplay had no words? What if, in other words, it were presented as a kind of two-centuries-later update of the cultural documentary Baraka (a Sufi word meaning “the weaving of life together”)?

For those not familiar with this film, or with the films that inspired it — Koyaanisqatsi (Life Out of Balance) and Powaqqatsi (Life in Transformation) — Baraka is a set of twenty sequential visual vignettes, of about five minutes duration each, set in places around the world, depicting different aspects of the human condition. It has no plot, no actors, no script (in the conventional sense) and no dialogue.

The picture above from this film is of a girl from the Kayapo tribe in the Brasilian rainforest. It could easily, I think, also be in my film set in the year 2200.

I have been working with a cinematographer friend, Danielle Seville, to scope out how we could make this film. What I envision is starting with a set of premises about life in 2200 — mainly, that it would be peaceful, joyful, sustainable, and diverse, a world where (like humans did before the invention of tools and technologies) we scavenge much of what we need — except that in 2200, we will scavenge largely from the abandoned relics of the “civilized” world. It will be a world of sufficiency but also one of great comfort and spiritual rediscovery, as we will have re-learned how to live in the natural world, in concert and in balance with the rest of life on Earth.

image of post-civilization world from afterculture

To try to imagine such a diverse future world is, I think, beyond the capacity of any one person (I’ve certainly tried, as hundreds of pages of discarded text from my novel attest). So instead, what I intend to do is to bring together a group of very imaginative people in a Creation Event and have us work collaboratively to develop the imagery, future cultures, music and sound the film would capture. I envision having artists and anthropologists and students of indigenous cultures past and present among the collaborators. I can see us sketching out and improvisationally acting out the scenes in real time, wordlessly, in Open Space. We’d have make-up artists and henna artists and tattoo artists and body-painters and animators and photoshoppers developing models of what we would look like and how we’d behave, using the participants as their canvasses. The Creation Event would itself be filmed.

And then it would be my job, working with Danielle and her team, to craft a screenplay with “scenes from the future” that captures all of these ideas, and then to assemble a team of improvisors (not actors, really) to wordlessly act out these brief scenes.

Part of the challenge will be to capture the reconnection of the human species with all-life-on-Earth, with scenes (like the image above from Baraka) that position us in the context of a rediscovered natural world, one that envelopes and welcomes and towers over us (rather than one we try to control), and offers us food, shelter, water, meaning, love — everything we ever needed. Much of the film, then, will not portray humans at all, but rather the natural places where we will then live, and the creatures we will share those places with, in sacred balance.

That’s the idea so far, anyway.

Category: Creative Works

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