Glimpses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | 7 Comments

Links of the Month: January 2019 — Collapse Watch Edition


image from Gail Tverberg’s article, described below

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Preparing for Civilization's End | 4 Comments

How Can We Prepare For an Unknowable Future?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Preparing for Civilization's End | 4 Comments

Curious About Radical Non-Duality But Hate Videos?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | 2 Comments

Blogging Without Facebook


Cartoon from the New Yorker by Lee Lorenz

Five years ago I summarized why I still blog this way:

I keep blogging because I owe just about everything about my current situation to my blog. My writing and my readers’ responses have shaped and radically altered my worldview. I quit my job because of it, and found my next (and last) two jobs through it. My book publisher found me through it. I’ve fallen in love because of it, and found many of the people who have become the most important in my life through it. So I can’t not blog. it’s part of who I am. It’s my auxiliary memory, my means to think out loud and figure things out when there’s no one I can talk to in person about things. By writing these terrible realizations about the inevitability of civilization’s collapse on my blog, I was able to formulate them and generate the courage to say them out loud, unapologetically. And I found lots of people who, rather than thinking my ideas were (as one reader put it) “doomer porn”, came out and said “Yes, that’s what I think and feel and sense and intuit too! I’m not crazy! You’re not crazy!”

Since then this blog has allowed me to discover how to eat well, and to discover and achieve clarity on radical non-duality, learnings which have been equally transformative in my life. And while writing about these things has alienated even more readers, it’s also produced, I think, some of my best work. And the realization that I’m still not crazy.

Eighteen months ago I quit Facebook (other than as a calendar for upcoming local events). That included ending cross-posting my blog posts there. I did that with a lot of trepidation, for two reasons: My work was read (and commented on) almost as much there as via email notifications and direct links. And many of my favourite bloggers (mainly the ones who provided links to reading that was important rather than their own original content) had stopped blogging and were using Facebook for this purpose instead (to reach a much vaster audience). Ending my cross-posts meant cutting myself off from them.

But I did it anyway. My quarterly links posts are as voluminous (and I think as useful) as they were before, largely because my favourite linkers continue to send me links by email. And my original writing and creative writing continue to develop with a much smaller but more coherent audience.

Sadly, many of the finest original content blog writers, their audience diluted and diminished by the firehose of useless, time-wasting and dangerous Facebook and Twitter blather, gave up writing. Blogging now can only provide the last two of the ten incredible blessings that the medium once provided that I listed above. The only remaining benefits of blogging are as an auxiliary memory (“what was that book all about again?”) and for thinking out loud (we learn much of what we learn by telling it, incoherently at first, to others). For many fine bloggers with busy lives, that just wasn’t enough to keep them going. For me, and the bloggers remaining on my right sidebar, it still is enough (some of the ex-bloggers and non-bloggers who still send me links and useful news about collapse and other interesting subjects, mostly by email, are shown in black on the ‘blogroll’). And a few others, unacknowledged on the sidebar, also send me interesting links for my Links of the Quarter posts. Thank you! But that is not why I blog.

Those two remaining benefits — auxiliary memory and thinking out loud — are, perhaps not coincidentally, probably the main reasons people have always kept diaries, and probably always will, as long as our species stays around and retains abstract language. I just keep mine in a public space, I think more out of habit than ego.

It’s sad that the golden age of blogs is gone, co-opted and diluted into mediocrity, its sense of community lost. Just as the late 1960s was an amazing time that couldn’t possibly last, so too were the magic years of blogging’s heyday. You can say that both were overrated, but those of us who blossomed thanks to them, know better.

 

Posted in Using Weblogs and Technology | 3 Comments

Writing Grey Words

In my last post, I played with using a grey colour (#999999) for all words that represent things that aren’t real — that is, they exist only as constructs of the mind, and in the absence of anyone, they simply don’t exist. It’s actually an extraordinarily large list. Our languages are built around the reality of these non-existent things, which is probably why wild creatures, absent their need or capacity for abstract mental constructs, have no need or capacity for abstract languages.

On the other hand, the list of what is actually real (ie what exists independent of the mind), which I showed in green (#008000) in my last post, is pretty small. For a start, these things are merely pointers; what is actually real cannot be known or understood by the separate person. And what really is, is both real and unreal; it is an appearance out of nothing. Aggravatingly to the separate person, one of these words that point to what is real-and-unreal, is ‘everything’.

So just for fun (or perhaps annoyingly) here are some words in each category:

Words that represent what is not actually real, but only a mental construct:

    • All pronouns (I, me, my, mine, you, your, yours, he, him, his, she, her, hers, one, they, them, theirs, and words including the term self, person, individual or similar subjective entity)
    • Forms of the verb ‘to be’ (am, are, is, was, were, will be, have been etc) that refer to something perceived as separate
    • Qualities, assessments, aspirations and aversions of perceived separate persons (eg enlightened, stupid, liberation, equanimity, war etc)
    • Words that describe things and actions that separate persons conceive or perceive to exist or happen in space and/or time:
      • Ideas (eg life, death, here, there, now, past, present, future, love, relationship)
      • Labels of a separate object (eg chair, face)
      • People, places and things, individual or group (eg Trump, his Towers, his lies and his stuff)
      • Qualities of perceived things or actions (eg happy, dark, quickly, annoyingly)
      • Actions involving causality, relationship or agency (eg led to, talked to, helped to)
      • Abstract concepts and perceptions of the (illusory) self (eg purpose, meaning, self-control, personal free will, individual choice; personal beliefs, thoughts, feelings and sensations; expectations, experiences, judgements, responsibilities etc)
Words that represent what is both apparently real and unreal, ie appearances out of nothing:

  • Words that describe what isthis, everything, nothing, unconditional love, oneness, what is actually happening
  • Gerunds that describe appearances rather than things (eg sitting rather than chair)
  • Also gerunds that describe what we have no words for in our languages because we don’t recognize their possibility eg wall-ing (what is apparently actually happening) rather than wall (which is the self’s mistaken perception of reality, a ‘psychosomatic misunderstanding’)

The problem with restricting conversation or writing to only what is both apparently real and unreal (ie actually real), is that you are limited to tautologies: All there is, is this. Everything is perfect, just as it is. It’s complete. Everything is unconditional love. There is no ‘you’. In languages where meaning (to the individual) is everything, such communications are, tautologically, meaningless, useless.

So what is the radically non-dual writer to do? Just be aware, I suppose, of what is written that refers to what doesn’t really exist. Write grey words, but accept that they describe only illusion, as compelling and as prevalent and as excruciatingly persistent as that illusion is.

And then, in oral conversation, and in thought, do the same: recognize when you are speaking, and thinking, grey words.

Aha.

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | 6 Comments

It’s Not That


image from pixabay/pexels CC0

it’s not that we’re ungrateful or unappreciative —
we’ve just forgotten;
the veil of our selves prevents us from ever seeing,
from remembering this.

it’s not that we’re hateful, wilfully destructive, violent or intentionally hurtful —
we can’t help our selveswe simply react, as a body reacts to a bee’s sting.
there is no self control, no agency, no causality or responsibility,
no reality to anything our selves believe, or believe they do.

it’s not that we’re weak, lazy or afraid, or don’t care —
we’re overwhelmed, haunted
by the ceaseless hallucination of being separate,
of being apart from this,
and our suffering is so deep and so endless
we cannot dare really feel.

it’s not that we’re depressed, despairing, or bereft of hope —
that’s just our way of coping, dealing with our incapacity,
the absurd hopelessness of the prison of the self,
this life without parole.

it’s not that we’re oblivious, inattentive or in denial —
we just can’t know where, or how, to look, to see, wondrously, this.

it’s not that we’re uninformed, or misinformed, or don’t yet know,
or that we haven’t yet ‘risen’ to our potential —
we are doing all we can, which is, alas, nothing.

it’s not even that we’re damaged, disconnected, traumatized,
(although we are, it seems, these things) —
we are not the cause of anything.
yet our selves suffer, without respite,
from the illusion that it’s our fault
that somehow, horribly and inexplicably, we are to blame.

it’s not that.

it’s this.

Posted in Creative Works | 3 Comments

Links of the Quarter: December 2018


Na Pali coast, Kaua’i — photo by me, taken two weeks ago

Although it isn’t real, doesn’t really exist, my self is giving me a hard time these days. It doesn’t like the cold, and wet, and slippery roads. (It yearns to be back in Kaua’i). It doesn’t like when things don’t work right. It doesn’t like feeling incompetent, trapped, endangered, lost, and scared. It doesn’t like feeling compelled to do things, though it gets a thrill from the feeling of having done them half way right. It’s impatient, and annoyed with most people, especially itself.

But none of it is real. There is no one, no time or space, no causality or agency, no life or death, no purpose or meaning. No ‘one’ to blame. And while the idea of that seems ludicrous, or horrifying, to most selves, my self finds it endlessly fascinating, even as it is constantly fooled (by itself, helped by other selves) into believing that all of these made-up things are absolutely real. It is utterly hopeless, tragic, absurd, and inescapable. And as obvious as all this is to me now, intellectually and intuitively, almost no one else seems to get it. I don’t blame them.

But my self (it seems) continues to write about this, as if somehow that might help, beyond making the “prison of the self” a bit more comfortable. And my self continues to write about collapse, and about living better, and about human nature and culture and how the world seemingly works, and about whatever else comes into my mind that seems, to my weary and bewildered and lost and scared self, worth writing down. I have no choice in the matter. I smile more, these days, and pay a little more attention to things up close, the sensuous stuff, and I make a bit more eye contact; my way of redecorating my little cell. But I understand, ridiculously, that nothing matters. All that our selves think of as real is just invention, story, the brain’s feverish patterning. Like the friends of Godot, I am waiting, hopelessly, for the impossible. And that’s fine.


PREPARING FOR CIVILIZATION’S COLLAPSE


Cartoon by the awesome Michael Leunig

Would Human Extinction Be a Tragedy?: At least the NYT is allowing the odd Op-Ed to ask the question. The author’s answer is, of course, a qualified yes. And the inevitable anthropocentric arrogance pervades the article. But maybe one day we will seriously ask the question, probably when we’re burning the last of the forests and coal in a desperate effort to survive. For those still on FB, this group, which offers a very different and very human answer, is way ahead of the curve. Thanks to Derrick Jensen for the NYT link.

So You Think Forests Sequester Carbon?: Not if they’re burning.

Carbon Ideologies: A wonderfully-written book review by Nathaniel Rich of the prolific William Vollmann’s epic and despairing treatise Carbon Ideologies: “Nothing can be done to save the world as we know it; therefore, nothing need be done”, the book’s author writes. Nathaniel Rich, in his review, says “The demand problem, the growth problem, the complexity problem, the cost-benefit problem, the industry problem, the political problem, the generational-delay problem, the denial problem — Vollmann scrupulously catalogs all the major unsolved problems that contribute to the colossus of climate change”. Then he concludes:

[But] human nature is Vollmann’s true subject—as it must be. The story of climate change hangs on human behavior, not geophysics. Vollmann seeks to understand how “we could not only sustain, but accelerate the rise of atmospheric carbon levels, all the while expressing confusion, powerlessness and resentment.” Why did we take such insane risks? Could we have behaved any other way? Can we behave any other way? If not, what conclusions must we draw about our lives and our futures? Vollmann admits that even he has shied away from fully comprehending the damage we’ve done. “I had never loathed myself sufficiently to craft the punishment of full understanding,” he writes. “How could I? No one person could.” He’s right, though books like Carbon Ideologies will bring us closer.

The planet’s atmosphere will change but human nature won’t. Vollmann’s meager wish is for future readers to appreciate that they would have made the same mistakes we have. This might seem a humble ambition for a project of this scope, but only if you mistake Carbon Ideologies for a work of activism. Vollmann’s project is nothing so conventional. His “letter to the future” is a suicide note. He does not seek an intervention—only acceptance. If not forgiveness, then at least acceptance.

First, the Economy Collapses: Although climate collapse will finish off our teetering and unsustainable civilization, the inevitable first domino to fall will be the global industrial growth economy. Even those up on climate news are often unaware that economy and ecology are inextricably connected, and the crisis of a collapsed economy can come on much faster and create much more devastation much more quickly than climate events. Here’s an excellent 8-part explanation of why our economy is so fragile and over-extended, and what it will mean when it collapses beyond the capacity of bankrupt governments to put back together, from economist Mari Werner. Thanks to Daniele Colojacomo for the link, and the one that follows.

HyperNormalisation and Civilisational Collapse: A fascinating interview with British filmmaker Adam Curtis that espouses the view that much of the dread we feel about the coming collapse stems from the collective sense that the current insane state of the world is somehow normal and inevitable, from our naivete about power, and from the lack of imagination to conceive of anything different. His film is here.

The Looming Danger of Cults: When stress and suffering become overwhelming, desperate people often turn to cults — anyone who will give them an easy answer. I’ve met more than a few intelligent people who’ve fallen under the influence of cults, many of which have finely-honed, rehearsed messages designed to appeal to those with specific weaknesses and traumas, and many of which have ‘charismatic’ leaders and astonishingly-large and influential followers. Those who escape them are often terrified to reveal what they know due to fear of retribution from zealous, brainwashed followers. Sexual abuse seems particularly prevalent in many of these cults, along with bizarre diets, rituals and fetishes. Even large media organizations can be cowed by threats of legal action by many successful cults’ armies of lawyers. And young people, especially these days confused and insecure young males, seem particularly vulnerable to cults, which can recruit powerfully in the often-anxious and angry echo-chambers of social media. Some novels about post-collapse society describe communities and ‘tribes’ permeated by cults. I hope they’re wrong. More and more, I fear they’re not.


LIVING BETTER


Sketch of St Francis, by the amazing Maryland-based artist Rebecca Clark

What the Green New Deal Really Means: It’s been deep-sixed by the Democrats as too radical, and is being discussed in more liberal countries, but it’s inevitable, and the sooner it’s embraced the better. But it will take much longer than the idealists think. The last New Deal only came into effect out of utter desperation after years of crushing depression. Once its fans realize the GND means massive government regulation (with strict enforcement and large penalties for violations), a huge redistribution of wealth through taxes, ends to subsidies and hundreds of new, expensive programs, it will be shut down. Until there is no choice. Problem is, by then the right-wingers will have bankrupted the government and given everything away to their rich friends, so there will be no money to implement it. But at least it’s out there, and we’ll see what our ‘leaders’ are made of, if we don’t already know.

Buy Safe, Healthy AND Cruelty-Free: Excellent lists of companies that produce safe and healthy cosmetic and chemical products (and those to avoid) are provided by EWG. Similar lists of companies that don’t test on animals or use animal products are provided by PETA. I only use products that make BOTH lists; they’re not easy to find, but they’re out there, and their products are outstanding as well as good for you and the world.

Don’t Talk to Me About Climate Change: George Monbiot suggests some new terms to use when talking about the crises facing our world, such as the following (thanks to Chris Dempsey for the link):

  • Climate breakdown instead of climate change
  • Our natural/living world instead of the environment
  • Wildlife instead of natural capital/resources/stocks/assets
  • Defending the planet instead of saving the planet
  • Climate science denier instead of climate skeptic
  • Refuges/sanctuaries instead of reserves

It Ain’t Easy Being LGBTQ: Nathaniel James clarifies that B is not G, and musician Laura Love explains why some WBW might legitimately want some of their own gatherings without T people invited, and might prefer other WBW as romantic partners, and that doesn’t mean they’re transphobic. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the second link and the one that follows.

Homeless Are Doin’ It For Themselves: A summary of the homeless self-organized activist movement in the US. As an interesting aside, despite Hoover’s horrific failure to manage his country and its suffering and homeless citizens through the Great Depression, he is celebrated in Belgium as the saviour of the nation’s starving during and after WW1.

The Tiny Nation of Užupis: A suburb of Vilnius has taken an April Fool’s joke and made it into a statement of what nationhood should really be about.

When Hate Comes to Your Town: How do you safely tell right-wing extremists their views aren’t welcome in your town?

Healing From Trauma: NHL superstar Theo Fleury talks about how he healed from years of sexual abuse, and how he almost didn’t. A moving story. Thanks to Beth Patterson for the link.

The Mushroom King Speaks Out: A rambling and fascinating interview with Paul Stamets, so famous for his knowledge of mushrooms and their mind-boggling uses they made him into a Star Trek character.

How to Pick Colours for Maps or Charts: Want to use colour to show gradation of a variable, or to clearly distinguish 12 or even 20 different lines or areas on a chart? Forget ROYGBIV and Internet Safe Colours, and give ColorBrewer a try. And here’s a link if you ever wondered why pink and brown aren’t in the rainbow.

When Should Serially Abusive Celebs/Leaders Be Allowed to Return to the Limelight?: Never. But what if they’re lynchpins of the whole organization? Same answer. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the second link.


POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL


Severe smog pollution in China is now an everyday occurrence. Photo by Damir Sagoli for Reuters.

The Madness of the Alberta Tar Sands: Its poor quality, and the temporary oil glut created by large-scale fracking, has meant that the environmentally ruinous Tar Sands bitumen sludge, which costs $50-70/bbl to produce, is wholesaling for $16/bbl. Guess who’s subsidizing the difference?

Monsanto Bought Off Researchers to Pimp Roundup: Is anyone really surprised?

How Inequality Tears a City Apart: Vancouver’s soaring wealth disparity drives the poor and young out, and brings the rich and entitled in, making the city worse off for everyone, and making home prices utterly unsustainable. Here’s how serious the home price/income gap has become. And here’s how to mitigate it — if only we had the political will (at all levels of government).

How Russia Helped Trump Win: Everything we know so far, from Jane Mayer at the New Yorker. It’s more than you might think.

Warning from Poland: Trends in several European countries are reminiscent of the precursors to violent upheaval that led to world wars in the last century, and which are increasingly evident in the US as well. This is how it begins, says author Anne Applebaum. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the link.

Another Article About How Fake Images and Videos Change Our Perception of Truth: From Joshua Rothman at the New Yorker, another warning about the risks of manipulated media. I told you so.

Got Milked? The Dairy Industry’s Fake Research

IP Lawyers Run Amok: An Australian research organization essentially extorted a half billion dollars from Wi-Fi component manufacturers (costs passed along to us) by threatening to sue for much more, for something they arguably didn’t invent at all.

Screening the Use of Screens: There is increasing evidence that what is presented to us on all kinds of screens is addictive and leads to antisocial tendencies. And even that dependence on them decreases our motor function. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the links.

Fast Company Asks if Capitalism is the Real Problem: Oh, no, wait, they’ve taken that link down. Kind of guessed that was over the line. Sponsors couldn’t have been happy. Thanks to Shasta Martinuk for the catch.


FUN AND INSPIRATION


Photo via David Petraitis on FB — not sure if it’s his photo or not.

Tell a Sci-Fi Story in Six Words: Hundreds of people took John Kellden up on his challenge. My favourites?: “White guys in space with toys.” “In healing ritual, yesterday becomes someday.” “Show us how to be new.” Mine, of course? “It was realized there’s nothing separate.”

DJ Earworm Does It Again: The mashup master compiles the top 25 songs of 2018 into one blockbuster song/video, which is a lot better than any of the mostly mediocre derivative songs that make it up. Here’s last year’s masterpiece. They’re also pretty scathing portraits of pop music’s vapidity, superficiality and narcissism.

Most Romantic Dance Ever, or Just Creepy?: Zouk dance champions strut their stuff.

Nova Scotia Students Stumble On New Branch of Life: A species of living creature genetically distinct from the entire animal kingdom and the entire fungi kingdom was discovered — in two different forms — in a collection jar, by accident.

Christine Lavin: Laugh Til You Cry: The author of the notorious and fall-down funny (if somewhat dated) Sensitive New-Age Guys has a ton of lesser-known songs spanning four decades, from the gently satiric Attainable Love to the gorgeous The Kind of Love You Never Recover From.

The Seven Echo Chambers: An interesting new study sets aside traditional left-right labels and substitutes seven ‘tribes’ whose views are more internally consistent, and reveals that some of the issues Americans think of as divisive (like the importance and impact of ‘political correctness’) they actually overwhelmingly agree on. The Atlantic summarizes the findings. Thanks to Paul Heft for the link.

WTF is Holding Space: A Man’s Guide: An entertaining account of why men seem so unable to empathize, and why they’re often doing it wrong. Thanks to David Petraitis for the link.

The Indigenous Origins of Sign Language: A fascinating history of the uses of sign languages. Thanks to Chris Corrigan for the link.

Why Are Quality Headphones & Earbuds So Much Better Now?: Here’s a look at the surprisingly simple technology inside that makes all the difference.

A Mother Carries On Her Deceased Globetrotting Daughter’s Journey: Moving story of a local woman who discovered, after her daughter died at age 22 (7 years after being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour), that she was moved to continue her daughter’s travels.

People-Watching as Awareness Tool: A woman explains how teaching her kids to pay attention to details about people in crowds, just for fun, taught them to be wary for dangers that might not otherwise have noticed. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the link and the one that follows.

Out of the Woods: A moving and troubling true story about a woman’s discovery of a lost boy in the woods.


THOUGHTS FOR THE QUARTER


Photo going around on FB. No idea of original source or even if it’s real. Who can say anymore?

From a 2013 speech by Harry Leslie Smith, who died at age 97 in his adopted Canada in February. Thanks to Dick Jones for the link. “Then aged 93, he declared that he would never again wear a red poppy. He first went to Remembrance Sunday in 1928, and says: ‘I don’t remember whether people wore poppies but they wore their grief like jagged glass.’ “:

Over the last 10 years the sepia tone of November has become blood-soaked with paper poppies festooning the lapels of our politicians, newsreaders and business leaders. The most fortunate in our society have turned the solemnity of remembrance for fallen soldiers in ancient wars into a justification for our most recent armed conflicts. The American civil war’s General Sherman once said that “war is hell”, but unfortunately today’s politicians in Britain use past wars to bolster our flagging belief in national austerity or to compel us to surrender our rights as citizens, in the name of the public good.

Still, this year I shall wear the poppy as I have done for many years. I wear it because I am from that last generation who remember a war that encompassed the entire world. I wear the poppy because I can recall when Britain was actually threatened with a real invasion and how its citizens stood at the ready to defend her shores. But most importantly, I wear the poppy to commemorate those of my childhood friends and comrades who did not survive the second world war and those who came home physically and emotionally wounded from horrific battles that no poet or journalist could describe.

However, I am afraid it will be the last time that I will bear witness to those soldiers, airmen and sailors who are no more, at my local cenotaph. From now on, I will lament their passing in private because my despair is for those who live in this present world. I will no longer allow my obligation as a veteran to remember those who died in the great wars to be co-opted by current or former politicians to justify our folly in Iraq, our morally dubious war on terror and our elimination of one’s right to privacy.

Come 2014 when the government marks the beginning of the first world war with quotes from Rupert Brooke, Rudyard Kipling and other great jingoists from our past empire, I will declare myself a conscientious objector. We must remember that the historical past of this country is not like an episode of Downton Abbey where the rich are portrayed as thoughtful, benevolent masters to poor folk who need the guiding hand of the ruling classes to live a proper life.

I can tell you it didn’t happen that way because I was born nine years after the first world war began. I can attest that life for most people was spent in abject poverty where one laboured under brutal working conditions for little pay and lived in houses not fit to kennel a dog today. We must remember that the war was fought by the working classes who comprised 80% of Britain’s population in 1913.

This is why I find that the government’s intention to spend £50m to dress the slaughter of close to a million British soldiers in the 1914-18 conflict as a fight for freedom and democracy profane. Too many of the dead, from that horrendous war, didn’t know real freedom because they were poor and were never truly represented by their members of parliament.

My uncle and many of my relatives died in that war and they weren’t officers or NCOs; they were simple Tommies. They were like the hundreds of thousands of other boys who were sent to their slaughter by a government that didn’t care to represent their citizens if they were working poor and under-educated. My family members took the king’s shilling because they had little choice, whereas many others from similar economic backgrounds were strong-armed into enlisting by war propaganda or press-ganged into military service by their employers.

For many of you 1914 probably seems like a long time ago but I’m 93, so it feels recent. Today, we have allowed monolithic corporate institutions to set our national agenda. We have allowed vitriol to replace earnest debate and we have somehow deluded ourselves into thinking that wealth is wisdom. But by far the worst error we have made as a people is to think ourselves as taxpayers first and citizens second.

Next year, I won’t wear the poppy but I will until my last breath remember the past and the struggles my generation made to build this country into a civilised state for the working and middle classes. If we are to survive as a progressive nation we have to start tending to our living because the wounded: our poor, our underemployed youth, our hard-pressed middle class and our struggling seniors shouldn’t be left to die on the battleground of modern life.

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 2 Comments

Conversation and Silence, Part Two

This is the second part of a two-part post; part one is here.

(photo of Killarney Lake by fellow Bowen Islander Jason Wilde)

If I stay here long enough
I will learn the art of silence.
When I have given up words
I will become what I have to say.

— Richard Shelton, Desert

Conversation, in the rare cases when it brings to the table the attributes I described in the first part of this article, can at least succeed at surfacing insights, helping us see different perspectives, attaining consensus on decisions, and helping to resolve conflicts. But when the necessary attributes for effective conversation are not present, or when the objective of talking is not one of these four purposes, I would argue that talking is pretty much a waste of time, and silence would be a better prescription.

But how, you might ask, can anyone advocate for silence when it is so often the handmaiden of abuse, oppression, patriarchy, enslavement, corpocracy, and desolation?

When these atrocities happen we must of course give voice to calling them out, stopping them, and condemning them. Although silence is not their cause, it is complicit in their continuation. Inequality of wealth and power, patriarchy, stress-induced psychopathy, and our obsession with ‘privacy’ and secrecy allow outrages to be perpetrated, shielded from our awareness, and covered up. These are the fall-out of our collapsing, exhausted, well-intentioned civilization, and I don’t believe we can ‘fix’ them until this terrible, unsustainable civilization has breathed its last — which won’t be long now.

Calling them out, naming them for what they are, and refusing to condone them, however, is done through exposition, not conversation. There is no decision, no consensus needed to make it clear that these outrages are not acceptable and must stop. Exposition — the stories of those who have suffered, the calling to account, the understanding of what has allowed this to occur and how to prevent its recurrence — these are not matters for deliberation, but for obvious action. In this, we may not always succeed, but we can never remain silent.

But only a tiny proportion of the massive firehose of talk that pervades our dying culture has anything to do with calling to account, or with real conversation as I defined it in part one of this article. Almost all of it, I’m coming to believe, is just noise, the wail of a species endlessly lamenting its unhappiness and its incapacity. What purpose does any of it serve? It fails to make us feel better, or even feel heard. It fails to bring about any real change, only hopelessness and helplessness and useless rage. It fails to inform, only to inflame, to deceive, to excuse.

I am lying on the beach, basking in the warmth, listening to the ocean, watching the birds, feeling the breeze, smelling the earth after a brief rain. Here, now, is a moment without the need for thought, for reactive emotions, for seeming actions. It is a time for love, for sensation, for joy, for paying attention, for play, for just being. Of course I could be doing something more ‘productive’, more directed at making something better. But I am no longer sure I believe that productivity and striving to make things better actually accomplishes anything, or at least nothing that lasts for long. Change happens when the generations attached to old ways of doing things die, and new generations, with somewhat different conditioning, take their place.

I listen to the supposed conversations of the other beach-goers. The conversations are vapid, meaningless, banal, unnecessary. They are about consumer decisions, unactionable news (political, economic, sports, weather), what someone supposedly did or said or should do or should have done or wants to do. They seek (with quiet or not-so-quiet desperation) reassurance, appreciation, attention, relief from the gnawing sense that something is not quite right, that they are somehow not quite right, not enough, missing something, all alone, owed something, needing something.

They — and all of us — are striving to heal ourselves from civilization disease. But words aren’t the path to healing; they just take us further inside our heads, inside ourselves where the disease lives. We find true healing in love, in laughter, in eating well, in exercise — and in silence, in paying attention without judgement, without evaluating, without expectation, without trying to ‘make sense’. Without thought, and its noisy partner, language, rehashing and second-guessing and re-living and lamenting a fictional past and dreading a fictional future. When it comes to our selves’ endless and incurable bent for suffering, words don’t help.

I don’t buy the hackneyed CBT/mindfulness/12-step orthodoxy that claims that by changing our thinking we can change ourselves, ‘re-program’ ourselves. There is no credible evidence that these acts of wishful thinking work. Wild creatures don’t need language to heal from their disturbing experiences, their tragic lives. Their therapy is wordless, silent, and it actually works.

I smile at those sitting or walking on the beach who have the good sense to just be silent, to just take in the mystery and wonder of everything just as it is. To notice, to pay attention, to stop thinking and reacting and judging and just open themselves to perceiving, sensing, being a part of all that is. And admittedly it is easier here on a quiet tropical beach with the surf pounding in than amidst the terrible knowledge of cities.

I smile at them. I salute them. If only for a moment they are, like me, beginning to begin to learn the humbling art of silence.

Of course silence is terrifying to those who have not learned the comfort and joy it offers. So many people have to fill the emptiness and pain inside with noise, with distraction, with entertainment, with anything that will help them even for a little while avoid the terrible feelings of hopelessness, of shame, of emptiness, of grief, of helpless rage, of terror and dread and regret that otherwise consume their waking hours. Silence is not for everyone, at least not until they have come to grips with the incurability of civilization disease.

And this is not to say there is no place for prose in our world. While it is should not presume to be conversation, thoughtful and well-crafted and non-manipulative writing, music, stories, poetry, films and videos, and other expository compositions (even blog articles) can, unlike twitter or facebook or texting or telephone blather, move us. Rather than taking us deeper into our heads and triggering our reactive emotions, such compositions can take us outside the suffocating default pathways of the brain and to other places, other ways of being.

So give me that rare creature, an excellent, purposeful conversation, or give me a composition that transports me, delights, fills me with possibility, or scream out your truth that shines a light on a terrible and outrageous reality. But if you have something else to say, fellow humans, please, for everyone’s benefit, just STFU, and give yourself, and all of us, the gift of silence.

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | 2 Comments

Conversation and Silence, Part One

This is the first part of a two-part article.
mindful wandering
photo by Maren Yumi on flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

It’s been a few years since I last wrote about conversation. I don’t see nearly the value in conversation that I used to. I still talk too much, and seemingly converse a lot, still mostly about subjects that are unactionable and don’t really matter. Old habit I suppose; this is long-conditioned behaviour. Language ties up the brain in comprehension and conception when the brain could be used, silently, for perception, for sensing and intuition and letting things come, and for demonstration and attention, which, even before embracing radical non-duality, I’d come to believe are much better uses of our bewildered brains.

I have come to distinguish real conversation (which etymologically means “turning with”, almost like dance, and which is a collaborative, interactive, iterative activity), from non-collaborative, one-way forms of talking including performance (relating something), instruction, and inquiry (Q&A), whose purpose is to tell a story, entertain, or give or get clarity, and which has a clear “audience”. These might be serial, with one person at a time spouting forth, but they are not really conversations. And if the back-and-forth results from a need for clarity due to inarticulate or lazy exposition, or a craving for reassurance, that’s not really conversation either.

So why should we ever need to converse? If not to relate information, tell a story, get clarity (ie learn), reassure, show affection, or entertain, what purpose does real, collaborative, interactive, iterative conversation serve?

I think real conversation can serve four purposes: to surface insights, to see different perspectives, to achieve consensus on decisions, and to resolve conflicts. These purposes are related: Seeing different perspectives and surfacing insights can help resolve conflicts and achieve consensus. They are about using a deliberative process to move beyond the fixed thoughts and ideas in our own heads and to appreciate others’ ways of thinking and seeing, with the goal of achieving agreement and cohesion with others we live and work with.

Here are the most important prerequisites, in my experience, for an effective conversation to achieve one or more of the above purposes:

  1. Capacity to be open to other and difficult ideas and perspectives: There is no point trying to collaborate with someone who is either incapable of considering or unwilling to consider different possibilities. If someone is totally set in their beliefs, or utterly lacking in imagination, conversation is futile.
  2. A basic level of capacity to articulate, and of social fluency: Articulation is the ability to convey one’s thoughts, ideas, beliefs and perspectives clearly. Social fluency is the emotional engagement and sensitivity to appreciate (and show appreciation for) others’ thoughts, ideas, beliefs and perspectives and see how and why they might be different from one’s own.
  3. Critical thinking skills: The capacity to draw inferences, challenge assumptions, weigh evidence, and synthesize information is essential to the development of a rational and thoughtful worldview and belief system. If you, or those you are conversing with, lack these skills, you can’t possibly hope to reason with them.
  4. Curiosity and creative/imaginative skills: Some people, for various reasons, are just shut down and unwilling to consider anything that doesn’t jibe with their ideology or belief set; others, through lack of practice, have lost the capacity to imagine anything that isn’t simple and obvious, or to put themselves in another’s shoes. Conversations with such people are likely to be just frustrating and pointless.
  5. Attention skills: We live in a world of attention deficit, distraction and information overload. In such a world, listening and paying attention are challenging and take practice. If those you’re conversing with don’t have and use these skills, they won’t hear you, so you’re wasting your breath.

You’ve probably noticed that these five prerequisites to effective conversation are all capacities; the people in the supposed conversation either have them or they don’t.

What I’ve discovered of late is that in most of the discussions I have (a) people don’t have one or more of the four purposes (to surface insights, to see different perspectives, to achieve consensus on decisions, and to resolve conflicts) for which conversations are well-suited; and (b) few of the participants have the five prerequisite skills for effective conversation.

Small wonder, then, that I find most attempts at real conversation fail. In the rare cases that true conversation occurs (often with the help of a skilled facilitator, who might also be one of the participants) the result can be magic.

Alas, as the world becomes more stressful, less attentive, more polarized and less socially fluent, such conversations seem to be increasingly rare.

Perhaps that is why some of us have been shying away from social discourse and spending more of our time in silence. I’ll explore that more in Part Two of this article.

Thanks to John Kellden and Michael Dowd for inspiring this post

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | 1 Comment