Exploiting Our Conditioning


image by Mike Licht on flickr, CC BY 2.0

Several people have been urging me of late to look at switching to alternatives to Facebook and Twitter that supposedly are less “evil” — less fertile ground for hate-mongering, racism and other -isms, mis- and disinformation, censorship by platform owners, and propaganda.

But if they’re so awful, I reply, why not just stop using them? Well, because they’re needed I’m told. By whom, I ask, and for what purpose? For essential communication, discussion and exchange of ideas, they tell me.

I find that hard to accept. Like most new technologies, these dumbed-down excuses for “social media” have, since day one, caused vastly more problems than they’ve solved, or even tried to solve. Tell me one useful thing that they have accomplished, and I’ll reply with ten things that they have made worse.

In fact, when I get emails from people worried about Twitter and Facebook, they sound very much to me like the anxious words of people addicted to unhealthy and destructive things, worried about their continued source of supply, instead of acknowledging their dependence and seeking ways to break it.

The core of their addictiveness is their appeal to our craving for attention, appreciation, acknowledgement, recognition, and reassurance. Our disintegrated, fragmented society has created a scarcity of these commodities because this fragmentation serves to keep us off balance, obedient, and in our place. Without this separation, this disconnection, this dependency, eight billion humans would never put up with the ghastly limits on our freedom and the horrific, overcrowded, unnatural conditions under which so many live their entire lives.

There is nothing wrong per se with becoming physically or psychologically dependent on something. Nature addicts us to water, to food, to love and sex, in the interests of survival and perpetuation of the species.

The problem is that we pretend there is a line between these natural ‘healthy’ dependencies, and acquired dependencies on or needs for unnatural substances, relationships, and behaviours. And that somehow we have the ‘free will’ to distinguish them and to prevent ourselves (if we are strong and smart and of ‘good character’) from becoming dependent on the latter.

This is total nonsense. We can — any of us — be conditioned to crave things that sicken and kill us, and to kill, hate and engage in other antisocial and destructive behaviours. There is almost no limit to what our conditioning can lead us to do.

In fact, the entire purpose of capitalism is to exploit humans’ conditioning for profit. It no longer has anything to do with its original stated purpose, which was the efficient raising of investment funds (capital) to enable costly long-term projects that otherwise would not be possible.

Go into the grocery store and total up how much of the merchandise is unhealthy to consume. Just the candy, cookies, other sugar-packed foods, sugar-water beverages, and chips and other salt-soaked snacks alone take up a large percentage of the aisles. And if food regulators were honest enough to also acknowledge just how awful meat, eggs and dairy, saturated fats and oils, and chemical-laden processed foods are for us, we’d quickly realize that almost everything in the grocery store is bad for our health.

But our bodies are addicted to these products. Research suggests we form these addictions from a very early age and that for most of us, these addictions dictate what we consume for the rest of our lives. The industrial food industry relies heavily on advertising, lobbying and misinformation to perpetuate these illness-creating addictions, all in the interest of profit.

That doesn’t make them evil — their executives are as addicted as the rest of us, and as much in denial of the fact that poor nutrition is the cause of most of the world’s diseases and deaths. This is just how the system works: Our bodies are easily conditioned to crave substances, especially if (like salt, sugar and fats) they are relatively scarce in the natural world and hence our bodies are genetically conditioned to like them even before cultural and social conditioning kicks in. The food industry merely exploits this conditioning, leveraging it with advertising and misinformation, to generate enormous profits from foods that are actually killing us, after which the medical/pharmaceutical industries step in to generate huge profits by treating our mostly-unnecessary diseases.

Capitalism likewise exploits our capacity for conditioning in every other industry. In the war industry, they exploit our fear and our propensity to hate what other people we know and trust hate, through the media, to get us to support wars. Other industries exploit our vanity, our fears of not having enough, or of being ridiculed, to condition us, through advertising, to buy crap we don’t need, most of which ends up in landfill or in the oceans or atmosphere as waste.

The entertainment industry, including “social media” (which, like the “news media” are more and more preoccupied with entertaining their audience, which is cheap and easy to do, than with informing it, which is expensive and hard to do) have long worked to condition us to crave ever-increasing amounts of novel “data”. So much so that we can no longer afford to buy it all, and no longer have the time to manage it, so it is just “streamed” to us to guzzle without limit. Talk to people (young males, especially) about how addictive video games are if you don’t believe it’s this serious.

We are addicted to these “media”, thanks to our conditioning, no less than we are to foods that make us sick and kill us. And the stigma and guilt and shame of admitting to the “weakness” of such addiction causes us to deny its unhealthy effect on us, and to resist attempts to regulate it in our collective interest.

The “answer” is obvious — stop eating and drinking junk, stop buying crap we don’t need, and stop using antisocial media. But this “answer” is also impossible. Billions of addicted people cannot just stop. The utter failure of “12-step” programs and CBT and other “reprogramming” methods, despite decades of hype, attests to the impossibility of us being able to change our conditioning voluntarily. Of course a few people will break their unhealthy addictions, but those few were already conditioned to be ready psychologically to do so, and were genetically conditioned to be able to break free of addictions relatively easily. For them to denigrate those not so fortunate is just cruel.

For the rest of us, our conditioning is going to continue to power our addictions, no matter what. No amount of shaming, incarceration, physical and psychological pain and “reprogramming” is going to break the chain.

So when bright people tell me they’re thinking of switching from Twitter or Facebook to some other less egregious lookalike animal, I just shake my head. They remind me of the other junkies who assert they “could quit anytime”. I feel bad for them, whether they’re in denial, or just desperate. “Oh my God a monkey can move a man”, as James Taylor put it.

And I’m no different. I’m conditioned like everyone else, and the arguments in this post are just the result of that conditioning. I have my dependencies, and the fact mine are probably less damaging than most people’s is just my good fortune.

So I don’t tell people they should quit, or switch, social media (or change their diet, or shake their dependencies). Sometimes I ask questions, because it’s when people have asked me questions about my behaviours and beliefs at just the right time, that my conditioning has shifted, I think mostly in useful and healthy ways.

I have often heard, from the more dim-witted philosophers, that if everyone acknowledged that there is no such thing as free will, we would all kill ourselves. For me, giving up the belief in free will, and accepting that this body is just acting out its conditioning and that ‘I’ have nothing to do with it (other than trying to make sense of it, and having judgements about it, afterwards) has been enormously liberating, and even joyful.

I no longer post anything on “social media”, though after 20 years’ blogging and 3300 posts with 10,000 pages of writing and images, I am clearly addicted to this blog. At my age I occasionally wonder whether, on my deathbed, I will regret not having spent more, or less, time “online”, or blogging, or doing anything else. I don’t think I will. But maybe that’s just my conditioning talking. It’s not like I had any choice.

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

Britishisms


caricature of a typical British toff wanker, by the very talented DonkeyHotey, CC BY 2.0

I have a seemingly inexhaustible fascination with languages, and in particular how they have evolved. I recently came across an Oxford U site listing common British expressions that are supposedly rarely if ever heard anywhere else.

Being a Canadian, I am used to straddling, as politely as possible, the line between UK and US spellings and terms. When I hear an expression I’m unfamiliar with, in typical Canadian style I nod knowingly and then rush off to look it up.

Google forces me to choose, in its spellcheck, between UK and US English. It’s an annoying choice. If I choose US English, Google will expeditiously excise many of the u’s in my words containing -ou-. If I choose UK English, Google will toss my spam messages in the “bin” instead of the “trash”, and it will correct my “misspellings” by replacing them with words such as burnt, dreamt, learnt, spilt, spoilt, and spelt, making me sound even more like an old fogey than I am.

I confess I do love the Oxford style manual, which economically dispenses with extraneous periods and spaces, though it adds in that extra comma when clarity demands it, and even when it doesn’t.

Sadly, I don’t think I’ll ever master, or even understand, the protocol for putting brackets, periods, and quotation marks in the ‘correct’ order. (“This makes no sense whatsoever,” he said, without a pause.)

I also found the aforementioned (and above-linked) list of Britishisms quite puzzling: Most of these terms were very familiar to me (though many seem a bit dated), and I didn’t think they were particularly British at all. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that most Americans and nearly all Canadians not only know what these expressions mean, but have used them in their own conversations (mostly in the 1980s, I suspect):

  1. he’s dishy
  2. don’t cry over spilt (or spilled) milk
  3. that place is a dive
  4. haven’t seen him in donkey’s years
  5. you’ll get an earful
  6. for crying out loud
  7. flog a dead horse
  8. I’m gobsmacked
  9. I’m going to a do
  10. He got hammered
  11. It’s hunky-dory
  12. I’m easy
  13. I’ll be there in a jiffy
  14. what a kerfuffle
  15. what a letdown
  16. get one’s mitts on something
  17. miffed
  18. mind your Ps and Qs
  19. not my cup of tea
  20. nosh
  21. it’s a one-off
  22. odds and sods
  23. that old chestnut
  24. it’s a piece of cake
  25. quack (doctor)
  26. rank smell
  27. take the piss out of someone
  28. umpteenth time
  29. to be up for it
  30. to veg out
  31. bad vibe
  32. watering hole
  33. to wangle something
  34. wind someone up
  35. wonky
  36. it’s a keeper
  37. yakking
  38. yanking my chain
  39. zonked

If you’re American, please let me know if any of the above expressions is not familiar. If you’re a fellow Canadian, let me know likewise; even if these are British terms in origin, I think they’re common Canadian vernacular as well.

Here are the remaining entries from the Oxford Britishisms list. These are terms I think are distinctively British and would be puzzling to just about everyone else:

  1. he’d bite your arm off — he’d be more than willing
  2. elevenses — late morning snack
  3. gobby or lairy — loud and opinionated
  4. jar — pint of beer
  5. knees-up OR on the lash — partying
  6. lurgy — contagiously ill
  7. leave it out — stop doing/saying that, please
  8. minted — rich or newly rich
  9. numpty — stupid or awkward
  10. plonk — cheap wine
  11. telling porkies — lying
  12. reem OR xtra — cool, excellent
  13. rinsed — defeated in an argument OR paid too much for something
  14. skive — play hooky
  15. shirty — bad-tempered
  16. stitched up — set up or taken advantage of
  17. trundle — move slowly and awkwardly
  18. it’s up the spout — something that’s been wasted or lost
  19. under the cosh — under pressure
  20. from the valleys — Welsh
  21. well in it — in trouble
  22. you what? — what did you say? (Huh? Eh?)
  23. yonks — a long time

Again, if you’re American, or Canadian, let me know if you’ve heard these expressions from someone from this side of the Pond.

If you’re British, you can probably advise on which of the above expressions would never be said by any self-respecting Brit under the age of 60.

And if you’re an Aussie or Kiwi or South African, I’d be curious for your insight on which of these words are, and aren’t, familiar to you.

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | 5 Comments

Chemical Soup


photo by guilhem vellut on flickr CC BY 2.0

I am on the ferry, on a visit to Bowen Island, where I used to live. I had forgotten how exciting it is for small kids to be on a “big boat!”  There are lots of kids running around asking questions: “Is that the real ocean?” “Are there sharks and whales down there?”

The kids on the ferry are gathered around an as-yet-unadorned plastic Christmas Tree at the front of the passenger deck of the boat. “It looks so sad, all naked without any ornaments. Can we ask the captain if we can help decorate it?”

We may smile at this, but this capacity and tendency to personify and anthropomorphize non-human creatures and things is well-entrenched in the human psyche. I confess that I have cried after throwing out stuffies (plush animals), even ones I have not been particularly attached to. I have even cried when saying goodbye to my car when I traded it in. What is it about us, and about them, that causes us to react so emotionally, so sentimentally? Sometimes more sympathetically than in our responses to living creatures’ suffering.

We’re crossing the Salish Sea, the eastern edge of the Pacific Ocean, protected by Vancouver Island. It’s dark, and the water is so smooth that the reflections of lights are unruffled, as sharp as the original. They make me think about my recent experience looking in the mirrors in the gym, reflecting my body in all directions, and causing me, for a moment, to lose track of which body was ‘real’ and which were mere representations. I’m not sure that I wasn’t closer to the truth when I had no idea which, if any, was ‘real’. Sometimes we’re so sure we know things, when we cannot.

As the ferry moves out of the cove, I can now see the strait that opens into ‘open’ ocean. I’m a non-swimmer, but the ocean is beckoning me, calling me out with some ancient reminder that we all began in the ocean (even those creatures adapted to the land who still, until birth, swim with webbed hands in an interior ocean). We are all, I think, all our lives, still looking for the way home. 

This is why I call Neil Young’s Will to Love (about salmon swimming upstream) my ‘soul song’ (though I no longer presume to have a soul):

I remember the ocean, from where I came,
Just one of millions, all the same,
But somewhere someone calls my name,
I’m a harpoon dodger, and I can’t and won’t be tamed.

There are whales dying in large numbers off the coast. We don’t want to know why. The ocean remains the home to the vast majority of living creatures, and most of Earth’s total biomass. Yet we have carelessly poisoned it, littered it, far more even than we have desolated the land we migrated to. We didn’t do it deliberately. We feel bad about it, but seek to blame others for it, when no one is to blame. This is what humans in their ‘civilized’ state are conditioned to do, cannot help but do. It’s a tragedy, but one without monsters, without villains. 

It’s a most unsatisfactory plot, this ‘story of us’, one that we are not anxious to explore to its end.

On the ferry, a little girl in a fairy princess dress dances around the poor, forlorn Christmas tree. You can see the shifts in her movement, from oblivious and inspired and improvisational, to self-conscious and nervous and ‘performing’. I want to see her wand light up and suddenly bring the tree to life, adorned and sparkling. 

There are a lot of things I want to see in the world. I want to see a world in which little girls can just be who they are, without having to be cautious, alert, reserved, suspicious. Without having to be warriors, and without having to be twice as smart as little boys. A world where it’s safe to be shy, or to be spectacular. A world where girls can be boys and boys can be girls, without provoking a discussion about surgery. A world where pretend and make-believe are fine, where a magic wand, or a green button (but not a trigger, please) can transform the world for the better in the eager, earnest mind of a child who, unlike so many of us who’ve forgotten, knows the meaning of play.

We are a mess of chemical reactions, a cauldron of chemical soup. We hate, we seethe with jealousy and envy, we are paralyzed by anxiety and shame. We have no choice. This is the result of a million years’ conditioning, leaving us exhausted and rendered dysfunctional by a brain that tries so hard to make sense of what does not make sense that it sickens the whole creature, causes it to react, and overreact, to everything, causes it to misunderstand and project and judge and create its own causes for suffering.

Every judgement, I am starting to think, is a misjudgement. We want to see causality, intention, consequence, because then, we hope, we can understand, predict, keep ourselves safe. It is a mad illusion.

It is no wonder our word for mental illness is disorder.

This clip is an 8-second excerpt of a short doc by Journey to the Microcosmos; you can see Tardigrades easily with a $19 microscope and a trip to the garden or park

If only we could strip away this veil of the need-to-know, to make sense of everything, this ill-conceived illusion of control and self-control. And see and be like wild creatures again. Needing nothing, as we were before we were torn from our mothers’ dark and quiet inland seas, and cried the cry of the separate, the lost, the bewildered. The having-to-know. This spilled-out little cauldron of chemical soup, wanting only and forever thereafter, to be home.

Cocooned in the Skytrain coming home, speeding through the dark, my self relaxes — for a few moments there is nothing to decide, nothing that needs to be known or done. Most of the other spilled-out little cauldrons of soup are hunched over their phones. I try to pay attention to them without judgement, without analyzing, without trying to make sense of their actions and demeanour, without trying to guess their state of mind or motivations. Why is this so hard?

Just one of millions, all the same

I imagine us all, me and these slumped passengers, as trained bears, doing as we were conditioned, returning to our lairs from the circus where we work and where we receive the food we can no longer provide for ourselves. Padding back and forth in these little cages without bars. It’s the only life we know, now. The ocean, from where we came, is just back there, but it’s a lifetime, a million years, away, long forgotten.

Posted in Creative Works, Our Culture / Ourselves | Leave a comment

CoVid-19: By the Numbers

As governments and health authorities keep altering, suppressing and recalculating their CoVid-19 data, I’ve been tracking the numbers right from the start, in an attempt to learn some lessons about pandemics from my brief stint with a team of epidemiologists a decade ago.

As I’ve said from the start, I’m not a health expert. My role with the Ministry of Health was in information processing and analysis, but I did learn a lot about the nature, causes, and management of pandemics from the hard-working professionals I worked with.

This is a recap and update to my earlier posts on CoVid-19. I’ll start with the data — such as it is.

The map above, based on excess deaths data compiled from several sources and some estimates from The Economist where data was missing or lagging, essentially shows which countries have fared better or worse during the pandemic. There would appear to be three main factors to account for the vast differences between countries:

  1. Countries whose citizens have been exposed to many diverse viruses during their lives and have therefore developed a relative immunity (such as many central African nations) appear to have relatively very low death rates from the disease, even adjusting for poorer reporting.
  2. Countries that imposed restrictions on movement, mandated the use of masks and isolation when infected, and/or had robust health systems that could cope with heavy hospital loads and could quickly introduce new treatments, avoided the worst of the early, higher-mortality variants and “flattened the curve”, reducing the death toll by on average 2/3 in those countries.
  3. Countries with high levels of diabetes, obesity, and preexisting immune system and other health problems, or which faced high levels of resistance to any restrictions on movement or behaviour from citizens, or whose governments basically left all decisions up to individuals’ discretion, or waffled back and forth on restrictions, fared worst.

The second chart, above, shows all Canadian seroprevalence samples taken during the pandemic, from the CoVid-19 Immunity Task Force. The lower curve shows that across Canada CoVid-19 infections were kept to only about 7% of the population for nearly two years prior to the emergence of Omicron this past January, as a result of a combination of vaccinations (the upper curve) and high levels of self-isolating and masking. This “flattened the curve” and saved thousands of lives. While Omicron is much more vaccine-resistant, it is also significantly less likely to cause hospitalization or death.

Data showing the prevalence of the disease in public water supplies show a similar pattern to seroprevalence (blood test) data.

Countries where vaccine ‘hesitancy’ was high, or where resistance to self-isolating and masking was strong, had seroprevalence curves more like the grey curve in the centre of the above chart — much more dependent on inoculation through infection rather than vaccination, and many times more deaths and hospitalizations, especially early in the pandemic.

We are not out of the woods yet. As vaccines wear off and new vaccine-resistant variants emerge, we could find ourselves having to go through this all over again, at least if some of the new variants prove to be more deadly. It wouldn’t be the first time this happened. And there’s overwhelming evidence that if a new highly-deadly variant (or new infectious disease entirely, likely stemming from bird flu) emerges in the next few years, we will make the same mistakes we did this time.


The third chart, above, shows the estimated actual death toll to date for selected jurisdictions. The estimates are based on excess deaths data assembled from several sources, not from ‘reported’ deaths, which are now all over the map in frequency and reliability. The numbers are per million citizens.

5,000 deaths per million, which the US is creeping up on, equates to one citizen in every 200 killed by this terrible disease. For those over 70 years of age or with weakened immune systems, the death toll is ten times higher than that.

We still have no idea of what the toll of Long CoVid will be, but it’s certain to afflict many times the number who died from the disease. Our failure to continue to use masks in indoor and crowded locations, to test and self-isolate when infected, and to get the latest vaccinations, will increase the future number of deaths, Long CoVid victims, and hospitalizations proportionally. The green bars above show how much the death toll is expected to rise even if no new more-dangerous variants arise. We are still in the middle innings of this disease.

Between 70 and 95% of people in all North American jurisdictions (and much of the rest of the world) have already contracted the disease at least once, and despite this fact, and all vaccination efforts, the death toll continues to rise at between 1-2 people per million citizens, every day.

The consensus of several analyses is that about 2% of people throughout almost every jurisdiction in the world, and including every part of North America and Europe, have been infected in just the past 10 days and are hence actively infectious to others. That’s one out of every 50 people in that restaurant, on that bus or train, or attending that event.

This also means that you have a better-than-50%-chance of getting it again some time in the next year. If you get it, probably from a friend or family member or some sneezer at a party or store or local event, you’ll probably be OK, unless you’re old, or health-compromised, or… unlucky.


If you do get it, the chart above shows your current chances of dying. That’s true even if you’re asymptomatic, which most of those getting infected now are. We seem to have decided that the rates for the most recent variants, shown in the green bars, are an acceptable risk — about one in 2,000. If you’re old or immunocompromised, again, the odds are ten times worse. Still, far less than the rates of the earlier variants, which overwhelmingly took down the unmasked and the unvaccinated. We can only hope that the next variant, or the next pandemic, doesn’t look like the early variants, that had an IFR of nearly 1%, or some of the scarier plagues of our history, with IFRs ten times higher again.

And there will be a next one.


This last chart is just for the data geeks:

Some of the early guesses about actual deaths and cases were enough to make your head explode. In some cases the assumptions were circularly dependent — so if one was off by a factor of ten (which happened, especially for case data and data for some remote countries), so were the rest of the assumptions on which the model was based.

This chart shows the estimates and projections of total deaths per million people, for Canada, the US, and the entire world. The early estimates, with the sudden jarring changes, are mostly from IHME. The left-point of each line is their estimate of how many had died at that time, and the right-point is their projection for (usually three months into) the future. The lessons from this chart:

  1. The ‘flat’ and ‘flattening’ lines show the times when we were about to declare victory — when we thought CoVid-19 was past its peak and would soon be history.
  2. None of the three curves is flattening, and most of the lines start at a point higher than the last projection.
  3. Canadians have finally woken up to the fact that this is a long game and our early caution was not grounds for letting up later. The per-capita death toll in Canada is now rising faster than that of the US. Our complacency is unwarranted. And the political muzzling of advocates for continued safeguards is tragic.

As I said in an earlier summation, there is no question which ‘side’ has been consistently winning this 30-month-long war of wills, wits and adaptation.

Nature keeps reminding us she always bats last.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves | 1 Comment

A Prayer to No One


cartoon by Michael Leunig

May it be seen
that we fretful, fearful humans
are just lost, hurt, struggling, bewildered creatures
doing our best,
and that no one is ‘to blame’ for what has happened
on this damaged, desolated planet.

May it be seen
that we each construct
from our shame and guilt and grief and hopes and dreams
our own solitary prisons,
and in so doing make our lives
and the lives of those we claim to love
so much harder than they have to be.

May it be seen
that ‘what could be’
is just our brain’s invention,
and that ‘what should be’ — an even worse invention —
prevents us seeing what simply, astonishingly, already is.

May it be seen
that our beliefs are merely guesses, wishes, opinions
and not truths;
and that the hopelessness of this dis-ease
is nothing to be sad about.
Though we cannot be healed
we are all healing.

May we learn
to be conscious of our selves
not to make more of ourselves
but rather, to make less of them.

May we learn
to find the way
not to awakening, or enlightenment,
but to disillusionment, to acceptance of
this strange and unreal sense of separation,
this helplessness, this innocence, this tragedy
that nothing can be done about.

May we learn
to appreciate our a-part-hood
instead of our apart-hood.

May we learn
to forgive the fathers mothers lovers masters teachers gurus
who bewitched us with their false knowing
with the best of intentions.

May we discover again
the childhood wonder lost to fear,
and how to laugh
without our teeth clenched behind our masks —
to laugh so hard, and so without constraint,
that we fall down, and to our great surprise
we touch, and feel, the Earth
we had forgotten.

Posted in Creative Works | 2 Comments

Indecent Jobs


What happens when what employers can afford to pay to sustain their profit growth is less than what workers need to make ends meet? (Hint: It starts with a ‘C’)

There is a class/caste war going on throughout the Euro-American empire between employers and workers of every stripe. No one is to blame for this — it’s the inevitable result of over-reliance on our fundamentally defective capitalist economic system. Here’s what’s happening:

  1. The economic disparity between the ultra-rich top castes and everyone else has grown to become a chasm. As a result, the ultra-rich have been buying up everything to put their staggering wealth to use, while standards of living for everyone else have been dropping since the Reagan era 40 years ago.
  2. The profligate spending of the ultra-rich has driven up the prices of everything, notably food, health care and housing. That means that everyone except the top castes needs to earn more to be able to afford basic goods and services. When you live in a city where you need a $100,000 annual family income to pay the rent on a one-bedroom apartment, then two breadwinners need to be earning $50/hour between them (or both working 80-hour weeks at two jobs each for $25/hour each); a single breadwinner has to be earning a six-figure salary. In recent years the gap has been temporarily ‘bridged’ by working families going deeper and deeper into debt. With rising interest rates, however, not only is this no longer possible, some of the existing debts now need to be paid down, requiring an even higher income.
  3. At the same time, the top castes, which own the vast majority of stocks and real estate, are trying to protect their investments by perpetually driving up profits. They are doing that by raising prices of their corporate goods (which drives up inflation and requires workers to earn even more income to stay above water). They can do this because anti-monopoly laws in Euro-American countries have been eviscerated by governments at the behest of — guess who — the top castes who supply most of the funding for political campaigns. So there is no competition left — oligopolies run almost every major industry, and conspire to fix prices to jack up profits. (eg Apple just raised the price of their music ‘subscription’ service by more than 10% in one go, in line with increases of their three ‘competitors’.)
  4. And the top castes are also bullying governments, unions and workers to try to reduce wages, a major component of the costs that restrict their profit growth. This is why interest rates are soaring — deluded bankers and government workers somehow think that workers are leaving the labour force because they don’t ‘have’ to work, and that if interest rates are jacked up, it will force ‘lazy’ workers back into the labour market, increasing competition for jobs and driving down wage costs. But lower wage costs simply mean that workers will have to work longer hours. That means they’ll burn out faster, end up with serious health issues, and be forced to exit the labour force entirely. This is the primary reason that the labour participation rate is dropping so precipitously — sick, exhausted, despairing workers. They end up as burdens to their family members, who need to earn more and work harder to support them, so the vicious cycle continues. (Or they end up, like so many unable to work, homeless, on the streets.)
  5. Labour unions have been complicit with the top castes in agreeing to labour settlements that give significant wage increases to existing union members, but drop the starting wage for new workers doing the same job to starvation wage levels. Labour unions get the support of their existing members, employers get a net decrease in wage costs going forward, and new workers, especially the young just entering the marketplace, get screwed.

Like every other aspect of the untrammelled capitalist system, this is completely unsustainable. Exhausted, underpaid workers can’t afford to buy the products in the volumes and at the prices that the top castes need to sell at, to sustain perpetual profit growth. So now the top castes have become dependent on (1) other top caste members buying their luxury product lines, to subsidize the fall-off of purchases by the rest of the population, on (2) sales to citizens of foreign countries, and on (3) automation, and dismantling of support services in favour of “self-serve” (ie no service) models.

There’s a limit to how much profit can be generated by the top castes just buying more and more from each other (though that limit may be farther off than you might think). And as the Euro-American empire alienates more and more of the rest of the world through its brutal fiscal, monetary and political policies, and threatens more and more military adventures with the very countries it depends on for cheap supplies and new customers, there are severe limits to profit growth opportunities from foreign operations as well. Of course, there is the hope that by toppling the governments of Russia and China, trillions of dollars of cheap resources can be stolen, keeping the Euro-American empire’s costs low just a little longer.

Meanwhile, opportunities for automation, outsourcing and eliminating support services and ’employee benefits’ have pretty much been exhausted.

But only so much strapping tape can be applied before the whole package starts flying apart. And don’t be fooled — the top castes know this cannot continue, and are preparing for economic collapse, hoarding as much as they can before it happens.

The supply/demand chart above basically illustrates the dilemma of the current economy. Workers need to earn more and more as prices and costs soar, especially for things like housing, health care, healthy food, private transportation, and, now, debt interest costs. The actual rate of annual cost increases has been distorted by governments and banks ever since the governments of the Reagan/Thatcher era replaced the honest formulas with fake ones 40 years ago. The true ‘consumer’ cost of living has been rising annually by about 1o% for over a decade (ie a doubling of costs every 7 years), and rising interest rates and jacked-up prices for corporate goods could easily push true cost-of-living increases close to 20% for working families soon.

But while workers need more and more to make ends meet, employers whose wealth depends on endless profit growth are compelled to try to give workers less and less. When the supply and demand curves no longer intersect at all (or intersect at “zero workers”), you have a crisis. Look at all the economic collapses in countries around the world since 1980 and you’ll see what this crisis portends.

There is no “solution” to this crisis. Systems self-sustain until they can’t, and then they collapse. If the top castes keep trying to squeeze workers, they will end up with no willing, healthy workers at all — which means no customers, either. But if the top castes were to blink and start to offer reasonable incomes and essential benefits to workers, their profits would crash, and along with them, the stock and real estate markets, the wealth of the top castes and those (eg pensioners) dependent on them, and ultimately the entire economy.

This system is going down, one way or the other.

This will, like all economic crashes, be exceedingly difficult, but it might actually be a good thing. It may force us, if we want to avoid blood in the streets, to quickly abandon the existing dysfunctional economic system (as we did in the 1930s), and use the tax system and price controls to massively redistribute enough wealth, at least throughout the nations of the Euro-American empire, to stave off widespread starvation and revolution.

It may also require a dismantling of oligopolies resisting this redistribution (bringing the wrath of the top castes that will try to overthrow the governments initiating it), and perhaps even nationalizing industries that offer essential goods and services (to control prices and allow essential goods and services to be offered free or at least without profit).

This might seem like an overly-radical overhaul of the economy, but any ‘light-touch’ attempts to reform these industries will likely be as inadequate as our ‘light-touch’ attempts to voluntary reform the industries that have propelled us into climate and ecological collapse.

When a system fails, it has to be replaced with one that works, not ‘reformed’. This is a ghastly, messy and sometimes prolonged and miserable process, but it is not unprecedented. We haven’t ‘always’ lived under this broken, arbitrary and grossly unjust economic system.

I also suspect that over the next decade we will see such staggering levels of individual, corporate and government bankruptcies and insolvencies that they can only be resolved through the granting of some kind of Jubilee — an across-the-board forgiveness of debt if it exceeds one’s net worth and reasonable capacity to repay it.

This will have the effect of further redistributing wealth from the top rentier castes to the remaining castes. But as this collapse will bring down most of the large corporations that depend on endlessly-increasing profits to survive, it will largely eliminate what we call the ‘labour market’ — jobs offered by employers to employees.

So what, then, might happen to the poor worker caught up in this tumult?

We might dream that the replacement economy might include a guaranteed annual income sufficient to pay for all essentials of life that were not offered free by the state. It’s repeatedly been shown that the costs of this are far less than the costs of police, prisons, hospitals, temporary shelters and other infrastructure currently used to ‘deal with’ those unable to cope for themselves. Finland and Cuba offer some imperfect lessons in how aspects of such a system might work.

Under such a system, those who wanted to buy non-essential goods for themselves and their families, and live beyond a subsistence level, could then choose between a modest-wage position with a publicly-owned non-profit organization offering essential goods and services, or a position with a private entrepreneurial company or co-op offering non-essential goods and services.

But we have been so propagandized by the top castes and their paid politicians and media to believe that such “socialist” economic systems can never work, that what might be more likely to emerge after collapse is either (1) an attempt to reinstate a capitalistic economic model (perhaps with a few constraints to to prevent current levels of inequality and corruption from recurring), or (2) a neo-feudal system, where essentially everything is privatized and corporate czars become de facto governments making their own laws and rules about what ‘labour’ can and cannot do. Like “company towns” writ large. Many of today’s struggling nations show how ghastly this would likely be, but ideologues won’t be swayed.

So after collapse we might see either another Dawn of Everything, or an era of substantial serfdom. It won’t be a clean transition in any case. And it’s anyone’s guess how it will play out. But whatever emerges, it won’t be anything like the current system.

The words ‘job’ and ’employee’ were coined just 170 years ago, and grew out of a concept of service that originated as servitude, as a form of slavery. I’d like to believe that when we build new economic systems after the collapse of the current one, we’ll pick less hierarchical, less caste-ridden ones, in which work is collaborative, and where people work together towards shared goals, rather than working “for” other people.

But then the politics of caste run deep in human societies. Despite the hopeful messages of The Dawn of Everything, there is evidence that our proclivity for forcing our fellow humans to do work, involuntarily, for others, goes back a long way.

But that doesn’t mean it has to be that way.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 2 Comments

I Doubt It


Caravaggio’s 1601 painting The Incredulity of St Thomas, based on the biblical story that gave rise to the expression “Doubting Thomas”. Image from wikipedia, in the public domain.

You’re probably tired of hearing me say how all our behaviour and all our beliefs are simply the result of our biological and cultural conditioning, given the ever-changing circumstances of each moment. ‘We’ — what we think of as our autonomous ‘selves’ controlling these bodies we presume to inhabit — simply have no say in any of it. What we think of as ‘our’ decisions are just the brain’s after-the-fact rationalizations of what has already been done.

I thought it might be interesting to explore how this ‘no free will’ idea explains our propensity to doubt, or not doubt, what we are told and what we (think we) see. I have said ad nauseam that “we believe what we want to believe”, whether or not that belief bears any resemblance to the truth and is or is not supported by any evidence.

I think there are two kinds of doubt, which I would define as a propensity to challenge or think twice about what we are inclined to believe to be true.

One kind of doubt stems from deep, conditioned distrust. This is the doubt that gives rise to conspiracy theories, much mis- and disinformation, paranoia, and a lot of commensurate hate-mongering. I have been guilty of this kind of doubt in past, but as I’ve come to accept that we live in a world where we’re all doing our best (though often dysfunctionally) and where no one is to “blame” for their conditioned actions, such doubts seem to arise in me less often. Rather than entertaining doubts of this type, I’m more inclined to try to understand how the perpetrators of propaganda, dis- and misinformation, and censorship (which is disinformation by omission), got conditioned to believe, say and do what they do.

This is, I think, a form of mental illness, and it’s deeply tragic. Rather than trying to disavow people of their paranoid theories, I want to learn where that profound distrust comes from. I’ve often found trauma lurking under its surface.

The second kind of doubt, with which I’m mostly interested now, is doubt that arises out of curiosity. Our selves are always desperate to know and understand everything, to formulate solid and defensible beliefs about everything that might affect them.

While some of us are conditioned to pathologically distrust everyone and everything, all of us are conditioned to try to make sense of the world, to toss out preconceptions that don’t ‘fit’ with our mental models, and integrate new ones that are a better fit. “Inquiring minds want to know.” We are obsessive sense-makers.

My guess is that this passion to know stems from a self-reinforcing loop in our brains. The first part of this loop draws on our natural childhood curiosity to learn and discover what’s real and true (an evolutionary advantage in most animals, to help us adapt to our surroundings). The second part of this mental loop tries to create a mental model of reality, with ourselves in the centre, that explains as much of the world as possible, to keep ‘us’ out of danger.

I would argue that the second part of this loop is uniquely human and, as I’ve tried to explain elsewhere, a largely useless evolution of humans’ extraordinarily large brains.

I also suspect that our natural curiosity to explore and learn about our physical surroundings is always and inherently open to doubt, because without it we simply stop learning and become maladaptive.

And at the same time I suspect that we are strongly resistant to entertaining doubts about the veracity of our mental models — what we believe and what we want to believe.

Why are we ‘naturally’ open to doubts about our physical reality (“what is”), while our brains are largely closed to doubts about its self-constructed models of reality (“what it means”)? As Paul Simon and George Lakoff have said, “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest”.

I think it’s because our ‘natural’ doubts arising from curiosity are based on what is observable and obvious — we love optical illusions and virtual reality because they tap into our endless curiosity to discover what’s real and what is not.

But when it comes to our uniquely human self-constructed models of reality, nothing is obvious anymore — it’s all a matter of moral judgement, conjecture, causality, motives, implications, and a thousand other factors that we can never be sure of.

In this domain, doubt is not an advantage that lets us explore and learn more about the truth, it is rather a huge disadvantage that, from the perspective of the self, threatens us and paralyzes us. Into the morass of uncertainty, doubt of this type causes us to hesitate, to question the reliability of the mental model of reality and reliability and good-and-bad we have so painstakingly built up since early childhood. It makes us feel even more vulnerable than we already felt. We are conditioned to feel that doubt of this kind is a kind of weakness, a failure of ‘the courage of our principles’.

This is why I say “we believe what we want to believe”. The things we want to believe leave us feeling strong, decisive, competent to deal with the human issues of the moment. We feel we have to know with ‘relative certainty’ in order to be safe and functional.

But we don’t have to know.

Not only do we not have to know anything, we actually don’t know anything. Everything we think we know is just conjecture, a made-up explanation, an opinion. All to support the constantly-crumbling foundations of our mental model that we think we absolutely need and depend on in order to keep ourselves and those we love safe.

But in reality, everything these bodies do, and believe, is conditioned. We rely utterly on the body to ‘know’ what to do — when we breathe, when we eat, when we sleep, when our heart beats, when we step out of the way of a speeding car. What we conceive of as our self has nothing to do with anything our bodies do. Our brains just rationalize what our bodies — organisms whose survival instincts have been honed over a million years — have already ‘decided’ to do.

So why, then, are we so attached to our beliefs, and so terrified to doubt them?

I think it’s because the illusion of self-control and of the self’s decision-making is so compelling that we dare not question it. This again, is how we’ve been conditioned. Those whose sense of a separate self has vanished usually report that their initial reaction was one of absolute terror — the ‘self’ that had always protected and looked after them was collapsing, disappearing. But over time, that terror was replaced by astonishment at realizing that the complex mental model of the self was completely unnecessary to the effective functioning of the body, and then later by a sense of enormous relief at the freedom from having to do the exhausting, endless and perilous work of the self.

This is akin to the player of a new video game in an arcade desperately and successfully staying ‘alive’ against terrible odds for a long time, only to discover that the game controller was not connected, the game was playing itself, and that the outcome had been pre-programmed. Really? All that work for nothing?

‘I’ ‘still’ have a sense of a self, but while it continues to do what it’s been conditioned to do, my intellectual appreciation that its work is all for nothing has at least allowed me the freedom to be far less attached to my beliefs and other aspects of my mental model of reality than I used to be.

My conditioning still triggers me when I read news items (especially about wars, and about ecological and economic collapse) that, in my mental model of reality, conjure up fear, anger and sadness. But my newer conditioning, from reading and listening to science and radical non-duality speakers, is jumping in in those situations and saying “Wait: perhaps it would be healthy to not be so fast in your reactions to this.” The cognitive dissonance is annoying, of course. But I am at least starting to entertain doubts about everything I believe. Not to jump to the exact opposite belief (no fear of me becoming a climate change denier)! But rather to realize that I know nothing and there is nothing ‘I’ can do anyway. This conditioned creature is going to do what it does, irrespective of what this self ‘knows’.

I would love to say that this realization has liberated me from all my anxieties about war and collapse. Of course it has not. But is has started to undermine my fiercely-held beliefs that those anxieties are warranted and useful. I am very slowly becoming more equanimous about the apparent state of the world, and less attached to the importance of my impotent beliefs about it.

Might that be enough to allow this weary self to finally vanish, and leave this aging body in peace?

I doubt it.

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves, Radical Non-Duality | 2 Comments

Who Will Be [formerly: Will Elon Musk Be] Trump’s Running Mate in 2024?

OK, I’ll admit it — I didn’t know that US citizens who weren’t born in the US cannot legally become VP of the country. I’m leaving the previously-written article intact at the bottom of this post, but adding, up front, some new speculations on who will be running in 2024.



image by Gage Skidmore CC-BY SA 2.0

Once more with humbled gusto:

What awful choices might Americans be facing in 2024?

Here’s how I think it might play out:

  1. DeSantis holds off publicly running for the nomination, saving up his money and waiting for Trump to self-destruct. Meanwhile, the polls show he would be favoured to win the 2024 election, while Trump would not.
  2. Biden remains the Democratic nominee by default. Meanwhile the polls show he would lose to DeSantis but beat Trump. With DeSantis gaining in the polls, the Democrats realize they have to jettison Biden or they’ll lose.
  3. The fight between Trump and DeSantis gets really nasty, as these two men both have Messiah complexes and their own personal success is really all that’s important to them — their party be damned. How much will this damage the party, as partisans for each threaten to boycott the polls if the other megalomaniac wins? If it comes down to cult-of-celebrity personalities to the point policies don’t matter, a lot of Republicans might just sit on their hands on election night. On the other hand, the two candidates, thus far at least, have absolutely no discernible differences in platforms or ideology (though Trump will change positions on a dime if he thinks it will get him elected). My sense is that the rift will be substantial and bitter.
  4. The Democrats quietly persuade Biden not to run, citing his health or whatever. They then nominate Anyone-But-Biden(-or-Sanders-or-Clinton) (ABB). The polls now show DeSantis slightly trailing ABB.
  5. This finally gives Trump an opening if he can differentiate himself enough from DeSantis, or attract a credible celebrity running mate.

Who would the Democrats nominate if Biden withdraws? The experts say Kamala Harris (despite her very low profile as VP) and Pete Buttigieg are most likely, and that Michelle Obama won’t run. Mike Bloomberg still has the money and ambition to run, and was the choice of wealthy right-wing Democrats last time, but he was kind of stained in his last outing. Of course, the Democrats won’t allow AOC to win the nomination, even after she abandoned her progressive principles to join the Ukraine warmongers. Amy Klobuchar is given a lot of nods as a moderate on the progressive side of social issues, though like Biden she is a war-monger, especially against Russia. Elizabeth Warren is considered too progressive to win over independents and says she’s running for Senator again in 2024 anyway. And Gavin Newsom might win the nomination, but would almost certainly lose the election just for being the governor of “scary, socialist” California.

My sense is that Kamala Harris will be persuaded to wait another four years, once polls show she is just not enough of a celebrity to win in a US election. So barring a dark horse — Raphael Warnock? Cory Booker? Some bland not-too-old white Senator/Governor? — I think the most likely winners of the ABB stakes are (1) Pete Buttigieg, (2) Amy Klobuchar, or (3) Gavin Newsom. I think Raphael Warnock would be an intriguing running mate for any of them.

I can envision Buttigieg or Klobuchar leading either Trump or DeSantis in the polls through next year, especially if, as I think is inevitable, the battle between the two Republican egotists gets bloody. Who might be the Republican VP nominee that might overcome the deficit? Elise Stefanik is a staunch Trump supporter from NY, an easy choice but not probably exciting enough to overcome DeSantis. Nor is Kari Lake, loser in the Arizona governor’s race and another big Trump supporter.

Trump would need to land a heavyweight, and although he has lots of Hollywood and sports celebrities to choose from, most of them have even less gravitas than Trump, if that’s imaginable.

DeSantis might pick Chris Sununu from NH as a VP, or, if he was wiser and she was not, he might pick Nikki Haley. Or even, if they decided not to run themselves, Ted Cruz or Greg Abbott, playing the long game.

So if Trump is going to get a chance to beat DeSantis and try to top ABB, he’s probably going to have to differentiate himself on policy. He’s so flighty that I think he’s likely to try that. Consider that by 2024 we’ll have had two more years of wars in Ukraine and probably in Taiwan and who knows where else under Biden.

I think there’s a chance that the extravagant waste of lives and trillions of dollars being spent war-mongering might just grow to be annoying to struggling Americans of all stripes. If Trump came out as an “end-the-wars, refocus on our domestic priorities” candidate, it just might be a winner.

In the final analysis, there are so many permutations and combinations that I might as well go all-in and make a prediction, knowing that the chance of it being right is very remote:

  1. If DeSantis can beat Trump and convince Nikki Haley to be his VP, I think he’ll win in 2024 regardless of the Democratic nominee.
  2. If Trump picks a strategy that plays on war-weariness and shifting spending to domestic priorities, and is able to use that to beat DeSantis in the primary (not at all a sure bet), I think he could then beat any Democratic opponent except Buttigieg or Klobuchar.
  3. If Biden insists on running again, I think he’ll lose to DeSantis, regardless of running mates, but could beat Trump if Trump sticks with his existing schtick. Yeesh.
  4. If Buttigieg or Klobuchar have a running mate of the calibre of Warnock, I think they could beat any Republican slate other than DeSantis/Haley.

And, as I said before: Since both parties are completely owned by their corporate overlords, it really doesn’t matter much who the nominees are or who wins. Americans will do what they always do now when it’s time to vote, which is to hold their noses and vote against the most awful choice. But it’s fun to speculate on who the awful choices will be in two years.


Original article below:

Yeah, yeah, millions of words have been written about the feuds between these two belligerent, megalomanic pea-brains. But come on — they’re two peas in a pod. They agree on almost everything. They’re both staggeringly rich (for now) right-wingers facing a precipitous decline. They both feed on publicity, and don’t particularly care if it’s negative. With both their stars (reputational and financial) in free-fall, they need each other. And while Elon has recently said he’s backing Ron DeSantis for president, he’s also claimed to have supported Democrats in almost every election. Know who else is willing to jump whichever way the wind seems to be blowing? Yeah, guy in the left photo there.

So here’s how I think it might go down:

  1. DeSantis holds off publicly running for the nomination, saving up his money and waiting for Trump to self-destruct. Meanwhile, the polls show he would be favoured to win the 2024 election, while Trump would not.
  2. Biden remains the Democratic nominee by default. Meanwhile the polls show he would lose to DeSantis but beat Trump. With DeSantis gaining in the polls, the Democrats realize they have to jettison Biden or they’ll lose.
  3. Musk quietly approaches DeSantis with the idea of becoming his running mate. DeSantis blows him off, not wanting to play with dynamite. In the meantime, both Twitter and Musk’s massively-subsidized business ventures are tanking, as investors pull the plug on their never-ending losses. Trump and Musk are both in deep financial trouble — potentially becoming the two biggest business failures in the history of civilization.
  4. The Democrats quietly persuade Biden not to run, citing his health or whatever. They then nominate Anyone-But-Biden(-or-Sanders-or-Clinton) (ABB). The polls now show DeSantis slightly trailing ABB.
  5. This finally gives Trump an opening if he can attract a celebrity running mate. He approaches Musk, who can’t resist.

I’m not saying they would win. Money goes a long way in US politics, to be sure. And the US also has a cult of celebrity. Would they beat DeSantis for the nomination? Depends on whether the polls say they would or would not beat ABB. Would they beat ABB? I don’t know. I suspect not. But I wouldn’t put it past the bumbling Democrats to nominate another poor candidate, in which case, all bets are off.

Who would the Democrats nominate if Biden withdraws? The experts say Kamala Harris (despite her very low profile as VP) and Pete Buttigieg are most likely, and that Michelle Obama won’t run. Mike Bloomberg still has the money and ambition to run, and was the choice of wealthy right-wing Democrats last time. Of course, they won’t allow AOC to win the nomination, even after she abandoned her progressive principles to join the Ukraine warmongers.

Since both parties are completely owned by their corporate overlords, it really doesn’t matter much who the nominees are or who wins. Americans will do what they always do now when it’s time to vote, which is to hold their noses and vote against the most awful choice. But it’s fun to speculate on who the awful choices will be in two years.

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | 3 Comments

Links of the Month: November 2022


cartoon by Michael Leunig, of course

They’re rioting in Africa. They’re starving in Spain.
There’s hurricanes in Florida and Texas needs rain.
The whole world is festering with unhappy souls.
The French hate the Germans. The Germans hate the Poles.
Italians hate Yugoslavs. South Africans hate the Dutch.
And I don’t like anybody very much!
But we can be tranquil and thankful and proud
For man’s been endowed with a mushroom shaped cloud.
And we know for certain that some lovely day
Someone will set the spark off — and we will all be blown away.
They’re rioting in Africa. There’s strife in Iran.
What nature doesn’t do to us will be done by our fellow man.

Merry Minuet, written 1958 by Sheldon Harnick (now aged 98); performed by the Kingston Trio

I’m getting close to scrapping the “Politics and Economics as Usual” section of my monthly links, and replacing it with a simple set of bullet points called “Inconvenient Truths”. As I keep saying, people will believe what they want to believe, regardless of what’s true or what evidence you present to them. In recent years that’s become as true of progressives as it is of conservatives. So what’s the point of pointing people to articles about what’s really going on in the world, if everyone has already decided what they are willing to believe before they read them?

I’ve cancelled my subscriptions to both The Atlantic and The New Yorker, which have declined into mindless warmongering propaganda rags, as Caitlin Johnstone puts it with an anger I am no longer able to muster. Their founders must be rolling in their graves.

Progressives never used to be caught propagating conspiracy theories. They used to advocate peace, at almost any price. They used to be immune to the propaganda of Euro-American empire superiority and exceptionalism, and they were supporters of disarmament and multipolarity. They used to believe that addressing ecological collapse should be everyone’s top priority, and put their money and votes where their mouths were. They used to understand that “economic growth” and a return to “economic prosperity”, as measured by stock and real estate prices and GDP, was exactly what we did not want or need. They used to support direct action to counter corporate and government destruction. They used to understand that capitalism is fundamentally anathema to a healthy world.

Had I been an American last week, I would have gritted my teeth, voted for Democrats, and then gone back home and sat outside, ignoring the results, and howled at the moon.


COLLAPSE WATCH


cartoon by First Dog on the Moon 

Oil, war and the fate of industrial societies: The latest on collapse from Richard Heinberg. Its crushing conclusion:

World oil production stopped growing in 2019, just before the CoVid-19 pandemic. Even if a new peak of production occurs before 2030, it will likely exceed the 2019 level by only a tiny fraction, and only for a short time. There is simply no breathing room left for petroleum-powered world economic growth.

If the diagnosis I offered in 2003 is turning out to be true (though delayed), my prescription should also be revisited. Learn to get by with less. Cooperate more with your neighbors. Find ways to exit the monetary economy. Replace oil with renewable-based electricity where you can, but otherwise simply lower your expectations. And please let’s not fight over what’s left.

Oh, and we’re also running out of water: Freshwater scarcity and chronic drought now plague half of our planet, and the situation is getting worse. Guess who’s going to get what’s left?


LIVING BETTER


cartoon in the New Yorker by Meredith Southard — her skill at capturing expression and movement in a few tiny lines is astonishing

How to rid your company of hierarchy successfully: A Basque business transformation coop explains the ten elements of a successful self-managed organization. Thanks to Kavana Tree Bressen for the link, and the two that follow.

Patches of (legal) aliveness: Janelle Orsi of SELC playfully describes the process of reforming our laws to encourage healthy, sustainable, responsible entrepreneurship.

How Black paramedics set the US standard for emergency response: A Pittsburgh ambulance service, fed up with discriminatory two-tier emergency health services, pioneered a better way.

Want to get people to do something? Make it easier: Canada’s chief public health officer, rather than trying to run the gauntlet to reimpose mask mandates as hospitalizations rise again (especially among children), is exploring ways to make it easier to “mask up”.


POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL


this is the worst of all possible jokes — a combination in-joke and pun; the “lettuce” is the one that outlasted Liz Truss as UK PM

End the War: After a handful of US progressives called merely for diplomatic talks to try to end the Ukraine war, the Biden warmongers’ response was so savage that the progressives quickly retracted and meekly apologized for daring to suggest peace talks were a possibility. This is deranged. As this war continues to simmer and threaten to explode into nuclear conflict, the Euro-American empire is, once again, deliberately fanning the flames and abrogating its responsibility to try to bring an end to this socially and ecologically disastrous war. As Chris Hedges says, “You know you are in trouble when Donald Trump is the voice of reason.” If nuclear war erupts, it won’t matter one iota whose ‘fault’ it was.

“The US economy is in tatters”: Gutless governments of both parties refuse to raise taxes on the rich and clamp down on rampant tax fraud. They leave the unpopular work of managing the economy to the Fed, whose answers to everything are to adjust interest rates and, if that fails, to bail out mega-corporations that made risky, dangerous investment decisions. The economy will continue to slide into insolvency and bankruptcy unless courageous public policy steps are taken soon. Thanks to John Whiting for the link.

Corpocracy, Imperialism & Fascism: Short takes (thanks to John Whiting for many of these links):

Propaganda, Censorship, Misinformation and Disinformation: Short takes:

CoVid-19 Becomes the Pandemic (mostly) of the Unvaccinated: You know the drill: Get all the boosters you can (I just got my 5th shot, the one specifically for the new variants). Mask up indoors and in crowded places. Test, tell people, and self-isolate when you get sick. Your aging and immune-compromised friends and family members thank you.

Biden now has a brief window to codify abortion rights nationwide: But don’t hold your breath. And likewise, while he’d be doing everyone a favour if he didn’t run again, don’t hold your breath on that either. The man has a colossal ego.


FUN AND INSPIRATION


New Yorker cartoon by Tom Toro

Your Italian mother’s secret pasta sauce recipe: A very funny article about mothers’ relationships with daughters.

Quantum hype: Sabine Hossenfelder brilliantly skewers the latest nonsense about quantum computing, and the distressing ignorance of “science journalists” that leaves them open to exploitation by publicity- and grant-hungry “scientists”.

The insidious cult of longtermism: Also from Sabine. Many of the world’s richest and most powerful people subscribe to this reckless, ruinous, inhuman, extreme ideology.

Kevin Kelly’s unsolicited advice: 68 bits of clever, sometimes charming ‘advice’ from the tech pioneer. Lots to think about here. Thanks to PS Pirro for the link. My ten favourites:

  • Hang out with, and learn from, people smarter than yourself.
  • Don’t be the best at what you do. Be the only one doing what you do. (Hugh Macleod claims Jerry Garcia coined this first.)
  • Everyone is shy. Other people are waiting for you to introduce yourself to them; they are waiting for you to send them an email; they are waiting for you to ask them on a date. Go ahead.
  • It’s amazing how often a second try works.
  • Trust me: there is no “them.”
  • Never get involved in a land war in Asia.
  • Hatred only poisons the hater. Release it as if it was a poison.
  • Imagination is the one skill in life that benefits from ignoring what everyone else knows.
  • Art is in what you leave out.
  • Following your bliss is a recipe for paralysis if you don’t know what you are passionate about. Master something, anything. Through mastery of one thing, you can drift toward extensions of that mastery that bring you more joy and eventually discover where your bliss is.

The ancient peoples of the western hemisphere: A new book argues that anthropological claims that the New World has only been populated for 12 millennia is rooted in colonialism. Thanks to Paul Heft for the link.

No separation; no one to blame?: Political commentator Caitlin Johnstone takes a break from biting criticism and investigative journalism to riff on non-duality. Of course, she had no free will to do otherwise.


THOUGHTS OF THE MONTH


meme from the memebrary

From Indrajit Samarajiva on “free speech“:

Corporations literally put their names and logos all over the thing. It’s called advertising. The media openly publishes press releases from the CIA or whoever, effectively privatizing propaganda… There is no free press. It’s all bought and paid for… [Real free speech is] some schmuck on a keyboard talking to you. You talking to another parent at school. You talking to your football team, or the people at work. When rich people use [media] machinery to drown out that speech, in every bar, in every living room, in every pocket to spew out a few voices saying the same few things, that’s not ‘free’ speech… We live in an age where masses of people are literally declared illegal while corporations are legal people. This all hides in plain sight…

The problem is not really Mr. West, or Musk, or Bezos, or the Ochs-Sulzbergers. These are just the digestive bacteria inside of much larger corporate beings. They have bought up a ‘right’ and privatized it, lobotomized it, and made it into just another commodity.

(also from Indrajit, this moving article about contemporary London, and its chasm between the rich and powerful and the poor and powerless.)

From Lyz at Men Yell At Me, on dividing women against themselves:

On October 19, The Guardian published a series of images of fetal tissue before 10 weeks. The images when shared online caused critics to call them fake. What they showed were simply white masses, spreading out like ice on a window pane. Nowhere were there eyes or a heartbeat. Instead, it was just tissue. An indescribable white mass.

One of the doctors quoted in the Guardian story notes that when people receiving an abortion look at the tissue, “they are stunned by what it actually looks like. That’s when I realized how much the imagery on the internet and on placards — showing human-like qualities at this early stage of development — has really permeated the culture. People almost don’t believe this is what comes out.”

From Lawrence RaabThe Last Day on Earth

If it’s the title of a movie you expect
everything to become important—a kiss,
a shrug, a glass of wine, a walk with the dog.

But if the day is real, life is only
as significant as yesterday—the kiss
hurried, the shrug forgotten, and now,

on the path by the river, you don’t notice
the sky darkening beyond the pines because
you’re imagining what you’ll say at dinner,

swirling the wine in your glass.
You don’t notice the birds growing silent
or the cold towers of clouds moving in,

because you’re explaining how lovely
and cool it was in the woods. And the dog
had stopped limping!—she seemed

her old self again, sniffing the air and alert,
the way dogs are to whatever we can’t see.
And I was happy, you hear yourself saying,

because it felt as if I’d been allowed
to choose my last day on earth,
and this was the one I chose.


 

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | Leave a comment

The Other Side of ‘No Me’

For seven years now, I have been watching/listening to radical non-duality speakers. Although I write about it a lot, I’m really not trying to convince anyone of anything — I’m just trying to sort it out in my own mind. I want to understand how a message that is so useless and so counter to everything I’ve been taught about the nature of reality, can be at the same time so resonant, so compelling.

There are quite a few scientists and science buffs who are starting to write about how this strange message — that there is no free will, no self, no time or space, no thing and no one ‘separate’, and nothing ‘really’ happening — is surprisingly aligned with the newest discoveries and theories in astrophysics, quantum science, and neuroscience.

But while the veracity of this message may be scientifically supportable, and somehow intuited, and even ‘glimpsed’ in ‘moments’ when the self seemingly ‘disappears’, there is no path to actually ‘seeing’ it. There is no way for this creature’s concoction I call my self, to realize the non-existence of itself. The self cannot get out of its own way.

Still, once you’ve been bitten by this message it can be impossible to shake. Somehow, I know it’s ‘right’. So although it’s futile, I keep on trying to make sense of everything that ‘I’ have always thought was true, all over again, on the premise that this message is correct. It’s a frustrating and exhausting process.

The first and easiest step in this process, I think, is the acknowledgement that there is no such thing as free will, and that all our (bodies’) beliefs and behaviours are biologically or culturally conditioned given the circumstances of the moment. We certainly seem to have free will, but there is lots of empirical and scientific evidence that we do not. I did not come to accept this easily, but when I did, it started to seem pretty obvious to me, and to explain a lot of previously seemingly paradoxical and incoherent human behaviours.

Accepting that was rather revolutionary in itself. Our systems of punishment and incarceration, for example, suddenly seemed ludicrous to me. Blaming people for their behaviour suddenly seemed unfair and even cruel. An enormous weight of self-imposed responsibility for my own actions was lifted from my shoulders (after the usual Doubting Thomas skepticism that I might just be using it as an excuse for ‘shirking’ my responsibilities and not taking responsibility for what this body had done).

The next and much more difficult step was acknowledging that there is no such thing as time. Scientifically this isn’t hard to justify — most scientists have acknowledged that time isn’t ‘fundamental’ to the nature of reality and many have conceded that it’s just a mental shorthand, the brain’s way of categorizing its observations. Many scientists are also willing to acknowledge that what we see as a continuity of ‘happenings’  ‘over’ time is also just a convincing illusion — that time is just an order that our brains place our perceptions into, to try to make sense of what appears to be happening. And that our entire sense of our lives, memories and plans has to be reinvented and re-placed in ‘time’ order in the brain, every time we awaken.

But the non-existence of time, for me at least, is much harder for me to rationalize than our lack of free will. Some very basic concepts, like the ‘big bang’, evolution, causality, memory, and our sense of, and preoccupation with, the trajectory of our lives, and our death, all have to be re-thought if we acknowledge the un-reality of time.

My way of doing this is to suggest that perhaps all of these apparent happenings, if they are not ‘real’, are so apparently so that perhaps their ‘actual’ reality is not worth quibbling about. We don’t argue that a film showing us pictures at 50fps is fraudulent because the appearance of movement in it is essentially an optical illusion. When I talk with radical non-duality speakers they don’t seem to care very much whether time is an ‘appearance’ or an ‘illusion’; they just assert that it’s not real. So I kind of put my reservations about this on hold, and go onto the next step.

The third step is a doozy — it’s the acknowledgement that there is no ‘self’, no ‘you’ no ‘one’, no ‘thing’ apart. Everything is nothing appearing as everything. Not only is there no free will, there is no ‘one’ to have free will. Not only is there no time, there is nothing really happening.

Neuroscientists have largely given up looking for evidence of a ‘self’ anywhere(s) in the brain or body; there is simply no physical evidence one exists. And they have also demonstrated that the body kinetically acts on what are its apparent decisions before the ‘decision’ shows up in the brain’s neural pathways, suggesting that the brain is rationalizing the decision as being ‘its’ decision after the fact, rather than making decisions at all. Just ‘making sense of it’ for ‘next time’.

Whether or not you believe neuroscience (which is still mostly quackery, as studies debunking fMRI theories continue to demonstrate), the most compelling evidence for the non-existence of the self is when it apparently completely disappears, with no apparent consequences on the body that that self presumed to occupy.

There are quite a few apparent individuals with no axe to grind who give quite compelling accounts of how their sense of self vanished (for no reason) and how that has not affected their capacity to function at all. They still do the same things and have the same preferences. They just no see that ‘obviously’ there is no self there, or anywhere else, doing anything. It’s all just appearances.

And there are many more, including me, who have had so-called ‘glimpses‘ when the self simply was not there, when an astonishingly different perception of the nature of reality was apparent… until the ‘self’ ‘came back’ and tried to make sense of it. It was absolutely obvious ‘during’ the glimpse that what was ‘seen’ then was how everything really was, and that what ‘I’ had always thought was real was not.

It’s been 6 1/2 years since the last ‘glimpse’. I’m not disheartened by that; as I wrote at the time:

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.

I am, somehow, absolutely confident that ‘this’ is just ‘waiting’ for ‘me’ to get out of the way, so it can be seen.

Still, science is of little help here. It does suggest that ‘self-consciousness’ is completely unnecessary to a full and vibrant (apparent) ‘life’, and that the more-than-human world ‘lives’ in a full, intense way that humans, living through the veil of self, cannot. Most living creatures clearly feel pain and pleasure, fear and anger, for example — you don’t have to have a ‘self’ and a sense of self-consciousness and separation to be sentient — but it seems only humans also feel ‘self-generated’ emotions like hatred, guilt and shame.

Yesterday, I was exercising on a treadmill in our apartment’s gym, listening to a recording of Tim Cliss on YouTube speaking at one of his meetings in Copenhagen as I did so. There were four other people in the gym at the time, all of us preoccupied with what we were doing, though the gym is surrounded by mirrors so you could always see who else was there.

Tim was talking about loneliness, and about the question he often gets about whether ‘without a self’ you feel more or less lonely. The point he made, which stunned me to the point I almost fell off the treadmill, was that the realization that there is ‘obviously’ no ‘you’ wasn’t what was important — in fact the absence of the ‘you’ is not even noticed until and unless there are memories of a time there was seemingly a ‘you’ and all of a sudden the absence of a ‘you’ is noticed.

What was important, however, was that, in addition to there being no ‘you’, it becomes obvious that there is no one else either. That kind of ‘loneliness’ must be shattering. The realization of utter aloneness.

That is not to say that there aren’t conversations and camaraderie (Tim remains somewhat obsessed with golf.) But these are simply conditioned behaviours and responses. There are conversations, laughter, anger perhaps, but they are seen as not being ‘anyone’s’ doing. They are just appearances, what the apparent conditioned body seems inclined to do, without any purpose or reason or meaning. And they are apparent happenings of no one. They entail no relationship with any ‘one’ else. Could anything be lonelier than that?

Tim has two young sons that he adores, but he describes his attentive behaviours with them as if he were describing an adult fox looking after its kits. Instinctive, fully alive, devoted and passionate, yet there is no ‘one’ there.

So now I look around the gym at the other apparent people working out. And I think: I have no problem with there being no ‘me’. But what am I to make of these other intense, sweating bodies not being real either? This gym is actually empty — there is no one here.

There is no one anywhere. There never has been anyone. This was obvious during the ‘glimpses’. I know there is no path to actually seeing this. It makes no sense — how can anything be seen with no seer? But for a brief moment in that gym it was obvious — the room was empty. There were only appearances, reflections in the mirrors.

I know of people who have had a similar moment of frisson — quite often they tell me (as my friend Djô did most recently) that it happens when they are looking in a mirror and suddenly see there is no one looking back — at no one. So I’m standing on the treadmill looking into a wall of mirrors that reflects back multiple times everyone and everything in the room — and for a brief second it is obvious there is no one in the room. No ‘me’, which is perfectly fine (at least so I tell myself), but no ‘one’ else, either. No, no, that can’t be.

And then they were back. And so was I.

Posted in Radical Non-Duality | 4 Comments