It’s about time I stop pretending there’s nothing wrong. If you’re a regular reader of How to Save the World you’ve certainly sensed from my writing that something’s amiss — my writing is shorter, disjointed, unfocused, just not all there. My patient colleagues on our AHA! The Discovery & Learning Centre project must be ready to give up on me. I owe considered responses to thoughtful e-mails from 127 readers dating back six weeks, and have not participated in the dialogue in the comments threads of my weblog for eight weeks. Anita, to whom I owe everything, is justifiably angry at me, and worried about my mental health. And many of the daily and weekly chores I’d trained myself to do diligently, and found surprisingly therapeutic, lie neglected and undone. Whatever is the opposite of having one’s shit together, whatever is the opposite of paying attention, that’s me.
I say this not as a prelude to an important announcement, nor as a request for advice, or even as the pretext for offering some excuse. I say this just to let you know I’m aware of it, and I know you’re aware of it, and I’m sorry I have been so irresponsible to you all. This article is about where I’m at and what I’m thinking. This is my written ‘thinking out loud’ way of rocking the vehicle of my life back and forth in the attempt to get it unstuck.
I was always impressed at Neil Young’s ability to capture the essence of our humanness and the reasons for our behaviour in a handful of words, and these days I keep hearing these words of his in my head: “I am a child. I last a while”. I have no stamina. I get interested in things and get wrapped up in them for awhile and then my interest flags and I do something else for awhile. I don’t abandon things (though that’s probably how others see it), I just put them aside, and usually take them up again later with just as much intensity. When I wrote the article about the importance of Doing One or Two Things Really Well (Believe in yourself, Find 1-2 things you’re passionate about, Hone your skills, Stop doing other distracting things, Show others how good you are, Trust your instincts to guide you), I was trying to provoke and teach myself that very valuable advice, but I often do not take my own advice. I’ve stopped beating myself up for this, and accepted that that’s just the way I am. Just because you know just what to do, doesn’t mean you’re going to do it.
I’ve been doing some early thinking about several subjects and projects, and I’m not far enough along to write anything polished about them, but I thought I’d tell you about them anyway. Maybe thinking out loud will get me unstuck. Maybe it will get some of you unstuck.
First, I want to talk about AHA!. I’ve changed direction on this so often that I’ve practically paralyzed my thinking on it, and in the process driven to distraction the online colleagues who have been so helpful in incubating the concept. Here is the essence of the idea:
I give my colleagues, especially Dave Davison, Rob Paterson, Chris Corrigan and Dave Snowden, 90% of the credit for this idea, which is brilliant, important and truly inspired. But an idea is only an idea, and implementation is everything. So what’s the matter with me that I’m not getting on with it?
Six weeks ago Dave Davison sent me a note with the chart above, taken from this wonderful article called The Inviting Organization by Open Space pioneer Michael Herman. The chart is now pasted on my Getting Things Done list under my daily reminders of what’s important. It seems to me that our answers to the four questions he asks: Why do I work? (passion/purpose), What do I make? (action/responsibility), Where should we go? (culture/story) and How do we get there? (structure/systems) largely define us as individuals and peoples. Herman quotes Angeles Arrien from her book The Four-Fold Way on how to answer those questions: show up, pay attention to what has heart and meaning, speak your truth, and let it go. To some extent AHA! aspires to be the vehicle that will enable us to do so more powerfully and more effectively.
The Importance of Self-Esteem
A while ago Chris Corrigan was kind enough to send me some notes he had taken from a presentation by Lakota leader Martin Brokenleg. The presentation was about reclaiming youth at risk, but its lessons are lessons for all of us. Here are a few of the key ones:
This is so utterly different from the way that we are raised today it is startling. We are taught to get self-esteem by winning, by competing, by overcoming obstacles through struggle dammit. How warped is that when we can get it more easily, more positively, more healthily through social, cooperative means? But instead we are taught to get self-esteem by rugged individual effort, and we measure it by our power over others, and by what we possess.
A belief system that finds no tension or conflict between belonging and independence, no incompatibility between attachment and autonomy, is one that is vastly beyond the sophistication of our ‘modern’ civilized belief systems. How much we have unlearned!
Mars and Venus
Lately I have been listening to a lot of music until late into the night, and almost all the music I’ve chosen to listen to is by women composers: Sarah McLachlan, Trespassers William, Michelle Branch, Sheryl Crow, Toby Lightman, Frou Frou, Alanis Morrissette, Jann Arden, Barlow Girl, Hope Sandoval and many others. I am led to understand that these tastes are very unusual for a guy in his fifties. And I confess that when I read the lyrics to many of the songs from these composers they aren’t very, well, substantial. Looking back at my postings on this blog almost all the song lyrics I’ve cited have been by male composers. And my friends Rayne and Aleah have pointed out that almost all the books I’ve recommended are also by male writers.
I’ve concluded that this has a lot to do with the very different ways in which women and men communicate. Since men have hogged most of the power since the dawn of civilization, it wouldn’t surprise me if most languages are skewed in favour of male communication styles, and their preferred subjects. So perhaps that explains why a lot of songs by brilliant women songwriters are kind of spare on words and rich in tones, harmonies and expression. Most of the emotion in music (and in conversation) is conveyed by those qualities anyway, not by the words. And I confess that when I study the lyrics of women composers I have to admit (a) they don’t seem to be about what I thought the music was about, and (b) I really don’t understand what they’re singing about. But it doesn’t matter — I love the music, I find it transporting, I connect with it in ways that I rarely connect with the music of male composers (exceptions: music by African and Latin American male musicians, male instrumentalists and a few guys like James Taylor and Neil Young). When Sarah sings “Elsewhere” or Michelle sings “One of These Days” or Sheryl sings “Light in Your Eyes” or Trespassers sing “In a Song” I am carried away, my eyes fill with tears, and somehow I understand.
Of course I do not. What is really scary is that this “illusion that communication has really occurred” (as Shaw put it) may actually be far more pervasive than just our (mis-)reading of music. It may be that almost none of what we think we are communicating, beyond the simplest and most unambiguous information, is actually understood by anyone else. In fact the tone and the body language and all the chemical messages flying between our bodies when we converse, and all the repetition that to a third party must seem almost comical, may all be necessary to stand even a 1% chance that 1% of the intended meaning of what we were trying to communicate was actually conveyed. And in communications between males and females that percentage is perhaps even lower. How else can we explain how it is the people we love, people with whom we share so many hours and experiences and even bodily fluids, can have such atrocious and inexplicable taste in music?
There’s a commercial out now for (I think) Right Guard men’s body spray (whatever the hell that is) that depicts a woman talking rapturously with another woman about how much she loves the clown practicing his horrific guitar-playing (or in another commercial, he’s making goofy noises with his buddies watching a sports event) in the next room. This passion is triggered entirely by how his body spray reminds her of her favourite moments with him in the past (shown as balloon flashbacks in the commercial, from a perspective of memory only a women would have). I think it’s a brilliant commercial, even if it’s a little too close to the truth for comfort.
Now I guess I need to figure out what ‘body spray’ is. Deodorant for places that don’t smell? Perfume that goes for quantity over quality?
Well, I guess that brings this strange apology to an end. I will try to be more responsible in future, and I hope you won’t give up on me. My heart’s in the right place, my head is full of very interesting and potent ideas. If only the rest of me could get in step, maybe I could actually get somewhere.
Other Writers About CollapseAlbert Bates (US)
Andrew Nikiforuk (CA)
Carolyn Baker (US)*
Catherine Ingram (US)
Chris Hedges (US)
Dahr Jamail (US)
Dark Matter Women Witnessing (CA)
David Petraitis (US)
David Wallace-Wells (US)
Dean Spillane-Walker (US)*
Deena Metzger (US)
Derrick Jensen (US)
Doing It Ourselves (AU)
Dougald & Paul (UK)*
Gail Tverberg (US)
Guy McPherson (US)
Jan Wyllie (UK)
Janaia & Robin (US)*
Jem Bendell (UK)
Jonathan Franzen (US)
Kari McGregor (AU)
Keith Farnish (UK)
Kristinha Anding (US)
NTHE Love (UK)
Paul Chefurka (CA)
Paul Heft (US)*
Post Carbon Inst. (US)
Richard Heinberg (US)
Robert Jensen (US)
Roy Scranton (US)
Sam Mitchell (US)
Sam Rose (US)*
Tim Bennett (US)
Tim Garrett (US)
Umair Haque (US)
William Rees (CA)
Archive by Category
My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2016)
--- My Best 145 Posts, by category, from newest to oldest ---
Dying of Despair
Notes From the Rising Dark
What is Exponential Decay
Collapse: Slowly Then Suddenly
Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Making Sense of Who We Are
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Post Collapse with Michael Dowd (video)
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
What Will It Take?
A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)
The Mushroom at the End of the World
What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
The New Political Map (Poster)
Complexity and Collapse
Save the World Reading List
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
If We Had a Better Story...
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
A Short History of Progress
The Boiling Frog
Our Culture / Ourselves:
The Lab-Leak Hypothesis
The Right to Die
CoVid-19: Go for Zero
The Process of Self-Organization
The Tragic Spread of Misinformation
A Better Way to Work
Ask Yourself This
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
May I Ask a Question?
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Several Short Sentences About Learning
Why I Don't Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories
A Model of Identity & Community
Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
Ten Things to Do When You're Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
Learning From Nature
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
Republicans Slide Into Fascism
All the Things I Was Wrong About
Several Short Sentences About Sharks
How Change Happens
What's the Best Possible Outcome?
The Perpetual Growth Machine
We Make Zero
How Long We've Been Around (graphic)
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
Collective Intelligence & Complexity
Ten Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier
The Problem With Systems
Against Hope (Video)
The Admission of Necessary Ignorance
Several Short Sentences About Jellyfish
A Synopsis of 'Finding the Sweet Spot'
Learning from Indigenous Cultures
The Gift Economy
The Job of the Media
The Wal-Mart Dilemma
The Illusion of the Separate Self, and Free Will:
Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark
Healing From Ourselves
The Entanglement Hypothesis
Nothing Needs to Happen
Nothing to Say About This
What I Wanted to Believe
A Continuous Reassemblage of Meaning
No Choice But to Misbehave
What's Apparently Happening
A Different Kind of Animal
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
A Theory of No Mind
Reminder (Short Story)
A Canadian Sorry (Satire)
Under No Illusions (Short Story)
The Ever-Stranger (Poem)
The Fortune Teller (Short Story)
Non-Duality Dude (Play)
Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
All the Things I Thought I Knew (Short Story)
On the Shoulders of Giants (Short Story)
Calling the Cage Freedom (Short Story)
Only This (Poem)
The Other Extinction (Short Story)
Disruption (Short Story)
A Thought-Less Experiment (Poem)
Speaking Grosbeak (Short Story)
The Only Way There (Short Story)
The Wild Man (Short Story)
Flywheel (Short Story)
The Opposite of Presence (Satire)
How to Make Love Last (Poem)
The Horses' Bodies (Poem)
Distracted (Short Story)
Worse, Still (Poem)
A Conversation (Short Story)
Farewell to Albion (Poem)
My Other Sites
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons License.