Paying Attention to What We Pay Attention To

Thinking more about this astonishing eight word phrase, from Amy Rosenthal via  John Green: Pay attention to what you pay attention to.

Over the past decade, I’ve given up thoughts of “improving” myself, what some people call doing the work of becoming a more sensitive, empathetic, complete, useful person. Perhaps it’s just laziness, or fatigue, but I think my giving up is more likely because I’ve abandoned the belief we have free will, given up thinking we have any choice over what we do or don’t do.

Instead I’m simply trying to become a little more self-aware of what’s going on inside this probably-illusory mind inside this apparent body ‘I’ bizarrely but unquestioningly presume to inhabit. Catching myself when I get reactive, defensive, triggered, self-righteous, or just plain anxious. Just noticing that, and as much as possible doing so without judgement.

Lost, scared and bewildered is kind of the essence of who ‘I’ am, so recognizing my disorientation, my fears, my bewilderment, in the moment, is a strange kind of awesome. It’s a fleeting recognition that there is no real ‘me’, and that the sense of self and separation that is essential to feeling lost and scared is an illusion, a construct, a fiction.

At one time I thought I might at least learn to choose what to pay attention to — the stuff seemingly inside, and all the stuff without. But I see now that there is no choice; what we pay attention to, or fail to pay attention to, is utterly a result of our biological and cultural conditioning, given the circumstances of the moment, and we have absolutely no control over it.

But somehow, paradoxically, it seems possible to be aware of that conditioning and the apparent actions it inevitably prompts, as if I were looking at someone else.

Coquitlam, my new home, the place I have recently been ‘transplanted to’, is very different from Bowen Island, my home for the previous twelve years.

I’ve moved a mere 60km from a house on a 300m hill a half-mile from my neighbour on an island of 3800 people, to an apartment 42 floors up in the middle of a city of a quarter of a million people (the so-called “TriCities”). I’ve moved from the northwest extremity of Metro Vancouver to its northeast extremity. Lots of green and mountains outside my window, still, but even on the roof I can’t see the stars anymore, even on a cloudless night. I’ve gone from five lights visible from my bedroom at night, to tens of thousands.

And it’s noisy. People yelling, honking, and gunning their engines. Car alarms, trucks beeping backing up, shunting trains, squeaking brakes, sirens, banging garbage trucks, unidentified industrial noises, and the constant hum of traffic.

I noticed myself paying attention to the brightness, the urban sprawl of subdivisions and parking lots, and the noise. And then to my surprise, I stopped paying attention.

Instead, I’m sitting here on a late summer night, having watched the sunset and the falling dark from the roof. I’m sipping on a mug of tea, looking at the astonishing, garish, awful, wonderful display of lights you can see in the photo above. I’m listening to VOCES8 on headphones, singing the music of Ólafur Arnalds , Eric Whitacre and Rachmaninoff.

I noticed that I didn’t put the headphones on to drown out the Friday night city noise. In fact I noticed that I wasn’t paying attention to the noise at all. I was paying attention to the lights, and the music that I put on just seemed the right accompaniment to the new, astonishing light show outside the window.

It has been a long time since I’ve felt so much at peace, and I’ve found it here amidst all the noise. Just because of what I’m paying attention to, and what I’m not paying attention to.

I’m noticing other things that never caught my attention before, too. I’m noticing the different ways the wildly diverse cultures represented here in Coquitlam (half the population are visible minorities) look at me (and at others), or don’t, and the different ways they express what comes across as politeness but is probably more nuanced than that. Still figuring all that out — more attention required.

I’m noticing the brightness, the features, and the angle at which the moon waxes and wanes. I’m noticing that you can infer most of someone’s facial expression, even hidden behind a mask, from the expression of their eyes, eyebrows and the line of their jaw. I’m noticing the change in the ‘tone’, the weight, and the smell of the air as I pass from areas that are open, to those sheltered by greenery, or near streams and rivers.

Part of the reason I’m noticing — paying attention to — new things, is that everything is so different here from how it was on Bowen Island. I think that is one of the important virtues of travel to see different ecosystems and different cultures — we get inured to things after a while, and no longer notice them, but when we’re suddenly surrounded by things we are not used to, we have no choice but to pay attention. It’s like suddenly regaining binary vision after having to make do with one eye for a while.

I think one the main reasons I’m paying attention to more and different things is that I’m no longer paying attention to other, unimportant things, or at least not giving them as much attention. Most significantly, I’m not paying as much attention to my thoughts as I used to, which shifts my focus from the internal to the external. I’m not sure why that is, but it seems to be healthy.

I’ve also stopped paying attention to the endless distraction of social media and the news scroll. It was a total, addictive, time suck. Facebook and Twitter still send me daily email notifications of posts by people I apparently once ‘followed’, carefully curated to draw me in. Of course they require me to go to their sites to see more than the ‘teaser’ the email includes, so they can then bombard me with more sensational posts. But now I delete the teasers without looking at them.

The NYT has now done me a favour by doubling down on their paywall, so that even with incognito mode I can’t read their articles unless I time the switch to ‘reader mode’ just right. Very few articles are worth that hassle. So I scan the ‘top 10’ headlines from the websites of the Tyee, CBC, NPR, Atlantic, Guardian, Al Jazeera, and the NYT, on my Protopage.com newsreader page, once a day, and on an average day will visit just one link for more details — usually an analysis from a favourite writer or a rare article that is actually actionable. Once a month I scan what’s new from about 30 blogs, vlogs and websites that have consistently offered useful and insightful reporting, research and perspectives, usually just before I post my “links of the month”. That’s all the news I need, I think, to stay current, informed, and sane. Works out to about 20 minutes a day.

That frees up a lot of time for paying attention to things that are more fun, more immediate, healthier, and more useful to pay attention to — with all my senses. And, a little bit more each day, that’s happening without the over-thinking, judgement, “sense-making”, and “what does that mean?” interpretation that has characterized my attention most of my life. It’s enough it seems just to notice, just to pay attention. Most of the time, trying to make sense of everything just gets in the way of really seeing, hearing, sensing what is happening.

Can paying attention to what we pay attention to, actually change what we pay attention to, or how attentive we are, or how much we appreciate and enjoy paying attention? I don’t know — I’m too new at this, and besides, I have a sense it doesn’t matter anyway. Even as my self-awareness seems to grow, and my attentiveness shifts, I am even more aware that I have no choice in any of it. It’s just what’s happening, apparently, here, now, on this terrace in the sky in Coquitlam, on the 240th day of the 21st year of civilization’s final century.

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | 3 Comments

No More Careers


images by the Noun Project CCBY Gan Khoon Lay and Webtechops LLP

It took me my entire working life to realize how unnatural “work” — ie wage slavery, in a relationship of voluntary servitude to others — actually is. Even as a youth it seemed wrong to me. But when everyone around you is fighting their way to the top of fickle, hierarchical, brutally competitive organizations, you come to think of this as just the price of living in a modern, “affluent” society.

The exhausting 70-hour weeks, the lack of respect and appreciation, the intermittent or constant humiliations, harassment and mistreatment, the mind-numbing toil of doing what you’re paid to do instead of what you want to do, what you know you’re meant to do, the grinding, long commutes, the constant anxiety and sense of hopelessness of ever getting “out from under” — these can all come to seem “normal”.

But as I wrote last year, not only is our modern idea of work not normal, it’s not even necessary to a very comfortable way of living:

The vast majority of us today spend roughly half our waking hours directly or indirectly engaged in “work”, and before that being “schooled” for “work”, from very early childhood until death, or, for a lucky few, until we are deemed unsuitable to continue working and are “retired” from the work “force” and labour “force” (one of many “work”-related terms borrowed from the military).

It is perhaps surprising then, this invention of voluntary servitude called “work” being so new and yet so preoccupying our lives, that relatively few of us even ponder the purpose of “work”, and most just assume this exhausting and life-defining labour is essential to society’s functioning.

It’s a false assumption. Even with our unsustainable human numbers, the availability of billions of barrels of oil, each barrel capable of producing the equivalent of 4.5 person-years of labour, is more than enough, if it were not spent on wars and extravagances, and if it were even close to equitably distributed, to allow everyone who didn’t want to work to live a life of comfortable leisure.

There seems to be a growing awareness of the unnaturalness and unfairness of the “work world”. Some attribute this to the unemployment and other benefits given to those displaced from work by CoVid-19, and a reluctance to return to the grind when those benefits ran out. But I think our realization that work is an abomination has been growing for a long time, and it’s gaining steam with our realization that unfettered capitalism is dysfunctional and killing our planet. The stock market averages, and the GDP figures, are indices of the velocity of civilization’s collapse, not of anything even remotely connected with well-being.

Katherine Berry created a small sensation three months ago with her passionate (if a bit naive) vlog post “I no longer aspire to have a career“. In China there’s now a “Lying Flat Movement” protesting the requirement to work and to “progress” in the work world. We have come to understand that there is no such thing as “sustainable growth” and that most of the world is engaged in meaningless and unnecessary Bullshit Jobs. And last week NPR producer Cassady Rosenblum explained why she quit her job and gave up a promising career “to sit on the porch”.

Of course these posts and protests have prompted endless howls of criticism, from right-wingers calling them “lazy” and “spoiled and privileged”, to the Chinese government calling them subversive. The common supposition is that unless the treadmill of work is kept mandatory to avoid starvation and suffering, the whole economy will collapse, and that since no one would work if they weren’t forced to, we have to force everyone to work. I won’t waste any words trying to explain how ludicrous these suppositions are.

The interesting questions to me are (1) will this be the basis of the protest movement for millennials, perhaps one that will compare to the anti-war, anti-consumption protest movement of the boomers in the late 1960s (remember John Lennon’s “bed-in” for peace)?, and (2) if there is such a movement, can it possibly succeed where the 60s protests failed?

Millennials now outnumber boomers, and will continue to do so for many years. That means their impact and influence will grow.

But it is not at all clear to me that the capitalism machine depends on people showing up for work. Given the overwhelming number of Bullshit Jobs, it would hardly change anything if these jobs were eliminated and replaced with a guaranteed minimum annual income that everyone would get. The same thing would happen as happens now — an ever-increasing amount of money would flow to potential consumers, enabling them to buy goods from the corporate oligopolies that control supply, so “growth” would continue, with more and more production, consumption, resource use, pollution, GDP, corporate profits, and market value increases. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle, and I’m not at all convinced it needs many people to work to continue it.

It is of course unsustainable, since we are quickly running out of the cheap resources (petrochemicals especially) that have powered all of the growth in production and GDP over the past two centuries, and destroying the planet in the process to the point that much or most if it will soon be uninhabitable.

The combination of economic and ecological collapse will shift us to a subsistence, scavenger economy, and it’s going to be a struggle for almost everyone, but what we will have to do to meet our needs in such an economy will resemble what almost all of us did until just two or three centuries ago — work the land to harvest food, make what we need (mostly clothing and shelter) directly to survive, and entertain ourselves with self-produced arts and cultural activities with the leisure time that’s left. Is that “work”? Certainly not in the modern sense.

But back to the issue of millennials and their potential rebellion against what we now call work. Given their relative powerlessness (shades of the boomers’ feelings in the 1960s), their discomfort with being just another low-ranking cog in the top-heavy machine that is leading to our downfall is certainly understandable. A recent study suggests they are absurdly overburdened with debt, ethical and cautious spenders, quite health- and nutrition-conscious (preferring to work out in groups rather than alone, drinking less beer, and avoiding processed foods), prefer to rent or stream things rather than buying them, and prefer to work on projects rather than fill roles and do fixed jobs.

That sounds sensible to me, but doesn’t suggest a revolution against work is at hand. Perhaps we boomers, realizing far too late that the years at the grindstone weren’t worth the grind, are projecting a bit? Millennials are the first generation in history to have a lower median standard of living than their parents, so far from being rebels they may just be pragmatic in what they spend and hence what they need to earn to be able to do so.

So, I think this recent analysis of millennials is mostly projection and wishful thinking:

Millennials are the first that do not place work ethic on their list of what makes them unique. It’s not that Millennials don’t want to work. It’s that they don’t want to work for “the man”. They wonder why they should slave away and be loyal and obedient to organizations that shows no loyalty to them. They constantly ask “why” and they want feedback because they know they have to keep developing, keep learning, keep moving, keep connecting.

The fact this is mostly wishful thinking is kind of a shame. We may be seeing the end of careers, but not, alas, the end of work. I’d like to see more people walking away from our ruinous economy, as workers, producers, promoters and consumers. But in western nations we’re almost all yoked to the plough of the modern industrial “growth” economy, and we’re all likely to stay there until the cart stops moving. We probably have a decade or two to figure out how to extract ourselves from the yoke, and then ask the question we don’t want to ask: Now what?

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 4 Comments

Flying at Four Hundred Feet

Some shots from the new digs in Coquitlam BC. It’s a little like living in an airplane taxiing very slowly in to land. I’m under the weather, but feeling blessed to have found a place. Inside, the chaos of unpacking continues.


View to the northeast. Lake Lafarge with its fountains, bandshell and red theatre centre are visible centre right. Six of the more-than-mile-high mountains of the Coast Range are in the background.


View to the east, with the Pitt River and Coast Range mountains beyond.

View to the southeast. On a clear day, there are mountains visible all around, and on such days the perpetually snow-capped Mt Baker looms astonishingly far above the horizon.


View to the north, at dusk.


View to the east, at dusk.


Night view from the lower level.

Posted in Creative Works | 2 Comments

Preparing to Welcome Two Billion Refugees

A-Syrian-refugee-holding-009-640x384

The iconic 2015 photo by Daniet Etter/New York Times/Redux /eyevine of Middle-Eastern refugees weeping for joy at their safe arrival in Europe

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well…

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper, unless the miles travelled
mean something more than a journey.

— from “Home”, by Warsan Shire

Sometimes we forget that humans are capable of incredible acts of courage, open-mindedness and generosity. Those capacities are going to be sorely needed over the coming decades as as many as two billion refugees — mostly fleeing utterly uninhabitable climates and irreparable storm and disaster zones, as climate collapse gains steam — come knocking on the doors of their neighbours.

Even as that is happening, we are likely to see huge waves of refugees from global economic collapse as well, as our absurdly overpriced stock, commodity and real estate markets wake up to our unsustainable way of living and lose most of their illusory value, with the resultant loss of hundreds of millions of jobs, the collapse of global trade, financial institutions, currencies, governments, resource and energy development activities, the whole house of cards, making many necessities of life suddenly unaffordable for most of the planet’s people, while eliminating essential public services that many others, already on life support, depend upon.

There will of course be strong initial resistance to welcoming such an onslaught of refugees. The onslaught and the resistance are already playing out across the world and across the political spectrum. We are understandably terrified that our already crumbling systems will not be able to bear the weight of so many more in such enormous need. That they won’t, for much longer, even support us.

But at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later for most of us, it will dawn on us: This is not an issue of us versus them. We are all in this together. The borders cannot and will not hold. If we are not already among the refugees, there is a significant chance we will be soon. And those already on that journey, perhaps a lifelong, multi-leg journey for many, can actually show us how to cope better when our own journey to find sanctuary from collapse begins.

Many refugees have learned, of necessity, skills that many of us in complacent, dependent, affluent parts of the world have forgotten: How to grow food and make nutritious meals, how to make and fix clothes, tools and vehicles, how to get along with strangers and build some modicum of community wherever they are. We will all have to relearn these things, and refugees may show us how.

There is not much information available on how to accommodate huge numbers of refugees, though it’s not a uniquely modern problem. The nations that currently harbour the largest numbers of refugees (especially as a % of their domestic population) are mostly adjacent to the countries that millions are desperate to escape: Syrians in Turkey, Venezuelans in Colombia, Afghanis in Pakistan, Congolese and Sudanese in Uganda. And more than half of the world’s displaced people are ‘internally’ displaced: They have been forced from their homes, but live in camps and other ‘temporary’ settlements within their homelands.

Five years ago, UNESCO did a major study on how to deal with this problem, noting that most refugees end up living in major cities in their adopted countries. The four pillars of their recommendations are about (1) universal human rights for refugees, (2) equitable treatment and freedom from discrimination, (3) equitable labour standards and employment opportunities, and (4) rights of asylum and due process.

Welcoming and including refugees is fraught with dangers. There is the whole philosophical and ideological issue of ‘integration’ — to what extent refugees are expected to quickly adopt the language, customs and behaviours of ‘natives’, versus their right to continue to exercise, protect and celebrate their own cultures. Often more work has to be done with the native population, to deal with their unease, suspicions and fears, than with the refugees themselves.

There is a propensity for studies and public programs on issues such as refugee accommodation to rely on what are called “best practices” — identifying and ‘replicating’ things that seem to have worked in other jurisdictions — notwithstanding that refugees’ situations are largely unique and “best practices” have repeatedly been shown to simply not work. Every situation is quite different, and there is a basic human tendency to distrust “not invented here” solutions and to reinvent the wheel again and again.

My sense is that the success or failure of our capacity to welcome, live and work with large-scale refugee migrations will depend little on government programs and other top-down solutions (which will, as collapse worsens, become more and more preoccupied with dealing with domestic crises, and will likely disappear as economic collapse bankrupts governments), and will instead be a function of two things:

  1. The degree to which there evolves genuine, one-to-one, contact, communication and understanding between refugees and the native communities they move to; and
  2. The degree to which it is realized that, as collapse becomes a global phenomenon, refugees and native populations are in this together and need to learn from each other and employ all the collective skills, knowledge and capacities at their disposal.

The staggering, unprecedented, large scale mass movement of humans to safer harbours that is now underway is, in short, not going to be solved by government, by plans, by research studies, or by deploying “best practices”. It is instructive to note that all of these classic, largely worthless crisis management techniques were in place when the global pandemic hit. We had agencies, management plans, contingency plans, cascading rollout plans, scenario plans, and gazillions of preparedness reports, and if anything they were mostly worse than useless, since they gave us a false sense of readiness for the pandemic.

Instead, we improvised, taking our lead not from the ‘leaders’ but from the data, knowledge, ideas, insights and experiments of those on the front lines, those who knew exactly what we were dealing with not from reading textbooks and management theories but from first-hand, just-in-time experience. The best wisdom was passed laterally, peer-to-peer, not “cascaded down” from the top. Much of that improvisation worked despite unprecedented amounts of misinformation and fear-mongering propagated by terrified, mentally ill people, largely through the auspices of the hapless, execrable “social media”.

The migration of two billion refugees over the next few decades will be the largest improvisation project in human history. To avoid a million small disasters, we will have to rely on maximizing the face-to-face communication between ‘them’ and ‘us’ — the personal anecdotes, the stories, the shared struggles, the fears, the needs, the skills and capacities, the passions, and most of all the commonalities.

If we are separated by camps, by gated communities, by walls, by systemic discriminatory mechanisms, by language, by cultural misunderstandings, by rhetoric-spouting ideologues, by propaganda, and by xenophobia, there is no hope for us.

But if we look each new immigrant in the face, and share and hear and tell their stories and ours, and welcome them as people whose only real difference from us is their misfortune at where they happened to be when TSHTF, then we will get through this, perhaps the greatest human adventure of all time. We will, one way or another, share that adventure, learn from each other, help each other and make it, or not, together.

Things are about to get very interesting. It’s OK to be afraid. You’re not alone. We are all leaving. Those people there, refugees like you, they can show you, show us all, the way.

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 4 Comments

Well Worn

Of all the aspects of human culture, the one I think I know the least about is our propensity for wearing particular clothes. I can appreciate that when we left our natural habitat a million years ago, we needed some clothing to protect us from the elements. But most human clothing seems designed to show status, to attract (or occasionally, discourage) attention, to show conformity or membership, to cover up perceived defects in our appearance, or just to make a statement. In that sense, many clothes seem functionally more like tattoos or hairstyles than body-coverings.

Although I enjoy (non-formal, non-restrictive) costume events, I confess to having little appreciation for (or understanding of) the rules of attire (etym: “to add order”), the proper selection of garments (etym: “things that add order”), or how to dress appropriately (etym: “to put in order” — notice a trend here?) The etymology of the word wardrobe is even stranger: It means “a place to secrete stolen items”! No wonder so few seem to understand the rules of modern fashion beyond those presuming to make them.

The business of making clothes has spawned an entire lexicon of terms to describe the various products, many of them now as obscure as the items they describe. And the terms vary depending on where you live, and sometimes even on how they are made.

So here’s a little quiz of sixty terms that describe clothing. See how many of them you know. (I correctly understood only 16 of them.)

  1. Mufti
  2. Surcoat
  3. Petticoat and crinoline
  4. Tippet
  5. Codpiece
  6. Jumper, jersey, cardigan
  7. Waistcoat
  8. Pinafore
  9. Kimono
  10. Wellies
  11. Dungarees
  12. Polo neck vs polo shirt
  13. Peplum
  14. Qipao
  15. Fisherman pants
  16. Capris
  17. Palazzos
  18. Breeches vs jodhpurs
  19. Chinos
  20. Plus fours
  21. Tobis
  22. Braccaes
  23. Knickerbockers
  24. Clam-diggers
  25. Henley shirt
  26. Oxford shirt
  27. Cami shirt
  28. Guayabera
  29. Shirtwaist
  30. Singlet vs doublet
  1. Tunic
  2. Bilaut
  3. Raglan sleeve
  4. Lantern sleeve
  5. Mutton-leg sleeve
  6. Pagoda sleeve
  7. Dolman sleeve
  8. Brogues
  9. Pumps
  10. Chelsea boots
  11. Huaraches
  12. Loafers
  13. Oxfords
  14. Slingbacks
  15. Plimsolls
  16. Mules
  17. Kitten heels
  18. Durag
  19. Kufi
  20. Gaiters
  21. Kebaya
  22. Hanbok
  23. Shúkà
  24. Agbada
  25. Huipil
  26. Thawb
  27. Hijab
  28. Kanga
  29. Kanzu
  30. Kaftan

Traditional clothing styles mostly seem to make sense in the climate and culture in which they have arisen, though I confess I find some items women are required to wear in some cultures unsettling.

I can’t say I see the same evolved logic in modern western/northern clothing styles, which mostly make no sense to me whatsoever — they seem mostly arbitrary, aesthetically displeasing, uncomfortable, exploitative, cumbersome, and even ridiculous. Like business suits, ties and hose, and the white lab coats still worn by many doctors, these obligatory clothing requirements seem more an anachronistic form of cultural tyranny than an accommodation to the needs and demands of the modern world.

But, I’ve been told more than once, that’s probably because I just don’t understand the rules.


image above: Kenyan woman wearing Kanga, from wikipedia, public domain

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Self-Management: Take Two


estuary, a new artwork by my friend Di 

I‘ve written a lot about this subject over the years. It seems to me that, since we can’t know how grim the ongoing collapse of our civilization is going to be, or how it’s going to unfold for us personally, a personal self-management practice probably makes more sense as a means to help us cope with what’s to come, than attempts to prepare or plan ahead for whatever we guess may happen.

In recent years, I’ve also come to doubt we have free will over what we do, which is to say that I really had no alternative but to pursue the self-management practice I’ve pursued, and certainly have no business prescribing one, or any course of action, to anyone else.

My practice has been honed down to some pretty simple steps:

  1. Monitor and manage my own health and fitness. I collect and track lots of personal health and fitness data, get regular blood tests and monitor the results and trends, and research and get second opinions when anything adverse occurs.
  2. Make it easier and more fun to do healthy, useful things. My treadmill desk lets me work out while multitasking. I listen to podcasts while I do upper body/core workouts. I try to simplify and add an element of fun to important tasks and routines, so I don’t skip them.
  3. Eat well. What has worked for me is a varied, whole-plant-based diet, supplemented with a half-dozen vitamins and nutrients that such diets, for those in temperate rainforest climates, often lack.
  4. Monitor my personal stress and psychological well-being. I am learning to be aware of when I am getting reactive to a situation, and let others help with that awareness. I still get easily stressed, but being aware of it helps temper my reactivity.
  5. Stay aware that what I want to believe and what is most likely actually true are rarely the same thing. We are reactive creatures, prone to confirmation bias and a preference for simplicity, and we have difficulty dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity. I’m learning, at last, to recognize and hold my idealistic beliefs (what I think should be) apart from an open, curious, constantly self-challenging sense of what might actually be. My new radical non-duality perspective has heightened the cognitive dissonance in my life but actually made this tension easier to manage. I am no longer as invested in my beliefs.
  6. Be aware of my judgements and expectations. Of myself, others, and the world. I still have them, but I am more inclined to laugh at their absurdity.
  7. Be aware of what I am ‘choosing’ to pay attention to. The ‘choosing’ is in quotes since we don’t really have a choice, but it seems being aware of what I pay attention to is helping me learn to tune out and ignore what I can’t do anything about, and focus my attention where it’s actually useful, to me and to the world.

That’s it. No momentous change or self-improvement miracle. Still as lost, scared and bewildered as ever. Still anxious about the future and all the things that could go wrong, or be worse than they are. Still struggling with the existential precarity that is life in the 21st century. Still haven’t learned how to take things less seriously, how to live lighter, how to laugh more.

But I’m a little more aware of what’s going on inside this foolish, overly-earnest, deluded self, and not quite as hard on it as I once was. And I’m taking a little better care of the body it presumes to inhabit. That will have to be enough for now.

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Links of the Month: August 2021

Indi Samarajiva is a cultural critic/analyst living in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He’s been writing about culture and collapse as long as I have. Last year, in a remarkable series on collapse described in more detail in the section below, he wrote: “All the Earth is a palimpsest.” A palimpsest is “something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form”, named after scrolls that reused parchment for new texts. The term is also used to described repurposed materials, resources and processes in architecture and archeology, and derives from the Greek words meaning “re-scraping”.

It’s an amazing word, and the most eye-opening idea about human culture’s evolution I’ve encountered in a long time. We are, by nature, and have always been, a scavenger species.


COLLAPSE WATCH


The accelerated melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet threatens to collapse the Gulf Stream, which is already severely weakened. Image by pxhere, CC0

Collapse is here: A three-part series by Indi Samarajiva. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. “If you’re waiting for a moment where you’re like ‘this is it,’ I’m telling you, it never comes. Nobody comes on TV and says ‘things are officially bad.’ There’s no launch party for decay. It’s just a pileup of outrages and atrocities in between friendships and weddings and perhaps an unusual amount of alcohol. Perhaps you’re waiting for some moment when the adrenaline kicks in and you’re fighting the virus or fascism all the time, but it’s not like that… Collapse is just a series of ordinary days in between extraordinary bullshit, most of it happening to someone else. That’s all it is.” Thanks to PS Pirro for the links.

The Gulf Stream is collapsing: Rapid warming in the Arctic has weakened and threatens to collapse the global Gulf Stream. “A shutdown would have devastating global impacts and must not be allowed to happen, researchers say”.

The Club of Rome 1972 Limits to Growth ‘end game’ is unfolding exactly as they predicted: “the current business-as-usual trajectory of global civilization is heading toward the terminal decline of economic growth within the coming decade—and could trigger societal collapse by around 2040“. Thanks to all those who pointed me to this item.

Overshoot: A billion displaced by 2050, and it’s all downhill from there: Bill Rees explains the concept and problems of overshoot, our mythology of perpetual technology-driven growth, our denial of the realities of what we face, and its consequences — civilizational collapse with population plummeting to 1-2 billion in the coming decades.

America’s likely violent future: Richard Heinberg is not optimistic about how fundamentalist, denialist, gun-crazed America is going to manage collapse.

Is Chico a warning for what we will soon all face?: Chico California has gone in a few short years from a humanitarian haven for victims of wildfires to a divided, angry, heartless, everyone-to-their-own dystopia. Thanks to Kavana for the link.

… and I presume everyone heard about the latest, direst, IPCC report, except of course readers of the Murdoch and Postmedia papers.


LIVING BETTER


cartoon and poem by Michael Leunig

“This is what happens when public health fails”: Over 100,000 Americans per year die from fentanyl poisoning from tainted street drugs. All it would take would be for the politicians, and the communities, to listen to what the public health experts are desperately saying, and implement policies that have been instituted in some other countries, to end this scourge. But there’s no sign that’s going to happen in the US, Canada, or other politically divided countries distrustful of what public health speakers urge.

Policing without cops: A model from Oregon that dispatches social workers instead of police in non-violent situations is now being applied, with remarkable results, in communities across North America. Thanks to Kavana for the link.

Naming the hungry ghosts: A comprehensive approach to decolonization can help us deal with the unintegrated traumas of centuries of colonization that haunt us, possess us and poison us. A podcast with 11 interviewees suggests a way forward.


POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL


cartoon by Bill Bramhill in the NY Daily News; thanks to David Hodgson for the link

Corpocracy, Imperialism & Propaganda: Short takes:

CoVid-19 Becomes the Pandemic (mostly) of the Unvaccinated: Short takes:

What happened in Afghanistan: An excellent summary by Anatol Lieven of the utterly misunderstood (by the invading forces) Afghani culture, and why the transition of the entire country to Taliban control proceeded so quickly and (relatively) peacefully once the invasion force announced it was withdrawing. Afghanistan’s culture is one of negotiation and agreements, and they were already in place well before the actual troop pullouts occurred.


FUN AND INSPIRATION


cartoon by the late Charles Barsotti

Why it’s hard to be rational: Joshua Rothman explains how our lack of self-awareness of our knowledge and our biases, our emotional reactions, a culture of distrust, and our fear of being wrong, lead us to muddle-headed thinking, beliefs and actions.

Monthly dose of Schmachtenberger: A recent interview with Daniel covers subjects as broad as collective intelligence, consciousness, the nature of reality, how we assess risk, and the nature and dangers of technology. It’s long, but the outline at the top parses it into bite-sized subjects, so you can listen a bit at a time. And if that’s not enough, read what he describes as the dance of the Tao and the “essence of thingness”.

You are two, or nothing: Two popular and worth-exploring ‘sister’  YouTube channels on science, philosophy, culture and technology are Ireland’s CGP Grey and Germany’s Kurzgesagt. In my favourite videos, CGP explains how the hemispheres of the brain operate, and how they can actually be telling us very different things, each in their own way. And then Kurzgesagt riffs off that to tell us who we really are. Thanks to Peter Frinton for the links.

This month’s best Beaverton headlines:

    • Tumultuous Canadian Green Party threatens to split into blue and yellow parties
    • We used to experiment by launching monkeys into space. Now, we use CEOs. Progress.

Escaping from QAnon: A member of the cult explains how she got sucked in, and how she got out. Thanks to Kavana for the link.


THOUGHTS FOR THE MONTH


’nuff said

By Dorianne Laux, “Twelve Days of Rain”, from What We Carry:

Today, pumping gas into my old car, I stood
hatless in the rain and the whole world
went silent—cars on the wet street
sliding past without sound, the attendant’s
mouth opening and closing on air
as he walked from pump to pump, his footsteps
erased in the rain—nothing
but the tiny numbers in their square windows
rolling by my shoulder, the unstoppable seconds
gliding by as I stood at the Chevron,
balancing evenly on my two feet, a gas nozzle
gripped in my hand, my hair gathering rain.

And I saw it didn’t matter
who had loved me or who I loved. I was alone.
The black oily asphalt, the slick beauty
of the Iranian attendant, the thickening
clouds—nothing was mine. And I understood
finally, after a semester of philosophy,
a thousand books of poetry, after death
and childbirth and the startled cries of men
who called out my name as they entered me,
I finally believed I was alone, felt it
in my actual, visceral heart, heard it echo
like a thin bell. And the sounds
came back, the slish of tires
and footsteps, all the delicate cargo
they carried saying thank you
and yes. So I paid and climbed into my car
as if nothing had happened—
as if everything mattered.

From Anne Helen Petersen, The ‘Capitalism is Broken’ Economy (thanks to PS Pirro for the link)

We should ask ourselves, our communities, and our government: if a business can’t pay a living wage, should it be a business? If it’s too expensive for businesses to provide healthcare for their workers, maybe we need to decouple it from employment? If childcare is a market failure, but we need childcare for the economy to work, how can the government build that infrastructure? If the pay you provide workers doesn’t allow them to live in the community, what needs to change? Collectively, we should be thinking of different funding models, different ownership scenarios, and different growth imperatives. Failure to do so is simply resigning ourselves to another round of this rigged game.

From Caitlin Johnstone:

Millions of highly traumatized men came home from the World Wars and started families and poured all their trauma into the minds of their children. That trauma has been passed down through subsequent generations. That’s the real lasting legacy of those wars, not the stuff in the movies.

From PS Pirro: The body remembers:

I live in a haunted land, where the dead don’t stay buried. Where swamps were drained and forests cleared, scattering the remnant living west into the tall grass, as if woodland and prairie were interchangeable.

As if the living wouldn’t be driven from that new land, too.

What remains here are ghosts of another way to be. Disturbing a peace we’ve never cared to make.

On the four-lane driving home I’m surrounded by pickup trucks, imposing hulks with tinted windows, objects in my mirror that are closer than they appear. The meat inside: guts or brains? asks the famous poem.

Either way, they disturb what peace I have. I’m relieved when they speed around me. Not so relieved that I don’t curse them, of course. Quietly, and without a rude hand gesture. I don’t wish to get shot.

This week is the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. A pivotal event in U.S. history that most of us — myself included — had not heard of until recently. An entire thriving black community burned to the ground by a white mob. The act erased from the archives. Expunged from official memory.

Still, the body remembers. The splinter works itself to the surface.

The body of the land remembers. The dead walk abroad.

The body as memorial. The land as memorial. Guts and brains. Forest and swamp.


Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 4 Comments

Where Should You Live When TSHTF?


Street in Helsingør (aka “Elsinore” thanks to Shakespeare), Danmark, nominated as one of Europe’s 5 greenest towns of 2021-22. Photo by Grega.nered – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Having just moved from one rather precarious place (a small ferry-dependent island) to another (a suburban high-rise), I’m hardly in the position to be giving advice on this subject. But it doesn’t take much of a grasp of the firehose of disaster and collapse news to appreciate that some places (Haiti and Afghanistan come to mind) are a lot more precarious than others, and that disparity is likely to grow as the crises we face deepen.

So here’s a checklist of things to consider before your next move, so that when the economy collapses, and ecological collapse worsens and begins to seriously affect us all, you’re hopefully at least not stuck in an impossible situation. On a scale of 1 (worst) to 10 (best), I’ve ‘scored’ my new home in Coquitlam on the ten factors in the checklist, and they add up to a total score of 32/100 (about the same score as my previous home on Bowen Island). I’d be interested in how you’d ‘score’ your current home.

  1. Avoid areas highly prone to natural disasters. As collapse accelerates, areas hit by hurricanes, coastal flooding, earthquakes and tsunamis, wildfires, and severe and chronic droughts and water shortages, and chronic unendurable heatwaves, will not be rebuilt. They will be abandoned. Before that happens losses will become uninsurable, as insurance companies fold and tighten up their portfolios. Even if it takes fifty years for sea levels to fully engulf low-lying coastal areas, they may well already have been rendered uninhabitable by the increasing frequency and severity of storms. Forty million Americans currently rely on the Colorado River for fresh water, and it’s quickly running dry. There is no back-up plan. My score: 4/10 (earthquake & wildfire risk).
  2. Live near those you love. We probably have at most a decade before airline travel is restricted to emergency trips only, as affordable hydrocarbons are depleted and are rationed for more essential uses. And those you love are going to want and need you near to face the crises we will all be sharing. My score 4/10.
  3. Avoid places dependent on food that has to come from more than 100 km away. Economic collapse will take an immediate toll on trade of all kinds, especially cross-border trade, meaning that anything that can’t be grown locally, or manufactured from local materials, will likely become precarious. My score 3/10.
  4. Live walking or biking distance away from (a) your work, (b) adequate medical care, (c) local farms and markets, and (d) any facilities that provide goods, services and amenities (eg parks, warm beaches) you can’t imagine living without.  My score 5/10.
  5. Live in a place where you know and care about your neighbours, where you and they have at least a rudimentary sense of community, and where your neighbours at least somewhat share your values. When TSHTF, you’re going to have to rely on each other for lots of things you don’t have to today. My score 2/10. 
  6. Live in a place where you can accommodate unimaginable numbers of economic and climate refugees. My decade-old estimate of 2 billion global migrants due to collapse is looking more reasonable all the time. When a chunk of them realize they have no option but to leave their homes and move to where you are, will your community be ready? My score 3/10.
  7. Live in a place where you can live comfortably despite frequent and lengthy blackouts and brownouts, water disruptions, fuel shortages, and cutbacks and disruptions of public services (public transport, road repairs, health and social services, public education etc). Governments and utilities are going to be stretched thinner and thinner to provide these things we most of us currently take for granted. Just as we’re going to see store shelves empty of imported goods, we’re going to have to learn to do without some of these things, at least intermittently. My score: 1/10.
  8. Live in a place where you can live comfortably without reliable cell phone and internet service. I don’t even want to think about this, but thirty years ago these were luxuries and rarities, and there’s good reason to believe they will be so again some time between ten and thirty years from now. These are expensive, high-energy-demand amenities, that we will find we just cannot afford any more. My score: 1/10.
  9. Live in a place where your neighbours know how to do things you don’t. That especially includes the ability to make essential repairs to things (heating, electrical, A/C, telephone, and other systems; repairing and adjusting clothes; fixing appliances large and small, computers etc). It’s going to get harder to pay someone to come a long distance to fix and make things for us when our throw-away culture becomes unaffordable and these skills come into high demand. This list of essential things also includes ‘soft’ skills like mentoring, facilitation, conflict resolution, and negotiation. You might find your neighbours have more of these skills than you’d think. Or not. You might also find that some of your skills, that you don’t get paid for, are actually stronger than you think, and could be essential in your community when TSHTF. My score: 3?/10 (I’m brand new to this neighbourhood so it’s only a guess).
  10. Live in a place with well-maintained infrastructure. Well-functioning, non-hydrocarbon-dependent public transportation. Well-maintained water, sewer and electrical systems. Adequate, well-maintained roads, bridges, tunnels and walking and cycling paths. Functional emergency services and critical social services. In many places, long-term neglect means expensive infrastructure failures are inevitable, and they may turn out to be just too expensive to rectify at all. My score: 6/10.

I doubt there are many places that would objectively get a score greater than 50/100, and those that would are probably small, well-formed, established intentional communities or historically affluent Scandinavian towns. Billionaires who think that they can buy their way out of low scores on this checklist, and preppers who think they can do all these things themselves and won’t have to rely on others, are in for a surprise.

I’m not stressed at my new community’s 32/100 score at this point. But as I likely have about 15-25 years to live, I’m going to do my best, wherever I am living, to get to know and appreciate my neighbours, and whenever I move again I will be looking to find a place with a higher score. Vancouver is rated as one of the ten most sustainable cities in the world, but that’s not saying much, and may be total nonsense. I’d bet a lot of Northern European cities and small towns would rank higher in an honest list, and as I get older they are starting to replace Hawai’i and New Zealand as the places I can imagine one day living in, when things get tougher.

If there are other factors you think I’ve missed, or if there are some sparkling low-precarity places to live you are willing to share, I’d love to hear about them.

Posted in Preparing for Civilization's End | 6 Comments

Farewell to Bowen, Part Two: Creating Community

In Part One of this article, I described the global economic forces that have largely defeated Bowen Islanders’ attempts to create a sustainable, livable, long-term home for its diverse, long-term residents. I explained that the only future for the Vancouver exurban island I can now see is as a combination of a multi-millionaires’ playground, a retirement sanctuary (for those pension- and property-rich enough to afford it), and a grinding commuter bedroom community for those with young families. I predicted that the underclass of local workers and artists will be slowly forced out.

This is a shame, but it reflects the reality faced by many similar exurban communities near the world’s most desirable cities. There is no easy, or local, fix.

In this part, I want to talk about what it means to be a true community, and how I learned so much about what community really means from Bowen Islanders.

Many of the 20 sq. mi. island’s residents (and ex-residents) came here looking for sanctuary, and saw its relative isolation as a benefit, not a drawback, to living here. It contains the largest forested area of Metro Vancouver by a mile, and is so popular with day tourists that their arrival in summer wreaks havoc on ferry traffic, with commensurate overloads, delays and disruptions to schedules.

Islanders are heavily dependent on the ferry — travel by and on it constitutes half of the island’s total carbon footprint, and the ferry is essential for most jobs (about half of the adults on the island commute to the mainland), and for most purchases, including many foods.

The island is mountainous. Its three largest mountains, 1300-2400 ft in elevation, take up nearly half the island’s area and create rapid runoff of rainwater and soil; dry wells and low lake levels are a recurring and worsening problem. The very hilly terrain, and the sprawl of subdivisions around the perimeter, make travel by bicycle or on foot impractical, unpleasant, and sometimes dangerous for most. The island’s soil is volcanic, which is not great for growing food, and the richest growing areas, in the valleys between the mountains, have been paved over and built upon.

So the island is, except right in the cove where the ferry docks, heavily car-dependent. The ferry dock on the mainland is another exurb, which entails additional transportation by car or bus once off the ferry, to get to Vancouver itself. And when you return you may well find yourself in a convoy of dozens of cars, each with a single passenger, crawling along the cross-island roads, stuck behind a bicycle, slow-moving car or construction vehicle (passing is not possible on any of the roads, due to their narrowness, steep ditches, blind hills and sharp curves). You can expect waits in the ferry lanes averaging 40 minutes going both ways, in order to make the 20-minute-long crossing. As I write this, there have been overloads and/or 20+ minute delay alerts the last sixteen days in a row.

But, if you want to live in a paradise, it can be worth the hassle. The 100-car ferry trip itself is, pandemic notwithstanding, delightful, and scenically stunning. The island’s forest and/or ocean views, from most houses on the island (there are very few apartments), are enchanting. If you’re not in a hurry, or in urgent need (the island has very limited medical services), it really can be a place of sanctuary, with the ferry home a kind of decompression chamber.

It’s a do-it-yourself kind of place. Lots of home-made additions and projects on the mostly-sizeable lots, many of which have proceeded without building permits since they’re secluded from view. Islanders will help you if you ask, but otherwise they will leave you to your privacy and your own devices. That includes dealing with often-frequent power outages (lines are above-ground in heavily-treed areas), storm damage, treacherous conditions when the ice and snow comes, especially on the hills, rain damage, insect and rodent infestations, water supply problems, sub-zero temperatures (most homes rely on electrical, gas, oil and wood heat, each with its own supply vagaries), appliance breakdowns, and medical issues (there is an ambulance service but no 24-hour clinics, and the closest hospital is a ferry/helicopter trip to the mainland away.

And if there were a significant forest fire, catastrophic windstorm, or earthquake/tsunami, well…

At one time, most islanders took this in stride, and were quite self-sufficient. But newer arrivals (like me), who are used to being able to flip open the ‘yellow pages’ and pay for any desired repair and maintenance services quickly, can find it nerve-wracking. I could feel my blood pressure rising on cold icy nights when the lights began to flicker.

What I learned, though, is that this presumption of self-sufficiency does not mean islanders don’t care about or help each other out. But since it’s a very ‘British’ culture, it does mean that you have to seek out your neighbours and others in the community, let them know what you can handle yourself and what, under some circumstances, you would need help with, and what you can offer in return.

In short, it means if you want to be part of the community, you have to ask. You can’t expect your neighbours to show up at your door with a welcoming bottle of wine and an open invitation to drop by (as just happened this week when I moved to Coquitlam). But if you need something, and ask, almost assuredly if the person you ask can’t help you themselves they know exactly who on-island can.

My first experience of community was in a small village in Belize, during a visit with Joe Bageant. There, when young people paired up and left their parents’ home, the whole family and neighbourhood pitched in to find a piece of land, build a small house, and hook it up to the local utilities. There, if there was a (rare) crime, the community knew exactly who was likely responsible, tracked down the perp and forced reparations. There, if there was a medical issue, they knew who to call, and the issue was dealt with quickly. There, orphans and homeless people were simply adopted, by community agreement, and the duties of looking after them were shared. There, everything from tools to TVs were shared, even if they were in a family’s home — doors were always open, and borrowed items were promptly returned in good condition (or passed on to the next borrower). As Joe never tired of saying: Community is born of necessity.

It was not a utopia, and it wouldn’t work in our culture, but it worked, and it was very instructive. Nine-year-olds there knew how to do and fix things that in our infantilized, dependent culture most adults are clueless about, and they learned mostly by just watching and paying attention.

So why, you may be thinking, do I say I learned so much about community from my 3800 fellow Bowen Islanders during the twelve years I lived there? It’s mainly because, while the residents of the Belizean village knew how to do things for themselves and each other, and most of those in our modern northern cities have no idea, the residents of Bowen Island knew (or learned) what they didn’t know, and they knew who did know. Or who would know who did know.

They knew who had an AWD vehicle to get to and transport an accident victim stranded up an icy hill. They knew who had what power tools, who could fix an old computer, and which local repair people to trust and not gouge you (and thanks to word of mouth, the incompetent and the gougers quickly went out of business). They knew who knew about ailing fruit trees and how to make and can jam and how to select and install solar panels and how to deal with bats in the chimney and moths in the cupboards and fruit flies in the kitchen.

When you live on an island with only 190 people per square mile (a tenth the density of Vancouver), with the daytime-only ferry between you and the rest of the world, you know who you can turn to, no matter what happens. And if you don’t, or don’t want to ask, and aren’t self-sufficient, then you probably self-select off the island.

It’s a strange thing, this reluctance to ask, to admit you can’t completely look after yourself. We’re used to picking up the phone and calling people who know, and we pay them for what they do. So we have this illusion that we’re self-sufficient, an illusion we essentially buy. In previous places I lived, I had a list of suppliers, and when they didn’t come right away to do or fix what needed doing or fixing, I complained that “you can’t get good help anymore”.

On Bowen, instead I had a contact list, of people on island who knew who knew what to do. I had to call them, confess that I ‘needed’ help. It was uncomfortable. But it’s essential learning about what living in community means. Having become used to being considered a success and an expert in my field, admitting I ‘needed’ help was like an admission of failure (and, indeed, one islander, responding to a post from me suggesting we needed an online list of local suppliers for every imaginable situation, described my post as ‘pathetic’).

An eye-opener for me was Bowen in Transition’s Sharing Circles (aka Gift Circles). These events, which entail people taking turns saying to the group what they have to offer for free (surplus or lendable stuff, a particular skill or talent, free time, a shareable space etc), and then what they would love to receive but don’t know where/how/who to get it from. And then, one on one, where there’s a match the potential sharers and receivers chat and make arrangements. These events are designed to encourage more candour and comfort in acknowledging what we need (or just want), and more self-awareness and generosity in what we could offer others at little or no cost, but don’t normally think to find out if they would be useful to the community.

As I noted at the time:

There was considerable initial reluctance from some [Sharing Circle] attendees who thought the process intimidating and a little too intimate for them. In fact, a few people who were put off by the description of the activity chose not to come to the meeting at all. But the reluctant attendees participated enthusiastically and said afterwards they were absolutely sold on the value of the process.

This is what community is all about.

And it’s about:

  • Potlucks: When I arrived, a bachelor, on the island, I got three invitations the first month to potlucks from the small number of people there I already knew. I didn’t even know what potlucks were, and was anxious about what to bring, and how much. But I figured it out. There are no rules, but in true communities, they always seem to work out.
  • Adapting in Place: The nature of any successful community depends on an appreciation of what’s available locally (natural and human-created resources), and on the skills, capacities (including time and space), and needs of the members. If there are more needs than available skills and capacities, and a mismatch between them (as is true in most places) creating community will be a struggle. Adapting the community to the place enhances it; terraforming the place to suit the community members destroys it.
  • Always thinking about doing things for others when you do things for yourself: On Bowen, many people would never think of taking a trip to the mainland without first canvassing several community members to see what they could pick up for them while they’re over there. “I’m going anyway…”.
  • Shared labour: As with true ‘work bees’, real communities ask others to help them do the work that needs to be done, rather than hiring. My Bowen friends Mike and David helped me disassemble and pack my treadmill desk (with a stripped bolt, yet) — a really tough job that ended up needing tools I don’t own. Did I feel guilty about asking them? Yeah. But I got over it. I still tend to keep a mental ‘ledger’ of what I’ve done for others vs what they’ve done for me. But in real communities this isn’t an issue — you learn who asks for too much and offers too little relative to their capacities, and then you learn to say no. Which is almost as difficult for most people as learning to ask.
  • A motley mix of ‘accidental’ and ‘gravitational’ members: Communities have a mix of people who ended up there by accident and those who were drawn there and went there purposefully. You need both. If all your members are gravitational, you may have a cult instead of a community. If none of your members is gravitational, it may still be a community, but it will likely be an unhappy and un-cohesive one.
  • Self-managing: Local governments often try to ‘manage’ and mould successful communities by offering amenities like community centres, neighbourhood groups etc. These can be very valuable resources, but they will only work if the community embraces them as their own, and if the community members collectively manage them to meet their needs. And they won’t know what they need until they try things out and tinker with them. The world is full of infrastructure and tools that people thought were needed but actually weren’t.
  • Play: You can’t stay a cohesive community unless it’s fun and relatively easy. If keeping the community together is work and arduous, the organizers are going to begrudge doing it. In intentional communities, they figure out how to dole out and simplify the un-fun work (clean-up, finding volunteers, dealing with delinquent kids and pets etc).

There aren’t many examples of sustained, successful communities to draw on. But I’ve seen a few intentional communities, thanks largely to Kavana, that continue to adapt and evolve and show us the way. And Bowen Islanders have taught me so much about how communities can work, even though that learning may mostly be lost if the island is overwhelmed by development and ‘market’ forces.

Thanks to all my Bowen peeps for showing me what’s possible.

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

Time to Rename British Columbia

image of a raven by Hornby Island artist Glen Rabena

A year ago the Tyee ran a column suggesting that the ghastly name of our province — British Columbia, with the double blemish of (a) smacking of brutal colonialism and (b) association with a genocidal Italian explorer — be scrapped.

At the time, I suggested the name Klahanie, a Chinook term meaning “the Wild Land”, or simply “the outdoors”. My suggestion was one of the most upvoted responses to the column.

Chinook is not an indigenous language, but rather an amalgam and convergence of many local indigenous languages adopted by First Nations in the area as a means to communicate more conveniently with European occupiers and traders. Using a Chinook word is, I suppose, a sneaky way of not showing favouritism to any one of the occupied territory’s many and diverse First Nations.

Now the CBC has taken up the call, with its interviewees suggesting names such as the Chinook Illaheechuk (“where land meets water”) and the Hul’qumi’num language S’ólh Téméxw (“our land”, pronounced soul tow-mock).

The province, as it is currently constituted, makes little sense as a geographic area. Half its population lives in multicultural Metro Vancouver, and another 10% in Metro Victoria. The province includes roughly half of the Rocky Mountains, vast expanses of forest (almost none of it old growth, and most of it severely stressed), and an agricultural centre in the south central part of the province (the Okanagan Valley, including the province’s third largest city, Kelowna). As in most colonized areas, the two big cities (and the coastal communities) mostly support progressive politics, while the rural areas mostly support conservative politics, with those in the largely-remote forested areas vacillating between the two, depending on which party seems most supportive of resource-intensive development.

My preference for the name Klahanie stems from a number of studies of the province’s current culture, which is mostly energetic and nature-loving, despite its demographic skewing older. The city of Nanaimo (the province’s fourth largest city, once predominantly a forest products town, on Vancouver Island) went so far as to define itself by saying simply “Our culture is outdoors“.

So a name for the area that means “outdoors” seems to me most appropriate, as it is a passion that I think most people living in the territory share.

A new name would of course require a new flag to replace the current monstrosity. Given the astonishing artistic skill exemplified by the province’s First Nations, it would make sense that it be designed by them. I’m kind of partial to Glen Rabena’s raven, depicted above, and would prefer it to be a single image rather than some horrible pastiche of different elements.

Given some of the historical genocidal atrocities recently revealed in the province, some may say that a renaming is just a meaningless symbolic gesture which doesn’t come to grips with our brutal colonial past or the ongoing plight of so many of the victims’ descendants. But symbolic or not, I think it’s called for. Not enough by any means to atone for what we have wrought, on this land and its peoples. But a step in the right direction, and perhaps the start of a new trajectory.

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | 2 Comments