Not Knowing

The verbs we use
to confirm or refute our acceptance
of the beliefs and worldviews of those we know,
comprise a sort of code, like
a hidden handshake, or a shaken fist.

We are asked whether we condone or condemn
a certain behaviour, but
the meaning of condone
(other than as a rarely-used synonym of gift)
dates back only to 1962: first deployed
as a barbed word
in the rhetoric of Cold War brinksmanship.

The words are straitjackets,
and you will be damned — condemned
if you do not wear them, willingly.

You must wear one or the other.

If you wear the condone jacket, you are evil,
a monster, an apologist,
and must be shunned by those seeing you wear it.
If you wear the condemn jacket, you are virtuous,
but must then also be prepared
to condone any retribution
for what you have ‘agreed’ to condemn.

This straitjacket is reversible.

You are with us, or you are with the enemy.
There is no third choice
of just trying to understand, of admitting
to not knowing, but asserting
there must be a reason for everything,
no matter how awful.

To those who condemn, that is condoning.
To those who condone, that is condemning.
Make up your mind, they say:
pick the bad guy, someone to blame.
Not knowing is not acceptable.

You cannot sit on a barbed-wire fence.

Perhaps this is why we are so aghast
at the possibility that we have no free will.
We will accept any explanation,
no matter how convoluted or lame
that grants us some control, some responsibility,
some room for blame and judgement.

After all, we could never do what they’ve done,
you know?

image by Midjourney AI

Posted in Creative Works, Our Culture / Ourselves | Comments Off on Not Knowing

Are We Communitarian By Nature, or Merely Tribal?

image above from the wild human initiative

This month, Aurélien has wandered a bit afield and speculated on the fundamental nature of the human animal. I think most of us can agree that the cult of rugged individualism that has prevailed in the west over the past century, encouraging the unrestricted pursuit of selfish goals and zero-sum-game self-interest as virtuous, is in no one’s best interest, except perhaps the hawkers of weapons, fashions, and identity politics.

We could never have survived this far as a species if we were, by nature, preoccupied with our personal welfare to the exclusion of that of other humans. We lack the speed, the teeth and claws, and other attributes needed to thrive as solitary creatures.

So we have, of necessity, evolved to live in groups. The question is whether this is an ideal way of living for humans (one that will make us happier than any other possible way of living), or whether it’s an unhappy compromise. Nature is replete with examples of species that seem perfectly happy to live in large groups, where the individual is, when necessary, willing to sacrifice its life for the collective good. And there are many examples of other creatures where there seems a permanent tension between its members, as if they would actually prefer to live alone but know they can’t survive that way. And there are examples of yet other creatures that coexist only with their mates and unfledged offspring, and only then as long as they must to ensure the survival of the species.

Which are we, I wonder? Most of us in the west have been taught that non-western cultures are inherently or culturally more collectivist in nature and behaviour, where the options of any individual are limited (to a lesser or greater degree) to those that the collective considers beneficial to the whole. So for example in some countries arranged marriages are normal and accepted, with individual preferences only a peripheral consideration. In some countries military or similar service to the collective is mandatory and rarely questioned. And so on.

Aurélien’s answer is that we are essentially a tribal, rather than either a communitarian/collectivist or individualist, species. Here’s his definition:

The tribe is initially an extended kinship group, tracing its origin from one individual. The further back the tribe can trace its lineage, the larger the tribe and the stronger its position… In such a society the only people you can really count on in an emergency are those with whom you enjoy a sense of group solidarity, and in the first instance they are those who have blood ties (thus, incidentally, the importance of female chastity.) [to establish paternity with reasonable certainty]

Yet these ties are not equally strong at all levels. The famous Beduin saying “myself against my brothers, myself and my brothers against my cousins, myself and my brothers and my cousins against the world” is often seen as an example of progressive solidarity, but of course the logic applies in reverse as well. I take the part of my brother against my cousin, my cousin against my second cousin, my relative five generations removed from the founder against my relative six generations removed, without any real choice, and unto the death if necessary. The answer to Carl Schmitt’s question: “who is my enemy?” is, potentially, anyone at any time.

Such a political system is essentially anarchic, and all that really holds an extended kinship group together is ties of blood and the impulsion towards survival against mutual enemies. There are no universal normative “laws” as we would understand them: murder or robbery of outsiders is honourable and praiseworthy. Tribes are rough democracies, where no-one really has the power to enforce obedience.

I think, if this is true, this is a rather sad commentary on the nature of our species. There are other species which rarely fight among themselves, and which are more than willing to sacrifice their own welfare, and even lives, to better the lives of their community-mates. The stronger and older members of these species “circle around” the more vulnerable members, ready to face any dangers that may arise. The precarity of all members of the community is thus equalized.

By contrast, it would seem, humans wall ourselves off with our immediate blood kin, and indifferently abandon everyone else to fend for themselves or die.

I’m not sure we’re actually that heartless towards our fellow creatures, both human and more-than-human. In Beyond Civilization, Daniel Quinn says this about human tribal cultures:

Tribal life is not in fact idyllic or perfect or noble. But wherever it’s found intact, it’s found to be working well – as well as the life of geese or raccoons or lizards – with the result that the members of the tribe are not generally enraged, rebellious, desperate, stressed-out borderline psychotics being torn apart by crime, hatred and violence. What anthropologists find is that tribal people, far from being nobler, sweeter or wiser than us, are as capable of being mean, unkind, short-sighted, selfish, insensitive, stubborn and short-tempered. The tribal culture doesn’t turn people into saints. It enables ordinary people to make a living together with a minimum of stress, year after year, generation after generation.

My sense is that we’ve been conditioned to act in the violent, selfish ways we see all around us today because our horrifically over-populated, over-crowded, civilized societies, dependent on fragile and scarce resources, are perceived to never have enough to comfortably go around. So, like rats in a crowded laboratory cage with too little food, we have become hyper-stressed, driven by the fear of losing or not having enough, and hence our inherent generosity, altruism and biophilia has been trumped by the perceived need to put ourselves and our immediate kin first, lest we all perish.

For many of us today, the loss of a job, or our good health, or our home, would be absolutely and immediately disastrous, likely putting us in the streets; our ‘community’ members are too busy coping with their own precarity to do more than shrug if that were to happen to us.

As Aurélien points out, despite the prevailing neoliberal ideology of “radical individualism”, most of us take pains to find and join groups with which we feel affinity and sometimes security — religions, political parties, gangs, sports fan groups etc. And there is an enduring sense (among most of us anyway) that our societies should also have practices and institutions in place to protect the weak and vulnerable (what Aurélien calls “Stuff That Should Be Done By Someone”). Though now, thanks to a combination of resignation to the permanence of precarity and the advance of neoliberal ideology’s propaganda, it’s become more like “Stuff That Should Be Done By Someone, if we can afford it, and don’t ask me to help, I’ve got my own problems.”

The consequence of this, he says, is the inevitable breakdown of our societies — the social collapse that usually accompanies economic and political collapse. “[Our current] society is like a broken porcelain vase: you can never put it back together as it was, and fatuous ‘community-based’ initiatives dreamed up by governments can never succeed in the absence of actual communities.”

He asserts that we’re now scrambling to re-establish neo-tribal groups that can actually help us, and that requires taking power from dysfunctional and ineffectual ideology-bound governments and transferring that power to the neo-tribes (nuclear families, churches, and even militias, vigilantes and other neo-tribal groups enforcing adherence to their groups’ often-rigid ideological moral codes).

Many of the dystopian “cli-fi” books envision a future where such violent, adversarial, neo-tribal groups fill the power vacuum left by economic and political collapse. They may have it right: Some kind of order will be attempted when the alternative is continuing chaos. It’s the lowest rung of the rope ladder above the snarling alligators, so it’s likely to be tried first.

But I’m not entirely convinced that we are by nature the kind of my-blood-kin-against-all-others inherently violent tribal species that Aurélien describes. As I have often asserted, I think our evident violence, xenophobia and tribal “selfishness” are reactions to the current circumstances of fear, scarcity and precarity that is epidemic in our current civilization as it accelerates into collapse.

I think there’s another “human nature” that reveals itself in situations of abundance and freedom from fear — one that is more broadly collectivist (because it can afford to be), generous, and altruistic, even self-sacrificing. I’ve witnessed that nature in a lot of human behaviour, and, when the opportunity is there, it keeps on shining through.

I guess this is the joyful pessimist in me: I think collapse will completely change how we all live well before the end of this century, and it will continue for a long time — centuries and perhaps even millennia, before population returns to sustainable levels and the ecological disasters we have unleashed work their way through. These are likely to be ghastly, hard and brutal times, though even during this long collapse we are going to witness some of the awesome, generous human behaviours, individual and collective, that my grandparents told me about in their stories of how communities faced the Great Depression together.

And I have to believe that, a millennium or more from now, what will emerge from the ashes of collapse will be small, thriving, peaceful, local human societies that are communitarian more than they are either tribal or individualistic.

A species constantly killing each other (and the rest of the living world) en masse makes no evolutionary sense. A species reconnected to the wonder and oneness of all life on earth, intuitively maximizing the pleasure and minimizing the pain of the entire ecosystem, seems to me to be a far better ‘fit’, in the evolutionary sense, than the rogue species of belligerent, unhappy, destructive creatures that we have, I think only temporarily, become.

I suspect my belief in this, and in our species’ true inherent nature, puts me in a small minority. And I’m less confident of this than I used to be. But I’m content for now to just chronicle what I see and sense, and try to understand it, and leave most of the speculation and judgement to others. In any case, I don’t think we have any choice about any of it.

Posted in Collapse Watch, Our Culture / Ourselves | 2 Comments

Delaying Global Economic Collapse: Extend-and-Pretend

When I’ve written about the accelerating collapse of the systems (economic, political, ecological etc) underlying our global civilization, I usually stress the particular vulnerability of our economic systems, and why I believe they will be (and are already starting to be) the first dominos to fall.

Tim Morgan has been writing about the precarious state of our economic systems since before the 2008 crash and bailout of the banking system, and his most recent article tells us where we stand now. In a nutshell:

  • The economic growth of the past two centuries has occurred entirely as a result of the discovery and exploitation of cheap energy resources. These are quickly running out, and alternative energy sources and resources are much more expensive to bring on line. So-called “renewables” depend heavily on the use of hydrocarbon energy for their production, and even then they can replace, at much greater cost, only perhaps 1/5 of current total energy use.
  • Governments have tried to disguise the unsustainability of our economic systems, which depend on the perpetual availability of more and more cheap energy, and our financial systems, which depend on the capacity to achieve and perpetually sustain large (double-digit) profit growth forever to stay ahead of accelerating costs for a still-growing population. They have done this disguising by the use of staggering increases in available credit, the costs of which have been artificially suppressed by keeping interest rates far below actual inflation rates, which are much higher than government published rates.
  • In fact, for 90% of the population, a permanent decline in real wealth and net income is already a reality. Published “averages” that include the obscene and ever-growing wealth and income of the top 1%, are a deliberate obfuscation of the declining standard of living, and dangerous levels of indebtedness, of most citizens.
  • This process of obfuscation and denial of accelerating economic decline is what Tim calls “Extend-and-Pretend”. The goal of the politicians is to prevent you from realizing your growing economic precarity, and the slow collapse of the whole economic system, until their term of office has ended, so you’ll blame it on the next administration. Since 2003, Tim says, most of the claimed economic “growth” is just “the cosmetic effect of spending borrowed money”.

He continues, describing the British situation first:

The immediate need is to walk a tight-rope between interest rates that are high enough to prop up the currency, but low enough not to burst the real estate bubble. Assurances of ‘growth’ are pure PR-exercises in an economy that can’t, nowadays, house its population, bring down colossal health-care waiting lists, or stop polluting its rivers and seas with untreated sewage. In short, the British authorities are playing extend-and-pretend. But they shouldn’t be taken too hardly to task for that, for two main reasons. First, many other countries, arguably most of them, are doing exactly the same thing. Second, there are no good alternatives to ‘extend-and-pretend’.

Likewise, the United States reported real-terms growth of $675bn last year, but the government had to run a $2.4tn fiscal deficit to enable this to happen, and is now adding public debt at the rate of $1tn every hundred days. Nobody in his or her right mind could contend that this is sustainable.

Over the past 20 years, much of the real productive capacity in most western countries has been offshored to countries with cheap labour, so this pretend-growth consists almost entirely of zero-value-added “services”, administrative charges, consulting fees, management fees, legal fees, accounting fees, user and other junk fees.

Real estate speculators, both of the extremely rich and constantly bankrupted varieties, artificially depressed interest rates, and recklessly dangerous real estate lending practices buried (wd?) in packaged derivatives (yes, we’ve learned nothing since the 2008 banking collapse), ensure, for now, the continuation of the absurd real estate bubble. In fact, Canadian PM Trudeau the Lesser even recently admitted that his administration is deliberately propping up Canadian real estate prices because older Canadians need to have access to the equity in their retirement years. I’m sure renters, young people, the homeless and the majority of Canadians who can no longer afford to buy a home (or even rent an apartment) will be pleased to hear of his largesse to older property-owners.

So most of us are facing a situation where many of our major expenses are increasing at more than 7% a year — doubling every ten years. That includes rent, property taxes, health care costs, education costs, and the cost of nutritious food. Those on a fixed income will hence face a four-fold increase in most of their living costs over a 20-year “retirement”, with no offsetting increase in their pension income. So what we are inevitably going to see is hordes of older “middle-class” citizens rejoining the labour force out of necessity, fighting for jobs with the younger generations who have no hope of ever retiring, and the still younger generations who are being crushed by the collective weight of unaffordable housing, education debts, and low-quality, dead-end, mind-numbing bullshit “gig economy” jobs. And we’re surprised that there’s a growing animosity towards refugees and immigrants, even among those for whom it isn’t stoked by racism, as their increasing numbers exacerbate the costs and shortages of housing and the competitiveness for the few decent jobs that arise.

Governments have the data and the projections, and they’re not (entirely) stupid. Extend-and-Pretend is the only game in town. Distract the citizens by setting them at each other over social issues, play with the “official” numbers until they don’t look so bad, hand-wring about issues like climate collapse and women’s bodily autonomy, but don’t actually do anything substantive about them, and foment and support endless wars to keep people’s minds off the economy. Each party is totally focused on making the other Tweedle party look even worse than they are, and preventing any third party alternatives from emerging. The theory seems to be that in four years the citizens will forget, and the revolving door back into power will be open to them again. They’re like the guys fleeing a charging grizzly bear — their only concern is to stay just a bit ahead of the other guy.

Eventually Extend-and-Pretend will no longer work. Even with the endless blame-the-victim propaganda aimed at the rapidly-growing precariat, it is already, as Lyz Lenz has described so articulately, just too obvious that the economy is falling apart, and that, for most of us, the consequences will be disastrous.

Lyz describes the victim-blaming process:

A recent Wall Street Journal article blames not only our fickle human emotions, but also social media, and just “the media” as driving our misguided sense of economic “badness.” In sum, the prevailing message is that if things feel bad it’s all your fault. Have you thought about creating a little gratitude journal for your budget? Have you thought about manifesting a more affordable home?…

But it’s more than just the price of groceries and the financial hole we are all crawling out of. It’s that everything is so precarious. We are like spiders floating over the edge of a cliff. One small gust of wind and we are gone. One medical tragedy, one unexpected pregnancy or hospitalization, one bad diagnosis, one car accident, and the detente between us and our finances goes out the window…

The economy is doing well for people who can afford to put money in the stock market, who can buy homes, who don’t have to check over their receipts at the grocery store or the gas station, who are lucky enough to hold the kinds of jobs that help pay for health care (and allow time off to access it). For everyone else, “Actually, the key economic indicators show you are wrong” is not a convincing argument, or a helpful one.

Eventually we will wake up to this reality. I suspect it will take at least the collapse of the housing bubble before that happens (which is why politicians are so desperate to keep it going). Once the disappearing middle class are joined in precarity by home-owners who find that they now have mortgages greater than the value of their homes, and home-owners whose entire net worth has vanished with the plunging value of those homes, the tactics of Extend-and-Pretend will no longer work. Then the blame game will start. It’s likely to be nasty, but fruitless. It’s not as if governments are going to be able to bail out the citizenry. They’ve blown their budgets on wars of distraction and tax cuts for wealthy political donors, and the cupboard is bare.

Based on my grandparents’ descriptions of how, across the political divides and across economic classes, people came together to deal with the grim realities of the Great Depression a century ago, I have always believed that we will actually behave a lot more positively and effectively than we might think, when economic collapse deepens to the point we have no alternative but to radically change our behaviours.

But of late, I am not so sure of that. I remember them telling me that, as the Great Depression wore on, and before WW2 again transformed the economies of the world, there was a loss of faith in the recent, essential government interventions, many of which were radical and socialist in nature. It seemed as if this willingness for collaboration and radical wealth redistribution to prevent large-scale starvation and homelessness, could only go on for so long before people would give up on it. The idea was always that this was a short-term sacrifice, a set of radical but temporary measures to get the world back on its feet. Before a return to “normal”.

What we’re talking about this time around is a global, permanent, radical economic adjustment to a much simpler, more egalitarian, and more collaborative set of relocalized economic systems. An economics of sufficiency, as Thomas Princen calls it. And probably an economics, to the dismay and possibly shame of most of us, of scavenging rather than creating everything shiny and new. Whether we’re willing to let go of our current unsustainable ways of living and accept, let alone embrace, a much more modest and more physically laborious one, with no hope that it will be better for our children and future generations, is anyone’s guess. I’m no longer as optimistic as I was.

Posted in Collapse Watch, How the World Really Works | 6 Comments


This is a work of fiction.


… and then, sometimes,
I will just believe your whole story,
every little hairy audacious detail of it:
the tryst, the mystery,
the close calls and near-misses,
the sidelong glances
that you knew just what they meant,
the pathos and tragedy of it all,
and how you handled it all, so gracefully,
so cleverly,
and how it ended,
the karma and the unfairness,
and most of all (“and then what happened?”)
the unexpected, the coda —
the quiet heroics, the turn,
the tense excitement, the resolution,
the final triumph…

because, sometimes,
we all just need, just once,
to be believed,
without hesitation, without condition,
to be told yes, yes!
I’ll buy that, for sure,
that could have been you.

image from Midjourney AI; not my prompt

Posted in Creative Works | 1 Comment

The Nature of the Beast

This post concerns and describes situations and events that may be disturbing to some readers. 
The graphics in this post, like all original content on this blog, is covered by a Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence

Over the last year or so, I’ve been developing and discussing a theory about the nature of reality, and human nature, that builds on the belief that we have no free will, and that our behaviour is entirely biologically and culturally conditioned given the circumstances of the moment.

The purpose of this theory is to provide a basis to try to understand (not justify or condemn, just understand) why we sometimes seem to behave in ways that are terrifying and destructive, ways that would seem at odds with our species’ (and other species’) evolutionary adaptability, ‘fit’, and survival.

The first part of this theory, represented by the chart below, suggests how our conditioning could produce a ‘loop’ that creates an unending cycle of trauma, in which an environment of chronic stress and scarcity (inherent in our exhausting, unsustainable industrial civilization) begets violence, conditioned fear and hatred, and a resultant trauma that is passed on to others, perpetuating the cycle:

The second part of this theory, illustrated in the chart at the top of this article, holds that our behaviours and our belief systems are separately conditioned by our biology and our culture, and that, importantly, while our belief systems result largely from trying to rationalize and ‘make sense’ of our (and others’) behaviours, this is a one-way sync — What we (are conditioned to) believe has absolutely no reciprocal impact on our subsequent (conditioned) behaviours. Our attempt to make sense of behaviours in the context of our belief systems is just the “post-game” show (the pundits’ second-guessing what happened and why) after our behaviours have already occurred (the game is already over).

If this theory is correct, it has some troubling implications that did not occur to me when I was developing it. If in fact our belief systems do not affect our behaviours (including behaviours that condition others’ beliefs and behaviours), then, even if we were not afflicted with this (seemingly) uniquely human proclivity for trying to ‘make sense’ of everything, the horrific violence and destruction we see in the world today would still have occurred (and would still be occurring) regardless. We cannot ‘blame’, or account for, our behaviours as being ’caused’ by erroneous and hostile beliefs that might somehow be corrected and produce ‘better’ human behaviours in future. In short, our belief systems are completely irrelevant in terms of what we see, and will see, happening in the world, including abuse, ecological desolation, cruelty, war, and genocide.

When Trump’s UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley, writes “Finish Them!” on US-supplied Israeli artillery shells being prepped to bombard, kill and maim helpless and starving women and children in the genocide in Palestine, this bloodthirsty cruelty is not rooted in any deranged traumatized worldview about Palestinians. She did this because that’s what her conditioning compelled her to do. She most likely rationalized it afterwards as being justifiable and even laudable given her hate-crazed, racist, xenophobic worldview and ideology, but that worldview and ideology did not influence her behaviour. It cannot: There is no little homunculus called a ‘self’ making decisions in Nikki Haley’s supposed brain. Her worldview and ideology are just a model of reality that her brain uses to make sense of her conditioned actions after they have inevitably occurred.

This is a deeply disturbing implication, and one that immediately made me think there must be something wrong with my theory. The thought that humans, even absent any ideology or model of the world and what it ‘means’, would still be capable of this level of utter barbarity, runs counter to my, and I expect most people’s, belief that we humans are, at heart, biophilic, caring, life-honouring, mostly-rational creatures.

The revelation that we humans might be, as a simple result of our conditioning, inherently capable of staggeringly violent, destructive, brutal, heartless behaviours is deeply unsettling. It suggests that we can be conditioned, biologically and culturally, to commit unimaginable atrocities, even when there is no rational need and when it makes no ‘sense’ for us to do so. It suggests that we can be conditioned to do almost anything, including the horrors committed during all our wars, the sadistic and repeated abuses committed by large swaths of humans against ‘other’ humans and wild creatures, genocides like those in Palestine and Rwanda, horrific torture like that committed in Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib and other prisons, bloodthirsty violence against helpless civilians like that committed at My Lai and now in Gaza, and all the other brutal behaviours we would likely usually characterize as criminal atrocities. And which we know, in our hearts, are happening all the time, but we don’t want to hear or read about them in the media. We don’t want to acknowledge that ‘ordinary’ humans can and do behave in this way.

Still, much as I am revolted by the idea, I am forced to admit that this is probably true. Such atrocities are probably just as likely and prevalent human behaviours as biophilic, loving, caring behaviours and responses. And that’s not because our brains have fucked us up with their extraordinary capacity for hatred, paranoid fears, revenge-lust, and chronic multi-generational trauma. It’s because that’s the nature of the human beast. We can be roused, remarkably easily, to commit horrors, just like any other animal. And our brains are able to conjure up horrors, and the technologies to perpetuate them, that no other creature would be capable of. It’s all in how we’re conditioned, given the circumstances of the moment. It has nothing to do with our ‘rational’ minds, and we have absolutely no control over it.

I don’t want to believe this. It is so much easier to say that human atrocities are due to the extraordinary and unhealthy stress we live under, or to our complex brains being uniquely capable of imagining and hence doing terrible things. And that ‘most people’ would never commit them in any case. Surely I, and the people I know and care about, could never do such things.

Well, I think there’s lots of evidence that we could. We just don’t want to acknowledge it.

Suppose we lived lives devoid of stress, scarcity and precarity. Would humans then behave more peacefully, more generously, more altruistically, less selfishly, and be less likely to commit violence and atrocities against others? That’s the thesis promulgated by researchers who have studied how the behaviours of rats confined in overcrowded cages with insufficient food differs from that of those in less stressed environments.

I think the only answer to this question that could be proffered with confidence is: It depends on their conditioning. Many animals can be conditioned to be violent and even to commit murder, despite not living in exceptionally stressed situations. I would doubt that Nikki Haley lives a life of particularly great stress, scarcity and precarity. I would even suggest that it’s not a matter of empathy, or a lack thereof. If your empathy causes you to feel especially awful and distressed about a friend who’s been abused, that empathy might actually condition you to want to strike out more violently to avenge the abuse, rather than consider whether the abuser was just acting out their own conditioned trauma.

I’m beginning to come around to a view of human nature that is, while not exactly negative, not the very positive view that I have held for much of my life. John Gray and Ronald Wright, the two writers whose views on collapse have most influenced me, have a decidedly negative view of our ‘inherent’ human nature. John calls our species homo rapiens, referring to our history of destructiveness. Ronald describes human society-building as steeped in violence, genocide and savagery, and says our evolutionary ‘success’ has been proportional to our readiness and willingness to exterminate or subjugate ‘competitors’ (plants, animals, other human cultures and members of our own culture) with deliberate, zealous and ruthless barbarity. The consequence, he says, is that human evolution has self-selected for savagery and bred compassion out of the gene pool.

Well, I’m not ready to go that far, although I’m willing to admit that there is evidence to support their views.

I would say, instead, that we are no more homo rapiens than we are homo benevolens, and that there are counter-examples (such as in the Davids’ The Dawn of Everything) that support the argument that our evolutionary ‘success’ is not really due to our savagery, but rather more to our diversity.

My view of human nature, now, I would say, is rather more neutral. For now, I believe that human nature is whatever our conditioned behaviours, given the circumstances of each moment, has led it, and us, to be. Not the crown of creation, nor the scourge of the last million years of the planet’s history. Not inherently kind, or cruel, or generous, or selfish, or creative, or destructive. Nature rolled the dice, and this is what has resulted.

Only she knows how it’s all going to end, and she’s not talking. She’s indifferent.

Posted in Collapse Watch, How the World Really Works, Illusion of the Separate Self and Free Will, Our Culture / Ourselves | 3 Comments

A Dragon, Several Stories High

This is #30 in a series of month-end reflections on the state of the world, and other things that come to mind, as I walk, hike, and explore in my local community.

a children’s book about the dangers of ignoring a problem until it grows to be unmanageable

“Toward the end of his book Why We Remember, Ranganath expands his focus from the individual to examine the social aspect of memory. He cites a startling analysis of casual conversation which found that forty per cent of the time we spend talking to one another is taken up with storytelling of some kind. Whether spilling our entire past or just quickly catching up, we are essentially engaged in exchanging memories. It should come as no surprise that communication renders our memories even more fungible. ‘The very act of sharing our past experiences can significantly change what we remember and the meaning we derive from it,’ Ranganath writes, and distortions multiply with each telling…”
review of neuroscientist Charon Ranganath’s book Why We Remember, in the New Yorker

The weather is lousy — “June-uary” has arrived early in Vancouver this year and we’re back to wintery rain and wind. So I’m just wandering in the neighbourhood. Today I’ve decided to listen for stories, but just to hear the narrative — not trying to decipher what the story “means” or why the speaker is trying to tell it.

In reading the book review quoted above, I was surprised that the percentage of casual conversation taken up by stories was as low as 40%. I would have guessed closer to 90% — what else, after all, do we have to say to each other? We tell stories, I would say, mostly for the same reason I blog — to try to make sense of things by ‘talking out loud’. So I’m out here, walking and listening, collecting my own data.

We naturally change the story — “what we remember and the meaning we derive from it” — for that very reason: so that it makes more sense. So that it fits better with our collective beliefs and worldview about what is, what was, and why. No matter that the story is ‘no longer’ true — it never was true; it is by definition a fiction. And because, as I’ve written often of late, we can’t help ourselves when it comes to story-telling; our conditioning from childhood is to create a belief system (a worldview) and to use stories selectively as scaffolding to support it.

So perhaps not surprisingly, the first story I hear as I’m walking comes from a little girl walking and talking with her mother; they are just emerging from a take-out shop. The part I hear is:

“… and then the dragon jumped up on the chair and grabbed the Cheerios box and ate all the Cheerios…”

I have no idea whether this story is the girl’s invention, or whether she is retelling the plot of a cartoon or a book or a commercial. But it doesn’t matter. This story is just as credible and just as true as the story her mother will later tell others about the service in the take-out shop. There is no such thing as a dragon. It’s all just stories.

Since I’ve started writing and musing upon the illusion of self and its relationship to the real world, I’ve started to see two superimposed “worlds” everywhere I go. There is what I’ve been conditioned to call and appreciate as the “real world”, with real people with real selves making decisions about what they (their bodies) will do, and making judgements about what they see and hear and read.

And then there’s this other world, comprising staggeringly complex and astounding complicities of trillions of cells doing only and precisely what they have been conditioned to do, appearing collectively as ‘individual’ bodies. In this other world there are no ‘selves’ in control of those bodies, and the bodies’ apparent actions are ‘simply’ the aggregate of the conditioned behaviours of these trillions of cells. In this other world the ‘self’ is just an invention of the brain — a story. To try to make sense of things. To no effect, and for no necessary reason.


A man and a woman (she has an umbrella; he is very wet) pass me on the sidewalk, talking and moving at a considerable clip. I speed up slightly to hear their conversation. The woman says:

“… He didn’t apologize in the least! Can you imagine anyone treating their employees that way? So that left me no choice but to quit…”

And then the two worlds’ versions of the couple turn the corner out of hearing range. In one, a distressed woman tells a story about what she’d decided to do. In the other, each of trillions of cells do the only thing their biological and cultural conditioning could have done, given the (apparently unfortunate) circumstances of the moment, and the result is the appearance of a woman making a decision and then telling a story about it.

And none of the stories, in either ‘world’, is ‘true’. A ‘true’ story is an oxymoron. It’s all just trying to make sense of things that cannot possibly be made sense of, and which don’t need to be made sense of. But our conditioning is to try to make sense of everything, and to re-tell our stories until they at least ‘fit’ our worldview a little better.

Beyond the astonishing complicity of these trillions of cells doing what they must, stories are, I would suggest, all ‘we’ are — the content and processing of the beliefs (including beliefs about what has happened and why) and the worldviews, together comprising the little model of reality concocted in our brains, with the idea of ‘us’ at the model’s centre.

And we relate (etym.: “to bring back”) these stories because that is how human selves ‘relate’ to other apparent selves — how we compare and align the little model of reality in ‘our’ brain with others’.

Wild creatures, it seems, are able to ‘relate’ to each other just fine without the need for stories. Or selves.


As I walk along the rain-drenched street, and then through the nearby mall, I take note of fragments of other (unconnected) conversations I hear, and muse upon the stories they imply:

[drawing a baby dress from a shopping bag] “Isn’t this adorable? I think it should fit.”

“All he had to do was ask me.”

“She said she was going, but I bet she flakes out.”

“I can’t, man — Everyone would know it was me.”

“I’ve tried. The doctor’s advice didn’t help at all.”

“Yeah, the visit was amazing. We both want to go back.”

“Someone should just tell her.”

I’m trying really hard not to flesh out these fragments into stories, but it’s almost impossible. This is what we’re conditioned to do. Everything that’s said that isn’t already a story has to be made into one; that’s how we ‘make sense’ of it. “And then what happened?” — Each of the fragments of conversation above could be a ‘prompt’ for a creative writing class.

I keep walking, paying attention to the attempts of the conversants I pass to ‘relate’, in both senses of the word. It seems to me that their body language and facial expressions and tone of voice are ‘relating’ a lot more information, and helping them ‘relate’ to each other much better, than the clumsily-formed, imprecise, easily-misconstrued words they are using. But it’s not as if we have any choice.


A few moments later, back outside again, I near a young couple who are, improbably, sitting on a very wet bench; the rain has mostly abated. They are talking in urgent, animated voices, and as I pass by, he changes his voice to a kind of growly whisper, leans over towards her, and says:

“Are you kidding me? He’s just trying to get inside your pants!”

She scowls quickly at him, looking around to see who might have heard, and I hurry by, looking straight ahead as if I heard nothing.

The young lady does indeed have very nice pants. I stifle a laugh. I am determined to not try to make sense of these conversations, to not try to judge or imply meaning to what is being said. They’re just stories, after all. I could invent explanations of jealousy or protectiveness on the young man’s part, but those would just be stories too. The young couple (ie the complicities comprising their apparent bodies) are just acting out ‘their’ conditioning. No other words or actions were possible.

I resist the temptation to imagine a story of what they will be doing later — stretching the story out into the future as well as back into the past, to root it in meaning. Without the notion of time (which some theoretical physicists now say is also a fiction), we couldn’t tell stories at all.

Just as with the woman who now has to find a new job, I’m pulling for the young couple on the bench, and the woman with the baby dress, and all the other complicities of creatures comprising the bodies of apparent individual people attached to the stories that arise from the conversation fragments above, to have their stories have happy endings.

We all want to know, of every story: How’s it Going to End?


The rain has started up again, and I duck into my favourite café to escape it. Two older men have settled into the comfortable stuffed chairs in the corner, and they are talking rather more loudly than most patrons of the restaurant do. (Though they are white males, after all.)

I order my latte and take up a seat not too far away. I smile at the fact that adult men seemingly tend to talk to each other, rather than with each other. Unlike some older males whose conversations I’ve heard here, their conversation is not about their pasts — either what has happened to them recently, or what happened long ago (recounted either ruefully or nostalgically). Instead, it’s more like a back-and-forth volley of anxieties about the future. Over the next few minutes they relate their unease about the world’s political situation, the economic situation, climate change, their work situation and, to a guarded extent, about their personal health and financial situations.

That could be me saying that, I say to myself as I listen. I can ‘relate’ to that.

Stories about the future are very different from stories about the past. The former require conjecture and imagination, while the latter are largely straightforward and unarguable. As the men talk, the information that underlies their anxieties is presented, as are their opinions on these situations, but the stories — how they might imagine things playing out, best or worst scenarios — are unspoken. Are they thinking about these stories and just not sharing them aloud? Or can they not imagine, or do they dare not try to imagine? I cannot guess.

This is, I suppose, how they’ve been conditioned to talk. Their conditioned ‘adult male’ conversation lacks candid expressions of emotion (other than annoyance and mild anger), and lacks reassurances from either of them that their concerns are either overstated or well-justified.

They are, it seems to me, talking out their anxieties about the future to get some sense in their own minds about whether these anxieties are warranted, and why. It’s like they’re conversing with themselves, rather than each other, and just sharing a table and coffee to do so.

And then one of the men says:

“Sometimes life’s like a hamster wheel; you never figure out how you got on it, and there’s no way to get off it.”

I smile. There’s surely a whole bunch of stories embedded in this ‘depersonalized’ statement. If it’s an invitation to explore what’s behind it, it’s lost on the other man. There is silence, and then the other man changes the subject.


As I walk home, it occurs to me that so much of what we say in our conversations with others (and perhaps in our ‘inner’ conversations with ourselves as well) are rationalizations for feelings we don’t quite understand or aren’t quite comfortable with. Maybe that’s why so many attempts to ‘relate’ to others seem to be searches for reassurance. “Tell me that I’m not crazy to be feeling and thinking this.”

And the other thing that occurs to me, reviewing the fragments of conversation I’ve heard today, and their implied stories, is that, either obviously or latently almost all of the stories that we ‘relate’ to each other have dragons in them. A “baddie”. Something a bit scary, or stressful, or worrisome, or unknown (“Dramatic tension and conflict is essential to a good story”). Or something longed for. Or something misunderstood. Or something unresolved (“How’s it going to end?”) .

Even though, as we all know, there is no such thing as a dragon.

Posted in Creative Works, Illusion of the Separate Self and Free Will, Month-End Reflections | 3 Comments

Come See How We Live Here

NYC-Dublin portal; photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters via CBC

OK, so this is another of Dave’s wild and crazy ideas. This one is especially annoying because I have neither the expertise/resources to bring it to fruition, nor the social skills to make it happen. And I’m not terribly optimistic it could even accomplish its objective. But I think it might be a good idea, if the several million potential obstacles and risks could be resolved.

You may have seen one or another of the art “installations” called portals either live on online. Perhaps inspired by the Stargate sci-fi series portals, the idea is that two cities a long way apart agree to create a large, hi-res, live 24/7 video cam image of some public location in the other city, so that visitors to either portal can see (and perhaps talk with) people on the other side of the world in real time. Its purpose really is just to demolish myths about how people in other countries live.

So the one pictured above is in NYC and is a portal to Dublin, Ireland, created by the Lithuanian artist Benediktas Gylys. He has another one connecting Vilnius, Lithuania with Lublin, Poland. The portals have no audio, so at this point you can’t talk with people on the ‘other side’. Still, it’s been popular. And the NYC/Dublin portal has already been abused — “rude behaviours” of offensive signs, images and displays caused it to be temporarily shut, and it now blurs images of anyone getting “too close” to the portal camera.

Benediktas says the purpose of the portals is to show people that we’re all the same.

I think this is a worthy goal. When I’ve spoken to people over the years to get a sense of how they think people in very different cultures live, I’ve been shocked by their responses. Some believe, for example, that people in most of Africa live in huts in the jungle, and that most people in Afghanistan similarly live in small desert dwellings under the watchful eye of armed militias. More alarming, many seem to believe that the majority of the world’s people are dreadfully unhappy, miserable, struggling, and enormously envious and covetous of the western way of life.

As I wrote in one of my earlier posts:

There are lots of YouTube videos by people talking about and showing us their home towns and how they live. Like this one showing life in Tehran, Iran, and Elina Bakunova’s videos about her home country Russia, and the day-in-the-life videos by Daniel Dumbrill taken across China. These posts are neither sponsored by state propaganda agencies, nor by anti-government hate-mongers seeking a pretext for war. The picture they paint is a balanced one, of lives that have the same ordinary modern ups and downs we pretty much all deal with. Their lives are so much like ours in so many ways. Why do we keep forgetting that?

Of course, such videos have their problems too. They can be staged. We can’t know if they’re showing us an accurate story. Conditions in many countries vary widely from area to area (and between classes), so what we’re seeing may not be representative of what life is like for others in the country. And they’re one-way — we can’t talk with the people portrayed and ask them questions.

Still, with most people in the west supporting the Professional Managerial Caste’s reckless war-mongering against Russia and China, anything that might convince the majority that there is absolutely no need to fight “forever wars” would be useful to counter the endless propaganda. This is particularly a concern in the US, where only about 20% of citizens even have passports (it’s 80% or more in most countries, and their citizens are much more likely to have visited at least one “non-western” country).

But we do have a technology that would allow us to create portals between just about any two locations, much less expensively and with potentially fewer risks and restrictions than the artists’ installations. It’s called Zoom.

So that’s my idea: Create a large number of portals using Zoom that follow these criteria:

  • No scripting or pre-recorded materials, since anything written and edited in advance would be more susceptible of being staged or otherwise propagandized. These would instead be live, real-time ‘travelogue’-type ‘visits’ to the everyday world of those on the ‘other side’ of the portal.
  • Common framework for comparability and to avoid ‘one-upmanship’. Say, three hours total length, of which the first two hours is a live capture of something ordinary in the lives of those on the ‘other side’ of the portal — a shopping trip, a visit to the park or the city, a meal at home — with a casual description of what we’re seeing and thoughts on some common issues like what the greatest challenges and greatest joys in people’s everyday lives are. And the third hour (either at the end or interspersed) would be interactive Q&A between the viewers and those on the ‘other side’.
  • Curated by an independent body to ensure the productions under the curated ‘brand’ are impartial and authentic — neither propagandizing for or against any country’s government. In fact, they’d be best if they avoided political commentary entirely, and just showed (rather than told) viewers what everyday life there is like.

Yes, I know there are a lot of problems with this idea. Lots of opportunities and incentives for abuse, for misappropriation, and for misrepresentation. And maybe the problems and risks are so great that it’s not a good idea at all — maybe the abuses would inevitably enshittify the entire idea before it could even get off the ground, actually increasing rather than decreasing our misunderstandings about how others live and how they feel about other countries and cultures.

I look at the possibilities here, and at the dangers, and it fills me with a kind of despair. We could be using new technologies to increase mutual understanding, appreciation and knowledge about other cultures. But almost every new technology of the internet age has instead been misappropriated to spread deliberate falsehoods, hate, fear, and conspiracy theories by those with a vested interest in maximizing conflict, distrust and misunderstanding and minimizing any possibility of global peace.

But I had to write about it anyway. Maybe it’s just a marvellous but unachievable possibility. You know, like the internet originally was.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves | 2 Comments

What Just Apparently Happened

The ‘model of reality’ referred to in this article is shown in blue on the diagram above.

So ‘I’ apparently ‘wake up’. A conditioned series of biological responses increases the blood flow to certain parts of this body and brain, and increase cortisol production. There is a whole series of ‘preparatory’ chemical changes in the body that precede awakening.

Like a lot of people my age, I woke up several times the previous night. A part of the body (the Reticular Activating System or RAS) at the top of the spinal column flicked a chemical switch each time, alerting the body of the need to arise and visit the bathroom. The RAS also plays an essential role in morning awakening, going around flicking a number of chemical switches in sequence.

It’s fascinating that there is extremely little research on the subject of awakening, and in what little there is, there is seemingly no definition of ‘consciousness’ — it seems to be taken as some kind of magic state that needs no definition or scientific explanation.

I lie in bed supposedly ‘deciding’ whether or not to get up now, but ‘I’ am not making that decision. In fact, it seems that the complete reconstruction of ‘me’ is part of the process of awakening. That reconstruction is an involved set of chemical reactions connected to memory and other neurological ‘circuits’ in the brain.

So apparently this body’s conditioning is now compelling the body to get out of bed and to do certain things — put on the kettle, make the bed, check for any urgent texts or emails, and make another visit to the bathroom. Even the email check is not ‘my’ decision. It’s autonomic conditioning, or what, because we have no idea what is actually entailed, we fuzzily describe as ‘habit’.

There are of course thoughts that accompany this sequence of the body’s conditioned behaviours. But they are not ‘my’ thoughts, and they do not affect the body’s behaviours. They simply attempt to ‘make sense’ of the behaviours after they’ve been enacted. This mental model rationalizes: Why did I bother to check email when there’s nothing urgent happening in my life that would require this? Why do I put the kettle on before versus after making the bed? ‘I’ presume that ‘I’ am having these thoughts, and that they are affecting ‘my’ decisions which are controlling ‘my’ body.

But none of this is true. Science has pretty conclusively shown that there is no ‘me’, no ‘self’, no ‘decisions’ made by the self. This is all just stuff that the brain invents — a model of the world in which it attempts to make sense of what has already been ‘decided’ by the body entirely on the basis of its biological and cultural conditioning, given the circumstances of the moment (which, today, include a zoom call scheduled to start an hour from now).

So the biological conditioning compels this body to don a robe (in response to the morning cold), while its cultural conditioning compels it to put on a shirt and pants (appropriate for the zoom call). A conditioning compromise is reached: The robe is worn over the shirt and pants (the patio door is open and there’s a strong breeze), and the robe will be removed and the patio door closed when the zoom call begins.

Another complex ‘decision’ of the body is to brush its teeth before making the cup of tea: Teeth need to be brushed for preventative health reasons and because of morning breath that smells and tastes bad, but the toothpaste affects the flavour of the tea. Lots of (quickly abandoned) thoughts about this, but, again, they’re all just after-thoughts, not bearing on the ‘decision’, and not ‘my’ thoughts (since there is no ‘real’ me — that’s just a model the brain has concocted to rationalize and second-guess the ‘decisions’).

But we’ve missed a step here. The above rationalizations presume there is a singular ‘conscious’ body ‘making’ these decisions in some kind of holistic way. We’re back to the mystery and magic (I’m being sarcastic) of ‘consciousness’, which doesn’t stand up to even the most rudimentary scientific assessment of the decades of psychobabble that led us to simply presume there ‘is’ consciousness, just as it has led us to presume, similarly without evidence, that there is a separate ‘self’, a ‘me’, a little homunculus inside us making egoic decisions and suffering from various mystical Freudian mental disorders (OK, I’ll stop with the assault on the pseudosciences now — I can’t help it; it’s just my conditioning ).

The toothbrushing decisions were not made by ‘the body’, some kind of cohesive ‘individual’, any more than they were made by ‘me’. So what actually happened to prompt these apparent ‘decisions’?

What happened is basically the same thing that happens when you drive your car or engage in other behaviour that we label as ‘subconscious’. Your body chemistry, your neurons, your muscles, all of the trillions of elements that comprise ‘your’ body do precisely what they have been conditioned to do, responding autonomically to signals. This is no different from what happens when your body chemistry and physiology regulates your breathing, your heart rate, and all the other functions that do not require ‘conscious’ thought.

Miraculously, none of this requires ‘our’ ‘conscious’ intervention, or centralized ‘control’. Just as well: Neuroscience studies suggest that the ‘conscious’ mind is capable of processing only about 40 ‘pieces of information’ per second, compared to the 11,000,000 pieces of information per second processed ‘subconsciously’. And that’s just information processed by the brain‘s neural networks — the body processes much more information without any interaction with the brain at all. (For example, when our foot steps on a tack, the pain signals are transmitted to neurons in the lower spinal column and ‘it’ quickly ‘instructs’ the leg to ‘instinctively’ lift the foot up to alleviate the pain. This all happens long before any signals reach the brain; in fact, if the brain had to be involved, the injury would probably be much more severe.) And all this ‘processing’ is entirely conditioned.

So it’s not ‘me’ making any ‘decisions’ about anything this body does or does not do. And it’s not this ‘body’ making the ‘decisions’ either. This ‘body’ is just a collective label we put on the complicity of trillions of creatures that, for the moment, appear to comprise it. It is the conditioned behaviour of these trillions of creatures that collectively appears to be the ‘decision’ of the body or of the self, but that appearance is a misunderstanding.

Let’s look at four examples to see how that is so:

  1. The ‘decision’ to speed up the heart rate.
  2. The ‘decision’ to make a lane change while ‘driving’ a car.
  3. The ‘decision’ to use a tool to extract something from an inaccessible location.
  4. The ‘decision’ to support, or oppose, a genocide.

Most people will have no problem with the first example being completely conditioned. Our ‘selves’ are usually not even aware of it happening, though it requires a huge number of chemical messages, coordinated activities, and monitoring activities — numbering at least in the billions.

Similarly, it is pretty clear that the second example also requires no ‘conscious’ thought. We might well make the entire trip without even realizing ‘we’ have made many lane changes in the process. Or, in some cases, we might remember one or more lane changes, especially if they were challenging, suggesting we were ‘conscious’ of making them.

The third example is something many non-human creatures have been observed doing, and which we do all the time — such as when we ‘choose’ a knife or a spoon to extract that bit of peanut butter in the bottom edge of the jar. We probably think that we are exercising our ‘conscious’ minds to make that ‘choice’, though this, too, might be an autonomic ‘decision’.

The fourth example is one where we are probably quite sure that ‘we’ have made a ‘conscious’ decision, based on evidence and on the ‘conscious’ evaluation of that evidence.

So let’s go right to that fourth example to see what is really going on, and to see whether it’s substantively different from the first example.

The brain has a lot of modelling, information storage and processing power. It contains some 100 billion neurons (nerve cells), each of which is made up of 100 trillion atoms. Each neuron is directly connected to an average of 1,000 other neurons, with which it exchanges and relays chemical and electrical signals.

The human brain has evolved to create a model — a kind of map or representation consisting of ‘information’ in neurons — of the perceived ‘real’ world. The ‘content’ of that model is biologically and culturally conditioned. Depending on what we’ve been told by others (and what we’ve ‘learned’ by reading) the model is populated with ‘information’. It is also populated (probably uniquely in humans) with assessments and judgements about the ‘meaning’ of that information. These, too, are strictly the result of biological and cultural conditioning. So if a human body witnesses someone hurting another, the assessment will often be that that behaviour is ‘wrong’, and that the observer ‘should’ intervene. So what’s happening here?

The model is ‘telling’ the body to do something. What does the body do? It (or more precisely all the creatures that comprise it) does exactly what it’s been conditioned to do. It will intervene, or not, regardless of what its model tells it it ‘should’ do. The model only comes into play after the action has been taken.

In the circumstances in example four above, our conditioning will determine whether ‘we’ argue with someone about the genocide, and whether we will take action in support of or in protest of the genocide. Only then, after that action, will the model be used to assess (judge) that action (or inaction).

But surely, you might say, we ‘learn’ from the model, and that learning will inform future decisions. But no, we don’t. The process by which our beliefs and worldview (as reflected in the model) are conditioned, is independent of the process by which our actions are conditioned, as shown in the chart above. Our beliefs do not ‘inform’ our actions — That’s perhaps why we are sometimes ‘upset with ourselves’ for what we have done or not done compared to what we (the model) think ‘should’ have been done. Our actions ‘inform’ our beliefs and worldview, but only after-the-fact, and it’s strictly a one-way process.

So what, then, is the purpose of having this complex and energy-consuming model if it has absolutely no effect on ‘our’ behaviours (ie the apparent collective behaviours of the trillions of creatures that comprise ‘our’ bodies)? Excellent question! There would appear to be no more purpose of having and ‘maintaining’ the model than there is having an appendix (though even the appendix might, it is now thought, have some residual if inessential purpose). There is evidence that non-human creatures, and early humans, had and have no such model ‘guiding’ them, and have thrived perfectly well without it. And there are humans who assert that they have entirely ‘lost’ their sense of self and separation from everything else, and that it’s obvious the ‘self’ is illusory and completely unnecessary.

Then, if it’s useless, why did this model evolve? We can’t possibly know. Nature appears to try out mutations and new features in evolution, just to see if they make creatures more ‘fit’. So maybe the capacity to develop and maintain this ‘model’ of reality, our arrogantly-named ‘consciousness’ (which should properly be called self-consciousness ie the construction of a model of reality in the brain with the idea of a ‘self’ in it) was just tried out for no other reason than that it could be tried out — ie that there was ‘room’ in the brain for it.

So, getting back to our fourth example and how it differs from the first: What we think of as ‘our’ ‘conscious’ ‘decision’ is neither conscious nor a decision, nor is it even ‘ours’. The only thing that distinguishes what we think of as ‘our conscious decision’ from ‘decisions’ our bodies make autonomically like regulating our heartbeat, is that the parts of our brain that has constructed a model to represent reality has used that model to rationalize the supposed ‘decision’ after the fact. And even that rationalization is just the chemical processes of billions of tiny creatures sending ‘signals’ back and forth, exactly as they have been conditioned to do.

That is all that ‘consciousness’ is — the neurons in the brain reflecting on how what was apparently done ‘fits’ with the model that was constructed. ‘Our’ ‘consciousness’ has no effect on ‘our’ body’s apparent behaviour whatsoever. It just ‘accounts’ for it, ‘makes sense’ of it.

Imagine it as a frenzied accountant with a green eyeshade that grabs all the receipts and cheque stubs flying around the office and dutifully processes them into a (very incomplete) set of financial statements that purport to ‘represent’ or ‘model’ the business. The business is of course much, much more than the records in the accounting model of it, including the ‘bottom line’ judgement of how well it’s doing, but don’t dare say that to the accountant! And especially don’t tell the accountant that the business seems to be operating just fine without any accounting needed at all. (Yes, I know, the metaphor has its limits — but it’s kind of fun, especially since that’s how I made my living for many years.)

So here ‘I’ am, toothbrush in hand, staring into the mirror, not quite yet fully ‘reconstructed’ and awake. What am I looking at, exactly? And who, exactly, is doing the looking?

I was struck by Robert Sapolsky’s admission that, despite having concluded with near-certainty, based on all the available science, that we humans have no free will, he has no choice but to continue to behave and think about the world, almost all of the time, as if he did have free will. That is, after all, how he has been conditioned his whole life. He cannot do otherwise.

And this is what I think about as I look in the mirror. I know this body I see is not a coherent, individual, centrally ‘controlled’ thing, but I can’t help seeing it that way; that’s how I’ve been conditioned. And I know that there is no real ‘self’ here, inside this body somewhere, looking in the mirror; that’s just the brain’s concoction to try to make sense of the electro-chemical signals reaching it. But I’ve been conditioned to believe this self is real (it certainly feels that way, and everyone around me will readily assert that, yes, each human has a real self). So I see a self, imprisoned in and responsible for this body, when I ‘know’ that is not the case.

This hand now apparently spreads the toothpaste on the toothbrush and raises the brush to this mouth. The thought arises: “Did I remember to put the kettle on?”. A laugh begins, but where does it begin?:

Fifteen facial muscles contract and stimulation of the zygomatic major muscle (the main lifting mechanism of your upper lip) occurs. Meanwhile, the respiratory system is upset by the epiglottis half-closing the larynx, so that air intake occurs irregularly, making you gasp. In extreme circumstances, the tear ducts are activated, so that while the mouth is opening and closing and the struggle for oxygen intake continues, the face becomes moist and often red (or purple). The noises that usually accompany this bizarre behavior range from sedate giggles to boisterous guffaws.

The laugh produces a spray of toothpaste on the mirror. This hand rushes to clean it off, even as I continue laughing ‘helplessly’. The entire body has taken part in this strange activity, unwitnessed by ‘other people’. Many muscles, signals and chemicals were involved in this extraordinarily complex activity.

‘I’ had nothing to do with it. But the model in this brain immediately goes to work to ‘make sense’ of it. “All kinds of animals laugh, according to science”, I read, on my phone. But apparently only humans laugh at themselves. (And, no, the mirror doesn’t count.) Now there’s even more laughter. Who’s laughing now?

‘I’ look back into the mirror, and wonder: What just apparently happened? And I know, somehow, that ‘I’ will never know.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Illusion of the Separate Self and Free Will, Our Culture / Ourselves | 4 Comments

How Might We Undermine the PMC?

Fourteen years ago, I wrote a very long article that became the lion’s share of Chapter Two of Keith Farnish’s book Underminers. My article was about the Tools of Disconnection — the cultural mechanisms by which we became disconnected from each other and the more-than-human world, and hence willing and able to endure civilization and all the atrocities that it has perpetrated. The image from the article is reproduced above.

I think the article still holds up, though if I were to rewrite it today it would be a lot less strident and blame-y. We have conditioned each other, the only way we could have, and with the best of intentions, to live in a way that no wild creature would ever tolerate. In so doing, we have created, with civilization, a pressure cooker culture that, tragically, seems to bring out the worst in us.

The tools of our disconnection — our education system, the media, propaganda, marketing, political indoctrination, and just our well-intended conditioning of each other from childhood and throughout our lives (“If you want to succeed in this world, you have to do this“) — have, I would assert, led to behaviours that have made us physically unhealthy, chronically frightened, angry, distrustful, dissatisfied, and traumatized, so that we have been cowed into accepting a culture that has, in just a few millennia, horrifically overpopulated and desolated the planet.

The “management” of this utterly unsustainable culture, which is now rapidly falling apart, has required the evolution of a caste system, much like the horrific system that arises in groups of rats in similar conditions of ghastly overcrowding and scarcity. The top caste has been labeled (by Barbara Ehrenreich in the 1970s) the Professional Managerial Caste, or PMC.

The rest of us, across the political spectrum, comprise what has come to be described as the precariat, a neologism from proletariat + precarious, meaning a class of people who constantly feel vulnerable and frightened. They are also sometimes referred to as the preterite, an obscure word revitalized by Thomas Pynchon in Gravity’s Rainbow, which means those who have been passed over.

As Aurélien has described it, the PMC further consists of two parts: The first is what Aurélien calls the “Inner Party” which is the small group of white-collar professionals, mostly from rich families with inherited wealth and power, that controls most western political parties, the administrations that actually run government, the media, the military, the major universities, most major science and arts institutions, religious groups, NGO institutions, consultancies and “think-tanks”, the corporations that control industry and finance through their oligopolies, and their parasitic law firms.

A much larger part of the PMC is what Aurélien calls the “Outer Party”, which consists of those who imagine themselves to be, or aspire to be, part of the “Inner Party”, but who have never been invited, or because of behaviour unbecoming (like Noam Chomsky) have been “uninvited” from the inner circle. The process of invitation is informal, but you know if you’re in it by what you subsequently get invited to (exclusive events, op-eds in publications, cushy revolving-door political and corporate executive positions). If you don’t know whether you’re in it, you’re not in it.

As I and others have written before, the PMC is not a tightly-knit, organized elite. They are as confused, and sometimes as much in internal disagreement, as the rest of us. But they do collectively control most of the levers of power, such as they are these days — political, financial, economic, social, media, education, technology. So it doesn’t matter much (at least to the politicians) who wins western elections. The losers will dash through the revolving door to take on top corporate and “advisory” roles, and the winners will temporarily relinquish any private sector roles they might have to become the new voices of the PMC in government. Whichever party wins, while the faces will be different and more or less diverse, and the rhetoric will be different, attuned to keep the lower castes fighting among themselves to be “represented” in government, the policies will be substantial identical.

Those policies underlie an absolute and unshakeable belief by the PMC that they are destined to progressively take over management of the entire world’s political and economic systems, including those of any tiresome countries that toy with socialist ideas, and to rule forever in a way they believe is best for everyone (though given that there is never enough to go around, and there is less and less each year to spread among more and more people, that “best” is increasingly not very good for most of the precariat). It’s kind of the modern manifestation of the Divine Right of Kings: The lower castes would never know what to do with power, whereas the PMC is used to being in power and has (they think) the necessary skills.

Again, the PMC is not a cohesive group, and they have their disagreements. But what they do agree on is that power must remain with them and those who share their ideology. In many countries in the west now, you have two parties which regularly exchange power in a kind of formal pageant held each four years to see who gets to reign for the next term. I call them the Tweedles — the indistinguishable Tweedledum and Tweedledee from Alice in Wonderland. Both parties are controlled by the PMC both in their political and administrative structures.

So today we have the Tweedledum parties in each country blathering about how mistreated, ignored working (white, male) conservatives are suffering from an out-of-touch, “woke” ivory tower “socialist” elite which runs an oversized government beholden to Wall Street and which never listens to anyone else. And we have the Tweedledee parties in each country blathering about how something needs to be done about climate change, inequality, and various social injustices, and how the Tweedledum party is making everything worse in all these areas.

In almost every western country, these parties have alternated in power for the past 50 years, and the actual policies and actions pursued by them have been substantially indistinguishable. Each party bitterly attacks the other for its positions and for whatever raw meat has been thrown to the lower castes by the other party to keep the lower castes at each other’s throats, instead of confronting the PMC for their grossly incompetent mismanagement under both Tweedle regimes.

Meanwhile, the wars of Empire against “hostile” countries continue and grow endlessly in scale and danger, the lowering of tax rates for the top castes and PMC continues relentlessly, and the dismantling and privatization of government services continues, no matter which party is in power. The PMC is single-minded in their determination to take over the governance of the rest of the world so that they can impose their ideological fake western “democratic” political system on everyone, and not have to face bothersome opposition to the Empire’s mismanagement of our (now-crumbling) global political and economic systems.

You need a lot of money and endless power, after all, to properly manage the ignorant and unappreciative lower castes who are never satisfied with their lot, and who foolishly want more government services and fewer wars, which wouldn’t do at all for the plans of the PMC and the Empire. The PMC doesn’t want to serve the lower castes, it wants to rule them.

One of the tragedies is that the members of the “inner” circle of the PMC (I’ve known quite a few of them, and was more relieved than offended not to be invited “in”) really, sincerely believe that the world would be better off under their “management”. They live in a bubble — rarely encountering or hearing anything from the precariat, only what is reinforced by other PMC members in the circle. They are, mostly, colossally incompetent, underskilled and inexperienced rather than deliberately malicious, and are told within their bubble and by sycophant wannabes that they’re brilliant, so they basically have no idea how badly they’re fucking up.

The problem is, everything is falling apart. The plan, since 1945 at least, has been to centralize and consolidate political, financial and economic power under a single western-controlled Empire, which, with all opposition vanquished, would be administered with precision, skill and a modest degree of equity on behalf of everyone. It’s the famous, or notorious, One World ideology, pursued in various forms by empires since long before Roman times. The only alternative today, we’re told, is chaos (Blinken’s word).

But now, the globalized economy (and economic and political globalization, under Empire management, is an essential part of the plan) is horrifically overextended, drowning in debt, increasingly dealing with scarce resources, and teetering on collapse. Countries not yet captured by the Empire are not only resisting, they are increasingly rejecting the unipolar Empire, and insisting that they be allowed to govern themselves without the support and guidance of the PMC. And, oh yes, almost forgot, we are in the midst of a runaway ecological collapse of a kind not seen since before humans appeared on the planet, and climate change is actually not even the most critical aspect of it.

What is an Empire manager to do?

Well, the key is to keep the precariat scared, distracted, and fighting among ourselves, using the Tools of Disconnection in the chart above. The “deplorables” on the “right”, and the “dissenters causing violence and chaos” on the “left” (Biden’s words, last week — there’s that word “chaos” again), must be kept at each other’s throats, using issues (like abortion, racism and diversity) that the PMC doesn’t care about, since they don’t affect their Empire plans. And they want us to be very afraid of either one (but not both) of the Tweedle parties, and of every country that is not under the domination of the Empire.

Cory Doctorow says it’s time precaritize the PMC to make them feel as vulnerable and frightened as they have made us. He describes the absolute disdain the PMC feels and shows towards everyone else (including, increasing, those in the PMC “outer” circle.

They precaritize us, he says, by driving up costs for essential goods, driving up unemployment rates, and eliminating defined-benefit pensions and other worker benefits and protections, because otherwise, they feel, the precariat will all be just too lazy to work. And in the workplace, mass layoffs terrify those not laid off, forcing them to work even harder and keep looking over their shoulder. They make sure people have to have two or more jobs each just to pay the rent. They hike prices at twice the rate of cost inflation to keep workers scared. They sue customers and employees who dare challenge their abusive behaviour. They add junk fees to everything, because they can. They make employees sign non-compete, non-disclosure, and training repayment (TRAP) agreements to keep them in thrall. They push them to compete viciously against each other for a handful of bonuses and promotions. They buy up and shut down their competitors. They drive costs of everything so high that the average net worth of the precariat is less than zero, so workers are terrified of not getting their next paycheque. And they buy back shares with corporate profits, rather than using those profits to pay their staff a decent wage and benefits.

Cory says we have to make them as scared of us as we are of them. But there his article ends — he doesn’t tell us how to do so. Is it even possible? After all, they have all the power, even though they’re disorganized and constantly infighting. They have the wealth. They own the media. They restrict third parties from running for office, and use money, media and ruthless smear campaigns to discredit and ruin anyone who opposes them. And they close ranks and send in the attack lawyers when they’re challenged.

We have become economic slaves in an unregulated system of capitalism that leaves us, like feudal serfs, as wage slaves, with no leverage to ask for a fairer share of the wealth that our work (and the natural wealth stolen from other countries at such horrific cost) generates. And we are political slaves to a ‘fixed’ Tweedle system that offers us no choice except which ‘brand’ of war and ecological collapse we prefer, and which type of oppression of dissent we prefer.

Tim Morgan describes what economic collapse is going to look like over the next decade, and it’s a grim scenario. And he suggests the PMC knows what’s coming, and are securing their own situations in preparation, and leaving the rest of us, the precariat, in the dark, and passed over. When the alphas know there is not enough to go around, the game of hoard and distract (and what Tim calls pretend and extend) goes into high gear. And the Tools of Disconnection are ramped up in service of this.

Of course, it would be nice if the precariat could precaritize the PMC. But it’s not going to happen. Alpha rats hoarding in the overcrowded cage are not afraid of the lower caste rats cowering in the corners. And the possibility of the entire precariat working together to overthrow the PMC, end the wars and redistribute the PMC’s obscene wealth are just pipe-dreams. Most of the large outer circle of the PMC aspire to being admitted to the inner circle, not to overthrowing it. We have, most of us, been conditioned to be ashamed rather than angry about our economic struggles and precarity. We don’t even have effective labour unions anymore. The “conservative” and “progressive” factions of the precariat have been conditioned for decades to loathe and distrust each other. And, as Aurélien has explained, dreams of revolution are futile when there is no organized, established group in position to quickly fill any power vacuum. So, no, we’re not going to overthrow or even precaritize the PMC, much as some of us might like to.

But going back to Keith Farnish’s book, would it at least be possible to undermine them? Keith defines the term as follows:

The simple definition is as good as any: removing that upon which something depends for its strength. If you want to make a house fall down then start removing bricks from its base; eventually, if you remove enough bricks, the house will tumble to the ground. If the house is tall or top-heavy then you will need to remove comparatively fewer bricks. If the house already has weak foundations, or substandard construction, then you might not have to remove very many bricks at all. The same principle applies to anything you wish to undermine: a wall, a political party, a corporation, an entire set of principles by which a population carries out its daily life.

So how might we undermine the PMC as we head full-tilt into economic, political and ecological collapse? I think this depends on our personal situations, objectives, and risk tolerances.

In my case, my objective (or at least dream) is that we might be able to undermine the PMC’s stranglehold on power and wealth enough to (1) end the “endless wars”, and (2) radically redistribute some of the PMC’s wealth and power so the precariat has at least some more resources to use in facing the horrors of collapse. I don’t have any hopes beyond that.

For the most part, the things someone in my position might consider are as much about what to not continue doing as about what to start doing, and I think that’s a sensible, pragmatic approach. So some possibilities for me are:

  • Spoof the PMC. Often humour and satire will get more attention than anger, and there’s certainly lots to make fun of. Groups like Beautiful Trouble and pranksters like the Yes Men have shown the way. Some late-night comedy hosts who haven’t been ‘turned’ are also helping.
  • Shine a light on the PMC’s worst behaviours. Talk about them, write about them. Film them.
  • Refuse to vote for either Tweedle party. Spoil your ballot, vote for a third party, vote for “none of the above”, or do something more useful on voting day. Tell politicians you like that you’ll only support them if they run as independents.
  • Divest from, and refuse to invest in, PMC oligarchy companies or banks that invest in them.
  • Boycott PMC oligarchy companies: Refuse to buy their products, and refuse to work for them as employees, contractors or consultants.
  • Get out of debt (if you can). Buy and need less (if you can).
  • Unsubscribe from the most egregious PMC-controlled media, and, in conversations, challenge the bullshit they publish.
  • Deschool yourself and your kids.
  • Talk with members of the precariat who support the opposite Tweedle party, and stress your shared concerns and the awfulness of both Tweedles.

I’m trying to think of how we might co-produce a list of the worst offenders among the PMC (individuals and organizations) — worst offenders in terms of how ruthlessly they promulgate the Tools of Disconnection in the chart at the top of this post. Along with the list of worst environmental offenders and animal abusers, this might be very helpful in informally organizing a boycott of and divestiture from these offenders.

It might not take that much. The edifice is already cracking and crumbling in places. We’re not going to prevent collapse. But we might at least have a more equitable distribution of wealth going into it, and perhaps, if we can starve the war machine and redistribute the trillions it wastes every year pursuing the PMC’s ideological fantasies, we might at least fare a bit better in facing it.

We couldn’t do much worse than what the bumbling PMC has already done.

Posted in Collapse Watch, How the World Really Works | 7 Comments

Links of the Month: May 2024

Public Service Announcement: If reading my links of the month is unbearably depressing for you, just skip down to the very bottom of this post and at least read Lyz Lenz’s little story on Mothering. Everything else here will probably be the same next month, anyway.

cartoon by Michael Leunig

No, I’m not making fun of protesters. Given the ever-increasing risks that protesters face everywhere in the west, protesters, and especially young ones, are seemingly the only ones brave and sane enough to challenge the increasing repression by our so-called “liberal”, “democratic” and “freedom-loving” governments.

What I take Michael Leunig’s cartoon to be referring to is that it seems to be in the nature of our species that people with power will always move to suppress dissent. Or as has often been observed, no one gives up power voluntarily. As collapse worsens, the ruling caste will either fight with every means at their disposal to hold onto their power, and try to commandeer all the lifeboats for themselves, or they will have power wrenched from them.

At another level, though, I think this cartoon points to the futility of us getting angry at our essential human nature. The atrocities, destruction, oppression and desolation of our planet are all the result of our individual and collective conditioned (and traumatized) behaviour, over which we have no control. We can and will of course be justifiably outraged at this behaviour and its ghastly consequences, but beyond it being outrageous, it is essentially just tragic.

As EO Wilson famously put it “Darwin’s dice have rolled badly for Earth”; the emergence of a species that always wants more, and is capable of endlessly producing more (until it can’t) seems an unlikely and tragic evolutionary turn.

So, thank you, protesters — please keep forcing us to face the truth, and stay safe.


chart by PNAS — look quick before they’re all gone; thanks to Jae Mather for the link

The utter madness of geoengineering: Richard Heinberg’s latest Museletter explains the horrors we could unwittingly leash upon the planet by messing with geoengineering. And he echoes a similar warning from European climate experts:

Once started, solar geoengineering cannot be stopped. Assuming that carbon emissions continued, the artificial sunshade would mask increasing amounts of extra warming. If geoengineering ceased abruptly—due to sabotage, technical, or political reasons—temperatures would shoot up rapidly. This termination shock would be catastrophic for humans and ecosystems. [“The sudden release of just one year’s worth of global warming energy”, Richard calculates, “would be the equivalent of nearly a thousand times the energy yielded by exploding the world’s entire nuclear arsenal.” So not only are we like kids playing with matches, not having the faintest idea what we’re doing, but if we stop once we’ve started, we’re basically doomed to extinguish life on earth.]

… but here come the geoengineering cheerleaders: When I was a youth, I was a huge fan of historian and environmentalist Gwynne Dyer’s writing, but now, it seems, he’s decided to go all in on geoengineering. And nukes. Yikes.

Here comes 3ºC: That’s the average expected increase by 2100 forecast by the world’s leading climate experts. More than 3/4 of them believe it will be 2.5ºC or more. They aren’t even trying to soften the blow anymore by saying “…if we don’t immediately do x“. They know we’re not going to do x. They know what this means, and they’re terrified.

The advent of lenocracy: What happens when governments, and other “players” in our broken economic system, give up the pretence of being able to do anything to avoid or even slow down economic collapse? It becomes a lenocracy, which, as John Michael Greer explains, does nothing whatsoever of value, but which, like cops and border guards in most countries, charges fees and takes bribes for not interfering in what the wealthy (and to some extent the rest of us) want to do. Everything hence becomes more difficult and more expensive, and you know ends up paying for that.

A sneak preview of the scavenger economy: The Honest Sorcerer reviews how things get done in India, which has already begun the transition from an industrial economy to the type of post-collapse scavenger economy that Anna Tsing told us was coming.

How not to build a viable food system: John Whiting warns us of the consequences of a monocrop industrial agricultural model that nutritionally starves, poisons and sickens us, and renders our entire food system fragile and unsustainable, in a presentation he made back in 2007, which is even more true today.

The pelletization of our forests: The Tyee’s Ben Parfitt explains how, especially since Fukushima, an ever-increasing proportion of our ‘forestry’ activities, including the clear-cutting of old-growth forests, is feeding the demand for wood pellets and other wood “biomass” that is simply being burned up.

A world without growth: Tim Watkins describes, in terms of what the day-to-day lives of all of us will be like, what it soon will mean to live in a world without growth. Another grim non-hypothetical preview of collapse; and it’s a long way down.

We’re already at maximum power on the warp drives, captain: Energy geologist Art Berman draws on several datasets and the work of several energy analysts to predict the trajectory of economic collapse. Thanks to Renaee Churches for the link.


meme by Damian Barr; illustration by Barbara Kelley

CLT+LEC=Affordable housing: Housing developments that combine community land trusts with limited-equity co-ops offer the twin promises of truly affordable housing and a sense of real community. Here’s how the model works, and here’s a diagram explaining the legal and operating structure. Thanks to Kavana Tree Bressen for the link.

An alternative to the Tweedle parties: Jill Stein explains why she’s running for US president. Sadly, she’s become embroiled in a dispute with Cornel West, the only other candidate of reasonably sound mind.


Kent State University, May 4, 1970. National Guard opens live fire on mostly peaceful, unarmed demonstrators and others just passing by, murdering four and injuring nine others. The killers were found not guilty. Nothing, other than the new paramilitary riot gear, has changed in 54 years. Image from the Kent State University Library. 

The Usual Empire Malfeasance: Corpocracy, Imperialism, Fascism, Propaganda, Misinformation, Disinformation and Censorship: Short takes (thanks to John Whiting for many of these links):

Wendell Berry on the “urban elite’s” misunderstanding of rural America: The distinguished 89-year-old novelist, poet and environmental activist minces no words when he chastises the NY Review of Books for its ignorant and condescending dismissal of the grievances of rural America. Apparently the NYRB doesn’t like to be taken to task — they declined to publish his letter to the editor. He wrote a similar, and even harsher, critique of Paul Krugman’s equally ignorant and condescending attack on rural Americans. I suspect it was received with similar hostility. What Wendell writes is important, but few of us (and the urban/rural mutual misunderstanding and antagonism is not unique to the US) are likely to listen. One point he makes is: If you don’t take the time to visit and pay attention to other cultures, including those in your own country, you will never understand or appreciate them, and that ignorance can quickly turn to mutual distrust. (Thanks to Paul Heft for these links.)


cartoon by Everett Glenn in the New Yorker; add your own caption

The fascinating way fruit flies fly: A fascinating video explaining their flight agility bears witness to the astonishing complexity of even nature’s “simplest” species.

A feminist review of The Idea of You: Lyz Lenz at her brightest and funniest, reviewing the new romance flick.

The enshittification of everything AI touches: Cory Doctorow explains all the ways AI can be, and is being, used to enshittify every corner of the internet, from your search engine results, news sites, product “reviews”, social media, and even sites licensed under Creative Commons licences. As has often been said, for every promising new technology there will be ten assholes ready to exploit it for profit and the immiseration of others.


page from Lewis Hyde’s A Primer for Forgetting

From Caitlin Johnstone, on the American voter’s “choice”:

Remember, all this fascism would feel way more fascismy under Trump… You don’t have to like what’s happening to your country. You don’t even have to pay attention to it. All you have to do is make sure you keep telling everyone to shut up and stop criticizing the president and to tick that little box next to Biden’s name in November. Because it’s just a tough fact that in order to defeat Orange Mussolini, we’re going to have to get comfortable with fascism.

and on a similar note, from Indrajit Samarajiva, on the American voter’s “choice”:

There’s no need to wait for Trump to bring in fascism, it’s alive and kicking students in the teeth already. In many places (like NY and California), it’s happening under a Democratic President, governor, and mayor. America’s two parties are just left and right boot, stamping on a human face forever.

From Lyz Lenz, on Mothering:

I was going to write a small essay about how I bought a couch and economic fear and insecurity. But my 13 yo came into the office, saw me typing, and said, “No one cares about you buying a couch, mom!” I will still write about the couch and money. But for today, I want to write about mothering.

This same kid had a bunch of friends over on Saturday. And they are such women and also such children. Eating sushi, jumping on the trampoline. I’ve known my daughter’s friends since they were in kindergarten. I am not friends with their parents. But we are all familiar strangers in each other’s lives, pulled together by the gravitational force of our children.

After the girls left and my daughter and I were snuggling in bed she began to tell me that she and her friends have a list of which parents houses are good for which things.

One kid’s house is good for snacks. One house is good for being chill. Another house is the fancy house. I was furious my house wasn’t any of those houses. But I listened, finally asking, “Okay, what is my house good for?”

And my daughter said, “Oh, your house is the safe house. It’s the house we all know we can go to if anything goes bad.” She told me that her friends know I am accepting. And that throughout the years of playdates, birthday parties, and field trips they’ve learned this house I’ve built is the home where they can go to be themselves.

After my daughter went to bed, I sat on my sofa, the one she thinks no one cares about, and cried.

Posted in Collapse Watch, How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves | 8 Comments