Over the Edge

“To account for the orderly behavior of living beings Descartes introduced the concept of the machine which, more than an conceivable organism, is the product of design from start to finish. Even more than Newton’s divine organizer, the machine model introduced teleology or finalism in its classic form: a purposeful organization for a strictly pre-determined end. This corresponds to nothing whatever in organic evolution.

The transposition of the specific characteristics of organisms and machines actually elevated the mechanical creature above his creator. That error has brought catastrophic potentialities in our day, in the willingness, on the part of military and political strategists, to give to agents of extermination they have created – nuclear weapons, rockets, lethal poisons and bacteria – the authority to exterminate the human race.”
Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine: The Pentagon of Power

Something precious about Western civilization was lost last week. We pulled up anchor on scientific fact and are now adrift on a sea of myth and fantasy, rudderless. To see those protesting in the streets, insisting that facts matter, was to have a front row seat as science, the cultural current of Western civilization for the last five centuries, became just one more special interest. Facts, evidence, reasoned argument, objective measurement, honest use of probability mathematics – all this is now on equal footing with every other minority view trying to get a just hearing in the halls of power.

Caesar will decide if those representing these things deserve any air time with the rich and powerful guiding our military, economic, ecological and cultural future.

It was not a good thing that scientists and their supporters had to take to the streets to ask people to listen to facts. Sure, the courage the protesters displayed showed everything we are rightly proud of about our commitment to truth. Those marching and protesting had all the right intentions, and as we have discussed intention is very important in determining the ethical value of actions. Still it is astonishing, really, that citizens of our oil driven, nuclear weapon threatened, ecologically omnicidal modernity needed to take to the streets to insist that facts matter. Somewhere along the road between the engineers in the factory, who are constrained on every side by the limitations of matter and energy, and the image makers packaging their products for mass consumption, who paint freely with the brush of unconstrained imagination, our culture seems to have been persuaded that reality is optional.

Our astonishing lack of historical knowledge is not serving us well here. The rise of the scientific method was greeted across Europe as a way forward. Religious wars had ravished the continent for decades. Catholics fought Protestants, Protestants fought each other, and no one could agree on what the “real god” wanted of people, so the people spilt blood right and left to show the sincerity of their devotion. It was a time of true believers. Ransacked villages, burnt Cathedrals, buried loved ones – the river of bloody destruction seemed to erupt anytime educated people tried to have a conversation with one another. One party would site this scripture, chapter and verse, and provide lengthy detailed arguments for why what they insisted on being true was the only true that could be true. In response the listener would site a different scripture, a different chapter and verse, and soon the ire between them overcame them and the final missionary tool, the sword, was brought to bear.

Those centuries of religious and political arguments weighed heavily on those who first turned their hope towards the scientific method. That method seemed to provide a real possibility of extending the area of mutual agreement among people, which in fact it has. Reasoned argument based on evidence was seen as a means of rationally guiding the beliefs of human beings towards something more solid than individual opinion. It was the so-called objectivity of the method that provided the hope. Demonstrable facts became the currency of educated thought. We do well to remember that though there were always a few philosophers here and there, for the most part before physical facts took center stage it was the power of the speaker’s wealth or inherited family name or the size of the institution they represented that determined, in practice, what was to be considered real and true.

The people eventually grew tired of sacrificing their sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, friends and lovers, for ideas that no one could provide the slightest bit of solid evidence for. When the first inklings of science started making their way through the educated circles it was seen as a breath of fresh air. A type of humility turned away from the unanswerable why questions of religious philosophy for the limited, but reliable, answers about how things worked right here on earth. This has proven to be an outstandingly fruitful pursuit of knowledge. Open an upper graduate textbook for any of the hard sciences and you will immediately confront the density of our modern comprehension. This detailed knowledge is available for the student and scholar regardless of which part of existence they choose to focus on; from geology to astronomy, biology to quantum mechanics, from neuroscience to atmospheric studies, the list goes on and on.

It is sad that we have turned our back on what our ancestors worked so hard to provide for us through this pursuit of scientific knowledge. It revealed the full extent of deep time and deep space, showed forth the mysterious molecular means of evolutionary life’s long trail, and opened the heavens to a vision unimaginably vast. Reality trumped the theological and mystical imagination of our ancestors at every turn. If religion is actually coming to know the reality of that-which-is, these secular centuries have been quite courageous in their faith.

It takes a courageous, adult faith to face the reality of our situation. Childhood faith is able to exist as a pure comfort: god is in his heaven and all is right with the world. Adult faith has confronted the cold, godless universe revealed by the heart broken in suffering, typically suffering for another. It is an interesting psychological fact that it is the door of compassion that causes one to question the childish image of a good god always watching over us. It is when we need to confront the reality of evil killing and damaging innocent lives that the too easy childish faith is shattered. The problem of evil: how could a good god allow this to happen? It is Dracula’s taunt, ‘I am about to drink the blood of the living, good god if you exist strike me down and save the innocent from the loss of their souls.’ As we have learned, painfully, from Dachau, Dresden, and Nagasaki, the stars remain silent. The atheist’s honesty about these matters cannot be dismissed.

It is wrong to think this step in intellectual integrity destroys. It uncovers delusion, reveals a truth that can be revealed no other way. The dark night of the soul is orthodoxy; it was not play acting when the Christ of our myth cried out from the cross, ‘why have you forsaken me?’ Only by being willing to pass through this threshold might a person come to find a more adult faith, the resurrection of hope on the other side of immaturity.

As a culture we are going through the same process. In the secular space we have been learning to stand strong with the honesty of our intellectual integrity. It is as if we said, ‘Ok, maybe the universe was made by monsters and cares not a whit for us, we are going to be brave enough to discover the truth regardless.’ I applaud our courage. We admitted to ourselves that whatever power humanity’s long cultural evolution might achieve in our efforts to protect and nurture that which we love, it will of necessity be based upon that which is real. The first image to guide science towards just what that real might actually consist of was the machine. And in this, there is a tale.

Science, of course, deserves part of the blame for its having become just one more special interest in our day. Its fascination with the machine and easy subservience to the needs of empire are well known. This and so much more can be laid at the foot of science. It does not change the tragedy of what has happened.

As Lewis Mumford taught us in The Myth of the Machine, mathematics and machines were thought to uncover a realm more real and fundamental than the messy organic complexity of subjective experience. That celestial and terrestrial mechanics were wholly tractable through gravitation’s terms of mass and momentum captured our imagination. Physics became the standard bearer for what a mature science should look like. Though we set out with an image of the machine as the scientific model of the really real, it was too removed from the organic substrate from which it came. The machine inhabits a dead universe, one in which life is a secondary, chance, ultimately meaningless occurrence. Galileo banished the qualia as secondary qualities, silencing subjectivity. This is our dark night.

The myth of the machine’s dead universe is a delusional one.

It is the result of banishing subjectivity from considerations of reality. This is what allowed scientific thinking to avoid the religious and political fights all around it. The non-subjective yet active automaton became the model of life that fascinated the kings and princes seeking to bring their unruly empires under the control of law and order. A mass of people understood to be little more than valves, levers and winds could be played by pharaohs’ fingers, made to sing his song – and build his pyramid.

The problem with the scientific enterprise centered around the view espoused by Descartes that living things were no more than machines (man excepted in his opinion due to we alone having rational souls). This is to put the matter backwards. Organisms are not made of collections of simple machines, our simple machines are made from abstracting a single functional aspect of an organism into a simple form. The machine, unlike the organism, is no longer able to adapt to changes but requires a very exact input if it is to produce its output. Machines only function within a small range of tolerance; change the fuel, the chemical makeup of the input materials, or any number of other details and nothing works. The organisms from which we draw our inspirations do not share these limitations and are characterized first and foremost by subjectivity. Still, in retrospect this fascination with the machine, which lead us to build and serve Homo Colossus, also looks to have been an effective vehicle for the intellectual and cultural development of our scientific knowledge. It was this art of seeing the essential through simplification that made it possible for our brains to get purchase on the complexity of our molecular environment.

Reductionism gives us models we can work with. It’s effectiveness should not be confused with an ontological objectivity it cannot justifiably claim given the epistemology of scientific inference. Creating maps and menus are necessary but no substitutes for the land and the meal to which they refer. Our species relationship with our planetary home is the referent for all the equations, all the scriptures, all the models of our minds and hearts. Science was mistaken when it dismissed subjectivity as unreal, instead of real but too complex to be captured in our models. Culture, however, was mistaken when it dismissed the factual basis of science’s molecular world in favor of fights over maps and menus.

Riding the Abused

“He imagined a wealthy Christian knocking at the gates of heaven and saying, “Here I am, Lord! … I went to Church, I was close to you, I belong to this association, I did this… Don’t you remember all the offerings I made?”
To which Jesus may reply, according to the Pope:
“Yes, I remember. The offerings, I remember them: All dirty. All stolen from the poor. I don’t know you.’ That will be Jesus’ response to these scandalous people who live a double life.”

To be a Christian means to do: to do the will of God — and on the last day — because all of us we will have one — that day what shall the Lord ask us? Will He say: ‘What have you said about me?’ No. He shall ask us about the things we did.”
Pope Francis, Pope suggests it’s better to be an atheist than a bad Christian

 

“And even if in the future, from some cosmic place, they say, “That little third planet out in that little old solar system over there, boy they blew it” — even so, there were some beautiful efforts made, some beautiful music. Strong hearts, and a lot of loving.”
Joanna Macy, Learning to See in the Dark Amid Catastrophe: An Interview With Deep Ecologist Joanna Macy

 

 

Tick Tock, Tick Tock

The probabilities of nuclear war are increasing. Try a mental experiment. Assume a nuclear war were to break out in the next few years. Maybe it would remain small, maybe not. Knowing this, would you experience your day any differently? Does it add a certain gravitas to the events of right now? Do they become more precious? Will you take that little bit of extra time to be with your loved ones or to just sit and contemplate nature? Maybe the bombs will take away everything you love, maybe they only do that for people you do not know on the other side of the earth. Does that really make all that much difference as you use your imagination to place yourself into the tomorrow we are making?

Were you impressed with that big bomb’s rape of earth’s tunnels in Afghanistan? If you liked that you are going to love chapter next. Earth rape – real and symbolic – could not be made any more explicit. In a culture saturated with torture and porn (often no longer two distinct categories) it is hard to get too aroused because we used the largest non-nuclear bomb on the poorest country on the planet. All the worse for us.

Are you scared yet? You should be. This is not a dress rehearsal, these geopolitical events splashing themselves across our headlines. Do you think that the problem with giant industrialization’s relationship with the earth’s ecology is going to be fixed by attacking foreigners?

This is what being mindful of the ecological reality of our times provides, a type of acidic analysis of events from a more systemic point of view. It is from this point of view that even our most powerful weapons look helplessly inadequate. Oh sure, we can cause a lot of damage, kill tens of millions, even hundreds of millions of people, but none of that is going to get us even one inch closer to the changes our societies will be forced to make by ecological circumstances.

It is not sane to allow the lifestyles of a few living today to ruin tomorrow for everyone. A few sadistically sick individuals in positions of power are capable of causing enormous amounts of suffering. Due to their own psychological histories such people thrive on causing other people pain. They need to shame and degrade other human beings. They need to cause people and other sentient beings to suffer, slowly and excruciatingly. We who let them do this to others in our name do our best to keep the benefits we enjoy from their cruelties foremost in our minds. It is easy to eat chicken when you don’t think of the factory farms on which they are raised with less respect than we give a five dollar bill. We see the electronic gadgets and the designer clothes filling our malls and allow the fantasy factory of TV to make living this way seem justified and normal. We do not see the bodies torn to shreds by our bomb, nor the sweat shops and the toxic e-waste we pile up where poor non-white people live, and cleverly we have made it illegal to look inside our slaughterhouses and factory farms. This is the price, in the lives of the poor and voiceless, we are willing to pay for our high and mighty lifestyles. We just do not like being reminded about it. Perhaps there was a time such shopping mall dreams were dreamt in innocence. That time is long past. Today the pathetic injustice stands accused by a whole library full of documentation about these corporate exploitations. Reading some of the blasphemous volumes is simply allowing the reality of the interconnected molecular world into your thoughts.

The details just listed are what is evident from the outside, as reported by the senses of anyone who cares to look. What is more formidable is learning to see is how the exploitation of the poor and weak has re-written the lives we live from the inside. We are all slave owners now. When, as a society, we decided seeking profit was somehow a sacred calling, we advanced along the trend we see fruiting all around us today in which everything has a price.

When the pornographers went after our children, we could not muster up the slightest effective defense. Where was the outrage from fathers when the media taught our daughters to see themselves as little more than sex machines and families across the country started dealing with the eating disorder fallout and the smashed reputations of those whose lives were turned upside down by a few minutes of filmed intoxication, etc. etc? Trauma is the price we are evidently willing to pay to protect the pornographer’s “sacred” profits. We watched as the makers of images decided to push the envelope, sexualizing children and infantilizing women for the taste of the pedophiles among us. Did you know research suggests addiction to adult gonzo porn seems to lead to pedophile perversions as the quest to degrade innocence takes on its ultimate forms? This has been the case for many men. Did you know upwards of 80-90 percent of those convicted of child abuse used child porn first, at least by one study (Debate on Child Pornography’s Link to Molesting)? Even with this there was no public outcry, no public outrage.

When you have already sold your children’s future by dismissing all those things that would be necessary to assure a stable planetary home for them, it is a little hard to get too upset with such things.

We tell ourselves this pornification of our culture is just a matter of freedom of choice. The alternative is difficult to take. The alternative explanation is that we have allowed a system that rewards exploiting the abused children among us to become the core society in which we all live. The best CEO is the one that is able to leverage the repressed needs of their wounded employees. He (and it is still almost always a he) takes advantage of the hurt person’s need for love and respect denied them by their abusive mother or father. These carrots and sticks run deep within us. Successful managers and bureaucrats of every stripe have also learned to stick the knife of fear into the soft spot and twist.

This, of course, has left us angry. Someone always seems to have more than we do. None of us, we are groomed to believe by every commercial we have ever been exposed to, have what we deserve. All of us want more, the more we feel we are entitled to. This is consumerism.

The image makers have found we angry adults have a taste for torture; sadism sells. All the little boys beaten up by their fathers, now grown into adult sized bodies, are suckers for such material. It not only illustrates what it felt like to be physically and emotionally abused but also holds out the false promise of restoring the inner child’s broken ego and removing the mark of shame from their breasts. On the movie screen angry, violent men get the goods. Of course, in the real world angry, violent men just get trouble.

Grown men don’t cry, we are taught to say. What is implied need not be said, namely that this is because their job is to make other people cry. Our image of manhood revolves around these things, and little else: to be a man is to be a tough guy protecting loved ones from other tough guys. There is no place for curiosity, wonder, laughter, teaching. Torture as entertainment, how degrading. It fills the airwaves now, training us to see our own society as being populated by people who are mean and cruel. The scripts of such movies are mind-numbingly repetitive: I wish I could be a good guy but with all these bad guys out to take what I have, I need to become the baddest of the bad (yet somehow retain a heart of gold after the sadism). Some of us will choose to divert our eyes and only watch Disney fare, but we all know the other events are playing out in the theater just down the hall. We are being groomed to be good little sadists, good little Nazis.

Actually, all this foolishness is a really old tale. It has all been done before. Worshipping weapons and cruelty has long been the agenda pushed by the alpha males. Priests have blessed their weapons and organized their crusades. None of which, as the Pope recently pointed out, has had anything to do with the love of god or a god of love. Now here we are again. Do you think that the problem with giant industrialization’s relationship with the earth’s ecology is going to be fixed by attacking people who belong to religions other than your own?

Consumerism socialization: One gender raised as cannon fodder and the other as sex robots, both taught they are no more than interchangeable pocketbooks living to serve corporate profits by those who retain the right to dismiss their existence at the flick of a nuclear switch.

There is a war on our children being conducted right under our noses, day in and day out. Those conducting that war have profited immensely. The large corporate conglomerations funding and profiting off these exploitations have become entwined with our institutions of education, finance, religion and entertainment. Over time consumerism’s belief that only monetary relationships can organize a modern society has corroded our ability to even imagine life being lived any other way. This is why we seem to be willing to risk everything in nuclear war to keep shopping at Wallmart. We have yet to find the courage to discuss how what is valuable can be salvaged from what is no longer adaptive.

All that is rather bleak, isn’t it?

Every bit of it is a lie. Cruel and violent men can make trouble, but not nearly as much as they think they can in their hubris, dreaming of dethroning that father-god that beat them so badly when they were young. Yes, it turns out, women enjoy sex as much as men do but this does not mean their lives consist of nothing else or that we as a society should judge their worth only by their ability to conform to the image of women being created by the cruel and violent men. Perhaps most damning of all is the lie that being human finds its social culmination in shopping. Anyone who has had any kind of peak experience understands Homo Sapiens have cosmic roots. Moreover, the teachings say that our expressions of loving kindness and beauty are the final identities we were born with and will take to our graves. It has been called our shared Buddha Nature or that we are all equally loved children of god.

What this means to me is that the cruel and the violent who bring physical or emotional abuse to others are living a part of the cosmos’ grand story just as necessary as those who do not do these things. It is just that those lives have been given over to the role of the villain. I do not think we were supposed to put them on pedestals as exemplars of our species potential. All our stories, from anywhere around the world and from any eon, agree that to be human is to have a deeply held desire to share in real love and to live, as the stories say, happily ever after. Human happiness for me necessarily includes happiness for you. Those whose lives are filled with tragic fate / karma / fortune miss this basic lesson, yet are a necessary ingredient. Why? Who can say? Is that not between them, their victims and the mystery from which all arose together? What we can say is that by illustrating the truth of where cruelty and violence lead, their lives provide a type of reverse teaching for those whose fate / karma / fortune has lead them to walk the path of peace.

So what’s the plan? We know there is no long term future in consumerism. We know there is no long term future that allows us to keep using oil, the engine of our built out infrastructures. We know there is no long term future in allowing inequality, injustice, and exploitation to form the bedrock of our economy. We even know that the seemingly sacred nature of violence is a lie. Real violence makes you want to throw up, as anyone who has encountered it can tell you. Ok, so knowing all this, what is the plan? Are we thinking we can just continue a little longer and hopefully our children will pay for all this and not we ourselves? Are we thinking we have no choice but to let the cruel and violent continue to take anything and everything they want? Are we thinking the cruel and violent are protecting us from something worse, tentacled aliens from between the stars perhaps? Are we going to let them go through with their self-fulfilling prophecy Armageddon-plans just to see what happens? Or maybe we are thinking its ok to let them run a little crazy for awhile because we can always pull back from the brink at the last moment?

I do not subscribe to any of those positions. I subscribe to courage and reason. The truth of the matter is that in our future some will take the high road, difficult as it is, and they will try to build things, nurture a new way of being together socially and go searching for a life affirming set of values. Others will take the low road, easy and socially approved, of just blowing shit up and continuing to rape the planet and its people for cash rewards. The ecological, economic, and sociological evidence is in: business as usual is over. Now, what are you going to do about it?

Might I suggest setting aside, daily, a few moments of concern for the earth?

Citizenship

“What then is the nature of this psychological sequence from fundamental to fundamentalism? To be secure about fundamentals is to live within an intact framework of larger human connectedness, or what I have called symbolic immortality. In that state one believes in – or at least has no reason to question – the value and everlastingness of one’s relation to the chain of generations, to work and works, to higher spiritual principles, to eternal nature, and to experiences of transcendence that directly affirm the intactness of one’s psychological universe. When these ultimate – that is, fundamental – connections are profoundly threatened, confidence in the over-all continuity of life gives way to widespread death imagery, even to a collective sense of being inundated by death and nothingness.”
Robert J. Lifton, Indefensible Weapons: The Political and Psychological Case Against Nuclearism

 

When the elected leaders of the Untied States used the lie of weapons of mass destruction to justify their invasion of Iraq in 2003, the rest of the world noticed. What had been lost in this event was a tradition of informed citizens holding their leaders accountable for deceiving them. Dictatorships expect the leaders to lie to the people when it is convenient for their own agendas. Democracies are established on the foundation that this is not acceptable behavior. Why this happened is a complicated question to answer, though one of the central factors had to be the changes that happened to the news organizations when they changed from primarily serving to inform the citizenry to becoming profit centers for the networks. No longer was even the establishment of an informed citizenry, the necessary backbone of a functioning democracy, sacred enough to stay outside the forces of economic competition. Truth, which often offends, was made subservient to the dollar.

The transparent exercise of governmental power is freely open to examination by the citizenry of a democracy. Arguably that has become a thing of past in the United States, sacrificed for the needs of “security.” Truth has become optional, as it always has been when in the hands of the propagandist.

The decades since 2003 have seen the United States lose more and more of its moral high ground. The once shining light on the hill has become, for most people on this planet, the source of the greatest risks to the long term well being of our species. Such, anyway, is what the polling agencies find.

I have always thought America played a unique role in the modern world. It’s constitutional government persuaded much of the world that the people of a nation should be listened to, that ultimate political power justly derives from the consent of the govern. There is a darker aspect to the unique role that America has played in modern history as well. We are the only nation to have used nuclear bombs to kill human beings in an act of war. This event, arguably, shortened the war but without a doubt it also brought with it a new responsibility to the citizenry of the United States. If our leaders answer to the will of the people, and they now wield such terrifyingly destructive weaponry in our name, we have a burden laid on us unlike those of other nations.

So far, over the last few decades since the end of WWII, the rest of the world has rested more or less easily with this balance of powers. The leadership choices of the United States remained controversial and far from perfect year in and year out, yet the checks and balances inherent in our system seemed to provide the best measure of sanity in geopolitics we, as a species, could hope for. Most of these previously comforting considerations no longer apply to the American political order, given the evidence at hand.

Democracy has always been messy, with conspiracies and collusions galore. Secrets and Machiavellian politics have been bedfellows throughout the few hundred years of American history. What is being said here is not that there was a golden age in the past we have lost and need to return to. What is being said is that there is every indication that many of the core features of our democratic past, those which made the balance of power balanced, have lost their ability to do so.

The reason, I submit, is due to the cognitive dissonance we as a nation have had to live with ever since confronting the two limits that showed us clearly that we had made a mistake in building Homo Colossus and needed to change our ways. The cognitive dissonance in this case is compounded by the huge previous investment used to build all the colossal machines and their infrastructures which form the ecologically suicidal gigantism of Homo Colossus. We have been escalating our commitment to this obviously mistaken national pursuit for close to half a century now. As James Kunstler has stated, the U.S. build out of suburban sprawl is “the greatest misallocation of resources the world has ever known ”

The two limits that put the American democracy through the wringer were the ecological limits to endless growth on a finite planet and the scientific limits to destructiveness once splitting the atom itself was put to the task. Thermonuclear weapons put an end to the war motivated scientific search for, as Buckminster Fuller taught, weapons “designed to kill ever more people at ever-greater distances in ever-shorter periods of time.” If we as a species do not self-limit our destructive potential, the probability of using these weapons we spend so much effort to build and keep safe increases with each passing year. And that would be catastrophic. The second limit we encountered was, of course, our ecological limits to growth. We learned that the reality of ecology is non-negotiable. Taken together these spell the end of the reign of Homo Colossus.

What this means in practice is that the multi-trillion dollar build out of the highways and byways, parking lots and side streets, gas stations and refineries – all the infrastructure for cars (just considering the concrete, structural aspects and not psychological) – is no longer serving the immediate, real world needs of the people. To give the U.S. leaders credit, just about every recent President has said to the public, in one way or another, ‘we have an energy problem, we have an oil problem.’ To be fair about our leaders performance on these issues we must also admit it has been dismal. To admit you have been mistaken, now there is a serious test for Democracy.

We all know how difficult it can be when we personally encounter our own mistakes. We work hard to justify all our choices in one part of our mind while another is busy examining everything critically. The critic hopes to make things better. To do so, by definition, means seeing where things need to be repaired, that is, where one has made mistakes. Mistaken assumptions, mistaken behavior, mistaken beliefs; we learn to recognize each of them within ourselves as we grow and mature. Difficult though the process is, there is no getting around it if one is to flow with the natural way of increasing skill and wisdom. Knowing just how hard it really is for us to change as individuals should give us some compassion for our societal failure to admit these same things about our commitments to progress through giant industrialization.

It turns out we were mistaken in our assumptions. Wealth does not buy happiness. After a certain level of security is met, additional income does not measurably increase people’s happiness. But it sure wreaks havoc on the earth. We turned the engines of giant industrialization towards the manufacturing of luxury items, not equal distribution of necessity. This too was a mistake.

Valuing luxury items for the few before necessities for the many did not come naturally. The years since the end of WWII have hosted the largest mind manipulation experiment ever conducted, for that is exactly what a world awash in mass media has become. Like any good experiment, no one knows the results before the experiment being carried out reaches some conclusions. I think it has run long enough that we can tentatively draw a few. The conclusion I submit is proven, is that these technologies do have the ability to directly influence people’s behavior. Shopping in one form or another dominates our social landscape. The only expressive activity of our human genius currently rewarded with social recognition are those which make a buck. The only expressive activity of our human genius left to individuals is the act of choosing what they will buy, be it a wardrobe or a vacation or a religious affiliation. The ecological critique of giant industrialization insists this was all mistaken behavior. It sounds like that is an ethical judgment but it is scientific fact since it would take more than four earths to have most people on the planet living like this. Constant distraction and programming by mass media, including the internet, allow us to pretend our mistaken behavior is normal. In our heart of hearts we know these lifestyles are not adaptive, they dismiss the needs of the poor, our own posterity, and all the other non-human inhabitants of the earth. Only this echo chamber of non-stop distraction keeps us all from screaming.

Consumerism, the belief that it is good organizing a society around the central activity of shopping, has proven itself to be a mistaken belief. This tide is never going to lift all boats. The moral justification given for turning the world into a shopping mall was that it was the best way to lift the suffering billions out of grinding poverty. In other words, the argument is that the only way we everyday people can serve human dignity and help all suffering humanity throughout the globe – is to make the rich more wealthy. Then, as they taught us to say, the wealth will trickle down. It does not matter how many think-tanks they employ to explain these things away, the facts remain. Facts are stubborn that way. This tide is never going to lift all boats. On a finite planet, consumerism without justification is simply greed.

When President Ronald Regan said the lifestyles of the American people were non-negotiable, he could not have been more wrong. No leader of the American people has the right to make such a statement, for you see, our lifestyles are exactly what we as individual citizens have immediate control over. This is where our freedom lives. Further, once one becomes mindful of ecology, it is these American lifestyles that are the very first thing to address on the road to social sanity. If we speak of what truly ails us we can muster the famous American can-do attitude to tackle realistic adaptations. All that stands in our way is this set of mistaken beliefs.

From beliefs come behavior, from both come assumptions. So walk your talk after educating yourself. Today consumerism seems a straightjacket we as a society have no chance of extricating ourselves from. Yet alternative lifestyles abound. Each of these people have turned their backs on the competitive credo of dog eat dog capitalism for an ethos of sharing and learning to walk lightly on the earth. Each one of these alternate lives bear witness, to whomever cares to look, that there is in fact viable alternate values and rewards to be had searching out a meaningful life with integrity in these troubled times. To throw your weight in with the mass foolishness eventually becomes impossible as one wakes up to what ecology is teaching us about the real world. It becomes a matter of conscience. This is no small development. A change of conscience can be a very powerful shaper of history. Perhaps even more powerful than bombs.

The Moonscape

Fundamentally, political economists misassume an inadequacy of life support to exist on our planet. Humanity therefore competes militarily to see which political system… is fittest to survive. In slavish observance of this misassumption, humans devote their most costly efforts and resources to “killingry” – a vast arsenal of weapons skillfully designed to kill ever more people at ever-greater distances in ever-shorter periods of time while employing ever-fewer pounds of material, ergs of energy, and seconds of time per killing.
Buckminster Fuller, Cosmography

“Knowing that we die means knowing we can kill others or ourselves, that we are capable of murder and suicide. This knowledge has been made use of repeatedly for both, and at every level from individual acts of self-destruction or murder to their grotesque combination in the mass exercises in killing and dying we call modern war. Yet contained in the knowledge that we die is the imaginative possibility of reclaiming ‘plain old death’ and distinguishing it from grotesque nuclear universal murder-suicide. To do that we require two imaginative acts: deepening our acceptance of individual death and picturing the ‘dead universe’ of nuclear war. Recognizing that we have confused the two is the first step toward reestablishing the distinction. There is in fact a widespread movement in consciousness toward a realization that, yes, we each must die, but we need not die in an absurd nuclear ‘end.'”
Robert J. Lifton, Indefensible Weapons: The Political and Psychological Case Against Nuclearism

 

Something is seeking to hurt us and destroy us. It is recognized in psychiatry that there exists a psychic element which can lead a person to self destruction. Untangling the traumatic roots of this beast in the human breast has been the work of shamans and doctors of the soul since time out of mind. It has not been a wasted effort, our understanding today is unprecedented and there is every reason to hope it will continue to grow and influence our cultures in the future. Religious frameworks for comprehending this thing which seeks our self-destruction label it the devil and grant it cosmic powers guided by, at least in our Faustian culture, an intelligence that far exceeds our own. I suggest such images are no longer serving us well when the evil we need to confront is our own ignorance and brutality. Satan is not threatening my children’s ability to have a dignified human future. Habitual social arrangements are.

This is important. Let’s keep our eye on the ball.

Who knows how all this will play out, or even how it should? I am just a semi-retired computer engineer with a colorful past, as much along for the ride as anyone. I figure that if I can see the truth of these things, chances are a whole lot of other people are seeing the same things too. The one thing I refuse to do is lose myself in distraction designed to repress from myself what I know about just how bad things have gotten. The one road forward I can see is the same one that heals anyone of their abusive past: speaking the truth.

I am not going to be intentionally stupid. I am not going to be quite. I am not going to just accept what I see as wholly unacceptable abuses to my person and my people. It is not like my little life is going to make all that much difference to the fate of my species, but the BS Exxon, Goldman Sachs, GE and their ilk are pushing is not going away, not going anywhere. Sooner or later some line will finally be crossed and most people on the planet will realize that limits to growth, peak oil, ocean acidification, desertification, atmospheric CO2 density and all the rest of it have been real events, accelerating the accumulation of costs in the molecular world our species will pay one day. And we? this whole time we have been distracting ourselves with mostly meaningless pubic conversations. The only question in my mind is how many people will the earth be providing for when that change happens, how far into chaotic descent do we go before we find that line? And, importantly on so many levels, which side of that line are our nuclear weapons on?

Last week mentioned ending our habit of bowing down to the alpha males. Looks to me like this is where all this has been leading, this self-consciousness performing time binding communications across the generations we call culture. As the caring of the young in mammals perfects its expression in our particularly human way, we are being presented with a puzzle, an evolutionary chasm if you will. What will be the role of the few alpha males over the many of the tribe? Will a balanced role be found? Or will the uncanny eternity that haunts self-conscious thoughts prove too destabilizing this time around the ancient evolutionary bush? Can we wake up? That is, can we grasp the reality of the molecular world that is the final referent for all concepts in our languages and all images in our imaginings, or will we allow abstractions of our mind’s own devising to outweigh the evidence of our senses? Will numbers like GDP and interest rate befuddle our will to live? Will we really continue to sacrifice our children to such profane, frankly boring and unimaginative definitions of our species main purpose? These are the reasons being proffered for why we must risk nuclear war?

Most people don’t want six houses. When we consider the ecological footprint of people in the overdeveloped world it is important to keep this in mind. The average is mostly meaningless when the skew in the numbers is as extreme as what is found in countries like the United States. Most of the population of the 48 states just want a good life. I know it sounds old fashion but it is, I am sure, the beating heart of this country, of every country. Living sustainably with appropriate technology is not a death sentence. If you get right down to it, given a choice, most people would like to die a regular old death. With fortune we human beings are allowed to grow old and watch those who are coming after us grow a bit too. It makes leaving to give the kids some room not quite so bad – regular old death. Life with love, a little wine and a little song, this is a good life. Its needs are simple and its activities just.

The bizarre death of thermonuclear fireballs overhead, or the planetary ecological systems all gone tilt, is another animal entirely. These images carry a horror that just does not exist in regular old death. There is not one man, woman, or child alive on this earth today who does not feel the reality of these fears in their body. The mass media guarantees these phobias are anchored within us, that is how these phobias work. We have learned that the shadow is 90% gold, here that means we can read these fears as evolutionary signals. To speak plainly: they are alarm bells. An endarkenment is upon us, it is asking each of us as individuals to answer whose authority we will ultimately pay allegiance too.

Will we wake? Is it not a spontaneous miracle that arises ceaselessly from, who knows where? This, that which is in front of you right now, is it not miraculous enough for you?

Even in the more horrible possible scenarios of nuclear war and ecological collapse it is almost certain human beings, as such, will survive. It is propaganda of the mind parasite to think otherwise; it casts a pall over our mass grave before it has even been dug. It is basically a cartoon level of imaginative imagery: huge flash of light, queue up angels on clouds singing Hallelujah, roll in a new earth while Disney birds chirp in the soft evening glow as the kingdom of peace finally arrives…

The proper fear of nuclear weapons is not served by the image that most immediately comes to mind when we seriously imagine the world post-nuclear war: the moonscape. The space age not only gave us the image of the earth as a glowing blue and white ball of life; we also set foot on the moon, confronting a dead world first-hand. It was a stark death of the land that was confronted when we first stepped on the moon. The image has been haunting our collective psyche ever since. Modern theater, painting, movies and songs explore the moonscape, the desert of the real. We fear it is where we are heading, that we will not be able to help ourselves from turning the earthly garden of Eden into the dry dusty death of a new moonscape.

It is a lie. For the most part, this fear that Homo Colossus can turn earth into a dead moonscape is scientifically baloney. Highly unlikely, extremely improbable. The image of the earth turned into a moonscape does, however, serve very well as a thought stopper. Begin to discuss our realistic, though enormous, challenges with someone and all too often the conversation degenerates into ‘well we are all cooked anyway.’ No. That is not the case. This all or nothing image does not capture what it is we are actually up against. If nuclear weapons are used in the future there is every reason to expect they would be limited to a few. Even if not, the probability remains small that it would cause the biosphere herself to die, as depicted in the science fiction image of the earth transformed into a moonscape. The image is, in fact, a cop out. It saves us from needing to imagine what using these weapons would really entail.

What if a few are used. Are we talking about nuclear, hydrogen or neutron? Full size, or “small,” just a few dozen Hiroshima’s? Are they dropped in city centers or watersheds? Air blast or bunker buster? No, it is not at all likely to be the end of the world, but it could well spell the end of human dignity for a good long spell…

If it so scary to contemplate what it is we actually build with our high tech, hyper-industrialized world that we cannot even discuss it openly in pubic, how are we as individuals to gain the upper hand over this primal fear? What can reason teach our emotions, and what will our emotions teach us? The middle way points us to removing those aspects of unreal abstraction from the image we have of what these weapons can do. We need to deny them their false claims to infinite and eternal powers they do not, in fact, possess. Remember the stars from which we humans copied these tricks; they are not impressed, nor made the less one whit, by our tinkering.

What we do as individuals to clean the nuclear wound is dare to imagine the real. Robert Lifton’s Indefensible Weapons laid out the disease of nuclearism I see currently overtaking many of our leaders on the world stage. The appendix, coauthored with Kai Erikson, is entitled ‘Nuclear War’s Effect on the Mind‘ and has been added to this site. It provides a contemplation of what it is to experience our destructive cruelty as it is embodied in these weapons first hand. It also teaches us important things contemplatives should understand about the mind. I suggest you read it when you have some quite time, maybe light a candle. Read it contemplatively and you will encounter the gun being held against our head by our captors mentioned in last week’s post.

If thermonuclear weapons are used it will not be all or nothing, like the image of the moonscape implies. We will not get off that easily. Our flesh, our descendents if not ourselves, feel every bit of it there is to be felt – if it happens. It is not surgical, quick and clean like a scalpel skillfully applied; this is a huge hammer causing trauma accompanied by lacerations of long lasting fallout as well. As taxpayers, it seems to me, the least we can do is read a few pages about what it is we are paying for at the heart of the military industrial complex. This is imagining the real.