Today my American ecology blog hangs its head in shame.
We should never lose an abiding respect for our own awareness, it is equal to any there has ever been. From a recognition of this equality a wholly natural ethic arises. Awareness in the universe is like the contained in a container. This contained and its container consists of an infinity of interdependent interactions, an infinity ceaselessly emerging from emptiness, an infinity like nested dolls. This is not like the fake infinity of mirrors reflecting one another, or words that mean nothing endlessly bouncing off the walls of our media echo chamber. This is an infinity of emergence in an open universe, meaningful emergence – we walk in a sacred world. The world we touch, see, taste, hear, smell and feel includes real boundaries around the right of we who exist, to exist as we exist. Self defensive aggression is the appropriate response to anything that would violate these boundaries. It is, quite simply, an evolutionary imperative to protect these life boundaries from the death dealing that threatens it.
One of the ways these boundaries are being protected are in the expose’s of the techniques of mind exploitation coming to light in our day. The neuroscience research into the role of trauma is another reflection of a new appreciation of the importance of these boundaries. I like to believe history’s bully, the enslaving pyramid builders, just might have finally made the mistake all bullies make eventually. They messed with someone who was stronger than they were. In this case it is the children who are proving to be stronger than the traumatic events of their upbringing.
Derek Jensen’s work is a good example of a bully taking on a child that proved to be much stronger than he. So are examples of those who have survived cult attacks and lived to tell the tale. In children such as Luna Lindsey, author of Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control, we see the same dynamic at play, the same awakening. The old enchantments are not working as well as they once were. Exposes like this would have not have been possible a decade or so ago. Not only is our understanding growing, but the appeal of the BS seems to be declining. It could well be that the very real threat to the real, molecular world which ecology reveals is taking the shine off many of the sadist’s convoluted justifications. The idols of our twilight, as Nietzsche warned us, are deafening in their clanging hollowness.
The poison of fundamentalism itself is coming to light. We have learned about the cycle by which abused kids become abusing parents creating abusing kids, how the panic instilled in the nervous system by trauma leads to the flashbacks and nightmares of PTSD, we have captured the neuroplasticity of emotional circuits becoming fixed when subject to imprinting and understand how such fixities are dissolved, we understand the mechanics of re-enactment of trauma (including war) and the projections and transferences involved, and the list could go on. We know what we do to one another when we allow violence and fear to dominate our lives.
And now we are learning what we do to the earth when we allow this domination by violence and fear to rule our societies. Allowing the alpha males to seek giantism has brought us to the brink of nuclear war and ecological overshoot and collapse. The age of war bands would normally follow where we are today in the cycles of history. I have to wonder about this new thing though, this shadow of our abuse staining our headlines yet also understood more clearly than ever. Our species has understood itself with a transparency that was not here before. The children are arriving crowned, conquering our hearts. Because their eyes see and respect the eyes of the woman and the child, the spider and the crow, they cannot respect what they see in the eyes of the alpha male that would violate the inviolate boundary. They see in those eyes that demonic hunger that seeks only the rape of the body or the mind of the innocent. A hunger that needs to take life after extended moments of suffering in excruciating tortures. An insatiable hunger.
The bully knows this. He knows that once the victimized women and children lose respect for him, there is nothing he can do to force it back into them. They can be made to fear him and pretend to respect his dictates but this is not the same. Once, as David Bowie sang, one knows one knows one knows, there is no turning back. Trauma shatters things that cannot be repaired. This is its tragedy. This, I suggest, is what more and more the children are coming to see in our eyes. They are waking to the subservience we have been willing to pay the pyramid makers. Now that the voices of the unborn have become a howl bearing down on us all, it is hard to not feel haunted and condemned in that glance. There is no helping it. There is a real choice to be made about how you are going to live your life and to what you are going to give your allegiance. Depending on how you choose to make that choice the reflection of yourself you see in another’s eyes will be one of beauty, a gift of the sacred world, or one of rage.
Shattered respect – once gone, its gone. The abusive father, mother or leader, once clearly seen as such, never again get the love and respect they were once offered when naivety and innocence ruled the victim’s mind. Once this disillusionment happens, an escalation of violence on the part of the abuser is never able to get that love and respect back, though that seems to be the way people react when they see the shattering has happened. A person can, perhaps, re-earn love and respect over time but that would require personal transformation on their part. It happens, but not often. Sorry seems to be the hardest word.
Knowing what is honorable among us, and what is dishonorable, it is not hard to live a noble life. The difficulty is that the honorable cannot be seen as long as our eyes are glued to the shiny things narcissistically seducing us. Consumerism tries to stamp us into being something we are not; ruthless competitors after status and power, red in tooth and claw, only kept from tearing one another to bits by strong law and order. We have learned to see in the human being what the economic and production systems of hyper-capitalism see when they look in the mirror. They have usurped their limited liability role to become the template by which we are supposed to view all of existence. Some marketing scheme.
The justifications for authority are crumbling. With the psychological insights such as those just mentioned dawning world wide, the alpha male’s appeal to the divine right of kings, the mystical mumbo jumbo supposedly making right of their might, is losing its ability to fool as many people as it once did. Instead of the dictator looking archetypally luminous, the hero of the people and savior of order from the teeth of chaos, these mass murders begin to look simply and honestly pathetic. And once you know you know you know… It has become evident that psychologically twisted individuals are driven to enslave others and hurt them cruelly anyway they can in order to try and satisfy some inner insatiable hunger for recognition and control over their world. It is up to us as a society to decide what role we will allow these individuals to play in shaping our ideas, institutions and customs.
We know where the great evil lies. After the death camps, after Eichman, there can be no doubt. It is that which allows an individual to shirk their moral duty under the banner of “just following orders.” That is what the banality of evil taught us. So we should do everything we can to encourage those traits that intelligently question orders. We need to support those things that encourages an individual to stand up for common human decency when all around them mobs are marching to a different tune. The greatest danger in massively industrialized societies is how quickly they can be turned into death dealing machines. They do this when war material becomes the be all and end all of a country’s reason for producing anything at all. Coal and pork, steel and children, potatoes and iron are all fed into the war making processes when, when what happens? When a monster takes the reigns and everyone else just follows orders, sir.
Today if a leader is not talking about adjusting the human footprint into a smaller size by using less of the earth’s resources, that leader is simply not leading. That leader is a spokesman for the giant Homo Colossus. There is no rational argument that stands up to critical examination that can justify any other conclusion, given the existing state of ecological knowledge and crisis.
The question of humankind’s ability to adjust to the constraints of the future with any kind of dignity intact is intimately related to what does or does not happen on the war front in this coming century. This, in turn, is related to questions of authority, specifically an individual’s relations to those claiming authority over them. Today our children are indentured servants, if not slaves, to the needs of Homo Colossus. Those currently doubling down on increased economic growth and its concomitant carbon fuel use are quite actively and consciously attacking our children, perhaps torturing them. They tell us it is sad and they are sorry but the earth just does not provide enough for everyone and this is how it has to be. This, too, is another lie the children are waking up to.
How does one honor someone? Not place them on a pedestal, nor cow-tow to an image on which we are projecting our own needs, but finding the actual individual person amidst the incidents of their lives? We honor them when we find something we want to affirm about who they are. What does this mean? What is this something over and above the events that shape our day to day lives?
Some have called it style, the way in which you approach doing whatever it is you are doing. There is a rich tradition of developing this sort of sensitivity to one’s actions. The delicacy by which a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony brings this day’s drinking into the history of all the teas ever drank from the particular tea pot being used is a good example of an attention to individual style being expressed within an inherited, traditional form. The whole reason it is considered a Zen practice is in how drinking mindfully concentrates the mind on the moment by moment unfolding. There is a type of infinite play of containers and contained; these particular people sharing this particular good tea, while the seasons are in just such a point on their circular journey, and humanity writes its history in just this exact point on its meandering way. And we pour the tea, and share it, and it is good.
What makes the moments titillate with awareness in such practices? A deep sensitivity to the interplay of personal and impersonal. And what nourishes this? Respecting the other being with which you are sharing this exquisite moment. A moment never to be repeated. Aware of their awareness, aware of their Self; that something that shines over a whole lifetime but cannot be found in any particular event within it. This Self shows most clearly in the personality or individuality of a sentient being. When we see it rightly, what we see is beauty. It is a breath of the sacred world.
Consider, among all the sentient beings, our favorite, other humans. How someone moves their body, how they hold their head and shoulders tells us of a person’s story. The sound of a person’s voice in the chest, head and in the air all carve a portrait of a being’s unique profile into the atmosphere. In the eyes of each of us their dwells the magic spark of the watcher who has watched the unfolding of this DNA package in all its continuity from infancy and childhood to this year, whatever it may be; 10, 23, 78. In fact what you are apprehending is a never-to-be-repeated in all the history of the universe uniqueness born of fate and circumstance being confronted continually by this mysterious choice maker.
In those choices a Self if expressed. It is not the work of the ego, the choice making is much more all encompassing than that. Schopenhauer’s Will is closer to what actually seems to be the case. The choices that have carved the character being expressed in each moment are a cumulative history of interaction between the needs of the container and the needs of the contained. There are scars all around, this is a world of sorrow, but there are never more scars than skin, so to speak. The gnarled oak is beautiful too, in its own way.
We want to hold the contained responsible. When violence mars our world it is right to hold those responsible responsible. Still, we recognize that the person who committed the reprehensible action is as much a product of this Will as anyone. Particularly now with our insights into neuroscience and the biology of violence it is becoming much more difficult to maintain clear cut distinctions when attempting to assign ultimate guilt. We are beginning to recognize that in addition to the free choice of the individual there are constraints and restrictions placed on the ability of a person to exercise it. People can be made to play out other people’s needs, seek other people’s goals, and eventually carry out other people’s dirty work. Then we could say the individual has been manipulated into serving the needs of the container instead of the contained. They have been enslaved by constraints placed on the expression of their individuality.
These constraints can come from external or internal sources. Externally violence coupled with emotional cruelty breaks the will, as when a prisoner breaks under the administrations of their torturer. Internally the psyche can have the same jailer injected into itself through the use of fear and terror. Psychology in its therapeutic mode tries to make sense of these internal torturers in order to help those whose lives have become dominated by them. For such individuals it is as if an archetypal numinosity holds the ego under its spell. They are enchanted and entranced by gazing at the shiny thing that has captured their allegiance.
These shiny things are fundamentalisms, often religious though not always, which exploit the vulnerability of our wounds. They can be recognized by a type of false infinity that mesmerizes the brain like Mowgli in the coils of Kaa in Kiping’s The Jungle Book. The true believer is possessed by a set of self-referential ideas that never lead beyond themselves. While the ego is captured in the spell of its righteousness, all around the person’s life events become more and more disharmonious. The result is less like breaking a person’s will than obscuring it beyond their ability to recover it. The freedom of the choice maker has been swallowed up by the needs of the holy book and the holy institution it speaks for. Such people robotically carry out the needs of their institutions even when they trespass on the dignity of others and deny them any respect. “I was just following orders.” Religious, political, and economic fundamentalisms all work the same way.
It is our inability to even begin to question if an alternative to consumerism can be seriously considered, when ecologists tell us it is imperative for our survival, that strongly suggests our society is in the grip of a fundamentalism. The giantism of Homo Colossus is our shiny thing. We are worshiping an idol, to use the old fashion way of saying things, and in doing so have lost the liberty of our spirits. Under the harsh administrations of the idol god – over work, constant fear – it is hard for the individual to be heard or seen. It is hard for the individual to be heard or seen by others or by themselves. It is hard to express our style if we do not know who we are. The mass market floods the individual mind with the mass mind, sweeping up all in its path. My dance needs to imitate whatever is hottest this year, my hairdo, my car, my my my…
We have lost the knack of seeing the beauty of the individual. No, you say? Look at all the movie stars and music stars, never have we celebrated the individual more! But these are all actors. Though the magic of their individuality is there, it is the role they play we encounter when we encounter those that are, as we say, bigger than life. In their archetypal roles they too become shiny things. The knack of seeing the beauty of the individual we are losing as a culture is the one that recognizes it in the real flesh and blood individuals we encounter along our way everyday. We no longer expect to be fascinated by these everyday encounters. We reserve our perceptions of beauty for the fake personas designed for our screens and headphones who have taken residence in our pornified or Disneyfied imaginations. The real people around us suffer from our lack of kindness and attention as we respond to them as if they too were just playing roles or acting as stage props. We do this so easily with people these days, with all sentient beings really. Each and every one are carving their beautiful story into the interdependent moment. What will it take for us to once again have eyes that respect what they see when they see another’s eyes?
Living beings are not simple creatures.
“A mother gives life and this one gives death, and we call this device a mother. What is going on?” he asked.
Pope Francis angered by America’s ‘mother of all bombs’ name, BBC News
“What is the basis for intolerance? This book addresses that question by developing a universal theory about what causes intolerance of difference in general, which includes racism, political intolerance (e.g. restriction of free speech), moral intolerance (e.g. homophobia, supporting censorship, opposing abortion) and punitiveness. It demonstrates that all these seemingly disparate attitudes are principally caused by just two factors: individuals’ innate psychological predispositions to intolerance (‘authoritarianism’) interacting with changing conditions of societal threat. The threatening conditions, resonant particularly in the present political climate, that exacerbate authoritarian attitudes include national economic downturn, rapidly rising crime rates, civil dissent and unrest, loss of confidence in social institutions, presidential unpopularity, divisive presidential campaigns, and internal or external crises that undermine national pride or confidence.”
The Authoritarian Dynamic, Cambridge Studies in Public Opinion and Political Psychology
I believe that if we learn to use our words, we can avoid using our fists. Is ecology the problem or is it the ecologists? That pretty much sums up what is lurking in the background of most public conversation and policy making in America these days.
Shred the EPA, bully on through protests around pipelines, discard rules around dealing with corruption in dictatorships to allow the last big oil deals, and seal it all with a Judas kiss to the people who worked and protested for decades to bring ecology to the attention of policy makers. Give corporations a huge tax break, strengthen prisons and arrest protestors; it is rather clear which side of the authoritarian divide is calling the shots these days. It will be interesting to see how the seeds sown over the last few months look come harvest time.
I, personally, am wondering how long it will be before we start seeing the roll out of the new patriotism propaganda. That is the worst. I love my country enough to want to see it deal realistically with its actual problems. The propaganda version of patriotism though, well that is little more than using the flag the way a magician uses a handkerchief to misdirect where you are watching, so they can pick your pockets dry and spill the blood of your loved ones on their fields of profits..
Pretending there is a future for our hyper-consumerism is becoming more difficult of late. The justifications are wearing thin and the blowback is becoming embarrassingly difficult to hide. Though the misdirection of the mass spectacle has been perfected, here and there some folks still look away from the screen and out the window. Those folks see a world very much unlike the one being peddled in the public square.
The petroleum industry assures us we can power past impossible. Their latest marketing campaign, unveiled during the 2017 superbowl, gives away the whole show. The engineers working for the oil companies know more than anyone how the investments in new discovery have not kept up with the needs of projected demand. They know more than anyone that the reserves remaining are not large enough to keep international trade and industrial infrastructure powered as we are accustomed to for much longer. They also know better than anyone that the carbon that remains in those oil reserves should not be burned anyway, if there is going to be a crying chance for our children to have a climate conductive to regular crop harvests. I think it was the engineering side of the house that told the marketing side of the house, “impossible.” It is impossible, from an engineering point to view, to continue powering Homo Colossus with oil. Marketing, as marketing will do, called the engineers sad sacks and immediately came up with their own solutions. The guys over on the sales side of the house knew they could sell the last drops to fools if they could only get enough momentum to jump over the facts, and viola, the new marketing phrase for the petroleum industry was born: Power Past Impossible (.org).
Would you like some twinkle dust with that?
We are doubling down on religious wars and faith in the magic of capitalism. That magic, borrowing money from tomorrow to fund productivity today, has long ago lost its luster. Financial shenanigans are more common than production for bringing investors their required returns, and when production is occurring it is likely to be of poorly made yet overpriced gizmos that serve no human need, but do supply their owner with some token status they are denied in every other aspect of their lives under the big dogs of petro-dollar capitalism.
It turns out big oil and big capitalism were not the kind social guides their spokesmen had made them out to be. It is hard to imagine any course of events that could have shown the world their true colors more clearly than those of the last few years. The ecological evidence in that time has become solid enough to be damning to the faux innocence and naivety by which our overdeveloped countries are conducting their business – the business of big oil and big capitalism.
While we warm up the nukes and double count the ammo, this might be a good time to take a moment or two to reflect on just what it is that is happening to us. We have lost the ability to see a bright future at the end of the consumer rainbow. Those of us who have studied ecology seriously have also lost any easy transitions to an alternative tech future, it is far too late. So we keep smiling and faking it, as if we did not know our way of life has become a disaster for the planet. Meanwhile the anger grows day by day. It is being driven by our survival imperative: you cannot take the species’ future away from it.
Who is in charge here? Certainly not the puppets of history, they are just dangling on the ends of strings more powerful then they could begin to comprehend. Certainly not the ideologues and demagogues who claim to know what these nightmare-level social breakdowns are really about but prove themselves time and again to be clueless. Certainly not some invisible supernatural fallen angels, demons, ghosts or ghouls. No, what ails us is all too visible since oil is in, or involved in, just about every object we touch. The only invisible factors are those of our human psychology.
This is not about preaching to the choir, this is about sketching a picture accurate enough to be of some use. Courage uncovers phobias and airs out the claustrophobic fears by daring to talk about them. Traumatization makes absolutes out of relative facts, so talk is able to puncture their false infinities. Besides, knowing where our temptations are, perhaps we can steel ourselves against their seductions. One of our greatest temptations just now seems to be a willingness to entertain ourselves to death, literally. We want our world leaders and world events to be big and flashy, we want our world to be as exciting as a summer blockbuster.
Goodness lacks the flash of evil. It’s appeal is closer to intimate sex than to violent rape. The quite of contentment and contemplation may seem to lack the drama we have become addicted to. There are no sub-machine guns to mow down a classroom full of children with kindness. There are no love knives we can use to slit the throats of pregnant woman. There are no electrodes to hook up to vulnerable body parts to shock people into caring about what happens to their fellow man. There is just the power of kindness in the honest love between people. Is it going to be enough?
That is for you to decide. Today. While we warm up the war machine.
You should know that there are some who have decided, evidently, that it is not going to be enough. Love is not as sweet as power for these folks. They are itching for a fight, itching to take back what they feel they are entitled to but have lost. Learning to get by with less holds no appeal for them, at all.
Welcome to the war between two world views. Times are getting hard and people are looking for the cause. One world view recognizes the role ecology plays. This view understands that the expansion of giant industrialization is running into the limits of what is possible. Ecological limits to growth is what is ultimately behind the hard times and what we should be adapting to. The other world view denies that and finds the cause of the hard times to be the ecologists – it is an over regulation of business that has driven manufacturing offshore and placed unfair burdens on corporations competing in a global market.
Times are hard and getting harder. Loss is in the air. How will you react? That too is for you to decide. Today. While we warm up the war machine.
I would like to suggest that as you decide between these conflicting world views, that you make your decision using the most careful reasoning and critical thinking you are capable of. Then you will understand why you take the position you do. You will be able to articulate it when necessary, and not be easily persuaded this way or that as the crowd sways first one direction and then the other. That transparency of reason, built carefully using both logic and values, will serve you well – whatever the fates may have in store.
To be mindful is to be aware of what is happening right here and right now.
Right here and right now human activity is threatening the future of our species.
To be aware, right here and right now, of this ecological truth.
Did you know that in deep time when the rise of mammals all over the earth began it was accompanied by the spread of the earth’s first flowers? Mammals, those animals that show such dedication to their young, were encouraged along their difficult way by an explosion of color and shape unlike anything the world had seen before. The flowers continue to witness to an essential characteristic of evolutionary adaptations as they occur in the real world by showing an overabundance of shapes and forms that far exceed the minimum needed to satisfy their reproductive needs. They satisfy the criteria around survival of the fittest, as do all things that persist on this planet, yet this hardly begins to address the role flowering plants have played in earth’s long evolution. The fecundity displayed among such overwhelming variety has been accompanied, always and everywhere, by the additional features of “secondary qualia” which so enriches the sensory experience of sentient beings (at least those with nervous systems) with pleasing forms, enticing scents and vibrant colors.
0 = 2. There is always the container and the contained, the observer and the observed, the inside and outside to all that nature has brought forth as actually existing from the great emptiness of all that might potentially exist. It sustains that bringing forth in every moment. It is of one piece, this unfolding of the present moment at this place, on this earth, with all that has gone before and all that will come to pass. Seamless cause and effect is the sea on which we sail our ships of will.
Have you ever read a book or seen a film about the ecological crisis and felt overwhelmed by what you had been exposed to? The extent and speed with which we are remaking the earth is unprecedented. If even a tenth of the forecasts from ecology’s models come to pass, the day after tomorrow is almost too terrifying to think about.
Mindful Ecology is a way to think about these things.
Most of us are never taught how to go about thinking slowly and carefully about things, nor are we taught to include an awareness of how our bodies are reacting to what we are thinking about. The result is that most of our cognitions remains little more than factoids, toys of the intellect, instead of becoming truths about our world we deeply and immediately understand. Around such truths we can form meaningful lives.
Mindful ecology asks if you are ready to take a radical step, one proportionate to the crisis of un-sustainability we find ourselves in. We are in need of courageous people who can take the fight to the monster in our midst; the collapse of fossil fueled industrial civilization. We are in need of people trained to perform open soul surgery under triage conditions to aid those traumatized by the monster.
More and more people are waking up to the horror of the ecological crisis unfolding at a rapid pace throughout the earth. When the horror penetrates the heart – the mind is left numb. What, we wonder, are we to do?
Mindful ecology is one way of responding. It involves developing a direct relationship with the deepest issues. It seeks a profound understanding of the planetary sciences through contemplating them, thinking deeply about them, allowing them to make an impact on one’s emotions and values.
Speaking of understanding, I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank the authors who were most influential in educating me, and provoking me to respond. Mindful Ecology is my heart felt thank-you for the courage, integrity and honesty I found in their work. I am not sure it can be rightly understood apart from it.
The best minds share seemingly simple models with us and speak only that which is most obvious, once it has been said. It is when we realize they stand alone in their trail-blazing that we recognize the true extent of the genius involved. William Catton’s Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change introduces the key ecological findings pertinent to our actual circumstances in ideas and terms that allow us to think more clearly. Such service is invaluable. Here, in summary, is the story of the ecological message of our time according to Dr. Catton. The oil fueled industrial economy is a detrius feeder, subject to overshoot. The state of overshoot is sustained as long as the phantom acreage on which it relies remains available. In the Age of Oil the detrius feeder found just the food it needed to grow enormous, even giant, life-threateningly giant. Homo Colossus was born, the prosthetic extensions of our human reach through the power of the technology we strapped on our backs. It’s giantism does not respect the limits which must be inherent to all things on our finite earth, its need to grow endlessly is destroying the biosphere. The death of Homo Colossus will likely be accompanied by a population die-off, as is the way with detrius feeders. For those with ears to hear…
The basic statement on peak oil presented in Richard Hienberg’s The Party’s Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies remains a solid accounting of an ecologist persuaded by the Hubbert Curve. There remains no rebuttal to the basic argument it presents, which is a nail in the coffin of Homo Colossus.
John Michael Greer corrects the pervasive dismissal of the real future we are making for ourselves. The Long Descent, a Users Guide to the End of Industrialization and The Ecotechnic Future: Envisioning a Post Peak World, together provide a point of view carefully leavened by historical precedent. It is a corrective to so much that is blindly taken for granted by a society equally smitten by visions of endless technological progress and cosmic sized apocalyptic fears. These books remind us the future we are going to get is the one we are making, which is by the way, much more frightening.
Finally, saving what was most important for me for last, Derek Jensen’s work has a very powerful effect on me. In A language Older than Words and A Culture of Make-Believe I heard a full throated voice, powerful with an honest integrity determined to have their say. To say the way it was for him to be alive in a time of such horrors as those which accompany us along our way today challenged me to do the same. The scream, the revulsion, the human refusal to take the bully lying down or cover up their crimes; all these things speak in his work. They are dark works, flint for the soul in a dark night. For those to whom they resonate they bring the full bodied human being onto the front lines to confront some hard truths. Homo Colossus abuses the earth. In the final analysis it’s toxicity was born from us, from our abuses of one another.
This shows us a way forward.
To be mindful is to be aware of what is happening right here and right now.
Right here and right now human activity is threatening the future of our species.
To be aware, right here and right now, of this ecological truth.