Respecting Facts

We humans have a funny way of dismissing that which we do not like. We decide that it is not real, or does not apply to us, or perhaps, whatever it is that is troubling us is transformed through the magic of language into a battle of wits and words, leaving the real world issue far, far behind. Some facts from the real world, just to remind us:

World population has tripled since 1950
40% depletion in ozone above the Arctic in 2011
Waste is created at the rate of 13.3 million tons a day
1/3 of all land is at risk of turning into desert

These are taken from a colorful DK publication now available in the states, What’s Really Happening to our Planet: The Facts Simply Explained by Tony Juniper. The book hosts page after page of infographic descriptions of the numerous pressures coming to bear on us as we reach the end of the fossil fueled industrialized age. It is a very handy source for those who might be looking for a single book to provide a summary of ecological data and trends. There are a number of criticisms I could make, such as leaving out the concept of tipping points and including a bit too much of the green gee-whiz factor, but they are mostly minor. There is plenty of material here to provide the seed facts for ecological contemplations, particularly if supplemented with additional study.

This book is a good example of the type of information that lead me to think about what a mindful ecology might mean. After reading a book like this – then what? Am I supposed to just go back to business as usual? That was not an option for me, so I asked, what is an individual to do? For people like me, changing a few light bulbs and hoping ‘they’ will think of something, when the last few decades show ‘they’ most certainly will not, is just not enough of a response. Mindful Ecology tries to be proportionate to the crisis. It is a serious and big change to alter one’s life around a contemplative practice. Undertaken with the intention of healing the fractured relationship between our lives and our planet, we learn to embrace the limitations of our own lives – as they really are – and do what we can.

The art of contemplating a fact consists of turning it over and turning it around, giving it a slow and respectful examination in one’s mind. We look at the fact from many points of view, trying to sus out its relationships with other things we already understand in a search for the fact’s implications. This introduces us to the larger interdependent features which are often easily missed unless we are very careful in how we think about things. Facts never exist in isolation, nor do we ever bring an empty mind to our contemplations. System science insists that when we query our facts we ask ‘and then what?’ Have we accounted for all the inputs and outputs? For the side effects? Have we clearly separated the one way path of whatever energy is involved from the recycling of materials? Have we accounted for thermodynamics along the way, what we often encounter as the phenomenon of diminishing returns? These are means by which seemingly isolated ecological factoids, such as one finds scattered throughout works like this one from DK, are knitted into the larger understanding of the real world one’s mind has constructed.

It is important to recognize this model of the real world each of us has constructed within our psyches, it is part of recognizing that the psyche is real. The meaning of the world that we experience is a product of the unique understanding each of us has developed over a lifetime of experience. In the Bayesian model of inference this is captured in the prior. Parts of that understanding will have been constructed with right thinking about real things and other parts will not. We can all be quite sure that much of what we are quite sure about, is not so. There will be cases of right thinking being applied to unreal things or wrong thinking applied to real things, or even wrong thinking applied to unreal things. One role of the ego, among many, is to guide this gathering of information by which our understanding increases. Through an interplay of the gift of curiosity and the curse of needing to find an answer to relieve oneself of confusion and pain, we are each lead to learn more about that which our soul’s need, what our psyche’s need to fully integrate their experiences. Contemplation increases understanding but not if one spends all one’s careful thinking time thinking about BS. The horns of a rabbit visualized in exquisite detail, or documented in libraries full of scholarly volumes, or even delivered by the special effects department to every television in the land, do not gain one whit of real existence thereby.

Shadows remain shadows of that which is casting them, fantasy remains fantasy and confusion sews more confusion unless these things are transmuted in the alchemical vessel of imagination. In our fantasy enthralled culture the role of imagination is very poorly understood. The image making ability of the human mind is in service to the real human life one is able to lead out here in the environment of the earth’s molecular world, out under the blue sky and stars. The imagination concerns the heart’s deepest dreams – and wounds. It takes a strong imagination to perceive the possibility of happiness in the future, not as an abstract goal but as something you can actually strive for in your own life. We prefer fantasies about how our lives might be because our real ones are defined by limitations. Your actual life, the one that is really even now unfolding its precious few moments, is defined by the limitations your character will encounter along its path of fate and fortune. This real life you have can only be seen as valuable when it is clearly understood that you are living the life of a finite mortal who will one day die having had only a very, very small taste of all that human life has to offer. To take our seat as adults and claim our equality with other sentient beings requires seeing this clearly, recognizing it is the same for everyone else, and saying to these very limitations ‘yes’ and ‘thank you.’

Limits chafe the fevered dreams of ego’s ignorant beginnings. When we first set out on the long road of psychological development we are on our hero quest. We learn to build our ego to be strong enough to serve as a vessel for the raging winds of the life force animating our bodies. This is how the mind first grounds consciousness and gives us our sense of being our own point of view, our own self. The heroic ego dreams of becoming a god; it is foolish enough to believe it wants to be a god instead of love a god. This is what the hero learns in the Grail Castle, when the quest is completed and the happily ever after takes over. Not everyone has made it to the castle yet. Many still dream of being god-like instead of human. Many of those who dream of becoming gods cloak their hubris in a type of twisted faith; they claim simply to be serving gods of limitless power. They are but the humble true believers. The give away is in how, inevitably, a human voice somewhere along the line of authority assumes the mantle of that limitless power that rightly only belongs to god alone. Doing so, for a human being, is a suicidal act of self denial.

Limitless righteousness brings nightmares of cleansing fires and sacrificial lambs slaughtered by the hundreds of millions. ‘Great alpha male in the sky, god of thunder and war, have we not become equal? Was there ever a priest more holy than I, more important than I who push the red button?’ Some such bewitchment awaits anyone who ventures so far from home. It is one thing to be on a hero’s quest, quite another to be way-laid by Dracula.

Limitless money, limitless shopping, limitless sex, limitless knowledge, limitless war and conquest, limitless fame, limitless power, limitless holiness, limitless depravity, limitless ecstasy, limitless fresh water, limitless fresh air, limitless crop land, limitless time to address our problems, limitless oil, limitless ego – drinking saltwater, the hungry ghosts trying to slake their insatiable thirsts never find the satisfactions they so desperately seek. Ungrounded, they are torn apart by the star gods, becoming little more than limitlessness twinkling darkly in shells of human beings devoid of compassion, little more than mouths shouting ‘more.’ Why are the hungry ghosts taught to be ghosts? Because they have not become real by recognizing they have been given, in fact, what they need. And that that is enough. Are you breathing? That is the evidence. These false infinites are the dangers that haunt the mind untrained in the disciplines of yes and thank you which arise from the heart. These are what tempt and tease our minds, attempting to strong arm their way into how we perceive the world, draining it of all human sense. Soon the simple pleasures of sex, romance, love and children, shared food and drink, the songs we sing together while dancing in our colorful costumes, somehow all this and more is just not enough. The Buddha’s graveyard vision of the young maidens as disgusting as corpses and the world but one of sorrow, this is what haunts the minds of those traumatized by the modern world. These minds have yet to ride the rafts and visit the isle of non-duality, the nirvana of our nature. They are stuck in the Buddha’s ascetic extreme. They have yet to soften in acceptance of a grain of rice from the hand of a maiden, in acceptance of loving kindness from others.

The husks of understanding these mind parasites leave their victims to feed on make it seem that the best way out of our current ecological predicament is through an all out nuclear holy war. Out in these extremes, where exponential curves never encounter limits, are the howling winds of hell on earth. They can trap us in a prison of madness if we let them.

Your life, what is it in fact? Whatever you are actually able to experience, achieve, accomplish, perceive, absorb, understand, partake of, participate in, share with others, receive from others, and generally the way you carry your body, speech and mind throughout your life span. That is your life. Something larger than our day to day selves makes its appearance across the span of a life considered as a whole. This is what Carl Jung was referring to when he talked about the archetype of the, capital S, Self. The Self is a way of approaching discussion about a psychological fact, namely, that the unconscious mind or larger psyche contains an imago dei, an image of god. This archetype is a psychological feature of the inner world the ego must learn to relate to. As an image of how an individual encounters god, Jung found it played a central role in the healing or disintegration of the psyche which he observed in his patients. He taught that the Self is related to wholeness and integration, individuation and meaning or, when inverted, shows its flip side as dark authoritarianism, a possessing spirit, a numinous complex capable of over powering and bewitching the ego. This inversion is the psychological reality of the demonic as it is projected into totalitarian social movements and the mass sacrifices of life, dignity, and compassion involved in the brutalities of indiscriminant war. But if it was the image of god in man’s psyche that Jung wanted to draw our attention to, why did he name this archetype the Self?

Things that might seem the right things to do or think or feel today, may not seem to have been so wise from the perspective of tomorrow. We learn this as we age. In learning it we are to gain a more critical appreciation of the understanding we have at any given moment. We learn that our conscience, that still small voice, that it too grows wiser. In every moment of our lives we have been operating from the best understanding of ourselves and our world of which we have been capable of. Yet not one of us knows where the inevitable confusions still lurk. If we knew that, we would not still be confused. This teaches us to appreciate the real nature of the prior understanding of the world and our place in it which we bring to any new study we might undertake. Honest humility is the result. Ours is a limited understanding, one shot through with mistakes but not without worth because of that. The mistakes are, more often than not, motivated and not simply random errors. Psychological factors are at play when we deliberately or ignorantly misunderstand that which is real and allow fantasy to usurp imagination. Those threads of confusion lead our understanding further. This is hopeful but errors remain errors none-the-less, sins in western parlance. Knowing even our best understanding is bound to have errors, we would be wise to bring our very best to bear on our problems of critical importance. It does not help matters to deliberately introduce falsehoods, obscurations, distractions and stubborn denial of facts, all backed up by violence, when the real state of our prior understanding of ourselves and the world we live in does not jive with what we want it to be. Isn’t that, more or less, what we are doing today in our public discourse about ecological matters?

This is not academic. This is what is keeping our society from starting a sane discussion about our un-sustainability and what we might choose to do differently. Our understanding has changed, our prior in the Bayesian equation, yet we are not able to bring it to bear when we are called on to interpret the ongoing data stream of evidence from the ecological sciences.

Our understanding of the earth’s climate has evolved over the last century into one of the most impressive scientific studies ever undertaken by mankind. Today we know so much more about its defining characteristics then we did when we first started burning fossil fuels that it is a cognitive lie to pretend our understanding, because it necessarily includes mistakes, is insufficiently developed to support the alarming and terrifying conclusions of the ecologists studying these matters. The same could be said for so many other areas of our crisis from over fishing to drawing down aquifers and all the rest.

I think every important public discussion should start within the full acknowledgement that the facts are facts. That the ecological facts are, at least roughly, as laid out in summary form in works like What’s Really Happening to the Planet? As it states on the back of the book, “Now is the time to understand this heart-stopping subject.” Our way of life needs adjusting, it is un-sustainable and this is what that means. It seems the only question is whether or not the public is going to have any chance to weigh in on this at all, or not. So far the real discussion we need to be having has not even begun. Families throughout the earth’s many nations and our interests, when they conflict with those of corporations about what we should be doing right here and right now, are nowhere to be seen or heard.

We have got to grow the economy. Really? We need to shrink the economy, nothing less will begin to reduce the oversized ecological footprint that is our un-sustainability. We need to drive our cars less, worse, we need fewer cars on the road. The average car is contributing 5 tons to global warming gases annually. 5 Tons! We should start talking about how to pay people to stay home and how to stop making any more of these things. We need to decentralize our power generation, reduce the peak requirements it needs to meet and thoroughly re-create the daily life of those living in the overdeveloped world to use less electricity and transportation fuels in the process of acquiring what they need to sustain their daily life. These are just a few of the obvious conclusions ecological study suggests. That they are impossible to talk about seriously in the public square is a measure of our collective psychopathology.

Drawing logical inferences from limited data sets, reasoning, is not a free for all. To reason is to update what we believe in light of new evidence. The book we have been discussing summarizes, in about 200 pages, a boat load of serious evidence demanding our collective attention. Today we live in denial of the true implications of that evidence. We fear drawing the correct inferences. If we continue to refuse to use our reason in planning for the future, what will we use in its place when the shocks of ecological and societal collapse continue to grow in strength and frequency and things become, shall we say, more desperate? Blood and soil?

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?

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.

Pied Pipers

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
Aldo Leopold, The Land Ethic

 

We have been looking at our times through the lens of the Limits to Growth study and asking how these trends might unfold in the reality of our molecular world. To strengthen ourselves for the battering of history’s bitter headwinds we took some time to review the core values that inspired many of those involved in the founding of the U.S. as a democratic republic. We found our Deist forefathers were dedicated to creating a political space in which reason and debate might play a larger role than bullying force and claims to divine revelation. It was my contention that this governing apparatus had been so thoroughly taken over by business interests it no longer reflects any of the other values we still find in the will of the people.

To run the risk of gross oversimplification to achieve a good summary statement we can hang our hat on as we think about these things, how’s this: the United States government, from the lowest bureaucrat to the highest office in the land, has put the needs of its businesses and financiers before the needs of its families and specifically its children.

There have always been competing interests between workers and owners, the highborn and the lowborn, but our time is characterized by an unprecedented inequality bearing witness that the balance of these competing interests has been lost. It is within this context that the malignancy of the politically dogmatic true believer grew cancerous on the body politic. Uncompromising, this new breed of American politician has no need for dialog or debate since they have no intention of compromising at any point. The most common outcome has been a stalemate that is keeping our country from effectively addressing, or even discussing, it’s ever increasing bundle of serious issues that are leading us to social and economic breakdown. Stalemate, by definition, ends the ability to bring intelligent adaptation to changing circumstances. It perpetuates the status quo, the current arrangement of power that places the needs of a rich CEO before the needs of a poor child every time.

It should go without saying that there are more than a few things we really should be working hard to adapt to just now. A few come to mind worth calling out just to remind us what the 3D reality of our molecular world is looking like these days out beyond our bewitching 2D screens. Changing weather patterns threaten the global food supply; if both the Russian and American breadbaskets have off years at the same time there are no contingency plans. The pressures leading to real bullets now being used in the race/class war are not being relieved nor is the desperation born of the decay of our inner cities. Any substantial disruption to the oil markets would send the global trade system into a tailspin and with that, who knows how many vital services would be found to no longer function? Perhaps most serious of all for our long term prospects is that with each passing day most people feel just a bit more cheated, taken advantage of and used by the powers that be. I won’t add to the list the many, many specifically ecological issues around depleted resource sources i.e. the over fished ocean, or the overwhelmed pollution sinks i.e. the tens of thousands of gallons of fresh water being poisoned every few minutes in the fracking fields and left to slowly seep into our aquifers.

It is not hard to understand why the Donald Trump campaign has been so popular in our time. Against this atmosphere of stalemate he comes presenting himself as the great deal maker. Against the political system dominated by wealth he comes claiming to be unbeholden to any special interests. It is not hard to understand how his campaign can be seen as a last ditch effort to save these democratic institutions of our forefathers by allowing him to execute a sort of radical reform from within. Who doesn’t hope for such a thing?

Bernie Sanders’ ‘socialist’ campaign was also offering the idea that a radical reformation from within the system is still viable. The criticism of Hillary Clinton is that while she claims to have absorbed Bernie Sanders’ message, she is a known entity with a long track record of fighting for her causes well within the confines of the status quo.

Donald Trump of course is just the opposite; a completely unknown political entity with little or no political record by which we might judge what his presidency might actually be like. He is an ink blot on which we are projecting our hopes and fears. Because the needs of our time are so great and the viable options so few, there is a very real danger that we might elect him for what we think he represents and find it has little or no relation to what a Trump presidency factually delivers.

Talk about being between a rock and a hard place. A vote for the status quo is a vote to allow the socially debilitating inequality to continue growing. A vote for the ‘change agent’ is a huge, unknowable wager on a person who at least seems to be a violent misogynist racist but also bears some of that coarse but honest manner we prize in the ideal of the American character; his refusal to kowtow to the scions of political correctness has struck many citizens as a breath of fresh air.

Which brings me to the point I want to make about out time for those of us who have struggled to obtain some grasp of the most probable outcomes of our current trends in light of self-evident truths. Our past choices have limited our present options. Eventually such a process leaves you with no good options, just a choice between lesser evils and sometimes it leaves you with no real choice at all. One of the most important points I have been trying to make is that the ecological crisis is the largest context – the one in which the crisis of civilization, of politics, economics and war will all play out. Here is the thing. The ecological crisis is a predicament we need to learn to live with, not a problem with a solution.

Far as I can tell this election year is just the same dynamic. Within the framework of acceptable political discourse there is, as yet, no way to discuss relevant adaptations to our most fundamental challenges. As long as we insist “the American lifestyle is non-negotiable” we will be unable to have any serious discussions about the most critical features of the changing reality we find ourselves in.

The alternative of course would be to begin to have a serious world-wide conversation about energy use, similar to what Jimmy Carter once tried to start. We would discuss what quality of life and a just distribution of goods might look like in an age of diminishing material throughput. We would discuss contingency plans for cases when natural disasters or acts of war cause large life supporting infrastructures to fail. Perhaps the biggest subject of all we really should be discussing this election year is the one James Kunstler tried to get us to start when he published The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape in 1993; how will our nation of suburbs function once the cars run out of gas?

There is nothing we can do to get our single earth to supply the resources the industrial world wants to use to maintain its economic growth and technological progress. Whine, cry, stomp our feet, and pound our fists as we might, nothing is going to supply us with a second earth to use up. That is what it means that the unsustainable will not be sustained. As long as we are foolish enough to think this is a problem that can be fixed we will remain, personally and socially, susceptible to Pied Pipers promising us what we want to hear.

The good news is that the future will not fit in a box; not the economist’s or the ecologist’s, not yours, not mine. It will be fresh and full of surprises. Bleak as things might look at times, that is never the final word. The other good news is that leading a happily meaningful life is usually available to each of us the moment we choose to make it so. As contemplatives we do not wait for the world to be fixed before allowing ourselves to find peace within it. As contemplatives we do not shy away from the hard truths but use them to feed our compassion. What then is there to fear?

This is the Age of Ecology. To walk the path of beauty today necessarily entails embracing some form of Leopold’s land ethic. Serving the land aligns an individual with substantial alternative forces alive in the present moment; the living heart of indigenous cultures everywhere. Serving the land roots one in a value system that reaches far deeper than anything the ephemeral electronic culture can offer. Serving the land teaches one to think like a mountain. I think Milarepa would approve.

Hyperobjects

People who have taken the time to learn the facts about the ecological situation of earth are typically shocked by the bleak starkness of the scientific message. Those who take this knowledge to heart and attempt to feel it are immediately struck by an inability to fully grasp the reality of the whole cursed thing. Some of our philosophers agree. Timothy Morton claims circumstances like climate change are Hyperobjects in a book by the same name – they have a dimension that remains out of our reach. His analysis is that the modern mind is incapable of appropriate comprehension; it grows numb before the immensity of what he calls ‘A Quake in Being.’ He writes, “hyperobjects are futural… they scoop out the objectified now of the present moment into a shifting uncertainty.” (pg. 122) In other words if climate change, bottleneck, overshoot and all the rest of the ecological blowback is really real, everything about the way we live our lives today is subject to an uncertain future.

One aspect of that uncertain future remains highly probable, namely, that if any of those ecological scenarios truly describe it there is going to be a lot more suffering on this planet. Already we suffer from powerlessness as it is not at all clear there is anything individuals can do that is going to be nearly effective enough to make much difference.

We are polluting our nest and tearing down our home because we have lost touch with our human nobility. Last week touched on the role of our intention to act without harming the earth or bringing additional suffering to sentient beings: ‘Our intention could be said to be the simple desire to see the end of unnecessary suffering for ourselves, our species and the whole of the living earth.’ The point was made that however mixed our motives might be, we should recognize that which is inspiring our better aspirations is a factor of our being that is clear, even pure – something steady we can rely on to guide us. Here we come to the loadstone of the path, the magnetic radiance that gives our questions of purpose and meaning a bearing of true north. Compassion is large enough to include a land ethic. This ethic carries universal appeal without relying on any particular religious or philosophical framework.

Of course it is also said the road to Mephistopheles backyard is paved with good intentions. Once someone has become familiar with this material they face a serious choice. We can put it all down the memory hole and forget about it as much as possible. Not that hard while getting through the busy day. If we choose not to forget about it the question then becomes rather basic, focused, and simple; what can I do?

The point of this blog project is to share the idea that learning to work with our minds is one of the wiser things we can do. We cannot solve our problems with the same mind that created them. There is profundity and depth easily accessible through contemplating these ecological subjects. They concern each and every one of us and our loved ones and our hopes for the future and thoughts about what it is to be a human being. It is not surprising that this crisis brings forth visceral reactions in us.

I am suggesting that those of us who prepare ourselves now for the fallout stand a better chance of being of benefit to others in the days to come. I am also suggesting that those who are suffering from the knowledge of our precarious situation can find comfort and strength in the contemplative sciences. In adopting the contemplative traditionsI do not suggest we hijack another culture’s traditions wholesale but instead work hard to find the way our own understanding can be put into its service. This entails looking at our scientific accomplishments.

Starting next week our discussion will take up a model of the human mind rooted in evolutionary psychology and neuroscience. It provides a context to understand the contemplative practices we are exploring and the reason why compassion is at the heart of all our efforts. Understanding the nature of our body, speech and brain as the results of the evolutionary process provides a ground for a self compassionate acceptance of our shared humanity with all its follies and wisdoms. As we will see, self compassion tends to be a tricky beast for most of us.

An argument could be made that we are polluting our nest and tearing down our home exactly because we are lacking in sufficient self compassion. If we truly were motivated by a desire to nurture ourselves, wouldn’t we insist on shifting our societies towards more sustainable practices? Wouldn’t we insist on taking better care of ourselves and loved ones than working in the grinding rat race that could very well be destroying our home?

There seems to be a lack of appreciation of the noble dignity we humans embody. In the history of ideas some scholars have traced this to the discovery of evolutionary theory. By this way of thinking we lost our nobility when we were seen to be descendants of animals. The presentation of evolution as a theory of competition instead of cooperation and as a mechanical process instead of one everywhere displaying an embodiment of mind, has removed the traditional supporting justifications for considering the human state precious. It is rather interesting that this presentation of evolutionary thought is just what is needed to justify the social relations found in capitalist societies.

We will begin looking at this next week.