Renewing Vows: Yes and Thank You

Mindful
To be mindful is to be aware of what is happening right here and right now.
Ecology
Right here and right now human activity is threatening the future of our species.
Mindful Ecology
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.

Mindful
To be mindful is to be aware of what is happening right here and right now.
Ecology
Right here and right now human activity is threatening the future of our species.
Mindful Ecology
To be aware, right here and right now, of this ecological truth.

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.

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.

Fighting Phobias

“But the truth that increasingly penetrates our consciousness is that everything else – including even nature – is a ‘paper tiger’ in the jungle of nuclear destructiveness.
Destroying most or all of human life is, to say the least, an extreme transgression. But to destroy nature itself in the process is a still further transgression around which we experience a quality of dread, hidden guilt, and nothingness – these emotions frequently amorphous and beyond our grasp, but on the order of ultimate deadly sin.”
Robert Jay Lifton, Indefensible Weapons: The Political and Psychological Case Against Nuclearism

“But US envoy Nikki Haley said national security required nuclear arms because of ‘bad actors’ who could not be trusted.
‘There is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons. But we have to be realistic,’ she told reporters.
‘Is there anyone that believes that North Korea would agree to a ban on nuclear weapons?'”
World nuclear ban ‘not realistic’, says US ambassador to UN, BBC News

 

The United States fears North Korea? Really?

I am a peace advocate, though I am willing to admit there are evil’s in history which must be put down by people of good will. I am not so willing to admit that these so-called “just war” events are always as clear cut, nor as common, as many of our military and political leaders have often tried to convince us they are. The German concentration camps leave no doubt that the evil involved in WWII was an industrialized assault on the dignity of man. These, however, were not the only death camps. We also need to bear in mind that the Russian and Chinese communist revolutions killed tens of millions of people too. Hitler’s threat to the peace was selected as a viable military target, while these other atrocities were not. Why that was so involves many issues of empire, money and history. So while I am willing to admit there are evil’s in history which must be put down, simple black and white ethics fail to capture all that is important for us to understand. This remains the case even in these examples of the most egregious of Homo Colossus’ assaults (to date) against our common humanity.

My friends, we are living in crazy times. Our time is the point of choice between the past and the future. It is born of a recent past filled with frightening horrors that witness to how wicked we can behave, and born of a future in which war and economic collapse seems almost all but certain. When you care enough to want to really know what is going on there is no escaping the need to confront the issue of nuclear war.

There are so many mental traps waiting for those willing to think about nuclear weapons. When the imagination tries to visualize the world after a massive nuclear exchange it is all too easy to turn the living earth into a dead moonscape. It avoids our needed ethical responsibility as creators of these weapons to imagine the painful reality of a wounded earth turned nightmare for those who survive the thermonuclear war our countries are preparing for. This is, in fact, what lies in wait for our children. It is not the moonscape of our apocalyptic fantasies swept clean of flesh and “purified” by the “holy” fires from the contamination of our human touch. No, let us at least have the courage to imagine the real. This is not a game. What lies in wait is a broken, bloody burning permeated inside and out with poisons.

Where do all these threads lead? How did we get here? If we cannot solve our problem with the same thinking that created it, what is that thinking we must abandon?

Anti-nuclear activists have lived with the soul crushing awareness of man’s willingness to pursue his violence to such ignoble ends as these for decades. Some found hope in what has often been spoken of as a new evolution of mankind’s awareness, a great turning that will come when the hundredth monkey finally learns something new. This question of social evolution is an important one, but we need to be wary of magical thinking. There is an almost overwhelming temptation to couch thoughts about our development and deployment of thermonuclear weapons in terms less horrifying than what is really real about it all.

Unquestionably cultural evolution has taken a unique turn under Homo Colossus, one which is having a profound effect on our psyches as well. Contemplate just the role global communications has had in shrinking the planet’s boundaries within your mind’s eye. It is having a profound effect on all of us for how we view the planet and our place within its history. This is a real example of a new awareness, a result of the changing technological environment’s psychological impact within the subjectivity of billons of human beings. Placing hope in this process is not without some evidence, is not just pixie dust. People of goodwill everywhere are working to make these kinds of changes happen but it does not follow that the dawning of the Age of Aquarius is going to be one of sweetness and light. It does not follow that societies will wake up and overcome the temptations to violence that litters our brutal past, and this time threatens, literally, more than we can even imagine in our future.

On the other hand, some such dawning of a real culturally evolutionary insight into the human predicament just might be possible if we set the bar low enough. There seems to be a single habit we social primates are going to need to overcome if we are going to learn anything of lasting importance from these troubled times. We just might learn to stop bowing down to the alpha male. The warrior need not take the place of the wise man as the chief of our tribes.

Ecology teaches us the human race is in overshoot: our population cannot be supplied with its needs from the materials, flesh and chemical, available on this planet as long as the lifestyles of the over-developed world continue. In the past such ethical pronouncements were couched in terms of moral absolutes backed up by religious threats and promises. Ecology offers a wholly different perspective. It points out that yeast also overshoot, given the chance. From the eyes of ecology we human beings are not that much different in this respect. Oil was the fuel source with which we exceeded the limits of sustainability. That is just the way it is, like a river or a mountain. A bit closer to our branch of the evolutionary bush than yeast are the primates. The study of social primates has created a wealth of insight into how their societies are organized around the alpha male: the biggest, baddest fighter asshole of the whole tribe. Human history offers an embarrassingly rich evidence set that in this too, we Homo Sapiens are not very different than other living things on this planet.

I would like to suggest that this particular habit has outlasted its adaptive value. That it just might be the point of self reflexive consciousness to recognize that subjectivity cannot be owned by anyone. The value of every life – poor, orphan, homeless, penniless and powerless – is equal to your own.

In the home of the male chauvinist patriarch, the father owns the women and children. He retains the right to beat them, killing them if need be. The home and all property rightly belongs to him. His enslaved wife and children are tokens, trophies, who only obtain a meaningful existence to the degree that they serve his needs. Judicious rape and violence inflicted on his wife and children keep his reign of terror intact. Though this description used a man, the same dynamics of wicked domination can be played against the weak by a woman as well, though in this case emotional manipulation tends to take the place of overt physical violence. This is the beast of a man, the devil inside.

It is an interesting question to what degree the population of any society can recognize the repressed needs for revenge against the male chauvinist patriarch it is projecting on its asshole-as-leader leaders. Did the revolutionary hero Chairman Mao become a monster to those who followed his Red Book when his actions became more and more despotic? Did the people of Germany in WWII grow disillusioned with Hitler as his derangement became more obvious, or only when the country began to lose its military encounters?

We need to become more skilled in imagining the real.

Climate change will only be addressed when we stop burning fossil fuels. The fossil fuel companies are the largest on earth and do not want that to happen. The unsustainable paradigm of endless economic growth will only be addressed when we stop the technology of fractional reserve banking. The baking-insurance companies are the next largest on earth and do not want that to happen. The need to arm ourselves in the dance of death we call mutually assured destruction will only ever change when the populations of nations refuse to be cowards before the bullies that claim the right to dispense with our existence. The military industrial complex is the largest technological investment in infrastructure, man power and mind power on the planet. By far. It fears only this. There is simply no way any type of violent insurrection against the masters of violence, the state, will ever succeed in anything other than installing a new despot. Change, real change proportionate to the threats our abusers are laying on us, will only come one person at a time.

One person at a time, in their own minds, takes their seat. They renew their roots in the loamy soil from which they come and take comfort that they are watched over by the stars. Try as they might these so-called great men of empire building cannot spoil the very ground with their sickness, nor can their ignorance and terror reach far enough to stain the heavenly hosts with their oily discontent. There is an awful lot of spin, and lies, and fears to overcome to clear the way to reconnecting with our birthrights in the soil and stars. The global psychological experiment of mass media imagery (dreaming with our eyes open) has, among other things, managed to anchor phobias around the end of the world in our bodies. When we learn to sit still with a contemplative practice we encounter them. It will always be this way. The question for us today is whether or not we will admit the way our over-developed societies’ traumatization techniques work to maintain a fear filled population that is willing to allow its leaders to pursue death dealing and the maximization of suffering in our name – for our own good, of course – or otherwise.

One person at a time, in their own minds, takes their seat. They learn the bully is not their creator, that the power to destroy and kill does not also bestow the power to give and nurture life. They learn that though such people claim the right to dispense with your existence as it suits them, these people have no god-given right to do so. They learn the bully is not even right about how the world works, for the bully is blind to compassion. This blinds them to the value of subjectivity expressed in the individual, the very ground from which a meaningful human life can be built. Alone in their towers, the despot can trust no-one. It is a truly pathetic way to be a human being, unskilled in the extreme.

As long as the phobia triggers still work to create panic within you whenever you turn your attention to the man behind the curtain (the ecology crisis and the nuclear threat holding your children hostage), you are destined to remain their puppet. As Sheldon Kopp taught, when you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him; there are no heroes; Superman is not going to save us from ourselves. That’s the final revelation of all those who would use god or so-called supernatural power to justify their lording over others. There is no such god. In that psychologically twisted need there are only humans, bewitching themselves.

Respecting Limitations

“Nuclear weapons are simply the destructive edge of our technology gone wild in its distorted blend with science – what Lewis Mumford calls the final apotheosis of the contemporary megamachine…
I am suggesting that everyone on earth is now in some measure subject to the logic of the hostage and the aura of nuclear terror…
One can only cease to feel oneself a passive guinea-pig victim by rejecting the global experimental death-trap of the nuclear weapons system. One is again an active human being, a creature of worth who rejects deadly experiment, however uncertain the outcome of one’s antinuclear efforts.”
Robert Jay Lifton, Indefensible Weapons: The Political and Psychological Case Against Nuclearism

 

Our task is to imagine the real. We must find the courage to feel what we know.

This is what mindful ecology is asking us to do. It asks us to use the informed rational mind as the firm foundation on which the imagination can ponder implications of what has been learned. When we apply this to ecological information we begin to develop a feel for the value of what is threatened, which is another way of saying we develop a sense for just how cruel and wrong the way we treat the earth and its inhabitants, as well as each other, really is.

Now that we have taken a look at the role of fear and violence in thought reform, aka brainwashing, perhaps we are ready to begin understanding how nuclear weapons have been shaping our collective psyche for the last half century or so. We are all in the kidnapper’s closet and suffering from the Stockholm Syndrome. If the bankers and manufacturers of war material decide they need their politicians to start world war three, there does not seem to be a darn thing you and I can do about it. But that is ok. We hold those who hold the thermonuclear gun to our head in great respect. It has been this way now for about half a century.

It has had a profound effect on our minds. All of us.

It is hard enough to know how Homo Colossus is killing so much of what is beautiful and precious on this earth. When we add to our knowledge the types of hurt our nuclear weapons can inflict on her as well… Don’t do that. Don’t go that far. I guess this is what we are going to need to communicate to those who have the ability to push those buttons: don’t hurt her this way. I fear that if they do, the response might be to create a wholly unmanageable populous. There is a threat to the whole species wrapped up in these weapons. No one knows what happens to a self-conscious species threatened with the destruction of everything it holds dear.

There is a serious disconnect between the tens of thousands of years radiation can remain deadly and the passing diplomatic arguments of our headlines, any one of which might spiral out of control and lead to an exchange of nuclear weapons. Even the most dense among us senses something is profoundly wrong about solving a second grade schoolyard fight by murdering your schoolmates. That same sense teaches us no argument about stocks and bonds, refugees and race, or any other issue-of-the-month will ever be sufficient, in retrospect, to justify a nuclear weapon driven world war.

Yet we are pretending this is not the case. Just exactly as we are pretending it is not the driving of our cars and the manufacturing of our mostly useless crap that is eating the earth alive. If you are not mad, you are not paying attention. If you are not scared, you are not feeling the implications of your thoughts. If you are sure these things do not involve you, well, good luck. Sometimes ignorance and denial are blessed with the highly improbable outcomes. Our existing global policy of enforced make-believe just might lead us through the rest of this century just fine. Honestly though, the odds are against it. The alternative is to courageously examine the evidence. Those who do learn that they become changed by it. We are changed when we allow our hearts to feel what our rational minds conclude about the most probable outcome of our current trajectories.

Evolution provides a vibrant dissensus around the single task given to all living things: to find a means of maintaining an ongoing continuity between the generations of the past and those of the future. This is exactly what is threatened by the ecological crisis. To be clear, the ecological crisis is an emergency level disruption in the relationship of mankind’s overgrown technological footprint, Homo Colossus, and the environment in which it exists, planet earth. When Homo Colossus strides across the earth, ecosystems die. Nowhere is this truth more undeniable than in the potential harm our thermonuclear warheads contain. To unleash even a small proportion of our arsenals would tear the earth’s biosphere-skin in a way unimaginably horrifying. It is a sacred obligation to see that this does not happen. Our job, as Robert Lifton never tiered of teaching, is to imagine the real. Here, too, in the unimaginably horrifying, we must take the ecology our heads understand and contemplatively allow it into our bodies. We must find the courage to feel what we know.

What is the ecological crisis? In most of its details this crisis is one brought about due to missing the need to respect limitations. We have looked at trauma and abuse as the subjective cause for our outward behavior. Perpetrators of abuse refuse to recognize the limitations on their own desires imposed by a rational recognition of their own subjectivity within others. The same lack of respect for limits we display among our interpersonal lives also dominates our relationship with the non-human world.

Our greed, lust and violence each have a hot, physiological aspect which tends to burn itself out, and a cold, intellectual aspect which bears a type of uncanny eternity in our minds. This uncanny eternity tempts us to ignore limitations. In the mind: economic growth can continue forever, how great and powerful an empire can become knows no bounds, and the ongoing elevation of living standards through the globalization of the shopping mall can carry on for the rest of the century; we will double the number of cars on the planet by 2035 or so and double again by 2050, well on our way to happy motoring for all. Outside of the isolated mind, however, out where engineers and scientists interface with the reality of our molecular world, all these things and more immediately run up against stubborn resistance, if not outright impossibilities. It is highly improbable that business as usual will be able to make these things come to pass.

The people know it, the people’s leaders know it, but no one is talking about it with seriousness proportionate to the importance of the subject. This too, I believe, is un-sustainable.

What I want to do with this series of posts about nuclear issues is provide a human tone to the public conversation. I am not looking to persuade readers to my political views. I am hoping to dig deeper than such things, to come from the position where one human being talks with another human being as whole people, not embodiments of ideology. The Atomic Scientists recently moved the Doomsday Clock (pdf) forward an unprecedented half a minute. That resonated with me. My informed intuiting is ringing the alarm bell again; it is telling me we are in very, very dangerous times. Part of what is making them uniquely dangerous is that we do not have any space in which to have serious conversations among ourselves about these things. The time when the news media were being run to inform instead of make a profit is far behind us. In a time of post-truth, when every message in the public square is carrying a secondary agenda to increase the profits or power of those authoring them, we might very well lose our ability to discern what is real from what is not.

Just as it is silence and secrets that keep the victims of an abusive home enslaved to their victimhood, so the threatened family of man needs to learn to speak up about what is wrong if we are to regain our dignity.