Blame Ecology or Ecologists?

“A mother gives life and this one gives death, and we call this device a mother. What is going on?” he asked.
Pope Francis angered by America’s ‘mother of all bombs’ name, BBC News

“What is the basis for intolerance? This book addresses that question by developing a universal theory about what causes intolerance of difference in general, which includes racism, political intolerance (e.g. restriction of free speech), moral intolerance (e.g. homophobia, supporting censorship, opposing abortion) and punitiveness. It demonstrates that all these seemingly disparate attitudes are principally caused by just two factors: individuals’ innate psychological predispositions to intolerance (‘authoritarianism’) interacting with changing conditions of societal threat. The threatening conditions, resonant particularly in the present political climate, that exacerbate authoritarian attitudes include national economic downturn, rapidly rising crime rates, civil dissent and unrest, loss of confidence in social institutions, presidential unpopularity, divisive presidential campaigns, and internal or external crises that undermine national pride or confidence.”
The Authoritarian Dynamic, Cambridge Studies in Public Opinion and Political Psychology

 

I believe that if we learn to use our words, we can avoid using our fists. Is ecology the problem or is it the ecologists? That pretty much sums up what is lurking in the background of most public conversation and policy making in America these days.

Shred the EPA, bully on through protests around pipelines, discard rules around dealing with corruption in dictatorships to allow the last big oil deals, and seal it all with a Judas kiss to the people who worked and protested for decades to bring ecology to the attention of policy makers. Give corporations a huge tax break, strengthen prisons and arrest protestors; it is rather clear which side of the authoritarian divide is calling the shots these days. It will be interesting to see how the seeds sown over the last few months look come harvest time.

I, personally, am wondering how long it will be before we start seeing the roll out of the new patriotism propaganda. That is the worst. I love my country enough to want to see it deal realistically with its actual problems. The propaganda version of patriotism though, well that is little more than using the flag the way a magician uses a handkerchief to misdirect where you are watching, so they can pick your pockets dry and spill the blood of your loved ones on their fields of profits..

Pretending there is a future for our hyper-consumerism is becoming more difficult of late. The justifications are wearing thin and the blowback is becoming embarrassingly difficult to hide. Though the misdirection of the mass spectacle has been perfected, here and there some folks still look away from the screen and out the window. Those folks see a world very much unlike the one being peddled in the public square.

The petroleum industry assures us we can power past impossible. Their latest marketing campaign, unveiled during the 2017 superbowl, gives away the whole show. The engineers working for the oil companies know more than anyone how the investments in new discovery have not kept up with the needs of projected demand. They know more than anyone that the reserves remaining are not large enough to keep international trade and industrial infrastructure powered as we are accustomed to for much longer. They also know better than anyone that the carbon that remains in those oil reserves should not be burned anyway, if there is going to be a crying chance for our children to have a climate conductive to regular crop harvests. I think it was the engineering side of the house that told the marketing side of the house, “impossible.” It is impossible, from an engineering point to view, to continue powering Homo Colossus with oil. Marketing, as marketing will do, called the engineers sad sacks and immediately came up with their own solutions. The guys over on the sales side of the house knew they could sell the last drops to fools if they could only get enough momentum to jump over the facts, and viola, the new marketing phrase for the petroleum industry was born: Power Past Impossible (.org).

Would you like some twinkle dust with that?

We are doubling down on religious wars and faith in the magic of capitalism. That magic, borrowing money from tomorrow to fund productivity today, has long ago lost its luster. Financial shenanigans are more common than production for bringing investors their required returns, and when production is occurring it is likely to be of poorly made yet overpriced gizmos that serve no human need, but do supply their owner with some token status they are denied in every other aspect of their lives under the big dogs of petro-dollar capitalism.

It turns out big oil and big capitalism were not the kind social guides their spokesmen had made them out to be. It is hard to imagine any course of events that could have shown the world their true colors more clearly than those of the last few years. The ecological evidence in that time has become solid enough to be damning to the faux innocence and naivety by which our overdeveloped countries are conducting their business – the business of big oil and big capitalism.

While we warm up the nukes and double count the ammo, this might be a good time to take a moment or two to reflect on just what it is that is happening to us. We have lost the ability to see a bright future at the end of the consumer rainbow. Those of us who have studied ecology seriously have also lost any easy transitions to an alternative tech future, it is far too late. So we keep smiling and faking it, as if we did not know our way of life has become a disaster for the planet. Meanwhile the anger grows day by day. It is being driven by our survival imperative: you cannot take the species’ future away from it.

Who is in charge here? Certainly not the puppets of history, they are just dangling on the ends of strings more powerful then they could begin to comprehend. Certainly not the ideologues and demagogues who claim to know what these nightmare-level social breakdowns are really about but prove themselves time and again to be clueless. Certainly not some invisible supernatural fallen angels, demons, ghosts or ghouls. No, what ails us is all too visible since oil is in, or involved in, just about every object we touch. The only invisible factors are those of our human psychology.

This is not about preaching to the choir, this is about sketching a picture accurate enough to be of some use. Courage uncovers phobias and airs out the claustrophobic fears by daring to talk about them. Traumatization makes absolutes out of relative facts, so talk is able to puncture their false infinities. Besides, knowing where our temptations are, perhaps we can steel ourselves against their seductions. One of our greatest temptations just now seems to be a willingness to entertain ourselves to death, literally. We want our world leaders and world events to be big and flashy, we want our world to be as exciting as a summer blockbuster.

Goodness lacks the flash of evil. It’s appeal is closer to intimate sex than to violent rape. The quite of contentment and contemplation may seem to lack the drama we have become addicted to. There are no sub-machine guns to mow down a classroom full of children with kindness. There are no love knives we can use to slit the throats of pregnant woman. There are no electrodes to hook up to vulnerable body parts to shock people into caring about what happens to their fellow man. There is just the power of kindness in the honest love between people. Is it going to be enough?

That is for you to decide. Today. While we warm up the war machine.

You should know that there are some who have decided, evidently, that it is not going to be enough. Love is not as sweet as power for these folks. They are itching for a fight, itching to take back what they feel they are entitled to but have lost. Learning to get by with less holds no appeal for them, at all.

Welcome to the war between two world views. Times are getting hard and people are looking for the cause. One world view recognizes the role ecology plays. This view understands that the expansion of giant industrialization is running into the limits of what is possible. Ecological limits to growth is what is ultimately behind the hard times and what we should be adapting to. The other world view denies that and finds the cause of the hard times to be the ecologists – it is an over regulation of business that has driven manufacturing offshore and placed unfair burdens on corporations competing in a global market.

Times are hard and getting harder. Loss is in the air. How will you react? That too is for you to decide. Today. While we warm up the war machine.

I would like to suggest that as you decide between these conflicting world views, that you make your decision using the most careful reasoning and critical thinking you are capable of. Then you will understand why you take the position you do. You will be able to articulate it when necessary, and not be easily persuaded this way or that as the crowd sways first one direction and then the other. That transparency of reason, built carefully using both logic and values, will serve you well – whatever the fates may have in store.

Earth Love: Speech

“And so, thus:
AH
This is known as the Far-Reaching Perfection of Discerning Wisdom in a Single Letter.
They all praised what had been spoken by the Blessed One.”
Buddha

We are surrounded by wonder.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama teaches that each morning when we wake up we should think “How fortunate it is I have woke up. I’m alive; I have a precious human life. I’m not going to waste it; I’m going to use all my energies to develop myself, to extend my heart out to others, to seek to benefit others as much as I can.”

Is this how you wake up more often than not, at ease yet grateful for another chance to play in the streams of ever changing energies? Or do you immediately collapse all awareness into your own individual concerns and your hopes and fears for the new day?

As contemplatives we are training in learning to listen to the experiences within our awareness with increased mindfulness. We train to listen more carefully. Before screaming our agendas to the world it is better to first quietly listen, as if to ask of our body, speech, mind and all the phenomenon of earth, what would you say to me right now? Awaking from our dreaming and dreamless sleeping selves is a good time to recall how many layers consciousness includes. This recollection is easily available if we are able to take a fundamentally grateful attitude towards all the mysteries of being. It is not so easy to access if our fears rule us, for then we want to see our waking selves as the be all and end all of our whole existence. That fear based living is actually even worse for of the waking awarenesses, of which there are many, we give legitimacy only to that ego part that is wholly devoted to our own plans, needs and desires. If all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail. In the same way if we are too anthropomorphic in our view, the whole universe is reduced to what we can feed us.

In those first moments of waking the Dalai Lama’s teaching seems to imply there is a power of sorts to set the tone for our day, to plant a small seed with an aspiration to be our better selves and make the most of the opportunity. His words turn our attention to the “energies” which are a part of our constitution as the way to make this happen. Energy is a good term here to remind us that we are dealing with an ever changing phenomenon when we consider how we will be expressing ourselves throughout the day. This whole dynamic expression of our self is what is referred to as speech in the classic Buddhist classifications of our constitution as body, speech and mind.  This morning aspiration practice is teaching us to tune into the humming of our cellular dynamics, the molecular flows of air and the atomic flows of light that greet us as our sense gates come back online. It is a good practice for health of body and mind to rest a moment in gratitude and listen – is there a bird chirping? A partner breathing? Bustling family in another room? Even the hum of traffic can bring a certain reassurance that the cosmic play goes on. Try to rest at ease a moment and feel the interconnected world supporting your spark of awareness. All these things need to be just as they are for you to have this exact moment of consciousness just as it is.

This wider definition of speech as the whole expression of the dynamic nature of phenomenon is also usefully applied to the environment through which you will be moving throughout your day. The too anthropomorphic view only recognizes speech as an attribute of the human race and so finds the whole universe to be mute. It takes some work to learn to listen to the natural world in such a way that its noises are recognized as communications. The earth has grown silent for us. We no longer sense the deities of the forest, river and mountain nor do we hear the languages of birds and beasts as one that means anything to us at all. Perhaps nothing more poignantly illustrates our alienation from the roots of our culture in the indigenous cultures of our ancestors than this hollowed out silence of a deadened world.

We need to redefine language as communication and not just alphabet and writing. This positions the uniquely developed skills of human language firmly within the evolutionary developments of the earth’s biosphere where the bees communicate with dance, the ants with pheromones, the birds, whales and dolphins with songs and the monkeys with an astonishing range from tender to threatening. An appreciation for the actual ecology of the earth cannot help but include a profound awe before the invisible yet very real webs of communication all around us without which life as we know it could not exist.

What is communication? Isn’t it fundamentally about sharing? As mentioned, it is an expression of the energetic nature of all living things. All living things relate to their organic and inorganic environments to one degree or another and these relationships, are they not expressing a communication of one form or another? There is an irreducible social element involved in ecological relationships. No man is an island – nor is any other living thing. No movement is without meaning. Nor is there any action taken or reaction processed that is without an energetic signature expressing the unique ongoing existence of the being involved. This is the weaving of the world of communications we are training to become sensitive to. The heart filled with a love for the earth wants to share in its dancing.

The Dalai Lama’s advice also includes the phrase that is one of the cornerstones of this blog project; a precious human life. Our skillful use of speech is certainly one of the attributes that makes a human life uniquely precious among all the life forms on earth. With the ability to manipulate alphabets to produce words the range of communication, and with it our awareness, is made more spacious. With our communication artifacts we wield a truly magical power: the sentences and mathematical equations by which we communicate our ideas from one mind to another are not subject to decay over time. Today we can read the poets and philosophers of Ancient Greece and recognize a human mind like our own. This magical ability was well named time-binding by Alfred Korzybski whom we encountered earlier. Time-binding captures the essence of the ability of the written words and maths as well as the drawn, painted and sculpted artifacts of our other symbol systems to communicate across time and space.

The books we have inherited from our ancestors are particularly precious to me. I know of no other medium by which a similar level of detail can be shared from one mind to another. In my opinion it is one of the more worrisome signs of our degenerate times that our bookstores are closing and the pundits are seemingly unaware that electronic delivery of text is not the same. The medium is the message; who really reads War and Peace on their Kindle? This is an aside but worth a soapbox moment. The death of the literate class is threatening democracy and poisoning our resilience against Caesars. It is also indicative of a generation consumed with hubris. We are sure there is nothing of value in the past since we are on our way to our glorious future of endless progress taking us to life extension and space travel. Or, to account for the other half of our hubris, we are so uniquely wicked as to be living in the end times so what does it matter what history might have to teach us? I encourage all my readers to read. Read real books; science, literature, history, philosophy – it is your birthright, your inheritance. Keep the time-binding magic alive and do not let those who would profit from your ignorance win the battle for your mind. Learn to listen to generations other than your own. End of soap box.

This uniquely human form of communication that relies on words is worth considerable contemplation. Have you noticed how your most intimate sense of self is often expressed as the thoughts you think, especially in the more poetic forms? Isn’t it a bit mysterious that this most intimate sense of yourself as an individual depends on a set of words which are wholly a social phenomenon? This is a general experience of contemplatives through the ages: that the most “me” parts inside are found on analysis to include “you” too.

It is a fact that our words, by which we think, each and every one of them, were given to us by the culture in which we were raised. They are a collective invention. After all words are about communication and in communication it takes two to tango. Words carry information only to the degree that we agree on their meanings. They are 100% a gift from our social environment. Last week’s essay mentioned the fuzzy boundaries of the body and now we see another fuzzy boundary. We can ask just where exactly does your self begin and the society of others end when considering the parents, grandparents, teachers and friends by which we learned to speak?

Equally a fact is that the words themselves are arbitrary. They only function due to this social agreement. There is no inherent doggie-ness in the word d-o-g. It is completely empty of such inherent correspondence between the reference and the referent. This too is mysterious and not just a little magical. Who decided b-l-u-e would mean blue? No one. Yet it appears.

I have one last idea about speech to suggest might be worth some contemplative time. In seeking the calm mind of shamata the thoughts are quieted down, which means the stream of words is given a gentle but effective “ssshhhhh…” Funny how using a word to get beyond words can work this way. To get the trick to work effectively though requires a knack of recognizing the windy, energy filled sources of these conceptual streams. To find them it might help to consider this – your voice is the sound of your thoughts. Now there are many voices but they are all yours and recognizable as such. These voices are the internal representations of your ability to speak. They are yours in the same sense that the collective words that are making up ‘your’ thoughts are yours. The difference of course is that the voice is coming from the collective or social phenomenon we experience as our body. Its source is ultimately the DNA as it expressed itself in your particular Evo-Devo unfolding. It is said that if you listen real quietly you can hear the song on the voice or in the voice or of the voice itself. It is said it sounds like AH or perhaps Om Ah Hum all at once. Those who have heard it say the song has no beginning and no end; that its expression of energy is not in time or of time. But these are just words, of course.