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.

Riding the Abused

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

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

 

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

 

 

Tick Tock, Tick Tock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All that is rather bleak, isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

Citizenship

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Dead Things?

“My way has been to scour the whole world through.
Where was delight, I seized it by the hair;
If it fell short, I simply left it there,
If it escaped me, I just let it go.
I stormed through life, through joys in endless train,
Desire, fulfillment, then desire again;
Lordly at first I faired, in power and in speed,
But now I walk with wisdom’s deeper heed.
Full well I know the earthly round of men,
And what’s beyond is barred from human ken;
Fool, fool is he who blinks at clouds on high,
Inventing his own image in the sky.
Let him look round, feet planted firm on earth:
This world will not be mute to him of worth.”

Goethe, Faust. Part Two: Midnight

 

What is the role of consciousness in the universe? I think this is a very meaningful question in light of the failed relationship between consciousness and its container which the ecological crisis displays. It is worth spending some time mulling over, contemplating, even, as we will do today, speculating about.

First we should take a moment to appreciate how far our self understanding as a species has come. We understand the role of evolution through deep time so well, that today we read it at the molecular level like a vast clock. How much further might we grow into understanding what we are in another thousand years? Another ten-thousand?

How, we wonder, can the nervous system and hormone systems of the body work with the massive neural networks in the brain (and gut) to produce what we subjectively experience as awareness? As Francis Crick rightly pointed out in a book capturing the essence of our position, to believe mind arises from matter, given the Cartesian split between them modern science assumes, is an Astonishing Hypothesis. For all the world, it does in fact seem to be case that properly structured matter produces mind. But what is the cosmos herself but structured matter through and through? And is it not shot through with information in the patterns it displays? And, finally, is not information the currency of intelligence? Intelligence is the central feature of evolutionary adaptation, the means by which living things participate intimately with their environments. Notice how this requires that we grant awareness of that environment to that which evolves – we are back to the question of subjectivity.

We have become comfortable with the idea that dead things exist. Not the trivial difference we recognize between here is a live cow, there is a dead cow. We have become comfortable with a conception of death that is absolute. This allows us to see things, such as oil and the other minerals used to build Homo Colossus, as mindless items we are free to do with as we please. This attitude towards the geological strata extends then to molecules in general. These too can have no purpose or meaning since they have been placed into this strange category of wholly dead things. Then we learned about molecular pathways in biochemistry. Watching the molecular exchanges within living tissue we gaze at life’s metabolism, the magic by which it’s homeostasis is sustained. Life arising from absolutely dead molecules. The philosophical blowback has been extreme: the logic of the Cartesian premise condemned our own self-consciousness to be classified as evidently dead as well, resulting as it does purely from molecular interactions.

Which leaves us a choice. We can either admit we were in error about this whole ‘we are the only fully aware living being on this dead earth’ thing. We can either admit we were in error, which will entail a new relationship between humanity and the living earth, one characterized by much more concern and care. Or we can carry on the war of all against all. In this view only the small spark of human self-consciousness is really real and, we fear, even that is likely nothing more than a delusion from start to finish; a curse from a meaningless, mindless universe. This small spark of awareness, alone in a dead universe full of rocks and fury but no mind, suffers, knowing what the rocks do not. In this view there is only one way to end suffering: to become unaware like the dead rocks (which we assume is absolute).

Opposed to this is the ecological view. It is supported by the evidence of our sciences and the great spiritual traditions of our ancestors. This view sees that which we walk upon is not a dead rock but a living earth. It is a place in which every fully interdependent thread is inseparable from a feeling and a thought somewhere, somehow. This view comes to those willing to grant subjectivity to all living things and information, if not intelligent mind, to the very rocks themselves. This view is true, you know, within the great all-inclusiveness of interdependence. The view of absolutely dead things actually existing, as they say in Tibetan debate, is not the case.

Let the soil and the compost heap be our guides to understanding our earthly sojourn. In the soil we learn how even the rocks serve the needs of life, lending it support and critical functional elemental capabilities at the molecular level. From the compost heap we learn that even death is turned to the service of life. We learn that life and death are actually two sides of the same coin, complementary like a wave and a particle.

We have prided ourselves on our heroic stance. We human animals, alone of all the species, were made aware of what we are, our position in the great scheme of things. It was a lousy position, meaningless. But we put on our stiff upper lip and got on with the business at hand, namely making a lot of money. We compliment each other on the unique courage by which we can finally face who and what we really are: evolved apes that are little more than robots sent out to battle against the stars.

Oswald Spengler was sure the Faustian myth captured the essence of our western civilization. Faust, you will recall, was a great scholar but all his learning and studies left him unsatisfied. He longed for absolute knowledge, unlimited knowledge, with a healthy dose of worldly pleasures tossed in for good measure. The myth has captured our scientific devotion in its sketch. Science has given us unprecedented understanding of the molecular world, but has not satisfied the cravings for meaning lodged in the human heart.

To obtain these desires Faust makes a deal with the devil. Have our cultures not been willing to sacrifice moral integrity for the success we have achieved? Ah, but the devil was a liar from the beginning. The Cartesian split is a lie. It said we needed to make a choice between our hearts and heads.

We understood that knowledge was power and if there was anything this poor pathetic orphan of a species, all alone on this isolated dead rock circling a non-descript star needed, it was power. Due to the Cartesian error we expected we would have to pay the price of sacrificing our emotions to gain that knowledge. It was not so much that there would be no emotions along our way. Though we prided ourselves on our objectivity, in fact, as the Faust myth illustrates so poignantly, what we did was allow the search for knowledge to blind us to the truth of our emotional nature. In our hunt for achievement we bound ourselves to competition, blinding ourselves to the value of simplicity and contentment. Ethics and compassion took a back seat in our dealings with “the real world,” the one only we moderns ever had the courage to perceive truly.

These seem to be some of the unspoken assumptions of the world we live in. I don’t think they stand up to conscious, rational examination. The heroic stance we have taken in the west was for the sake of learning to think rationally about what is real. We made heroic sacrifices in our pursuit of that knowledge, for which we should be rightly proud. We should not let our disillusionment in its dark side delude us the way it is doing now.

What our Faustian program uncovered was exactly what it set out to find, a universe of dead rocks ruled by the second law of thermodynamics, thoroughly meaningless and without emotion. Just as a patient with a neurological disorder that prevents emotion from participating properly in their reasoning soon finds that their reasoning is ultimately meaningless, so to culturally; our search for knowledge at the price of emotion found the universe to be meaningless as well. Today, of course, we have learned that it is in the nature of things to find what we are looking for. Build an apparatus to find a wave and you will not capture data about particles, though that does not necessarily mean there is no particle data to be had if other tools were applied to the observations.

We moderns wonder, how could there be a feeling in the attraction of the electron to the proton? To entertain such thoughts, we are quite sure, is to indulge in the crudest anthropomorphism. Yet, we fear, if it is not there among the particles, how could it really be in any of the myriad things they produce, including ourselves? Are we no more than chemical robots, meat puppets fooling ourselves that our awareness of our awareness means something more, something else?

We trip up on the role of awareness. To admit the electron is ‘attracted’ to its mate with an element of love involved, seems to ascribe to elementary particles the same conscious awareness we are familiar with, which is patently absurd. Is it only metaphorical to say the electron is attracted to the proton like lovers? It must be. Yet… We are left wondering just what the role of metaphor actually is in the embodied minds we think with. In a world of will and representation, many of the modern conceptions of consciousness are just too small to carry the full burden of the evidence.

And because consciousness is directly accessible to everyone, we all know a lot more about all this than we tend to give ourselves credit for. It would be good if we could befriend this western wound. Compassion is called for. Goethe’s treatment of Faust is in two parts, the first of which ends in tragedy. Parallels with our own circumstances are obvious. Part two of Goethe’s Faust, written years after part one when Goethe was an older man, begins with the spirits of the earth forgiving Faust, and mankind. How this, too, has parallels with our own circumstances is less obvious. It is the work of mindful ecology to encourage them. The final scene of Goethe’s masterpiece has Faust’s soul carried to heaven by the intercession of “Virgin, Queen of Motherhood… Eternal Womanhood.” The artful clue turns our attention to Gaia, Mother Earth, the living earth. Mephistopheles had fearfully threatened Faust that when he died he would encounter the absolute death spoken of earlier in this essay, the “Eternal Empty,” making his life meaningless. No, Goethe insists, the goddess beats the devil every time. There is only the compost heap, and the ongoing saga of our kind.