2018-01-18

Human nature – the fucked-up ape?


How many times did I hear people talk about human nature as if they wanted to say, “Sorry, shit happens”? As if humans were like that: greedy, competitive, murderous, meat-eating bastards, a species innately flawed and incorrigibly evil. As if humans had no positive characteristics – other than their superior intelligence gone ape, of course. If they had, it couldn't be part of human nature, could it?

Well, I don’t know… The way that term human nature is normally used, “human nature, being what it is…,” appears to me like a cheap excuse by the speaker for not being willing or able to change any of their fucked-up habits
 
It’s funny, anyway, that you can meet people all over the world who just don’t fit into any of the patterns human nature is said to contain. If there is such a thing as human nature, there’s certainly not just one of its kind. Rather a multitude of natures, like there is a multitude of cultures. Nobody speaks of “the” human culture. Have you ever heard that expression outside Iain Banks’ science fiction novels? I haven’t.

With people showing all kinds of virtues, the observation I made in them – and in me – is that we have the ability to act in beneficial or damaging ways, to nurture or to consume, to love or to hate, to be aware of our True Self or to be selfish, to be curious or to be indifferent etc. We have the whole range of ways of living in us, and it depends on a variety of factors during our immature years how we are coming of age. 
 
Observation may tell you that, as adults, again, we are not stuck with what growing up in this gruesome culture of ours has made of us. We may awaken, we may change our ways, we may learn to think and speak and act differently, and that means that we are not victims of human nature, no matter what human nature is meant to imply
 
So if human nature, independently of what it supposedly is, has no ultimate power over us, it is a pointless, useless concept to consider when we discuss ways of addressing the challenges of our time. Chuck it in the waste bin.

2018-01-04

Non-scientism: Rejecting Knowledge-as-Power


When, after the inauguration in January 2017 in D.C., Kellyanne Conway coined the term “alternate facts”, the resulting public outcry rightfully banned it into the realm of deception and falsehood. Facts are facts, as far as objective truths go. We may doubt the accuracy of the numbers of attendants in one, or both, of the rallies implied in White House press secretary Sean Spicer's comparison, but uncertain numbers are not facts. As facts describe the materialist, reductionist, objective, scientific view on the universe, they have to be – and they are – discrete and accurate. Alternate facts don't exist, period.
Alternate truths do, though. Facts are one aspect or layer of reality alongside others. When we include emotions, feelings, morality, intuition, belief, creativity, spirit, soul, body awareness, or other means of perception and ways of knowing, we can begin to make qualitative rather than quantitative statements about reality. Truth in the realm of phenomena and appearances is inescapably subjective in nature. So when you hear me uttering criticism in relation to science, its focus is usually on
  1. the claim that you can keep the observer completely separate from the observed, meaning to say that the scientist can perform a research without having an impact on the result;
  2. the claim that only scientific research results can describe reality accurately and that there can be no truth beside the things science can describe, meaning to say that science has a monopoly on reality, and that facts equal reality;
  3. the notion that we may trust scientific research results and simply believe them because, in principle, we could check their validity, even if we can't.
I can call myself lucky if anybody read all this without condemning me as someone wearing a tin foil hat, but that would be a waste of hate. I am not rejecting science and its results as a whole. I question the quasi-religious way – scientism – in which its premises, methods, and knowledge are taken at face value. I have not measured the Earth's circumference and I don't know anybody who has; when I use 40,000km as a number for modeling an image of the world I live in, I am well aware that there have been – and there still are – other worldviews, and that it's just a model. The number as such is absolutely meaningless without a framework of references in my individual subjective life. Still, many take facts as a device for establishing universal truths which helps them in their effort to dominate and control nature, the wild, the enemy, the unknown, or by whichever name the other goes.

Professor emeritus of African Studies at the University of New York, anthropologist Marimba Ani, in her seminal work “Yurugu: An Afrikan-centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior” (1994) identifies the claim for objectivity and universality as vehicles by which slavery, colonialism, cultural imperialism and globalization have been justified as rational, necessary behaviour. In other words, scientism's claim to objectivity and universality of scientific knowledge is an expression of the West's urge for domination.


The rejection of scientism therefore poses a threat to the Eurocentric world view. It thus undermines Western dominance. We find a similar notion in the work of professor emeritus of pedagogy at FH Wiesbaden, Marianne Gronemeyer who writes in, “Die Macht der Bedürfnisse” (approx., The power of needs, 1988), that trusting unknowingness more than knowing-it-all constitutes a threat to the premises of science.
Not committing oneself to the monopoly of science has yet another dimension: science, by its core principles, cannot allow the undiscovered, unexplored, and uncharted to exist. They pose a threat which is inherent to anything that has not been fathomed by “reason”: otherness, eeriness – a nuisance that is overgrowing everything. The exorbitant and insatiable obsession with safety, security, and certainty results from the attempt at limiting life to its purely positive aseptic aspects. It drives us to shine a light upon the very last corner of the world in order to turn it into means for satisfying the desire for safety and comprehension. This is how the not-yet-known which rises to awareness inevitably becomes a problem that cries for a solution.”
Albrecht Dürer, 1491/92
It seems, though, as if scientism is beginning to lose its power over people's minds. Gronemeyer quotes Peter Sloterdijk (“Critique of Cynical Reason”, 1983), saying,
“Nobody believes anymore that today's learning will prevent tomorrow's problems. It's almost certain that it causes them,”
and that
“You can't be friends with knowledge any longer. Knowing what we know today we don't consider embracing knowledge; instead, we ask ourselves how to face it without being petrified.”
Gronemeyer continues,
“Non-scientism opposes – or rather, evades – the compulsion to penetrate and enlighten,”
a) either by willfully ignoring the unknown, and remaining indifferent to it,
b) or by facing the unknown with awe and respect for its nature,
c) or by exploring the nature of one's unknowingness, thus increasingly becoming skeptic of the things one takes for granted.

One of those things being the urge to collect endless amounts of factoids in the hope that those might deliver the foundation for protective measures against a future which scares us.
“Having to take a decision that is not based on certain knowledge is bad enough; taking decisions under the illusion of certainty, though, is a catastrophe.” --Amory B. Lovins (Soft Energy Paths”, 1977)
This has implications for the way we may deal with the converging existential threats humanity is facing today. Gronemeyer concludes:
“Non-scientism is not about gaining certainty in decision-making, it is relentlessly busying itself with uncovering the illusion of certainty […] Unknowingness is therefore calling for deliberation and cautiousness. Cautiousness, in turn, is much more connected to our ability to forbear than to our ability to effect. The current state of the world does not require our every last effort, it requires us to desist.”

2017-12-21

Surrender or suffer


How can the independence of human volition be harmonized with the fact that we are integral parts of a universe which is subject to the rigid order of nature's laws?”, asked Max Planck. (emphases mine... so proud of it)

Wow, that's three assumptions in one sentence, and one hell of a question to ask... usually put forward during the small hours, after one long drunken party night, when it's just the host and his best friend sitting on a sofa in a candle-lit room. But people are ruminating something like this since forever. Open any philosophy primer you got it there, right in the center of the presentation, no matter who wrote the volume.

Leaving aside premise two – humans are integral parts of the Universe; we'll come back to this in a minute – can we do as we please or are the gods, or chance events, or the laws of physics – force majeure anyway – determining what's going on? (and what is the role of the CIA, or the Vatican's here?)

Good question! I said that already, right. And like every ordinary history-of-science edutainment programme, I'll get you stranded with more of those questions than you had before, I believe. Weird hypotheses and unprovable theories, here we go.

One of them being that either determinism or free will might be an illusion. Likely both.
Free will is the sensation of making a choice. The sensation is real, but the choice seems illusory,” said Brian Greene, an American theoretical physicist, mathematician, and string theorist. Russian geologist Vladimir Vernadsky joined him by asking: “Thought isn't a form of energy. So how on Earth can it change material processes?”

There is this thing about premises: once you start looking out for them they are popping up left and right. Can real sensations have illusory content? Does thought have no substance / energy to it? I am not buying into these assumptions just like that. In some way they sound true enough, because you cannot see or touch mental activities. Viewed from an Asian perspective, though, reality does not merely consist of forces and matter, as described before (see also Cognitive justice: science and the sacred). When we feel free, or bound, this feeling expresses the state of a relationship. And it touches right into what many cultures regard as the building... uhm... blocks of reality.

Freedom also lies at the heart of every spiritual tradition there is, yet not in the form of civil rights, free choice, free enterprise, or free thought. To put it bluntly, according to those traditions freedom is the freedom from being ruled by one's desires, or, in other words, the freedom to want what you get because you love what-is.
Does that sound awful to you? I guess it does, even to those who live by it because I so horribly oversimplified the matter. But I'm serious here. What I am trying to point at is that we need to have a look at hidden assumptions because they define what we mean by 'freedom'. That's a difficult task. They often dwell in the subconscious parts of our mind, together with all the rotten stuff about peculiar sex fetishes and gory violent phantasies. Yet they may become conscious when they get confronted with surprisingly different sets of premises. For the sake of this argument, let's just take a quote from the American teacher Adyashanti, on the relationship between reality, thought, and suffering:

[The idea of control over one's life] is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. It is based on an understanding that you are a separate individual person, human being, separate from the whole, separate from others and separate from life, and you need to make sure that your life and your car get where you want it to get. If there is a prescription for suffering, I'd say, that's about as accurate as you can get. Funny thing is that the very prescription for suffering is the very thing that we think is the prescription for happiness.”
--Adyashanti - Surrender or suffer, 29:20

People who believe in the individual's freedom of will and choice hate this kind of speech. Not only does it mention the premises that usually nobody talks about because they seem so self-evident. To them, it sounds like saying, “Freedom is slavery”. And that hits the nail right on the head, though not in the Orwellian sense: According to the Buddha, their misunderstood freedom of choice makes them slaves to their desires. Such slavery comes with all sorts of nasty ramifications like, suffering from lack of ice cream in the presence of huge amounts of milk shakes.

Is Adyashanti a determinist? Not at all. His Zen-based, Non-dualism shaped understanding teaches that we make a conceptual mistake when, in our mind, we pit freedom against determinism. Separated from each other both notions are illusory. As we are one with all of existence there is no separate me that could manipulate an external reality or get controlled by it. It only appears this way. To make it more interesting, ie. confusing, Buddhists believe that their lives are determined by karmic forces... and they get encouraged to alter those through right action and right thinking.

So, when neither free will nor deterministic philosophy are convincing models for how the world works, can we imagine a both-and relationship instead?
The Norman Cousins quote (see image) points in one possible direction.
In a book I recently read and presented here (see essay The limits to reason) I found a similar, yet slightly different thought that conciliates determinism and free will into a holistic view:

We, like any other entity, are an element in Nature's round. The notion that we have the freedom to do as we like is an illusion. Each of us do as we must do as part of Nature's round. We have a free will only to the extent that we can choose to recognise our embeddedness in the round and participate willingly or be dragged along unwillingly, live joyfully or miserably.”
Tending our land, by M. G. Jackson & Nyla Coelho. Kolkata, Earthcare, 2016, p125

So your fate depends on what you make of it. This works on two levels simultaneously. Surrendering to the suchness of existence removes the element of suffering. Suffering comes into existence when I desire something which I cannot have, or when I get something that I do not exactly desire. When I am free of desires, or when I feel no obligation to follow those I have, I am liberated. I have no choice over what happens, but I have choice over how it affects my feelings. The stories we tell about what happened to us vary very much depending on how we feel about events -- and vice versa. If you asked me today to tell the story of my divorce I'd give you a completely different account of it than I would have five years ago or back then when it happened. Yet I would have insisted each time when I told each different story that this is what I really experienced. (No. DON'T ask!)

From this follows what happens on the second level: having changed my view from victim to observer or to active participant – which is a freedom I have – my actions and responses change accordingly. Within each worldview – victim, observer, actor – I have no choice over my reactions to outside stimuli. Hypothetically I might have done something else, yet I didn't; I chose to do what I did because I thought what I thought, and that's it. From there on, it's all deterministic. Sounds interesting enough to me to run some experiments with this assumption as a basis, although I suspect that Adyashanti got it more accurate.

Proof? I can prove the both-and hypothesis no more than any of the deterministic and free-will philosophers could prove their favourite view, but I may take this idea and compare it to my perceived reality. If I'm lucky I can verify it as a functioning model for my everyday life, but most likely I'll find exceptions to the rule, and the inquiry into the nature of truth and reality goes on – which I'm fine with.

Use? I'd say the question whether someone is responsible for their actions or not makes a big difference. If my actions are determined, there is no place for worry, shame, guilt, and punishment; can't be held accountable for something that was not under my control. No use feeling bad about it either.
And if freedom is our true, deepest nature, there, too, is no place for worry, shame, guilt, or punishment; for what kind of freedom were that if I wasn't free to make mistakes? After all, I can choose to mend my ways anytime.
...
So why do I often choose not to?

O dear, don't get me started.

2017-12-11

The Empire Express, 11 December 2017


Editorial

As I withdraw more and more into a direct, localized, simple, hands-on kind of lifestyle, the things happening elsewhere and getting mediated through the web become increasingly surreal to me. I haven't collected any news for this digest in months. Unless another bout of research mania befalls me, this current edition may very well be the last you'll ever read.

I wish to add a few words of concern about the state of the activist movement. What I've seen recently really only allows one conclusion:

We're SO fucked.

Damn, what should one humble guy think when a major scientist cannot recognize the very thing he coined a phrase for, or when an eco-spiritual writer and teacher is threatening to sue against the translation and republication of her collaborative work with someone who has fallen into public disgrace, based on allegations that are so obviously fabricated by the powers that be that it's a shame to even consider their factuality when, at the same time, the whole planet is literally burning. Sad to notice also that a whole bunch of previously seemingly sane activists are jumping on the case as if there was no tomorrow (oh, wait, there actually isn't!) and turn the scene with all its great information it has compiled into an infight club. Various activist publishing houses have been quitting business due to not enough income, but at least the websites of the combattants generate surplus traffic (i.e. income) with their pointless bickering. One person saying that, in the face of impending doom, he is planting trees, hoping to mitigate the impact on humanity, is getting banned from a facebook climate group for this very idea, while, in another formerly radical activist group, a guardian of the status quo may promote carbon taxes and advertise electric cars ("Plant trees, drive free!") not only unhinderedly but is receiving likes for it. Shall I say it again?

We're SO fucked.

And it's sort of ok. I mean, I'm not putting out this rant to tell anyone what they should  or should not be doing in order to "save the World". Just go ahead churning out hot air about whatever it is you are trying to cook up, and then act in the exact opposite way. We are past numerous tipping points, so it doesn't play much of a role anyway. Be happy raising awareness, same like I still do, though half-heartedly. I especially like the 99% meme because it is almost true -- except for the missing point-nine-repeating: almost all of mankind is stuck in virtual existence with absolutely no willingness to contribute anything substantial to the continued survival and wellbeing of their species, other than words. 
Awareness, my arse.
I confess having been -- and partly still being -- complicit in both wrecking the biosphere and then letting it go to waste. What can I say that makes any difference at all? None. It's likely to be not a matter of words or deeds, rather a matter of silence and stillness and non-compliance that healing could occur. I don't know for sure, so who am I to rail against others who say they do.
Live fully for as long as it lasts, and blessed be!

Ongoing Assault


Invisibles: The plastic inside us – Chris Tyree & Dan Morrison, Orb, 201709
In the end, they will tell you all kind of crap about how to avoid plastics in a civilized manner without having to reduce your consumption. But the documentation of the plastic tsunami is graphic.

The whispering leaves of the Hiroshima Ginkgo trees – Ariel Dorfman, New York Times, 20170804
The Hiroshima ginkgos, the tenacious older siblings of the tender green trees in front of our North Carolina house, were able to resist the most devastating outcome of science and technology, the splitting of the atom, a destructive power that could turn the whole planet into rubble. Those trees’ survival was a message of hope in the midst of the black rain of despair: that we could nurture life and conserve it, that we must be wary of the forces we unleash.”

An Atlas for the end of the World – Richard Weller et al., Scientific American, 20170629
The Atlas for the End of the World chronicles the archipelago of protected areas into which the world’s genetic biodiversity is now huddled. It is not about the end of the world per se; but the end of the world as a God-given and unlimited resource for human exploitation and its concomitant myths of progress.”
The SMS & Twitter culture doesn't rock me at all. It's leaving out more context than permissible, but hey – such are our times. For those who'd like to have a short introduction, though, into how to see the world differently, get a taste with this nutshell article. Five (not 5, and not at all brutal) insights (not truths) about life which can help with understanding your mind (not making you a better person or making you feel better) are given. There are many more (and they are not only rooted in Buddhism but in mystic traditions around the world) but this is as good a start as any. Try implementing one of those insights, you'll be busy beyond imagination. And don't worry, you won't have to give up science or subscribe to religion. “In Buddha's opinion, … to train in dissolving our assumptions and beliefs is the best use of our human lives” [quote from article].

Pearls Before Swine


How the world falls apart – Paul & Stan Cox, Motherboard, 20160802
Not all at once but in millions of cataclysms small and large that strike somewhere everyday. And those fractures may well be what allow the whole global system to keep grinding along, sustaining a collective fantasy that the end is always near but never here.

If everyone lived in an ecovillage, the Earth would still be in trouble – Samuel Alexander, The Conversation, 20150626
"I share this in the hope of shaking the environmental movement, and the broader public, awake. With our eyes open, let us begin by acknowledging that tinkering around the edges of consumer capitalism is utterly inadequate."

What's worse, ecovillages would have been a great idea fourty years ago. We are too late to save our species, let alone our pathetic society. "The problem of civilization" is our "endgame", as Derrick Jensen put it so brilliantly in his book's title. Still, building alternative social and material structures is the right thing to do; it lessens the burden on the community of life and allows for a more decent, humane existence.

 

Cartoon

The train of civilization & the ascent accident of humanity












Famous Last Words

Me first.

[previous issue / later issue]


2017-11-30

To heaven with hell!


Greed and stupidity have always been one and the same. I'd go even further -- no one can be as stupid as to ignore the facts for decades, no one can be as clumsy as to create all this mess consistently without sometimes making a better move. Wouldn't the world make more sense if all this happens not accidentally but intentionally?

Words cannot reach these people. Their minds are focused on self-interest alone. The damage resulting from their actions is neither accidental nor collateral, it's what it takes to make money and to grab power; they are neither blind nor ignorant nor stupid. From their perspective nothing is wrong with millions of war victims, environmental destruction, social deterioration and the likes. They are textbook sociopaths trapped in the institutional constructs they have co-created in order to feed their self-interest. Nothing we could do or say will change their minds, nothing will change those equally sociopathic institutions from without, and much less from within. They are attempting to twist the world into giving them what they desire, but this is eventually futile and has only led mankind on the road to all-out destruction. You can argue with them, you can plead, you can curse them, you can sue and fine them, you can imprison them, you can boycott or sabotage them, you can kill them – to no avail. It is equally futile and contributes equally to the all-out destruction.
by Flickr user grahamc99 under  cc-by-2.0
One of the most pathetic aspects of human history is that every civilization expresses itself most pretentiously, compounds its partial and universal values most convincingly, and claims immortality for its finite existence at the very moment when the decay which leads to death has already begun,” 
--Reinhold Niebuhr
The first step in our effort to end Empire's reign of terror is to awaken to the cage we are living in. The documentation of the tyrants' lies and deeds becomes important so that we can understand what's happening and to take decisive moves towards starting the liberation. But let us not get stunned with bygone horrors, let's not get stuck with pointing fingers at those who offer themselves as targets for our hate. Break the hypnotizing stare; switch off the hellish mass medial noise that keeps you from listening to what's within you. The lesson to be learned from the disaster is how to do it better. As a matter of fact, our bodies know already from three million years of evolution of our genus how life works for human beings.

No need for anybody's permission, no need for anybody to join us, no need for changing what-is, no need waiting for better conditions; we just set out on a different path, one by one, clan by clan, tribe by tribe. The way to overcoming the omnicidal system they are deliberately perpetuating is to concede our complicity in the crime and to take a different road from today on. The way to overcoming the life-grinding machine leads to alternative structures based on alternative values emerging from another worldview. Where they are greedy we are giving. Where they are hating we are loving. Where they see one way only we walk an infinite number of paths. Where they are trapped in cold logic we are free to see for ourselves. Where they are divisive we are one, and that includes 'them', for 'they' are not separate from 'us' even if that is what they believe themselves to be and what they would like us to believe too.

2017-11-10

The Yoga of Reconnection

This is the transcript of my second interview with Wolfgang Werminghausen, for his podcast Faster Than Expected, episode 20, which has been published last night. Smaller corrections have been made to clarify the core message and to give a more pleasant reading.
Originally, the conversation was supposed to happen as part of the 19th FTE podcast with Kevin Hester co-hosting but was postponed due to technical problems.

FTE: I want to talk with Jürgen about living with animals. Since some years Jürgen is living in India in the small town Auroville. There he is working as a farmer and librarian. We had a talk in the 16th episode of the Faster Than Expected podcast.
How does working as a farmer and living with goats and other animals change your life?

Me: Hi Wolfgang, thanks for the opportunity to throw a few words into the conversation. I really appreciate that.
I'd like to add that it's an organic farm within a spiritual commune, which is not at all comparable to industrial agriculture. I think that organic farming and industrial agriculture are actually two very different activities that only can be seen on the same level if you think both of them are about keeping animals or planting food crops. Apart from that, they got nothing in common. Our animals are part of the family, which means we have a symbiotic relationship, not the kind of exploit-then-throw away situation of a typical cowcentration camp.
On a physical level my work is of course completely different from anything I ever did within my life as a wage slave or as a self-employed retailer. It sort of reconnected me with the realm of true life, basic needs, eye-to-eye interaction and so on; these elements in our lives have been largely lost. I can say that because I am currently going through the experience of regaining them, finding them again in my life, and finding a place for them in my life.
The work takes some discipline, the kind I expect Kevin to know closely, because as much as you sometimes would like to leave the boat – to jump ship – you can't. Kevin has physical barriers in the way; there is a vast ocean all around, and I have emotional barriers which I cannot cross.

FTE: Like a lifeboat.

Me: Yes. You got to be there, day by day, event by event, whatever happens. It's three o'clock in the night and I hear some of the animals shouting in some sort of distress, eg. there is a predator in the cage or someone stepped on their toe. Whatever it is, I go there and look. I can't say, “It's night time, I want to sleep and my working hours are long past.”
And it's a very direct thing: There is no space for electronic gadgets, or complex ideas. Another element that is also important from that perspective is: We use to throw money at a problem, like, something is missing and you go into the shop to buy what we need. That's not possible in this case. You can't throw money at a problem an animal has, or at a problem you have with an animal, and make the animal behave as you want it to. Meeting their needs, that's their currency, and to become aware of what the need of the moment might be I have to be with them, meaning, I have to be with them very often, repeatedly, and also mentally I have to be prepared to be present with them to understand what's up. By that practice I learn their expressions, the signing, the body language, and communicate with them. Though it's not like the twitch of one eye means the word so-and-so, and the blinking of the other eye means, I'm hungry. It's not as direct as human language, rather some intuitive kind of communication. It's not coherently the same all the time. The same sign may mean something different in a different context. Understanding is a matter of intuition, I think. By being together with the animals they learn what I am up to. Do I understand them? Am I ready to meet their need? Or am I rejecting it?
I am entering into a mutual relationship with them which means, I acknowledge them as people, as characters, as unique personalities. It's not all that complicated and you could compare it to instances when people understand each other without words. Everybody has them. You have a friend, a partner... you don't need to speak but you know what the other person is thinking or what they want to do. Like in a good rock band, the guitarist and the drummer know exactly their timing. We like to refer to this as „magic moments“, but that's really just because spoken and written language has so removed us from our original state of consciousness and from the things that truly matter. Ok, in a way it's “magic” because it's not rational, but it's not special in the sense of being a rare thing. You could have it every day.
So I highly recommend people to consciously enter into close relationships with someone whose psyche is not fucked up by civilized thinking and by thinking in linguistic terms. We find those very rarely. When are you able to get in contact with a wild person – with a tribal human? It's hard to find them anywhere. So the only people left that are sort of unspoilt are animals who are available to us for that purpose.
If you let yourself – just for a minute – feel the sorrows of another being you get an understanding of the heaviness of the burden that's hanging from the world's neck, this civilized madness which is to me a mental disorder, a derangement even. I don't know how else to get rid of this. It's something no shrink can ever heal. To me, the way out of this madness is to reconnect through beings that are less impaired by it.
The fate of the biosphere is depending on us because we are the dominant species – or rather, the dominant culture, because it's not humans as such, it's our culture, civilization, that's fucking up the planet, and therefore we do have a responsibility for the wellbeing of everyone else: plants, animals, ourselves of course, for the pain, the suffering, and the survival of everyone else in this world, just like we do have a responsibility for our children and our pets, or to phrase it in another way, we have a responsibility for the captive children and the animals that we domesticate for civilized use; that's what we do to our own species even.

FTE: Thank you very much for your touching and impressive words. In Western industrial agriculture animals are a product kind of thing. Is there a different way to view animals in India?

Blister beetle devouring an ocra flower
Me: Yes, certainly. There is this funny story told by Arnold Stadler, about a calves extermination program that an agricultural minister of the German Green party has set up to curb an outbreak of BSE. I think it happened in 2001, I'm not sure. 400 000 cow babies were to be culled, meaning, killed for health issues; potential health issues even, to stop an epidemic, and most of those cow babies were not actually sick. In India, there were people and organizations who thought about how to save those animals from their pointless death. Like there is civil war in some foreign country and we think about how we could help these people. The Indians were thinking about how to help these animals that we were mindlessly killing.
To understand the Indian way of seeing animals one may look into Karma. Karma means that the depth of your insights gained throughout your lifetime and the extent at which you are putting those into practice define the situation into which you are going to be reborn. For Indians, life does not end with death; it doesn't start with birth either. It's an endless cycle in which we come back again and again, and that can be as a demon, a god, an animal of some kind, or as a human.
That means that animals are regarded as relatives. It expresses in language, when, in Tamil, we call a young female animal 'paapa', younger sister and a young male animal 'thambi', younger brother.
Indian philosophy has it that physical pain is a normal, natural phenomenon. Our nerve endings help us sense the world, see the world, hear the world. The same nerve that can feel the texture of a book or a peace of clothing can also feel pain which is just an increase in intensity of the same impression. Pain happens to everyone and it cannot be avoided. So it does not matter much if we beat a cow or keep a calf from having its milk and make it feel hungry, because this pain is a natural thing. Our duty in our karma as living beings is to understand this and to surrender to the necessity of pain. To understand this necessity and surrender to it means that you do your yoga.
If we don't do our yoga, if we don't understand, we suffer psychologically. Suffering and pain are different. The suffering is in your own responsibility. You cannot avoid pain but you can avoid suffering by understanding the necessity of pain. And as long as we suffer we cannot leave the wheel of rebirth. We are caught in the world of pain.
But as all life is also yoga, ie. the search for the Divine, Ultimate Consciousness, God – however you want to call it – and therefore we must not interrupt this search by cutting a life short. Sure, you can do it anyway but it has an impact on your karma. That's why people on one hand have no problem with heavily beating a cow while on the other hand making efforts to saving its life, no matter how miserable that life is.
[To repeat a story given in my last blog here:] Just a few days ago I came to the house of my Tamil sister where two hibiscus bushes are standing in front of the door which were a gift from one of our friends. The flowers were full of blister beetles which were eating the flowers. I said, “Look!” by just pointing at them. She replied: “What shall I do? They are hungry and they need to eat. We can't just go around and kill everyone.” This illustrates their view on animals, encompassing both the domestic and the wild animals. This is of course going away the more India gets industrialized but it is still present within the countryfolk.

FTE: I see. We can learn very much from the Indian attitude towards animals and towards life. Thanks for your insightful words and the metaphors; now I imagine you with a goat rock band in a lifeboat [both chuckle] with your brothers and sisters. Thank you very much for this talk.

Me: Thank you for having me on the show!


P.S.
Karma is, of course, a way more complex topic than described here, and the ramifications of inflicting pain and causing sufferings on others must not be neglected, but killing weighs heavy on the karmic balance sheet.
With all the generalizations made here, I must amend that, for anything you may say about India, the exact opposite is true as well. Its culture is enormously rich and diverse; as a civilization, it is almost as old as the Western cultural lineage. Indians' basic assumptions on the nature of existence and therefore on the proper way of treating the living planet, as fundamentally different as they are from Western views, are certainly not perfect but at least they keep the door open for each individual life to improve its situation. With the influx of Western ideas and technologies, though, this culture is developing into one of the most explosive population bombs the world has seen.

 
 Sheila Chandra: Lament of McCrimmon/Song of the Banshee

2017-10-25

Cow days


I go to sleep at shortly after seven, no videos watched these days, no music heard, not even a book read. I haven't read books in quite some time, which is hilarious, knowing how much of a book person – a librarian, a translator, a writer even – I, my ego personality, am... was... Or am I still? Things at the library have come to a halt with the mess-up of a programmer who didn't deliver what he had promised, and I couldn't care less. The book I currently translate starts to annoy me, and I can't tell why. And the book I am about to write bores me before it really took off.
This, too, shall pass, I guess. I don't mind these things too much. They tend to come and go in waves, though I suspect some of it is here to stay.
Me, I am here to stay in the farm. Before I sleep – and immediately after I wake up, and also all through the day – I listen to the birds and crickets, to the toads and the dog packs, the thunder and rain, the occasional firecrackers on somebody's birthday or on one of the many festivals scattered all across the calendar like in medieval Europe. Just now it has been Diwali, also known als Deepavali, the Indian festival of lights. Not so many lights here in Tamil Nadu, rather aircrackers the size of bombshells. No kidding. Don't go anywhere on Diwali. Children put the damn things in the middle of the road or in a hollow tree trunk by the side and light them just before you are passing by. If your Karma is tied to the tree both of you are going to pass. Just pass. Not by.

Bodhi the villain
Someone from the Farmers' group has come to write a whitepaper, a collection of asset data. The group wants to make an assessment of the situation after an arbitration has torn the plot into tiny bits. It is to show to the Council what has come of their cronyistic decision, for all (nothing) it's worth. The conflict has been announced ended because we have gone through all the motions that make it technically so. The fact remains that forced conflict resolution is a fine recipe for perpetuating the dispute into eternity. Speaking of Diwali, our lovely neighbours caught one of our cows trespassing into their untended plot which they call their farm. They took the poor thing and were about to throw it out the gate onto the main road where it would likely have been hit by a bus or otherwise lost. We caught the guy just in time to save the cow from getting sacrificed to their hate of us, and him from earning himself rebirth as a dung beetle. The cow alone is worth more Rupees than their veggies make in a whole year. The milk she's giving within a year doubles that value. And by the way, she's a family member, as far as I'm concerned. But I know what would have happened: the Council would have scolded us for making them do it, and the Farmers' group would have scolded us for letting it happen. The Council calls this a commune of the good-willed, our neighbours call it holistic permaculture. Me, I have no words for it any longer. The civil and basic human rights situation is worse than you'd expect. The repressive democracies of the West at least keep a thin coat of legality. In this town “at the service of truth” there is no such thing. Those who shape the rules are also judges and appellate instance, and if you want to get anywhere you better make friends with them.

Events like these have me think there is no reason to believe there will ever come a time when people change their ways. Have I changed, since I woke up? Has my writing changed anybody or anything in thirteen years of pondering, ruminating, considering, pleading? Ain't I just another Obama, a hypocrite, a talker, a make-believe?

There are two new maadu (cows) and their kutti (calves) in the farm. The one born on 10th August is a healthy red-furred male, 78cm chest circumference; the one born on 7th October had an infection of the navel which we cured with natural remedies; it is a sand-coloured girl and I call it Kuttiwutti, which is silly, of course, but that's the way I feel when I'm near her. She takes the treatment like a man and then continues to chew on her thoughts – or dwells in meditation, whichever it is that keeps her as calm as she seems. The kutti stay with the aadu (goats) in their new, beautiful, airy thatched range. One of them, Marie – short for Marianne, because she was born on 14th of July, but the Tamils have trouble pronouncing that – thinks herself to be aadu. She likes to huddle with the goats during the cold nights and goes grazing with them into the forest during the hot days.

We've had twice as much rains since July than in ordinary years. The weather here on the twelth parallel north of the Equator felt almost Central European. Now that the Northeast monsoon is traditionally expected to fill the tanks and aquifers it becomes dryer again, though. Climate change? Aw, gimme a break.

It is two months since I... did what? Reduced internet time? Well, sort of. The new balance I was looking for, between browsing and farming, between dwelling in virtual reality and living real virtues, resulted in an almost complete withdrawal from the web. I sometimes look at facebook and skim through the headlines of the first few pages coming up; I find nothing new, just more of the same madness that runs the world these days, and the denial of it. Rarely do I feel the urge to comment, never does it inspire me to write an essay of my own. It's not that I suddenly look down upon what seemed so interesting and important just a few weeks ago. The thing is rather, human communication has become increasingly void of meaning – not necessarily by its content, although I have to say that, in terms of real needs (i.e. survival), we communicate a lot of non-sense. The problem is on the side of the receiver. There is simply nobody there to communicate with. All brains are stuffed with concepts, words, ideas, plans; no way to get through to anyone, everyone is entangled in their own spider webs. It's true for my closest friends, it's true for combatants on the climate front, it's true for everyone else. And this is not to complain about a fault that anybody were to blame for. Humans just do what they understand and they understand just as much as they already do. No help shoving words into their ears, or truths down their throats; though it sometimes makes me mad. Why cant they... why can't we... ?!
Forget it. I don't even know what I'm asking of them... us... the world... who?

just being unique
The mixed chickens we have bought to revive the poultry farm are developing fine. There are Australian chickens, Indian chickens, all kinds of crossbreeds, Guinea fowl, a turkey lady named Aïshe, black chickens – feathers, cockscomb, toes, eggshells and all – and some ducks. The ducks, who have recently laid their first egg, and one or two more every night since, roam the place together with the Guineas and Aïshe (whom I also call Schlachtschiff, i.e. German for battleship, for her size and gravity), eating dropped cow food, grass, herbs, frogs, insects, and invertebrates from the mud puddles around the cowshed. It makes for happy poultry; very visibly they are enormously alive. And the eggs taste phantastic, though not much different from chicken eggs. Three weeks ago we discovered the nest of a cetti kuruvi, a bush warbler, woven between the stalks of a cowgrass bush. Four tiny red eggs lay inside, each no more than one centimeter long. We didn't fry them, although we wondered whether warblers like to eat the kambu millets that are growing in the field right next to its nest. Just a few days ago we went to see what's become of the new bird family. Three hungry orange-coloured beaks gave deep insight into the interiors of warbler chicks. I'd never exchange views like this for the rupees in crop loss which might disappear into those beaks. None of us would. And yes, warblers are insectivore; they don't eat millets, but parrots and other birds do. Certain insects do. The principle of do-no-harm remains. Pointing out some blister beetles on her hibiscus bush to my Tamil sister, she replied, Yes, I saw it, but what can I do? They are hungry, and we can't just go around and kill everybody.

Watching the animals closely, repeatedly, and for extended amounts of time (of which I have plenty since I dropped out of the rat race) I notice that it's true what Daniel Quinn said in one of his books, The Story of B. I didn't notice it before he said it and I would likely have not believed it anyway, but each animal, from bacteria to mites to beetles and lions, is unique; not in the sense of the kind of separate individuals civilized humans think themselves to be, but in their body shapes, their movements, their general behaviour, their personality, and their preferences. No two of them are alike! None of them is disposable. They are also intelligent, no doubt. Our farm animals have the kind of skills you need to survive as a cow, a goat, a chicken, and they are streetwise. They are loving if you let them, and they make good use of their relationships, asking favours here and there: Scratch my forehead, say the cows by turning their head towards me; Scratch me between the horns, indicate the goats in the same way. Want fresh water, quack the ducks bobbing their heads; What's that in your hand?, ask the chickens by their focussing on it, and Marie comes to greet me when I enter the goat place. She looks me straight in the eyes. I notice the beautiful lashes on hers, and the fine hair along the rim of her ears. It's not like they have nothing to offer in return. Did I really sell bovine body parts to dog owners once? Yuck!

Humanimal communication usually works better for me than trying to meet my allegedly sapient conspecifics. It's free of civilized ballast, therefore it's rarely getting complicated, it's usually straightforward in exchange of signing, and it speaks the language of stick and carrot. Part of the dialogue is deciding which one it will be. They are not always playing nice. I am not always in a patient mood. Like in all families there's disagreements and excitement. Yet in the end we come together, no matter what. By living on the same land and feeding each other we have become the same flesh, the same blood; and by loving each other we became one soul.

Try that on facebook.

2017-09-08

Out of proportion


Ivan Illich, in his 1994 Schumacher lecture on the wisdom of Austrian economist philosopher Leopold Kohr, said,

“Kohr was an eminently unassuming man. I would even go so far as to say that he was radically humble, and this aspect of his thought and character tends to disqualify him from inclusion in textbooks. It may also have contributed to the fact that so few have grasped the core of his argument: the prominence he gives to proportionality [...] But not many of those who applauded him understood the depth of his opposition to current axiomatic certainties [...] Diffidently, he asks you to step outside of what passes for commonly accepted perception [...] To consider what is appropriate or fitting in a certain place leads one directly into reflection on beauty and goodness. The truth of one's resultant judgment will be primarily moral, not economic.”

Attempt to think in the way Kohr depicts Ancient and Mediaeval perception. What may seem like a minor difference or outdated view changes the whole idea of how the world works, what is beautiful, or just, or real, or necessary. Through comparison you can then use this knowledge to better understand the dominant worldview and to develop a different culture.

Kohr's contribution is to be found in his social morphology, says Illich. There, two key words reveal his thought: proportionality or, more precisely, the appropriateness of a relationship. The second is "certain," as when one says, "in a certain way." Taking both "appropriate" and a "certain place" together allows Kohr to see the human social condition as that ever unique and boundary-making limit within which each community can engage in discussion about what ought to be allowed and what ought to be excluded.
This discussion happens within families, villages, towns, and regions, not nation states which are too large and heterogenous. Globalization in particular explodes any possible framework of appropriateness.

Each place has its own culture, and each culture has its own sense of proportions. We arrive at measures through following proportions. A simple example are the historically different lengths of one mile or one cubit which depended on the different proportions of the human body in different ethnicities.
Another example are the different dates for the start of the new year which most often depend on geographical locations and their specific seasons and crop cycles, but also their religious beliefs (14th April in Tamil culture, 11th September in Ethiopia,...)

This notion which has pervaded basically everything from music to cookery to politics to architecture to medicine became extinct through the rationalistic movement that started in the Renaissance. With the victory of Enlightenment in the 18th century it has been completely replaced by absolute sizes and values. Here lies the foundation of modern economics.

Modern economic assumptions based on absolute figures, once incorporated into one's way of perceiving reality and constructing arguments, exclude ethical options whose object is the good, the harmoneous, the just.
Kohr's point is that a good life is not to be found using absolute figures and values but through seeking appropriateness, ie. the right proportions, or the right relationship, and that this can happen only locally, or regionally at largest, because the definition of ethical values (or rather qualities) and their ranking may vary from culture to culture and from case to case.

Kohr knew that not any inclination but a certain awareness and feeling, a certain sensitivity to the appropriate, is the necessary condition of friendship. He knew that the historical loss of this knowledge fosters the emergence of social mutations that can be recognized now as monsters.

2017-08-28

Do something!?


I don't know how those among you with 100+, let alone 1000+ Facebook contacts are handling the incoming stream of headlines, comments, images, and buttons to click on; I guess by ignoring all but a few posts from a handful of people. That's at least the mode I switched to a while ago even if it doesn't make sense. I cannot see a point in amassing all you folks and your potential contributions in the first place. Apart from my personal acquaintances, the majority of my contacts may have added me based on their own interest in my work. I wonder, though, whether that's a healthy relationship given that I cannot give most of your utterances similar attention, if any. Think about it.


Photo by Wikimedia user Colin

There were a few things to say about abrupt climate change, the decline of the biosphere, and the demise of the human species, and maybe those were the subjects that attracted you. For most part, from my perspective, it's 'nuff said. I am feeling very much like standing on the brink of cutting the web completely. The flood of incoming news is so numbing that more of it simply doesn't help with anything. During the last year I have been diving into a sea of information and disinformation on climate change and the related social and political issues. I became more active on Facebook, translated fiction and non-fiction, watched scores of reports, essays, documents, and movies daily and have revived my blog after years of abstinence. Found a few new acquaintances, some only recently, who I really love listening to, and learned a lot both about the world and myself. Great thing, and really worth the time; infact, it was a phase that I needed to go through.

But the mosaic of externalities is more or less complete; additional details fail to improve understanding. And while I am sitting here drowning in facts, opinions and fiction, sharing great writing, and churning out essays myself the real-life dimension all word processing needs to lead back to passes me by, hour by hour by hour. It's mesmerizing, just like trying to earn money in the hopes it would help me liberating myself from having to earn money was mesmerizing back then, before I simply broke the spell and abandoned the rat race. I suggest you try that as well.

Life is about living. And I don't mean the kind of living most people advise me to pursue, like indulging in music, marriage, parties, consumption and other “harmless” distractions. There is a human community around me. There are the farm animals and trees who I love to be with. There are the very few – also very precious – close online friends who deserve attention. There is the path of awakening.
And though the latter can lead anywhere, even through the midst of consuming yellow press articles, I have clear indication that mine has something to do with giving more attention to eye-to eye relationships and observing that-which-is-alive-in-me.

With less time for spending on the web, The Empire Express, naturally, will appear less often. If you feel you found an article worth featuring, let me know somehow. Essays of my own making will continue to get published, probably at a little less frequent rate. Use the “follow” button here or on Facebook to stay up to date on new blog posts.

What I'm trying to say in so many words is, there'll be way less signs of my presence around, especially on Facebook, but this is not an absolute good-bye; it is the beginning of finding a new balance among the many things that make up a life fully lived.

Wolfgang Werminghausen and me have been touching some of what that encompasses in the 16th episode of his podcast Faster Than Expected.

2017-08-18

Underminers: Subverting the Machine


In the last Empire Express I already recommended this book for reading. Today I would like to re-emphasize its meaning as a useful tool in an age of industrialized omnicide. Those regularly following my blog posts might be aware of the concept of "distributed denial of servitude", which is the idea that every person who is aware of the problem of civilization can do something to reduce its destructive impacts on humans and non-humans alike, by withdrawing their time, mind, and energy from the machine in order to direct them at alternate ways of being.
Keith Farnish's book 'Underminers: a practical guide for radical change' describes ways and methods how to succeed with this.

The book consists of three main parts:
The first part uncovers the "tools of disconnection", the many ways by which Mother Culture lures, fools, coaxes, pushes, and forces her children into submission. She makes sure that spite is not turned against her, that all fighting remains infighting among citizens, and that those attempting to leave the herd are getting crushed. Knowledge about her ways is not supposed to rise to awareness because as soon as the illusion of her benevolence falls away people start to turn their backs on her. So becoming aware is already an act of undermining the machine.

With the knowledge of the tools of disconnection in mind the second part describes where and how "the culture of maximum harm" can be undermined actively. The goal is to uncover the illusory nature, pointlessness, and destructiveness of the dominant set of living arrangements to individuals or the general public. There are various options like creating ridiculous situations in which the system's ability to serve its declared goals fails so obviously that people begin to awaken and start to question established thought patterns and institutions. This awakening from illusions is an absolute prerequisite for their being able to reconnect to the real world.
As this activism of a million pin pricks aims at disrupting the machine to the point of its breaking down one could call that -- in the widest sense -- sabotage. Yet in a legal sense, and certainly in moral terms, there is nothing wrong with most of what underminers are doing. The author stresses, though, that the underminer has to take full responsibility for his/her actions and therefore needs to plan carefully to avoid physical harm to living beings.

At one point the system comes crashing down. Whether it is the outcome of undermining, or whether it is the result in of the system's inbuilt weaknesses, or whether it dies from exhaustion of resources is only relevant in terms of what will be left of the world for life to go on. Crashing down it will, and rather sooner than later. You don't want to get caught with your pants down, not knowing what to do. People need a safety net to fall back into. In part three, Keith explains how to extract yourself from the machine's grip so you may live not only more appropriately as a human being, but you also establish a parallel society that today practices the skills needed in the future. John Michael Greer once published a book whose title perfectly carries the sentiment: "Collapse now, avoid the rush."
Community building will be a major undertaking here and, as a side effect of undermining, it becomes easier, through realizing how we got disconnected from each other in the first place.

So, altogether, the book is full of great ideas of where to start -- right now -- with your post-civilized life, and how to help bringing the machine to a halt. Underminers is available from your local or online bookshop, you may read it for free on a webpage, or you can download a free pdf from the same page.


"Cast off our watches (and phones), like my wife has, and it takes very little time to “tune in” to how far along its diurnal path the Earth has rotated, and what point in our wakefulness cycle we are currently at. I can’t see such principles being readily accepted in the world of commerce where time is money and money is the meaning of life, but that’s just one more reason why the commercial world is completely incompatible with human beings. We only have a finite time to spend on this world, with the people we love, doing the things that are truly important. Who the fuck gave anyone the right to steal that time away from us?" -- Underminers, p345