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 cought 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

2017-08-04

The Empire Express, 4 August 2017


Editorial

The reason the 'Train of Civilization' cartoon works so well as a running gag is civilization's actually being a train going in a relatively straight line from a beginning to an end at an ever-increasing speed. We are bridging gaps and penetrating obstacles to keep it going where it's heading. This behavioral linearity and this eschatological directedness is mirrored in the inability to explore off-track territory and to turn back to previous, more functional ways of being. The machine is not going to stop speeding up until we are running out of building materials for bridges, or are simply too fast to stay on track, or lose our ability to tunnel into reality's fabric. In any case, the train of civilization is going to catastrophically crash, either by jumping tracks, falling off of a cliff, or hitting a wall at full speed.

Most activists and their supporters and sympathizers may have a sense of such an event coming up rather sooner than later, but how close are we actually, and how will we respond when, finally, the day has arrived?

This recent collection of links has its focus for most part on how to face this world in all its beauty and decay, and whether there is something left for humans to be done. We get diverse answers from the Pentagon, Brian Calvert, Keith Farnish, and Confucius, among others. Words like 'apocalypse', 'dystopian', 'collapse', and 'doom' are popping up a lot, and SF author William Gibson has an explanation for this trend (see below), but the presence of such a word in an article does not keep most writers from promoting an active stance. Let yourself get surprised. The differences in view between the authors presented here are quite telling and I hope they help you make up your mind about where to find your place in the scenery.

Ongoing Assault


The end of the world is universal shorthand for whatever we don’t want to happen. We have very little control over anything much at all, individually, so fantasies of staving off the end of the world are fairly benign fantasies of increased agency.”

Are we doomed? Let's have a conversation – Richard Heinberg, Resilience.org, 20170727
Even if – in all unlikelihood – we tackled every single one of our many converging crises with a technological fix civilization may still crash because of unintended side effects to those fixes. And there is no technical solution for social inequality anyway. So the lifestyle we are used to is basically toast. But that doesn't mean we are doomed, says Heinberg. If we collapsed consciously there'd be something left to rebuild upon. This conversation, though, is happening among few only.

Headline says it all: just your normal climate insanity being confirmed by dumbstruck scientists discovering that Earth's systems are unraveling faster than expected. Make no mistake, it's going to pick up even more speed and will exceed the damage projected in this study.

Withdraw,” Kingsnorth advised, “so that you can allow yourself to sit back quietly and feel, intuit, work out what is right for you and what nature might need from you. Withdraw because refusing to help the machine advance — refusing to tighten the ratchet further — is a deeply moral position.”

The unhappy ape – Ben Kadel, Medium, 20170720
The irony is that a raft of recent research in positive psychology has basically rediscovered everything you already learned in kindergarten: money can’t buy happiness; it’s better to give than to receive; bullies are actually scared wounded souls. Science has confirmed what most traditions already teach about how to live a happy life […] Look around at the excesses and the misery, side-by-side. Look at Trump. This is what it looks like when you only care about yourself.”

Then what is science good for, when the things it teaches us about ourselves and the world just confirm what's commonplace, and when the technology it underlies alienates us from ourselves and the world? The article doesn't provide an answer, but maybe that's also not necessary. The path it promotes may lead you all by itself to some insight about the implications of civilized life.

Not in front of the children: liberal meditations of the apocalypse – Chris Shaw, Wrong Kind of Green, 20170719
The nature, problems, targets, and solutions to climate change are being discussed among middle class white men mainly. They bear the mark of cultural narcissism and fail to involve both decision makers and ordinary folks. A Scottish experiment came to interesting results when breaking these limits.

Men unlike gods – John Michael Greer, Ecosophia, 20170719
Similar to Shaw (see above) JMG explores how the myths of a select few drive the development of societies – into the abyss. Awareness of the drivers may become essential when being confronted with historical patterns.

Our study suggests, first, that thinning permafrost in a warmer climate may not only result in the frequently reported and discussed increased emission of biogenic CH4, but also in increased emissions of geologic CH4, that is currently still trapped under thick, continuous permafrost, as new emission pathways open due to thawing permafrost.”

Which is to say that the findings of Shakhova et al., from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, are being confirmed by research results from other parts of the Arctic. Subsea Methane deposits are already in the process of breaking open, about to release significant amounts of greenhouse gas. The authors conclude that the results indicate that geologic CH4 emissions may contribute strongly to the permafrost-carbon-climate feedback, especially in permafrost areas vulnerable to thawing and therefore warrant much more attention.”
It is to be noted that the data has been collected in 2012/13 already. For an easier to understand description of the issue, read Robin Westenra's article Methane seeps out as Arctic permafrost starts to resemble Swiss cheese.”

The planet is warming. And it's okay to be afraid – Margaret Klein Salamon, Common Dreams, 20170717
While I think both Mann and Holthaus are brilliant scientists who identified some factual problems in the article [“The uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells], I strongly disagree with their statements about the role of emotions—namely, fear—in climate communications and politics. I am also skeptical of whether climate scientists should be treated as national arbiters of psychological or political questions, in general. I would like to offer my thoughts as a clinical psychologist […] I hope that every single American, every single human experiences such a crisis of conscience. It is the first step to taking substantial action. Our job is not to protect people from the truth or the feelings that accompany it—it’s to protect them from the climate crisis.”

Brilliant!
There are only two elements here that I disagree with:
a) "dire discussions of the climate crisis should be accompanied with a discussion of solutions." -- What if there are no solutions, or if the problem-solution dichotomy is invalid? That would be part of the truth, wouldn't it?
It is not the duty of Cassandra to discuss escape routes, but to point at the things she alone seems to be able to see.

b) Salamon's "Victory plan" is a top-down approach requiring all the world's political and economic leaders, and especially their superiors to mend their wicked ways. Hand on heart: how likely is that? Are you willing to bet your life – and all life on the planet – on the outside chance that this is going to happen?

While the author correctly proposes that for kicking people into action truth must be told, she basically reduces them to consumers of solutions that Cassandra and the world's leaders are asked to provide. One more example of why someone being able to perform a brilliant situation analysis may not necessarily be as able deducing suitable actions.

Apart from repeating the "2100" myth Wallace-Wells' "The uninhabitable Earth" has done a great job at bringing runaway climate change to public awareness. The hysterical outcry across the whole spectrum confirms as much. The rapidly warming planet will tell the truth about the time frame.

Pentagon study declares American empire is 'collapsing' – Nafeez Ahmed, Insurge Intelligence, 20170717
The US military knows a few things the government denies, but its strategy proposes more of the same elements that brought about the crisis of Empire in the first place.

This is a war, then, between US-led capitalist globalization, and anyone who resists it. And to win it, the document puts forward a combination of strategies: consolidating the U.S. intelligence complex and using it more ruthlessly; intensifying mass surveillance and propaganda to manipulate popular opinion; expanding U.S. military clout to ensure access to 'strategic regions, markets, and resources'.”
The military, of course, wants to justify the budget it got allocated and the actions it is about to take against perceived enemies of US national security. There may be an element of exaggeration in this report, but they might as well understate some of the trouble the government doesn't want the general public to be aware of.

Simultaneous harvest failures in key regions would bring global famine.
'We have found that we are not as resilient as we thought when it comes to crop growing,' said Kirsty Lewis, science manager for the Met Office’s climate security team.”

Not news. Just for the records. Another July article reported an acutal 25% loss in olives and an acutal 75% loss in grains from Italy and Spain. That's a currently happening, observed, real life decline in food supply, due to climate change, and similar events have been reported from all continents.

The truth is that these other beings wouldn't need to be saved if civilization weren't killing them. The truth is that they can't be saved so long as civilization is killing the planet. And the truth is that in this culture there are certain topics which must never be discussed, certain self-perceptions and perceived entitlements which are never negotiable.
We would rather kiss ourselves and the entire planet good-bye than to look honestly at what we have done, what we are doing, and what we will, so long as we have this supremacist mindset, continue to do.”

Voluntary poverty as a way of life is millennia old. Wise men know for a long time already that material wealth has its downsides, especially regarding peace of mind and its consequences on human behaviour. It's true, “some lifestyle choices matter more than others”, yet one has to be careful with jumping to conclusions. Passing judgments is easy, though not at all helpful when deciding how to deal with runaway climate change.

Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn't. The author uses the “BP statistical review of world energy” to graphically emulate the information about how much fuel the world is burning or, in other words, whether anthropogenic carbon emissions actually stopped rising. The bad news is, they didn't. The good news might be, from my understanding, that emissions from natural feedback loops were not as severe as thought – which doesn't mean they haven't been kicked off already. But I guess this doesn't change a tiny thing about our collective inability to stop the runaway train.

The buildup of tensions between US-led countries and Russia comes neither surprisingly nor accidently.

At times, I have found myself performing activism more than doing activism. I’m exhausted, and I’m not even doing the real work I am committed to do. It is a terrible thing to be afraid of my own community members, and know they’re probably just as afraid of me. Ultimately, the quest for political purity is a treacherous distraction for well-intentioned activists.”

A call for tolerance towards different paths rather than black&white points of view.

Pearls Before Swine


As a poet with major depression,” the author writes about seeing an owl in chains, I knew these eyes well. These were the eyes of a creature pushed beyond pain into numbness, overwhelmed with despair, and fading into the void. These were eyes I have seen on the street. These were eyes I have seen in zoos, in aquarium tanks, and in cages. These were eyes I have seen in prison, in psyche wards, and at funerals.
I knew these eyes because I have seen them reflected in the mirrors I have peered into before trying to kill myself. I knew these eyes because I have seen them in myself.”
Viewing human mental health through the lens of deep ecology he writes, We are animals and animals are an ongoing process of relationships. When those relationships become impossible, we lose ourselves. I do not believe I go too far when I write, 'We are no longer human.' By we I mean civilized humans who live much like I do.

Confucian-inspired family values: a moral vision for thee 21st century – Henry Rosemont Jr, Huffington Post, 20160510
The autonomous individual simply does not exist in our daily life. Confucians view other persons not merely accidental or contingent to my goal of living a full life, they are fundamental to it. My life can only have meaning as I contribute to the meaningfulness of the lives of others, and they to me,” Rob de Laet writes in his summary of Rosemont's blog. Gratitude, respect, loyalty are important values that when practiced on a daily basis towards all our relations cultivate their own meaning, their own sense of joy and happiness, so this is not some form of altruism or selflessness. In our yearning for a different society built around collaboration rather than competition we may assume that, Each of us comes from a family, and thus the revolution begins at home.

What does the end of our world look like from a Buddhist perspective? What is left to be done?

Those following my blog do almost certainly see that something is profoundly wrong with our set of living arrangements. Some if not all of you may agree that something must be done about it, and that it were basically better for it to go away. You heard me saying that building alternative structures while starving the old system of our contribution -- distributed denial of servitude -- was the way to go. That does not mean, though, you should fully ignore the system's doings; knowledge about how it works and how you can extract yourself from its grip may be of vital importance in defining your own paradigm and successfully develop into actually living it. The same information may be important when it comes to a showdown, intentionally or not, between your life plan and society's plans for you.

"Underminers" is a seminal comprehensive work in this field. The book which is available as a webpage, as a pdf, or in paper meticulously shows how the system undermined human faculties completely, but also how we in turn may undermine its hold on us and bring it crashing down.

Don't think about going into noble lines of work, think only of doing what you do best. Because that's where you're going to make the most difference in the world.

Action is the antidote to despair. The author of “Ishmael” on the question what every single person on Earth could do.

Cartoon

The train of civilization

“Waiter! There's a fly in my soup"

Famous Last Words

Humans are not like mice!

[previous issue / later issue]

2017-07-31

Return from Friesenheim


Some thoughts on 'the other' and on 'being different'

The following is a synthesis of some thoughts collected at a three-days discussion at the Friesenheimer Sommeruniversität last week-end and at another discussion simultaneously happening at the facebook group “The Six Blind and the Elephant.”

I think it is necessary to point out that, if we are actually desiring human unity, the path to its realization cannot imply divisiveness and fighting-against. In my community we are talking about 'unity in diversity', meaning, we accept that we are born, and have evolved, differently; all of us are diverse expressions of the One, and it doesn't take for all of us to look the same, think the same, act the same. We are already one, whether we notice this or not. In the early stages of becoming aware of it, as an intellectual concept only, there is sometimes the desire to manipulate or force others into complying with this concept. What if we got everybody, every single individual, to accepting this idea? But that's not unity, is it? We'd get a collection of seperate beings at best, mental tyranny at worst, so there is no use in this.

The Universal Consciousness oberves itself through the varied lenses of our individuality. It laughs at our attempts to stuff parts of its infiniteness into arbitrary boxes arranged into random hierarchies of 'better' and 'worse', and it is amused in the same way about efforts to counter the unfolding fragmentation with levelling differences down. Both movements, discrimination of differences and denying differences, are an expression of the notion that we are separate, independent beings.


Mountain Chief
listening to recording
with Frances Densmore
1916 (public domain)
The path to unity leads through acceptance of, and respect for, our many differences, our diversity. There are no two people on the planet, no two stones, no two trees, no two bacteria, or even two electrons that are the same. There is always something to distinguish two entities by, if only by their position in space. There are things that make us alike, though, which allows us to say, This is a human who is sharing common human traits, and this is a tree showing similar characteristics like others of its kind. To focus on the set of attributes which makes each of the readers of this essay a human being means to focus on our fundamental unity as humankind. But to value those attributes over other sets of attributes separates us from other beings. And to value certain characteristics like white skin, leftist ideology, or middle-range income, higher than other characteristics, again, results in separation. Yes, we are diverse; but it's the judgment of our differences as higher or lower, better or worse, that sets us apart and makes us think we were incompatible with each other.

As for 'narcissists', 'thieves', 'destroyers' and other groups we have identified as 'problematic', it helps when we apply different language. Instead of sticking a label to somebody and thus saying that eg. thiefing is a certain person's particular character, we could say that s/he has stolen, or that s/he has shown thiefing behaviour; this small change in grammar changes our own reality big time and allows us to believe that this person has other character traits as well. S/he is not only about stealing and s/he has the capacity to change their way. Instead of prohibiting (and finally eliminating the 'problem', and the person with it) we may ask, which unfulfilled need drives this person or group to acting as they do, and what can I do to help meeting this need differently.

This, of course, takes some time and is a matter of personal interaction; it can rarely be achieved on a large scale with thousands or milliions of people, though a supportive environment may help with fostering change. On the other hand, from what I understand, it is important to know that manipulating somebody into doing something, the top-down approach, and the demand for immediate satisfaction are part of how the world arrived at its current state. Do you see how all of this has implications for what we can or cannot do to establish a more balanced, harmoneous situation?

When we perceive ourselves as different from, let's say a 'thief', or when we are being labelled 'thieves' , it always takes a reference point perceived as 'normal'. But that makes the 'other' and the 'normal' obverse and reverse faces of one and the same leaf. So, in all our diversity we are basically one. We could say that the common denominator of being normal and of being different is being -- what an amazing realization to have...


To the organizers and participants of the Friesenheim event, I'd like to express my thanks for the many questions put, help offered, food shared, kind words spoken, and inspirations given, and all of that so freely. This was one great gathering of people willing to support each other in our search for truth and freedom, and I guess most, if not all of us agree that there is an intimate connection between the two.

I'd love to offer those who'd enjoy to continue our discourse on 'Being Different' -- contact me by commenting to this blog or by writing me a mail. Marianne and Reimer know my address and may pass it on.

On another note, a few copies of my booklet on life in rural Tamil Nadu are still available for free. Would you like to have one?

2017-07-27

Carbon confusion


While climate scientists naturally keep an eye on human carbon emissions as the main driver of global warming, people like Charles Eisenstein have been wondering whether the problem / solution approach makes any sense in handling the planetary crisis. 'Carbon reductionism', as he calls it, is just an expression of the underlying worldview that created and fostered the crisis; our sense of separateness that makes us think we could manipulate and shape the 'external' world according to our likings. We have failed achieving the desired outcome and instead have created a situation that threatens to wipe out millions of species, our own among them. What makes us think we could find our way out of this with just a little more (geo) engineering?

Eisenstein's perspective may not be easy to digest when all you ever believed in were rational thought and scientific research results. But rationality may go wrong and lose its grip on reality quite a bit, especially when its conclusions are founded on assumptions, or doctored data even.

Recently I am running more and more often into the assertion that anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases had peaked and were levelling around 36 Gtons of carbon during the last three years. Trying to find out where this figure is coming from I discovered what I intuited already: that human industrial gas output has not been measured, cannot be measured, and is utterly based on industrial claims about the amount of fossil fuels burnt. It's all paper declarations.

At the same time, greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere have actually been measured and found increasing, with no sign of even the rate of increase reducing. I find it probable that emissions have continued rising exponentially while governments and industries claim they had done their level best to curb them. Nobody can actually know where all the surplus gases in the atmosphere are coming from exactly. We only know they are there, on the rise, and they are here to stay.

Until only weeks ago I did not notice a single article in which the claim that greenhouse gases had levelled off has been questioned in any serious way, and I find this somehow peculiar when there is a lot of cynicism going around regarding corporate sources of information. After all, manipulation of deceptive practices to hide global warming and its source have been well documented.


source: GCP, licence: CC
"This result is part of the annual carbon assessment released today by the Global Carbon Project, a global consortium of scientists and think tanks under the umbrella of Future Earth and sponsored by institutions from around the world," reported 'The Conversation' ("Global carbon emissions have stalled", by Pep Canadell et al., 20161114)

The graph states that the economy is still growing and that the alleged drop in carbon emissions is based on Chinese figures about their coal use.

The industry uses those 'level' figures because they seem to show that the age of fossil fuels is over anyway and that it's not worth people's time to think about regulations. They want their fictional carbon budgets last a little longer.

Governments embrace the figures because they seem to show that their efforts with curbing global warming are gaining traction and that emissions have decoupled from economic growth.

Climate scientists who think civilization can be saved use those numbers to call for more personal action, development of 'green' energy infrastructure, or even financing their pet geo-engineering technology.

And the doomer community, yes, it has an interest in upholding those figures as well; after all, the implied growing discrepancy between stalling industrial emissions and rising atmospheric carbon levels strongly supports the notion that Earth's climate has entered a runaway mode of change.

When government, industry, and various shades of the environmental movement unite in embracing ominous figures, it makes me wonder what's going on. While we cannot expect industry, corporate-controlled governments, and their gate keeping scientists and journalists to tell the truth, truly concerned people need to take a second look at the assumptions connected to above mentioned figures. Please note that I am not saying that non-human feedback loops hadn't been triggered, just that I doubt the figures delivered by governments and industries. Those are very likely twisted, and certainly not based on reliable facts.

An article in the 'National Observer' ("These 'missing charts' may change the way you think about fossil fuel addiction", by Barry Saxifrage in Analysis, Energy, 20170713), for the first time, wonders if those figures make any sense at all. It presents evidence that there is no reason to believe anthropogenic carbon emissions have so much as stopped rising at all. Paul Beckwith, climate scientist at the University of Ottawa, just now also expresses doubt. ("Fossil fuel use is rising like there is no tomorrow" 20170726)

Absent solid data, and regarding the root causes of the planetary predicament, what actually needs to happen is a profound rethinking -- or rather, re-sensing -- of humanity's nature and place in the Universe. If we are to come to our senses all of the distractions which keep the mind busy need to fall away: entertainment, belief systems, career, money, consumerism... you name it. The falling-away of all the confusion they cause would shatter our whole way of life, otherwise called industrial civilization.
What is in the way? Only addiction and fear.
The interesting thing about it is that this is not about doing more but less, and that the way is identical to the goal.

2017-07-21

Divide et impera


(bilingual essay English & Deutsch)

Himba woman (CC0, public domain)
The transformation of the wild human into a civilized being has deprived him/her of embeddedness and creative empowerment, leaving the needy individual struggling for rations others have allowed for according to morally justifiable standards. A civilized human's bondage, neediness, and isolation are the consequence of the assumption that s/he were bonded, needy and isolated.
As long as this assumption is in place it is illusory to believe that a more advanced and just civilization, through social and technical engineering, were able to remedy humanity's predicament.
Trying to build civilization on different assumptions, in turn, will result in its utter dissolution. Technological, economic, and scientific progress, arts as a profession, monumental architecture, and cities, among other things, can neither be achieved without physical appropriation nor be maintained without structural violence. At the heart of every institution there is violence, and this means it promotes slavery, inequality and disharmony. Sometimes this is explicitly expressed in slogans like 'divide et impera' but these are rather brief summaries of a worldview than wicked strategies for getting what you want.
We are demanding so hard for liberty, equality and fraternity all the time because we are missing them from our lives. And this is also why they are ideals that have no place in any civilization and can never be achieved by civilized means. They will remain illusory forever, until we decide to end this set of living arrangements.


India (CC0, public domain)
Die Verwandlung des wilden Menschen in den zivilisierten hat ihn von einer eingebetteten schöpferischen Kraft zu einem bedürftigen Individuum gemacht, dessen ihm zugeteilte Ration davon abhängt, was das moralisch gerechtfertigte Maß erlaubt. Des zivilisierten Menschen Unfreiheit, Bedürftigkeit und Isolation ist das Ergebnis der Annahme, dass er unfrei, bedürftig und isoliert sei.
Es ist also illusorisch anzunehmen, dass eine fortgeschrittenere, gerechtere Zivilisation diesen Zustand durch soziale oder technische Ingenieurskunst beheben könnte, solange diese Annahme gilt.
Der Versuch, die Zivilisation auf eine andere Annahme zu gründen, wiederum, wird dazu führen, dass Zivilisation ganz verschwindet; technischer Fortschritt, monumentale Kunst, Ballungszentren und Wissenschaft sind ohne psychologische und physische Enteignung nicht erreichbar und ohne strukturelle Gewalt nicht haltbar. Ihr Wesen ist Gewalt, also Unfreiheit, Ungleichheit und Unbrüderlichkeit. 'Divide et impera' ist die ihr zugrunde liegende Weltanschauung, keine sonderlich perfide Strategie.
Freiheit, Gleichheit und Brüderlichkeit sind damit als Ideale entlarvt, die in einer Zivilisation weder vorkommen noch verwirklicht werden können, sondern für die Dauer des Bestehens dieser Gesellschaftsform Wunschträume bleiben werden.