Category Archives: Philosophy

Reclaiming Autonomy = Rejecting Bureaucracy

In the 20th century, several radical thinkers of considerable stature aimed to rethink, and possibly transcend, the premises of State-oriented, progressive-political ideology.  Pioneering sociologist Max Weber critiqued the massively-encroaching “bureaucratization” of all aspects of everyday life — the diminishment of the unique individual into a “calculable person” (to use Foucault’s phrase).  Like Weber, Michel Foucault valued the rational/scientific legacy of the Enlightenment, but deplored the “management” of “employees/citizens” that came in its wake.  Similarly, Lewis Mumford — another major, post-Marxist revisionist now (almost) entirely forgotten — offered a “libertarian” and de-centralized vision of vibrant social communities, as an alternative to the bureaucratized “total society” (which he termed “the Megamachine”).

In this essay, I’m turning to a brief re-examination of the unorthodox ideas of Ivan Illich, whose best writings — notably Deschooling Society and Medical Nemesis — aimed to question the entire edifice of the “managed society.”  Certainly, we’re well aware that, with the imposition of colonialism, a vast and varied multitude of localized folk-knowledge and ways of living were destroyed. In the aftermath — and this historical process is still ongoing! — individuals were deprived of their land and modes of adapting, and forcibly transformed into subjects of State and Capital.  Reciprocal sharing and learning of traditional life-skills were replaced by “managers” and “experts,” who dictated new definitions of “needs” — now to be fulfilled primarily through market-based consumption of their goods-and-services.  Informal learning was replaced by “education,” subsistence techniques by mechanized/chemical “agriculture.”  Traditional practical knowledge, as well as folk-wisdom, were soon lost as was “the pleasure derived from personal autonomous action.”  Formerly self-regulating individuals became “consumers” of newly-imposed “commodities,” such as seeds, tractors, “infant formula,” and so forth.  Moreover, the expanded definition of “needs” — consumption of which now required imposed wage-labor and acquisition of debt — transformed formerly independent, adaptive persons into bondage to the State and its corporate masters.  In short, as Illich put it, people were “dis-abled” from their former competences, becoming “clients” of varied “experts” and “managers.”

Like Mumford, Illich condemned the crushing of individual creative adaptation, and with it the person’s “confidence in his own unaided capacities.”  Instead of enhancing the self-awareness and habits of good health, people — as we see all around us today! — were soon rushing to “the doctor” at the first sign of an ailment (usually self-correcting).  The burgeoning medical industry, imposing a monopoly on the definition of “health,” claimed the exclusive power to define “sickness” and its appropriate “treatment” (all at substantial cost, of course, to the hapless “patient”!).  (Parenthetically, one might insert a word of skepticism regarding proposed U.S. “Medicare-for-All” — given this well-documented study by James Leiber: Killer Care: How Medical Errors Have Become the Third Leading Cause of Death.)  As the individual felt increasingly unable to cope with the difficulties of family and social life, he increasingly turned to “family counselors,” “financial advisors,” “personal coaches” — even “sex therapists” (cf. Thomas Szasz, Sex by Prescription).

Thus, the inexorable historic shift, from prideful autonomy (and dignity) to what Illich termed “heteronomy” — i.e., total dependence on, and control by, “managerial-elites” and the commodities they now insist are “needs.”  Certainly, given the labyrinthine web of “services” in which most of us find ourselves enmeshed, Illich’s ideas today, if anything, constitute an increasingly urgent wake-up call.  Totally rejecting the dependence imposed in consumer-society, Illich to the end celebrated “the advantages of self-chosen joyful austerity!”

Caught in Their Fun House

America… just a nation of two hundred million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.

Hunter S. Thompson

Now I think poetry will save nothing from oblivion, but I keep writing about the ordinary because for me it’s the home of the extraordinary, the only home.

— Phillip Levine

I’m digging the DV piece, “The Idiot” by Jason Holland, since in a critical mass sort of black hole kind of way, his main thesis is reflective of the experiences many of us in the bloody trenches of dying capitalism see/feel/believe minute by minute.

And after all our idiotic overcomplicated plots and schemes, they are but to mask simple truths the idiot facade tries so desperately to avoid; the inner torments of being afraid of not being good enough, not measuring up to our peers, not meeting arbitrary expectations we either accept from others or set for ourselves, or quite simply feeling like we are not worthy of love. So we play these pointless high stakes games which have a rewards as meaningless and worthless as a plastic trophy just to prove our worth. The idiot is a temporal state of being, although many are finer long term examples of displaying the behaviors of the idiot; however none of us are the perfect idiot. To avoid the affectations of being in an idiotic state it takes conscious effort to live our lives moment to moment with authenticity, to be in a state of awareness of our actions, to always be willing to suffer for something worthwhile and to be consistently well reasoned examiners of what constitutes something worthwhile.

That authenticity, moment to moment existence —  and it should be a reveling of life — is good, but there is a bifurcating of sorts when many of us are still subject to the masters of Big Brother and Big Business. We are suffering the dualism of the Century, and the more we know, the more we seek and the more we grapple, well, the more emancipated we are, but in that freedom comes some pretty harsh treatment by the masters and their sub-masters and all the Little Eichmann’s that keep the Capitalist’s trains moving like clockwork toward the global demise set in their plastic worlds!

And some of us think Dachau and Auschwitz were bad! We have already seen a hundred of them since 1945.

For me, I have the benefit of being a writer, and at this time, I have this new gig I created myself to bring to the Oregon Coast a sense of the people who are here living or who come here to set down their own stories . . . people who do things to make this world better and themselves better. Something in the draw that brings my subjects for my pieces here to the coast of Oregon. These are people, and they are not perfections or cut-outs or pulverized remnants of humanity that Capitalism mostly demands in it shark tank of inane media manipulation and marketing.

I crack open humanity and get people’s contexts — entire stories upon stories laid down, strata by strata, and cover their own formula for the art of living in harmony in a world of disharmony. Reading my stuff, I hope, will allow readers of this rag, Oregon Coast Today,  and its on-line version a better sense of authenticity via people they may or may not even run across in their own lives of being the consummate busy tourist and consumer.

A few of the pieces will be worthy of DV display, and I hope that my attempt at drilling down and “getting people” for who they are and how they got here will better the world, in some small shape. Really small, but small wonders sometimes are the ionic glue of a bettering world.

What is more compelling than the average person captured in a truthful narrative, as counterpoint to a society that delves into the celebrity, the spectacle, the idiocy as Jason puts forth in his piece, “The Idiot.”

In many ways, talking to people who have lived authentic (albeit struggle-prone) lives, or who are just embarking on a nascent stage of multiple iterations of living, I get my sense of grounding in a very flummoxed world of inanity and crass disassociation, as in the disease of pushing away humanity and pushing away the natural world to hitch oneself to the perversions of the billionaire class.

Time and time again, daily, my friends who are still in struggle — still trying to make sense of the perverted world of idiots controlling the message, the economy, the environment, the culture, and the mental-physical-spiritual health of the world, as if this is it, Trump 2.0 — give me news feed after news feed of the quickening of not only idiocy that capitalism and consumerism and war engender in our species, but also examples of the inhumanity driving the agendas of the Fortune 500 Class, the Davos crowd, the Aspen Institute gatherings, et al.

Yet, my friend, Joe the Farmer from Merced, hits the nail on the head by providing his own retort to example after example of the cruelty of capitalism and the US of I — United States of Idiots?

If this doesn’t slap the Hell out of you and rub your nose into the proverbial dog shit of what a criminally insane, inhumane, cruel and thuggish enterprise our government has become, then there is absolutely no hope for your soul. The truth tellers like Manning, Assange, Snowden and others, the brave young guys like Tim DeChristopher that monkey wrenched the sale of oil leases to public lands to try and protect the environment, this fellow that is showing his human side by providing water and aid for those dying in the desert sun, are all facing prison terms or maybe even the death penalty. Their crime? Being a compassionate human being.

What in the fuck is wrong with this country? The republicans enact cruel legislation to protect criminal enterprises, slash taxes for the obscenely rich, while removing any social or environmental protections for the population, (the Flint Michigan water system for example).

The republicans are ruthlessly attacking the environment and endangered species, turning their backs on infrastructure that is endangering peoples lives, while the spineless democrats sit idly by, wringing their hands. The democrats won’t take action against the most openly corrupt president we have ever had, that is daily destroying everything in this country as well as the rest of the world with his insane military budgets, trade wars and climate policies. The democrats response to Trump is to promote Joe Biden, a compilation of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Strom Thurman and just about every other corporate whore they could steal parts off of to make their democratic very own version of Donald Trump.

Both the republicans and the democrats promote austerity for the working people and the poor, while stuffing the oligarchs pockets with gold. Both political Parties support endless war and war profiteers but slash budgets for schools, infrastructure, health care and the elderly. Both political Parties shower money on the police state and a corrupt system of justice and private prisons. Both political Parties are turning their heads to what the oil industry is doing to our water and air with fracking and are in fact have promoted legislation to let the oil industry off the hook when it causes unbelievable environmental damage. Both political Parties are doing nothing to check the nuclear industry that is a environmental time bomb waiting to go off and have promoted legislation to limit the industries liability when it does.

What is wrong with the American people that they sit on their collective asses and do nothing while all this is happening? Are they that fucking stupid? Are they that lacking in human decency? Are they that politically dumbed-down that they won’t even fight for their own interests?

The fact that this government corruption has been allowed to go on for years evidently proves that Americans are that stupid and lacking of compassion and politically dumbed-down. Thank God for guys like Dr. Warren the others that are trying to slap some sense into the American public to show us what courage and being humane is all about. Dr. Warren and company shouldn’t be put in jail but our so called leaders sure as Hell should be for their crimes against humanity.

He’s talking about a desert saint of sorts, Scott Warren, who has the power of his call to duty to give water in milk cartons to anyone crossing the Arizona desert. Now that is a hero, yet, he is facing decades in prison. America!

The charges against Warren “are an unjust criminalization of direct humanitarian assistance” and “appear to constitute a politically motivated violation of his protected rights as a Human Rights Defender,” states Amnesty International’s Americas regional director Erika Guevara-Rosas.

“Providing humanitarian aid is never a crime,” Guevara-Rosas added in a statement last week. “If Dr. Warren were convicted and imprisoned on these absurd charges, he would be a prisoner of conscience, detained for his volunteer activities motivated by humanitarian principles and his religious beliefs.”

Yet how many humans in this crime country even give a rat’s ass about one man who is doing the good that all men and women should be doing?

AJO, ARIZONA - MAY 10: Scott Warren, a volunteer for the humanitarian aid organization No More Deaths speaks with local residents during a community meeting to discuss federal charges against him for aiding undocumented immigrants on May 10, 2019 in Ajo, Arizona. Warren is scheduled to appear in court for felony charges on May 29 in Tucson, accused by the U.S. government on two counts of harboring and one count of conspiracy for providing food, water, and beds to two Central American immigrants in January, 2018. If found guilty Warren could face up to 20 years in prison. The trial is seen as a watershed case by the Trump Administration, as it pressures humanitarian organizations working to reduce suffering and deaths of immigrants along the border. The government says the aid encourages human smuggling. In a separate misdemeanor case, federal prosecutors have charged Warren with public littering, for distributing food and water along migrant trails. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Read the great piece about these water bearers on the border at the Intercept by Ryan Devereaux.

flood-the-desert-1556916141

So, here, whatever will come of my new column, “Deep Dive: Go Below the Surface with Paul Haeder,” starting June 7, well, I hope people reading this rag — 18,000 and counting and as they are compelled to hit each longer version of each of my profiles on line, Oregon Coast Today — will understand that life is the sum total of one’s search for meaning and worthy work and community involvement.

Maybe this compulsion toward narrative has always been inside me during my early root setting  living in Canada, Maryland, Paris, Edinburgh, Arizona . . . then on that walkabout throughout Latin America, Europe, Vietnam, USA, Central America!

When times get tough, the storyteller gets writing. Ha. Believe you me, the stories we all have collected in this Marquis de Sade world of capital and artery-clogging entertainment and constant death spiral the elites have banked as their Appian Way to Complete Dominance, they make for so much more validation of humanity than anything Hollywood could make.

Point of fact — I attempted to watch the film, Vice, about Dick Cheney, his perverse family, the perversity of neocons fornicating with neoliberalism. It was one of Hollywood’s “cutting edge” dramas. Written and directed by a Saturday Night Live writer. All the usual suspects with Hollywood multi-millions stuffed in their jowls — Christian Bale, Amy Adams, et al.

It wasn’t that good, but I sensed that the filmmakers were all about trying to make something that was “different.” I didn’t nod off during the viewing. But, I unfortunately had the DVD so I went to the extras section, and then, the behind-the-scenes of the making of Vice. This is when things went south real quickly with neoliberal, Democrat-leaning Hollywood creeps. We get every goofy platitude about each and every department’s genius in making this film. Every actor fawns the other actor for his or her amazing performance.

Then the Limey, Christian Bale, yammers on and on about he was all about making Dick Cheney human, going into his good side, being cognizant of Cheney, the human. Rubbish and this is the quality of men, adults, in our society — multimillionaires with gobs of limelight and credit and awards and houses and yachts thrown at them, and they can’t even begin to attack the cause — capitalism, rampant competitiveness, droll I-got-mine-too-bad-you-can’t-get-yours thinking. Hollywood is the anti-culture, the flagging bumbling money changers, the money makers, the money grubbers, and well, everything is about the pockets and the suits and the “executive producers,” i.e. Bankers.

Oh god, what a trip going into these Hollywood people’s hot yoga, macrobiotic diet, four-hour-a-day workout minds. The director, McKay, actually thinks this drama — make-believe — has given the world new stuff, new insights, new news about the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Bush-Reagan-Bush world of prostitute politics.

As if there were no real journalists working on all the pre-September 11 illegalities of the republican party and then the post-September 11 evisceration of the few rights the people of the world and USA had before full spectrum war on our planet.

As if journalists hadn’t cracked open the Koch brothers, the fake think tanks, all the pre-Truman/post-Truman lies of empire, from Roy Cohen, through to the rigged systems of oppression. Way before any trivial Hollywood wannabe open her eyes.

Entertainment and a few laughs at the expense of millions of bombed-dead people, millions more suffering-a-lingering-death daily because of Hollywood and USA policies and the evangelicals and the Crypto-Christo-Zionists bombing “the other” back to the stone age. The movie, Vice.

Racists, misogynists, misanthropes, one and all. Yet, we gotta love these democrat-leaning guys and gals making films, having millions stuffed up every possible orifice until their brains gel.

Insight into the flippancy that is Hollywood the Power Broker! Watching people like Amy Adams and Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell play this soft-shoe goofball show, and then in the little “Making of the Movie Vice” documentary (sic-infomercial) blathering on and on about the greatness of the script and every cog of the machine that churns out this pabulum, well, it steels me to continue my small-time, no-fame, big-effing-deal gig writing people profiles to bring some sense to a world captured by capital . . . idiocy!

Oh, how we fall in line. Over at Counterpunch, that cloistered world of writers has the countdown for 2018 — Best Films of the Year, as in the most conscious, socially (give me a effing break!) that is. Nothing in American society once it floats on the offal barrel is sacred, socialist, communist.

Peak TV is creating more opportunities for independent film directors, and for new stories to be told. More films from around the world are released on streaming every day, and Netflix spent an estimated 13 billion dollars on content just this year. More cash available can sometimes mean more stories by and about communities of color, women, transgender and gender nonconforming people, and other communities Hollywood has long ignored. But the movie industry is still primarily about making profit, and it’s main business is reinforcing the status quo, including churning out films that glorify capitalism, war, and policing.

Below are 2018’s top ten conscious films that made it through these barriers, plus twenty more released this year that you may want to check out.

[…]

Hollywood doesn’t have a great record in covering presidential politics (remember Kevin Costner in Swing Vote?). Vice, comedy director Adam McKay’s follow up to The Big Short, explores the Bush/Cheney presidency, attempting to make history and polemic accessible to a wide audience. It’s not as effective as his previous film, but it’s a good history, especially for those less familiar with the ins and outs of the early 2000s corporate power grab.

Lighten up already, many a friend and acquaintance tell me. “You are going to burn out like one of the bulbs you use underwater to do your night dives. Way too much shining the hoary light onto the more hoary caverns of American society. Let things go.”

Ha, well, how can we? We are entertained to death, as Neil Postman states:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.

This book [Amusing Ourselves to Death] is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.

And so it goes, as I trail the acrid dust devil of injustice — my own and the veterans’ and families’ I helped just months ago in Portland as a social worker for, drum roll, homeless veterans (and some came with families, including babies and service dogs).

I’ve written about it here and elsewhere — the Starvation Army. The deceitful, unethical, possibly murderous Starvation Army. You see, where I worked, I had these insane Nurse Ratched’s lording over grown men and women treating them like criminals, and infantiles, and the constant berating and recriminations. It was anything but social work 101. Anything but trauma-informed care. Anything  but caring people, enlightened helpers; instead, think mean, warped people who within their own broken self’s, do all the wrong things for veterans.

I decided to jump ship, and, alas, a few lawyers advised me I couldn’t get far with a hostile workplace complaint until I went through the state of Oregon’s, Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) quasi-judicial pathway.

There was great harm put upon the veterans, great harm put upon the staff, because a director was all into herself and her self-described Jesus Saves bullshit, yammering on about her former  cocaine addiction and booze abuse and 350 pounds of flesh, as well as her own failings as a mother. This place has 100 people living in it temporarily, while Starvation Army receives taxpayer money, all part of the poverty pimping Starvation/Salvation Army’s SOP.

In the end, relying on idiots in any state bureaucracy to carry forth an investigation was not my idea of justice. I did my due diligence and filed grievances, first with the Starvation Army, and, then with BOLI. I contacted VA officials, state politicians, and the media. To no avail. They too are accomplices!

To make a long and stupid Byzantine story short, my prediction of zero assistance and zero admonishing from the state to the executive director and the higher ups of the Starvation Army played out. BOLI is a toothless and empty-hearted agency, staffed by soulless Little Eichmann’s counting their paychecks and amassing points to their state sourced pension fund.

I have moved on, as usual, and the injustice perpetrated upon me is minor in the scheme of things. The veterans, however, already foisted with trauma, PTSD, administrative rape, etc., are still vulnerable to the Nurse Ratched’s of the inhumane social services that serves (sic) non-profits and religious crime syndicates like the Starvation Army.

Here, “How the Salvation Army Lives Off (and thrives with) a Special Brand of Poverty Pimping”

Here, “Alcohol, Atheism, Anarchy: The Triple A Threat to the Pro-Capitalist Salvation Army”

Here, “Insanity of Social Work as Human Control”

I have since my departure been in contact with a few veterans, and talked a few off the proverbial ledge — several that wanted to off themselves because of the Nurse Ratched’s they encounter at the Starvation Army, in the VA, and in non-profits.  This is the reality, and it’s sick, in real perverted American time —  “Hundreds witness veteran shoot and kill himself in VA waiting room”

In December, Marine Col. Jim Turner, 55, put his service uniform on, drove to the Bay Pines Department of Veterans Affairs, and shot himself outside the medical center, leaving a note next to his body.

This is Trump, this is Biden, this is Clinton, this is the lot of them, callous and broken capitalists, who have sold their souls to the devil and brains to Jeff Bezos, et al.
And it ain’t going to get fixed until we cut away the cancer. Really cut away, daily, in small acts of defiance, great collective acts of beating the system.
Not sure what that great director Ava Duvernay says about more and more movies like her 13th or this new Netflix mini-series on the Central Park FiveWhen They See Us will do to eventually get enough Americans (70 percent are racist to the core) to demand change in the criminal injustice system of private prisons, Incarceration Complex, Profitable Prosecutions. That all those cops, dailies, elites, deplorables, Trumpies, and Trump said terrible terrible things about these 5 juveniles, calling them animals, or super predators like the Clinton Klan, well, imagine, an insane 2016 runner for the highest crime lord position of the land, POTUS, Donald Trump, after these five men were released after all the evidence found them innocent, sputtering with his big fat billionaire’s fourth grader’s words that the Central Park Five are guilty, guilty, guilty.

The press coverage was biased. There was a study done by Natalie Byfield, one of the journalists at the time for the New York papers who later wrote a book about covering the case, and it saw that a little more than 89 percent of the press coverage at the time didn’t use the word “alleged,” that we had irresponsibility in the press corps at the time not to ask second questions and literally take police and prosecutor talking points and turn those into articles that people read as fact, and proceeded to shape their opinions about this case that essentially spoils the jury pool, so that these boys were never given a chance.

Trump’s comments in his ads that he took out in 1989 were taken out just two weeks after the crime was announced—they hadn’t even gone to trial, so it was impossible for them to have an impartial jury pool. The printing of their names in the papers for minors, and where they lived, was a jaw-dropper. All of this was done by “reputable” papers in New York that we still read, so I’m curious how these papers take responsibility for their part in this, and also possibly use this to review the part they play in other cases that may not be as famous as this.

Thus, she makes my case — the callous and racist and sexist and xenophobic US Press, and here we are today, 2019, enter Amusing Ourselves to Death and a Brave New World.

The greatest triumphs of propaganda have been accomplished, not by doing something, but by refraining from doing. Great is truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth.

— Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, “Preface”

Alas, though, we have to keep those words coming, even sent to the great gray hearts and souls populating those state agencies whose workers are supposed to investigate the workplace safety concerns of workers, and are supposed to prevent workplace harassment.

I write to break through the fog, and to envelop a new way of seeing my world, for me and for the few readers that dabble in even attempting to start, let alone finish, these missives.

Huxley was right — ” Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.” Brave New World, “Chapter 4”

Love in the Time of Xenocide

If artists are the antennae of the race, and writers and thinkers are also artists, then a vibration some are receiving and beginning to transmit to the culture more broadly now is new in the history of our species: the world is dying.

Christy Rodgers, “Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Grief, Acceptance: The Five Stages of Ecocide”

I’m digging what some of us artists are doing to act as narrative catchments, looking deep into the well of humanity’s general self-delusion and hubris. This is on the heels of heading from the Central Oregon Coast to Portland, to attend an Oceans conference at Portland State University in downtown Stumptown Sunday afternoon.

Patience here, dear reader, since I am also part of a grand global transformation, though time and again I have written over the decades that I get it and got it at a very young age —

  • capitalism as a system of penury, pollution, trickle down insanity
  • the rapacious quality of narcissism of the Western world (me-myself-and-I consumerism)
  • the despoiling of soil, land, air, river, ocean water by collective madness of money making
  • misogyny which has hitched the world’s girls and women to the shackles of male stupidity and sexual violence and forced birthing
  • war lords, even those hiding in Sweden or Switzerland, becoming the Mafioso of the world, full stop
  • the capturing of a free thinking press and evisceration of holistic education by privatizers and corporate overlords to create the Orwellian maxim of, lies are truth, war is peace

So, with my fiance and her daughter — OSU chemistry/physics undergraduate — we headed to a mild conference (tabling non-profits do not make a conference) to also listen to celebrity diver-scientist, Sylvia Earle, aged 83. We’ll talk about her Mission Blue. We’ll talk about this hopey-dopey thing she promulgates. We’ll talk about her down-dumbing to audiences. Later. And I paid for tickets, which is something I have rarely done in my 62 years on the planet.

Image result for Sylvia Earle controversy

Yes, the guilt of using up fossil fuels, clogging the road system and sending water vapor and CO2 into the atmosphere to hear someone I have already heard elsewhere in another iteration of my time as community college teacher and sustainability leader.

How difficult was it for me to NOT open my mouth and start railing against this celebrity culture before the talk — and expose a 21-year-old hopeful undergraduate science student to negativity — and then spew out my prophecy of …  this is just going to be another white person-attended milquetoast thing with dyed in the wool democrats and Obama lovers again not even attempting to stammer that capitalism is the evil, war is the tool for this evil, magical thinking is the conduit of this evil, and chaos in all forms of discourse/thought/ community its product?

Huge!

I’ll in a future piece nuance and dice and parse what Sylvia Earle’s talk was — a refitted talk that she’s done for decades — and how that crowd in Portland did in some sense send pulsating streams of bile into my throat as I felt like the one and only one who was disturbed by the lock-step cult of celebrity thing going on in that big PSA pavilion, one big basketball arena that was burping up so much air conditioned streams that dozens of folk scurried around looking for sweaters and coats to keep from blue-lipping themselves into a stupor.

I’ve been here before, running talks with the likes of Winona LaDuke, James Howard Kunstler, David Helvarg, Bill McKibben and others. I was the thorn in the side, the lightning rod, the agitator, the one person who took the discourse away from slanted academic or literary bunk and platitudes, toward a more militant rhetoric, one where revolutionary thinking had to set the stage. Some guests were uncomfortable, and audiences, too but many speakers and others I interviewed or MC-ed for responded deeper than they had ever in public, many have told me. I even took them to the studio and interviewed them on my old radio show. Here are a few captured on my blog, PaulHaeder dot com.

Too-too many times, the rank and file wherever I practiced as teacher, journalist, social worker and activist have demonstrated their partial or complete colonization (where I ticked off the issues in the list above) which has assisted in depositing magical thinking and elitism and exceptionalism into the very fiber of the average American. Including many of the people who I rub elbows with!

The stage was set, Sunday, and we were there, a few hundred captives, held to the standards of this organization that sponsored the event — SAGE, Senior Advocates for Generational Equity. There was a choir, and there was a forced “all audience members please stand up and sing” moment, Hallelujah’s,  and there were no young people on stage, no haggling of ideas, no argumentation about how criminal capitalism is, and our war economy (Earle is a capitalist and military supporter), no debate about how we do in fact help save the ocean, no hard-edged and outside-the-box discourse and presentation.

Image result for dead dolphins gulf of mexico

As she spoke May 19, the headlines were hurtling in, headlines that would have made some good grist for deep conversation:

Buyer Beware: Seafood ‘Fraud’ Rampant, Report Says

American Academy of Pediatrics Says US Children Are Not Eating Enough Seafood

New study of migrant and child labour in the Thai seafood industry

Bangladesh bans fishing for 65 days to save fish

Hilsa: The fish that is being loved to death

‘Fish are vanishing’ – Senegal’s devastated coastline

Choose the Right Fish To Lower Mercury Risk Exposure

Mercury levels in the northern Pacific Ocean have risen about 30 percent over the past 20 years and are expected to rise by 50 percent more by 2050 as industrial mercury emissions increase, according to a 2009 study led by researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey and Harvard University.

Mercury-containing plants and tiny animals are eaten by smaller fish that are then gobbled up by larger fish, whose tissue accumulates mercury. That’s why larger, longer-living predators such as sharks and swordfish tend to have more of the toxin than smaller fish such as sardines, sole, and trout.

In comments submitted to federal health officials earlier this year, a group of scientists and policy analysts pointed out that a 6-ounce serving of salmon contains about 4 micrograms of mercury vs. 60 micrograms for the same portion of canned albacore tuna—and 170 micrograms for swordfish.

When you eat seafood containing methylmercury, more than 95 percent is absorbed, passing into your bloodstream. It can move throughout your body, where it can penetrate cells in any tissue or organ.

Image result for W Eugene SMith Minamata

But again, this is the cult of celebrity, even scientists, and so the evening was suffused with homilies and genuflecting and really a sixth grade level Power Point talk, not scientific, not political, not deep, not philosophical, not earth rumbling/shattering. Imagine those headlines above debated in the talk. The contradictions. The implications. Mercury, right, perfect for baby and grandpa!

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So, the trip back through Oregon’s hinterland — farms, orchards, big hay operations — with all those “Jesus is the Way” billboard signs, all those “Trump and God Reign” fluttering flags, all that once-thick-forestland-turned-into-Johnson-grass property, all those RVs and heavy-duty pickups and SUVs rushing for a week at the beach, and all the cannabis shops and junk food shacks reminding me that most people did not make THIS bargain two or three generations ago.

The cancer is capitalism-addictive-consumerism; the tuberculosis is the credit cards, banks, IMF, World Bank, and mortgage companies holding people on their knees with a debt gun to our heads; the neurological damage is the assault on democracy through the prostitution of politicians-journalists-educators in that old time religion, careerism; the illiteracy is through the ever-deadening death-entertainment of a floundering press and piss poor publishing realm.

Much more on that later —  the concept of a Sylvia Earle even headlining a “world oceans day” anemic event, and the obvious lack of hard-hitting discourse and thought on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

Below is a piece I wrote, specifically for Oregon Humanities magazine, a call out for manuscripts to work with the theme, adapt.

For the Summer 2019 issue, share an experience about conforming in response to some sort of pressure. Tell us what it takes to alter and revamp a system that needs to change. Explore a historical or current event that shows the process and outcome of adaptation.

No, this isn’t an angst riddled preface to the piece that was NOT accepted for publication, which also would have had a small check involved. I was told by the poet laureate of Oregon (K.S.) to not expect a big huge hug when sending in my submission, implying that the staff — editorial people at this non-profit, Oregon Humanities — have their own little dance to the beat of a different literary drummer thing going on.

I get that, these non-profits staffed by some pretty middle of the road peeps, or culture wars warriors, or people who have a set and proscribed middle land of what they believe is music to their ears or what would be acceptable stuff for their funders’ and readers’ sensibilities.

Therefore, the rejection letter I got yesterday, via email, with a couple of typos in the body written by the editor of this magazine, was expected, but like anytime I attempt a corn-artichoke-green chile-vegan cheese souffle —  and it’s definitely putting in all that energy, using all those well-handled ingredients, shepherding all the care and the oven acumen —  when the souffle comes out floppy or semi-deflated, my hardened heart still skips a few beats and I want to kick the cast iron ceramic pot into the woods hissing and steaming.

Same with a rejection letter! Err, make that plural. Dozens of them. In the hundreds. Even after 45 years of rejections, I feel the bile bubble up! Then I remember how much I hated that masters of fine arts group of people I have intellectually intercoursed with over the years!

There is good writing out there, just not much of it coming from MFA programs. What may have provided an engine for a genuine attention to craft, fifty years ago, Rockefeller Foundation notwithstanding, has withered and left an enfeebled cult of pseudo expertise. For the genetic disposition of creative writing programs is linked to the paradoxical stigmatizing and entitlements of University attendance. The goal of the CIA and State Dept is one thing, and we’re talking less than best and brightest here, and the ideological imprint is actually probably minor, but the unintended vaccinations of rationality, the ingesting of sociological and a generic lexical sensibility is significant. Art that has lost anger and moral obsession, has left a low stakes hobby culture of career minded ruthlessness coupled to creative flaccidity. The work is constrained in the same ways, psychologically, that allows mute absorption of all aspects of the Spectacle. The concrete and specific becomes generic by a rational process of observation that brackets the irrational and working within the institution is a tacit acceptance of the hierarchies of the system that desires to kill off dissent and opposition, and that means killing off the impulse to question. The white supremacist establishment shares the structural dynamics of the University. MFA program as Pentagon. Now there are exceptions, I guess. But creative writing largely, following the lead of the Iowa Writers Workshop is in the business of staying in business.  — John Steppling

The compulsive repetitive nature of mass marketing has gone a long ways in the training of perception. But it is the mystifying of repetition, the pretense is of difference. And this seems crucial. The liberal white class, the people who run institutional theater, and University programs in writing, believe largely in a marketed reality within which stories of individualism can be played out. Clear cut the forest, the better to inspect ‘psychology’ as it is operative in each ‘character’. This links also to my last post and this idea of mastery. You cannot master the forest, without mostly cutting it down. The sense of space: that theatrical space, linked to an ‘off stage’, to an elsewhere that is unconscious, is by its very nature submissive. The submission allows for that walk in the forest. That walk is creative and it also the discovery of a path. The Situationists used to say, get a map of Berlin and use it to navigate yourself around Milan. — John Steppling

I’ll shift out of the woe is me thing, and discuss quickly what just took place on Dissident Voice Sunday, a Christy Rodgers piece, “Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Grief, Acceptance: The Five Stages of Ecocide.” I was opening up DV, when I found Christy’s powerful piece, and read it, because I was not able to settle down after watching on my free Hulu, If Beale Street Could Talk.

She covers the so-called stages of grief — Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Grief, Acceptance — as we collectively and individually confront the great dying, and confront all those feedback loops and lag times and tipping points to our rape of the world as they are now being played out as the chickens coming home to roost.  Fricken Chaucer: Some six centuries ago, when Geoffrey  used it in The Parson’s Tale:

And ofte tyme swich cursynge wrongfully retorneth agayn to hym that curseth, as a bryd that retorneth agayn to his owene nest.

— Geoffrey Chaucer, 1390, The Parson’s Tale

Malcom X, those chickens coming back to roost.

Rodgers is talking about this climate warming chaos, the stages of grief, confronting what in our lifetimes is the most dramatic event civilization has spurred and will ever witness. She is part of an artist collective, Dark Mountain, and she is prefacing the latest anthology by talking about the deep remnants of human pain during this bearing witness and bearing the weight and cause of the quickening of species extinction and the betrayal of all those goods and services capitalism and other forms of rendering civilization put into the equation of take or give.

Dark Mountain’s latest anthology, #15, In the Age of Fire, has just been published. Material from its 51 authors and artists is showcased on the project’s website. Rodgers, DV:

Acceptance doesn’t mean accommodation with oppression and injustice. It means acknowledgment that we aren’t trying to prevent the apocalypse, because civilization is the apocalypse. We are trying to open a path to a future that is worth living in. Our feelings are experienced individually, and they do not directly impact the material world. But they are not irrelevant. The path to truth for a complex being must itself be complex. On the day a hundred thousand people come into the streets to grieve together for the lost reefs, the lost forests, and all the unnumbered victims, human and non-human, of civilization’s rise, we can mark the beginning of a new era in human life on this planet.

At the Brink of Extinction on the Coast Near the Salmon River

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

— “Auguries of Innocence,” by William Blake

A crossroads is the big X in my life, like the symbol of the thunderbird in many myths of original peoples of the American Pacific Northwest, Southwest, East Coast, Great Lakes, and Great Plains.

Of all the places I now am rooted in and adapting to —  the Central Oregon Coast —  I am thinking long and hard about what it means to have traveled through body, soul and mind in a 62-year-old journey.

I’m thinking about how I ended up in Otis, near Cascade Head on the Pacific. From birth in San Pedro, California, upbringing in the Azores, formative years in Paris, France, and learning teenage years in the Sonora, from Arizona to Guaymas, I am here reinvigorating what many elders I’ve crossed paths with as adopted vision quest instructors have taught me.

When you are ready, come to me. I will take you into nature. In nature you will learn everything that you need to know. –

Rolling Thunder, Cherokee Medicine Man

I was told that very lesson by friends’ dads and aunties from so many tribes – Papago, Chiricahua and White River Apache, Navajo, Yaqui, Tohono O’odham. Even at the bottom of the Barrancas del Cobre, several Tarahumara elders imparted the same wisdom: In nature you will learn everything you need.

I received the same tutelage in Vietnam by ethnic tribes leaders near the Laos border 25 years ago. And I learned the same points in my life six years ago on the Island of St. John from a turtle hunter who had grown up in Dominica.

Ironically, just a few days when I was welcoming 2019 into my life, I received the same sort of holistic “how to live in harmony” message from a social worker friend who is also an enrolled member of the Grande Ronde tribe. He texted me this:

“I chatter, chatter as I flow to join the brimming river, for men may come and men may go, but I go on forever.”

This from a tribal elder who I worked with on independent living programs for foster youth. One of our clients was from the Grande Ronde tribe living in Clackamas County, Oregon, receiving services for developmental disabilities caused by fetal alcohol syndrome.

My former colleague waited five minutes before a follow-up text came to me: “Bro’, that’s from Lord Tennyson, so don’t go all Dances with Wolves on me, man . . . haha.”

That text came to me while I was solitary, across from a sand spit where 20 harbor seals were banana-splitting in their favorite haul-out near Cascade Head, where the Salmon River pushes out freshwater ions, tannins, soil streams into the Pacific just north of Lincoln City.

The pinnipeds were cool, but listless. Instead, I was busy espying two bald eagles swooping down on the sand a hundred yards from the seals who then began pecking and ripping at a pretty good-sized steel-head carcass.

The moment before the incoming tide shifted hard and was about to isolate me on a lone rocky outcropping, I was thinking like a mountain, sort of – at least I was deep in the afterglow of having just reread Aldo Leopold’s A Sand Country Almanac:

A deep chesty bawl echoes from rimrock to rimrock, rolls down the mountain, and fades into the far blackness of the night. It is an outburst of wild defiant sorrow, and of contempt for all the adversities of the world.

Every living thing (and perhaps many a dead one as well) pays heed to that call. To the deer it is a reminder of the way of all flesh, to the pine a forecast of midnight scuffles and of blood upon the snow, to the coyote a promise of gleanings to come, to the cowman a threat of red ink at the bank, to the hunter a challenge of fang against bullet. Yet behind these obvious and immediate hopes and fears there lies a deeper meaning, known only to the mountain itself. Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf.  – Thinking like a Mountain, Aldo Leopold

How did I get here, Oregon’s Central Coast? How did I end up learning about eagles pecking at the afterbirth of sea lions in and around the rookeries here on this coast? Why is the eagle, a talisman for me since my early years traveling throughout the American Southwest and into Mexico, so important to me now?

Adaptation or extinction, change versus stagnation. For so many reasons, change and evolution have been part and parcel of my life – newspaper journalist, novelist, college professor, case manager for adults with disabilities, social worker for homeless veterans, and a million more intersections in a world of apparent chaos.

The Mexican flag of those Estados Unidos Mexicanos is an eagle on a prickly pear cactus with a snake in its mouth. I learned as a high school junior that the ancient Aztecs knew where to build their city Tenochtitlan once they saw an eagle eating a snake on top of a lake.

The beauty of the American eagle adapting to the toxins in DDT is clear: Homo sapiens seems historically to never employ the precautionary principle for both ourselves as a species and others in the ecosphere when creating and dispersing new powerful technologies and chemicals.

All of this was coursing through my mind as a scampered across large sloughed-off rocks and boulders where the Pacific was now tangling with the Salmon River.

Eagles there dining on entrails and then in my memory cave, like a magical realism moment, other eagle quests flooded my memory – and I was there, in the now, with a river otter toying with me just offshore, and then studying that tidal estuary, hoping to keep my Timberlines dry, ruminating about age, and all the adaptations I’ve made easily and also kicking and screaming, yelling, “No more change . . . no more upheaval.” Like Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha:

When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!

See the source image Another one of my muses, Gabriel Garcia Marquez then came into focus while those eagles were picking apart muscles of the steel-head and then clouds only this part of the Pacific can incubate started swirling above me on cue —

He was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.”

― Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

I am still waylaid by that concept, eliminating the bad [to] magnify the good. I am coursing through understanding myself in this walkabout, here in Otis, not exactly the center of anyone’s universe. But then, the nagging Marquez again, and a quote I used to deploy to students in El Paso to think beyond their false hopes: “He who awaits much can expect little.”

I have lived most of my life working with the so-called “bad” — disenfranchised and economically strafed people, those with substance abuse challenges both mocked and misunderstood, and those not on the neural normal scale – assisting them to adapt to their own hard histories and epigenetic bad cards dealt to be self-enhancing people.

There seems to always an eagle overhead when I am going deep into the recesses of memory. In Spokane when I was with a battle-scarred veteran friend who was at a cemetery ready to commit suicide. When I put my sister’s ashes into the sea near Hyder, Alaska. The moment I was called in Vancouver when my brother-in-law died.

Then, it hit me while driving away from Cascade Head — those eagles have been my talismans for six bloody decades! The words of writers, from the minds of people like Louise Erdrich or Jorge Luis Borges, or way back to Beowulf, and farther back to Muhammad al Tulmusani, are also my talismans of sort, but the eagle has been my vision quest. Not the brown eagle of the Aztec incubation, but the bald eagle.

These galvanizing moments are serious times of not just reflection, but ruminating and cultivating change. Adapting.

My father said when I was born in 1957, several bald eagles from Catalina Island were spotted near the San Pedro hospital where I was delivered —   Little Company of Mary Hospital.

Here, 62 years later, I now have the sense to take that “sign” to my grave – bald eagle vision quest.

I’m thinking about 36 million years ago, when the first eagles descended from the kite line. I’m thinking reptiles, and 66 million years ago when birds evolved from the lizards. Looking at the ocean broiling up in Whale Cove will do that to the mind.

Millions of years of adaptations, brother, sister, eagle, and then Thoreau ends up dredging from me a fractal of thought every single day in this tidal wetlands as tides in and tides out signal climatic climaxes yet to come:  “Wildness is the preservation of the World.”

Adaptations for this American symbol,  Haliaeetus leucocephalus —  as the continual use of DDT (and other pesticides) spread throughout the country  —  was a world of constant trials and tribulations. And near extinction.

From 1917 to 1953, the “adaptation” of Alaskan human salmon fishers to an abundance of salmon was to harvest more and more runs, intentionally killing more than 100,000 bald eagles as a threat to “their”  catches.

The lack of adaptive abilities of a species like the bald eagle when faced with the unnatural distillations of chemicals by humanity should have hit us hard fifty years ago: birds that weigh in at 10 to 14 pounds, with wingspans of up to 8 feet, having strength and agility to pull salmon out of the sea while underwater themselves, and a lifespan of up to 30 or more years in the wild can’t weather man-made toxins.

If the 36-million-old eagle can’t make it under the assault of better living through chemistry , then it’s easy to understand humanity’s lack of adaptive skills (how many short years of evolution have we been messing with our adaptations?) to stop business-as-usual industrial and lifestyle processes like spraying DDT. We too are now experiments in the grand cauldron of chemicals produced and released daily.

The effects of that process of humanity “adapting” their environment to their needs —  industrial agriculture demanding insect-free habitats with these pesticides that Rachel Carson, mother of the environmental movement, discussed in her 1962 book, Silent Spring  — was the near extirpation of the American symbol of strength, power, independence and persistence!

Haliaeetus leucocephalus, from Greek, sea, hals and eagle, aietos and white-head, leukos kephalē !

Recall from our Baby-Boomer high school biology books — DDT and other pesticides spread like a slow-motion tsunami across America, sprayed on plants and then eaten by small animals, which were later consumed by birds of prey. Today, we call it bio-accumulation. That poison did its dark magic “art” on both adult bald eagles and their eggs.  The egg shells became too thin to withstand the 36-day incubation period, often crushed under the weight of one of the parents.

Again, what I learned in the 1970s as a high schooler – eagle eggs that were not crushed during brooding mostly did not hatch due to high levels of DDT and its derivatives. Large quantities of PCBs and DDT ended up in fatty tissues and gonads. The maladaptation of the eagle to pesticides was to become infertile due to man’s maladaptation, or in the case of Homo sapiens, the rearrangement of ecosystems and organic pathways.

That was me in Tucson, Arizona, scrambling through desert ‘scapes. I was junior in high school when DDT was officially banned in 1972, largely due to Rachel’s amazing book and petitioning. That was eight years after she had died (Apr 14, 1964) at age 56 from cancer (many attribute breast cancer to the poisons of her time).

Eagles were listed in 1967 as endangered on one listing and then later, 1972, nationally through the Endangered Species Act.

I remember eagles as brothers and myth carriers from many of my buddies who were Navajo, Zuni, Apache and Hopi. Their mothers and uncles would tell us many stories about eagles. I remember traveling to El Paso for a wrestling match and seeing the Thunderbird burned millions of years ago into the Franklin Mountain range. This amazing natural formation of red clay on the mountainside, watching over the Chihuahua desert, captured me then, and later when I was a reporter and teacher in that part of the world.

I was touched then as 17-year-old wrestler visiting a place where a huge eagle to me (thunderbird), was there with outstretched wings and head tilted to the side as if protecting us all from predators, who I knew even at that age were us, Homo sapiens.

Image result for Thunderbird El Paso images

Ten years later and for two decades I was there at that sacred place, a mountain along the Paseo del Norte, straddling Juarez, El Paso and New Mexico. In the 1990s developers were wanting to move (bulldoze) more and more up Thunderbird Mountain for more and more eyesores, AKA tract home subdivisions. Writers and artists on both sides of the border came together to not only stop that sort of desecration, but also to stem the tide of pollutants in the Rio Grande and the denuding of the fragile Chihuahua Desert.

On one of our 10- foot wide protest banners we held along the US-Mexico border, the bald eagle was painted on large and brilliantly, as a symbol of resistance and a “comeback kid story” because man’s chemicals were banned. For many thousands living and working in Juarez, their offspring came out stillborn or with anencephaly – parts of its brain and skull missing. Those industrial chemicals from the American-owned twin plants have not been banned.

Proof of Homo sapiens’ chemicals prompting maladaptation in our offspring.

So, here I am in Otis, Oregon, thinking about that El Paso Thunderbird while watching the estuary bring in swamp-creating waters from the Pacific. What does it mean that I am adapting now in Otis, the town that was up for sale in 1999 for $3 million. That’s 193 acres (another auction occurred in 2004). I have coffee at the quasi-famous Otis Café which was not part of the town’s auction (it never got bought). The café owner’s grandfather bought the land from descendants of the Siletz Indians for $800 in 1910.

As a direct result of the DDT ban, on June 28, 2007 the Department of Interior took the American bald eagle off the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Species.

The reality of putting the bald eagle in peril, and then its eventual recovery and broad habitat colonization means that they are seasonal residents near Yaquina Head. Eagles are like those proverbial human Snow Bird residents of Oregon who end up in Arizona or Nevada or even Hawaii to get the chill of Pacific rain forest winter out of their bones – they go where the living is best.

Here is the adaptation for the eagle – they go into the rookery of the murres, which have a major nesting colony at Yaquina Head. The eagle swooping in and taking the occasional adult murre isn’t the problem, scientists point out.

It’s the encroachment of “secondary predators” that is having a negative impact on the murres’ reproductive success.

An adult eagle is expert at swooping in and grabbing an adult murre and flying off. That’s not putting the murre species in peril. It’s the crummy hunter juvenile bald eagles who end up landing on the rookery. All the adult murres then scatter into the air.

That door then opens for brown pelicans and gulls to alight and grab eggs or murre chicks. These secondary predators will destroy hundreds of eggs in minutes.

Adaptation and re-adaptation.

Image result for murres and eagles

 

Image result for murres and eaglesEcosystems out of balance, and now in Otis, I am adapting to the reality of the human footprint; even a small one like mine, is significant to each and every micro-biodome I come in contact with.

Soon, maybe, the eagle will be put on the hit list, and they too will feel the hard impact of game wardens’ bullets taking them out because, again, adaptation for the bald eagle means things get more and more out of balance.

Murres or eagles? People or salmon? Crab cakes or whales?

The weight of place, and being one with geographic and ecologic time always culls my disparate attempts at calm and inner self exploration. Otis, the Pacific, the entire riot that encompasses rowdy sea lions and the humpback’s 12-foot blowhole sprays, all those murres and double-crested cormorants, petrels dive bombing, black oystercatchers waddling at the tide lines, now are gestating into entire “memory palaces” for me. I think of my place alive in the world. The mutable feast of learning in my walkabout is a continual journey of adapting.

I am looking at an amazing gift of words, and from the Oregon Humanities Magazine, a serendipitous parallel moment for me and the works of Melissa Madenski, who in her essay is talking about this same geographic arena, where she’s lived for more than four decades and just recently left. She talks about spruce, alder, hemlock and maple and their powerful bio-nets and biological relationships through their interconnected forests of roots they share:

Unlike me, they don’t question or worry—that is the wisdom I project on them at least—a symbol for acceptance of what is. I’m coming to believe in my own memory palace that lives in my roots and the roots of my children, a stability that remains even as visible markers disappear. Look at the big picture, I tell myself. You got to live here for over half of your life; your children were able to grow up here; you got to love the land and leave good soil. – “Unclaiming the Land” (February 26, 2018)

Today, I foist my emotional and spiritual rucksack loaded up with my own learning and traveling as I engage with Otis, the Central Oregon Coast, and the people and cetaceans, alike, a repository for my next learning, my new series of adaptations. The bald eagle for all its battles and all the mythological connections, is my talisman and vision quest.

But I feel like that Zuni Eagle Boy who came upon an eaglet that had fallen out of the nest. The boy hunted for the eagle, foregoing working in the fields while the rest of his clan worked and worked.

His brothers resented the boy for raising this chick, who got big and healthy, big enough to fly away. But the eagle stayed with the boy. The clan was ready to kill the eagle to get the boy back, returned to the fields to grow corn and squash.

The boy saw that the eagle was downtrodden in his cage, and asked why. The eagle said he had grown to love the boy for saving him and raising him but had to leave so the boy could go back to his duties and be a boy with his people.

The boy wanted to leave with the eagle, and finally the eagle succumbed to the boy’s pleas.

The eagle told the boy to fill pouches with dried meats and fruit and blue corn bread and to put two bells on the eagle’s feet. The boy climbed on the eagle’s back and they flew off. They ended up in Sky Land, in the city with thousands of eagles who looked like people when they took off their wings and clothing of feathers when they entered their homes. The boy received wings and feather clothing.

As in many stories of rite of passage and adaptation by Native tribes, the Eagle Boy disobeyed the orders of the Eagles to not go south, and once the boy did, he thought it was a beautiful and safe place. Until people of bones – skeletons – chased him.

He made it back to Sky Land, but he was not welcome there for disobeying. Finally, the eagle that the boy had raised said he’d help him fly back to his people. The boy took an old cloak of feathers and made the arduous journey back. His friend the eagle circled above him the entire way to make sure he made it safe, and once Eagle Boy landed, the eagle took the cloak of feathers and flew away.

The Eagle Boy lived with his people, who honored him because they knew that Eagle Boy wanted to be  with his people, even though he could fly away at any time.

Like Eagle Boy, I look to the skies and smile at the eagle’s graceful and wide veronicas as thermals take them up where humans can’t see clearly. The boy adapted and loved his people, even though the journey to the Sky Land was always with him and in his stories of adventure.

I am here, looking for my own Sky Land, but cognizant of the fact the love of my clan – family, fiancé, daughter, friends – is the uplift I count on to make it through the every-changing evolution of my mind and body. I can be an eagle on the ground, scampering through gravity-fed fields, hoping to understand how I might lay claim to finally understanding what all the adaptations mean in a life so lived.

Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Grief, Acceptance: The Five Stages of Ecocide

“There is hope, an infinite amount of hope, but not for us.” – Franz Kafka

If artists are the antennae of the race, and writers and thinkers are also artists, then a vibration some are receiving and beginning to transmit to the culture more broadly now is new in the history of our species: the world is dying.

The world, not defined as “human civilization,” or a nation, empire, or culture, but the entire living world, which undergirds all those. Not in one region, but everywhere, all at once, and with escalating speed.

The custom at this point in the essay would be to cite statistics, summarize recent UN reports, quote news stories, prominent scientists, etc. But I will take it as a given that you have already read those, or are at least aware of them. What I want to get at is how this feels, what the inner experience of this knowledge is: to be living, aging and eventually dying in uncanny lock-step with The Great Dying, the greatest our species has ever seen, caused by us to boot. Is there even a word for this? I choose xenocide – we are killing almost everything that is not us… for now. The antennae of the race are intimating is that this is ultimately suicide, because there is no “other” in the living world; we are inextricably imbricated in it. Ecocide is perhaps the most correct: we are killing our home.

This is the definitive experience of our generation. But there are reasons why most of us living today seem unable to comprehend it, and live (or die) accordingly. Thanks to civilization, we had already largely lost the living world before we were born, and now what is dying is something we barely knew existed. You might call this Big Yellow Taxi syndrome.

Denial. Just as racism is not just perpetrated by overt racists, denial is not just perpetrated by overt denialists. Perhaps you and I pride ourselves on the cognitive leap we have made – we’re not like them, the benighted masses who simply swallow the lies they’ve been fed, who can’t see through the propaganda, the ones “we” must educate. But if we have children, can we really disbelieve the lie that every parent is forced to believe – the last, best, bastion of magical thinking: that the world will somehow be “better” for them, not unspeakably worse, and that what we have done, how we have lived, will actually help them to thrive in it?

With or without children, are our daily lives altered in any substantial way by our knowledge? I’m not talking about adopting conscientious individual behaviors like eating less meat or taking the bus more. I’m talking about the fact that the infrastructure that sustains us shows no sign of reduction, exhaustion or, frankly, anything but frenzied growth. It is an infrastructure of denial. Denial, like racism, is systemic. And therefore, even once we know it’s happening, we don’t actually go around on a day-to-day basis with the Great Dying uppermost in our minds. We don’t go out in the street, and perceive immediately that “a social response of any kind [is] occurring,” as Dark Mountain Project essayist Arnold Schroeder puts it. The dying, for now, is far away, and largely invisible to most of us. There is a war, but we of the global urban working class and bourgeoisie are not on the frontlines. And, unlike those nightly casualty counts during the Vietnam War, the results are not even a blip on our now-omnipresent screens.

Around me, on the streets of San Francisco, nothing looks like it’s dying. The opposite, in fact.

I mean, seriously, how does it get any better than what we have here? With a certain level of income and education, admittedly within reach of only a few tens of thousands among our country’s hundreds of millions, you can live in historically unprecedented comfort in a place where it’s spring all year, gorgeous vistas await you at every turn, the shops and markets are filled with an abundance of good, fresh things to eat and fun things to own; the streets are regularly cleaned (in the nicer neighborhoods); all manner of diversions abound; parks, flowering trees and sidewalk gardens are maintained by gangs of enthusiastic volunteers; willing lads and lasses can be hailed to deliver you to your destination in their private cars with a tap on your phone…

I sometimes wonder: is this it? Is this the pinnacle? Is contemporary San Francisco at its savagely unequal best the apogee of human civilization, the best it will ever be?

The smoke from the most destructive and deadly wildfire in California’s history, which settled over the city for two weeks last year – giving it, briefly, the worst air quality in the world, worse than Delhi or Beijing – was, cognitively, something like the tiny spot on your lungs that the X-ray barely images. You get a scare, and for a little while, the inevitability of decline and death comes rushing in to overwhelm you, filling your whole field of vision, coloring everything black. Then you look again a little later; it seems to be gone. What was that? You feel relief, then oblivion. Life goes back to normal.

Until…

And here face downward in the sun,
And here beneath earth’s noonward height
To feel the always coming on, the always rising of the night…

Anger. Meanwhile, somewhere else, some people have realized that something is dying, but it isn’t the living world, to which they are largely indifferent, in both the cognitive and concrete sense, except possibly to view specific pieces of it as resource or adversary, depending on the circumstances. It is their own possibility for economic advancement that is moribund, and the cultural superiority that perhaps they were taught to associate with that lost possibility. For them, growth has stopped. Around them, others have risen, taken unfair advantage, over-reproduced themselves. External enemies are everywhere. Demagogues with war mongers whispering in their ears arise to stoke their rage. Weapons are everywhere. Information floods synapses, triggers responses: fight, fight, fight, or die. In Hungary, Poland, Italy, Germany, France, Sweden, Britain, Brazil, the Philippines, the U.S – “end-of-history” liberalism fades like a hothouse flower. Pre-existing authoritarian regimes double-down in a confusing game of Friend-or-Enemy? (We are at war with Oceania. We have always been at war with Oceania.) Everybody practices the Two-Minutes Hate.

Somewhere altogether elsewhere vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss
Silently, and very fast.

Bargaining. Here come the technocrats, the hope-sellers, the humanists. We can beat this thing. Look: slavery, fascism, nuclear war – we beat them! (Except, not really…) A new global generation is rising with new values, new insights, new technologies. There’s still time to turn this around. In 12 years…10…9…8… If we just do… x… Build this movement, implement this program, stop subsidizing fossil fuels, put carbon back in ground, save 50% of the land for wildlife, get the plastic out of the oceans, eliminate CAFOs, trust women, end capitalism…

But the science we trust when it speaks of technological possibility, we fail to heed when it speaks of feedback loops. Or of critical slowing down, the diminishing ability of a complex system to resist increasing pressures from within and without, so that once it reaches a certain point, collapse is unstoppable. We fail to heed that we have already “baked in” an irreversible degradation of the living world, and we are not changing course in time to stop it.

That doesn’t mean nothing proposed in the bargaining stage is worth attempting. The metaphor of a single person’s dying begins to lose currency when you are talking about all life. Becoming Mars is not inevitable, and the islands of relative biodiversity, social harmony and ecological coherence humans and other species may be able to sustain within the rising seas of climate chaos could still influence a proximate outcome for the biosphere.

But the world our species came of age in, the only one we know; that world is definitively dying. What we have already done heedlessly over the last two centuries has set processes in motion that are irreversible in any term of less than thousands, perhaps millions of years. No amount of bargaining, of socio-political or techno-optimism will change that. It won’t rebuild the ice sheets or the glaciers, it won’t save the millions of species that can’t migrate, or the ocean ecosystem that depends on the chemical balance and food chain we have upended. It won’t preserve our forests, tropical or temperate, at anything like their present size. We are moving into a new regime, which will be increasingly chaotic and thus inhospitable to life, until it stabilizes at an unknown point. If we refuse to accept that or try to bargain it away, it will still happen. That is what dying means.

Grief. Ten years ago, a pair of disenchanted British activists declared that it was time to stop bargaining and start mourning. They had seen enough to comprehend that for all the fulminating of politicians, the triumphalism of corporate scientists and CEOs, and the creative resistance of woke activists, humans were not, and would never be, in charge of the destructive forces we had unleashed. And the idea embodied by our civilization, of somehow being in control of all life, or disconnecting ourselves entirely from the living world and still having lives worth living, was a lie. It was not Eastern or Western civilization but civilization writ large that had brought us to this point. And if it was too late to bring down its walls in the material world in time to prevent the Great Dying, we could still do something worthwhile by bringing them down in our minds, and making space for new stories to grow. So, the Dark Mountain Project was born, and its manifesto, Uncivilization (From the Mourning of the World) was published. And it went out into our culture largely through the abstract, bloodless, but profoundly far-reaching veins of the internet, indelibly a product of the catastrophic civilization that had thrown it up to better conduct its wars. With its vast effluence of entropy, our civilization is a toxic and clumsy parody of a functioning ecosystem, but it is still a system, and we all still operate within it.

To the dismay of some progressives, many tropes of progressive politics were abandoned by Dark Mountain’s writers and artists, because progressivism could or would not come to grips with what was really happening to the living world. This didn’t mean the project entered into an embrace of some kind of mystical, nature-centered proto-fascism either. Those who saw that seeking justice in human society was still part of the equation of meaningful survival, and was in any case inevitable and necessary (Respect Existence or Expect Resistance, as the saying is) could still find a home for their ideas there.

I like to think I was one of those. For me, Dark Mountain has been a needed oasis for feelings and ideas ignored or rejected by a Left that not only had little concern for the wellbeing of non-human ecosystems, but no place for interiority as an essential component of collective human wellbeing. Everything that didn’t advance us down the mechanized chute to a rigorously rational socialism was elitist and reactionary. And human progress was inevitable, because Marx said so. (Except, he didn’t…) Pay no attention to that disappearing glacier behind the curtain.

So, thanks to Dark Mountain, I found I could transform paralyzing depression into thought and action by joining the emerging legions of grief. We mourned together in the catacombs of social movements that could not publicly acknowledge us, and in the shared but Balkanized spaces of the internet. And now, ten years later, ten years deeper in greenhouse gases, exhausted topsoil, destroyed rivers, razed forests, drowning coastlines, animal genocides, whirling continents of plastic trash, upended lives, fires and floods – the world’s first social movement founded not in anger or bargaining but in grief, Extinction Rebellion, has appeared.

Tragedy ∆ Farce: A Litany

First, they came for the amphibians, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t an amphibian.
Then they came for the charismatic megafauna, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t one of them either.
Then they came for the marine life, and I was a little depressed about that because – no more seafood. But I kept quiet about it.

Then they came for the last Indigenous Peoples, and for the poor – who were, in fact, almost all of the people by then. But, well, whatever.
Finally, they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out.
Just a lot of cockroaches, jellyfish, and microbes.
(And I think they were glad to see me go, to be honest.)

Acceptance.

“A willingness to live without hope allows me to accept the heartbreaking truth of our situation, however calamitous it is. Grieving for what is happening to the planet also now brings me gratitude for the smallest, most mundane things […] I have found that it’s possible to reach a place of acceptance and inner peace, while enduring the grief and suffering that are inevitable as the biosphere declines.” Dahr Jamail, author of The End of Ice, in a recent interview.

As the Uncivilization Manifesto reminds us, “The end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world full stop.” Acceptance of death is not the place where activity ends, but the only place from which activity that is has real potential to sustain meaningful life can spring. Because acceptance of death is an acknowledgment of truth, and only from a place of truth can any action come that understands life well enough to be beneficial to it.

Acceptance doesn’t mean accommodation with oppression and injustice. It means acknowledgment that we aren’t trying to prevent the apocalypse, because civilization is the apocalypse. We are trying to open a path to a future that is worth living in. Our feelings are experienced individually, and they do not directly impact the material world. But they are not irrelevant. The path to truth for a complex being must itself be complex. On the day a hundred thousand people come into the streets to grieve together for the lost reefs, the lost forests, and all the unnumbered victims, human and non-human, of civilization’s rise, we can mark the beginning of a new era in human life on this planet.

Dark Mountain’s latest anthology, #15, In the Age of Fire, has just been published. Material from its 51 authors and artists is showcased on the project’s website.

Maitreya: “Share and Save the World”

Amidst deepening global divisions and intolerance ‘Project Maitreya’ plan to build 1,000 statues of Maitreya Buddha around the world, with the aim, they say, of inculcating an atmosphere of ‘loving kindness’; a positive gesture in a cynical world, supported by the Dalai Lama.

The coming of Maitreya Buddha was foretold by Gautama Buddha 2,600 years ago. At this time, He said, will come another great teacher, a Buddha by name Maitreya who will inspire humanity to create a brilliant golden civilization based on righteousness and truth. Both of which are widely lacking.

Who is Maitreya

According to the esoteric literature, Maitreya is not only the coming Buddha, the fifth, He is the One looked for by all the world’s religions; Krishna for the Hindus, Christ for Christians, the Imam Mahdi of Islam, the messiah for the Jews, and Maitreya Buddha. He is the coming One for all humanity, those with faith and those without, and, according to a wealth of information made known by British writer and painter Benjamin Creme (died 2016, aged 94), over the last forty years or so, Maitreya has been in the everyday world since July 19th 1977 and is gradually emerging into full public work.

The story of Maitreya’s presence and relative imminent emergence is of, course, highly controversial and will no doubt be rejected by many, but given the weight of evidence and the extraordinary times we are living in, it is a story that warrants our open-minded attention, if such a thing is possible. If true, and I have no doubt that it is, it is the single most important event of our age and offers hope in a time of increasing confusion and despair.

Maitreya holds the office of World Teacher within our spiritual hierarchy; He is the Prince of Peace, the Lord of Love, the teacher alike of angels and of men. The spiritual hierarchy consists of a large group of Perfected men – Masters of Wisdom and Lords of Compassion, and their disciples of various grades. It is from this great center that the teacher has emerged throughout the ages. Whether it be Rama, Confucius, Zoroaster, Krishna, Shankaracharya, Gautama Buddha, Jesus or Mohammed.

The existence of the spiritual hierarchy was first made known by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (who lived with senior members of the hierarchy for some years), in 1875 when her seminal work, The Secret Doctrine was first published and The Theosophical Society established. The Agni Yoga teachings (between 1924 and 1938), transcribed by another remarkable Russian woman, Helena Roerich was also a work of hierarchy; then came a highly detailed collection of writings penned by Alice A. Bailey, followed by books and lectures by Benjamin Creme who like Blavatsky, Bailey and Helena Roerich had a close relationship with a senior member of the hierarchy. It’s worth also noting Krishnamurti’s contacts with hierarchy, which are well chronicled in Mary Lutyens’s biography of him. Despite these works knowledge about the existence of the hierarchy remains largely unknown, particularly in the west.

Signs of the time

We live in a cynical world, skepticism and open-minded enquiry is healthy, but cynicism suffocates the truth and denies the wonder of life. In such an atmosphere to talk of the coming of a World Teacher and miraculous unexplained events is to be branded a deluded dreamer, but over the last thirty-five years or so a plethora of signs have been seen throughout the world that suggest something amazing is afoot.

All manner of ‘miracles’, huge numbers of sightings of unidentified flying objects, impossible happenings that happen, occurring at this particular time in unprecedented numbers: Mysterious patterns of light wash across the surface of buildings, icons weep, olive oil and blood, Hindu stone deities drink milk across continents, huge crosses of light appear in windows of churches and homes, frescos clean themselves; vast complex crop circles appear in seconds, moving ‘stars’ are seen in the sky, changing color and shape.

The corporate main stream media, acting to perpetuate the commercialization of everything and everyone, has no interest in such things and so they go largely unreported, but they have happened, continue to happen and in numbers never before recorded.

Such extraordinary happenings are signs of Maitreya’s presence in the world; signs that make us think and wonder; impossible happenings quieten and liberate the mind, shattering certainty. They proclaim that there is more to life than material satisfaction, that sitting beneath the noisy surface a world of meaning exists, a world that has been buried beneath material desire and the pursuit of sensory pleasure

Humanity has lost its way, reached false conclusions and built a civilization based upon totally erroneous values. As a result the world is besieged by a series of interconnected crises, some of which – the environmental catastrophe and the threat of nuclear conflict – threaten the survival of all life on Earth. Maitreya comes to work with us to overcome the many difficulties we face, to offer guidance and inspire humanity to create a just world in which, as He says, “no man lacks, where no two days are alike, where the Joy of Brotherhood manifests through all men.”

Collaboration and sharing

Maitreya does not come to establish a new religion or to attract followers. He is concerned with the major issues facing humanity; the creation of peace, safeguarding the environment, banishing poverty and needless starvation, ensuring good quality, secure housing for all, as well as universal health care and education.

His teachings are straightforward and practical. They fall into two overlapping categories, general guidance aimed at humanity as a whole and teachings for the individual. He comes to “teach the art of self-realization, which is neither an ideology nor a religion, but benefits people of all religions and those who have none.” Like others before Him, Maitreya affirms that man/woman is divine; “you are the Self, He says, a divine being; Suffering is caused by identification with anything and everything which is not the Self. Ask yourself, ‘Who am I?’ You will see that you are identified either with matter (the body), or with thought (the mind) or with power (spirit). But you are none of these.”

In a series of 140 astonishing messages given through Benjamin Creme between September 1977 and May 1982, Maitreya outlined His plans and presented fragments of His teachings. In message number 81 He addresses humanity as a whole when He asks, “how can you be content with the modes within which you now live: when millions starve and die in squalor; when the rich parade their wealth before the poor; when each man is his brother’s enemy; no man trusts his brother? For how long must you live thus my friends? For how long can you support this degradation?” It is a question many of us continually ask, a question that arises out of the entrenched social injustice that surrounds all of us.

The answers to many of our problems He says will be found in sharing. In message number 82 He states that, His task is to “show you how to live together peacefully as brothers. This is simpler than you imagine, My friends, for it requires only the acceptance of sharing…sharing He says, ‘underlies all progress for mankind.” Maitreya comes to inspire humanity to make the necessary changes ourselves. Together with the Masters of Wisdom, He will make suggestions only, point out the choices before us, and the opportunities. If there is a world savior it must be humanity itself, if the planet is to be healed, peace and social justice created and a new civilization built, it will be done by humanity; the responsibility is ours.

Looking Through the Screen at the World’s Suffering

If you are really going to be free, you have to overcome the love of wealth and the fear of death.

— Martin Luther King, Jr. as quoted by Andrew Young in the documentary King in the Wilderness

Most people on this earth live on the edge of an abyss.  Life is a daily struggle to stay alive, to acquire enough to eat and drink, rudimentary health care, housing, and protection from murderous government forces, their various death-squads, and their economic vultures.  The gap between the rich and poor, while always great, has grown even more obscenely vast, and lies at the core of what so many face daily.  Their perilous conditions are sustained by imperial nations, led by the United States, who, together with its minions, buy and bribe and butcher overtly and covertly all around the world.  The love of wealth and the fear of death drive these power-mad marauders and divert the gazes of their citizens from the slaughter.  It’s an old story.

If you are reading this, I am probably not telling you anything new.  You know this, as do I, as I sit safely behind a screened-in table on a beautiful spring day in the hills of western Massachusetts.  I have had some soup and bread for lunch and there are no bombers overhead or death-squads cruising the roads here.  While my family and I live a simple life, compared to the world’s poor and persecuted, we are privileged.  One does not have to be rich to be privileged.  The advantages granted to those like me who can securely sit and pen words about the fate of the poor and persecuted victims of my country’s endless violence weighs heavy on my conscience, as they have done since I was young.

I am ashamed to say that in the early morning of May 1, as I lay in bed musing, I thought I would like to stay in bed all day, a depressed feeling that I had never had before.  Discouragement enveloped me: I was being forced out of my teaching job; I felt that my dissident writing and teaching made no difference in a world where injustice and violence are endemic and without end; and the forces of evil seemed to be triumphing everywhere.  Self-pity mixed with an angry sadness that disgusted me. I disgusted myself.  So I jumped out of bed and prepared to go and teach some of my last classes.  But I was lost in gloom as I drove along the winding roads.

When I arrived at the college and checked my mail, there was a package waiting for me.  It was a review copy of the poet Carolyn Forché’s startling new memoir (What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance) about her youthful transformative experiences in El Salvador in the late 1970s as U.S. trained and supported death-squads brutally murdered poor peasants and priests, and guerrilla resistance was growing prior to the outbreak of civil war.  I opened the book to the epigraph, which reads:

Hope also nourishes us.  Not the hope of fools.  The other kind.  Hope, when everything is clear.
Awareness.

The quotation is from the Salvadorian writer Manlio Argueta, whose deeply moving novel, One Day of Life (1980), banned by the Salvadorian government, takes the reader through one terrifying and bloodstained day in the life of peasants struggling to stay alive as they are tortured and slaughtered with impunity.  We hear the voices of the poor tell a story of the growth of conscience (“God is conscience.  And conscience is we, the ones forgotten now, the poor.”), the discovery of rights, and the awareness of exploitation.  Despite the terrifying evil that pervades this book – now considered one of the greatest Latin American novels of the 20th century – there is a luminous spirit of hope and resistance that miraculously prevails that is passed on from person to person despite death, torture, and immense suffering.  Argueta fulfills the words of the tortured Jose to Lupe: “Don’t worry, if those of us with understanding failed to act, we would all be in real trouble.”

I remembered that I had reviewed this book in the early 1980s at a time when 100 or more very poor campesinos were being murdered every week, a few years after Archbishop Oscar Romero, the courageous defender of the poor who spoke out against the killers, had been gunned down while saying Mass.  The Roman Catholic Church has subsequently declared him a saint.

Yet decades later, despite the extraordinary efforts of awakened souls like Carolyn Forché, it still seems true that Americans can’t visualize, no less believe in or care about, the death and suffering their government is inflicting on innocent people all around the world.  Today’s screen culture – I Phone therefore I Am – while seemingly allowing for the visualization of the suffering of the world’s poor, has rendered all reality more abstract and unreal, while inducing a collective hallucination sustained by media and machines that divorces us from flesh and blood, our own and others.  All the disembodied data that is daily disgorged through these screens seems to me to have rendered the world disincarnate through the metastasizing of a digital dementia tied to death denial.

I think of Galway Kinnell’s poem, “The Fundamental Project of Technology”:

To de-animalize human mentality, to purge it of obsolete,
Evolutionary characteristics, in particular of death,
Which foreknowledge terrorizes the content of skulls with,
Is the fundamental project of technology; however,
pseudologica fantastica’s mechanisms require:
to establish deathlessness it is necessary to eliminate those who die;
a task attempted when a white light flashed.

Awareness?  I sit here looking through the screen that encloses the little porch where my table rests.  MLK’s words reverberate in my mind as I watch a grey fox slink across the grass in search of prey.  What is it about the love of money and the fear of death that so cripples people’s care and compassion?  I know I don’t want to see that fox seize a screaming rabbit and worry (to kill by biting and shaking the throat; strangle) it to death.  Unlike Forché, I have not physically seen the dead and mutilated bodies of Salvadorian victims of death squads, nor been threatened by them, as she was.  Nevertheless, thanks to her and others like Manlio Argueta, I have seen them in my imagination and heard the screams, and they have haunted me.  Ghosts.

But why are some so haunted and others not?

The foreknowledge that terrorizes the contents of skulls, as Kinnell puts it – our ultimate powerlessness – overwhelms humans from childhood unless they can find a way forward that discovers power in powerlessness.  When one’s “well-being” is dependent on the death of others, as is the case for most Americans and others in the so-called first world, people tend to repress the terror of death by building various types of culturally-induced defenses that allow them to shakily believe they are in control of life and death.  One’s natural impotence is then hidden within what Ernest Becker called “the vital lie of character,” and in what, by extension, is the lie of American character that rests on money and military might.

One lives within the manageable cultural world that helps blot out existential awareness by offering various social games, agreed forms of “madness” that narcotize.  One learns to adjust, to use all sorts of techniques to blot out the awareness that each of us is essentially exposed and mortal, flesh and blood.  The aim is clearly to cut life down to manageable proportions, domesticate terror, and learn to think we are captains of our fate.  Inevitably, however, not all these social “tricks” work equally well.  Life’s terrors have a way of breaking through to dim awareness, and therefore more drastic measures are needed.  So after having lived the cultural lie uncritically, one tries to blot out awareness itself.  If shopping to forget doesn’t work, if obsessive work doesn’t do it, one turns to drugs or drink, anything to forget, anything to assuage our fears, anything to deny our need for courage.  Anything to help us refuse the truth that our lives are built on the blood of others.

The ineluctable reality of uncertainty is our fate. I have always known that, but I forget.  I have also long known that we live by faith of one kind or another, and whatever name we give it, it is by faith we enter into the holy mystery of existence.  We are carried forward by the spirit that binds us in solidarity to all human struggles for freedom and dignity, for bread and justice. The day I wished to stay in bed and wallow in self-pity and depression came as a shock to me.  It revealed to me my hubris, my sense of self-importance, as if my efforts were not just a drop in the sea, seeds scattered that may or may not take root.  I was afraid to accept possible defeat, despite my best efforts.  I was afraid of death and lacked courage.  Like those I criticize for turning their faces away from the suffering faces of America’s victims, I lost my courage that morning in bed.  And hope.

But later that day I would awaken and see through the screen of my self-importance when I leafed through Carolyn Forché’s book and chanced upon her quoting Fr. Romero’s words: “We must hope without hoping.  We must hope when we have no hope.”

Then her poem “Ourselves or Nothing” bubbled up in memory:

There is a cyclone fence between
Ourselves and the slaughter and behind it
We hover in a calm protected world like
Netted fish, exactly like netted fish.
It is either the beginning or the end
Of the world, and the choice is ourselves or nothing.

Priest and poet reminding us to fight lucidly on.  Hope when everything is clear.  Awareness.

Needs finally explained

We need food, clothing, and shelter to secure our existence. It gives us the basic pleasure of living. People are also social beings. Joined in society, they improve their lives significantly and get more pleasure. The most substantial progress comes from the cooperation between free people which may bring the greatest power to satisfy their needs. It may also bring the highest level of personal satisfaction, harmony and love among the people. Cooperation among free people brings a bright future of humankind.

The problem begins when individuals start comparing themselves with other individuals.  Subjective opinion of individuals may increase self-importance and diminish the importance of other human beings. Such thinking alienates people from reality and nature. Alienated individuals often want to reach a better life on the expenses of other people. They invest an effort in building their power which enables them to oppress and control people. The success in it brings pleasure but also it brings an illusion of power which hurts back. In such a society weaker people always suffer. Such life is the origin of social problems which have been damaging society through the whole history of humankind.

When people achieve power over others, they expect a significant improvement in their lives, but it cannot happen. For example, Egyptian pharaohs created absolute power over people and wanted to stay in control forever. They built pyramids to ensure their status. However, what exactly did they get by building pyramids? They enjoyed the power over people, but I think watching their tombs grow every day reminded them of leaving this world. They could not possibly feel well no matter what they believed in about the afterlife. I think pharaohs were much more afraid of leaving this world than their slaves who did not build an illusion of power.

Privileged people are very afraid of losing power. For example, I recently saw on TV Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg so concerned about the future of his company that I believe he has lost the pleasure of living. Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, literally cried when his Internet Explorer lost the user demand battle with Google Chrome. What fools they are! The illusion of power has damaged their lives. Such a power indulges people so that everyone tries to build privileges which give them power in society. If people succeed in it, they enjoy it, but then they fear losing power much more than they can enjoy having it.

Besides, one day everyone has to lose to stronger people, and this always brings pain. Wise people think fighting for power and privileges is not worth it. However, people who live in alienated society cannot abandon privileges because they enjoy them very much. As a result, the effort to win and stay the winner creates enormous stress which prevents people from sensing their real needs and then, of course, from satisfying them. Such people cannot feel well. Then their misery oppresses other people more, and then everything goes wrong. Privileges are evil, and the illusion of power harms society.

Those who search for power over others cannot achieve a good life no matter what they do. They can hardly love. They may look like they are capable of loving and caring for people, but this is just narcissism. They love their power and success in society. If something hurts them, they would furiously attack the origin of their trouble. Hurting someone’s narcissism means initiating hatred which does not forgive. That is how we can recognize a narcissistic person. Dissatisfaction makes narcissistic people cruel which brings a lot of suffering to the community. It builds sadomasochism among the people where no good future can be expected for anyone.

When society gets alienated from its nature neither successful nor unsuccessful people have good lives. The attempt to raise power over others is a historically proven mistake. The control over people should not be needed at all. The pyramids and all other significant achievements of dictators do not deserve to be appreciated. If this energy were used productively, we would have lived much better today.

*****

People need freedom. Freedom from authorities relieves us from oppression in society. Free people may get to know and develop themselves, their ideas and feelings. They may learn the objective values of life. It would tell them that all values they can reach lie within them. They are the most important creation of themselves. The more they get to know themselves, the more capable they are of build harmony with the environment, the closer they can come to another individual, the more easiness of living they can find. Then they do not need to compare themselves with other people. Then they do not produce problems in society.

Those who live freely following their nature are much more capable of feeling their needs and satisfying them. Freedom is necessary for the development of a productive way of living. Only free people may do great deeds and improve themselves and society. The less people feel powerlessness in society the less they need power over others. That is how a productive orientation of society is built. Productive people are capable of loving. Love is the most significant achievement people can make in their lives. Love itself brings the most stable satisfaction to people. Contrary to narcissists, people who love are never destructive.

Everything good people do stays in memory and hearts of people who are affected by them. People who left good influences initiate good actions of other people. It is as a kind of reincarnation. Good people live positively in the minds of other people while bad ones do not, no matter how significant the monuments they left are. However, the prime benefit from a productive way of living comes from the fact that good people may have good lives while bad people cannot.

Free people who chose to live naturally, responsible for their lives and for the nature that surrounds them, live good lives. They are satisfied, relaxed, and full of understandings for others. Such people can accept the limitations of their nature. When they recognize that their way of living meets the life expectations they do not need anything anymore. They are not afraid of death. Death brings them freedom in the broadest sense. Wise people declare such a way of living as the best possible.

*****

The policy of society based on the cooperation of free people is the only one that may create a good society. But when we try to implement it, we run into the same problem since the beginning of time. The more alienated society is, the more alienated values are accepted by people, the less satisfied people are, and then the greedier they are. People alienated from their nature require a greater share in the division of power and in the distribution of wealth than society can deliver. Then people cannot agree about anything. We have tried to call upon a human conscience to accept a good policy, but human conscience was never able to change society. We have also tried to make rules which will enforce creating good policy, but we were never successful in it. The fact is we do not know how to create a good society.

I have decided to define a policy which will create a good society. After an extensive study, a conclusion comes to me that the democratic acceptance and implementation of equal human rights will do it. Through the history of humankind, the development of equal human rights policy has improved society greatly. Its further development will improve society much more. The problem is the further development of equal human rights requires the implementation of completely new ideas which cannot be easily accepted by society. However, it should be well understood once people accept these ideas they would create a good society unconditionally. Now I will present the essence of equal human rights.

Free individuals may choose to improve and damage society. States have a strong power to restrict people from damaging society and have some power to encourage people of producing benefits. However, the authorities of states were never efficient enough in creating a productive orientation of society as people might be by the implementation of equal human rights. People may radically improve society by getting equal legislative, judgmental, and executive powers. Each person should get an equal right to punish and award other people. Then everyone will try to produce maximal benefits to people and avoid hurting them. This is an essential step in building a good society.

In essence, every person will get an equal right to evaluate a few people of their choice monthly. A positive assessment will bring a small award to the assessed person, and a negative evaluation will carry a small punishment. Such assessments will encourage every person to do everything they can to enrich the lives of other people and avoid producing evil in society. Such a right will make a radical transformation of powers in the society which will completely change the world and make it a beautiful place to live. I’ve called such evaluation democratic anarchy.

Equal human rights will give each person the right to work. As long as unemployment exists, such a right does not exist. Unemployment will be eliminated by shortening working hours proportionally to the unemployment rate. Elimination of unemployment would increase the demand for workers on the free market so that employers would have to pay them more. Better paid workers will be able to purchase more which will grow the economy. Such a simple measure will remove the problems of capitalism. It will also release people from the fear of insecurity of living in a capitalist society and give them more choices to find a pleasant job. These two simple measures will make capitalism a decent social system.

The ultimate stage of equal human rights will affect the public economy. It will be necessary to develop the market of work in public companies. Everyone will get equal rights to work at every public work post at any time. The best productivity offer of workers would get the right to work. It sounds impossible to achieve because such a division of labour never existed. However, the realization of it is just a technical problem.

The new economy will bring more market than capitalism may afford. To implement the competition of workers for every work post, we will need to develop a system that will effectively evaluate the productivity of work offers, harmonize rewards for work, and define the job responsibilities of workers. In short, the workers who offer the highest productivity and responsibility, and demand the lowest salary will get the job. This is a complex task which is explained in my book Humanism. No economy can be better than the one where each job gets the best available worker. Publicly owned companies will send capitalism down to history.

Better workers will always win. They will constantly bring the most efficient progress to society. But nobody will be privileged anymore, and the losers will not suffer because the whole system will be based on the harmony of the market. The market allocates every good to the most capable purchaser who needs and loves it the most. The producers profit from it the most as well. The market of work will eliminate work privileges which will make each job equally demanded. Such a market will allocate every job to the most productive worker who needs and loves it the most. The market will help society to reach the best life possible.

Equal human rights will bring much more benefits to people. These three measures will dis-alienate society. People will find objective values of life. People will respect each other which is the first step in the productive orientation of society. People will be able to follow a natural way of living and to satisfy their needs. People who permanently satisfy their needs are never destructive. They enjoy life.

The lack of equal human rights has always made problems in society. It was the only reason society was never good. Full acceptance of equal human rights will prevent all social evil and build permanent harmony among people. Such a policy will build freedom, peace, joy, love, wisdom, and a good-quality life to everyone unconditionally. Equal human rights are our real need which we do not recognize enough. Only equal human rights may build a bright future of humankind.

A Friend as Guidepost and Connector

It was impressive, the number of people this 66 year old fellow touched: a father figure, a friend, a guide, a mentor, a guidepost, a brother, and a giver.

The service was held in Portland Sat. 4/27 and hundreds showed up at the Quaker church. I was asked to say some things about the man, my friend, and I had already written a poem of dedication to him, but I had to let a more simple-and-unfolding-of-our-collective-emotions sort of poem lead me.

I had just spent the night before in some forest land 10 miles north of White Salmon, WA, with Mt. Hood to the south and Mt. Adams to the west. I was there to thin out some trees so the health of the forest my sister and I had inherited from our old man more than 20 years ago would stay robust for another 20 years.

I spent time with Jim who lives in a house he and his wife built, and with his newly retired brother, JT, who has 20 acres with his big RV parked there and an outbuilding with electricity and a washer machine to make it feel more like home. JT is a bachelor who is still married to an estranged wife because of health insurance reasons and possibly social security concerns if he croaks. He has children and grandchildren, mostly living in Orlando, Florida.

JT was able to retire from Boeing/Seattle after 35 years working for that company. He told me he was in the military R & D department. JT’s liberal, and he spends time in the Hood River area because their 94-year-old mother was moved from Hawaii to a care facility in the town of Hood River. She’s going strong, and her life for a long time had been centered around living in Seattle.

Jim says their mom gets riled up in the skilled nursing facility because she’s a social democrat and most the old timers living with her are conservative, and Trump backers. Jim says his mom can be pretty articulate but forceful talking about her spin on the world: she’s for regulating banks, she’s for a single payer health program, she’s for better PK12 education, she’s for making the rich pay their fair share of keeping safety nets for the working class, the working poor, the working homeless and the middle class. She believes the rich are only rich because the working class and other workers helped them get that way, so she is for higher taxes for the rich. These are not unAmerican ideas, nor are they off the charts liberal, but in today’s world, Ike Eisenhower would be a flaming liberal if he ran today as the Republican he was in the 1950s.

She’s 94, so that means she was born in 1925. Hmm, seems as if she should be at that table in Salem (or in Olympia) discussing the value of almost 100 years in this country paid to a society that helps, not hurts; a society that honors all people, not singles out the elite and the rich as the only ones worthy of attention and respect; a country that plans for seven generations out, not one that gouges previous generations’ ability to survive and bankrupts the current young generation and future ones.

Jim is not retired, technically, but he says he has a good life in the woods on 50 or more acres. He wanted to leave the city, Seattle, when he was 25, and now he’s 67 and still running a big CAT, bucking trees, cutting wood for income, and playing cards for income. He says it’s all a hobby, but, in fact, his wife works as a personal care professional freelancing (many, many aging people who are still “aging in place” in this part of the Columbia Gorge) obviously to keep the bills paid and to add to the retirement fund.

The night before Jerry’s memorial, JT, Jim and I drank a bottle of vodka as gimlets, Jim’s specialty. We talked about the world, about my intersections with so much of the world as a writer, social worker, teacher, counselor and Marxist/ ecosocialist. Sometimes I function as the oddity or the intensely interesting guy, as Jim might call me.

Jim watches FOX News so he can see what the opposing side’s strategy is, according to what he says. He’s adept at navigating the Trump world since he plays cards at the Elks clubs in the area and does business with old timer loggers, millwrights, and blue collar types.

I think both JT and Jim got a kick out of me railing and listing off the systems of oppression breaking the country from the inside out. No matter how much NYT and CNN and NPR one consumes, these middling news agencies never ever get it right, or get to the bone, or get in the mix to see how precarious maybe more than half of the US population is in terms of economics. The fact that we are moving toward a world without ice puts 99 percent of us in some peril.

I find that Americans are good at laughing and joking, but in many ways do not have a great sense of humor. However, Jim and JT are good at story telling, good at laughing off their own foibles and aches and pains and do have a sense of humor, and a sense of irony.

I dig getting with people like JT and Jim to again let some of that America Once Might Have Been Good optimism flow over my tattered wings.

Bad knees from sports injuries, bad shoulders from repetitive work, and just bones wearing down are laments we talked about, but not very long and with no “woe is me” lines of discourse.

I bring this up since I was out from the Central Oregon Coast where I live to be a part of Jerry’s memorial in a church. I bring it up because while I am an angry man — sounding almost naively young — I can be very appreciative how the lives of others who have travailed various trail ways and narratives can be very compelling.

Here, a comment about one of my pieces just published here at DV:

Comment: Enjoyed (well maybe enjoyed isn’t the correct word) your Dissident Voice article on Earth Day. I have written for them, mostly when they first went online. So many of us have been fighting the good fight since Rachel Carson raised the flag, and yet nothing seems to change. I wrote this piece [“Fast Fashion“] about the impact of the fashion industry on the environment. It is even worse than I had imagined. I doubt that knowing these facts would make a dent in the buying practices of the elite progressives. Keep up the good work. I love reading pieces written in anger. Sheila

And, no, I did not have to rail against JT for being part of the problem — a worker bee for the vast military industrial complex that is Boeing. Sometimes just being in that moment of three guys, in our sixties (wow, that is a line for which have never written in my lifetime until NOW), talking, listening to owls, turkeys, and the wind whipping Douglas firs can be enough. Hood River has cloud server behemoths, and an international  drone manufacturer, wind (sail) surfers, Full Sail/ Sessions brewery and even the famous Tofurky/vegan Field Roast manufacturer. It’s a “hip” town now, no longer the timber processing and exchange center it once was.

Jim likes being out in the woods, though where we have our property, others also like being on their 20 acres for maybe some of the same reasons, and for other reasons as well.

Ironically, I see Jim and JT as perfect candidates for adults in the classroom — mentors and living examples of Americans who with varying degrees of success came out the dark tunnel of capitalism with some safety nets. Both men could be integrated into any school system to teach youth about life, tenacity, perspectives and some hands-on stuff, too.

That’s one big fault of education — the pigs at the top, the administrators and politicians and such, have gutted the school systems’ ability to be transformative for young people. Instead, it’s dumb downed curriculum and teachers forced to not deviate from the various states’ application of NCLB — no child left behind (sic).

My various theses are not predicated on some Utopian ideal, some unrealistic vision of a world impossible to achieve. The problems we are facing in every arena — think of every department/sub department and specialized field of study at a decent state university and you can see everything, unfortunately, is about solutions, about dealing with problems that have been set forth through capitalism and a political/business world that is based on tolling and servicing the suffering and poor, one based on wars against people, including all the wars we have inside this society and those we export to other societies via armed wars, economic wars, environmental warring. The system is about creating poverty and precarity while creating a minority class of wealth accumulators.

Leaving the 20 acres we have, I saw a black bear scramble across the dirt road. I ended up heading west again to attend this funeral. Maybe I agreed to talk as a way of punctuating my belief that some people are so unusual in their compassion and ability to connect so many others to compassionate allies that I had to honor Jerry.

Cerebral Palsy, crutches, confined to a wheelchair, then one little thing and then big thing in less than 12 months, and he is gone. Sixty-six years later!

I went across the road where the Quaker church was receiving guests, to the private school, Reed College. I walked the grounds, watched a beaver muddle the water of a pond, and reflected on all the foliage bursting out from a fallow fall and winter.

Cliche, but life is around us, even among the dead and the dying. I knew at one point reflecting silently while walking on this toney small campus that it’s our call of duty to honor and celebrate the brave lives and the giving people in their midst and through their passing.

One remarkable aspect of this friend who died a hard death in the hospital was that he was a marker, that guidepost, not so much a guide. He allowed me to sound off, to emote, to dramatize my life in words, and he never judged but he was no pushover. He amazingly loved people the way I like people (not so gifted to love a lot of people but I do appreciate their struggle and their gifts to the world).

Jerry discovered his potency as a human who was straddled by CP rested on his ability to understand people way beyond any psychologist’s or minister’s understanding and shaping of humanity. Jerry was the guidepost from which I knew I could aspire to,  but one I would never meet in the end because our physical beginnings and the amount of extra experiences with a healthy body that allowed me a lot of reckless travel and undertakings made us different since he had the body that limited that aspect of life but provided a deep well of knowledge and self-determination many of us “able bodied” souls can’t have, forget to have, or fail to nurture within ourselves.

Jim, JT, Jerry. I would have never thought a night in the woods could have gelled in me what I had to say at the funeral. I am glad to have been in his life since Jerry (like JT and Jim) allowed for a two-way transformation of self. You see, each time I engage, each time I intersect with people, each time even with Trumpies, I learn more about myself.

I learned at a young age not to take life for granted because of many reasons — from living in the Azores, in other countries like France, traveling throughout Europe in the 1960s and then later as an adult. Living and traveling and working in Mexico and Central America. Working with migrant farmers and then in prisons and then in low income communities as a teacher. Hell, when I was 19, my older sister by three years was splayed on the road in British Columbia when some guy fell asleep at the wheel and crossed into Roberta as she was driving her Harley down south to see us in Arizona.

Spreading her ashes in glacial fed waters near Hyder, Alaska, I gained much perspective for a person at a relatively young age. Earlier perspective I gained while I did community service working in a hospice at age 16 when the number of moving violations during my various motorcycling forays caught up with me and I opted to pay them off with community service. Reading Robert Frost and Shakespeare plays to one woman, Audrey, while she died a slow painful death with a forty-pound tumor wrapped around her kidneys and liver, I learned the value of a few more weeks on planet earth is not about the number of CC’s your motorcycle has or the number of watts in your stereo. She had been a high school English teacher for more than 38 years, and that’s what consoled her at the end as two liters of radioactive-looking brownish fluid come from her body each day. Drip drip drip under her hospital bed while her wild bunch long-haired volunteer 16-year-old read Othello.

Almost half a century later and here I am still trying to find guideposts, still looking to learn life, to do adulting the “right way, and learning to capture authentic life and living in a line, or two, or thousands of lines! Jerry too, like Jim and JT, would have been a valuable asset in the classroom — a vision of hope, guts, honor and ethical love for his fellow man/woman would have been worth a thousand other lesson plans the youth would have gotten!

Friend Who Forever Allowed Us In

for Jerry Pattee, on his passing

He Allowed
the voice of impatience to settle

He allowed
the disharmonious song to fall

He allowed
Portland showers for a new dawn

He allowed
old staggering men to lift words

He allowed
new worlds to settle into his orbit

He allowed
trauma and fear to sink into calm

He allowed
sprigs and cuttings to be carried away

He allowed
new friends to gather, old ones to root

He allowed
indulgences of artists to be understood

He allowed
space to enter slowly inside his realm

He allowed
freedom to lift him from his physical inertia

He allowed
family to be friends, friends as clan

He allowed
shadows crisscrossing light to honor the gray

He allowed
food to become spiritual

He allowed
so many to call him brother, father, friend

He allowed
us gathered here to sing his praises

Finally, I want to say that I never let my poetic words have the last line when thinking about the life of a person as uniquely broad and giving as Jerry. I’ve had a few times with William Stafford, the poet par excellence of America, and his son, Kim. Kim’s the poet laureate of Oregon, a job title that has two years of duties and ceremonial gravitas bundled up with it.

Ironically, Jerry had not been a nature-lover in the true sense of the terms, that is, not a backpacker, kayaker, camper, back-country explorer. He was, however, always talking about plants (he had tons in his house) and flowers (dahlias were one of his favorites). And he did live in a very rural part of the world, Payette, Idaho, early in his life.

He did understand how powerful the draw to land — mountains, rivers, forests, ocean — this place he ended up living in for most of his life has on new and old comers.

I think about all those people I have known and worked with that have had some physical or developmental challenge keeping them away from what I believe are powerful agents of harmony and perspective to any human — nature and wildlife.

Here, Kim’s poem, for Jerry:

Do You Need Anything from the Mountain?

By Kim Stafford

Could you bring me a smudge of camas blue,
and the whisper whistle of that one pine
at the edge of the meadow at dusk, when day

gives a lost, last breath? Bring me the road
that becomes deep duff as it trails away
into the forest, young firs ten feet tall

along the hump between the old ruts.
Bring me a story you hear in dark silence
after the last light, the gone that gathers dew

in the fingers not to hold, carry away, but
only to feel. Bring me that skein of fire
that hangs in intimate eternity, after

the dark but before the thunder, when
the bounty of yearning in one cloud
reaches toward another, in each being’s

endless, impossible desire to complete itself
before falling away

The Delusions of Me, Myself and AI

“Do I need to justify what most call philosophy? Aren’t all these social and political issues building into huge cumulonimbuses that demand a less solely reflective response? But look, a thunderstorm has its origins in the vibrations of individual atoms. And as an atom of this society, I need to examine myself, because whatever is driving me (and you) is driving that developing storm.”

“In other words, what is the role of individual perception in all these less abstract issues of immigration, governmental control, war, and the dangers of AI?”

“Well, I bristle at the word “abstract.” I’m saying that the storm has a concrete origin in the atom of my personality. There’s a dynamic there that translates into society. My personality is a twisted wreck of inauthenticity — defensive denials, and bald declarations of pig-headed belief in anything and everything. I leap from one conclusion to another, rarely questioning any of them. Rarely learning.”

“Yes, society is a cumulative stupidity.”

“And on the “atomic” level it’s only me and you getting caught on what we think and usually staying that way the rest of our lives. It’s not just stupidity, but a stubbornly self-enforced stupidity, which is beguilingly odd. There’s a clarifying thrill in this, like being trapped in a small cell my whole life and suddenly discovering that there are doors everywhere in the cell that I’ve simply refused to open. Every resistance in myself is a door I refuse to open.”

“So you’re saying that your own dynamic of resistance, control and self-denial, is powering society’s storms? What good are social movements if this is the case?”

“This dynamic undermines every movement after a short while. That’s why I want to look at myself more closely. And this might set you off, because I know how much you love science. But I blame science for this dynamic.”

“You’re kidding? For your own personal stupidity? You should be thankful that science can help us distinguish real news from fake.”

“Maybe I’m thinking of the way science tries to pin the world down. There’s a Utopian streak in this attempt to be errorless; an overly ambitious search for the all-encompassing theory.”

“No, the genius of science is falsification, the recognition that there is no final answer, only increasingly more powerful theories that are subject to constant change. It tries to be errorless only in the way it handles and analyzes evidence.”

But the way it handles and analyzes evidence – this objectifying gaze – is never questioned. It approaches the world, the planet, as something inanimate. That materialistic ideology decimated cultures that looked at the world very differently. It hypocritically refuses to see its own limitations in all this. And the whole techno-utopian Zeitgeist is a product of science.”

“And I think the practice of science is freedom from wishful thinking. Sloppy thinking got us in this mess. Error got us here. What if we’re building rockets that carry people? That demands perfection. Don’t you want investigations of reality that are free from error?”

“Yes, you’re right. I’m conflicted. We do need to be as error-free in our thinking as possible. But how does this add up then? Because in another context, if I strive to be errorless, I’m trying to be something I’m not; then I’m fighting my own nature, which IS imperfection. And there’s a way to live with that. It’s called being humble, where errors aren’t a problem that need to be eliminated. And that’s very different from a desire to get rid of error. Because the desire for errorlessness is a delusion of grandeur.”

“When we sent people to the moon that wasn’t a delusion of grandeur. That was something truly grand that wouldn’t have been possible if people were content with error.”

“You’re right. But I think I’m also right. How is this possible? That’s the real question. Not which of us is wrong. There seems to be this need for control and errorlessness and a need to be tolerant of error. There’s the need to eliminate error and the need to live peacefully with error. How is this understood?”

“That’s a legitimate question, but science doesn’t deserve the blame. In other words, Can a person try to be errorless in some contexts without allowing this attitude to reign everywhere? Do we know when it’s necessary to switch attitudes? This could be considered a scientific question.”

“Yes, are we able to relate to error cordially so that we can learn?”

“And science codified a way to face error cordially, and is constantly learning. Why blame science?”

“I’m not sure you CAN codify honesty. Nevertheless, it seems like this codified, “cordial” relationship to error is often missing when science steps too far out of the lab and invades everyday life with its technological solutions, which amount to increased controls; a warlike approach, even to people’s health, with invasive drug therapies and chemical agriculture. It tries to stamp out error like a bug everywhere it’s found.”

“Is this the fault of science or of the way science has become an arm of capitalism?”

”Or maybe science made a mistake in aligning itself too closely with technological development, which is designed almost exclusively as a means of increasing the efficiency of production. Maybe science has forgotten that original inspiration you mentioned – that sense of itself as a natural philosophy, which loves error, because it hints at larger worlds.”

“Not entirely of course.”

No, but the funding is almost exclusively used to create technologies for business and military. And if we’re building technologies we naturally strive for error-free results. That drive replaces a more open-ended interest in pure research, where error is more of an inspiring clue than something to be eliminated. Would you say that control is essentially technology? I mean, there is no way to achieve control without technology, and technology itself depends on controls and the absence of error to work. So a kind of desire for errorlessness and control is “baked into” every technology. The technology infects the person with this same desire.”

“Could it have provided capitalism with a delusion of grandeur?”

“We could also say that capitalism infected science with a delusion of technological perfection. But at some point there was a marriage of capitalism and science. Maybe capitalism was the abusive partner. And their offspring was technology, AI in particular, which is a child raised to believe it knows everything and can never be wrong.”

“But AI learns from its errors.”

“Yes. But does it learn only in a certain direction? I mean, a computer program can’t unwrite itself completely. It can’t question its own program. Doing so would still be part of its program! A computer essentially converts error into new certainties, more control. So it wouldn’t be able to recognize an error in this programmatic search for more and more control.”

“Well, it can’t question the intention of the program writers, which is always some form of control. It can’t have an existential crisis that transforms it into something different.”

“Yes, only we have this underused capacity to be stopped in our tracks, to have our ideological programs shut off at the root, and be transported by joy and wonder, with no ulterior purpose, no program.”

“But couldn’t you say that the desire to live and procreate, for instance, are programs that also can’t be turned off?”

“No, because these are biological conditions that don’t necessitate a particular kind of response or ideology. We live without ideologies, if we dare; without a program or mission to change reality. It’s a kind of programmatic death that computers simply can’t go through.”

“You mean, our orientation to the world can change not just superficially, from one certainty to another, but fundamentally shut down that system of certainty-seeking?”

“Yes, that can wholly end. And in its place a different relationship to error emerges. I wouldn’t even call it error then, but liveliness, that which can’t be pinned down or reduced to a utilitarian known. This suggests a wholly different kind of person. One who is not driven by a programmatic mission, not seeking anything, but absorbed by the majesty of this unknowable reality. See, a computer can’t do something for no reason, for the sheer joy of discovery. “

“It has no aesthetic sense?”

“No, I mean something far more meaningful. We disparage purposelessness, an unprogrammed mentality. But this is a mentality that is always learning, but in a different way.”

“Purposeless people are without ambition or enthusiasm for anything.”

“But that same dynamic of perpetual escape from pain has become their overwhelming purpose; the constant attempt to distract themselves from the guilt of being “wrong” in some way, and the miseries of lovelessness. That’s what keeps them uninterested and feckless. They are even more driven in that sense. Nothing interesting can reach a person watching porn all day, or taking drugs, because they are even more caught up then we are in their own programmatic purpose of resistance.”

“OK, so you’re using “purpose” here a little differently.”

“Yes, I’m sorry. The point is, we think of learning as gaining knowledge, gaining control. This programmed response can shut off in the face of a charged beauty. It overwhelms the program. And this death, which is inaccessible to a computer, initiates the birth of learning as self-discovery, self-transformation. And this has no ulterior purpose.”

“OK, ulterior purpose is more understandable.”

“So, would you say that a computer is an expert in a certain kind of purpose, which also dominates us? You might even say a certain kind of imagination, the kind that can only posit potential solutions — ideas, assertions, images – all of which are controlled worlds, models of reality? In short, knowledge. Like a computer, we leap from this known thing to that, with only the briefest possible suspension of the program in uncertainty.”

“We shut the door on the unknown as fast as possible, and remain trapped in small cells.”

“And we think we’re progressing because we gain more knowledge and control.”

“Yes, the limited space becomes crammed with more and different certainties and rules. Is it a larger and larger space?”

“Not really. Not if you measure it against the reality of an infinite world. No knowledge, no matter how large, ever gets closer to that infinity. Everything we will ever know will remain infinitely short of reality. This is why a computer is doomed to remain stupid.”

“And that’s how we operate also.”

“Almost always, but not quite. In fact, we designed the computer as a reflection of our positive orientation.”

“Is it wrong to seek positive knowledge about the world?”

“No, but if these positive assertions are taken too literally, or if they don’t stir questions to life, then we settle too positively on an answer.”

“But frankly, that’s what I do. I’m no different than a computer!”

“Yes, but living things have access to something else – a non-posited orientation, an orientation friendly to our positive errors.”

“Friendly to positive errors?”

“I mean, if we don’t berate ourselves for being too certain and pig-headed, then that empathy for ourselves and humility immediately opens the door to change, to learning in a new way. And it doesn’t matter if we mostly act like computers – positing answers, constantly busy like a computer, fearing every absence of an idea. We can turn to face this without resistance. And when there’s no resistance, we begin to change. And we begin to relate directly to these shifting currents of meaning and perspective, which can never be pinned down.”

“Is that your faith?”

“Well, it’s not my belief, if that’s what you mean. It does no good to believe in this, because that’s another program aiming for a positive conclusion, another small cell cut off from reality. See, the limits of the positive orientation have to be met head on before the other even opens. It’s no good striving for it, because that’s just more positive orientation. But that’s our reality at present, that’s the closed door we need to open. Turn away from who we desire to become, and notice what’s actually happening.”

“But don’t we still need to build these little islands of positive knowledge in which to live? That seems necessary, right? But if I understand what you’re implying, then it might be this: within a lab or a village at the edge of a wilderness, positive knowledge, controls, might take precedence. In a kitchen, cleanliness might be very important. But any real belief in the possibility of absolute sterility or errorlessness makes us delusional. It’s too literal. Our sense of identity, too, can’t become so literal that it excludes the so-called other. This weakens us, just as a sterile, lifeless environment weakens our immune system. We need to be in relationship to everything that errs from our cell walls. They have to be very permeable to remain strong…”

“…They are permeable, they have doors, but we ignore them…”

“… OK. But the point is, we can’t try to become utterly positive about anything. We need that slack of not knowing anything for sure. We can’t go around pretending that the village can be walled off from infinite chaos, without denying ourselves fundamentally.”

“Yes, and we think that the whole society should be sealed off in a hyper-controlled state. This desire for sterility has escaped the lab on the back of technologies like AI. Techno-logical thinking now dominates daily life, and we begin to desire what the technology desires – a world perfectly cut off from all the poisons we project beyond our borders. It’s a false Self, national or personal, a cell where we keep ourselves jailed.”

“I can’t help thinking of Castenada’s “inorganic beings” or “the predator.”

“Yes, precisely. This predatory thinking embedded in technology lures us into increasingly dictatorial systems of control, which use us like batteries. And it destroys our empathy, because machines have no empathy. It violently resists seeing the error in its own program, which might be the political system running everyone like parts in a big machine.”

“Yes, and the more “lifelike” our systems of control become, the more unreal the individual within this system becomes.”

“So even though we are gifted technologists, we can’t go where the technology itself compulsively wants to take us. Otherwise it controls us.”

“Yes, as control and technology rise in importance, we lose the humility and sense of humor that comes with an easy relationship to imperfection. And a life that struggles to be without error, without pain, without mutations, isn’t really alive, or able to learn.”

“So AI isn’t really intelligent.”

“Yes, there’s an error in the heart of AI that AI will never recognize.”1

“And as long as we are limited to a positive orientation we won’t either. Techno-logical thinking is incapable of allowing itself to die. Only living things die. And that is what learning is. We learn new ways of being, because old ways of being die. Technology will never be intelligent in that sense.”

“So is technology to blame for my stupidity?”

“Well, first I blamed science, then capitalism or its union with technology for my own dynamic of resistance.”

“But each was only a lens.”

“A lens without sufficient magnification to discover what lies behind the doors I refuse to open.”

“Then what have we learned?”

“Maybe we are learning to lose our certainties and ask bigger questions.”

“So we don’t learn here by gaining knowledge, but by losing knowledge?”

“Yes, by not finding an answer, questions grow larger and more interesting. Then we don’t fight the current of error.”

“And when we resist our errors, we’re refusing to open ourselves…”

“… our Cells…”

“… to bigger mysteries, and then complaining that the world is meaningless. Is this an answer?”

“No, we’re only beginning to notice the origins of the storm. Now we have to leave this page, leave words behind for now, the inherent certainties of words, and notice all the traps of positivity that keep the things we fear from opening into larger questions. We have to move via the negation of cold, virtual certainties into the real world of pain and trauma, courageously, without resistance.”

“Yes, we either make our lives real, or we get blown away in a storm of delusion.”

  1. I need to credit a conversation between J. Krishnamurti and a computer scientist for inspiring this criticism.

Between Yes and No, Heaven and Earth with Albert Camus on a Spring Morning

To give up beauty and the sensual happiness that comes with it and devote one’s self exclusively to unhappiness requires a nobility I lack. However, after all, nothing is true that compels us to make it exclusive.  Isolated beauty ends in grimaces, solitary justice in oppression.  Anyone who seeks to serve the one to the exclusion of the other serves no one, not even himself, and in the end is doubly the servant of injustice.  A day comes when, because we have been inflexible, nothing amazes us anymore, everything is known, and our life is spent in starting again.  It is a time of exile, dry lives, dead souls.  To come back to life, we need grace, a homeland, or to forget ourselves.  On certain mornings, as we turn a corner, an exquisite dew falls on our heart and then vanishes.  But the freshness lingers, and this, always, is what the heart needs.  I had to come back once again.

— Albert Camus, Return to Tipasa, 1954

For a writer to fight injustice to the exclusion of creating beauty and living passionately contradicts the deepest desires of the human heart.  Albert Camus taught us this.  The love of life must inform the rebel’s resistance to injustice.  “It seems to me that the writer must be fully aware of the dramas of his time,” he writes, “and that he must take sides every time he can and knows how to do so.”  But his refusal, his no, does not imply a renunciation but an affirmation, a yes, to the joy and grandeur of life that is everyone’s birthright.

This is the difficult way of true art – the rebel writer’s way – the tension that the writer must live with as he shuttles back and forth between one’s heart’s desires and his commitment to resist evil.  What is the point of fighting for a better world if one does not live as if that world were here now, and one’s living and writing were the revelation of that reality.  Camus somewhere said something to the effect that it is not your writings that I like, it is your writing.  He knew that we are always on the way, and our wayfaring should prefigure the enigma of our arrivals.

It is spring as I write and I am thinking of Camus when that exquisite dew fell on his heart that early morning. No doubt Albert felt a bit of heaven.  I’m feeling it now.  Spring, the time of the resurrection of the living dead.  All around new life bursts and blooms in wild array. A mountain stream races down the hillside, shouting its joy that the earth’s new warmth has freed it at last from its frozen sleep.  In the trees all around the birds have returned and sing exultantly of their homecoming.  Almost before our eyes the flowers push their way up to the light.  They have had enough of the underground, hungrily seeking the sun.  It is a beautiful dawn, and I can smell it.  I feel as though I have awoken from a long and deep sleep.  The morning star welcomed me. The sun rose majestically. And across my window three early flies jitterbug in the first light.  The whole earth is conspiring to explode with life and it is asking for our assent.

But dare the living-dead awaken?  Shall we say yes to this paradise?

“This day you will be with me in paradise.”  That’s what a man, convicted of crimes against the state and dying fast, once said.  Like most memorable statements, it is open to various interpretations.  But suppose, instead of offering one, we assume the existence of paradise, and ask a question that lurks unspoken and forbidden in every heart.

For there are some questions so obvious that we refuse to ask them for fear of having to answer.  To be asked such questions seems an impertinence, an insult to our intelligence, and an assault on our integrity.   Don’t be ridiculous, we think, though we don’t laugh.  Isn’t it obvious, we vaguely mutter, secretly knowing it is nothing of the sort.  We are caught off-guard, something we don’t do to ourselves.  Even our dreams escape us.  We prefer to live in the clouds.

But let’s be daring for once.  Let’s put aside all our usual lies and evasions and not be afraid of the truth.  Let’s ask ourselves a few very simple and annoying questions, the kind children ask their tongue-tied parents, and let’s not squirm away from answering.

What images of death do we live with?

Or, to put it another way, if you believe in life after death, what image of heaven do you entertain?  Not what do you think heaven is, but what do you desire it to be?  If you object and say you don’t believe in life after death, the question is still valid.  For we are, of course , here playing a game of the imagination.  You need only make believe, for the hell of it, that there is life after death. Or life before.

What would you like it to be?  Imagine.  What would you like this life to be?  Maybe that’s the real question.

The trouble with being born, of course, is that we are guaranteed to die and be aware of it most of our lives.  When it comes to dying, we have no choice; death is our fate and against it freedom is a meaningless word.  Living is another matter, though it is not something we generally give much thought, for we can choose not to live when breath is still ours.  We are free to wait lovingly for annihilation by patiently enduring our lives, or we can commit quick suicide.

We don’t have to live, but we must die.  In our bitterness we may curse the fact that we find ourselves alive in the world; we didn’t ask for it.  This is obviously true and equally meaningless. Once we find ourselves alive, death is our destiny, like it or not.  Whether life is a living hell for us or just a dull plod through the years – a “hanging in there,” in those unconsciously evocative words – we hold in our hearts, however buried, images of what we would like life to be like if it were eternal.

That is, we all live with images of paradise, no matter how beclouded or unarticulated they may be.

Now, as I wander out in the early morning lulled by birdsong, I wonder what these images consist of.  What, in our hearts’ desires, do we yearn to become?  What heavens do we wish to inhabit?

For we are now in the school of imagination, what John Keats called the vale of soul-making, and must, like children everywhere, answer the following: Imagine paradise, on earth or in heaven, and describe it in as few or as many words as you wish.  For future reference, learn your answer by heart.

Camus wrote:

Yes, nothing prevents me from dreaming, in the very hour of exile, since at least I know this, with sure and certain knowledge: a man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the details of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.

Yes, to open our hearts.  It is naïve, but not stupid.  It is disturbing.  It is surely easy to hide behind the word mystery, or cynically to reply that the world is what it is, a far cry from paradise, nor will it ever be, here or in some supposed hereafter, any different.  The former is the believer’s dodge, the latter the skeptical “realist’s” way of begging the question.  Both are phony.

Only as we become as little children can we enter into the kingdom of heavenly imagination, and it is the fear of ridicule, our own and others,’ that bars the gate.  It is obvious that what happens after death is a mystery.  Why we come and why we go is something that we’ll never know, all beliefs to the contrary.  We live by pure faith, though, as Thoreau noted, we are determined not to live by faith if we can avoid it.  Which we can’t, ultimately.  Knowledge fails.  And anyway, what we know and what we want are not the same thing.  The images of paradise we hold don’t illuminate death in the slightest; they do, however, enlighten our lives.  After all, it is living that is within our power.  We live in possibility.  If we wish to pursue the ideal images of our heart’s desires, we must first make manifest what they are.

What do you want?  I know it is not easy living with a deep but dark longing.  Perhaps it is the fear of disappointment that keeps us in the dark.  Why, when the whole earth rises toward the light, do we shrink back in fear?  Does beauty crush us?

I remember leaving my mother’s house to go to the hospital where my dear father had just died. It was 5:30 AM on the first of May. Stepping outside, the birdsong and flowering bushes illuminated by the rising sun staggered me. How could this be: life and death in one hour, one moment.  Where now was my father as his son walked through a garden of delight?  Where was that man whom I had kissed a few hours before?

What do I want?

Albert, you wondered too when you created your alter-ego Jacques Cormery in your novel, The First Man, and placed him at his father’s grave site.  It was just a novel, as they say, but you were there and said:

All that was left was this anguished heart, eager to live, rebelling against the deadly order of the world that had been with him for forty years, and still struggling against the wall that separated him from the secret of all life, wanting to go farther, to go beyond, and to discover, discover before dying, discover at last in order to be, just once to be, for a single second, but forever.

Just once and one time only.  Isn’t that it?  No reruns.  No playbacks.  One life.  Eternal.

Then what?

Perhaps our greatest fear is to passionately want something from life and death, “to go beyond” with Albert, to ask for something independent of society’s and others’ wishes, and to dare intuit it into existence.  Society drones: Don’t dare feel it, don’t dare say it, don’t ask for too much.  Narrow it all down, life is much too much, narrow it all down.

Sometimes I think that because so many people have meekly accepted this dictum that they are unconsciously in love with death, assuming that all their problems and the anguish of being placed between yes and no, heaven and earth will then cease.  Oftentimes I think that we are living in the age of nihilism that Nietzsche predicted long ago, a time in which the will to nothingness is most clearly expressed in the sterile pursuit and embrace of things, a “paradise” of consumer goods at the expense of livingness.

“I cling like a miser to the freedom that disappears as soon as there is an excess of things,” writes Camus, grasping in a few words a key link between a just and unjust world where most people are subjected to violence and degradation at the hands of the wealthy and powerful who seek to devour the earth.

Ah, but here we are walking in the spring sunshine, the time for resurrection and for truth.  The whole earth is rising beneath our feet. We can feel it.  The trees are budding forth and leaving toward the stars.  We can see them. We can smell the earth warming in the rising sun.  Perhaps like Camus, the spring smells seize us by the throat, and we find ourselves delirious with love and desire as “the gods speak in the sun and the scent of absinthe leaves,” as we wander through a reborn world.

So why don’t we say what we truly want?  Can we even imagine it?  Or is what we want so pathetic – more things, more money, anything to boost our egos and impress others, improve our appearances, elevate our social standing – that to admit it reveals the hollowness of our lives?  Are our desires so vague and culturally constricted that they must be repressed lest they make us realize how spiritually dead we are when all around us resurrection calls us to awaken to new life?

Suppose rather than hiding behind the lies and evasions that we use to divorce ourselves from the tree of life, we dare to speak from the indivisible root of truth and desire, or true desire, the eternal tree.  For to live truly and to die is to create out of that planting a full flowering, an exposed existence rooted in the earth and reaching to the stars.  Then, heaven will be our destiny, for it will proceed from our passions and usher in a glorious spring.

And yet, as Camus knew, our little imaginary heavens can lull us to sleep when world events call to us to rise up and say no.  Yes, but no, too.  Desire needs will to renew the world.  The lover who luxuriates in the spring sap rising must be a rebel.  “But the true life is present in the heart of this dichotomy….Life is this dichotomy itself,” he tells us.

To live authentically is to live between yes and no.

Dostoevsky, who shared with Camus the belief that we must rebel to save the world, had Karamazov rightly say that if all are not saved, what good is the salvation of only one?

To which he added: “Life is a paradise and we are all in paradise, but we refuse to see it.”

So it seems on this morning in spring as resurrection fills the air.  And even though this feeling will fade, Camus is right that its freshness will linger, an exquisite reminder of why we must rebel joyously.

You are right, Albert, “We must simultaneously serve suffering and beauty.”