April - May, 2007

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April 5. On the toxic pet food issue, two readers comment that the "experts" are greatly exaggerating the difficulty of making your own pet food because they have ties to the industry. Obviously, the ancestors of your dog thrived for thousands of years on human table scraps, and the ancestors of your cat have been living since the dawn of time, minus the last 50 years, on raw freshly killed small animals. So it can't be that hard! Wendy writes:

Francis Pottenger's study with cats is famous for showing that a diet of exclusively cooked foods resulted in physical deformities in subsequent generations. There were also anomalies in behaviour and reduced reproductive capacity -- by the third generation of cooked-food-fed-cats there were no viable offspring.

April 6. One thing we can do about the honey bee dieoff is to encourage wild bees. Here's a good article about it, Can Wild Bees Take Sting From Honeybee Decline? Also notice that it was written two and a half years ago -- this was going on well before the media hype.

Prior to the advent of large-scale monoculture agriculture in the fifties and the use of lots of chemical pesticides, native bees and feral honeybees pollinated everything. It wasn't an issue. People didn't cart bees all over the country.

April 8-10. Impressive article: Pearls Before Breakfast. The Washington Post arranged to have one of the best classical musicians in the world play some of the most difficult and beautiful music in history on a three million dollar Stradivarius, anonymously in a DC Metro station. And almost nobody noticed, except...

Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.

There you see the mental prison we build for ourselves. Every adult who forced a kid away was once a kid who would have stopped and listened. People who have just come into this world see everything with no filter except human biology. When they've been here a while, they start to add society's filters: Instead of hearing the music, they just see the tag, "street musician", and the instructions, "ignore". They are replacing raw data with abstractions and symbolic shortcuts.

But the kicker is, these kinds of shortcuts are necessary for us to do complex tasks. The violinist himself could not have played without making the same kinds of shortcuts the commuters made when they ignored him. It reminds me of the Far Side cartoon, where the one orchestra musician looks at the page of music and says, "Gee, look at all the little black dots!"

April 9. Fascinating review of Jonathan Lear's book Radical Hope. It starts out talking about how the Crow tribe lost their way of life when they were conquered by industrial civilization. Then it distinguishes between simply not being able to do an activity (in this case, hunting and warfare) and losing the whole context in which that activity has meaning:

Lear imagines someone going to a restaurant to order a buffalo hamburger. He is told that he can't have it because the last buffalo has been killed. Very different would be the predicament if we were transported to a future where restaurants no longer existed.

The Crow had a visionary chief, Plenty Coups, who found a way to keep his people's spirit alive through the death of their culture:

He drew on the established practice of going into the wilderness to seek a revelation through a dream. The dream he reported foretold in thinly veiled terms the end of the Crow way of life, but it also promised a kind of survival for the Crow, provided they could listen "like the Chickadee," that is, observe others, and find new ways of going on. These were, of course, at that stage wholly unknown...

This is what Lear calls "radical hope." Hope can only exist if you are uncertain about a desired outcome. If it's really a sure thing, your anticipation of it can't be hope. But here we have something more extreme than uncertainty: the very shape of this hope remained to be defined.

I'm aware of Derrick Jensen's critique of hope: it's weak to believe that we will be saved by some event in which we have no agency. But this is something different. Whatever you call it, it's the confidence that if you persist, you will find a way through, even if you cannot yet imagine it.

April 16-18. The Virginia Tech murder record is in a very precise category: an individual, acting on his own initiative, killing people face to face in rapid series. I don't trust the media, or even Seung-Hui Cho himself, to say why he did it. This article Every Five Seconds an Inkjet Printer Dies Somewhere, reveals that our word "amok" comes from a very old Malay word for a murderous frenzy. So we can't completely blame modern society, but if you wonder why these events are more common in the USA, here's a reddit comment:

A very close friend of mine from early childhood was brought to America from India and ended up killing himself at the age of 29. He didn't kill anyone else, but he threatened to. I wonder what America must seem like to people who aren't from here... I don't think it's an easy adjustment. I read an interview once with a girl who had survived African refugee camps, war, rape, and starvation to come to America, and she said of all her ordeals, being a student in an American high school was the worst.

April 28. Two great essays by Curtis White in Orion Magazine, The Idols of Environmentalism, and The Ecology of Work. From the first:

There would be nothing inappropriate or undesirable were we to understand our relation to nature in spiritual terms or poetic terms or, with Emerson and Thoreau, in good old American transcendental terms, but there is no broadly shared language in which to do this. So we are forced to resort to what is in fact a lower common denominator: the languages of science and bureaucracy.

John Livingston made the same point in his 1981 book The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation: that we cannot protect nature with the language and metaphysics of the system that is destroying it.

May 3. After countless attempts by myself and others to solve my cabin on a technical level, I noticed the obvious: there is no technical solution because it's not a technical problem! And now I'm seeing the same thing everywhere: problems that we think are technical are social or psychological or spiritual. Look at all the shelves packed with how-to books, and how few people actually do the stuff in the books -- and how many people do something great without reading books about it at all. How many readers of this site dream of getting free of the system, but don't, even though you know how to proceed on a technical level? Why do people continue self-damaging behaviors, when the technical solution, "just stop," is trivially simple?

These questions cut to the heart of what it means to be human. All other creatures, relative to us, are in the comfortable grip of their natures. But a large part of human nature is to be an empty vessel for possession. The question is always, "What drives us to do what we do?" Our ancestors were driven by the cultures and social relations of their particular tribes. But all of us were trained, through years of overwhelming pressure in the schooling and wage labor systems, to be numb machines driven by central command. Even when we think we're getting free of that system, we often take its motivational component with us, with goals still programmed by our culture, and the external dominator replaced with an internal dominator. Patricia comments:

I think we are born with some natural internal motivation -- I'm going to call it the "Joy in Doing." For some kids it may be reading, others like to play games or run or hike -- all kinds of things. I used to sit in my room and build entire worlds from toys and cardboard boxes.

Then we all go to school, and we spend DAYS just sitting quietly and pretending to pay attention, and we absorb "facts" and learn tasks that we find neither interesting nor useful. And whatever natural self-motivation we had is killed. The empty space that's left is where they put the Instructions from Command Central. This is to prepare us for our Adult Wage Assignments.

This works SO well, that even when we are NOT being directly ordered around, we STILL can't self-motivate anymore. We have NO CLUE how to look for or recognize our own Joy in Doing, as adults.

What "boredom" really is, is static coming in on the Command channel! And since our own voices are lost, we wander around in a daze, looking to tap into some other signal that will tell us what to do! Like the fake "fun" signals of "hobbies" that we actually find hard and don't truly enjoy.

People don't want to hear this, but the popular vision of going "back to the land" is largely a fake fun signal. Of course we need to re-integrate with nature, but not in the way our culture tells us: alone or in small groups, using the land as dead space with dead materials, and using our own bodies as robot servants, to manifest a mental vision of paradise. Here's a Bill McKibben essay on the American myth of self-reliance and how it has ruined both suburban and rural life.

When I'm working on the land, I have to work bottom-up from what I feel like doing, and not top-down from goals. This creates a lot of misunderstanding when I write about it. If someone enjoys something I don't, I seem to be lazy, and if I enjoy something they don't, I seem to be doing things the hard way.

May 6. Quick post about chemtrails. You can see them on many (otherwise) clear days: a grid of white trails that do not match the routes of passenger jets, and do not break up and fade like regular contrails, but spread out and drop into a haze. Here's a good introduction to chemtrails which suggests that they're a secret operation to counteract global warming, and excludes some stranger theories, which are nicely summarized in this article, A Doctor Speaks Out About Chemtrails.

This article, Chemtrails: A Fortean View, focuses not on the "why" but the how. It has some flaws, but its main argument is shocking: that the scope of the operation is too big to be physically possible! Worldwide, the number of 757-size planes up there is greater than the number available for use. Also they have no visible support base, we never see them taking off or landing, and we don't hear them, not even sonic booms, even though they're going almost double the speed of sound. This appears to be something much stranger than manufactured planes flying sorties from physical bases -- although there probably are some of those to throw researchers off. In every sense, the chemtrail planes are UFO's! The author concludes:

Our collective "not-seeing" is unusual if only because chemtrails are much more visible and more frequent than UFO visitations. We are forced to consider the idea that levels of conscious acceptance and recognition within a culture have often nothing to do with how much "evidence" is available... We might see skepticism not as a revealing of mundane truth, so much as an automated control mechanism by means of which we maintain a kind of wonder-management rather than differentiate fact from fiction.

May 9. A couple weeks ago, after the Virginia Tech shootings, I made the point that if all these shooters are mind controlled assassins, it has "shocking metaphysical implications". My point was, either some shooters are acting on their own, or humans are so innately good that they can't do mass murder without intense focused manipulation. But now I'm seeing the outlines of a third way. Patricia sends this article, The Making of Child Assassins, which pulls together some fascinating information about the mental states and histories of mass shooters, and then almost apologizes for the picture that emerges: occult possession.

"Occult" is a word we use to point at something that we cannot understand with our present way of thinking. One tool that can help us understand is an old book called Flatland, specifically the parts about what a three dimensional creature looks like from a two dimensional world. From Flatland on Wikipedia:

...the three-dimensional Sphere has the ability to stand inches away from a Flatlander and observe them without being seen, can remove Flatland objects from closed containers and teleport them via the third dimension without traversing the space in between, and is capable of seeing and touching the inside and outside of everything in the two dimensional universe.

Now imagine if extra-dimensional beings can do this not only with physical objects, but with consciousness. Suppose they've been doing it for all of history. Suppose what we think of as "you" and "me" are just three-dimensional cross-sections of higher dimensional beings whose existence we can barely imagine.

I'm beginning to think the Seung Cho conspiracy theories are not weird enough. If there is an occult component to the massacre, which seems likely from his incredible killed-to-wounded ratio, then the powers behind it don't need to go through his sister and the alphabet agencies. All they need is to watch and wait for someone to get in the proper mental state to serve as their host, or "agent." A given operation might have many agents on many levels with many motives, with a control structure that does not exist in the physical world.

I also think there are good meta-beings, and that the reason there is still so much good in the world is not that the evil meta-beings are playing with us before they kill us, but that the good meta-beings have deeper roots.

May 10. Tim asks a question I've been meaning to answer: What about Occam's Razor? I have a B.A. in philosophy, so I can say this with more false credibility than most people: William of Ockham was just one dude who lived 700 years ago, and whose opinion is not worth any more than yours. Also, he was writing before the age of experimental philosophy, or "science." In his world, seeking truth was largely a matter of sitting back and thinking -- the idea barely existed that you can go out into the world and do tests to see if a theory is adequate. In purely mental philosophy, it makes sense to favor simpler explanations, but if you test them against reality, you discover more and more anomalies, and have to make your explanations more and more complicated, until you eventually get to the philosophy Charles Fort laid out in the first chapter of The Book of the Damned:

That anything that tries to establish itself as a real, or positive, or absolute system, government, organization, self, soul, entity, individuality, can so attempt only by drawing a line about itself, or about the inclusions that constitute itself, and damning or excluding, or breaking away from, all other "things"... That, if it does so act, it falsely and arbitrarily and futilely and disastrously acts, just as would one who draws a circle in the sea...

Basically there are two drives in the human search for truth: the search for openings and the search for closure. The difference between those of us who accept (not believe) weird things, and those who don't, is not a matter of right and wrong but a matter of how people with different motives deal with reasonable doubt. When I don't have enough information to be sure one way or the other, I like to put the burden of proof on the story that provides closure, and give slack to the story that creates openings.

May 12-14. Last month Badger requested a post on "DIY Sorcery," which is a dangerous subject. I think "The Secret" is a dumbed-down, distorted version of real shit that really works. One danger is that you'll be exploited by people who got there first -- you'll get stuck at the bottom of the pyramid. And the more universal danger is that there are always consequences that go beyond the particular thing you're trying to do. Patricia points out that reality is a tapestry and you don't know what can happen if you pull a thread. And Jason Godesky's recent Noble Savage essay points out that New Age people have a narcissistic view of magic, while real shamanism is about building a relationship with the outer wildness.

Basically, whether you're using esoteric magic, political power, or mechanical technology, the more power you wield, the more responsibility you have to understand the whole ecology of the system you're tweaking. Humans have lost that understanding -- or more accurately, for the last few thousand years we have been crawling forward with our understanding while leaping blindly with our power.

But I'll go ahead and describe my technique, which I've seen in many contexts, including the film "Mary Poppins." Remember how the kids write a long description of the nanny they want, and then it gets burned up in the fireplace? The general technique is this: be as specific as you can about what you're asking for, and then let go of it. What the burning symbolizes is that you must be completely at peace with not getting your request.

May 18. Extremely depressing article, Not in Their Back Yard. What do you think rich Californians would do if the EPA found out the air in their town had dangerous levels of asbestos? Of course: explain it away and angrily attack the EPA.

May 21-23. I've been thinking more about motivation. Adam once told me about the Mount Kailash pilgrimage, in which some people walk the 32 mile path around the mountain, and others travel the path by prostrating, repeatedly laying their body end to end. The point is, even though the prostration makes the journey more difficult, on a deeper level it makes it easier, because it places it in the context of a larger story that gives it meaning.

This concept is alien to Western culture. We see tasks as purely technical, when the technical dimension is usually less important than the psychological or spiritual dimension. Of course, that dimension is still there -- we just don't see it. We think the Luddites were irrationally frightened of "progress," when really they were aware that the technical efficiency of industrialization had psycho-spiritual costs: work that people had done on their own time, at their own pace, in their own way, at their own price, for people they knew, was replaced by numb, frantic, commanded, poorly-paid labor making stuff for strangers. By the late 20th century, first world humans had houses full of toys and the power of hundreds of slaves, and we couldn't explain why we were depressed.

What we need are new words to express how something can be technically easier but psychologically more difficult, or vice versa. Once we have the words, we'll be able to see the thing itself. Robert suggests two words based on ancient Greek, which I've tweaked to come up with the following:

Ergolysis: Engaged physical labor that releases creative energy.
Technolepsy: The loss of creative energy through a device that stands between the body and the task.

Personally I find it easier to use a hand tool than a power tool, because I get spiritual pleasure from working directly with my own energy. But some people love power tools because they get spiritual pleasure from channeling external energy. Mark comments:

I live in a small help-your-neighbor community and every friend of mine will always choose a power tool over a hand tool. It would appear at times to be a religious devotion. If you have a hammer and one nail, they will gladly find the compressor, find a hose to fit the compressor, fix the nail gun, locate a battery of nails, and hand you the gun, with a smile. You don't dare drive it by hand while waiting for the power tool. It cracks me up. But because it's a machine, it is somehow superior, and doing it by hand, is, well, embarassing.

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