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    Tuesday
    May162017

    Death by a Million Pinpricks 

    We have now seen that a naturalist might feel himself fully justified in ranking the race of man as distinct species; for he has found that they are distinguished by many differences in structure and constitution, some being of importance.  These differences have, also, remained nearly constant for very long periods of time.  Our naturalist will have been in some degree influenced by the enormous range of man, which is a great anomaly in the class of mammals, if mankind be viewed as a single species.  He will have been struck with the distribution of the several so-called races, which accords with that of other undoubtedly distinct species of mammals.  Finally, he might urge that the mutual fertility of all the races has not as yet been fully proved, and even if proved would not be an absolute proof of their specific identity. 

                                                                                                                           -Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, Chapter VII:  On the Races of Man

     

    When you want to destroy someone you always define them as unpeople – not really human – monkeys maybe, idiots maybe, machines maybe, but not people.  

                                                                                                                            -Alan Watts, The Nature of Consciousness, The Myth of the Automatic Universe

     

    However human meanness got started, we know that it has characterized the hominid line for a long time.  I have already mentioned evidence of murder among the Australopithecines and Pekin man.  So it is with a considerable proportion of all the known hominid fossils: over and over again fractures indicate that death was caused by instruments in the hands of fellow-men… Natural or not, the habit people have of killing one another is extraordinary when view in the perspective of the biological community.  I know of nothing comparable among other kinds of animals – even the “wars” among ants are between different species… People have developed endlessly diverse methods of killing one another, and they do it from a wide variety of motives.  As far as methods are concerned, we have the simple brute force of strangulation; the use of hand tools such as knives and clubs; the development of tools that are effective at a distance, such as arrows and rifles; and finally the discovery of really wholesale way of killing with the impersonal blasts of nuclear explosions.  Death may be direct and immediate, as with a knife through the heart; or it may be inflicted surreptitiously by the use, for instance, of a slow-acting poison.  As for motives... 

                                                                                                                                    -Marston Bates, On Being Mean, Gluttons and Libertines

     

     

                There appears to be a recent uptick in the talk about the end of the world as we know it.  This could be a result of the company I keep, whom thankfully are always interested in discussing the fate of humanity, the state of nature, and the meaning (if any) of life, but certainly such conversations are also inspired by the numerous geopolitical conflagrations raging across the globe (compounded by the ostensible pathetic hopelessness exhibited by our political leaders and institutions) and the declining state of the natural world as demonstrated by the consistently deteriorating conditions in almost every ecological system of Earth’s biosphere, which is regularly punctuated by large-scale environmentally destructive industrial disasters.  The perceived forms in which the end of the world shall manifest varies from person to person, and is obviously influenced by predisposing factors such as one’s spiritual beliefs, personal experiences, and station in life, but is often nebulous due the uncertainty granted by myriad variables that would potentially contribute to the destruction of humanity.  This is to say that the way in which the world will end assumes different forms depending on who you talk to, and even then a person may rightfully harbor multiple theories for possible doomsday scenarios which may result in varying degrees of humanity’s downfall, be it merely collapse of civilizations, which would leave room for survivors, or the absolute extinction of the human race, in which there would be no survivors.  Some common forms that that play out in people’s heads include a world war scenario in which the destruction of humankind will take place gradually (perhaps over the course of a century or so, which is virtually nothing a geological time-scale) and involves states going to war against each other and perhaps simultaneously unraveling in internecine civil conflicts.  Environmental decay is also seen as a prominent if not preeminent factor involved in to the gradual expiation of our species, and a Mad Max resource-wars scenario in which edible food, potable water, and clean air are scarce often plays out in conjunction with (either as a cause, an outcome, or independent exacerbating force) circumstances surrounding this anticipated collapse of civilizations.  In both these cases (resource wars or world war sans nuclear holocaust) there is a question of possible survivors, whom may or may not be compiled into bands of marauding cannibals, such as those depicted in the film The Road.  A nuclear holocaust is another possibility that may play out and lead to the destruction of humankind (as well as large cross-sections of life on Earth), and in this scenario the obliteration of the world is rapid, if not instantaneous, and there is little realistic chance wandering bands of mutilated humanoids will roam wide-eyed and drooling across the wastelands of a scorched earth beneath the blackened skies of a nuclear winter.  In both the nuclear holocaust and non-nuclear world war scenarios the end of mankind is perceived as the unfortunate consequence of intractable rivalries between nations whose leaders and countrymen viewed the opposing nation in a light of sufficient difference, as though they were a separate species altogether, so as to warrant the extermination of the other.  Needless to say, human perceptions about the imminence, form, intensity, and impact of any possible doomsday scenario are informed by our connection to data that shapes our outlook on life.  Presently, many of us are inundated with bad news on a regular basis via the internet.  Our ability to constantly be “in the know” may lead to a doomsday paranoia as a result of always being surrounded by negative experiences, similar to fourteenth century European cultures whom believed that the Black Death was a harbinger of the Apocalypse, or the followers of Malthus whom feared a global food shortage and widespread famine as a result of his forgivable yet unaccommodating arithmetic. 

     The Triump of Death, Pieter Bruegel the Elder  , Image from: WikiArt.org

                There is of course another angle from which to view the prospective demise of humankind: that considering all of our present ecological and social predicaments, humans are not facing the end of world as we know it, and that despite the dire state of affairs amongst our species and mother nature, we are doing alright if not better than ever before depending on the metric you are using to measure what index, and furthermore that human innovation and ingenuity will resolve the pressing environmental problems that threaten humanity’s progress and prosperity.  Proponents of this argument point to the downward trend in violence per capita over time – that there appears to be incontrovertible evidence indicating that the percentage of violent deaths from conflict has plummeted since the rise of civilizations.  Also, other major indicators of a healthy society, such as average life span and infant mortality rates trend in a positive direction that bodes well for the general state of humanity.  Yet even if it is the case that one out of ten people are no longer dying in the battlefield or during childbirth, the absolute numbers in some of these metrics for human development have increased.   Take for instance slavery and refugees.  In terms of percentage, there are less people enslaved today compared to most of human history, but in terms of absolute figures there has never been as many people enslaved than there are now.  The number of refugees in the world today is the highest it’s been since World War II, but only if you are looking at absolute numbers.  Be this as it may, I wouldn’t want to be the one trying to explain these statistics to the Syrian whose town has been bombed to rumble or an impoverished family in Lagos.  To the multitudes currently enduring what the great JKF referred to as the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself, the fact that the percentage of humans living in immiseration and violence is less than it has ever been before is irrelevant, and to present these people with such claims would be cynical, arrogant, and misguided.

    Image from: War and Peace, Our World In Data

                The school of thought which promotes the notion that humans have entered the Anthropocene, the geologic epoch marked by homo sapiens’ impact on climate and the environment, may indeed be a correct analysis.  Our imprint on Earth may be evinced in future core samples that contain a layer of earth rich in plastic, concrete, toxins, and synthetic chemicals.  It is probably true that humans, the ultimate apex species, will be responsible for the destruction of the vast majority of present life on Earth due to our exploitation of the natural world, which comes in a wide variety of devastating methods such as excessive pollution and consumption (especially where the seas and forests are concerned), the burning of fossil fuels, the contribution to ocean acidification, increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, habitat destruction and biodiversity loss, so as to render impossible our own existence due to the ecological support systems that we will have annihilated through our myopia, narcissism, avarice, decadence, and stupidity.  (Still, even if we do kill ourselves, there appears to be a conviction among most Earth-scientists that the planet will recover and life in some form or another will go on.)   In this suicidal slow-death scenario, humanity shall experience death by a million pinpricks.  This process is already underway, and implies that the cumulative and synergistic effect of human actions that expand our ecological footprints will result in the eventual death of the biological systems and networks that we depend on for survival, thus leading to our own demise.  In this scenario, a pinprick constitutes a single variable in the constellation of detrimental factors, varying in their degree of intensity, contributing to the gouging and whittling away of the biological foundation sustaining human life on Earth.  Examples of pinpricks, in no particular order, include mass produced items such as every manufactured car, tank, submarine, cargo ship, missile (one tomahawk cruise missile contains around five hundred ounces of silver), airplane, oil, oil or fracking well, bucket wheel excavator, computer, telephone, television, refrigerator, air conditioner, dish washer and dryer, condom, diaper, shampoo and conditioner bottle, fish-shaped soy sauce container, etc.  Pinpricks can come in the form of activities or events such as every time we take a cruise, take a flight, take a shit, flush the toilet, fill up our gas tanks, go on a road trip, go to Las Vegas, rave at Burning Man, race the Daytona 500, crash a car, crash a plane, construct a bridge or building, expand a highway, make a movie, make a diamond ring, throw a bachelor party, have a wedding, have a baby, have an abortion, have a funeral, have surgery, launch a missile, launch a war, launch a startup, drop a bomb, poach an animal, eat a hamburger, catch a fish, step on a piece of reef, and so on.  Although these pinpricks may be fairly innocuous as isolated events, the cumulative effect of the pinpricks performed regularly and ubiquitously amounts to ecocide. 

     Image from: Ocean Conservatory/Susan White/U.S Fish and Wildlife Service

                There is one more point I would like to mention in this drawn-out and occasionally preposterous entry.  While humanity made be said to pulling the rug out from under its feet, as we travel down our current path of unstainable consumption and pollution (according to the UNDP, a child in developed country will contribute as much to pollution and consumption as thirty to forty children in a developing country), struggling to attain homeostasis with the rest of the natural world by balancing-out our use of natural resources with the deleterious effect that extracting and converting these latent energy sources into fuel has on the environment, and are dragging down and taking out many other organisms and species of flora and fauna in this process, in a philosophical sense it could be argued that this is not unnatural.  Human beings are products of the environment, even if we act as a cancer or virus in that environment (which some people and culture may do, but many cultures do not) by presently harming it, we are still creatures that have evolved from the extensive and ancient tree of life.  Even if we end up destroying ourselves, it could still be argued that this is the natural progression of the human experience in nature.  (That said, we should be doing everything possible to prevent our collective suicide and fight the forces destroying the planet from their corridors of power in Wall Street and the Pentagon, the latter of whom are sometimes responsible for killing innocent people in foreign countries.  This battle between those who are inclined toward oppression and slavery and those who are victimized by or opposed it is also natural.) Human beings are natural, and those who try to portray our species as a virus or cancer that must be stamped-out or sterilized are embarking down a dangerous road of the alienation and control of members of or species whom they think lesser than they are.  Having come from the Earth and the cosmos, whichever direction we take as species and however our run in this universe ends is going to be natural (although we do have a say as to how long, prosperous, meaningful, and fruitful it could be).   There is nothing else it could possibly be.  

    The Sun, image from Wikipeda/Nasa

    Tuesday
    May022017

    Alan Watts and Martin Luther King, Jr. on Nuclear War

    Featured below is a video I put together using iMovie and featuring excerpts from Alan Watts lectures and Martin Luther King, Jr. Speeches.  The background song is First Snow by Emancipator.  The Alan Watts excerpts are from three different lectures titled The Myth of the Automatic Universe, The Veil of Thoughts, and Do You Do It, or Does It Do You?  The Martin Luther King audio excerpts are from two different speeches: Love Your Enemies and The Drum Major Instinct.  I dropped the initial project which involved transcribing a portion of the Do You Do It, or Does It Do You?  lecture, but since I transcribed it already I figure I may insert in this journal entry since it’s featured in the iMovie.  The excerpt can be starts around the 19 minute point of the lecture.

     

     

               At the moment we stand at a time in history where we’re beginning to think of the great countdown at the end of the human race.  Terrifying possibility, that through atomic energy we may obliterate this planet and turn the whole globe into a star.  Maybe that’s the way all the stars started.  Imagine, you know, this great thing coming up, the countdown at the end: seven, six, five, four, three, two, one… Paaarrrrrummm!!  Poof! (sucking sound) Poosh!  Where have you heard that before? When you sit on the seashore and you hear the waves going in and out, and you don’t stop to think: that’s what you are doing.  That’s what the whole business is doing, and there are places where the wave mounts and mounts and it gets too big for its boots or whatever and it spills and breaks.  We could do just that.  But uh, it’s very important to realize that that’s what you are doing because then you don’t get panicky about it.  And the person who’s going to press that button is a person who is going to be in panic.  So if you realize that that’s what it is and it doesn’t really matter if the whole human race blows itself up, then there’s a chance that it won’t do it.  That’s the only chance we have not to do this thing which attracts us like a kind of vertigo, like person who looks over a precipice and is all set to throw himself over, or a person who jumps out of a plane and they’re skydiving and forgets to pull the parachute ring because he gets fascinated with a target – it’s called target fascination – he just goes straight at it, you see?  So we can get absolutely fascinated with disaster, with doom.  Or you know… all the news in the newspaper is invariably bad news.  There is no good news in the newspapers, people wouldn’t buy a newspaper consisting of good news.  Even the free press is full of terrible news, except the San Francisco Oracle. 

               The fascination, you see, for this doom might be neutralized if we would say, “Well, why bother about that?  It’s just another fluctuation in this huge, marvelous, endless chain of our own selves and our own energy going own.”  See here’s the problem, because of our myopia, because of our… the way we’ve, as it were, restricted consciousness to focus upon just that certain little area of experience that we call voluntary action – that’s us, and everything else happens to us.  Now that’s obviously absurd.  Let’s suppose you take in your hand one of those toys, a gyroscopic top.  And you suddenly notice the minute you get this in your hand that it has a kind of vitality to it.  It seems to resist you, it starts pushing you in a certain way, see?  And sometimes you’re with it, and following it, and then sometimes you see… It just as if you’ve held a living animal in your hand.  You know, you pick up a hamster, you know, or a guinea pig, and you hold this little thing and your hand – it’s always trying to escape.  So the gyroscope always seems trying to escape your hold.  Now in exactly the same what, what you’re experiencing all the time – all sorts of things are getting out of control and doing this you don’t expect – it’s trying to escape your hold.  Alright then don’t grab it so hard.  And you’ll discover that this living thing that you’re feeling – like the gyroscope top – it’s your own life.  

    Thursday
    Apr132017

    Alan Watts - On Individual Suicide and Humanity's Survivial 

    Here's a video that I made with iMovie that features footage from the film Samsara, music from the band Moderat (the song is titled Therapy), and portions from the Alan Watts Out of Your Mind lecture series.


    The Alan Watts audio you hear have been extrapolated from five different lectures in Out of Your Mind series, and the specific lectures are titled: "A Game that's Worth the Candle, The Fundamental I, A Re-Examination of Common Sense, Every Incarnation is This One," and "An Independent System."

    For links to the full Out of Your Mind audio lectures, as well as other free Alan Watts audio files please click here or on follow this link:  

    http://www.dividedcore.com/humanity/2016/1/10/carl-sagan-martin-luther-king-and-alan-watts-audio-files.html

    Thanks for checking out this video, which is the first of hopefully many eventual future compilations I'll attempt.

    Saturday
    Jan282017

    Reflections of Standing Rock

    Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. 

                                                                                                -Edward Abbey, The Journey Home

    Wherever the truth may lie, this much is crystal-clear: our bigger-and-better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy.  The whole world is so greedy for more bathtubs that it has lost the stability necessary to build them, or even to turn off the tap.  Nothing could be more salutary at this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings. 

                                                                                                -Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

    Elsewhere where we find prestigious megaprojects like Egypt’s Aswan high dam, built by Russian money and brains to produce a level of power far beyond the needs of the nation’s economy, that meanwhile blights the environment and the local agriculture in a dozen unforeseen and possibly insoluble ways.  Or consider the poor countries that sell themselves to the international tourist industry in pursuit of those symbols of wealth and progress the West has taught them to covet: luxurious airports, high-rise hotels, six-lane motor ways.  Their people wind up as bellhops and souvenir sellers, desk clerks and entertainers, and their proudest traditions soon degenerate into crude caricatures.  But the balance sheet may show a marvelous increase in foreign-exchange earnings.  As for the developed countries from which this corrupting ethos of progress goes out: more and more their “growthmania” robs the world of tis nonrenewable resources for no better end than to increase the output of ballistic missiles, electric hairdryers, and eight-track stereophonic tape recorders.  But in the statistics of the economic index such mad waste measures out as “productivity,” and all looks rosy.

                                                                                               -Ted Roszak, Introduction to the 1989 edition of E.F Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful

    Canada, the most affluent of countries, operates on a depletion economy which leaves destruction in its wake. Your people are driven by a terrible sense of deficiency. When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money. 

                                                                                                   -Alanis Obomsawin

    The problems of the world cannot be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were. 

                                                                                                   -John F. Kennedy 

     

    Preface:  Not that it matters, but this journal entry was supposed to have been posted almost two months ago.  I had written part of it and then put it down after suffering from a terrible bout of writers block from which I am still recovering (hopefully).  Now that Standing Rock is back in the news in relation to President Trump’s executive order extravaganza, I may as well post what I’ve written.   Also, I was having a text conversation with an intelligent, libertarian-minded friend of mine who was critical of the water protectors at Standing Rock, stating: “All of these protests come off as being meaningless because protestors are against pumping and using oil as they use it.  To make your protest meaningful, you should take a stand and stop using oil.  Stop using electricity unless it is from wind power.  Stop wearing clothes unless no petroleum was used to make it.  Quit using your phone unless they make a completely green phone… I will believe that you mean what you say when I either get a telegram or handwritten letter by pony express.  Until then you are protesting the very thing that you depend on in order to protest.”  When I read this I said to myself: how rude, does he think the protestors hadn’t considered the irony and supposed hypocrisy of their actions?  I’m sure many were and are torn by the inherent paradox of burning energy in effort to prevent more energy from being burned.  My first response to my former friend was: “I’m glad that the founding fathers didn’t think like you.” (Libertarians, as a rule, lionize the founding fathers, in case you want to hit them where it hurts). “What if they said, ‘Let us revolt against the British, but ne’er ought fire a redcoat musket nor ride a British steed, moreover, travel on colonial roads of cobblestone is forbidden for these were in part constructed by the crown; we shan’t use anything they made in our revolt against them.”  Had the founding fathers refused to utilize the fruits yielded by colonial oppression the American Revolution would have turned out much differently, perhaps never occurring at all.  (Furthermore, there is a fallacy in his logic because in the context of environmental arithmetic it may well be acceptable to expend a little oil in order to prevent a lot of oil from being burned). My friend’s intentions were sincere in that he was attempting to point out the ostensible hypocrisy exhibited by the water protectors, but his points about using fossil-fuel based technology while protesting fossil fuels speaks to a greater first-world conundrum which I have only recently began to draw conclusions about: how does a person who contributes little to nothing to society justify his life when all he does is leech from the products and systems that have been devised and produced by men and women much more intelligent than him and whom he owes his very existence to.   In other words: In a world shaped by movers and shakers, of which I am not, how do I justify a life in which I only consumed and pollute?  It took me several years to figure this out, but I think have arrived at the answer to this question, which shall be delineated in a different blog entry someday this year.  

     

    Over the Thanksgiving holiday last November I joined thousands of other tourist-activists at Standing Rock in attempt to lend a hand to the water protectors attempting to halt the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline under the Missouri River in North Dakota.  I feel that the brevity of my involvement yielded zero benefits for the resistance movement, and that a commitment longer than a holiday weekend is necessary in order to have any significant positive impact on many of the processes that were underway at the Ocheti Sakowen.  Indeed, the gas exhausted to fly from San Francisco to North Dakota and back (plus the last day when I woke up and a “red alert” was issued due to the excessive number of vehicles inundating the camp, so I left to a National Park on the other side of North Dakota) probably worked to the advantage of corporations more than the environment, not to mention that a confusing preliminary mix-up meant that for first two days I mistakenly was volunteering for Energy Transfers Partners build the pipeline – shoveling dirt and laying pipes – rather than helping to stop it.   A superfluous number of temporary water protectors descended on the reservation over that holiday weekend; so much so that the aforementioned traffic-related “red alert” was a first for the elders.   Yet despite this, the part of my character that is not cynical (an infinitesimal and dying iota; I just don’t like trends and am always skeptical of the impetus and financier backing any popular movement) is grateful to have gone to Standing Rock and has learned great deal from the experience.   What follows some are some of my observations and takeaways.  The above slideshow features photographs of Standing Rock and the one below features photos taken in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

                So, the first takeaway is that you don’t have to travel 2,000 miles to be effective.  There are corporate offices, investment banks, and Army Corp of Engineer offices dispersed all across America that can be shut down in order to choke off the flow of funds, paperwork, and the bureaucratic machinery required to build the pipeline.  The other takeaway involves the human experience of protest trends.  I went to Standing Rock alone and for the first night I slept in the rental car at the casino operated by the Oceto Sakowin reservation (while the reservation is dry, the casino serves firewater).  The first negative experience involved overhearing a girl talk to her friends about Facebook posts.  She said that her friends were posting pictures of their Thanksgiving dinners and asking her how her Thanksgiving was going, and she said, “What do these bitches mean?  I’m out here at Standing Rock, that’s what I’m doing for my Thanksgiving.”  This was an example of Martin Luther King called “the drum major instinct,” where you think you’re better than others because you think you’re doing something good and their not, in effect saying that “I’m better than they are because I’m at Standing Rock.”   A different girl who was with her struck up a conversation with me that night, and we happened to run across each other two nights later when I was on my way out.  She with some friends and her demeanor was a little different and she asked about my experience at Standing Rock.  In response to my response she said, “So you’re here alone, and you sleep in your rental car?”  I said, “Yes, some nights.”  She said, “You sound like a cop.”  I was like, “whatttt?”  I was blown away at this accusation.  Here I was having brought all sorts of shit to Standing Rock (N95 respirator masks, firewood, medical supplies, my largest abalone shell for the elders to use in their ceremonies because I read beforehand that they use them), and, largely because I was solo, I being accused by a girl from New York City of being a cop.  I was so offended that after remonstrating for a minute I realized it was pointless and I walked away.  This is not do delegitimize the transient water protectors, the overwhelming majority of whom were not there for the Facebook likes but wanted to assist in what has become an incredible and legitimate nonviolent resistance (there are daily workshops on nonviolent resistance at Oceto Sakowin).

                Despite the preponderance of transient protestors like myself, the lack of self-sufficiency and sense of entitlement some exhibited, the underappreciation of the waste being produced by the expansion of the camps, and that fact that one pipeline is just a drop in the bucket in the global pipeline network, the Dakota Access Pipeline protests are entirely justified and necessary.  The protests are not just against a single pipeline, but against a system of human and environmental exploitation which needs to be re-adjusted in an ecologically sound manner if we want to avoid hell on Earth.  Crossing over the Missouri River at sundown on my way back from Theodore Roosevelt National Park I saw thousands of waterfowl on the river.  It occurred to me that if a pipeline breaks it will not only prevent people from drinking the water, but it will destroy the habitat for all the creatures depending on the river for survival.  (I realize that this is a no brainer, but sometimes you must see something right before your eyes in order for it to impact you).  Humans have the tendency to look at the natural world through an anthropocentric perspective; we think we’re the only game in town.  In doing so we lose sight of reality as perceived other living beings that are just as integral to this planet as we are.  Not only does this failure to relate and empathize with other creatures limit our ability to see the connections between our survival and theirs, but it limits our ability to grow as individuals. Theodore Roosevelt would understand this.  As an outdoorsman extraordinaire and a man who facilitated both the conservation and developed of land, I believe he would stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline.  What follows are some pictures of the National Park founded in his name, pictures taken on a road through the park which started off in a ghost down and ended up in a prairie dog town.  The road looped through surreal badlands and river woodlands, where the buffalo roamed and the prairie dogs scampered, and the edge of the world trembled before an uncertain and ominous future.  

    Friday
    Jun242016

    Adbusters 125 - The Year of Living Dangerously Pt. 2

             The following slideshow features scanned pages from last May/June 2016 issue of Adbusters.  The pages and excerpts are a fraction of the journal issue, part two of their series called, "The Year of Living Dangerously" (part three is out now).   The article Save the Planet, Kill Yourself, excerpted from the eponymous book by David Joez Villaverde, is particularly insightful and well-written.  Please right-click on an image to see view it in full.