One of the upsides of cerebellar ataxia is that I no longer must care what my clients, potential clients or anyone including you, think of my opinion. So I'm more able to be honest, with myself and with you.
Of course this does not prevent me from being full of shit, so I appreciate your willingness to hold me accountable to my words. Please feel free to challenge, question or comment by using the email link here: Contact John
Many believe that humanity has crossed tipping points leading irreversibly to the extinction of all complex life on earth. While the certainty of this assertion is debatable, it is clear that proceeding on our current trajectory ensures extreme disaster. Millions have already died from environment related causes, by some measures more than World War II. Billions are in jeopardy. I'm not alone in my belief that the following changes must be promptly enacted.
1. Population, production and extraction of resources must all be severely limited. Every gram of plastic and metal can and should be recycled. We can sit back and watch as population is reduced by starvation, drought, epidemic and warfare or we can manage our presence on the planet intelligently and compassionately.
2. Basic minimum income, housing, healthcare and education must be provided to everyone, worldwide, along with essential human rights. Is this expensive? Sure, but it is far cheaper than maintenance of law enforcement, penal, military and other systems required in its absence. Fortunately, providing education, especially to women, is the easiest and most humane way to control population.
3. Big agri-business must go. Not only are its products unhealthy, the current system of food provision is a massive cause of pollution and habitat destruction and is wasteful of water and other resources. Local, diverse, organic farming needs to be supported everywhere.
4. Borders must be erased. Sure, you can keep your imaginary lines to democratically elect leaders and resolve local issues. But economic, political and military sovereignty serve only to enable corruption and morally indefensible prejudice. People must have the right to migrate wherever they please, especially in a world where diminishing resources and extreme weather should be expected.
We live in a time when our most crucial, existential issues are global and extremely time sensitive. The United Nations is the obvious institution to implement the needed changes. I understand that these positions are not popular but the sooner they are addressed, the better our prospects for avoiding catastrophe.
It has been about five years since I first began to feel the symptoms of Cerebellar Ataxia, no doubt the most challenging years of my life. For more than two years I was unable to walk, drive or care for myself. Thankfully I have unexpectedly recovered from the worst and symptoms have been more or less stable for the last two years. I still stumble and stagger daily and have very little energy. I generally feel a few decades older than I am. An hour cleaning up my neglected lawn and garden today exhausted me. My annual MRI still shows a shrunken cerebellum and this is not expected to change, as neurons do not regenerate. My neurologist is still uncertain as to the cause, although MS and metabolic or neuro-toxic insult remain on the table.
The challenge has not been without its upsides. Luckily my immobility coincided with the flowering of Wikipedia and YouTube which allowed me to advance my education in science, philosophy and history. Although being forced into premature retirement has obvious disadvantages, it also means that I can think and speak my mind without concern for how clients, potential clients or employers might react, for the first time in my adult life. And a better appreciation of impermanence is always helpful.
I remain grateful and indebted to the many institutions, friends and family who helped me through the worst years, without whose kindness I would be floundering today. I'm still one of the luckiest people alive, and if you're reading this, you probably are too. Don't let a moment pass unappreciated.
My recent thoughts on climate and human survival-
Kevin Anderson, climatologist from the UK, has the correct approach, which is that geo-engineering and carbon capture should be researched aggressively but we should assume that they will not work because so far no one knows how to implement them at scale without causing more risk than benefit. In the meantime, cutting greenhouse gasses is our only option. As for predictions of Doom, no one knows how or when this will go because no one has observed melting poles under these conditions. The dynamics are simply unknown. Guy McPherson could be right, we may have already crossed irreversible tipping points. But he might be wrong. The fact that no one knows means that we might have everything to gain by encouraging the downfall of the economic and political paradigm that got us into this and imagining a biosphere friendly future. Paul Ehrlich's Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB) has an eminently rational suggestion: the establishment of a Human Survivability Index, which researches and documents the limits on population, growth, pollution, extraction, etc. required for maintenance of humanity and civilization. Paul Beckwith is right that a wake up call will come before real action is taken. It might be mass starvation in the third world, $200/lb seafood, Mar A Lago under water or relentless extreme weather. The luckiest among us will find out if it happens soon enough to make a difference.
To end the year, I will share with you seven things I have learned.
1- We are all extremely fortunate to exist at all, let alone in the healthiest, wealthiest, best educated society in history. The existence of your unique sequence of DNA depends on the survival, good luck and reproductive success of each or your ancestors all the way back to the first protozoa AND the complex and delicate series of physical and chemical events that gave rise to favorable conditions for life on Earth.
2- We all assign way too much value, meaning and importance to our thoughts, feelings and perceptions. These are simply the flashing of neurons in our brains. Giving them unwarranted significance gives rise to all kinds of neuroses and anxieties. This is the lesson of meditation. Wisdom and insight arise from the cultivation of awareness, not by solving problems.
3- There is no afterlife. Souls, spirits, reincarnation, heaven and hell are fantasy. The best science indicates that life is a chemical process, like a candle flame. If the availability of required chemicals and conditions ceases, the process simply stops and any energy created by it quickly dissipates.
4- There is no evidence that the universe has any inherent purpose or meaning. It is possible, though not certain, that it arose spontaneously. Aside from entropy there is no direction. It is up to us to create meaning and purpose in our lives.
5- The past: Human civilization, from the beginning, has been violent, cruel, racist, misogynist, species-ist and wantonly destructive of life. Our current kleptocracy (rule by thieves) and growth driven economy are little evolved from ancient times.
6- The future: It is likely, though uncertain, that Homo sapiens will be extinct by the end of this century. Threats including abrupt climate disruption, nuclear war, widespread toxicity and viral epidemic are more probable than ever. As a species our access to food and water is precariously fragile. Though life itself is in little danger and the planet will persist (for a few billion years) most complex life is under peril from the sixth mass extinction in progress. Extraterrestrial civilizations are possible, maybe even likely but we have seen no evidence of them and there are many reasons to believe that interstellar travel or communication may be extremely impractical if not impossible. We should assume in the meantime that we are the universe’s best and only shot at awareness.
7- The present: is all we have. Though some may find the preceding information disheartening, I find it inspiring and exciting. Life has always been challenging. In spite of the gloomy past and future prospects we live in a time of unprecedented opportunity and possibility. Vast beauty still awaits our notice. I hope you savor it now and throughout 2018 and your time on Earth.
The reason climate change denial is so resilient and we all resist taking the crisis as seriously as it warrants, is that the solution requires immediate dismantling of political and economic systems that have been in place for millennia. We all have some skin in that game, though the Koch bros. have more than you or I. This challenge is a great opportunity as well as a threat. We could measure our success by our Gross Domestic Happiness instead of Gross Domestic Product.
Millions have died from climate and environmental causes, more than WWII. Today around a billion struggle with drought or famine. Habitat for humans and other species is shrinking daily. Even if we were to stop all forms of pollution today, we can expect billions of dead and billions of refugees within decades. Most of these unfortunates will be the most vulnerable, the poor, people of color, from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. But ultimately this crisis will impact everyone. The only possible future for humanity will eliminate or reuse all waste and pollution. There are no military solutions. Infinite growth on a finite planet is futile.
The only hope of mitigation is to insist that media and governments put climate and environment at the top of their agendas globally, nationally and locally immediately. Talk to your neighbors, friends, family, coworkers, anyone who will listen. As Bill McKibben said, winning slowly is the same as losing.
When I hear the words "uncertainty principle" I always remember a specific spot on a beach on the north shore of Long Island where I spent my summers in the early sixties, around the age of eleven. For some biochemical or psychological reason my brain associates that phrase and fires specific "place neurons". At that age I knew nothing of atomic physics. Everything that I did understand about science concerned obtaining certainty about the world. But I imagined correctly that somehow science had embraced some kind of ignorance as an inherent and fundamental aspect of reality. I was fascinated and delighted by the apparent contradiction.
I have no idea where I'd been exposed to those words. Certainly not in school, probably in one of my father's issues of Scientific American magazine. In 1927 when physicists accepted, over Einstein's objections, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, my father was eleven years old. He was becoming enamored of science and later became an electrical engineer who worked with radar and early satellites. Over his objections, I pursued music and paid little attention to science as an adult. Now in my mid-sixties I'm beginning to comprehend the physics breakthroughs of the previous century. I wish I could interview my father and know how he reacted to Einstein, Heisenberg, Hubble and other ground breakers of his generation, not to mention recent discoveries like the Higgs field and gravitational waves. But he is long gone and I'll need to live with a certain amount of respect, gratitude and uncertainty.
10/01/17 on the Vietnam War-
The Ken Burns series on PBS has aroused some painful memories. No, I never came close to Vietnam but the war affected me deeply in many ways. I became aware of the war at the age of fourteen in 1966. Fred Chydeler was an older kid who lived across the street from me in our suburban Philadelphia neighborhood. Fred was a very down to earth, exceptional guy who was a lot of fun to be around. He was a Quaker and when he was drafted, he requested and was granted conscientious objector status. For his alternative service the government cynically assigned him to a Peace Corps position in Cambodia where they knew what would happen. The NLF assumed he was CIA and he was promptly killed. Fred was the first young person I knew to die.
Later that year one of my high school teachers organized a debate about the war and I volunteered to take the anti-war position. I knew I was against the war but I did not know why, other than that killing is wrong and war is hell. I knew more about the musicians I admired than the military industrial complex or Southeast Asian history. I was no Noam Chomsky. I knew that Rhonda, the girl who had taken the pro-war position in the debate, was smart and would be well prepared. I'm not proud to say that when the day of the debate came around, I faked illness and stayed home.
That same year I helped form an after school club called the Student Peace Group and did volunteer work for The Resistance, an organization in the city that supported draft resistors. My parents helped to host a Vietnamese boy my age, whose face and body were severely disfigured by American napalm. He had been brought to America for plastic surgery by the group that would later become Doctors Without Borders. I saw first hand the gruesome cost of war. The more I learned about the war, the more I knew I was on the correct side of the debate, however uninformed.
I started protesting the war by standing with a few elderly Quakers in silent vigil at a prominent street corner in our town every Sunday, while passersby called us traitors and hurled insults. In school, boys whose older brothers had joined the army stalked me, knocked my books out of my hands and spat in my face. For a year or two I was afraid to walk alone in my own neighborhood. I never had any antagonism toward the soldiers, only the politicians who jeopardized them.
For my senior year in the fall of 1968 I transferred from my affluent suburban high school to Penn Center Academy in center city. This school run by Temple University was more like a community college than a typical high school. The student body consisted of misfits like me and many boys who had dropped out of high school, gone to Vietnam, returned and now wanted to get their diplomas. I saw that they were regular guys, who as much as the Vietnamese, were victims of the war.
In 1969, at seventeen, I went to Wilmington College, a small liberal arts school in Ohio. In November, along with many other Wilmington students, I attended the Moratorium protest in Washington D.C. where a half million marched against the war. At night we joined the Yippees at DuPont Circle where we were teargassed and helmeted cops drove their Harleys into the crowd like raging bulls. On May fourth, the following spring, four protesting students were killed at Kent State. Our college, like hundreds of others around the country, went on strike. Many of us walked the fifty or so miles to Columbus to join a demonstration in solidarity with the Kent State students. We were greeted by a platoon of state police in riot gear, ready for a fight that thankfully did not occur.
When the draft deferment system was replaced with the lottery, which was more just, I applauded the change. But for a while, I was unsure what would happen if I was drafted. I knew I would not join the army or file for C.O. status. Given the choice, I figured that I would move to Canada rather than go to jail. The next year I quit college and spent a couple of years hitchhiking around the country before settling in Bucks County to attend music school.
When the lottery numbers were announced, mine was high and I was immensely relieved. I was so lucky. The cost of the war was only my innocence and naivete. For so many the price was life, limb, freedom, home, love and sanity. Over five million dead, the vast majority Vietnamese. Finally, in 1975 on April 30 (the date that became my first daughter's birthday nine years later) the last American military personnel were withdrawn from Vietnam. I did not celebrate. I was just glad that the dreadful chapter was over and hoped that some healing could begin.
7/22/17- Climate Update
If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I have been greatly concerned about the issue of climate change (if not, feel free to scroll down and read some of my posts on the topic). Over the past couple of years my sense of an appropriate degree of optimism has varied widely. Optimism is always a preferable outlook as pessimism leads to inaction and despair. But optimism is easily enhanced by cognitive bias and must be tempered by reality. Like many people, I was shocked and disheartened when I encountered the work of Guy McPherson, who is certain that we have crossed tipping points leading irreversibly to the collapse of civilization and near term human extinction. Guy has a lot of solid data to back his assertion. I am honored that he played my song End Of The World on his Progressive Radio Network program Nature Bats Last in the April edition (which you can download HERE).
A recent article in New York Magazine (which I haven’t yet read) entitled Uninhabitable Earth took a similar viewpoint to a wider mainstream audience. This prompted critiques from the scientific community which I have been following on You Tube. As summarized by mainstream climate scientist Michael Mann in his critique, the Uninhabitable Earth scenario presents a plausible low probability as the most likely. The majority scientific opinion is that a more manageable future is most probable.
It is clear that uncertainty remains and further refinement of the models used by climatologists to predict the future is needed. But we do know three things. One is that when the risk is high, even a very low probability demands preventative action. This is why we buy fire insurance for our homes. In the case of near term human extinction, the risk could not be higher. The second thing we know is that climate disruption is not just. It disproportionally harms the most vulnerable and those who have done the least to cause it. Thirdly, we know that climate disruption is happening now, causing death and suffering to millions due to extreme weather, food and water shortages and conflicts over diminishing resources. Clearly parts of the Earth are becoming uninhabitable as we speak.
My current view is that although irreversible tipping points may have been crossed, there is still a chance that they may not and much can and must be done to reduce the impending suffering and enhance the probability of a survivable planet. At my most optimistic, I can imagine a future where the climate crisis inspires humanity to finally come to grips with population management and create a global society free of war and hardship. Though I cannot foresee an Earth where natural evolution proceeds as it has throughout history, we may still enable a future that allows for maintenance of biological diversity upheld in balance with humans. This is also a low probability not to be ignored.
7/22/17- Backward priorities
The elephant in the room of the so-called health care debate is "Why is no one questioning the defense budget?" Bigger than the next eight most militarized nations combined. For defense? From who? At a time when the futility of war is more conspicuous than ever. Military activity is a primary contributor to climate change and toxic pollution. It is never productive for political goals other than outdated colonialist exploitation and always results in immeasurable suffering. For THIS we are supposed to sacrifice health care? Education? The safety net, infrastructure and so much more?
The other obvious question not being asked is "In what way is the insurance industry vital to the path between the public, the government and health care providers?".It is insane that even our most progressive representatives are too timid to ask these questions.
6/25/17- My aborted backpacking trip Part 2-
After many weeks of preparation, I attempted a trip to the beautiful Mark O. Hatfield wilderness area on Monday June 5. For details on the accident I sustained, scroll down to my initial post on the subject, dated 6/6/17. Two weeks later on Monday, June 19, I was still thinking that I was nursing a sprained or twisted ankle. But after lying down mid-morning, I went into some kind of shock, shaking, weak, aching all over. When my daughter Mara arrived, she insisted, and I concurred, that we should go to the nearest ER. I was in intense discomfort unlike anything I’d ever felt before.
After a three hour wait, we finally saw a doctor who ordered a sonogram and told me I’d be in for surgery the next day. I spent three sleepless nights at Milwaukie Providence Hospital, connected to an IV unit pumping pain killers, antibiotics and saline. On Tuesday and Thursday I had surgery, under general anesthesia the first time, spinal epidural the second. A CAT-scan was performed in between. The surgeon found extensive hemorrhaging and infection in my posterior left calf.
I guess I’m actually aging and should learn the lesson: Don’t be so averse to doctors and don’t self diagnose. What was hoped to be a week outdoors with tons of exercise, became a month or more indoors with almost no exercise. Ironically, this accident could have occurred when I was young and fit and it was not related to my ataxia.
I am so grateful to the wonderful staff at Milwaukie Providence without whom I’d be in some serious pain. As it is, I’m holed up, a willing participant in the prescription opioid epidemic and a grateful beneficiary of the ACA. This Tuesday I’ll see the surgeon who’ll dress the wound and hopefully remove the massive bandaging and fluid drain. With luck, I haven’t lost out on the entire 2017 backpacking season and I hope to be back to sub-normal in a few weeks.
I strongly oppose the impeachment President Trump. The most obvious reason for this is that the line of succession is entirely populated by people who share his destructive agenda and are seasoned, restrained politicians much more capable of enacting it. Regardless of the outcome of the investigations in progress, Trump’s future administration is handicapped in ways that his successors would not be. Our best shot to further limit his power is bringing better leadership to congress in 2018 and the White House in 2020.
The whole Trump vs. Comey drama is a sideshow, a distraction from the urgently consequential power play taking place. I’ll admit that it is very entertaining, as sideshows are designed to be. It is difficult not to be captivated by the intrigue and surreal twists and turns. But it is irrelevant to the crimes against humanity and the biosphere being perpetrated by the one percent. The ultra-wealthy are busy consolidating their power, isolating themselves from vulnerability and bracing for impending worldwide chaos. Whether or not you accept as I do that this century is likely to see the end of human civilization and Homo sapiens, there is no rational denial that coming decades will see disruption unimaginable to previous generations. Massive migrations, food and water shortages, spread of disease and the deaths of millions if not billions are all unavoidable. The sixth mass extinction is underway, irreversible, and might include humans. Expressions of hope or faith in human ingenuity for solutions in this regard are fantasy. As Paul Ehrlich (of Stanford University) has said, humanity must decide what level of comfort and equity we are willing to accept and what size of a population can allow it. Though it might already be too late, until this negotiation is engaged by leaders our prospects for persistence continue to diminish.
Friends, regarding the threat of near term collapse of civilization and extinction, please consider the following. A common reaction to this notion is hope in technological solutions. There are many concepts that have great promise as climate change solutions. Our problem is not a lack of knowledge, it is a lack of time. Since Buckminster Fuller and Paul Ehrlich's 1968 book The Population Bomb, we have known how to create a sustainable planet and recently we have advanced that knowledge greatly. But consider this- the manufacture of an all electric car (including mining of metals, production of plastics, transportation, etc.) emits more carbon into the atmosphere than an internal combustion engine does over its lifespan. The same concept applies to solar panels, wind turbines, other forms of renewable energy, geo-engineering etc.. Especially when applied at the global scales required, technology creates a greater insult to the planet than it alleviates. Even without this drawback implementation requires immediate, universal transformation of deeply entrenched economic and political paradigms. Things are changing and rapidly, but not nearly fast enough.
Most climate models do not include feedback mechanisms such as loss of albedo (reflectivity) when polar ice melts, release of water vapor (a greenhouse gas) and methane that are inevitable reactions to the baked in temperature increase caused by CO2. The combined effect of these feedbacks easily warm the planet to a point where agriculture is no longer viable on any scale. Why then, one might ask, do I know this but very few scientists, experts and leaders seem concerned. This is complex, but consider that all people associated with political, academic and business institutions risk immediate rejection and career suicide if they advance these ideas. I'm not saying (as some scientists do) there is no chance of a better outcome, but that chance, if it exists, is rapidly diminishing.
There are positive steps to be taken in addition to activism including increasing community self-reliance, localizing agriculture (buy local, start or expand your garden) and finding creative ways to relieve psychological stress which is certain to increase. Though I wish it were otherwise, this is real, this is now and I wish us all the very best of luck in the challenging years ahead.
6/9/17 More on Facebook and social media-
I have been on social media, first on MySpace, then Facebook, checking in almost daily for over a decade. So deciding to disengage has been a major and difficult decision and change of lifestyle. At first, as a musical artist and recording studio owner, the appeal was clear. Social media provided a cheap and easy way to present a DPK (digital press kit) combining text, photos, audio and video in a a way that was easily accessible to all. Later, when I became disabled, social media alleviated profound isolation from friends and family. I still feel that social media has enormous potential for self expression, communication and education if manifested as a nonprofit or publicly owned utility.
As currently implemented, social media trivializes, commodifies and exploits compassion, intellect and emotion. People use the same emojis to express empathy for a frustrating hour in a traffic jam as they do for the death of a loved one or other tragedy. The same thumbs up approves inane non sequiturs and unique, cultivated insights. Anything that encourages impulsive consumption, as the targeted advertising on social media does relentlessly, is an enemy of the people and the biosphere. For these reasons I have deleted my Facebook account.
For any of my former Facebook friends (or others) who may be reading this, please know that I understand that you may have overriding reasons to remain on Facebook. I did not leave because I do not value your friendship and presence in my life. PLEASE send me an email with the Contact button above so I’ll have your email address (or phone number).
I hope that we may remain in touch.
6/6/17 My aborted backpacking trip-
Things don’t turn the way we plan. My adventure in the wild lasted exactly zero nights. It was a wonderful drive, the last hour or so on a bumpy gravel road where I saw not a single car and could drive no faster than 10-20 mph. I had enough food for four or five days, three liters of water and a newly purchased system for filtering bacteria and viruses from creek or lake water. When I hit the trail I realized pretty quickly that I had overestimated my ability to carry a backpack post-ataxia. But I felt ok as long as I took a break now and then and was careful with my trekking poles to avoid falls.
Undeterred I proceeded about two miles when I stopped for a rest, sitting on a rock shelf, supporting the weight of my pack so I didn’t have to take it off. When I shifted my weight the shelf suddenly collapsed. If I had moved my left leg a millisecond later, it would have been trapped beneath a ton of rock, shattered like an eggshell. I was a little shocked but when I got up I felt ok so I decided to carry on. After climbing about 2,100 feet over three miles, the last mile of which was loose rock and patches of melting snow, I was exhausted so I stopped for another break. I was only a half mile descent to my destination but looking ahead the trail was covered with several feet of snow. I decided I’d met my match.
At this point I was thinking I’d go back and camp at a slightly less scenic lake I’d passed about a mile back. But then I realized- I had no phone reception, the back of my left calf was entirely scraped and bruised, the adrenaline was wearing off and with every step my left ankle hurt more. I knew my ankle wasn’t badly sprained or broken or I wouldn’t be able to walk at all but it must have been twisted. I had to get back to my car as soon as possible.
So I limped the three miles to the trailhead, in agony, panting and sweating profusely, stopping to rest and let the pain subside every thirty yards or so. Each time I stopped, a bigger swarm of bugs caught up with me and when I resumed walking I could only swat them away by lifting one of my poles, risking a fall. I had bug repellent in my pack but wasn’t sure I could get back up again if I took it off. If this had occurred a hundred years ago, when bears, wolves and mountain lions were still about, I’d have been dinner. What would have been a two hour hike pre-ataxia, took six. I’ve never been happier to see my little Honda.
Hopefully my ordeal prevented another camper from getting crushed in the future. Though I’m still limping and in pain, the ibuprofen is kicking in and I’m glad I went, now that it’s over. I wanted an adventure and got one. I still want to backpack but less ambitious and not alone. I can tell you this- the farmland around Hood River is voluptuous and the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness area (aside from adjacent clear cut scars) is stunning.
5/22/17 on and off Facebook-
After over nine years, I’ve decided to delete my account on Facebook. When I first started this account in 2008, I knew why I wanted to be there. I had a working band which was in the process of recording a new CD and along with MySpace, Facebook provided a cheap and easy avenue for promotion. In 2013, when I acquired cerebellar ataxia, it served as a buffer to the isolation I felt, especially during the years when I was unable to walk or drive. For a long time I felt that Facebook could have beneficial potential as a means for political activism and other forms of cultural education. Over the years, Facebook has allowed me to stay in touch with many friends, both near and far, with whom I otherwise would have lost contact and I am very grateful for this opportunity. So why am I leaving?
I have a profound distaste for large corporations. I do not wish to support them or encourage my friends to do so. In addition I feel that Facebook creates an odd environment which enables people to compare themselves to others through the lens of a corporate interface whose primary objective is to deliver advertising. And as an aging ataxian man I don't need more incentive to remain seated, staring into a screen.
In the end, life is short and this is not the way I choose to relate to my friends. I do so hope to remain in touch with as many as possible and strongly encourage friends to contact me through email (Contact John button above) and request my phone number or physical address so we can maintain our relationships the old fashioned way. And you may stay in touch with my occasional rants here and with my music on SoundCloud.
5/15/17 on Mothers' Day-
I have unending respect for the burdens borne and sacrifices made by women who become mothers. Motherhood imparts education, wisdom and experience unknowable both by men and women who do not become mothers. A hallmark (pun intended) of real respect is that it is felt consistently, not more on some days than others.
Anna Jarvis, the woman who initially proposed the holiday established in 1910, within a decade was urging its boycott due to commercialization and was arrested for disturbing the peace in the process. She felt that a hand written note or personal gesture was a more appropriate way of expressing respect than gifts, flowers or cards. In its present manifestation, Mothers’ Day (and Fathers’ Day) exploits innate (though obsolete) materialism, tribalism and ethnocentrism.
My family is probably more loving and functional than most, owing in no small part to distance and space allowed. I feel extremely lucky to have been born into it and have unsurpassed love for my parents, siblings, my daughters and their mother. But I have never felt that my family is more deserving than any other. In spite of the fact that I have done so, assuring genetic success has never been one of my conscious goals.
More than half of Americans do not live in a nuclear family, though the concept remains sacred in our culture. At a time when overpopulation presents an existential threat to our species, I must say that I have at least as much honor for women who do not become mothers, by choice or otherwise. We all have debts that cannot be paid for the efforts of our moms. And there is little doubt that these debts are undervalued, as is womanhood generally. But to overcome one’s biological agenda for the benefit of unknown future generations is immensely admirable.
5/04/17 on mourning -
I am in mourning. For Steve, Jim, Lisa, Kaj, Paul, Jorge and Doug, all dear, all gone far too soon. I am in mourning for the parts of myself that died with the acquisition of ataxia- my confidence, stamina, surefootedness and music making capacity. I am in mourning for Homo sapiens and future generations who will suffer for our comfort. I am in mourning for the countless victims of the sixth mass extinction. I am in mourning for the death of democracy and the future that so many revolutionary martyrs died for. For the oceans, the rivers, the majesty of nature.
I am not depressed. I am not defeated. I am not without joy. I eagerly await whatever lies beyond mourning. It is a triumph to resist. Existence itself is an extraordinary victory.
As I consider "whatever lies beyond mourning" I realize that mourning is not a process with an ending or closure. Rather it slowly morphs into a kind of wisdom. A commitment to not be fooled again. To never fail to fully appreciate the precious absurdity of reality. A resolution to never underestimate the immutable law of impermanence, known in the west as the second law of thermodynamics. It is also good to acknowledge that mourning is kinda cool. It is a transformation, a healing. Not wallowing in loss, but giving due respect and honor to love and impermanence.
5/03/17 End time politics-
We know that the collapse of civilization is inevitable if not imminent. Human industrial civilization requires continual growth and it is not difficult to understand that infinite growth on a finite planet cannot be maintained. What does this mean for political action? It means that national politics are pretty much irrelevant. What we need is a powerful "Softer Landing" movement aimed at lessening the suffering that collapse will bring locally. For most, the end of civilization will mean no money at the bank, no gas at the pump, no food at the store, no water at the tap. Knowing what is coming, we should be demanding local and municipal governments to address the questions of how we can enhance safety, food, water and essential services under these conditions. What will happen when tons of containers filled with consumables are no longer delivered to our region daily? When money is worthless? Shouldn't local committees of scientists and engineers be anticipating possible outcomes and formulating plans for various contingencies? Communities that fail to do so will suffer the most.
The statements above are made in light of Guy McPherson's findings that baked in warming will trigger feedback mechanisms leading to the extinction of complex life. So the post assumes a chance that he has miscalculated or the also remote possibility of scientific breakthroughs in geoengineering or food and water production and distribution.
There remains, in my opinion, a very slim chance that small pockets of H. sapiens may survive catastrophe. Given the benefits of a small footprint and science, survivors might even create a utopia along the lines of Buckminster Fuller or Jacque Fresco. I feel that the odds are >99% hell, <1% heaven, with little ground in between. But that however small the probability, it is worth enhancing at any cost.
Us lefty-coasties continue to be horrified by DJT. We hurl clever insults at him and call for his ouster. But no amount of liberal outrage will de-fang this beast. He will be removed when and only when the GOP controlled congress decides that they would rather deal with Pence (who is perhaps scarier) than be embarrassed by DJT. The best chance to reverse his agenda is to regain Democratic control of congress in 2018. This will require activism in red states, a sacrifice few of us are willing to make; we'd rather be angry at home. Beyond that we can only hope that someone will fill Bernie's shoes in 2020. In the mean time, I'll let DJT's antics speak for themselves, and leave the insults to pros like Colbert and Noah. And as for outrage, politics could never anger me more than the relentless war on habitats, species and vulnerable people that humanity has waged for millennia. In any case, outrage is a heavy burden to carry. Yeah these times are crazy, unfair and scary. Anger with no specific purpose, beyond declaring allegiance to one's peers, just makes them more so.
Civilization has been misogynist, racist, species-ist, warlike and brutally destructive from the beginning. Despite the wondrous achievements of the arts and sciences and the good intentions of many, it will likely be so until the end. Any sober analysis must conclude that if we haven’t crossed the tipping point (as early as decades ago) leading irreversibly to our collapse and extinction, we are racing toward it at full bore, with at best cosmetic attempts to slow the process. As despicable as the policies of the Trump administration may be, this would remain true regardless of any election outcome. Humans generally believe what we want to believe and no one wants to believe this. So it is hardly surprising that few do, even in the face of copious, compelling evidence.
It will likely take thousands of years for Earth to re-establish climate and habitat suitable for complex life and millions of years for anything we would call intelligence to evolve. This long term prospect is the most positive future we can realistically envision. My advice to you in light of this is the same as my advice to myself: abandon expectations and hope for permanence, savor every moment, encourage others to do so and do what you can to aid the least fortunate as we venture into the increasingly unstable, unprecedented terrain of the Anthropocene era. I have no desire to sadden, depress, worry or distress anyone but feel that we are all better off when we accept truth, whether or not it conforms with our hopes or expectations. As we come to terms with our prognosis, we engage grief and hospice as best we can, ideally with grace, patience and humor. The most positive step we can take is what we should have done all along, strengthen our resolve to be aware and compassionate toward ourselves and others
near term human extinction~
Knowledge is all about probabilities. For example, no one can prove that this universe isn’t a simulation created seconds ago (with our memories intact) by a teenager doing a science project in another universe. But I’d say that the probability of this is less than one percent. Or as Bertrand Russell stated, no one can prove that a teapot isn’t orbiting Saturn (though that may be provable soon). On the other hand, the probability that in twenty-four hours the Earth will still be rotating as it orbits the sun is greater than ninety-nine percent but less than one hundred because there could always be an asteroid headed our way that has escaped observation. The point is that we can never be completely certain of anything but we can estimate a probability and adjust our behavior accordingly.
Which brings us to Guy McPherson’s theory of near term human extinction. (https://guymcpherson.com/) As Guy has cited, Berra’s Law states that predictions are difficult, especially about the future. We know that probability decreases as we look further into the future and when the prediction becomes more complex. So we must say that the probability of near term human extinction is less than that of the sun rising tomorrow. But based on McPherson's evidence it is certainly greater than Russell’s teapot.
How much greater is the question but it really doesn’t matter. If you knew there was a five percent chance of your child being hit by a car would you let your kid cross the street? When the consequences are high, we must behave as if the probability is high. In the case of Guy’s theory, the consequences could not be higher.
So how do we behave? It is always helpful to advance our understanding of nature and better define the probabilities of our knowledge being correct. Becoming active to mitigate climate crisis, alter political structure and aid the most unfortunate, human and otherwise, is vital. If we are concerned about the well being of ourselves and others we’d probably do well to increase local control of food, water and other essential services. But this won’t necessarily alleviate the situation. Enjoying the beauty of nature while we can is its own benefit. We also must make friends with our impermanence as well as that of everyone and everything we see. And befriend ourselves, nature and everyone we encounter. However tentative the probabilities, making friends with reality, as it is, is never a regrettable endeavor.
A message, with respect and compassion, for my friends who are Quaker, Unitarian or other free-thinking, progressive Christians-
You are aware no doubt, that the tenets of all denominations of Christianity, the virgin birth and resurrection of Christ, violate basic principles of physics and biology. Are you aware that when fundamentalist Christian lobbies present their science denying, apocalypse seeking agenda to the government and claim to represent X number of Christians, they count you in their numbers? Christianity is the preferred religion of white supremacists and nazis. When they see that 83% of Americans identify themselves as Christians, they are emboldened.
Words have meaning and power. Living as we believe is important. While Christianity may have valuable lessons for humanity, as an institution, it is outdated, obsolete and often destructive. I understand that your church may have immense social and personal value to you, your family and community. But perhaps you could seek ways to maintain that value in a different context.
At least in part due to my inability to afford cable TV and other forms of entertainment, I continue to indulge my consumption of science education mostly on YouTube. Thanks to BBC, PBS, Nat Geo, World Science Festival, and universities and museums around the world an amazing variety of programming, classes and lectures are available. I've fallen into the rabbit holes of genetic, evolutionary and molecular biology, neuroscience, cosmology, physics, history and archeology. This week it's geology, both local and global. Though I still have a million questions, I'm actually learning something.
If you look around, no matter where you are, it is likely that the surrounding terrain was at some time each of the following:
> engulfed in flame and lava
> under thousands of feet of ice
> under an ocean
> high on a mountain
> a savanah
> a rainforest
> a desert
Everything is changing, always has and always will, though it may be on a geological or cosmological time scale. Change is constant and surprisingly fluid. Expressed at its most basic by Newton's second law of thermodynamics, change always happens toward the future, never back to the past.
Decades ago Buckminster Fuller pointed out that capitalism and communism were reactions to Darwin's theory and subsequent wars were over whether labor or management should be deemed fittest. As Fuller elaborated, both sides were based in the inaccurate assumption that there was not enough to go around. With intelligent management we had the capability to provide abundance for all. In the face of climate crisis this capability is rapidly disappearing and diminishing resources will likely be increasingly violently contested. Both left and right remain obsolete concepts that irrationally pursue infinitely expanding GDP on a finite planet. Continuation of this paradigm ensures that the fittest will be the cockroaches and jellyfish.
A little story about my personal experience with protest-
I began protesting the Vietnam War in the mid sixties, at 14 or 15, by standing in silent vigil on a street corner with a handful of mostly elderly Quakers . We were subject to insults, ridicule and occasional saliva from passers by but we persisted week after week. Within five years hundreds of thousands were marching in D.C. (where I was teargassed) and on April 30 1975, finally, U.S. troops were withdrawn. Changing history takes time, solidarity, sacrifice, risk and commitment folks.
my idiopathic cerebellar ataxia~
While I have recovered, for now, from the more debilitating aspects of my ataxia, the basic symptoms of lack of balance and (thankfully milder) tremors remain. I would love to believe as many of my friends do, that my stubborn refusal to be disabled and discipline with exercise and meditation had some causal relationship with my progress. Unfortunately, there is no way to be sure. Nor am I certain as to the initial cause, although my neurologist has some theories (toxic, metabolic or ischemic insult to the cerebellum or an unusual form of M.S.). I can be sure that without exercise I would be more atrophied and overweight. And it is clear that persistence with meditation is helpful for those wishing to avoid neurosis in any situation. I guess the point is that intense desire to know something does not always indicate that an answer is forthcoming. Sometimes nurturing comfort with our ignorance is the best step forward. There's a lot of stuff that we will never know, it's ok not to know.
Many of my friends are in a state of panic about the recent actions of the new administration. I understand their concern for the effects of these policies on the environment and vulnerable segments of our population. But really. What did you expect? It has been obvious to most of us for decades that DT is a pathological narcissist. Pathological narcissism is not a condition that can be cured overnight, certainly not by becoming the most powerful person on the planet. Very few of my frightened friends did anything to influence swing state turnout BEFORE the election. Where was the panic then?
As concerning as it is to have a mentally ill person in charge, this is not our biggest problem. It is a symptom of a much more disturbing issue, which is that nobody knows what the fuck is going on. Why does nobody know what the fuck is going on? Because our planet is transforming before our eyes into a condition that has not been seen for at least hundreds of thousands of years. Literally, no one knows how the fuck this plays out. Scientists have been warning us about this for decades, but no action has been taken. As a species, we have behaved for centuries as if we and our brutal economy can expand infinitely on an obviously finite planet. Even if Bernie Sanders had been elected and all fossil fuels replaced with renewable energy instantly, today, we would still be in the same situation. Having a lunatic chosen in a quasi-democratic election is just one more sign of a highly destabilized civilization. Get used to it. Calm down. Compassionate, organized resistance is still our best step forward. James Brown's music is still funky.
I make the following statements in hope of shocking and disturbing some of my friends, fully aware that my thoughts are more likely to be ignored. Humanity is rushing as fast as possible toward the collapse of civilization and extinction of our own species and countless others. This is agreed upon by a vast consensus of scientists, some of whom are certain that we have already crossed tipping points making this process irreversible and conclusive within a few decades. I would find this situation perplexing if it were not for humanity's boundless capacity, demonstrated over millennia, for greed, superstition and wishful thinking. We also have capacity to learn and change. I hope to shock my friends so that they might be motivated toward vigorous activism to understand and combat climate crisis even if there is absolutely no hope of success. Activism takes many forms and each of us as individuals must challenge ourselves to explore and develop our most effective opportunities to awaken our leaders and enhance the possibility of a sane future. Every day that we do not act increases the already assured suffering of future generations.
There are no omniscient authorities. Even Einstein, Naomi Kline, MLK, the Dalai Lama and Noam Chomsky have/had their blind spots. No matter how well traveled, informed or educated we are, there is so much more of the world that we cannot see than what we can. And we only see that from one perspective of billions. We must gather wisdom where we can, ever skeptical and vigilant of wishful thinking, confirmation bias and the billion dollar industries (advertising, politics, entertainment, social media) skillfully and relentlessly attempting to shape our perception.
On the inauguration of DJT-
To the hundreds of species that go extinct daily, today is no more tragic than yesterday. Violence, racism, misogyny and abuse aren't unique to Trump, they are endemic to human civilization. We all want something to blame for the suffering in the world and yes the new administration is a step backward for America and DJT is a pathetic excuse for a "leader". But this is a minor bump in the context of the relentless destruction waged by humanity for millennia.
It is highly likely that for billions of years, nowhere in the universe the possibility of the existence of humans was imaginable. It is also likely that, after our extinction, nowhere will we be known or remembered to have existed, also for billions of years. So far, we’ve been around for about two hundred thousand years, an instant on this time scale. It is possible that our universe is just one of an infinite or near infinite multitude. Meditation is, in a way, an acknowledgement that our lives and the entire human enterprise might be a completely inconsequential waste of time, apart from diminishing suffering for ourselves and others. This acknowledgement is prerequisite to robust peace of mind.
I will share with you the advice I gave my daughter who is very upset about the inauguration tomorrow.
It's ok to feel angry but if you let it consume you, the terrorists win. It may be possible that humans will wise up in time to avoid collapse, but highly likely that we won't/didn't. Not allowing this information to drive us crazy is a full time job in itself. We are just another dumb species, a product of nature. Nowhere is it guaranteed that we must thrive or even persist (in fact it's assured that at some point we won't). But we do have the capacity to create peace within and that is where it must begin.
Dystopian sci-fi scenarios are paradise compared to the catastrophe that many climate scientists believe is already baked in. When we demand serious action will determine whether or not millions of refugees and climate related deaths becomes billions.
Since attending a talk by Bill McKibben, I’ve spent the last several years trying to learn what I can about climate change, mostly through YouTube and Wikipedia. I have intentionally sought out diverse opinions on the subject ranging from Koch Bros./Tea Party propaganda to moderate and radical environmental groups and scientific and academic assessments from around the world. The only thing that seems clear is that no one knows what to expect as we enter a world which has no precedent with many chaotic factors in play. Even apart from climate change, human expansion has tragically disrupted the biosphere, triggering the sixth mass extinction and the Anthropocene epoch.
It seems apparent that the environmental movement has over emphasized the role of individual lifestyle choices. Although those who reduce their footprint by becoming vegans, driving electric cars, reducing consumption, etc. are to be encouraged, avoiding catastrophe requires global, systemic and institutional transformation. It also is clear that geo-engineering proposals and other technological solutions pose more risk than hope.
The extremes in terms of prognosis seem to be represented by pessimist Guy McPherson and optimist Jacque Fresco (see links below for details of their positions). McPherson, a biologist, sees irreversible and total loss of human habitat, collapse of civilization and human extinction within a few decades as highly likely. Fresco, like Buckminster Fuller, envisions a transformation to sustainable civilization which forgoes money and warfare and relies on science, intelligence, efficiency and justice to provide and allocate abundance for all. Although many smart people imagine a future between these extremes, any variation of business as usual seems inevitably destined to the pessimistic scenario.
As of today, McPherson’s hypothesis seems far more realistic to me than Fresco’s and perhaps the game is already over. Humanity has taken no significant steps to reduce emissions and the status quo appears entrenched. But until Fresco’s vision (which he insists is not utopia, simply a better world) is proved impossible it is certainly worthy of aspiration and support. The alternative is to acknowledge hospice for our species.
I don’t expect to live long enough to see which way this goes but my daughters likely will and my grandson’s generation certainly will. Although I am enamored of the achievements of humanity in the arts and sciences, I’m growing more comfortable with the concept of its demise, apart from the prerequisite suffering. Absence of humans would certainly leave a world more hospitable to the species that do survive.
Although no one knows for sure what will happen it is clear that we are treading in unknown territory which jeopardizes global food and water supplies and risks political and economic chaos, extreme weather, spread of insects and diseases, meters of sea level rise, increased earthquake and volcanic activity, ocean acidification and extinctions of countless species. We cannot expand infinitely on a finite planet. I cannot imagine a more dramatic or fascinating time to be alive. Be it paradise or oblivion, a change is gonna come.
Jacque Fresco’s paradise
Guy McPherson’s oblivion
Post election thoughts-
Ok, I've done some checking to regain my footing.
Some things that did not change last night:
1- The Earth is still orbiting the sun.
2- I am still bewildered.
3- James Brown's music is still funky
America, with our feet propped up, eating Doritos and watching reality TV (now indistinguishable from government) is going down in flames. And dammit, we're taking the rest of the planet with us.
The president is just the face of the status quo. The voice of the powers that be. It is a public relations job. The biggest difference now is that the left, rather than the right, can feel good about hating it.
Buckminster Fuller pointed out that capitalism and socialism arose as reactions to Darwin. Both are based on the incorrect assumption that there is not enough to go around. In Fuller's words, if we convert "weaponry to livingry" we can provide abundance for all. Now, more than ever, thinking in terms of left vs. right is meaningless and counterproductive.
There are no ifs. The climate is worse NOW and WILL be worse sooner AND later. This is fact even if we magically stopped all fossil fuel use today. It comes down to how much massive suffering of humans and countless other species are we willing to tolerate before making the radical transformation of global politics and economics required.
Here's the thing. Trump's supporters' fears are right on. The American dream IS fading. Consumer driven capitalism IS obsolete. America and the world WILL be over run with refugees. Food and water WILL become coveted assets. Pleasures, comforts and security we once took for granted, what "made America great", IS a thing of the past. The shit HAS hit the fan. What neither Democrat nor Republican politicians have the courage to say is that climate crisis (and yes, it IS a crisis) changes everything. Anyone who is paying attention is aware that the old model of ever expanding GDP is over. The only way we can make life sustainable on Earth is to find a way to end warfare and poverty everywhere and concentrate on industry and technology that actually serves human needs. This will require a period of unpredictable instability unknown to history and abandonment of long cherished indulgences. The transition must occur on a time scale of decades, not centuries. We need leaders with the courage to face these dire challenges head on and speak truth about the sacrifices required to keep human civilization viable.
I see in Mr. Trump the aspects that I most dislike about myself.
I do abuse the Earth.
I am racist, sexist and xenophobic.
I am narcissistic and seek to be recognized and admired.
I will not enjoy seeing Trump's face and hearing his voice regularly over the next four years. But I will be grateful for the reminders to temper the harmful tendencies of my personality.
The probability of human civilization surviving this century intact, which was already at an all time low, has been diminished. While optimism remains the only viable choice, it now requires a more robust commitment. Somehow humanity must find a way to heal the imperiled biosphere without help, at the most crucial time, from the most powerful nation. Millions around the world are committed to this end and we must stand in solidarity with them and better educate ourselves and our fellow Americans.
The Buddha said, essentially, that to exist is to suffer. More recently Mick Jagger said "I can't get no satisfaction". We all bear burdens, fears, anxieties and various kinds of discomfort. No matter how well we sing the blues, this suffering is ultimately unknowable by others. Many scientists and theologians agree that morality and ethics are beyond the scope of science, as they are inherently subjective. I strongly disagree. I feel that the reduction of suffering in sentient beings (anything that can feel) is the only criterion, an objective measure, on which morality and ethics can be based. Determining the nature of suffering however, can be tricky.
Subjecting ourselves to tempered discomfort can be beneficial. For example, physical exercise, yoga and meditation tend to make one more resilient to discomfort in the long run. And “tough love”, being cruel to be kind in the words of Nick Lowe, can help people avoid disillusionment and other adverse results. It is obvious that abject hedonism, perpetually seeking pleasure, often leads to pain. Does a person who lives and dies deluded but happy suffer less than one who is stoically aware of a grim reality? The easing of suffering for some often creates suffering for others. Behaviors which cause pleasure in one context might cause pain in another or vice versa. In grieving or mourning, sometimes we must embrace our sadness before we can move beyond it, though no one should seek to dwell there indefinitely. For those who crave drama, sadness itself can be a pleasure. These are just a few of the ambiguities.
Discerning paths that lead to less suffering for oneself or others requires clarity, awareness and vigilance of self-deception. It also requires a willingness to be mistaken in unforeseen terms. We must acknowledge a kind of moral uncertainty principal. We cannot know the simultaneous position and velocity of an act of kindness.
It has been observed that we each have our own inherent levels of satisfaction. If we win the lottery or are permanently maimed in a car crash, we may become temporarily elated or depressed but eventually return to the level of happiness we were at prior to the life changing event. What determines that level is little understood. Nature (genes) and nurture (environment) are involved but other factors are likely. The Dalai Lama says that the best way to achieve lasting happiness is to help others. Persistent satisfaction is so rare that I encourage you to promote it whenever and however you can.
Adherence to truth and compassion (slippery, malleable but approachable concepts in themselves) may be the best standard we can muster in our pursuit of happiness.
ON THE BIG PICTURE
Before going into this topic, I should explain that I don’t feel that people can be sorted into smart and stupid categories. By this I mean that we are all paying attention to something. Some people are aware of subjects that are more relevant or significant than others. For example, being smart about fly fishing, piano technique or wine making, as wonderful as these crafts may be, isn’t as significant as being aware of the forefronts of medicine, science or engineering, which have the capacity to ease (or cause) the suffering of millions. And we’re all ignorant of something. Even the most educated, well traveled and experienced among us perceives only a tiny fraction of what is to be known in the world. There is always much more that is unknown than is known or even knowable. By this, I am making the disclaimer that my view of the big picture, or any subject, is likely incorrect due to information of which I am not aware, in spite of vigorous but limited efforts to fill the gaps in my knowledge.
My hypothesis, based on the information I am aware of, is this: By the end of this century humanity will be facing either heaven or hell. The next few generations will face the most profound existential challenge ever posed to humanity. The only way to avoid the destruction of civilization and the collapse of the biological diversity it depends on is to realize Buckminster Fuller’s vision of abundance for all. It is certainly within our capacity to provide food, shelter, healthcare and education to every person on Earth. It is also within our capacity to create and maintain a planet on which humanity and nature can thrive. It must be created as the world previous generations were born into is gone forever, having crossed the tipping point of irreversible climate change, identified by many scientists as surpassing 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Not doing so severely imperils the prospects of humanity and civilization. War, poverty and injustice are incompatible with solution of the climate crisis, long term or short.
It is helpful to consider the Buddhist concept of impermanence. Simply put, all things must pass. We have good reasons to believe that in about five billion years the sun will explode and Earth will become inhospitable to life if not destroyed in the aftermath. In trillions of years distant galaxies will fade and eventually all matter will be consumed by black holes, which themselves will eventually evaporate. As for humanity, it isn’t hard to imagine that the civilization we struggle with today could survive, even thrive, continuously for a million years or more. But if it does, it is likely that Homo sapiens will have evolved into a species, possibly genetically and/or technologically enhanced, that is unrecognizable to us.
Humans have been around in our modern form for about two hundred thousand years. We are the first generations to have some limited but reliable knowledge of the origins and workings of the universe and life, at the largest and smallest of scales. It is now the responsibility of each of us to strengthen that understanding and commit our world to the best possible future.
09/24/16 and prior, copied from Facebook:
ON SCIENCE AND RELIGION
More than half of Americans (according to 2015 Pew research) believe in heaven and hell, places where good and bad people are eternally rewarded or punished. Forty-one percent expect armageddon, the second coming of Jesus by 2050.
For those of us who understand that such beliefs are nonsense it is difficult to comprehend how ignorance of such scale could exist. But this being the most influential electorate on the planet, the potential consequences on our precarious political and environmental future are undeniable. Religion, as a protector of ignorance, must be challenged now, as a matter of practical and ethical urgency. Like it or not, we live in a time when establishing widespread understanding and appreciation of science is likely prerequisite to the prevention of extinction for our (and many other) species.
I have no desire to offend anyone, but I do feel that it is unethical to not offend unreasonable beliefs in a time when such notions are so dangerous to so many. Turning the world toward climate mobilization is complex, and I'm sure many of the religious would change in the face of a massive global commitment. But we must stop protecting outmoded and unrealistic views of reality. Believing in worlds beyond or the coming of judgement day gives little motivation to make the sacrifices needed to care for this world. Not saying that religions haven't done good things, I rely on the charity of a Catholic hospital. But good things can be done without fostering unreasonable beliefs. I have too much respect for truth to see this glossed over, much less given immunity from criticism and tax credits.
For millennia, religion offered the only explanations of the world. As a Buddhist, it has taken me many years to reconcile the immense wisdom with aspects that don't make sense (reincarnation, karma, etc.). As a musician I've come to accept that some of my heroes (Aretha Franklin, Bob Marley, George Harrison) held deluded world views from which they drew huge inspiration. The time has come for religious institutions to keep the positive aspects but discard their outmoded teachings. The problem is that while the Bible and Koran both contain beautiful poetry, they also condone horrors such as slavery, brutality and misogyny. Far too often they are taught and understood as the immutable word of a perfect god. This leads to immeasurable suffering world wide, every day.
Science is far from perfect, but it differs greatly from religious and other traditions in that it is always seeking to remove bias and come closer to truth. Large endeavors such as medical advancement, work at the LHC and large telescopes are conducted internationally, subject to peer review and are constantly questioned and scrutinized. When hypotheses are found to be errant they are discarded like yesterday's paper. It was not long ago that the average human had a life expectancy of under 40 years. This has been more than doubled by the scientific method which began with Copernicus and Galileo and was advanced by Newton, Darwin, Einstein and so on. Under this method a theory is probed by experiment and observation either discredits or supports the theory. This has not only eased untold disease and suffering in the world, it is the only method we have to advance understanding of nature. Many mysteries remain and perhaps always will, but we now understand incredible detail about the human genome, the origin of the universe, the quantum structure of matter and other subjects which were incomprehensible to previous generations.
By my calculations, I'm only about 1/3.5 million galactic years old. A galactic year is the time it takes the sun to orbit the Milky Way, estimated at 230 million Earth years. The sun is about 18.4 galactic years old. Humans have been around for about 0.001 galactic years. The sun proceeds on this orbit (and right now you are hauling ass) at a rate of about 514 thousand MPH, or 1/1300th of the speed of light.
Not all, but much of the world’s troubles are the direct result of delusional views of reality. This manifests as Republicans who deny the threat of climate crisis, suicide bombers expecting paradise, Catholic missionaries who preach that condom use is sinful to Africans plagued with an AIDS epidemic, and Christian fundamentalists who believe that homosexuality, evolution, and stem cell research are the devil’s work and Armageddon is the imminent will of their god. The errant world views of billions of otherwise intelligent, compassionate individuals cause real death and suffering to millions every day. While perhaps more benign, Eastern and new age beliefs such as souls, astrology, reincarnation and a naïve view of karma are equally pernicious.
I don’t claim to know everything or even anything with 100% certainty. I am perfectly willing to concede that the sun might not rise tomorrow. But I’m pretty damn sure that it will, and I conduct my life accordingly. As a practitioner of meditation I encourage the pursuit of sublime states. I have huge respect and admiration for people like George Harrison and Bob Marley as well as beloved friends and family who stubbornly cling to delusions, and I have sought such comforts in the past. But the apparent societal consensus that religious and spiritual views should be beyond reproach and critique is harmful. We are at a point where the survival and progress of humanity, indeed life itself, may be dependent on our ability to discern fact from fiction. Failure to question one’s view of reality discredits the abundant wonder, mystery and beauty that do exist in our universe.
I can easily descend the rabbit hole of Wikipedia, pursuing the definitions of scientific or philosophical terms and concepts.
Such a quest led to this little gem:
Physicist Carlo Rovelli adds that certainty, in real life, is useless or often damaging (the idea is that "total security from error" is impossible in practice, and a complete "lack of doubt" is undesirable).
Many scientists agree with theists that science tells us nothing about morals and ethics. Theists believe that morals are revealed by God. Naturalists say that morals are created by humans. Both camps could learn from Buddhism. The essence and purpose of morality is the elimination of suffering. This is neither a divine revelation nor a human invention, it is a fundamental fact of life in the universe. If there is sentience beyond Earth, it is preferable for it not to suffer or cause suffering. To the extent that any choice lessens the likelihood of becoming either a victim or a cause of suffering, it is inherently a more moral choice. Buddhist tradition, like all religion, has inconsistencies with science (reincarnation, karma), but it also has a history of empirical observation that should not be ignored. As long as life exists, elimination of suffering may not be possible and certainly isn't easy. We've all got to eat something. But it is always worthy of pursuit.
I can state proudly and confidently that I am both an idiot and an asshole. I'm an asshole because I frequently heed my own desires without considering the needs of others. I'm an idiot, not only because there is so much of the world of which I remain ignorant, but also because often I fail to learn from the self inflicted pain that is the inevitable result of being an asshole. I state this proudly because so many idiots and assholes are oblivious to their status. Of those idiots and assholes who are self aware, so many consider their condition to be so pejorative as to invalidate their creative potential or ability to give or receive love. I am victim to neither of those dilemmas. And I'm perfectly content to engage the lifelong, perhaps fruitless struggle to transcend these shortcomings.
Some things upon which our existence depends-
> The supernova of distant stars billions of years ago, which created heavy elements, allowing organic chemistry.
> The presence and gravitational influence of big planets like Jupiter and Saturn, which deflected asteroid impacts, allowing life to evolve on Earth.
> The allowance of said gravitation of the passage of the asteroid which caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, allowing the subsequent success of mammals and primates.
> The genetic success of each of our ancestors, all the way back to the first protozoa.
> Arguably, this list should include the universe and everything which has ever existed within it, and the laws of physics be they known or unknown.
Are you feeling lucky yet?
ON THE POLITICS OF PLEASURE
My hypothesis is that modern power structures are a vestige of alpha male chimpanzee behaviors. Dominant chimps violently assert their control of the community by restricting access to the best bedding, food and sex. Tellingly, the Bonobo species of chimps, who enjoy a sex friendly, largely peaceful, matriarchal society, evolved in an area with abundant, healthy food supply. Through the millennia church and state evolved to control access to pleasure and comfort. We are taught that valuing pleasure is trivial and self-indulgent, resulting in pain and guilt. This is a cause of much of the war, violence and neurosis around the world.
In a world where sources of fear and anxiety lurk around every corner, we should take control of pathways to pleasure at every opportunity. Widespread societal discouragement of masturbation and other “alternative” forms of sexual expression, recreational drugs, and comfort seeking in general must be challenged. I dislike the term masturbation because its Latin roots (to defile or disturb by hand) confirm the depth of negative association in our culture. Pleasure seeking, in any form, including more “wholesome” activities such as meditation, exercise, artistic expression and the solace of nature, must be better understood and valued if we are to maintain sanity in the mounting turmoil caused by climate change.
About ten years ago I envisioned a multimedia performance art project to explore and educate regarding this hypothesis, called The Politics Of Pleasure. My dear departed friend Lisa Lepine was one of the few people I discussed this project with and she strongly encouraged me to follow through. Unfortunately I was unable to muster the resources, persistence and courage required. I was able however, to produce a theme song for The Politics Of Pleasure, called Love Yourself, with help from friends Annie Steinhart and Tracy McCullough on vocals and samples from pleasure activist Annie Sprinkle.
Listen to Love Yourself HERE.
ON THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN
you guys...sigh...we all must be wary of confirmation bias. We should accept it, try to minimize it beginning with ourselves and move on. Regarding cynicism and govt. corruption- Gore Vidal said back in the '70s that anyone who even comes close to nomination for POTUS is essentially corrupt, too indebted to big money to be untouched. Sadly, I believe he is still correct in this assessment. It means that our presidents are, for now, constrained in what they can accomplish regardless of their intentions. Kennedy, Johnson, Carter and Obama have all done good things, while compromising and practicing evil in other areas.. Acknowledging this doesn't mean that I am at all cynical. This can and will be changed, beginning with overturning Citizens United, hopefully leading to limited, public financing of campaigns. Being realistic about the state of affairs requires optimism and willingness to commit to doing the dirty work of making it better for the long haul.
I endorse Hillary Rodham Clinton for president. Which is not to say that I will vote for her. If late polls indicate that she will win or lose the great state of Oregon by ten percent or more, I will vote for Jill Stein of the Green Party in protest. Otherwise I will firmly place a clothespin on my nose and do whatever it takes to prevent an insane, climate denying egomaniac from gaining power.
To say that her nomination is not historic ignores the fact that my grandmothers could not vote and many struggled and suffered for that privilege. Traditionally, candidates veer to center after the primary to court the general electorate. But she cannot win without wooing progressives to her left. So it will be a delicate tight rope for her in the coming months.
Some smart and insightful people refuse to support her, rightly pointing out that America needs a bigger revolution than she will provide. Such a revolution has been needed for many decades.
I believe that it will only come when we experience a catastrophic Pearl Harbor wake up call, making climate denial and capitalism (climate crises' progenitor) politically untenable. Sadly this wake up call will need to be louder than Katrina and Sandy which I would have hoped would be enough. The biggest questions remain- will this happen before we cross a tipping point that imperils human civilization? Or have we crossed it already? I don't expect to live long enough to have certain answers to these questions, dang it! ;)
There is a perceived epidemic of violence and brutality in our culture. I call this a perception because I believe that this cruelty has always existed. It is just that the proliferation of technology has made it so much easier to expose. While I share abhorrence of recent events, it is important to see them in context. Statistically, America and the world are evolving in the correct direction. You (or anyone) are less likely to die from violence today than you would have been a decade ago, and less likely then than a century prior. Any violence is too much. But we should be aware and inspired that things are getting better, not worse.
ON THE FORTH OF JULY
America has its share of evils, no doubt. But I believe that there is something positive to celebrate on July 4. One must remember that in 1776, the concepts of representative government, freedom of speech, press and religion were unknown on the face of the Earth. Even granting limited rights to white, male land owners was a revolutionary act. And still today, there are many countries where you would be imprisoned or worse for publicly criticizing the government. The revolution is far from over but it is a fight worth fighting and celebrating too.
I do share your distaste for war. It is cruel, obsolete, wasteful, counterproductive, and incompatible with a survivable planet. Though many modern American solders have good intentions, I see them as victims of the 1% that American military policy serves, just like their targets.
It's easy to buy into the popular Portland/Noam Chomsky stance that America is the cause of all that is wrong with the world, I don't see it as that simple though. As Churchill said, America always does the right thing, after trying every other option. The most pressing problem today is that the climate crisis allows us little time for trying wrong options.
ON THE CLIMATE CRISIS
FACT #1- Short of a massive, immediate and rapid transformation, within a couple of generations the earth will undergo a climate crisis that threatens global food and water supplies, the survival of countless species and civilization itself.
FACT #2- Climate crisis trumps ALL other concerns and issues. If you care about war, poverty, injustice, racism, sexism, animal rights, whatever, none of these matter in the absence of a livable planet.
FACT #3- Mobilizing to address climate change REQUIRES an end of war, poverty, injustice, etc..
FACT #4- It is too late to avoid disaster, but not too late to mitigate it. We need a WW II/Manhattan Project scale response. Waiting for a Pearl Harbor wakeup call exponentially raises the cost and effort required.
Of course you are entitled to disagree, but I contend that you do so at the peril of all future generations, not only of humans but life itself. I urge you to educate yourself and all around you about the science and the growing movement to protect life on earth from its current morbid trajectory.
The science is solid and it is NOT pretty. It is complex. If you have questions or want to discuss, I’m all ears. We all must bring it up everywhere, at all times until there are no deniers left and governments and people are united to make the changes happen. Standing on the sidelines is not an option.
Most climate scientists agree that coming generations will face incredible hardships, disproportionately affecting the poorest people on the planet. The chance that they are wrong is tiny and getting smaller daily as evidence rises.
Here's the thing- even if they are wrong... maybe an ice age will come along and magically balance the warming caused by CO2. Even if the chance of climate chaos is tiny, we should be gravely concerned. We're talking about food and water shortages, billions of refugees, countless extinctions, extreme weather, world wide.
When the next generation grows up and comes asking "what did you do?" what will we say? If we just sit back and watch, we are as guilty as Exxon, BP and Shell. The time has come to make stewardship of our home planet the prime directive. Which by the way, requires ending the wasteful, polluting and exploitative aspects of capitalism, warfare and economic injustice.
If you can donate to climate action groups like 350.org, please do so. Keep your radar up for opportunities to protest or engage in civil disobedience against climate chaos. Talk to your representatives, friends and neighbors about what is surely the most urgent threat of our generation.
Ufology, or the study of unidentified flying objects, is widely regarded as pseudoscience because it is not scrutinized by peer review nor acknowledged by academic institutions worldwide. I have some dear friends, indeed family members, who believe that there is credible evidence that our planet has been visited or otherwise explored by extraterrestrials.
While there may be debate as to whether or not ufology is a science, what is clear is that it is a business, with many electronic and print publishers benefiting by nurturing this belief. I contend that those who believe that U.F.O.s have been to Earth are con victims.
Why are we so susceptible to such beliefs? It is the same as religion, in that it offers a comforting view in which a being or beings with powers beyond our imagination influence our lives. And in both cases this power eludes measurement and scrutiny. Supporters of ufology cite multiple eye witness accounts as evidence. But we know that 1- human observation is often misleading or downright delusional. 2- countless hoaxes have been uncovered, often perpetrated by profiteers. 3- the U in U.F.O. stands for unidentified. There are indeed mysterious phenomena that remain unexplained. To assume that the cause is extraterrestrial also assumes that that much of what we know and depend on about physics and astronomy, confirmed by countless experiments, observations and peer review, is wrong. This is a very big assumption, demanding extraordinary evidence.
Some ufologists cite reported observations by N.A.S.A. astronauts which have all been later found to have mundane explanations. Also common is the assertion that academic science shuns ufology because of fear of ridicule or government intimidation. But many of these institutions have programs that are highly controversial or counter to government interests in other areas. Regarding the government conspiracy hypothesis, 1- The same government that allegedly has kept cameras out of Roswell for over sixty years could not keep cameras out of Abu Graib (sp?) prison for months. 2- The government seems to have no problem with allowing the ufology business to flourish. 3- Seth Shostak, who heads the scientifically respected Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence has said that the government has shown no interest in suppressing their findings.
I am not saying that U.F.O. visits are impossible, only highly unlikely. Alien life and interstellar travel are allowable by the laws of physics. Many respected scientists believe that the probability of life beyond Earth is very high. I am saying that the evidence for wishful thinking, profit motive and delusion is far more substantial than credible evidence for alien encounters. I could elaborate about why alien visits to Earth have numerous physical and logical deterrents, but I'll get off my soapbox and respectfully encourage dissenting opinions.
Footnote: in a world where climate change denialism poses an imminent threat to our biosphere, cultivating our ability to discern fact from fiction has great value.
When practicing music, I find myself not in pursuit of perfection but of a certain graceful flow. This is not the same as conventional beauty or prettiness. Depending on the genre and music performed, it can be rather ugly and discordant. It is more like the sense of beauty or elegance that physicists use to describe successful formulae. For me, it is never sustainable and can only be glimpsed and at best, nurtured and encouraged. I find it to be entirely unpredictable. But the search for this ephemeral naturalness remains among the more noble and satisfying endeavors I can muster.
ON DEATH AND THE CULT OF CELEBRITY
Over the last year a large number of widely known artists have died. This is at least partly an inevitable result of the aging of the first electronic generations. The collective mourning which occurs in such occasions certainly existed before the internet. But it seems to have been oddly modified. Perhaps it is the public nature of the expression of loss that is different. When Monroe and Hendrix died, we each bore the losses more or less silently, a different inner experience from publicly sharing our affection, favorite aspects and works of Bowie or Prince. If a person becomes a successful artist, they have achieved an impact that millions strive for in vain. Even if such a person dies young, is their lost potential greater than that of a three year old who drowns escaping from Syria, known to few outside her immediate family?
Every day more than 150,000 people die. About twice as many are born, although this ratio is expected to balance in coming decades. Death is the price of life. It comes to each of us, sometimes unpredictably. As far as science can discern, life is a chemical process, inherently finite, maintainable only as long as the balance of volatile elements and energy is sustained. And as far as we can tell, consciousness, our sense of self distinct from each other and the universe, is an illusion, an image solidified by the biological imperatives of our brains and bodies, but ultimately insubstantial.
We search for meaning and purpose where perhaps there is none. Each of us carries on amidst this ocean of life and death, finding joy and tragedy. We are all enabled and limited by our genes, environment and resources. Sure, we might agree that Martin Luther King’s life had more value than Hitler’s and Ali’s more than Ted Nugent’s. From our perspective, they did more to alleviate suffering. But the ultimate value, impact and meaning of a life are unknowable and each is unique and in some sense equally precious.
From our inherently different perspectives, each of us in our own way does what we can to strive for clarity, learn from our errors, minimize suffering and enhance potential for ourselves and others. Which is, I believe, all we can hope for.
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