Lessons on living

by Kathy Cumbee

Lesson 1

Forty-six years ago I began to volunteer in a nursing home. I was 16. This was the Erie County, New York Nursing home for poor county residents. Earlier it has been a poor house.

At that time I had heard it had been a poor house. Frankly, I didn’t know what that meant. It was during a peak-oil discussion many years later that I decided to look it up. I found that poor houses and poor farms “were common in the United States beginning in the middle of the 19th century and declined in use after the Social Security Act took effect in 1935 with most disappearing completely by about 1950.” My father told me recently that his company, an asphalt flooring installation company, installed the floors in this particular poor house as it transformed into a nursing home.

Several of the people in the nursing home became very important in my life and taught me valuable lessons. Bill was a pleasant quiet man who had Multiple Sclerosis (MS), was about 50, and was confined to a wheel chair because of his illness. At meal times I would always go see and feed Mrs. Parker. She also had MS but it had put her flat on her back for the last 12 years. She barely had enough breath to speak. She never complained, but if the staff moved her she would scream from the pain of her bed sores. I loved her dearly. One day I came in and was told that Bill had died in the night from a heart attack. Not even for a moment did I feel sad. I was so happy for him, he would not have to go through the long and painful decline that was the fate of Mrs. Parker.

I learned there that death can be a friend and that extending life without a good quality of life is not the best option.

Lesson 2

Fast forward 30 years. It’s 1993, and I had been invited to join a friend in Haiti. She knew of my interest in Mother Theresa’s Homes for the Dying. She was there with another group but offered to house me while I volunteered. Because of transportation difficulties I ended up volunteering at Mother Theresa’s Children’s home instead — this not an orphanage, but a place to treat sick children. As the months went by I began to question the “goodness” of saving lives in an overpopulated country. Children saved from early death would have lives of poverty and bring more children into poverty. Was doing good always GOOD? In Port-au-Prince there were no songbirds, the only birds were chickens. I was told the young boys killed wild birds with slingshots for food. I found this very disturbing. It began to be clear on a larger scale that good and evil were not the absolutes I had wanted them to be but were in fact often intertwined. One good might bring something bad, and an evil might bring good. A famine cuts short some lives, but a reduced population makes future famines less likely. It was perhaps the most wrenching realization I have ever had, for I wanted very much to be doing good in the world.

Lesson 3

Back up to my teen years. Somewhere in my schooling I was taking biology and I turned the page of my text book to a schematic drawing of the water cycle (like this one). It had all the requisite little arrows that showed how water moved through the natural system and returned to where it started. I can still remember my awe at its beauty. No doubt most, if not all of my classmates did not have this sense of revelation. Over the years I learned of more such cycles — the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle, and so on. One of the cycles not usually rendered in such drawings is that of living bodies. We are born, accumulate minerals, live, die and return those minerals to the land to be recycled.

It is the most natural and inevitable thing in the world for a living creature to die. In so doing we provide the room and resources for the next round of life. It is even written in our genes that, if we aren’t recycled as food for some other creature, we still decline and die within some preordained time frame. The beauty of the world around us now is based on death, and selective death before reproduction is what moves evolution forward. The development of rich soil comes from the death of plants and animals. Death of one generation allows the next generation to have a go at life by freeing up resources for them.

We are now anticipating the death of the largest civilization man has ever created and with it the untimely death of multiples of humans. We can bemoan this fate or we can see it as a reordering of balance, of restoring cycles of life. Humans will have to return to being part of the cycles of life and death of natural beings and remove themselves from the imagined pedestal of being above nature.

As we prepare for the future, we need also prepare our minds for a much higher death rate and most likely our own deaths coming sooner than we had thought. To know deep inside that death can be a deliverer, death frees up space and resources for others creatures to live, and that death is part of the cycles that began once organisms started self replicating, can perhaps help us to remember to live well so we depart without regrets.

Lessons on living — what a strange title for an essay that is mostly about death. One might ask “does it matter if I spend time thinking about the fact that my life is some finite number of years?” One can also ask, “would it have made a difference if we humans had thought about oil as a finite resource and decided how best to use that finite resource?” Isn’t acknowledging that something is finite the best way to begin to determine how best to use that thing, whether it be resources or years of life?
____________________

Kathy Cumbee is a retired bookkeeper living in central Alabama with her husband, a rat terrier, and 100 chickens. The chickens range and interbreed freely, the outcomes of which provide joy for their human companions. Kathy and her husband use the Ruth Stout continual mulch method of gardening, and their garden increasingly includes a component of edible native plants that obligingly self seed. The garden supplies food for the humans and daily greens for the chickens, who in turn provide eggs and manure for the garden. Preparations for the world after oil include a well with hand pump, wood-fired cooking stove, candles, bow saws, and other hand tools. As we face an uncertain future, Kathy and her husband increasingly turn their attention to the simple joys of each day, including the pleasures of a simply life in tune with at least some parts of the natural world.

Comments 42

  • What an excellant article. Thank you Kathy for your inspiration to live each moment fully, and to Guy for publishing it.

    The single greatest service each of us can provide to our planet, our famlies and ourselves, is to grow our own organic food from non-hybrid seeds. To save our own seed in turn, and in so doing be part of the future solution to the present day destruction.

  • Aging and death – as a kind of biological “planned obsolescence” – is one of life’s great inventions. As crucial to complex organisms as sexual reproduction and genetic inheritance. To what extent it maps onto “cultural evolution” is a tough question.

    In the past couple hundred million years, among some of us animals there’s been the innovation of augmenting genetic inheritance (which relies on selective dying to evolve) with more scope for learning and even teaching – leading even to an extreme like Homo sapiens and its capacity for culture. Many have hoped that when it comes to civilization itself we could transcend the need for the death of civilizations and just evolve them through force of intellect and will. We could see, understand, anticipate and react intelligently to the pressures to adapt that history was going to fling at us. But it may be that we’ve reached the end of our capacities for that – and the old-style selective-dying paradigm is the only way past our current predicament.

    The species is clever, but not smart, and it doesn’t look like we’re going to get smart in time.

  • Thank you Cathy, wonderful essay.
    Our species has spent the last few thousand years attempting to deny/control the basic cycles of all life. At present the majority seem to believe that we have evolved beyond nature, are they in for a big surprise (to say the least).
    Nature rules, it’s nothing personal.

  • So sorry I spelled your name wrong Kathy…

  • “… whether it be resources or years of life?”

    A thought provoking ending to a very moving essay; thank you. I need to add this to my internal debate on life during the transition to a post-petroleum world.

    One of my vivid memories from childhood was visiting an ‘old folks home’ as part of a Catholic school field trip (no trips to the zoo for us!) Since then I’ve always felt great compassion for the elderly especially my 90 year old grandmother who lives in an ‘assisted living facility.’

    After watching my grandmother’s health deteriorate, my mother and I have told each other that we would rather drop dead of a heart attack early in life than go through the humiliating end of life saga at a nursing facility.

  • Kathy. Great insight beyond mainstream paradigms, as usual.

    ‘Isn’t acknowledging that something is finite the best way to begin to determine how best to use that thing, whether it be resources or years of life?’

    For some reason I am reminded of the film ‘Fierce Creatures’ in which the plans of the head of Octopus coporation to defy death via cryogenic storage (until there is a cure for whatever complaint he has) are interrupted by a bullet through the brain. It’s a comedy, by the way, and has its silly moments, but does offer some commentary on globalisation and commercialisation.

    I see the UK is starting to sanction earlier use of stomach stapling to extend the lives of morbidly obese teenagers; yet another ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.

  • Kathy, your essay was beautiful and moving. How I wish all people in the world knew and grasped these lessons. Your words reflect great wisdom, truth, and compassion.

  • Kathy,

    Not surprisingly at all you have, as usual, posed fundamental questions requiring serious thought. That the world is founded upon cycles is a truth most children are taught at an early age. I smiled at your statement “We are born, accumulate minerals, live, die and return those minerals to the land to be recycled.”. In our modern Western society, however, this is no longer the case. We are mummified and stuck into a moisture-proof coffin to prevent death from taking the last vestige of its harvest. Or we stick them into an oven and destroy all usable remains to ash.

    Unfortunately, modern children are taught to avoid death at all costs. Our children are hidden from the death of their grandparents as if this dying process could somehow provide them needless harm. Children need to face death unequivocally, head-on, no curtains to hide. They need this as a way to begin understanding that this is an integral part of life; indeed, a beautiful part of life full of remembrances and celebration for what the departed has given. For one to die surrounded by loved ones, including children, is a wonderful thing that we have both denied to our departing loved ones and to ourselves.

    For we forget that death is a celebration of life, natural, meaningful – and from a natural perspective, useful. We forget that it is, as you say, a process to “help us to remember to live well so we depart without regrets”.

    I think it one of the great tragedies of modern civilisation that we have not only disconnected from Nature, but from death as well. We fear Nature. We fear death. We are driven to conquer both. And in doing so, we deny ourselves true life and commit ourselves to death as a species.

    Thank you, Kathy.

  • Thank you all.
    Bob, I agree about non-hybrid seeds. I am reminded of the scientists who starved in Leningrad rather than eat the seeds at the Pavlovsk seed bank (which is now under threat from capitalists) https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/aug/08/pavlovsk-seed-bank-russia Wild plants such as lambsquarters and chickweed need no saving as they self seed generously and faithfully where competition is removed. One of my great joys in life is to see them sprout at the appointed time each year. Right now in the middle of AL winter I have an emerald carpet of chickweed that sprouted late fall and is persisting and growing right through our frosts.

    Andy “old-style selective-dying paradigm is the only way past our current predicament…The species is clever, but not smart, and it doesn’t look like we’re going to get smart in time.” Too bad we don’t get to be around 100,000 years from now and see how it all evolves out 🙂

    SueB – as you note we have not evolved against nature – antibiotic resistant bacteria should prove that – and you can spell my name any way you want when giving a compliment

    Jb – yep, if more people spent time visiting nursing homes more living wills would be written. But no doubt we will soon pass that phase of human existence where life is extended unpleasantly for some, and mostly taken out of the home, so the rest don’t have to look at the inevitability of death.

    Kevin, I love Fierce Creatures but didn’t remember that part -time to watch it again. I visited the husband of a friend for some time – he was quadriplegic and couldn’t make but a few words. One of his few pleasures was eating. When he choked on some food they put in a stomach tube. His wife wanted him to be able to take food by mouth again. The Drs. asked him if that was what he wanted. He nodded yes. They asked him if he knew it might kill him if he choked again. He nodded yes. They asked him if he still wanted food by mouth. He nodded yes. They still refused to take out the stomach tube and let him eat by mouth.

    Renee – thanks, wish wisdom was as easy to have in the daily living as it is in writing an essay 🙂

    Victor – “I think it one of the great tragedies of modern civilisation that we have not only disconnected from Nature, but from death as well. ” Ernest Becker in his book “the Denial of Death” would say that the disconnect from nature, the problems moderns have with feces and sex are all related and caused by the attempt to deny death (animals have sex, thus we must make love, animals poop thus we must make our feces disappear as soon as possible because animals die and if we are animals then we die too). Whether or not you accept his theory the denial is clearly there. I did Hospice Volunteering for 10 years. Usually some of the family was in denial but the patient and perhaps one or two family members were not. I felt that Hospice was helping to return death to the family just as the natural birth movement was helping to return birth to the family.
    In the book “The World Without Us” there is a section about coffins. It appears that despite embalming we still break down – he reports that all the enzymes and bacteria in us turn on us until we are reduced to human soup. I would prefer to be buried in the earth, with the soil I love surrounding my body and the good microbes and other life in the soil having a good feed. Not possible in most states although it may be possible in AL. However post crash rules about burial will probably be ignored and then forgotten. So perhaps I should hope to stick around long enough to get my preferred burial 🙂

  • My father lived with us for the last six years of his life, and he died with us just three months ago. It was not a particularly easy death; it followed months of physical and mental decline. It was, however, a most natural event, and it held enormous final gifts to us, his family, including our son. To care for a loved one unto death is a surprisingly awakening and enlivening task, both in the witnessing of a death and in the deep emotional engagement with one particular death. I was grateful to my father in life, and I am grateful to him in death. This experience has made me wonder what humanizing influences people have lost in institutionalizing death.

  • Kathy you may be the Kathy that post comments here often. I am assuming you are from the comments above. Your essay is wise and I appreciate your words.

    The concept of death as a guide for life has been one I have tried to live by since my early adulthood in the late 70’s and the concept you mentioned

    “It began to be clear on a larger scale that good and evil were not the absolutes …”

    is explored in “The Way of the Human Being” by Calvin L. Martin with the idea of the Trickster-Transformer as

    “the archetypal shape-changer, … the centerpiece of creation stories throughout aboriginal North America”.

    Martin further explains that the Trickster has been regarded

    “as the personification of cosmic ambivalence and ambiguity: the point where good and evil embrace as do justice and injustice, the moral and the immoral – where each becomes thoroughly amalgamated with its seeming opposite, rendering these principals meaningless. The notion of God and Satan – a split consciousness of the universe – did not emerge until urban, agrarian (or pastoral) societies successfully cleave Trickster in two, with staggering implications for our understanding of the world, ourselves, and for others”.

    Reading in this book about the connection Indians had/have with their environment encourages me. As long as there are humans on this earth there is the potential for deep, respectful reverence.

  • Kathy thank you for a great post. I started a long response to you and to Victor’s orginal questions about The Farm, and then I erased them. I’ll try again later.

    Bob, thank you for that. If there are others who feel similar thoughts then I urge you to check out a book called The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe. Going back for 7 years, it is the best book I have read about farming, and in particular about farming in a screwed up world. We wrote a little bit about her book on our blog: http://luckydogfarm.wordpress.com/
    There was another book on seed saving referenced on TOD today called Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth. I know nothing about it. Bob another area you might want to look into is propagation from cutting and grafting. Great examples of the benefits of becoming good at this is Mark Shepard who has planted 250,000 nut and berry trees on his farm in Indiana, and Ken Fern who put in 45,000 medicinal and edible plants on his property in England in the space of 4 years. Good stuff over at http://www.permies.com/ on propagation techniques. People sharing really really good information.
    Thanks Dr. Doom for your final paragraph. It sums up alot of what we are trying to achieve.
    Sarah: The Way of the Human Being. I’m reading it now for the 3rd time, and have purchased it for my father and 2 kids. Try Francis Bacon and the Modern Dilemma, and The Star Chaser mentioned in the book. I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on both of them.
    Finally ALCOA predicts worldwide demand for aluminum to double by 2020.

    Ed

  • Lesson 1
    The three aspects to the Divine – Creation, Sustenance, and Dissollution are inseparable. This is emphasised by the three divinities, the Creator God Brahma, the Sustainer God Vishnu, and the Destroyer God, Shiva, which together are the three aspects of the god Ishvara (in the paradigm of a limited God, separate from creation) or Purusha (in the paradigm of ommipotence, omriscience, omnipresence – in which every object in the universe is a form of the Divine – including all consciousness / awareness).

    Similarly there is in Buddhism, the First Feature of Existence: All composite things are transient.

    Dissolution / destruction is inseparable from the rest.

    Lesson 2
    A divine being plotted a prank to be played on a human sage. Seven friends aided and abetted him. When the sage found out. he cursed them to be born in human form and suffer its limitations. The divine beings requested a pardon, but since the sage was an enlightened being, his pronouncements were irreversible. So he added that the seven would not have to live a full human life. They went to another divine being and asked that the being be born a woman and be their mother.

    After being born a human, she married a king, but as a condition of marriage, she asked that her actions in regard to her children not be questioned. She had seven sons and promptly drowned each of them as a newborn in the nearby river. When the eigth son was born the exasperated king questioned her prior actions. She explained them and handed her son to the king, and thus having completed her earthly mission, disappeared. This eigth son grew into a great hero, named Bhishma, in the epic, the Mahabharata.

    Depending on the paradigm, dying may even be good. Indeed, an “untimely death of multiples of humans” is untimely in but the frame of a certain paradigm.

    Lesson 3
    Recycling humans is not new. The Zoroastrian method was to leave the bodies in a forest or wilderness where they would be consumed by the local fauna, from jackals to maggots. The Eskimos would leave an imminent grandparent out on an ice floe to make room for a newborn. Cremation in recycling to the “five elements” does not take up real estate as do cemeteries; the memorialization offered by the cemetery recedes with the passage out of living memory.

  • i like watching radical grass roots documentaries and reading similar material for a surreal perspective on surreality. just finished watching one on u.s. atrocities in vietnam on free speech tv. this is essentially how i’ve become so alienated, angry, and fearful.

    it should be obvious to any curious, intelligent, sane, well informed person that the u.s. has become a military empire hell-bent on making the world safe for greedy capitalists everywhere. if ever idealism was pure here, that purity’s long gone. now it’s all lies to disguise the greed and corruption behind it all. that alone is very disturbing, but, of course, is only a small part of the story. the greater part is the active support and participation of an enormous segment of a public indoctrinated to blind patriotism and faith in ‘authority’. it’s the lowly soldiers and workers and patriots who enthusiastically participate in war crimes and support the regime which makes it all happen.

    i’m not very close with many of my relatives. i don’t know any who come close to my views, to my horrified disgust and anger with my country’s government, and those who enthusiastically support it in it’s imperial wars and all. at least a few of my relatives certainly fall in this category. i’ve tried, without success, to get a couple to watch a documentary which graphically exposes the ugly surreality behind official propaganda, that puts a few faces and bodies and circumstances and gruesome butchery to the rather numbing statistic of millions of civilian deaths caused by u.s. involvement in vietnam, for example.

    it makes me think of them as chicken-hawks. in case u’re unfamiliar with the term, it applies to those who support war with impersonal detachment, but whose support tends to vanish if it involves greater participation and danger on their part. in this case, it seems, they’re afraid of even encountering testimony and documentation which might serve to tear their dogmatic patriotism to shreds. much like many religious folk refuse to consider evidence which throws serious doubt upon their beliefs.

    the most frightening are the hawks who aren’t necessarily chickens, who perhaps acquire a perverse sense of power and satisfaction from having the license to kill that participation in war provides. those who are especially susceptible to propaganda which dehumanizes some supposed ‘enemy’, with perhaps a personal axe to grind as a result of childhood neglect and abuse, looking for an outlet to express their suppressed rage. think of all the war atrocities and genocides that have occurred. think of the psychological experiments which have shown how most people are putty in the hands of ‘authority’, to the point they become monstrous.

    this is all just one aspect of humanity that surreally calls into question whether, from a moral perspective, if such perspective exists, humanity is worthy of survival. life’s lessons sometimes are brutal, aren’t they?

  • War is business. Unending war is GOOD business. Destroying jobs, pensions, benefits, and the power of unions reduces corporate costs leading to greater profitability for senior management and the shareholders. As jobs are kept at a minimum, wages and benefits will be forced down as well due to the oversupply of able and willing workers. Destroying jobs also has the benefit, of producing a large and steady pool of young volunteers for the imperial armed forces.

    The US has become a neo-fascist state built upon a permanent military/industrial socialist foundation. And the banks are the financiers of both sides of the unending conflict.

    The naive patriots who support this neverending bloodthirst are mere puppets and are valued little more than cattle of the field to be led to slaughter when the need arises. At least Europe values human life a bit more and is less prone to government fear tactics than Americans who thanks to government policy live in continual fear of their own shadows.

    Goodbye America. Its dream has turned to a nightmare. Unfortunately, it is a nightmare also for those of us in the rest of the world who must live with its imperial designs on us – at least until it ceases to exist as a viable sovereign nation.

  • Sarah, yep I am the same Kathy. I have often thought that it was likely that the choices of “gods” was quite different for H-G than agriculturalists. Jehovah somehow seems just right for civilizations that like to burn and kill and steal land since he endorsed it so heavily.

    No doubt the closer you live to nature the more you see the intertwining of good and evil and agricultural civilizations take more and more people away from that knowledge.

    Wendy, thanks for sharing about your father’s death. I am glad you were able to be there on that journey with him. And lucky you to have a father you were close to.

  • Ed, glad to have the books suggestions, thanks.
    Robbin, your post on Buddhism … much appreciated.
    Kathy, I am your neighbor to the northeast in TN

    Terry, my heart goes out to your “horrified disgust and anger”. One thing to think about is that what you are seeing in the documentaries are similar to events that have occurred in one shape or another since the beginning human life on earth. Also, yes it is horrible!! and yet humans are capable of the most tender, beautiful compassion … being able to let that knowledge sink in may be of some help. Also, it is isolating to become aware and to realize those around you can’t/don’t want to see what you are willing to see. I hope you will find people you can share with … and you have sites like this one.

  • My friends, there are perhaps ten billion trillion suns in the universe, but we are the only known intelligent life form. Step back a moment from your microcosmic dramas and ponder this fact, then ask yourself if you are so willing to give up on the incredible gift of knowledge modern civilization has given you to return to the ignorance of your cradle in the Olduvai.

    Our civilization has given us the knowledge of how hostile is our universe, and how certain is our cosmic doom if we stay here in our earthly cradle. What is ultimately being proposed by the pessimists is a suicide of the most epic proportions, far beyond anything seen in nature. There is no need to appeal to God to see how misguided such a willful disempowerment would be; a simple appeal to rational survival instinct in the face of our cosmic predicament should persuade you that we must keep pushing forward. The fate of intelligent life in the universe may literally be at stake right here, right now!

    Well that’s the best I can do folks — if that doesn’t persuade you of the pro-civilization position I guess nothing will. In any case, cheer up! We are a young species and our adventures in the cosmos have just begun. A still more glorious dawn awaits!

    http://seanstrange.blogspot.com/2011/01/still-more-glorious-dawn-awaits.html

  • Sean.

    You have a very strange perspective. The vast majority of people who post on NBL (and Guy himself of course) are well informed and compassionate. We recognise that civilisation – particularly the nasty form of civilisatioon that we are currrently enduring, but probably all civilisation- is the problem, not the solution. Civilisation is causing not just ‘suicide’ of the human species but omnicide on a scale never witnessed on this planet.

    The ongoing climate catastrophes (Brazil now folows on from Australia) should bring an end to industrial fundamentalism and technofundamentalism. But they won’t.

  • Kevin, like you I cannot mourn the end of civilization, especially this one. How exactly the civilization end times will play out is unknown. The interface between reaching the limits of a variety of valuable resources and climate change will certainly play out in uncertain ways.

    “Recent reports from Australia say that mines accounting for roughly 40 percent of the world’s coking coal have been shut down by the flooding and it may be several months before production is back to normal. Australian steam coal production is also affected and the problem is exacerbated by the same rains hitting nearby Indonesian mines slowing coal production there. With much of Asia’s coking coal supply shut-in, prices for coal and steel are going to increase rapidly. With imports severely restricted for the next several months some Chinese steel mills may be forced to shut down and imported steam coal shortages are likely to result in more reductions in China’s power generation. Some are already saying that this situation could add to inflationary pressures and that shortages could markedly slow China’s economic growth this winter.”
    http://www.postcarbon.org/article/220611-the-queensland-flood-is-coming-to

    I sure wasn’t expecting a flood in Australia to heavily impact Chinese growth but there you have it. I have not thought it likely that global warming would be limited by peak oil, although I have hoped it would. But perhaps the climate chaos will shut down civilization before we burn every hydrocarbon we can get our hands on.

  • Kathy,

    My personal opinion is that virtually every model run on climate change has produced results that are far more optimistic than the results on the ground. I think we have passed multiple tipping points already and thus have locked ourselves into major climate instability for the next thousand years. We can make it worse. We can continue to spew co2 into the air until we use up all the fossil fuels we can afford. Or we can minimise the effects by a rapid collapse of industrial civilisation. The later is preferred for the sake of the flora and fauna of the earth, but the latter is quite frankly, the most likely case.

  • Kevin,

    I can’t see that there exists any form of civilisation that is favourable to a sustainable and bio-diverse global environment. Whilst a natural development of a growing human population in its need to survive and thrive, civilisation by definition can only be considered a cancer on the earth in need of surgical removal.

  • this is completely off topic, a momentary respite from the gloom. there are some very smart people here; perhaps someone may respond with an interesting explanation to this phenomenon:

    i’m sure i’ve noticed this in the past, but never commented on it to anyone in my recollection. that is, this time of year, when it’s so cold and frost forms on my outside windows, it forms in astounding patterns which appear uncannily similar to some kind of exotic vegetation, ferns perhaps, branching out from the bottom in beautiful patterns. the branches are segmented, with furry outlines and terminals. these are plain glass window panes, with no discernible patterns in the glass at other times. no doubt these patterns which emerge from the ice formation are due to some natural phenomenon, perhaps invisible imperfections in the glass due to the formation process, and manifest elsewhere. i just thought it worthy of a 10 minute composition, and a 10 second read on your end. nature is surreal in so many ways we take for granted and often overlook.

  • Terry, you would be noticing fractals
    “A fractal is “a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole,”[1] a property called self-similarity. Roots of mathematically rigorous treatment of fractals can be traced back to functions studied by Karl Weierstrass, Georg Cantor and Felix Hausdorff in studying functions that were continuous but not differentiable; however, the term fractal was coined by Benoît Mandelbrot in 1975 and was derived from the Latin fractus meaning “broken” or “fractured.” A mathematical fractal is based on an equation that undergoes iteration, a form of feedback based on recursion.[2]”
    see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fractal
    At the link above is a frost fractal – ferns and other natural shapes are considered fractals

    Mandelbrot who coined the name has a particular set – The Mandelbrot set (of course) which interestingly enough produces a figure that looks like the Buddah on its side. 🙂
    see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandelbrot_set

    for more fractals in nature see http://www.miqel.com/fractals_math_patterns/visual-math-natural-fractals.html

    Some fractals look like paisley’s (once a fashion must see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paisley_(design) Ah how I remember paisley)
    And lots of artists are doing fractal art – bunch of it at
    http://www.google.com/images?rlz=1C1RNNN_enUS359US380&q=fractal+art&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=univ&ei=tE8vTYyLAsL78Aat34GZCQ&sa=X&oi=image_result_group&ct=title&resnum=1&ved=0CCoQsAQwAA&biw=1440&bih=787

    Fascinating – I could google all day on fractals. Perhaps paisley’s and the buddah figure appeal to us because they remind us of natural fractals.

  • Victor, trying to “out doom” me eh? 🙂 I agree with you, but every once in a while I hope I am wrong, that we are not already into positive feedback in the climate and that a quickly collapsing economy might still cut short our ability to pull everything down with us. One estimate is that we are losing 27,000 species a year – or over 70 a day. We don’t even know which we can do without and that question would never cross the minds of most people. For sure we can’t do without the phytoplankton as they make up 1/2 the oxygen in the atmosphere. How many people in the world are worrying about phytoplankton or even know what they are? Such big brains, such little good sense.

  • As usual, I’m a little slow on the posting. 🙂

    Kathy, wonderful essay. I appreciate your observations about living and dying. How sad that they made your friend continue with a feeding tube even though he didn’t want that.

    It has been my observation that an awful lot of people are unwilling to accept the impending death of a loved one. Many times it seems that it is out of a sense of guilt – probably as many reasons and sources of that guilt as there are people. It can be a very difficult time, not just for the family, but also for healthcare providers who may have become very attached to a patient yet are able to be objective and know that the time to let go has arrived. Sometimes, you become the evil doctor to at least some members of the family.

    As to the burial portion of your essay. There was an excellent article in the New York Times last year about natural burial. Very insightful. My elderly parents read it and now they both want to be buried on my property without any type of coffin or embalming. And they don’t want a funeral home involved – just lay them out in the living room for the viewing and then put them in the grave out back. I’m not sure my sisters will approve, but I suspect that they will honor my parents wishes. Fortunately, here in Arkansas, it’s not illegal to do such a thing.

    Sean, for many years I was an ardent evangelist for the expansion of human beings to places beyond our planet. I know now that is not going to happen in my lifetime, if at all. I wish dearly that I could be one of the ones to walk on a planet other than our own but the amount of energy that would take using current technology is simply not going to be available.

    I’m not convinced that human beings will become extinct but we are going to change – drastically. We are going to experience the effects of overshoot in a very big way. I wish it weren’t so, but it certainly seems inevitable at this point. No amount of wishing on my part is going to change that.

    But if we do become extinct, we have every reason to believe that some other species will arise to replace us. Personally, I don’t share your assessment that the universe is devoid of other intelligent life – just because we haven’t detected it doesn’t prove a thing other than our own propensity toward being self-absorbed and self-important.

  • Terry.

    There is no good explanation I know of that explains why ice crystals sometimes look like ferns. The chemistry of water is extraordinary, largely due to what are called hydrogen bonds -relatively weak bonds between the oxygen atoms of one molecule and the hydrogen atom of another, which account for the high melting point and high boiling point of water (considering its very low molecular mass). Molecules fit together into lattices that provide maximum bond formation.

    This crystal lattice formation accounts for the lower density of ice compared to water. That is an absolutely critical chemical factor in the habitability of the planet because if ice were denser than water it would form on the bottom of lakes and would provide no insulation, allowing lakes to freeze solid, thereby killing everything. Hydrogen bonds also account for the formation of rain and mist.

    One could interpret the values of fundamental constants and the perfect combination of physical and chemical properties of elements as evidence for God if one wanted to. Everything has ‘just the right value’ to allow the plethora of life that exists on this planet.

    Kathy.

    Yes, there will be temporary setback to industrial production, but nothing more. The Australian economy is utterly dependent on digging up the place and hauling it away as fast as possible; therefore the Australian government will throw as much money and energy as is required to get fossil fuel exports back on track. The irony is, of course, that all the energy required to carry out the cleanup will result in additional emissions that will increase the likelihood of further weather-related catastrophes.

    What I have found fascinating is the outrage generated when one suggests that the weather-related catastophes we have been witnessing are connected to our lifestyle: I have been subjested to the usual abuse for daring to suggest such a thing on another forum.

    As long as were are governed by sociopaths who are elected by uninformed morons there really is no hope. And how can that situation possibly be turned around? It cannot. The sociapaths control the bulk of the media to ensure that only sociopaths are elected.

    A large portion of the world population has already been infected with industrial fundamentalism and I suspect the numbers are growing spectacularly in Asia.

    I think the best we can do is to pull a few of the more intelligent people around us ‘off the railway track before the train hits them’.

    If we are looking for hope longer term, all I can say is we are in uncharted territory with respect to environmetal collapse: Gaia may have some trick up her sleeve that we don’t yet recognise.

  • Victor.

    Just picked this up:

    “I think people will end up concluding that at least some of the intensity of the monsoon in Queensland can be attributed to climate change,” said Matthew England of the Climate Change Research Center at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

    “The waters off Australia are the warmest ever measured and those waters provide moisture to the atmosphere for the Queensland and northern Australia monsoon,” he told Reuters.’

    Yes, we have experienced a series of ‘warmest ever’ data and climate catastrophes that relate to those ‘warmest evers’, in line with your contention that crucial tipping points have been passed (and I’m inclined to agree).

    As previously discussed, there is no transmission of the dire scenarios that follow to the ignorant masses: bad for business. One has to wonder how much longer this can continue before the ignorant masses finally start to notice something is wrong. 🙂

    I recently read that following his successful campaign in Italy, Napoleon said: “the greatest conquests are those made against ignorance.”

    On the other hand Einstein said that the difference between genuius and stupidity was that genius had limits.

  • Kathy, thanks for sharing your hard-earned observations on death, life, and cycles between! I’m going to share this article with my partner, who worries a lot about the death piece of all this…

    Bob, you wrote:

    “The single greatest service each of us can provide to our planet, our famlies and ourselves, is to grow our own organic food from non-hybrid seeds. To save our own seed in turn, and in so doing be part of the future solution to the present day destruction.”

    I agree that growing our own food from self-renewing propagation material makes a lot of sense and benefits our families and ourselves. But I disagree that it provides any real service to our planet. It perhaps decreases the damage we would inflict by buying food or seed from commercial sources, but *not* causing damage is not the same as actually *helping* our landbase. And we’d do well, as we move into chaotic times, to keep in mind that organic agriculture using self-saved seeds destroyed large swaths of the planet prior to industrial agriculture. We should think carefully about subsistence methods, looking beyond agriculture and annual gardening, and considering methods of horticulture, planting of edible forests, and large-scale hunting & gathering which actually *do* benefit our landbase, rather than just decreasing our negative impact.

    Sorry to nitpick, but I think readers of this blog are in a good position to pay attention to these details as we all move forward on our paths of preparation and adaptation.

    Oh, and if I had to nominate something as providing the greatest service to our planet and our families, I’d put forth “end civilization” — see Derrick Jensen’s many writings for elaboration of the importance of bringing it down to stop the wholesale destruction threatening all of us.

  • Norris.

    Some valid points and some I disagree with. The concept of food forests is spot on. Unfortunately we have run out of time for such an undertaking, which was promoted vigorously by Bill Mollison nearly 30 years ago, to little effect.

    I began planting fruit trees and shrubs long before I’d ever heard of Bill Mollison, and began on my present property over 4 years ago; I am still waiting for any significant production from most of my trees. Another three or four years may do it. The planetary crisis has been underway for quite a while and is moving into a critical phase right now.

    I should also comment that extreme weather, in conjunction with lack of bees, severely knocked back this year’s production compared to last year’s for many varieties.

    I could contend that I have ‘been of service to our planet’ by increasing the diversity of species living in my garden and by improving the soil quality, but that is a rather thin argument. The best service any of us could do would be to die immediately: taking our own lives and those of our progeny contravenes somnething like 600 million years of evolutionary programming and isn’t going to happen (unless/until we reach an ‘On the Beach’ moment).

    With 97% of the forests gone in most countries and population up around 20-fold, how do you imagine ‘large-scale hunting & gathering which actually *do* benefit our landbase’ can be remotely possible? Or are you thinking in terms of after the die-off, when perhaps 99% of the population has ‘vanished’.

    Most of us are familiar with Derrick Jensen’s fine contributions over recent years. Again we might ask if it is too late: Robert Atack recently suggested that civilisation is doing a better job at bringing down civilisation than any of us could. If we attempt to bring down civilisation we risk the wrath of the empire, incarceration or death. When the CEOs of corporations work to bring down civilisation [via destruction of all the factors that make civilisation possible] they get huge bonuses.

    Odd how it works.

  • “One estimate is that we are losing 27,000 species a year – or over 70 a day. We don’t even know which we can do without and that question would never cross the minds of most people. For sure we can’t do without the phytoplankton as they make up 1/2 the oxygen in the atmosphere. How many people in the world are worrying about phytoplankton or even know what they are? Such big brains, such little good sense.” -kathy

    recently i came across a dead animal in the street where i live. i was relieved to discover it wasn’t a neighbor’s cat. it was a dead wild rabbit. thinking about that, and my reaction, makes me realize how culturally conditioned i am (and assume many of u probably are too) to view ‘wildlife’ as less valuable than domesticated animals like ‘livestock’ and pets. yet, for all i know untamed animals like that rabbit live better, more fulfilling lives, or at least lives which are as valuable to them as ours are to us. we take for granted the indiscriminate slaughter of wildlife as an inconsequential consequence of civilized ‘progress’; the daily slaughter of wild animals on our highways is but one very visible manifestation of this. imo, valuing life must and should entail valuing all life, which isn’t to say i’m against swatting biting insects and other beasts inclined upon making a living at our expense. i’m just saying any culture or individual (including me, because i certainly don’t care as much as i think i ought to) which cavalierly and casually participates in slaughter as an unavoidable consequence of enjoying all the amenities of modern civilization, like high speed fossil fueled propulsion, can’t say it values life very much, at least not wildlife.

    kathy’s most important point relative to human survival is well made. big brains, little sense, indeed! idiot-savants! the signs of our demise scream at us, but to most idiot savants, scientific knowledge in any detail fails to register. even highly creative and intelligent people including exceptional geniuses or highly gifted people it seems usually have a ‘blind spot’ when it comes to the consequences of population overshoot, resource depletion, agw, etc.

    i have a huge spiritual blind spot in cavalier acceptance of seemingly inescapable tragedy for my descendents. alienation is not good, but seems unavoidable. i think alienation makes it a lot easier to accept their demise, which is shameful. shame is spiritual poison which plays a huge role i suspect in losing some crucial desire to survive, making premature death, even suicide, more palatable. anyway, i know i’d care more if i knew for sure that collapse would bring tragic suffering and premature death to me. because i (perhaps delusionally) expect to escape such fate, at least for the decade to come (again, surreal lack of concern for the longer term future plays a role), and because i shamefully cavalierly accept that our children and future generations will probably not be so fortunate. i’m remarkably and horribly selfish in this respect. perhaps some of u are too. perhaps it’s too fucking horrible to not be so selfish, to experience eternal anguish/horror at the surreal prospect of extinction and owning a small piece of responsibility for it.

    “It has been my observation that an awful lot of people are unwilling to accept the impending death of a loved one. Many times it seems that it is out of a sense of guilt – probably as many reasons and sources of that guilt as there are people. It can be a very difficult time, not just for the family, but also for healthcare providers who may have become very attached to a patient yet are able to be objective and know that the time to let go has arrived. Sometimes, you become the evil doctor to at least some members of the family.” -the real dr. house

    i just happen to currently be reading a book about dr. michael swango, a notorious serial killer who apparently gets a thrill out of poisoning people. it’s title is ‘blind eye’, because it’s also about a medical establishment that’s very corrupt, greedy, and inclined to corporate criminality, which in this case allowed thus homicidal lunatic to get away with serial murder for years by essentially covering up his initial kills as a young hospital intern. anyway, from my limited and perhaps biased view, medical doctors are not far from lawyers when it comes to greed and arrogance. i’m sure there are many individual exceptions to this stereotype, but at least as far as the medical establishment goes, like the ama, they take a backseat to no one for perverse myopic greed and self interest. society would be much better served if such institutions didn’t exist. i fear that a frightfully large fraction of doctors are in it for the money, not out of compassion or any other apparent virtuous impulse. i fear many doctors surreally don’t give a damn about their patients. it’s refreshing to hear from one who apparently does.

    “One could interpret the values of fundamental constants and the perfect combination of physical and chemical properties of elements as evidence for God if one wanted to. Everything has ‘just the right value’ to allow the plethora of life that exists on this planet.” -kevin

    i suspect u brightened sue day’s day with that comment, kevin. mine too.

    “If we are looking for hope longer term, all I can say is we are in uncharted territory with respect to environmetal collapse: Gaia may have some trick up her sleeve that we don’t yet recognise.”- kevin

    i probably derive my greatest hope for the future from the knowledge that scientific knowledge and opinion are subject to radical change. right now it appears very bleak, but hope is eternal.

    “On the other hand Einstein said that the difference between genuius and stupidity was that genius had limits.”-kevin

    thank gaia for humor, for without it, all we’d have is tears.

    there are too many worthy comments here to respond to all. thanks to all

  • “Most of us are familiar with Derrick Jensen’s fine contributions over recent years. Again we might ask if it is too late: Robert Atack recently suggested that civilisation is doing a better job at bringing down civilisation than any of us could. If we attempt to bring down civilisation we risk the wrath of the empire, incarceration or death. When the CEOs of corporations work to bring down civilisation [via destruction of all the factors that make civilisation possible] they get huge bonuses.

    Odd how it works.” -kevin

    surreal.

  • Kevin, this is what happened … you wrote Sean and I read Sarah and read your post as though it was in response to me. Apparently I needed that because I realized that I have been trying to find comfort in what I see happening by trying to couch events in terms of ‘this has happened before’ or something along those lines only now on a larger scale. While there may be some truth there the main point is as you put it “Civilisation is causing not just ‘suicide’ of the human species but omnicide on a scale never witnessed on this planet.”

    Sean, consider the contemplation of the larger universe as an answer/solution to what we have done here as a possible attempt at comfort … for looking our situation straight in the eyes is terrifying and yet necessary.

    Ed, I got to the part in “The way of the Human Being” when Martin brings in physics … wasn’t expecting that – delightful.

  • [Terry]” “One could interpret the values of fundamental constants and the perfect combination of physical and chemical properties of elements as evidence for God if one wanted to. Everything has ‘just the right value’ to allow the plethora of life that exists on this planet.” -kevin

    i suspect u brightened sue day’s day with that comment, kevin. mine too.”

    If a god is responsible for creating the “just right values” for life that evolves into human life, then that only proves the existence of a very mean or very irresponsible god – how could god let us, the result of those right values, drop napalm or trash the gulf – to so mar his creation? Power over the fundamental physical constants but unable to stop the omnicide of that plethora of life that arose in that universe. Hardly a thought that brightens my day. 🙂

    Rather I think we are in a universe that is one of many (simultaneously or over time). The fact that we need those values to exist means we find ourselves on one of many that has those particular values. That view makes us pretty small an insignificant eh? Which we are on a large scale. Even if we totally trash this planet, blow it up, become totally extinct it will be no big deal in the context of the billions of stars and planets. We think we are a big deal, so we think our planet is a big deal. When you fly in a plane, humans, even houses become nothing and we are less than that nothing in the universe. This is perhaps the even bigger fear than the fear of death. The fear that our lives don’t matter.

    I think mattering can (best? only?) be found in our daily lives. It matters to us whether we are hungry, cold, sated, comfortable and it matters to others how we treat them. If climate change is now truly out of our hands then mattering cannot be found in “saving the planet” and can only be within ourselves and with others. No big matters to solve, just the matters of the day.

  • What a treat to wake up and find a bunch of new comments on NBL.

    Sarah: Einstein’s Beaver was my favorite chapter.

    Norris: I’m with you on the forest ag, we are trying to transition our open pasture land to “something”. The problem as Kevin points out is that it takes forever to get the upper levels to produce. Very few people have made this work particularly in the colder climates. For the present we will mix annuals in with the perennials.

    On the comments about heirloom seeds. We are very worried about what the food modernization act 510 is going to do to the availability of these seeds in the future. Difficult to find anything definitive on this specific area of the bill. It sounds like if you don’t have a million dollar processing facility you aren’t going to be able to sell seed. Anyone know more about this.

    Ed

  • Denial story of the week 😉
    “Big Investors Bet on Sloth-Like Consumers
    BOSTON (TheStreet) — You can’t underestimate lazy people’s desire to take more of the “work” out of living.

    Products such as $450 self-directed vacuum cleaners and $35 electric-powered jar openers are truly for the slothful among us. But the makers of such devices are on a list of companies that have bright futures as long as the economy continues to recover and consumers loosen the purse strings.”
    http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Big-Investors-Bet-on-tsmf-4225194778.html;_ylt=AmyJF6r2A1gSiAY12JGSVhq7YWsA;_ylu=X3oDMTE1aDFlaGsxBHBvcwM1BHNlYwN0b3BTdG9yaWVzBHNsawNiaWdpbnZlc3RvcnM-?x=0&sec=topStories&pos=2&asset=&ccode=

  • Kathy.

    ‘If a god is responsible for creating the “just right values” for life that evolves into human life, then that only proves the existence of a very mean or very irresponsible god – how could god let us, the result of those right values, drop napalm or trash the gulf – to so mar his creation?’

    I have thought that myself. How come god allows innocent people to be tortured to death whilst allowing their torurers to prosper?

    I don’t have any answers and none of it makes sense to me, but Christians would say God gave us free will to disobey his commandments, i.e. to disobey the injunction be good custodians of the Earth, to follow the Devil etc. Some would say we are born with sin within us because we have the capacity to do wrong, and we have to renounce the willingness to do wrong in order to be saved.

    Obviously humans have been thinking about these issues for many millenia, absent of knowledge of the Big Bang and 3 billion years of evolution.

    How about a non-interventionist god who sets the thing in motion and then sits back and watches it unfold, whatever the outcome? That theory does not fit well with the Jesus story, which is supposedly fundamental to Christianity.

    One aspect does fit Biblical interpetation: we are in an early stage of some kind of ‘end times’.

    Record sea temperatures drive record rains for Australia
    12. Jan, 2011 | Tags: Australia, climate change impact, heavy precipitation events, SST

    Sea surface temperatures in the Australian region during 2010 were +0.54 °C above the 1961 to 1990 average. This is the warmest value on record for the Australian region. Individual high monthly sea surface temperature records were also set during 2010 in March, April, June, September, October, November and December. Along with favourable hemispheric circulation associated with the 2010 La Niña, very warm sea surface temperatures contributed to the record rainfall and very high humidity across eastern Australia during winter and spring. The most recent decade (2001−2010) was also the warmest decade on record for sea surface temperatures following the pattern observed over land.

  • All of you really are an inspiration to me. Thank you. The global challenge before us is immense. That mere fact, however, does not relieve us of our responsibilities as elders. After all, what we see happening is occurring now here. Even though I am embarrassed by the realization that a challenge so obvious, so evident, so colossal and so very much human-induced has occurred on our watch, there can be no excuse given, no logic contrived, no false promises made, no “primrose path” taken that can forgive our willful blindness, our hysterical deafness, our elective mutism. Our generation has responsibilities to science and duties to humanity that are being left unattended. We are simply shrinking from the tasks at hand by playing the role of Nero, who fiddled while ‘his home’ burned. To have taken so much from this world, as my generation has done, and to be ready and willing to leave so little to its children, come what may for coming generations, that my friends is beyond the pale.

    Our silence is pernicious because it is not helpful to anyone except to those self-proclaimed masters of the universe among us whose arrogance, foolhardiness and unbridled greed we, yes we, have allowed to gain control of and come to rule the world in our time.

    Perhaps necessary change is in the offing.

  • The cauldron is coming to the boil:

    Prepare for fuel shortages: union warns of blockades

    By Jonathan Brown

    Saturday, 15 January 2011

    Anger over soaring fuel costs and industrial action by tanker drivers threaten to bring widescale disruption to supplies of petrol next month.

    Yesterday the Unite union said it was balloting its members on possible strike action which could hit deliveries to supermarkets and petrol stations by its 3,000 drivers because of what it described as the “constant attack” on their conditions by employers.

    Meanwhile, Andrew Spence, spokesman for the People’s Fuel Lobby, once again evoked the spectre of the 2001 protests which saw oil terminals blockaded and petrol pumps run dry. Mr Spence said meetings had been held and that the protests would be “activated within three weeks”.

    He said: “I would say there is almost a one million per cent chance of it happening. There are a lot of contractors, associations and unions who have had enough. If they come on board it is going to be a national strike.” He said the protests could include rolling road blocks and blockades.

    It puts further pressure on David Cameron, who has indicated his support for a stabiliser mechanism which would see taxes on fuel fall as prices rise. Motorists are demanding action in the Budget in March.

    The cost of filling an average family car now stands at £60-£70. While the price of unleaded stood at around 85p in 2001, sparking the wave of fuel strikes, today they are more than half as much again with unleaded costing up to 135p a litre and diesel 140p. Driving groups argue that Britain has the cheapest fuel in Europe before the addition of taxes which account for two-thirds of the price paid at the pump. Hugh Bladon, a co-founder of the Association of British Drivers accused Mr Cameron of reneging on his promise to implement the price stabiliser. “We would support anyone who makes a proper protest about the price of fuel. It has gone through the roof and is due to go up again in April. It is grossly unfair on an awful lot of people.”

    Fuel supplies are particularly vulnerable to relatively minor changes in consumers’ purchasing habits such as drivers filling their tank to the top. A spokesman for the UK Petrol Industry Association said: “In previous disputes the biggest risk is not the action itself, it is people not sticking to their normal refilling routine.”

    Kate Gibbs, of the Road Haulage Association warned that every penny on diesel cost firms £600 per vehicle. “If the price of fuel continues to rise you will see the costs passed on and the buck stops when we buy our bread and milk. It will come to the point where customers will say I am not paying any more.”

    Len McCluskey, Unite’s new leader, said profits within the petroleum industry were “astronomical”. He said: “Tanker drivers play a crucial role, but their industry which is worth billions is content to attack the drivers’ pay, pensions and conditions.”

    Showing 1 comments

    The message that global oil extraction peaked in 2005/6, that we are on the way down, and that current economic arrangements have no future still has not penetrated the collective consciousness.

    Nor has the concept that everything, including the industrialised food supply, is dependent on cheap oil penetrated many people’s brains.

    Another message that has not sunk in is that climate chaos is disrupting food production worldwide.

    The totally taboo topic is that there are far more people living on this planet than it can sustainably support, and as industrialised agriculture collapses it will get very grim for most people.

    The most important message of all, that governments around the world have been repeatedly warned about all this since the 1950s but for decades have chosen to promote policies that made everything worse, is still completely off the radar for most people.

    People at the bottom have an unjustified and unfulfillable sense of entitlement. People at the top are looting the till as fast as they can.

    This can only end very badly.

  • [Kevin] “‘If a god is responsible for creating the “just right values” for life that evolves into human life, then that only proves the existence of a very mean or very irresponsible god – how could god let us, the result of those right values, drop napalm or trash the gulf – to so mar his creation?’I have thought that myself. How come god allows innocent people to be tortured to death whilst allowing their torurers to prosper? I don’t have any answers and none of it makes sense to me, but Christians would say God gave us free will to disobey his commandments, i.e. to disobey the injunction be good custodians of the Earth, to follow the Devil etc….How about a non-interventionist god who sets the thing in motion and then sits back and watches it unfold, whatever the outcome? ”

    A non-interventionist god would be irrelevant. An interventionist god that doesn’t stop atrocities would be evil. Free will is not inconsistent with intervention. A good parent offers children choices within limits by keeping dangerous things out of reach or locked up. They offer apple or orange, not apple, orange, whiskey, or rat poison. A society allows some free will, but locks up murderers and the criminally insane for the protection of the rest of society, drastically limiting the arena in which their will can operate. Laws are written that limit us and most accept those limits such as stop and look before proceeding at the stop sign. Those who don’t are fined, loose their license and in cases of great harm locked up. A good god would not let children be sold into sex slavery, which limits their free will, for the sake of letting the seller have his free will. What do we think about the parent who does that? The parent is deemed evil, why not the god who fails to intervene? A good parent would remove their fine china from the realm of their young children’s free will, a good god would have removed the power of the atom from his human children’s realm of free will. A good god would not have let us discover fossil fuels and lay waste to this big beautiful ball in the sky.

    Free will is the excuse that religionists use to justify their idea of a powerful, interventionist good god, to excuse that god from responsibility for the evil that goes on in this world. Such a god would be considered a bad or evil parent if that god was a human parent.

    While a non-interventionist god solves the problem of just the right constants and an evil world, it doesn’t solve anything for then, as has been noted for millenniums, you have to figure out whence came that just right god with the just right powers to create the just right constants. In other words positing that god is a way of saying we don’t know yet.

    Scientists are making headway on the evolutionary basis for morals. To say, as some religionists do, that morals are uniquely human is to follow the path of those who thought tool making or language are uniquely human. Morals would be proven to be part of our evolutionary history if it weren’t for the fact that we are about to crash. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1187047/Animals-tell-right-wrong-Scientists-suggest-just-humans-morals.html

    OH well….

  • Kathy.

    Everything you say makes perfect sense.

    I have raised similar points in the various debates I have had with people who call themselves Christians over the years and got no logical answers. Coincidentally I encountered a couple of ‘missionaries’ yesterday who found the arguments I presented too difficult, particularly when I pointed out that the high standard of living of western Christians was as a direct consequnece of theft of resources from, and exploitation of, people in Africa and Asia etc. and was destroying [the habitability of] the planet, in direct contravention of instructions.

    A friend of mine says that god will allow humans to go only so far in their destruction of the planet and then intervene, but that intervention will be after an apocalyptic die-off, as per ‘end times’. In other words there is no point in trying to fight off end times, because they are inevitable, but we should prepare for them. I have to say that scenario makes little sense to me either, but it makes more sense that people being raptured into heaven before things get nasty, which many Christians apparently believe will happen.