The Absurdity of Authenticity

I’m often accused — or credited, depending on one’s perspective — of leading an authentic life. As nearly as I can tell, the accusation or accolade refers to the following definition from Merriam and Webster: true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.

Fundamentally, aren’t we all true to our personality, spirit, and character? How could we act otherwise, in the absence of multiple personalities? I have concluded that we’ve been captured by the culture in which we’re immersed. We are unable to escape without killing ourselves, yet the culture is killing us.

We’re six millennia into the culture of Abrahamic religions. We’re more than two millennia into western civilization and the six questions of Socrates: (1) What is good? (2) What is piety? (3) What is virtue? (4) What is courage? (5) What is moderation? (6) What is justice? Furthermore, every person reading these words is a product of an industrial civilization that depends upon expansive use of fossil fuels.
Is this the only way to live? Is this the best way to live? Do our hyper-connected, high-tech lives lead us along paths of excellence, in the spirit of Socrates?

This culture is steeped in patriarchy and depends upon violence for its continuation. Is it safe to assume this culture is the ultimate expression of our humanity? Is it safe to assume that this culture is the best we can do simply because this culture is the only one we have known? Is it safe to assume there is no other way beyond the hierarchical omnicide we’ve come to depend upon for money, water, food, and personal identity?

Questioning this culture and its underlying assumptions follows the model promoted and popularized by Socrates. Answering these questions requires one to step outside the normalcy bias and profound enculturation of the way we live. Asking challenging questions, much less answering them, requires enormous courage when the questions themselves refuse to validate, much less approve, this irredeemably corrupt system.

I do not claim to know the answers to these questions. I’m not certain they have answers independent of the person pondering them and his or her personal experiences. I nonetheless believe it is important to ask the questions and develop personal responses to them. As a result, I will tackle these and related questions in this chapter. For the most part, culture discourages us from asking, much less answering, most of these questions.

Questions, questions, and more questions

Throughout our lives, we spend considerable time seeking feedback from people and institutions, but the feedback we seek generally falls within a small subset of important issues. Furthermore, I question the wisdom of seeking validation, much less approval, within the realm of an irredeemably corrupt system.

Some of us seek to conduct meaningful lives. However, the universe imposes upon us a meaningless existence. There is no meaning beyond the meaning(s) we create. In attempting to create meaning, which often involves attempts to outrun our mortality, we generate distractions. We occasionally call them objectives, goals, or acts of service to others. And the result is our legacy.

Yet it’s too late to leave a better world for future generations of humans. The concept of leaving a legacy becomes moot when staring into the abyss of near-term human extinction. What, then, is the point? Are we, in the words of English poet Frances Cornford, “magnificently unprepared for the long littleness of life”?

As we seek feedback about the conduct of our lives, we simultaneously seek distractions. The distractions include the movies we watch, the books we read, the trips we take, the discussions in which we engage. The line blurs between distractions and authentic work until we are defined by the combination. The totality becomes who we are. The nature of our distractions is what makes us human, in the sense of differentiating us from other primates. Non-human primates don’t read books, much less discuss them. Such distractions do not enable our survival and in that sense are not “necessities” (cf. food, water, shelter). However, they are not necessarily “luxuries,” either. Apparently there are shades of existential gray.

Shades of gray

Shades of existential gray are evident in our pursuit of meaningful lives. How do we differentiate between necessity and luxury? How do we distinguish what we want from what we need? And are these distinctions important?

When I began the ongoing process of walking away from the omnicide of industrial civilization, I felt I had no choice. My inner voice overrode outer culture. I have subsequently come to realize that most people born into this set of living arrangements are literally and figuratively incapable of making a similar choice. Distinguishing between needs and wants, between necessity and luxury, is hardly clear.

Occasionally we turn to wise elders in our attempts infuse our lives with meaning. Kurt Vonnegut often wrote, in response to the question about meaning, that we’re here to fart around. His son Mark, between the loony bin and Harvard Medical School, responded to the question, “Why are we here?” with the following comment: “We are here to help each other through this, whatever this is.”

I love Mark Vonnegut’s response, but it fails to acknowledge that service to others is important and it’s a trap. Service to others is no longer virtuous when the entrapment includes self-inflicted harm (including emotional or psychological suffering).

As the Buddha pointed out more than two millennia ago, life is suffering. Do we have an obligation to minimize suffering? Does that obligation extend to our individual selves, as well as to other humans? Does it extend to non-human species?

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer famously defined happiness as the alleviation of suffering, implying a temporary condition. The pursuit of happiness — from Schopenhauer’s perspective, the alleviation of suffering — is a right guaranteed by the founding document of the United States, but I’ve no idea why it’s guaranteed or if it stops at the alleviation of suffering. If the alleviation of suffering qualifies as happiness, then it seems wearing shoes that are two sizes too small is a great strategy for producing happiness, if only at the end of the day when the shoes are removed from one’s feet.

If happiness goes beyond the alleviation of suffering, perhaps it includes joy. But the notion of such an idea drags into the discussion the notion of documentation, hence measurement. How do we measure joy? Is it the same as the bliss produced by ignorance? How do we know when we’ve stumbled upon it? And if joy is meritorious, even at the expense of suffering by another, how to we balance the existential books?

Consider, for example, a single example for the Abrahamic religions (aka patriarchy): marriage. Do we have an obligation to minimize the pain when a monogamous relationship become personally painful, or even a matter of indifference (i.e., lacking daily joy)? Contemporary culture suggests we muddle through, in sickness and health, until death. And then, the ultimate personal endpoint solves the problem of suffering.

The cost of happiness

If happiness is a goal, and if that happiness extends beyond the mere alleviation of suffering, how to we evaluate happiness? If our own happiness comes at the expense of another, how do we justify our gain? Equally importantly, but rarely considered, is the converse question: If our suffering brings happiness to another, how do we justify the personal pain? Is our own suffering less important than that of another?

How do we minimize suffering? Is such a quest restricted to humans, or are other organisms included? What is the temporal frame of the quest? Does it extend beyond the moment, perhaps to months or years? Does it extend beyond the personal to include other individuals?

We could minimize suffering to humans and other animals by playing solitaire in the woods. But even that seemingly humble act takes life. Tacking on the seemingly simple acquisition of water, food, clothing, and shelter for a single human being in the industrialized world brings horrific suffering to humans and other animals. Attending to the needs of the 7.1 billion humans currently inhabiting Earth comes at tremendous cost to the water, soils, and non-human species on the planet. Contemplating the desires of an increasing number of people on an overpopulated globe is enough to drive a thinking person to despair.

There is nothing inherently wrong with pleasure, yet the Greek word for “pleasure” forms the root of the English word “hedonism.” According to my pals Merriam and Webster, hedonism propounds that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life. When stated in this manner, pleasure seems to have taken a step too far. But drawing the line between personal pleasure and hedonism is no mean feat. Less often considered is the line we draw between personal suffering and the attendant happiness of others.

But, lest we take that step too far, we should remember that the idea of hedonism some 2,500 years ago when Socrates was haunting the Mediterranean region was a bit different than the idea today. Back then, humans comprised a tiny drop in the large bucket known as Earth. The quest for personal pleasure and happiness at that time would have essentially zero impact on the natural world relative to the impact of today’s quest for gratification by 7.1 billion people on an this ever-shrinking and -depleted orb.

When my happiness requires the suffering of another, is my happiness warranted? When the pleasure of another requires my suffering, is the suffering warranted? Does failing to contemplate questions about our needs and desires commit us to nihilism? Does living within the Age of Industry, hence participating in untold horrors to humans and other organisms, violate the Socratic notion of good?

What about empire?

American Empire is merely the most lethal manifestation of industrial civilization, hence any civilization. Because this culture is inextricably interconnected with this civilization, I have concluded that contemporary culture is worthy of our individual and collective condemnation. Walking away from empire is necessary but insufficient to terminate this horrific culture.

As nearly as I can determine, maintaining American Empire — or any empire, for that matter — requires three fundamental elements: obedience at home, oppression abroad, and destruction of the living planet. Unpacking these three attributes seems a worthy exercise, even acknowledging Voltaire’s observation: “It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.”

Obedience at home means capitulating to culture and the government. It means abandoning a culture of resistance in favor of the nanny state. It means allowing the government to control the people instead of the other way around. It means giving up responsibility for oneself and one’s neighbors and expecting the government to deal with all issues. Considering the excellent record of the government in transferring wealth from the poor to the rich while promoting an economy rooted in war, I’ve no idea why the people with whom I interact are fans of this government.

Oppression abroad is obvious to anybody paying attention to American foreign policy during the last hundred years. The government of the United States of Absurdity extracts taxes from the citizenry to build the most lethal killing force in the history of the world. This military, supported by cultural messages and therefore most of the consumer-oriented citizenry, is then used to extract materials such as fossil fuels from other countries. The resulting “riches” enjoyed by Americans serve to pacify the masses, embolden the government, and enrich the corporations that exert strong influence over both the media and the government.

Destruction of the living planet is imperative if we are to support seven billion people on the planet, many of whom want “their” baubles. Are we not entitled to transport ourselves around the world, dine at fancy restaurants for a few hours’ work at minimum wage, entertain ourselves with music and movies, and all the rest on an essentially limitless list? Where do the materials originate for each of these endeavors? Are we so filled with hubris that we believe driving dozens of species to extinction every day is our right? Do we lack the humility — and even the conscience — to treat non-human species with respect?

Each of these three broad elements serves a subset of humans at the expense of others. Although obedience to culture prevents us from being viewed as “odd” to our straitjacketed acquaintances, it also serves the oppressors. Giving up on radicalism — i.e., getting to the root — fails to serve our needs while lessening our humanity. But it nicely serves those who pull the levers of industry.

Perhaps it is time we heed the words of deceased American social critic Christopher Hitchens: “To be in opposition is not to be a nihilist. And there is no decent or charted way of making a living at it. It is something you are, and not something you do.”

Imperialism has consequences

The U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights are bobbing along the same waves as social justice and environmental protection, sold down the river by a nation addicted to growth for the sake of growth (the ideology of a cancer cell). Indeed, it seems very little matters to the typical American beyond economic growth. And for that, most importantly, we need an uninterrupted supply of crude oil. We need the Carter Doctrine — the world’s oil belongs to us — and an unhealthy dose of faux patriotism.

Our lives are imbued with faux patriotism. We are manipulated by the war-loving corporate media and the war-loving politicians that, unsurprisingly, are enriched by war. We support the troops that bring us the baubles we’re convinced we deserve, and we rarely question the real, underlying costs of the baubles.

Support the troops. It’s the rallying cry of an entire nation. It’s the slogan pasted on many of the bumpers in the United States.

Supporting the troops is pledging your support for the empire. Supporting the troops supports the occupation of sovereign nations because might makes right. Supporting the troops supports wanton murder of women and children throughout the world. And men, too. Supporting the troops supports obedience at home and oppression abroad. Supporting the troops throws away every ideal on which this country allegedly is founded. Supporting the troops supports the ongoing destruction of the living planet in the name of economic growth. Supporting the troops therefore hastens our extinction in exchange for a few dollars. Supporting the troops means caving in to Woodrow Wilson’s neo-liberal agenda, albeit cloaked as contemporary neo-conservatism (cf. hope and change). Supporting the troops trumpets power as freedom and fascism as democracy.

I’m not suggesting the young people recruited into the military are at fault. Victims of civilization and a lifetime of cultural programming — like me, and perhaps you – they’re looking for job security during a period of economic contraction. The entire process is working great for the oppressors pulling the levers of industry.

Perhaps most importantly, supporting the troops means giving up on resistance. Resistance is all we have, and all we’ve ever had. We say we’re mad as hell and we claim we’re not going to take it anymore. But, sadly, we gave up on resistance of any kind years ago.

We act as if America’s cultural revolution never happened. We act as if we never questioned the dominant paradigm in an empire run amok, as if we never experienced Woodstock and the Summer of Love, bra-burning hippies and war-torn teenagers, Rosa Parks and the Cuyahoga River. We’re right back in the 1950s, swimming in culture’s main stream instead of questioning, resisting, and protesting.

We’ve moved from the unquestioning automatons of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell to the firebrands of a radical counter-cultural worldview and back again. A generational sea change swept us from post-war “liberators” drunk on early 1950s propaganda to revolutionaries willing to take risks in defense of late 1960s ideals. The revolution gained steam through the 1970s, but lost its way when the U.S. industrial economy hit the speed bump of domestic peak oil. The Carter Doctrine coupled with Ronald Reagan’s soothing pack of lies was the perfect match to our middle-aged comfort, so we abandoned the noble ideals of earlier days for another dose of palliative propaganda. Three decades later, we’ve swallowed so much Soma we couldn’t find a hint of revolution in Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto.

In short, the pillars of social justice and environmental protection rose from the cesspool of ignorance to become shining lights for an entire generation. And then we let them fall back into the swamp. The very notion that others matter — much less that those others are worth fighting for — has been relegated to the dustbin of history.

A line from Eugene Debs, five-time candidate of the Socialist party for U.S. president, comes to mind: “While there is a lower class I am in it, while there is a criminal element I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

I don’t harbor any illusions about my freedom. I live in Police State America.

Imperial illusions

Ultimately, I wonder why any of us bothers trying to be a good person As Ernest Hemingway indicated: “The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.”

Vulnerability isn’t so bad. But few knowingly bring on their own destruction. Instead, I suspect most humans — even those who consider themselves good — actually benefit from and even promote contemporary culture, the problems with which are legion.

Do good people promote patriarchy? Do they pursue and promote the notions of marriage and monogamy even when knowing these ideas are steeped in the patriarchy of a culture gone seriously awry? Marriage and monogamy are obligations of empire rather than outcomes of natural law. Instead of abiding and supporting imperialism, shall good people attempt to reduce or eliminate patriarchy, hence civilization, one act at a time?

When we recognize patriarchy and its impacts, where does that leave those of us pursuing authenticity? Indeed, attempting to conduct an authentic life in a culture dominated by patriarchy and engendering destruction is analogous to pursuing meaning in an uncaring universe. Does authenticity have meaning in such a universe? Is authenticity a desirable goal, if goals are merely cogs in the machine of a culture run amok? Is authenticity another stumbling block on the road to happiness? Is authenticity yet another piece of propaganda promoted by the thieves and liars pulling the levers of civilization to trap decent people into lives of service? Do we ultimately and perhaps unwittingly serve civilization, hence omnicide, when attempting to serve humanity?

If a life of service is a trap, why step into the trap? In avoiding the trap are we embracing nihilism, “a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless”? And, if so, does the embrace constitute a pact with the proverbial devil?

As individuals and a society, have we become so broken we cannot pursue the truth about ourselves and our culture? Have we become so marginalized, demoralized, and humiliated by this insane culture that we are no longer able to rise up against cultural insanity?

______________

This essay is (barely) modified from a series of essays for the Good Men Project. The original essays are listed and hyperlinked below.

Questioning Culture: A Series

Questioning Culture: The Long Littleness of Life

Questioning Culture: Shades of Existential Gray

Questioning Culture: When Personal Happiness Brings Suffering to Others

Questioning Culture: American Empire

Questioning Culture: Our Addiction to Growth

Questioning Culture: The Absurdity of Authenticity

Comments 147

  • @ulvfugl “You think Shunryu Suzuki lacked agency?” No, I didn’t consider the author at the time. I thought his recommendations (which seemed to me to be about stepping off the gerbil wheel of action/reaction) had little “traction” in the rough-and-tumble real world where I was learning to make my way. Now that I’m older my attitude has shifted and I recognize the value of more subtle and internal types of agency, certainly. I will re-read the book when I finish un-packing my book boxes (now one year post-move but almost there).

    This sort of thing, cited by Tom, “the Master takes action by letting things take their course” seemed absurd to me, especially just at the moment when I had been let out into the world as an autonomous adult with the charge to make something big, important, and useful of myself (a charge I came to abandon unconsciously-and-yet-with-intent bit by bit over my lifetime).

    In philosophy of mind, dualism is the position that mental phenomena are, in some respects, non-physical, or that the mind and body are not identical. (Wikipedia) This directly linked from the page on Descartes. If you reject dualism, how can you continue to argue for “non-physical” realities, which are, by definition, dualistic?

    Descartes is an amazing fellow. I’d only had a limited idea of the range of his scientific contributions. The quantum theorizing which fascinates you would be impossible without him!

    Fun fact: “While a mercenary soldier, [Descartes] experienced a dream one night that triggered in his mind the idea of modern algebra.” ;-)
    http://www.cobalt.chem.ucalgary.ca/ziegler/educmat/chm386/rudiment/rudiment.htm

    In the weeds (I think this speaks to KathyC’s and Gail’s points, above, but there’s a lot of Greek in it to me!):
    First a meta-point about Cartesian dualism, at the risk of descending into academic controversy. Descartes did not consider himself a Cartesian dualist, or a dualist of any kind. Descartes’ own standard of ontology is very clear and simple – to be is to be thinkable. It is the wide variety of readings given to his philosophy – which in fact turned it into half a dozen other-people’s philosophies – that gave rise to the notion that Descartes left a dualistic problem. This is most explicit in Spinoza where it simply becomes two “modes” of existence. Everyone else sees that tension and most take a side in trying to resolve it. Hobbes and Locke then went one way with it (two, actually – empiricism is distinct from materialism) and Leibniz and Berkeley another (or two, the minds their idealisms reside within, differ). Then Kant motivates his own noumenal-phenomenal dualism with Descartes mind-body one.

    In Descartes himself, body is simply that to which the category of extension applies, which is not divorced from thought but is precisely what is thinkable in a specific aspect. While anything thinkable, is – every real attribute adheres in some real existent. Again there is the issue with equations and their having two sides, but what Descartes specifically intends is an equals sign between “to be” and “to be intelligible”. It is other men who “hear” something realist-objective in the first of those, and idealist-subjective in the second. He is equating them.

    That is the fate of any theory of correct understanding that readers do not accept. It must equate a mental thing with a real one or it isn’t a theory of how they can correspond, and if the reader doesn’t accept it he will always still see two things and a mystery between them. It was easy (in Aristotle) to criticize that aspect of Plato’s ideas, but it is (nearly) impossible to evade that criticism without shirking the task of explaining intelligibility. (Contemporary skeptical philosophers deal with this by pretending there isn’t any, which is false empirically).
    http://forum.wolframscience.com/archive/topic/1701-1.html

    @Kathy C: Usually what we use our self-aware brain to do is not direct us to some authentic path, but to rationalize what we find ourselves doing as authentic, moral, good – whatever. That may be the main purpose of extended consciousness…

    I tend to agree. On the god front, it seems as though you are offering us the Epicurean Paradox:
    Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
    Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing?
    Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing?
    Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing?
    Then why call him God?
    – Epicurus (attributed)

    —–
    @ogardener and the rest, thanks for your good wishes. I’ve just yesterday finished the last of the 3 carboplatin/Taxol rounds prescribed, so I’m feelin’ jazzy tonight from the associated steroids they give us. Tomorrow or the next day I’ll begin feeling a lot of severe aches and pains (stinging, burning, stabbing, shooting, deep aches, squeezing, you name it…) affecting random bits all over my body for seconds or minutes at a time and distracting me from any concerted activity. I just pace around or now dope myself up. They did give me dilaudid for this after my first experience with it—since it’s not pain borne of inflammation, what what I understand, their recommendations of OTC ibuprofen and Tylenol are silly from the start. The length of time the situation has lasted increased from three days on the first round to a week or so the next. The chemo’s damage to healthy cells is cumulative. Besides the wacky week o’ pinball pain, my worst side effect has been an increasing lack of physical stamina. It’s supposed to get better after some number of months/years according to who you listen to. They’ve pretty much conquered the bad nausea of yore with new anti-nausea drugs. I haven’t yet gotten any of the commonly-experienced finger and toe neuropathy yet (knock on wood), but some side effects can actually crop up weeks or months after the treatment is finished.

    What has not ceased to amaze me is how doctors minimize or even deny the side effects of a substance so toxic and corrosive that it dissolves normal plastic tubing and for which the nurses need to wear haz-mat-type suiting in its administration. When I started not being able to finish sentences, my PCP told me it was due to menopause! When I told my oncologist that since the start of chemo both my hips were now giving me a type of bone pain which kept me awake, and that my hip zones from mid-abdomen to mid-thigh to mid-buttock would go numb, even the skin surface to the touch, she said she didn’t think it was the chemo, it was “positional”. Never mind that the hip and upper femur is where the largest amount of bone marrow is, which the chemo is attacking…

    !?!?!? People with credentials. Sigh.

    I have a (mumble) chance of experiencing a recurrence within five years (they won’t say). The Intertubes tell me anywhere from 5-20% (I’m really far luckier than most ladies diagnosed with ovarian cancer). Most studies are not specific enough due to low sample numbers (they’ll lump together more than one stage, grade, and/or histology). A few studies say adjuvant chemotherapy in my case (stage 1a clear cell) does not change recurrence or mortality rates in a statistically-significant way, another seems to indicate that chemo is marginally helpful. They don’t seem to do followups longer than 5 years, most times. At five years with no recurrence, you are considered “cured”, for their purposes.

    It seems that many women who have recurrences of cancer nowadays go on to a life of ongoing maintenance chemo treatments and surgeries from which they are never free until they are finally done in. I do not want to go down that road. I was very ambivalent about even doing these three rounds (again, decisions are all about the context). A recurrence in my case will have a much poorer prognosis as it will have been a metastasis. In ovarian cancer, surgery is the main curative tool.

    In these days I am very much mindful of Ivan Illich, whom I actually saw in person while I was in Italy, before he died in 2002 and before I even knew had any idea of who he was (a tireless philosopher working on behalf of the poor in “undeveloped” countries and on behalf of their Autonomy). A hunched figure with a distorted growth on his face, sitting on a chair in the midst of so many acolytes that we could only glimpse him, not hear his un-amplified conversation, at a crazy festival celebrating an anarchist music school’s opening in his name, in Bologna.

    Illich smoked opium to relieve the pain of his cancer. Now, through Hospice (take note, Paul Chefurka!!) my mom gets FedEx-ed supplies of morphine and all her pharmaceuticals with a maximum 15-day dose. So she gets these individual packets flown expressly to our door every couple of weeks or whenever a med is ordered, rather than just getting meds bulk-dispensed from the local pharmacy.

    It’s not legal to grow an opium poppy in your back yard, but we can have planes and trucks bring it to us from New Jersey via Atlanta drop by drop (only after a hopefully-benevolent Authority decides we’re in enough pain… Mother Teresa need not apply).

    Here’s a brief essay worth reading, by Illich on health:
    http://www.aislingmagazine.com/aislingmagazine/articles/TAM17/Health.html

    Sadly, I recognise that many of us are infected with a strange illusion: a person has a “right” to something called health care. Thus, one states a claim to receive the latest assortment of technological therapies, based on some professional’s diagnosis, to enable one to survive longer in a situation which is often ugly, injurious, depressing or just boring.

    Now back to your regularly scheduled global doom…!

  • Apologies for typos. The bolding should have ended after “Authority.” Hope not to have caused confusion.

  • Offshore permafrost decay and massive seabed methane escape in water depths >20 m at the South Kara Sea shelf

    “[1] Since the Last Glacial Maximum (~19 ka), coastal inundation from sea-level rise has been thawing thick subsea permafrost across the Arctic. Although subsea permafrost has been mapped on several Arctic continental shelves, permafrost distribution in the South Kara Sea and the extent to which it is acting as an impermeable seal to seabed methane escape remains poorly understood. Here we use >1300 km of high-resolution seismic data to map hydroacoustic anomalies, interpreted to record seabed gas release, on the West Yamal shelf. Gas flares are widespread over an area of at least 7500 km2 in water depths >20 m. We propose that continuous subsea permafrost extends to water depths of ~20 m offshore and creates a seal through which gas cannot migrate. This Arctic shelf region where seafloor gas release is widespread suggests that permafrost has degraded more significantly than previously thought.”

    Link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/grl.50735/abstract

  • Hmm, wonder what scores those ‘brilliant’ women would have achieved on an ‘EQ’? But then since we are stuck in this crazy, screwed up, patriarchal level of existence, IQ Rules, ok Man!

  • Thanks for putting all of the essays together. Much appreciated! I just cam back from a visit to a magnificent in situ deposit of 61 (and counting) mammoth skeletons in South Dakota. All of the mammoths that foolishly attempted to feed at the slippery edge of the sinkhole that trapped them were male; apparently the females were too smart to go for the “easy meal”.

  • Please excuse me if this has already been explained a million times, but how does anyone see the difference in consciousness between humans and other sentient beings?

  • @Kathy Cassandra – You say: “There may be some other god out there but if some being can’t stop children from being sold into sex slavery, what good is that god. Frankly a god that can’t do anything about injustice is irrelevant to me. Inspiring us to do good – well people believe in all sorts of gods, or no gods….”

    Once your God stops children from being sold into sex slavery, I am sure you will want more from Her/Him/It. Why not a God who erases all the ills that flesh is heir to, and the other stuff that Hamlet was fed up with? We all have a list of things the Cosmic Handyman might get around to fixing. Maybe my God should just void the whole sorry deal since the big bang, and make us a new universe that is just one big unending celebration! I could live with that… maybe.

    Seriously, I have found it a useful meditation for myself to imagine myself as a God with unlimited powers and a heart of pure loving goodness… What would I come up with as my utopian universe? Must give us pause… Would anything ever go wrong? Would there be anything we had to work for? Would my hedonistically designed universe have any purpose beyond pleasure? Maybe I could make it so that my puppets just lived in an everlasting orgasm of pleasure? Could I dispense with the unpleasant matter of death? The more I go into my inner enquiry the more problems I discover in wielding my imaginary unlimited magical powers…

    But what if I settle for a God who does not have unlimited powers? Why have people always tended to go overboard on power when envisioning a higher entity? Maybe my God has limitations, maybe even defects — a dark side even… Maybe my God is working to be a better God, and needs our help to get it done? What if we are agents of God’s spiritual therapy on Himself/Herself/Itself? What if God is growing as us, through us — going through our ordeals with us… Maybe God’s and our imperfections are really blessings that avoid the dead end street of a static state with nothing beyond itself. Maybe God’s and the universe’s imperfections are really necessary for things to be the best possible way they can possibly be. We will always have new things to work on, to solve, to grow towards. A final answer to everything would be the ultimate curse. Thank God there is creative freedom and an open ended universe, and a God who wouldn’t have it any other way…

    BTW feel free to flush the God I sketched, or work out another version more to your liking, or just rest in the comfortable(?) position that there are no higher beings than ourselves….

  • Thanks for that, Mike K. So very well put. I guess it’s sort of like…,what you think is what you get.

    Thanks for the cooperation link, U. The world I experience is amenable and responsive to love (or cooperation).

    Frogcouner, female intelligence will out. But not the intelligence of females who want to excel by male standards and memes. I’m surprised some of those didn’t get caught in the sinkhole too. But maybe only human females go so badly astray.

  • @ Artleads

    That charming fellow Descartes used to take live dogs apart without anaesthetic to see what was inside them, and when his neighbours complained about the howling and screaming, he assured them that the dogs felt no pain at all because, as animals, they possessed no souls and were merely machines.

    This idea being reminiscent, of course, of the ideology promoted by some voices here, that human beings are soul-less machines, which will come in very convenient when TPTB decide to reduce the excess population by sending them to gassing chambers in the FEMA camps, because disposing of surplus meat robots is merely a sanitation measure, nothing like actually murdering human beings with intrinsic dignity and human rights.

    But I digress… Ordinary uneducated folk at the time of Descartes and ever since have known that dogs have consciousness and emotions and a sense of themselves, but it has taken those highly intelligent, highly educated scientists with PhDs something like three hundred years to persuade themselves that Descartes might have been mistaken, partly of course, because of the obscenity that was Skinnerian Behaviourism which was promoted for much of the last century, until it was finally nailed by Noam Chomsky, although that crap still gets promulgated here by Robin Datta as if it was ‘science’, possibly because he was taught it by the US Army, where it was a very popular pseudo-scientific doctrine, because they like to see human beings as machines, and seeing the enemy as ‘meat robots’ without souls makes it easier to blow them to pieces with a clear conscience, no doubt about it…

    Anyway, finally, the scientists have admitted what ordinary folk have always seen as self-evident and common sense, that animals have consciousness…

    All we have to do now is to wait for the older generation of ignorant ones in power to die off, and a new generation of enlightened ones to move into their shoes, with new authoritative text books… except that we get NTE…

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/animal-emotions/201208/scientists-finally-conclude-nonhuman-animals-are-conscious-beings?goback=.gde_120409_member_271369413#

    @ Lidia

    I’ll try and respond to your very interesting remarks later…

  • @ Lidia

    In philosophy of mind, dualism is the position that mental phenomena are, in some respects, non-physical, or that the mind and body are not identical. (Wikipedia) This directly linked from the page on Descartes. If you reject dualism, how can you continue to argue for “non-physical” realities, which are, by definition, dualistic?

    You’ll forgive me if I don’t attempt to review the entirety of European philosophy and scientific thought over the last several centuries in a comment here. :-)

    I’m not really rejecting or accepting, am I, I’m attempting to elucidate and educate. The contemporary discussion (on the internet) is incredibly muddled. ‘Cartesian Dualism’ doesn’t mean ‘What Descartes thought’, it means ‘The influence Descartes thoughts had subsequently upon our cultural worldview, particularly the scientific paradigm’, and ‘non-physical realities’ as a term popular today, is not being used in the way re Descartes, but in a quite recent new coinage coming from e.g. the paranthropologists, people researching shamanism, paranormal experiences, lucid dreaming, ayahuasca, PSI, all that stuff.

    I am willing to discuss dualism, non-dualism, monism, panpsychism, and every other kind of -ism under the Sun, but as I have tried to explain to you before, my own personal position is to follow a teaching which gets free from all the -isms :-) So what do you call that ? :-) Well, as soon as it’s named it’s ruined, but I think Shunryu Suzuki was pretty good at teaching it, at least, I’ve never come across anything which suggested he was not, although I don’t know everything about him.

    Descartes is an amazing fellow. I’d only had a limited idea of the range of his scientific contributions. The quantum theorizing which fascinates you would be impossible without him!

    Yes, a very strange man. I read something, don’t recall exactly, he made himself sort of equivalent of a modern blow up love doll, an automated puppet thingee, and he took it on a boat journey, and it freaked out the superstitious sailors and they captured it and threw it over board into the sea. I wonder how he felt about that.

    In the weeds (I think this speaks to KathyC’s and Gail’s points, above, but there’s a lot of Greek in it to me!):
    First a meta-point about Cartesian dualism, at the risk of descending into academic controversy. Descartes did not consider himself a Cartesian dualist, or a dualist of any kind. Descartes’ own standard of ontology is very clear and simple – to be is to be thinkable. It is the wide variety of readings given to his philosophy – which in fact turned it into half a dozen other-people’s philosophies – that gave rise to the notion that Descartes left a dualistic problem. This is most explicit in Spinoza where it simply becomes two “modes” of existence. Everyone else sees that tension and most take a side in trying to resolve it. Hobbes and Locke then went one way with it (two, actually – empiricism is distinct from materialism) and Leibniz and Berkeley another (or two, the minds their idealisms reside within, differ). Then Kant motivates his own noumenal-phenomenal dualism with Descartes mind-body one.

    See, it’s a can of worms, and like Plato’s Cave of Shadows, there’s lots of different interpretations, and possible ways to understand, and many books written. But as far as I can tell, having dug into the matter quite a lot, what it boiled down to at the time, was the political background, the historical context.

    If nothing else had been happening, Descartes (and the rest of them) I think, would have just got on with investigating and experimenting. But that was not possible, because of the power struggle. You know, John Wesley got burned to death for translating the Bible into english, etc, the printing press meant that new scientific discoveries and other ideas got spread all around, the Church couldn’t control it any more, they couldn’t burn everybody, much as they tried and wanted to, so there was a sort of expedient political unofficial treaty, science could have the ‘things’, the ‘stuff’, so long as the Church could keep the mind, the soul, the spiritual domain. Hence the mind / body division.

    In Descartes himself, body is simply that to which the category of extension applies, which is not divorced from thought but is precisely what is thinkable in a specific aspect. While anything thinkable, is – every real attribute adheres in some real existent. Again there is the issue with equations and their having two sides, but what Descartes specifically intends is an equals sign between “to be” and “to be intelligible”. It is other men who “hear” something realist-objective in the first of those, and idealist-subjective in the second. He is equating them.

    That is the fate of any theory of correct understanding that readers do not accept. It must equate a mental thing with a real one or it isn’t a theory of how they can correspond, and if the reader doesn’t accept it he will always still see two things and a mystery between them. It was easy (in Aristotle) to criticize that aspect of Plato’s ideas, but it is (nearly) impossible to evade that criticism without shirking the task of explaining intelligibility. (Contemporary skeptical philosophers deal with this by pretending there isn’t any, which is false empirically).
    http://forum.wolframscience.com/archive/topic/1701-1.html

    It’s a vast and complicated subject, isn’t it. But look, it effects every aspect of Western culture and thought, it’s become totally engrained and implicit, and yet it’s also nonsensical.

    It’s easy to see reasonable category divisions between land and sea, or between land and sky, or between fire and water, all kinds of obvious clear categories known since ancient times that correspond with our thought and our verbal structures.

    But has anyone seen a mind detached and separate from body, or a live body that had no mind within it ? The two appear to be inseparable, so why would anyone deem it reasonable to think of them as two discrete things ?

    But as you indicate with that link, this is a terribly difficult area. We have to delve right back into the roots of Western civilisation and Greek philosophy, Aristotle and Plato, etc, to try and comprehend why we think in these strange ways, why language works in these strange ways, why we structure our ideas about reality in these strange ways.

    You see, if I make a verbal or written statement ‘Snow is cold’, that’s not the same thing as touching that white crystalline powder and getting a sensation of coldness. It’s nothing like it at all.

    There is a relationship between the statement and the phenomenon. But nobody really understands or can explain what this relationship is, or what it should be, or why we have arrived at it, or much about it at all.

    It’s an agreed and shared social convention, for sure. But as a basis for science that’s not really good enough, because we’ve got crackpot physicists who are describing Multiverses in numbers on blackboards, but does that correspond in any way at all, to anything ‘real’ ?

    See what I mean ? It’s the same problem. I think it’s the same problem with Dawkins and his mathematical models of kinship for evolutionary biology which are supposed to explain our behaviour according to how closely our genes are related. There’s the numbers on the blackboard. But humans are nothing like what the numbers say they should be like.

    Peter Kingsley wants to go back further, to the pre-Socratics, Parmenides and Empedocles, and says that we can have this same sort of scientific thinking but join it back to ‘God’, as in ‘The One’, that everything is a Unity, the Universe, and then the purpose of the study is rather different, it’s so that we can ‘learn how to live properly following the fundamental laws of the One’ or something to that effect.

  • Btw, re mike k’s interesting comment re God, the God I mentioned above, with regard to the pre-Socratics, is NOT the Jewish Hebrew God of the Old Testament, with all those characteristics, nor is it Zeus up on Mount Olympus, it’s a different God, possibly akin to Heraclitus’s notion of the Logos, which much later got smuggled into the Bible, in the Gospel of St John, ‘In the Beginning was the Word..’ etc, which has absolutely nothing to do with, no connection to, those Hebrew people of the Old Testament, or to Jesus as Jewish Rabbi, it’s from the ancient Greek teachings, explained here by Pierre Grimes

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsqNvkPFQR0&feature=share&list=PL5999EB20650567DF

  • Hello – love the abandoned threads!

    No one “knows” much of anything with regard to our physical existence and how we got here, what we are, why we are. However uncomfortable that idea is, that’s how it goes. Religious people are uncomfortable with this idea, too, which is why they must have religion. Maybe they share this in common with the atheists.

    So you have the various crazies talking about their brand of “enlightenment” and it really sounds no different than the bullshit you hear everywhere – just spun a little differently – and it looks, smells, tastes, and results little different as well.

    There probably are other scientific theories, many of which may actually provide much better explanations for the mystery of physical existence. These are only theories and even though they may be working theories, they do not constitute proof or fact.

    The truth is no one knows. Anyone who claims to know – whether a priest, a religious guru or a member of a heavily indoctrinated atheist group – is lying to themselves and everyone else.

    Once you realize this stuff is unknowable, you can go about the task of your daily life free of the burden of not knowing AND free of the burden of “knowing.”

    I’m an educated man, but I’m afraid I can’t speak intelligently as to the ultimate merits of being either an atheist or a deist with any degree of certainty. I do not know the mystery of the Universe, the mystery of life, etc. I do not know if there are miracles, supernatural forces, or vampires, aliens, boogy-men, easter rabbits, etc.

    I do not know. Now, it is something of a religion to “believe” that it is unknowable – but that is as far as I can go. I realize believing that it is unknowable results in the cessation of seeking – and, funny, many spiritual movements tout that your sole purpose is “to seek,” and it is the very seeking that leads to spiritual enlightenment… blah, blah, blah, it’s all poppycock. So, I do not KNOW that it is unknowable, but I believe it is unknowable, and that is my religion.

    the shadows on the wall could be many different things – I realize this and decide that I don’t need to know – even if it IS knowable.

    So, in my not knowing way, I wander about quietly.
    I have no fear and I have no hope.

    The children suffer.

  • @ Rob

    The truth is no one knows…

    Knows what ?

    For the last 5000 years or so, possibly very much longer, people have try to understand fundamental questions, who or what created the world and us, what does it all mean, what happens when we die, is there a correct way to live, all that stuff, and we have the records from many different cultures, and some people, sometimes, have discovered some very interesting stuff.

    And then, since ancient Greece, and picking up again with the Enlightenment, we have the scientific method, which had another more rigorous way of studying everything.

    You say, it’s all a waste of time because it’s impossible to know, so you give up and become a nihilist.

    I don’t share your position. I was desperate and I went searching and I found what I was looking for. That was a long time ago.

    http://brutus.wordpress.com/2013/08/30/redefined-terms/#comment-8113

    What does it mean ? I don’t know.

    But it’s a point of departure, an anchorage, just as St John’s Gospel ‘In the beginning was the word, Logos..’ or the remarkably similar Descartes ‘I think, therefore I am’ are points of departure.

    In the Taoist version T’ai Chi, the Supreme Ultimate, comes from Wu Chi the Formless Void, which is the mother of yin and yang, that is, all the dualities, or opposites.

    In motion T’ai Chi separates; in stillness yin and yang fuse and return to Wu Chi.

    So, at rest, in meditation, with a silent mind, I am One, in communion with the Universe, no division or separation, there is just ‘is-ness’.

    Then, if I stand up and act, in Lidia’s terms express agency, then I assume an ego, a self, an identity, and duality arises, other-ness arises, yin and yang, the opposites, some activity occurs.

    And then it is over and returns to the original state.

    The Taoist view would be that this should occur effortlessly, like a stick or a cork floating in a stream it just follows the currents and eddies as it encounters them, sometimes very fast, sometimes hardly moving, because it’s just the Universe unfolding naturally. It’s a way of being.

    People want something more than this. Sorry, I can’t provide that, I can’t stop the children suffering either. I didn’t design the world, as a system nor did I mess it up.

  • @ Rob

    Interesting post. It reminds me a bit of “Notes from Underground.” You get to a certain point and will go no further, come hell or high water. I also get the sense (even though you don’t say it) that you’re not quite satisfied with where you stopped. Am I wrong?

    @ ulvfugi

    Thanks for the animal consciousness feedback. I’ll look at the link next.

  • @ Artleads:

    I’ve said it over and over – I’m totally ok with not knowing!

    I agree that my belief that it is UNKNOWABLE

  • @ Artleads:

    I’ve said it over and over – I’m totally ok with not knowing!

    I agree that my belief that it is UNKNOWABLE is just a belief, I don’t know for a fact that it is unknowable. However, I find that to believe it is unknowable frees me from the burden of knowing AND the burden of not knowing! If I believed that it was knowable then I would be very upset that I didn’t know. And, if I thought I knew it and considered myself “enlightened,” then I would feel obligated to share the news and be just another pain in the ass to those who also know but for some reason know something different than what I know!

    Too much confusion
    can’t get no relief

  • Wells was right. Mind is at the end of its tether.

  • tamed mind,
    at the end of its tether –
    caged, well yes…
    but reconciling
    itself to the cage.

    wild mind?
    well, this is unproven,
    and only dim reports
    come now and then

    of monsters –
    and immortality,
    and the distant impossibility
    of walking
    on the surface of the sun.

  • @ Guy McPherson

    Some of us seek to conduct meaningful lives. However, the universe imposes upon us a meaningless existence. There is no meaning beyond the meaning(s) we create. In attempting to create meaning, which often involves attempts to outrun our mortality, we generate distractions. We occasionally call them objectives, goals, or acts of service to others. And the result is our legacy.

    I question this.

    The Universe doesn’t ‘impose’. Possibly the first thing we experience is floatingness inside our mother’s womb, and then birth, and our mother, etc, so our introduction into the Universe is very meaningful, in the sense that we don’t just drop into a blank empty vacuum without sign posts.

    Thereafter, as we become en-culturated, educated, socialised, I can imagine an ideal, that would involve a perfect utopian tribal community, with a perfect belief system, that taught each individual their place in the community and in the Universe, so that they lived in a harmonious and eco-friendly way for evermore.

    It might be entirely fictional, a la Ursula le Guin, of course, and I accept that possibly all such meanings are indeed created. But this is still a long way from saying that ‘the Universe imposes a meaningless existence’, I think.

    What have we done, in fact ? Well, historically, this wiki page gives a rather splendid over-view of the variety of our attempts to create or discover meaning.

    I think it is most remarkable how people have struggled so hard to address this problem and how many answers they have come up with.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meaning_of_life#Mohism

  • Thanks for your provocative comment, ulvfugl. I see no evidence that the universe imposes meaning on us. We, including monists, posit various meanings, which is my whole point.

    Of course I could be mistaken. Perhaps the universe has plans. I just don’t see them. Your mileage may vary, of course, which is one of the many wonders of being human.

  • @ Guy McPherson

    Thanks for the reply, Guy.

    Yes, ‘imposing upon us meaninglessness existence’. And ‘imposing meaning upon us’.

    These are very different concepts, I think. Hard to know even how to think about them. Somebody said recently, standing near the mountain, it’s definitely green, no argument, standing further away, it’s definitely blue.. Nietzsche’s perspectivism.

    So where do we stand to know the truth, re meaning of life, re our existence in the Universe ?

    I was thinking from a biological POV, as a primate, arriving into this existence, from between it’s mother’s legs, equipped with a central nervous system, everything it encounters means something, and soon the whole world that surrounds it is rich with meanings and associations…

    However, from the POV of an old man, having dissected the belief systems of many cultures and thinkers, I hit the same impenetrable limits that my predecessors have encountered.

    We are left with this unfathomable mystery.

    It seems obvious to me, that we are in something, part of something, beetles and moths, planets and galaxies, all this stuff, it’s all doing something, it ‘means’ something… just that nobody knows, or can say, what… but that’s not the same as ‘meaningless’, just means we’re too dumb to get the message and be able to read it, maybe :-)

    Or, lots of people read it and insist it means quite different things… The fish insist God is a super-fish, the frogs say, no ! God is a super-frog… probably the methane molecules say God is a huge methane molecule..

    There are the two ways of knowing, mythos and logos, the intuitive and the reasoned, the mystical and the scientific.

    You can ask the question with your heart, and ask the question with your head, and ask the question with your whole being..

    But do you even know your whole being ? How many people ever find their kundalini, chi, subtle body ? Greek analysis of the soul seems quite crude and primitive, they had mind, spirit and appetites. Don’t know if any of the cults had a more sophisticated understanding.

    Historically, pre-modern times and Enlightenment technology, the introspection and philosophical thought was the only way one could go, so it was natural to match up internal subtle states with cosmology of the Universe, I don’t know of any traditional culture that has not had a concept of a heavenly realm that you can reach in your head, as a state of consciousness, bliss, which they use in figures of speech, which corresponds with the stars above where people go when they die, or something along those lines.

    Of course, that changes, once you get a telescope.

    In theory, I believe we could make progress. In the past, researchers were isolated, much was kept secret, documents were locked away and in obscure languages, now everything is available.

    The prana / qi / chi / ki subtle energy thing is eminently suitable for scientific study, because it is observable and repeatable. It’s not like plaster madonna statues that shed tears, or ghosts that only appear when no scientists are looking. There’s something could be readily studied, and must have an explanation, just as electricity and magnetism were once in the realm of magic and then explained (more or less).

    And on the logos side, we have quantum physics, which becomes ever more bizarre, but must mean, at some point, we need a completely new cosmology. What will that ‘mean’ ?

    We will have left behind, like a larva metamorphosing, Ptolemaic, Copernican, Newtonian, and Einsteinian conceptual cosmologies, with or without their meanings, and entered something utterly mind boggling… possibly just as we become extinct…

    http://www.aeonmagazine.com/world-views/margaret-wertheim-the-limits-of-physics/

  • As much as I like to disagree, I cannot disagree with anything in your comment, ulvfugl. Thanks for your thoughtfulness here.

  • @ guy and ulvfugi

    Although I have to go out and can’t get into this at greater length (which wouldn’t help anyway) I’d like to take a quick, quick try at this. With the overlay of NBL onto my own long-term experiences, I’ve come recently to have some extremely happy moments. This despite the fact that I waste time, probably most of my life, am a mess in uncountable ways. The world around me is also an indescribable mess. Mistakes pile up onto mistakes. Yet there’s always the silver lining to the worst occurrences (I think). To agree with Kathy C, death can always be counted on (I think) for rest and solace when nothing else works.

    But I, like many here, am living in the most glorious circumstances one could wish for, given what looms. This existence that we share makes it easy to abide by the words of the Dalai Lama: The purpose of life is to be happy. Not to be clear, wise, or brilliant–just happy.

    On thinking about the universe, I extrapolate from my experiences on Earth (clearly grasping that it, too, is the universe). If the purpose of life on Earth is to be happy, it’s hard to distinguish that purpose from the purpose (or meaning) of the universe. Despite its violence and cruelty–just as I can experience my greatest happiness in a thunderstorm that threatens to wash me away–in the violence, beneficence and incomprehensibility of the universe lies happiness. My leap of assessment is that it is such great and fierce happiness that you could only call it ecstasy. Further to the leap is that it is too high a level of ecstasy for humans to bear. We would shatter before we could do that.

  • @ Guy McPherson

    Well, I suppose that’s a comfort of a sort,
    you mean we’re both equally lost ? ;-)

    This is quite fun

    If you’ve ever wondered just how to classify your world view or religion, this flow chart could help. Like a philosophical choose your own adventure (with eternity potentially at stake) this chart starts with the simple question – “Do you believe in God?”

    http://www.visualnews.com/2011/05/25/choose-your-world-view-a-flowchart/

  • @mo flow

    of monsters –
    and immortality,
    and the distant impossibility
    of walking
    on the surface of the sun.

    I shit you not, my son wants to be an astronaut for the sole purpose of sitting on the sun. I guess you two might get along.

  • Ha! Badlands, that makes my day.

  • @ Lidia and others,

    If anyone happens to be interested, I’ve written at greater length re worldviews, etc, here

    http://collapseofindustrialcivilization.com/2013/09/20/a-crumbling-cultural-story-in-a-period-of-near-term-extinction/

  • Thanks for the link! A beautiful, exceptionally clear and heartfelt, and well thought out piece of work, my dear ulvfugl.

    Where, indeed, is there room for a healthy happy human, in the world of pure physics? Well, to summarize – there of course cannot be any room, because physics simply comes to a dead stop when confronted with a healthy happy human.

    oh, sure, as I skimmed over some of the comments, the physicalists are suddenly talking about the power of the limbic system over our rational minds, and wouldn’t you know, spirituality is just a tool of the limbic system…

    and well, yeah, no wonder the fundamentalists want to reach for a gun! *I* sometimes feel like I want to reach for a gun, or at least just scream bloody murder, when I read such things – this path of thinking is so ultimately deadly and dead-ended…

    now something else I wanted to say to you – as I have had time to catch up on many of the posts and threads here over the last two days, I was continually impressed with the quality of your posts – you have reached a new zenith, and you made me laugh several times in such wonderful ways that I want to go back and copy those quotes!

    Truly a pleasure!

  • Thank you for that most generous and flattering compliment, mo flow.

    Yes, I’m quite innocently trying to explain something, educate, elucidate, and some people can’t help trying to drag me onto their battleground to help them to fight The Other. :-)

    ulvfugl means raven, the bird that feeds on the corpses AFTER the battle. So I’m just looking down, observing.

    Here is a logo. I think all genuine committed NBLers should get it tattood, I’d suggest on the forehead, but other positions on the body will do.

    I expect some readers here have already got so many facial tattoos, there probably won’t be any space left, so wherever you can find a gap, girls.

    I’m expecting Guy McPherson to set an example and get his done first.

    http://www.health24.com/Columnists/Sign-of-our-times-20130920

  • Interesting. I’m not into marking my body permanently, but this is tempting:
    http://i.imgur.com/YgCOIgk.jpg

  • Oh, it’s the ‘extinction symbol’! At first glance I thought it was an upright ‘Labrys’ (the Lydian word for axe) and symbolizing the return of the right brain or mythos or the goddess… or just plain ol’ common decency, compassion, empathy and solidarity :-/

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labrys

    Ah well…

  • I was slightly puzzled how we got onto Monism, seems possibly because I (inadvertently) linked to the moHism section on the Meaning of Life wiki page in the comment above…

    The Mohist philosophers believed that the purpose of life was universal, impartial love. Mohism promoted a philosophy of impartial caring – a person should care equally for all other individuals, regardless of their actual relationship to him or her.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohism

    Also I made a bad error, John Wesley, I meant William Tyndale, always a shame when the wrong guy gets the credit for being burned alive, although all educated serious attentive folks here will have noticed that and understood that it was like 4 a.m. and some of my duct tape is worn through.

  • @ ulvfugi

    I place your post on the recent thread here so as not to go over two posts anywhere. I’ll underline your post then try to respond beneath.

    “@ Artleads

    You don’t seem to understand how the billions in the cities are being fed, depends entirely upon oil. You think plants grow without fertilizer, just as Weber thinks meat can be printed ?

    You seem clueless as to the real nature of the problem, it’s the billions, and increasing, and the power structure, you seem completely detached from the reality of imperialism, and how the world works.
    They make a fascist dystopia to maintain the existing system, not to replace it with wooden windmills.

    Also the time element. The oceans are dying, the biosphere is collapsing, the feedbacks are irreversible. You don’t seem to have got a handle on what the fundamental reasons for expecting NTE are.”
    ——————————–

    I grow food without commercial fertilizer. I use yard clippings, food leftovers (inedible portions, etc–not that there really ARE inedible portions) and horse manure as my fertilizer. I’ve said often that I’m not efficient or smart about it, but no use trying to change me now. I’m negligent and ignorant, and do as little as I can. Something about the plants grip me sufficiently to keep me at it, however.

    The fact that I can buy halfway decent food at the store enables me to avoid getting my butt seriously into gear to grow ALL my food for the year (I’m far from that now). The good part is that I’m constantly trying to see how effortlessly I can garden, for if I can garden with modest success when I do it so poorly, then anyone with a bit of land can grow food too.

    (The fact that NTE takes place at glacial pace is itself a major crisis, insofar as it mesmerizes and paralyzes the majority of people against action. I suggest we look into that crisis separately and not mush it together with other crises, where it merely confuses the issues.)

    If/when SHTF, my partner will undoubtedly get involved with gardening too, and will pressure me mercilessly to produce enough to live on. The point is that anyone with yard space–and that’s one enormous quantity of people–can grow their own food, and do so without commercial fertilizer. Of course, governments and nonprofits would need to help out, but why shouldn’t they? (The government in Jamaica–and I still wonder if I misheard it–is telling people to garden in their yards. Wonders never cease.)

    I won’t waste time coming up with scenarios for food production away from backyard gardening. If you think about it, you’ll see that prospects are there. But folks on NBL don’t have much stomach for such musing, so enough on that score for now.

    Imperialism and the fascist dystopia to maintain the exiting system: I grew up under British imperialism, so I’m at least aware that imperialism is real. And I know you don’t really believe I’m unfamiliar with fascism. To keep it short, maintaining these dystopias don’t mesh with a nuclear-irradiated world. Who would be maintaining them then? So I’m suggesting that some portion of TPTB COULD come to the conclusion that they need to change, since the alternative would be the demise of themselves and those dear to them.

    That women’s conference on climate change I linked to yesterday produced a vision: half the world’s population–women–coming together with a direction contrary to that of TPTB. I don’t believe that is a meaningless notion. Or, to the contrary, that some important portion of TPTB can’t come to the realization that nuclear plants should be decommissioned. (I know, I know, there are countless other issues, but let me be like Jack to point out I’m using just one as an illustration)

    I am not taking up the point of whether or not people or society can change. They have never faced extinction with quite this degree of scientific corroboration before. Maybe some on NBL know for an absolute fact that this clear and present danger won’t make anyone change. I’m not saying they are wrong. I’m just saying I’m not convinced that they are right. Is there some sort of crime in that? The calls for me to get the fuck off of NBL suggests that I could be guilty of some grave wrong. Maybe you can help explain further what it is. But please keep it simple and to the point.

  • @ Artleads

    With respect, as I see it, you seem to be missing the point as to why you are pissing people off here.

    Look, we really are not interested in wishful thinking, fantasies, and dream worlds, which is what you keep presenting. It’s some sort of sci fi short story fiction that you’re inventing in your head that’s out of touch with the real problem.

    Pretty much everybody here KNOWS how to grow vegetables and produce alternative energy and get clean water and all that stuff.

    Look, in fifty or a hundred years time, there will, maybe, be a place where a few thousand people will be facing the problems you are talking about, having survived the cataclysm of the bottleneck, and they’ll be living on a devastated planet, with a chaotic climate, with constant and unpredictable extreme weather events, probably after a nuclear war and with nuclear facilities melting down, with anoxic oceans, and no improving conditions for tens of thousands of years.

    That’s when they can be thinking about wooden windmills and stuff.

    Before then, there’s going to be another 2 billion people added to the 7 billion, and the existing power structures will fight to the last bullet to keep pumping the last drop of oil and digging the last lump of coal, and kill anybody who tries to stop them.

    I could go on and on, but from your comments, the impression is that you simply have not grasped the actual situation that we are in.

    The evidence re the melting ice, the climbing CO2 and methane levels, the ocean acidification, the 40 year time lag between cause and effect, the loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and so on, is all solid and irrefutable.

    The MSM are owned by a handful of people who tell lies so they can keep making money, and TPTB will use whatever means necessary to stay in power.

    Your fantasies, whilst they may make sense to you, have no relevance to this bigger picture, and just annoy people. They don’t solve any problems.

    I know perfectly well how to grow plants without oil, that’s not the point. The billions of people in the cities are NOT being fed that way, they are ALL being fed by intensive agriculture using oil-based fertiliser and oil-based machinery and transport, and if that stops, they DIE.

    So when they are all dead, then you can talk about your wooden windmills. If there’s anyone around to listen.

    There’s nothing wrong with doing whatever you think is the right thing to do, because if we are getting NTE, there isn’t really ANY right or wrong thing any more, is there, it’s just up to the individual to consider their own life and what matters to them.

    But on this blog, we’re pretty hard core by now. We’ve got used to facing this. If you came across as having a really clear understanding of the issues, you’d have more latitude.

    I think it was dmd who came up with the magic door. We’re all in this dungeon. Every newcomer insists that there must be a secret magic door somewhere that nobody has found yet. We all say, no, we’ve checked everywhere, but they never believe us. So, we let them check, all over again..

    There isn’t a secret hidden magic door.

  • Ulf, maybe you could go through the secret magic door and disappear.

  • @Artleads (oh PLEASE be a ‘real’ person…)your wonderful heartfelt posts are wasted here. Don’t cha know that ‘The people HERE are the BEST, the ones who woke up FIRST. And they are not going to be told what they can or can’t think about, because if that happens they’ll burn down the fucking classroom and go somewhere else’!!!

    Oh the irony…

  • This is just part of what is coming

    Peter Ward, Under a Green Sky, updated

  • @ Artleads

    Isn’t the proposition that people won’t change–for surely they can?–based on the above? TPTB will not prevent backyard gardening and force you to buy at the store, or will they? But no one can see the writing on the wall, the pace of NTE is too slow for that. Which precludes any effort toward self-sufficiency?

    See, you just don’t get it. This is the trouble. Eventually, I suppose you will, but meanwhile, you annoy others for whom stuff is obvious.

    People in the cities CANNOT change. Most people live in cities, they work in offices, they don’t have gardens and fields, they are fed from shops. they are not even interested in feeding themselves, it takes a long time to learn to grow food well. They are busy earning money doing other things.

    Have you not heard of all the small farmers and veg sellers getting raided by SWAT teams, ffs ? Did you not read the bit I posted :

    A Department of Justice memo instructs local police, under a program named “communities against terrorism,” to consider anyone who harbors “conspiracy theories” about 9/11 to be a potential terrorist.

    The memo thus adds 9/11-official-story skeptics to a growing list of targets described by federal law enforcement to be security threats, such as those who express ”libertarian philosophies,” “Second Amendment-oriented views,” interest in “self-sufficiency,”

    Why do you think Monsanto and Cargill are trying to control the global food supply ?

    I don’t know shit about dmd, and am not attracted by anything alluding to it.

    Jeez. I should have spelled it out. dmd = dairy man dave, who comments here.

    When the masses get the message that we’re doomed, I will get it too. I am them and they are me.

    But they are not going to get it, are they, because they listen to the MSM, which tells them lies, and they are too dumbed down to understand anything that’s going on.

    Anyway, what’s the point in even telling them ? If all we can say is, that they are going to die prematurely ? Because I don’t see what else we can tell them. Do you ? The future is impossible.

    The people who came here were the smart ones who think for themselves and joined the dots, regardless of what anyone else said, and then gazed with horror into the Abyss, and couldn’t believe what they were seeing… and that was way back… and WE have had the courage to explore that appalling prospect, whilst new people keep arriving and slowly catch up.

  • “…but meanwhile, you annoy others for whom stuff is obvious.”

    Do say again just WHAT is obvious. We’ve spent the last few months discussing so many things from so many perspectives that what ought to obvious (other than that you should be smarter and higher-level thinking than, apparently, at present) eludes me.

    Pure old intuition–please forgive the liberty–but you do seem to run yourself ragged sometimes. PLEASE get a little rest, my dear Ulvfugi. You’re worth it.

    @ annie

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • @ Artleads

    You asked me why a whole load of people expressed irritation with your comments.

    I tried to explain to you, my opinion, why that was so.

    You havn’t been able to understand what I said ?

    Basically, we’re going into a Mass Extinction Event.
    That cannot be avoided.

    That’s how I see it. That’s from the science. Makes no difference whether people understand it or believe it or deny it or whatever.

    You want to talk about growing vegetables and wooden windmills, etc.
    Why ?

    Given NTE, some people don’t think that’s very relevant. Understand ?

  • “That’s how I see it. That’s from the science. Makes no difference whether people understand it or believe it or deny it or whatever.”

    At the same time, you have been a major inspiration for getting people to think about, through and around “the science.” Ah well. No one is going to change anybody else here.

    “You want to talk about growing vegetables and wooden windmills, etc.
    Why ?”

    If you look back at how this all started, it was related to others’ discussion about agriculture, and the impossibility of it due to peak oil. I’m not mired in the food growing issue by any means.

    “Given NTE, some people don’t think that’s very relevant. Understand ?”

    I understand that people think all kinds of things are relevant or not relevant. Not my business. Look, I have enormous appreciation for you–you’re a pretty awesome guy. I am open to your wisdom and teaching, much of which has changed me. But here’s one thing I will not change: believing that Earth can be saved. Not until I take my last breath. I hope YOU understand that. If you want a reasonable person who does not believe in magic (join the crowd)–it ain’t me babe.

  • @ Artleads

    “That’s how I see it. That’s from the science. Makes no difference whether people understand it or believe it or deny it or whatever.”

    At the same time, you have been a major inspiration for getting people to think about, through and around “the science.” Ah well. No one is going to change anybody else here.

    Because, as I see it, science can establish certain basic Newtonian-level facts, like when the Moon will rise, or when the tides will peak, and so on, which will occur, absolutely reliably, and it makes no difference what anybody’s opinion or belief about that is.

    Science can’t do that for everything, of course, but the way I see it, we’ve got a good enough handle now to see quite clearly where things are headed for the global system, that is, the atmosphere, oceans, climate, land surface, etc.

    If you look back at how this all started, it was related to others’ discussion about agriculture, and the impossibility of it due to peak oil. I’m not mired in the food growing issue by any means.

    I don’t think it was about peak oil, it was about why we cannot STOP using oil, therefore stop emitting CO2, therefore stop global warming and ocean acidification, therefore stop destroying our future.

    Because without using the oil, amongst other thing, the billions in the cities die. Which they are not going to vote in favour of doing.

    But here’s one thing I will not change: believing that Earth can be saved. Not until I take my last breath.

    But that’s just an ego trip that you’re on.

    First, what is the Earth ? It got by fine without you before, why do you think it needs you now ?

    Anyway, it’s just a lump of rock. The part that matters is the thin skin of life on the surface, the biosphere. We’ve already fucked that up out of all recognition, so it’s ALREADY GONE.

    So what the heck are you trying to save ? And if you don’t understand what you’re trying to save or how you are going to save it, likely as not you’ll just make things worse.

    So far I’m not impressed by your plan for ‘saving the Earth’.

    Look, I’d love there to be an instant revolution, clear the wretched idiots that hold power out, and start getting some sanity happening, and try and save whatever remains.

    But where’s the plan ? Who is going to do it ? I’m as well informed as anyone, I can’t find anything that works or anyone who has a clue.

    Occupy was ridiculous, just a few people in well off countries wanting more for themselves and complaining about injustice and it got squashed. Maybe it made some people aware of the political realities.

    There’s zillions of angry frustrated young people out there who want jobs and a future, and sooner or later they are going to break loose and there will be revolutionary fervour.

    But that’s no USE. Because this catastrophe is not going to be solved by social justice. It’s an EXTINCTION EVENT, it’s geological and biological and ecological, because the number of humans have exceeded the carrying capacity of the environment, the planet, and wrecked the life support systems that held everything together.

    That does not get solved by giving people jobs or money or houses or health care, however desirable those things are.

    Once I did think as you do, and did think that if I gave up everything else and fought I could make a difference and ‘save the planet’ and I truly believed I’d found the answer with permaculture. I still think permaculture is great. But it’s no good when the climate goes away and becomes unstable.

    That’s what has happened. And it’s not coming back, maybe 80 or 100 thousand years before it regains a new stable state. You can’t grow crops reliably without a fairly predictable climate, a fairly predictable weather pattern.

    You think the changes are happening slowly. You are obviously not looking at what is happening globally, at the floods and droughts and extreme weather events.

    I’m not saying that you or anyone else should give up or anything like that. I’m saying, understand clearly the nature of this situation then do whatever you think is the right thing to do.

    Personally, I think people should fight, do anything they can to resist, and I do everything I can to help wildlife, I want to help other species survive for as long as possible. But I do this for moral reasons, for personal satisfaction, not because I expect to achieve any result, because I believe that the extinction event is inevitable.

  • maybe you could help the worms and bury yourself in the ground.

  • Thanks for your views, Ulv. One of my two friends from high school had been my teacher and housemaster there, a Welchman of great passion. Once when house discipline was going south, he responded like a soldier holding down the garrison against foreign attack. I happened upon his presence at the wrong time, while not guilty of any offence, and he hit me to the ground reflexively. As per your post elsewhere, I have the Welch soldiers line that one does not cross. So it’s odd that I completely forgave my friend. Perhaps because he saved my life by giving me a job on graduation from art school. But far more than that was his unfailing kindness and friendship throughout his life. Now I only have one friend, my art teacher, from high school. May he be blessed.

    I take your point about ego. My ego is outlandish. I hope it is balanced by the realization of how vulnerable I am. I am not a physical warrior, that’s certain.

    No, I’m just being myself. Fortunately or unfortunately, what I say reflects my honest inner truth. I’ve been around the block a couple of times, and know what works for me. I’m in no way interested in what anyone else thinks can or cannot change the world. They must figure things out for themselves. If you don’t understand where I’m coming from, I’m sorry. I had thought you did. And it presents me a kind of grief that you don’t. So my lonely sojourn continues. C’est la vie.

    If I continue to post here, I can only hope you can ignore my annoyingness and not attack, whatever you think of what I say. I cannot bear to have my line crossed. The anger that produces in me is uncontrollable. It’s a bit like what Trinidadian calypso king, the Mighty Sparrow, had to say: “…A (I) can’t fight on the whole, but if yu (you) whip mi, Lord have mercy upon your soul.”

    So my brother, peace. Keep on trucking.

  • @ Artleads

    I was not being friendly or unfriendly, just trying to explain something you asked about, re this blog, and to explain something to you re the larger situation re the world that you don’t seem to understand.

    I can’t teach you about that, can I, at gunpoint, it’s something you have to seek to learn about yourself and struggle with and inform yourself and educate yourself and get a clear mental model, and it’s not easy when there’s so much going on and it is so complicated.

    But there are people on this blog who are way ahead of you in that work and if you make foolish blunders and get a sharp pointer that you’re wrong, what use is there in being angry. If you’re willing and trying hard to learn, people can see that, but if you keep on saying really dumb things, this place is like a wolf pack, snarling, savage and cruel.

    You know, talking about kindness and love and compassion is fine, but what happens in practice is that bullshit and trolling drowns out the signal, and the constant infighting is a sort of struggle to keep a totally unruly and uncontrollable crew pointing in the right direction, it’s sort of dialectical navigation by insults and vendettas.

    I think this, despite appearances, is extremely healthy and refreshing.
    You yourself said, months ago, ‘Who is charge here, Guy or Daniel ?’

    That’s a slave mentality. That’s a pyramid control model, with a boss at the top. This is anarchy. No ruler. We decide the rules amongst ourselves. Nobody has the right to tell anyone else what they should or should not do. It’s a flat model, not a pyramid.

    So here you are now, asking ME, and asking Christy Ceraso, what YOU should do. But that’s NOT IT. It’s up to YOU. We’re all free to CHOOSE what to do. And if we screw up and make a mess, tough. If you want respect, you have to earn it, you can’t demand it. That’s how I see it.

    @ Rob

    When did you ever say anything interesting ? Remind me.

    You repeat the same mental self-flagellating nihilistic mantra several times on every thread. I got it the first time you said it many months ago.

    If you can’t think of anything worthwhile to do with your precious time why not find someone who can, and help them ?

    e.g. http://www.beyondreskilling.org/

    Or help some poor children or something.