Illegitimi non carborundum


At the university so many years ago, I was asking students to think. I was imploring students to ask questions. High standards for myself and others were not appreciated within the culture of mediocrity promoted by university administrators (a minor subset of the culture of mediocrity promoted within the entire set of living arrangements). As a result, the first administrative act of my final department head — who was hired specifically to make my life sufficiently miserable that I would depart — was to ban me from teaching in my home department.

After a few years of teaching poetry in the Honors College and several incarceration facilities, I made my ill-fated stand. I left active service at the university, of my own volition, to create a homestead on property my wife and I share with another couple. During my final year on campus, I was named Honors College faculty of the year.

The homestead was amazing within a couple years. Water comes from two solar pumps and a hand pump. Contrary to Internet-based rumors, we are in no danger of running out of water: The nearby Wilderness Area serves as the headwaters for a very shallow water table that has been stable for more than a century. Food is provided by extensive gardens and an orchard and, for a few years, from chickens, ducks, turkeys, a goose, and goats. Body temperature is stabilized by an off-grid, straw-bale house. The human community is the most positively amazing I’ve experienced in 55 years spent in numerous cities and towns.

Retirement didn’t suit me. I couldn’t stop working. I was never satisfied with my work. Paradoxically, high standards for myself and others led to adverse interactions in my personal life, which increasingly intersected with my unpaid professional work.

Although the pursuit of happiness is ridiculously acknowledged as a universal right for citizens of the country I inhabit, its acquisition is quite another matter. Happiness has largely eluded me. I suspect I’ll not find it before I reach my personal expiration date.

It seems the Constitutional guarantee is precluded by my own constitution. The irony is not lost on me. More importantly, the feeling of joy — a deeper, more persistent sentiment than happiness — has slipped through my grasp. Again, the irony is rich, particularly in light of my overarching message.

I’m posting below, verbatim, an essay from April 2008. It reflects my naive perspective and my ill-considered hope from that time. The title of the current essay matches the title of this one from more than seven years ago.

I love the Socratic aspect of academia, and it’s the part I do best. I supervise nine independent-study projects this semester, with a total of ten students. Most of them have spent a weekend at the mud hut, or soon will. Indeed, I’m just back from the mud hut, where I spent the weekend with one of the students, the poet in resident at the renowned University of Arizona Poetry Center. He called the trip “transformative.” I meet regularly with all the students, probing and pushing until they do more and better work than any of us thought possible. Ditto for the small, hard-working herd of graduate students I advised and mentored during two wonderful decades.

It’s a good thing I love highly individualized projects, because my department head banned me from teaching in my own department when she arrived two years ago. One of her very first actions was to prevent me from teaching a class I created and then taught for ten years. Apparently students were learning all the wrong things. Instead of focusing narrowly on production of livestock and other amenities critical to human well-being, thereby training students for jobs, I was educating them to lead lives of excellence. As you can imagine, the university administration put a stop to that nonsense.

If you’re keeping score, training is for dogs. Education is for scholars.

Then, of course, there is my scholarship, which has been reviled by my college dean and university president for years. My open letter to the president, which appeared nearly a decade ago in the morning daily because he wouldn’t respond to my individual requests, got his attention and helped save the final, tiny patch of desert in the center of campus from red pavers and fountains (the fountains, which were installed nearby, were turned off earlier this year as a cost-cutting measure). The situation has since eroded, while spreading well beyond the university president. I just kept asking the hard, but obvious, questions and, in exchange, I kept getting kicked in the head. Consider this exemplary exchange, in which I pointed out the dire state of our energy situation (albeit before it became apparent to the masses), to which the dean responded with “he’s not one of us,” and I forced him to admit his error (in return, I let him keep his job and I let the university keep money in their litigation coffers).

And finally, there’s my embarrassing outreach. Imperialists would rather ignore important issues than address them in a constructive manner. And there’s no denying the imperialism of typical administrators at any Research I university. Or, for that matter, the honesty and integrity of the typical inmate relative to the typical administrator. Why, the administrators plead, would I bother to work with criminals when I could be doing important work, such as justifying livestock on public lands and otherwise promoting imperial ambitions? Never mind that, last year, the United States became the first country in history to incarcerate more than one percent of its adult population. And it’s working so well, wouldn’t you say? By nearly every measure, we’re spending more and getting less from our “justice” system than any other country (well, okay, we’re not getting less violent crime … but less of the good stuff, if not less of the bad).

Teaching? I’m doing the best work of my life. Scholarship? Likewise. Outreach? Ditto. Obviously, it’s time for me to move along.

I never thought I’d give in. I thought I’d be holding administrative feet to the proverbial fire, forcing deans, department heads, and presidents to do right until the whole thing fell down. Illegitimi non carborundum: It’s been my rallying cry for 15 years, since one of my beloved graduate students explained the phrase to me.

Alas, the bastards wore me down. And, finally, out. My last day on the taxpayer dime will be 1 May 2009, twenty years to the day after I was hired. Fittingly, 1 May is a day of celebration for labor and laborers throughout the world. My department accepted my resignation with considerable glee, and the university granted me emeritus status so I can keep working for free. Stunningly, they didn’t offer a gold watch.

Perhaps I’m cutting off my nose to spite my face. But, as my brother points out on his blog, that’ll make it easy for me to stick my head up my butt. And I can assure you I’m terrified. As I abandon the ship of empire for my lifeboat, it’s difficult to see anything but choppy seas between here and the distant horizon.

In an apt twist of fate, the Dow Jones Industrial Average started its current four-week rally the day I gave notice. That’s the power of one: I’m saving the industrial economy all by myself.
Next up: organic gardening at the mud hut, sans money. We’re all headed there soon enough.


Upon request for Nature Bats Last on the Progressive Radio Network, I provided an explanation for those looking to introduce abrupt climate change. It’s below.

We are in the midst of abrupt climate change, which will soon obliterate habitat on this planet for our species. This event has precedence in Earth’s history, and it’s irreversible at time frames that matter for humans. Civilization is a heat engine, and the planet is about to overheat. Our species, like all others, will go extinct. It’s later than you think. I’m not suggesting we “give up” in the face of certain death. I am, however, indicating that birth is a sexually transmitted disease that is lethal in every case. We all die. What matters now is how we choose to live. That’s always been the case, although we often lose track of the urgency.

Comments 113

  • @oldgrowthforest

    I really hope you get through the two saturday lectures as well. He goes into a bit more detail, but it is built on the foundation of the Friday ‘overview.’

    The improved 2009 double slit experiment that refutes all objections to Bohr’s original experiment (affirming the original observations) is amazing. I found the history of Einstein’s years of attempts in the final years of his life to reconcile this within his objective paradigm, unsuccessfully, to be a highlight of the lecture. It will have you chuckling since I know what you feel about the hubris of scientists.

    Anyway, do watch the Saturday lectures too, they are worth it. As a matter of fact, I’m about one hour into watching it again myself, it’s been awhile since I saw it and it’s just that thought provoking. Yum.

    Anyhow, glad you’re watching it. It’s interesting stuff.


    I can’t tell if your comment grinned with me, or at me. After all, it’s hard not to contradict ourselves at some point if we’re trying hard to think about lot’s of angles to things. All we can do is our best. I wondered if saying anything at all would maybe be opening my own Pandora’s Box.

    “O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
    To see oursels as ithers see us!”

    Yikes! :)

  • @oldgrowth

    “it’s something I often attempt to make a point about when I talk about the god-like and omniscient statements of How Things Are that we are all trained to compulsively express when we attempt to communicate with each other. ”

    He talks about that eventually. How the symbols (words) we use to communicate with all have our own subjective metaphors behind them, based merely on our own personal experiences with the symbols. It makes it hard to imagine how we manage to communicate at all! I liked that part a lot, you’ll get to it.

    Cheers. Maybe enjoy a beer while you watch, it is Friday. ;)

  • Ok, so it’s not Friday. I guess that’s what happens when you leave empire behind; it doesn’t even matter what day it is anymore. Oops. :(

    Yes oldgrowth, he makes things much clearer in the Saturday lectures.

    Don Juan and the Carlos Castanada books exposed the same concept; that reality only renders as it does because we are all ‘conditioned’ from birth to perceive it in ways that we all mutual agree upon. That’s also why empire has been able to condition us the way they have. Empire has understood this for a long time, possibly since as far back as ancient Egypt.

    Anyhow, enjoy. Whatever day it is where you happen to be. ;)

  • lwa and ogf, no time to look at the Campbell video atm but I promise I will.

    I just wanted to point out that just because humans cannot *agree* on an objective reality, doesn’t mean one does not exist (kind of like the elephant/blind men parable…).

    My assumption is that a common reality does exist, but we perceive it differently, just the way dogs, cats, bats, whatever other creature… sees and hears things that we can’t and vice versa. My reality isn’t my dog’s reality, but that doesn’t mean we’re not living in the same potentially-objective world. I believe the world can be objectively described, but only with a large enough receptive spectrum (beyond our human senses) and a large enough number of data points (a number too great for humans to process).

    I think in a previous post I challenged the idea of an absolute infinity. While it is useful as a mathematical abstraction, I wonder whether it actually exists or whether it just stands for “an extremely large number: too many to realistically count”. (Any math or physics geeks out there are invited to enlighten me as to the materially-proven reality of infinity.)

    @lwa, when you work outside of the 9-5 paradigm, every day is potentially Friday (or Monday :-( )

    Barriers to our perception aren’t only handed down by “The Man”.. they largely lie in physical restrictions. Taking some drug is not as likely to allow you to hear like a bat as it is likely to lead you to believe you can hear like a bat, which is a whole ‘nother exercise. Interesting, but (I would argue) just as ultimately irrelevant as any other kind of recreation.

    The thing is, people by nature want to give Everything They Do some kind of IMPORT. Hence rituals and so forth. They need to see the man in the moon, the shapes in the clouds, the face of Jesus on the burnt toast. It’s heartwarming in its “humanity”, but ultimately meaningless. People don’t like that message because it diminishes them.

  • @twimc

    Tom Campbell not only gets his physics wrong, but his metaphysics doesn’t add up either.

    Talk about dumpster diving for answers …

  • @Phil Morrison

    Why do you assume people are going to him for answers? Many people are born with this consciousness and knowledge, have kept themselves tucked safely away from empire all their lives, and are just pleased to see someone like Tom get up and have the balls to talk about it. A common smear of empire is to label it indoctrination, as if it were even remotely similar to what empire does with their goofy religiosity diversions. It’s about recognition, not indoctrination. Don’t kid yourself; James Randi is on empire’s payroll.

    Newton came up with a half assed theory of gravity that kind of worked to get us started, sort of, and Tom has come up with a half assed theory of consciousness that sort of works too. It’s at least a good start of relating to it using the language of science. Newton’s theory turned out to be sort of flawed and in need of refinement too, but I’d hardly call it dumpster diving.

    I think Tom does a good service for those of us who have looked down and seen we have two hands and wondered why others don’t seem to have hands at all. It seems to only be people who lack these abilities that presume to call them make believe. For people who do have them, it’s pretty ridiculous to hear people trying to tell them that they don’t when they are fully conscious of using them everyday.

    Here’s a Charles Darwin quote for you … from when people laughed at his theory.

    “You cannot describe to a fish, which spends its entire existence in water, anything about the virtues of walking on land, or of breathing the air; it cannot conceive of it.”

    P.S. I hope you don’t falsely assume that this is all presented as some sort of answer to avert extinction do you? It’s pretty obvious all the low vibration people have pooched the game for the rest of us, but maybe some are just interested in still probing the limits of consciousness while we still have some time left. There’s nothing wrong with that is there? Before the infants blow the rest of us all up?


  • @Ram:
    “But Empire is not winning. If it were, we’d not be facing NTHE. What you’re witnessing with NTHE is the way Nature (not to anthropomorphise) deals with Empire (extinction). You may not like it, but that is the way that has worked since life began (and perhaps before).”
    “P.S. Ma nature doesn’t favor empire, that’s absurd. It’s just the simple fact that a house of cards is much easier to knock down than it is to build in the first place. It’s a pretty straight forward law of the Tao. Life is hard, death is relatively easy, but I don’t think I’d conclude that nature favors death over life. Nature is life. Just a thought.”

    I would guess that most people, even ‘well adjusted’ ones, are prepared to acknowledge that an infinitessimal speck of biosphere, self-defined as a human being, can experience suicidal ideation, attempt suicide, and sometimes even apparently achieve it, whereas, for reasons I cannot fathom, those same people seem to balk at the possibility, or probability, of an entire biosphere being capable of these same things?

    At the biosphere level, the interval between ideation and execution would be expected to happen on a geological time scale. As a biosphere, perhaps the best (or only) strategy would be to carefully nurture a ‘maladapted’ species?

    All objections gratefully received…

  • I see what you mean, Lidia, and your statement regarding the difference between there being no objective reality and humans not agreeing on an objective reality makes an important point.

    However, if I understand Campbell, he really means that there is no objective reality and he is talking about a level of consciousness that is not at the same level as human agreement, but I could be mistaken on that.

    LWA, I will try to take the time to check out the other videos you mention. I may have to listen to the first one more than twice. You have to be in a mood for metaphysics.

    I’m interested in Phil’s understanding of both physics and metaphysics, and justifications for his judgment.

    “That’s wrong,” without explanation seems unreasonable.

  • @18000days

    I think we might be in agreement more than we are disagreement after I consider your comment. We might just be seeing it in a slightly different way. I have always noticed that nature has an amazing ability to address imbalance and correct the imbalance through feedbacks in order to reach equilibrium again. Ie. Abuse the field, it becomes unproductive and is abandoned. Too many wolves, they deplete their prey and die back, too many deer, and they strip the food away, wolves grow in number because of the easy pickings, and the deer numbers are reduced back to equilibrium … that sort of thing.

    I guess I see what’s happening as less of nature’s suicide, and more of just a radical step by nature necessary to correct the imbalance of human overpopulation. A slightly different motivation, but with pretty much the same outcome. Like a fever that intends to kill an invasive disease, but with the real possibility also of also killing the host. In my vision, it’s a radical step taken by nature in order to actually try and survive. It’s too bad so much of her will die in her efforts to halt our invasion. Thanks for your thoughts 18000days. I think it’s interesting that we both perceive nature as a being … we are all just parts of the same whole. Too bad we seem to be the cancerous growth part at this point.


    The next time I recommend Tom’s videos (which has only just been this once so far), I think I’ll recommend starting right off on the Saturday lecture. It’s much better than the Friday overview, which jumps around and meanders a little too much now that I’ve watched it again. I hope you do see the Saturday lecture someday; it has the interesting perspective of twentieth century physics that I’d hoped you’d see, and a wonderful walkthrough of the improved double slit experiment called the ‘delayed choice quantum erasure experiment’ (which was done in 1999 by the way, and not 2009, sorry for my shoddy memory there.)

    Probably the last I’ll mention Tom here, it is what it is; just a perspective … food for thought. He’s just an interesting guy, not a guru. With open minded skepticism, it’s not all or nothing. :)


  • I don’t expect a single person alive to tell me some ultimate cosmic Truth as to How Things Are, or any of the subsets of How Things Are, not even Ralph Waldo Emerson or Albert Einstein or Charles Darwin. I’m not sure there is a single purpose to life. Maybe different people have different purposes for their lives, some of which they share with some other people, and some of which are personal only to them. It’s one of those god-like ultimate understandings that I can’t know and that I don’t think anyone else really knows either.

    That’s religion. I’m not religious that way.

  • @oldgrowth
    Too bad I live with such a small footprint these days, which has become its own self fulfilling prophecy of sorts. I bet if I was able to make a trip from Alberta up to Alaska, we could probably sit on your porch and talk for hours. We seem not so un-similar. I hope you have a nice day oldgrowth.

    LOL … group hug!

  • Group hug. LOL, indeed. You crack me up, lwa.

    The porch is looking good right now! It is the peak of this year’s fall color and the brown, and the wild currants’ leaves are flaming scarlet. It is my favorite time of the year. What a beautiful summer it was this year, beyond any I’ve seen before in Alaska.

    Temperatures are high 40s and 50F, warmer than it used to be, although my outside thermometer right now says it’s 31F. The neighbors came over two days ago and cut down a standing dead tree and chopped it up for me, along with one that fell in the winter of 2014. I have a nice stock of firewood for the next several weeks, and the fire in the wood stove (with the glass door) is the exact right touch for a humble shack in Alaska. When you come, do let Mark know. He has a standing invitation. :O)


  • Oops, typo correction, “It is the peak of fall color and the fireweed has turned rust brown, and the wild currants’ leaves are flaming scarlet.”