Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Broken Link

I often mention our ancestral past in my conversations with friends. I talk about the things we used to have, the things we used to enjoy and the vastly different circumstances we find ourselves in today in the modern world. One of the problems the modern civilized human faces is being surrounded by strangers. This may not sound like much of a problem at all. Most people, especially urbanites, love the diversity that the city offers. And yet, there is a certain simmering tension underneath the appearances when a variety of cultures mingle. These tensions are kept in check in times of plenty, when the gravy train runs, doling out goodies to everyone along the way, With ample resources to feed everyone, fault lines become almost invisible. Even with the differences in worldview and thought, since everyone believes in the stories of civilization, progress and technology, we get along. But during times of scarcity, or during difficult socio-politico-economic conditions, tensions along cultural, ethnic, religious, geographic and other fault lines flare up. We see this happen from time to time in countries and regions across the world. People who are different from each other in one or more ways who have otherwise lived in relative peace for long periods of time nevertheless clash during stressful times when resources become scarce and competition for the limited pool of resources arises seemingly out of nowhere.

Did I say "people who are different from each other"? Why would anyone say such a thing? Aren't we all the same? All one? One species. One world? Coexisting?

We're often presented with a liberal worldview that calls for unity among all humans irrespective of their origins, belief systems and appearances. So how come we haven't figured out how to live in peace with each other? How come we keep fighting with each other, disrespecting one another and calling into question another's belief system, religion, or culture?

If we take the long view, if we consider our past spanning 200,000 years, we'd realize that this is a brand new problem in the history of humanity... for 99% of our time on this planet, we lived in situations where we knew almost everyone we interacted with on a daily basis. We grew up and lived in tribes which were basically extended families and we knew most of our fellow tribespeople very well as a matter of fact. It's not that our tribal ancestors never saw a foreigner. Perhaps once in a while when someone from a faraway land or a neighboring tribe passed by, we'd run into a stranger. In Native American powwows that happened regularly and periodically, neighboring tribes got together and celebrated their connection to one another and to the lands they inhabited. Neighboring tribes intermarried. Tribes traded with each other as well. But the interaction was largely occasional and limited by geography. Moreover, tribal people, wherever they lived on the planet, shared similar worldviews, and in that sense, even the occasional foreigner that passed by was not really a stranger. They all had a shared sense of reality, a shared foundation upon which their respective creation stories were built.

It's only recently, in the past several thousand years, that humans have been forced to deal with strangers from far away lands or with people with wildly different worldviews. It's only recently that humans have been living in close quarters with people who look very different, think very differently and believe in very different things. This is a very unnatural state of affairs. The calls from leaders and gurus alike, picked up and repeated by the idealist urban progressive liberal, the calls to get along because we're all one species are actually calls to adapt to an unnatural state of affairs, one that is relatively new in our history on this planet.
I realize that this assertion on my part that mixing with people that are different from us is unnatural is very uncommon in the modern world where one daily hears talk about tolerance and unity and the exhortation to "live and let live". Such a position might even bring up memories of the segregation era and worse. I ask you to suspend your judgment for a few minutes and hear me out...

When I take this position in conversations with friends, they often tell me about all the amazing things that have come out of this worldwide blending of people from everywhere. Just look at New York or Los Angeles, the lively profusion of cultures and traditions that make such cities global in nature, truly cosmopolitan cities that offer something for everyone. Here's a response I received from a friend recently:

"But I don't regret my exposure or access to the rest of the world. I love knowing people and what they do and believe and how they eat and love. I like that I can search for my personal truth through the full expanse of human culture and thought. And my favorite music and dancing outside of ballet is definitely not from around me or my people -- And I am made so happy by the amazing fusions of music and dance and food vocabularies that I've experienced. Those things are only humanity made better as long as we continue to value the traditions upon which they are built."

Here was my response, expanded and edited for clarity:

You described the aspects of civilization that we have come to enjoy. No doubt we have wonderful art, music, cuisine, etc. I'm not denying that. But when we ask ourselves how we got ourselves into an existential crisis, one for which there appears to be no solution within our reach, we are compelled to trace back our history all the way back to our origins on this planet and we end up with the realization that says we were once tethered to land and now we're not.

Consider this narrative of how a human body is made up of smaller building blocks...

There are all sorts of particles in the Universe. The nature of creation around us seems to be one where some particles get together and create larger constructs. Whether the particles do this voluntarily in order to be part of something bigger than themselves (as in a cooperative organization), or they do it because they are forced to come together by a force stronger than themselves, it's as if the will or essence of the larger construct directs (for a finite period of time) the essence of the smaller ones. The latter eventually come together to form certain shapes with certain properties. The smaller individual particles might be replaced over the lifetime of the larger construct, but the latter retains an essence of its own as it is built and rebuilt throughout its lifetime.

So, we have subatomic particles like electrons and protons coming together to form atoms. These particles are held together by a certain force that gives the atom its shape and properties. That force is part of the essence or spirit of the atom. Atoms are more than the sum of the electrons, protons and neutrons that make them up. They have unique properties. Atoms, in turn, get together to form molecules...

Molecules get together to form cells. The cell has unique properties and functions that are a result of the molecules coming together for a specified period of time, the lifetime of the cell, to build something larger than themselves.

Cells get together to form tissue of various kinds.

Tissue constitutes organs, like the stomach, the heart, etc. It's as if the heart knows how to exist and knows what it needs to exist and to function and it recruits what it needs from the nutrient supply coming its way and rebuilds and maintains itself. The same applies to all other organs in the body.

All the organs come together to make up a human body, a human being with properties and aspects and behaviors and characteristics that are more than the sum of the parts. This process of building a human body is not chronological. The organs evolve together just as the body acquires its shape and behaviors.

So now, we have a fully functioning healthy human body with a unique set of characteristics that we call a human being. We came up the chain from subatomic particles to atoms to molecules to cells to tissue to organs to the human being. What next? Here is where the trouble starts :)

Back in the day, the chain of constitution continued upward...

Human beings came together to form a tribe. Just as the organs in the human body work together to maintain and continue the evolution of the human body and the human being, the human members of the tribe worked together to nurture and sustain the tribe. Individual humans may come and go but the tribe retained its unique identity. The tribe was like a super human structure with characteristics and properties that were more than the sum of the human beings that were its members. The members were well aware of this arrangement. This is the same pattern our tribal ancestors saw in the creation around them.

Lest you think I'm making this up, here's an excerpt from the excellent book, "Unraveling the Spreading Cloth of Time: Indigenous Thoughts Concerning the Universe":
With individualism, a lack of responsibility is supposed. The idea of hierarchy, upon which the scientific classification system is arranged, echoing in kingdoms and governments, creates an imbalance. Many modern-day relationships are Koyaanisqatsi, a Hopi word meaning "life out of balance."

In contrast, tribal societies placed the group (tribe, or nation) kinship first, the individual, last. Young Bear stated, "what is so different between Indians and non-Indians is that we are members of a tribe, even if we do not always show it." And then, she goes on to explain: "Our 'hierarchy', if one must think in those terms, places the tribe at the top, then the clan, extended family, natural family, chosen family, and the individual at the bottom. This does not mean that we have low self-esteem. It means the opposite, that we value the well-being of the people and our psychology and philosophy is all-inclusive, not segregated into pieces of the whole of our lives."
For any individual tribesman or tribeswoman, the prospect of their death didn't worry them or cause them anxiety because they truly saw themselves as the natural building block of something bigger than themselves, contributing to their family and tribe that would go on with all its traditions and culture. The life of the tribe was more important than the life of any particular human being... just as the health and longevity of the human body is more important than the life of any individual cell in the liver or the eye. This is the pattern we still see in nature, in the animal and plant worlds. Wolves come and go but the pack lives on. Trees come and go but the forest lives on. When a tribe member fell sick, it was as if the entire tribe was sick. Just as when the liver falls sick, the entire human body suffers. The members of a healthy tribe worked well with each other just as the various organs of a healthy human body work well with each other, passing messages between themselves, warning each other of foreign objects and threats, maintaining a healthy immune system, etc.

The next level of aggregation, up from the tribe, is the land they were part of. In fact, the very word "indigenous" means "of a particular region or country; native to". From Merriam-Webster:


Recently, a number of US Marines joined the Water Protectors protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, North Dakota. One of them was Wesley Clark Jr., the son of General Wesley Clark, who apologized to Leonard Crow Dog. The Lakota chief accepted the apology and proceeded to say that the Lakota tribe doesn't own the land, but that the land owns them. This statement by this indigenous person may appear metaphorical to civilized people, but he meant it quite literally. The tribe is well aware of its relationship with its land. Our ancestors knew they were part of the land. Even as humans migrated gradually from place to place, they became part of the land they called home. They learned about the land's other residents, the mountains, the waters, the rocks, the animals, the plants and the birds. They figured out ways to listen to their land and serve it and help it thrive. They were minimal in their needs, often using less than 1% of the energy flow in their ecology. What they took they gave back in a different form. They maintained their numbers through natural methods of contraception so as not to overwhelm their land. These are the signs of a healthy tribe. Our indigenous ancestors worked very well with the land that owned them!

The land, of course, is part of the Earth. All ecological niches and subsystems interact with each other and maintain a certain balance. The Earth, as a living organism, has all these organs, the oceans, the poles with their massive ice sheets that regulate temperature, the deserts, the plains and the mountains. All of them work together to keep the climate system and the energy flow going. The flow of water, of energy, and of atmospheric charge and atmospheric gases are similar to the flow of blood and electric signals and energy coursing through the human body.

As long as we humans lived in tribes all over the Earth, in balance with our respective lands, there was this continuous chain of progression from subatomic particles all the way to the Earth itself. Human beings were part of the tribe, the tribe was part of the land and the land was part of the Earth. In other words, the Earth itself is a large conscious living body made up of constituent organs. These organs, the lands all over the planet, are in turn made up of further smaller members, the animals, the plants, the rivers, and more recently in the history of the planet, human beings.

The Earth itself is a functional member of the solar system... and the aggregation continues: star systems, galaxies, etc. So we had a continuous and healthy chain of connections and aggregations going from the smallest subatomic particles to the largest arrangements of heavenly bodies that our best telescopes tell us are out there.

Let's come to the present moment... what we have today is not quite the same as what we had in the past. There's been a rupture in the chain of connections. Something went haywire at a particular linkage. Tribes lost their connection to the land. Tribes increasingly began dissolving, their cultures, traditions and languages vanishing, with their members dispersing, rootless, homeless human beings. That's us, after some 10,000 years of such dissolution, civilized modern people, having spread all over the planet, having increased in numbers beyond the carrying capacity of the planet, drawing down on the ecological capital, the interest on which used to nourish our ancestors aplenty.

Exactly how this rupture came about is not very clear. Several theories have been put forth by researchers. One even alludes to alien interference in Earthly matters and consequent corruption of otherwise healthy humans. Whatever the cause or causes, it must have started with one or more tribes somewhere on the planet going out of balance and overrunning its land. The connection between the tribe and its owner, the land, was severed. This tribe had now turned cancerous, to use the analogy of cancer in the human body. Earth started having a cancerous growth in one of her organs. Normally, just as in the healthy human body, such growths are dealt with... the immune system responds and kills of the cancerous growth. The healthy tribes surrounding a cancerous tribe normally realize what's going on, since they are keen listeners and observers, and kill off the cancerous tribe and restore balance to the land. But sometimes, just as in a human body, the growth overwhelms the immune system and takes over the body. The cancerous tribe overran neighboring healthy tribes and began spreading. This is the story of civilization. Civilization is the name we give to this human cancer on the planet. Civilization is unsustainable, is a heat engine, a massive energy consumer, a pyramid scheme, full of inequality and unnatural hierarchy, puts out massive amounts of waste products and if not checked in time, generally ends up choking and killing off the host, which is the planet we call home.

So when we talk about the prospects of nuclear war and the ongoing sixth mass extinction due to habitat collapse and abrupt climate change, they are simply the results of the uncontrolled growth of the human cancer on the planet. This perspective, of course, is not palatable to us civilized humans. Who would want to be called a cancer cell, after all. But that's what we civilized modern humans are behaving as, as little cancer cells, with no connection to land, not being a part of any healthy organ, not being part of the continuous chain of linkages that have long constituted a healthy Universe. We run around, try different cuisines, listen to world music, fly to and from the other side of the planet (that's me :)), sample various cultures, meet different people, but all of that is simply part of the story of civilization. It's the kind of temporary luxuries that humans, as adaptable as we are, get used to liking and enjoying. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. But I have a need to put it all in the larger context and this is what I come up with... based on my reading, listening and pondering over the human condition in the present time.

Whether or not all of the above makes sense, a key takeaway from the story of humanity is that we lost our connection with land. People were as happy or happier living on their land. They had much fun, enjoyed productive time and leisure time, made art, played sports and games, sang and danced into the wee hours of the night, talked with spirits and lived long joyous lives. Anything we hear to the contrary is made up by modern civilized humans to make ourselves look better than our ancestors. Believe it or not :) Our ancestors did not die young, they did not live penurious lives full of misery and shortage of food, they didn't display savagery like we do today, they didn't have depression, cancer, suicide, etc. the way we have, and they weren't sub-human. Look at the work of revisionist anthropologists such as Marshall Sahlins.

Today, with the cultural rise of individualism, our end point in the chain up from subatomic particles is the individual human being... with our massive egos, we are no longer part of a tribe and no longer connected to the land our ancestral tribes were connected to. All of us descend from tribal people. All of us have indigenous ancestors... there's not a single exception... mathematically. But today. we are no longer concerned with the land our ancestors called home. We run around all over the planet in our fancy jet planes. We are born on one side of the planet and live on the other side... such a thing has never happened before in our history... we call it progress but it's actually a kind of devolution. Our condition is not unlike that of the sea life that gets lifted from waters in the Atlantic by a ship's ballast system and gets dumped in the Pacific. Suddenly, it's a whole new environment. Suddenly, the native species of sea life, plants and animals, are confronted by foreign species and it's a big mess for both native and foreign.

We don't belong to a tribe anymore. We look for community but have a difficult time finding like-minded people. This is the result of thousands of years of devolution. We are confused individuals, with no proper knowledge of where and how we fit in into the larger picture. The indigenous person had no such confusion. She knew her place and she educated her children about their place... and so they continued for 200,000 years. We civilized people, on the other hand, are barely able to last a mere 10,000 years since agriculture began. The tribe has been dissolved. Human beings no longer have a tribe and are no longer connected to land. There is no such thing as a global tribe. There is no such workable concept as a global human family. Without connection to the land, we are simply living in artificial constructs and mental notions of unity and oneness. Sure, we're all related but our relationship to each other ought to be through our lands and the Earth. Yes, we are spiritual beings, but our spirituality ought to arise out of our connection to and respect for our sacred land and our Earth Mother.

Today. the lands suffer everywhere because we mine them, drill into them and exploit them. We blow up mountain tops, throw nuclear waste into the ocean, litter the rivers and seas with plastic, emit carbon and methane into the atmosphere, hunt to extinction hundreds of animals, enslave fellow humans, manipulate culture and generally make a mess of it all.

It is time for us, in the next few years or decades, to take stock of the situation and come to terms with it. We have the brains to process this information, to understand it, and we have the capacity to empathize with our ancestors and today's indigenous peoples and to see through the sick culture that we were brought up in. I know this is not a fun way to become more conscious of the world around us and our place in it. As they say, expanding one's consciousness is not necessarily a fun process. We need to become more conscious of our situation here and now. This is what I'm called to do. Your mileage may vary...

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Near Future and the Distant Past

In the last post, I predicted certain dire outcomes in the near future. In the comment space, Nemesis, my friend, asked me:

"Satish, your blog seems to perish, it seems to go extinct, commenters are getting rare... why is it?"

Let me tell you a couple of things about Nemesis first. I have always shared his views on Empire, the workings of Empire, the nature of Empire, the impacts of Empire, everything Empire. He's been ranting about it all on that now-defunct comment space of another blog called "Nature Bats Last", NBL in short. That's where I met Nemesis... on NBL. That's where I met a number of other friends as well, none of whom I have ever met in person. And yet, I consider them good friends because we agree on a lot of things and we share certain uncommon non-mainstream views.

I dedicate this blog post to all my NBL friends... you know who you are! Thank you for following me on to my blog and listening to what I have to say and saying the things I need to listen to... I appreciate your company.

My blog might very well be going extinct. There's not much new to say anymore. I feel like I have said it all. I have talked about indigenous peoples, how our ancestors were all indigenous peoples and how we gradually started seeing ourselves as separate and apart from the rest of the creation around us (what we refer to as 'nature'). We have now reached a point where this journey of separation and all the associated trends are coming to a head. And rapidly so. This is what I was talking about in my last blog post. Sure, it seems "negative", but it's what I see happening and I am simply mentioning it. Any characterization or judgment of unpalatable trends and events as negative is simply that - a judgment. There's nothing wrong with judgment either... it's a healthy part of the process of discernment, which is a healthy and normal part of living.

If you watch the documentary on the Kogi of Columbia ("From the Heart of the World: The Elder Brother's Warning") and its sequel (Aluna), you might be able to see better that I am simply paraphrasing what our indigenous older brothers have been telling us all along. Is the warning of the Kogi to the civilized man to be seen as negative? When they tell us we are choking the Earth, should we take it as an insult, as a negative assessment of who we are and of what our culture stands for? Perhaps it's a good question to ask ourselves why we are so turned off by criticism. In some ways, running away from criticism is in itself a cultural phenomena of modern times. We would not have built our cities and highways and technologies if we didn't "successfully" turn a blind eye to the warnings and criticism from indigenous peoples for well over 400 years.

Nemesis goes on to say, "What about some positive message, some positive perspective, some positive inspiration? I mean, all that evil and destructive shit in the world is more than obvious for everyone. There must be more than just negative messages."

I still haven't figured out the whole issue with "negativity". It's not a descriptor I would use and I understand that when it is used, it more or less means "unpalatable", "unwelcome", "unpleasant" and generally "uncalled for". The words "positive" and "negative" are simply descriptors that apply to an experience. When I hear feedback on my writing that says it's negative, my interpretation of it is that reading what I write creates an unpleasant experience in the reader's consciousness. I'm aware of the fact that a lot of what I have been saying recently portends much unpleasantness. Thinking about an unpleasant future understandably causes an unpleasant experience in the current moment. It's up to us to sit with it for as long as it requires us to process all associated emotions. Burying unsavory thoughts works temporarily but they will be back.

At this point, let me repeat what I have said before - this blog is not for everyone. And it may not be for you at certain times in your life. We are all stressed out enough by the simple act of existing in the modern world. More often than not, our plates are full and we can't handle anymore stress-inducing stories that come our way. It is important to take care of yourself and if it is too much to handle, simply stop reading and turn away. Recently, I shared a couple of my slideshows including Geophilia with a few friends. One of them, a 22-year old woman, saw it all and then she wanted to watch an animation film called "Lilo and Stitch". It was her way of balancing her heart and mind after witnessing a number of "negative" things going on in the world. We all need to take time off now and then. I have been doing more of that myself, hence the fewer posts this year compared to previous years. I encourage you to stop reading if you're called to do so. I have known from the beginning that this blog wasn't going to be for everyone and I won't mind if you unsubscribe :)

There is a reason why so many documentaries that shed light on what's going on in the world end on an optimistic note. The recent Lenoardo DiCaprio film, "Before the Flood" is a good example. As dire a picture as it paints on the real possibilities we are to expect from abrupt climate change that's now underway, it ends by proposing such oft-quoted "solutions" as electing leaders who will fight climate change, ending fossil fuel subsidies and investing in renewables. We civilized people simply can't handle it raw. We want to hear it's all under control. Filmmakers realize this and throw in a bunch of action items at the end. Recycle those soda cans and you're helping the environment. Drive a hybrid and you've done your part. I agree with Guy McPherson when he says this sort of misdirection amounts to fraud. Someone said that the ultimate form of optimism is jumping off a high rise building and as each floor passes by, telling oneself "so far so good"! Culturally, we civilized people living in highly complex and vulnerable systems are doing something very similar as each year goes by. But don't say that out loud or no one will watch your documentary or read your article!

I'd like to mention a few common responses that I have noticed when people encounter information that upsets or unsettles them. There is this idea shared by many in the New Age movement that it doesn't matter how we live on this planet because it's not as important or as real as the higher planes that we will ascend to after death. At best, this response is a personal adaptation resorted to by the naive when confronted by a sick culture and at worst, it's a gross dereliction of one's responsibilities to fellow humans and Earthlings. The Earth is not here for us to use as we please on our way to higher astral planes. Any such notions are strikingly similar to the technologist's view that we're not to worry about our planet just as soon as we devise a way to get to Mars and colonize it. Consider what Stephen Hawking, the "celebrated" Physicist says in a recent article:

"We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it. Perhaps in a few hundred years, we will have established human colonies amid the stars, but right now we only have one planet, and we need to work together to protect it."

As if the main reason to worry about planet Earth is that we haven't yet figured out how to get out of here. If we do, we can trash the Earth as we say good bye! Such levels of disconnection from Mother Earth go by unnoticed by the mainstream media and the masses who celebrate dysfunctional minds like his. He's concerned about his species but he treats it like it has always been an orphan looking for a home. Well, we had a home here. We had one for 200,000 years before we trashed it, before highly trained Physicists and Scientists like him helped trash it.  It's hard for Stephen Hawking to see humanity's disconnection from land, the rise of psychopathy and other trends that have caused the mess we are in... he instead views it through a Physicist's lens and as much as he tries to understand the problems at hand, he fails miserably, and ends up making statements such as this.

Another common New Age response to unpleasant thoughts and ideas is to block them, shun them and move away from the source they are emanating from. There's this notion among some New Agers that thinking about negative things gives them energy and makes them bigger and helps them to persist longer. It's as if ignoring what we refer to as negative would make it go away. I believe there is such a thing as the Law of Attraction in the Universe and it most definitely works but one should be wary of the numerous misinterpretations of this law. Ignoring our impact on the planet will not make the impact go away.

Related to all this is the cultural denial of death itself. The idea that we are going to be in trouble in the near future is related to the idea that we are going to die at some point. Our culture doesn't incorporate death as a natural aspect of existence. As a culture, we cause death all around us and yet we seldom take a moment to ponder over our own collective mortality. Some in fact believe that we are close to more or less conquering all human disease and death with our awesome technology. Our stories and culture couldn't be farther from reality. We surround ourselves with screens and pick and choose the stories that appeal to us with little effort while so much that goes on in the world goes unmentioned, unacknowledged, and unaddressed. Many still believe technology will save us from our problems. Very few see technology as a part of the problem. Recently, I overheard a conversation that revolved around using technology to "hack" consciousness. It was about using electronic gadgets such as headgear to record brain waves! It somehow doesn't make sense to me. Maybe it does to you! Understanding one's consciousness shouldn't involve electronic gadgets that use rare earth minerals like Coltan mined by children with their bare hands in hostile conditions in the Congo. There's something twisted about it that jumps out at me. How about expanding our consciousness by becoming more aware of what feeds the global supply chain that brings us our smart gadgets? Isn't that part of becoming more conscious? I firmly believe that the path to a higher consciosuness starts with and goes through the Earth. We can't bypass understanding what's going on right here in our quest for enlightenment. A woodpecker told me that!

I'm not trying to knock the New Age movement. In an overly materialistic culture, it's popularity is gratifying. Spirituality is absolutely necessary in our modern left-brained overly-rational overly-masculine culture. Grounded in care, compassion and empathy, spirituality acts as a counterweight to Scientism. But the question arises: has it become a shortcut that encourages seekers to look beyond their physical reality and ignore the creation directly around them in a quest to attain transcendence? How did the notion that life on Earth is just an illusion gain such prominence? It turns out that in many cases, modern Spirituality (New Age or otherwise) conforms to the larger social and cultural system that is currently dominant: this can be seen in the form of Yoga and meditation rooms on leafy campuses of technology companies in Silicon Valley, for instance. While the technologists are leaning way too much to the left, the spiritualists are leaning way too much to the right. Right-brained imbalance shows up as lack of rigor and logic and an absence of methodical analysis and a lack of skepticism.

Perhaps this historic time that we find ourselves in is meant for slowing down and taking stock of the situation. Our near future is highly connected to our distant past. What we are about to see and experience in the next few years and the next decade will be better experienced physically, mentally and psychologically by working on understanding our connection to the past, our indigenous ancestors, our lands we called home when we were all still indigenous and our once-healthy relationship to Mother Earth. It is important to figure out what we had, what we have lost and what has been forgotten. It is important to understand how we used to live in balance with land and with other species and how the masculine and the feminine energies worked together. It is important to understand that we live in a highly artificial set of constructs today that normally keeps us from inquiring into matters of this nature. It is important to be skeptical and yet trust in the larger Universe that is always guiding us to where we need to go... if we only slow down and listen! The Universe is magical and synchronistic and our time here on Earth these days is perhaps meant for us to realize that.

Hopefully, there's something positive and hopeful there for you.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Impossible to Inevitable


Such are the times we live in! Tighten your seat belts. We're in for a rough ride, my friends!

The following events are all well within the realm of possibility in the near future -

A massive economic collapse
Extreme weather events (already happening, more to come)
World war 3 (already underway by some measures)

How did we get here? What about progress? Isn't that what they told us in school? Progress... every generation leads a better life with a higher standard of living than the previous one, every generation knows more about the world we live in than the previous one, every generation is more aware, evolved, and spiritually advanced than the previous one... what happened to that story? Was it ever true? Was it true for a while before it got hijacked? Or was it a lie from the get go?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Money, Technology, Population and Civilization

Following my response mentioned in the last blog post, my friend wrote back:

I find myself asking, a la: "Is money evil, or the obsession with it?" Or, "Is technology evil, or the obsession with it?" Or, "Is civilization evil, or the hubris of it?", or, "Is population evil, or the drive to over-populate?"

And, "Could it be a little of both or all and more, that we need to re-examine ethically, ecologically and intensely?"


My response back, edited for clarity:

Thank you for participating in my intellectual work connecting the dots. I'm only reporting to you what I have been reading but after examining the interrelationships among all the resources I have come across. Modernity puts a lot of value in specialization. The one who knows a lot about a narrow subject is deemed an expert and granted a doctorate. Generalists are under-rated but it is imperative that we take all those seemingly unrelated fields (that we have created by chopping things up) and stitch them back up into a coherent whole. Then we see this tapestry emerge. In the tapestry lie all the fields - history, prehistory, sociology, culture, economics, technology, science, religion, theology, spirituality, nature, psychology, philosophy, language and linguistics and many other areas - but now sewn up together and we find out just how exactly we got to where we are. In fact, this chopping up of the study of life into all these areas is itself a prime example of the problem of reductionism that has plagued the modern worldview. It's time to see all the interconnections holistically. Yeah, that often overused word there!

The history of money is fascinating. We have come a long way from barter to digital currencies and now, bitcoin! Somewhere along the way, we lifted the ban on usury and all hell broke loose. It's one thing to have a money system that's backed by a scarce resource but a whole another thing to have usury - the charging of interest. Christianity had long considered usury a sin but over time, due to pressure from the financiers and money changers, it became standard operating procedure. The book "Medici Money" is an interesting read in this regard. So is Debt: The First 5000 Years. When we understand that all that money does is represent access to Earth's resources, it becomes easy to understand the devastating role usury has played in the destruction of the planet. If I loan you $100 and ask you to return $110 at the end of the month, where would you find the additional $10? You're forced to extract something from the Earth, or cut a tree for lumber, or work for someone else who does something similar. Ultimately, that extra $10 has to come from the Earth. What we now have with usury is constant and rapid extraction of Earth's resources, constant population growth to support interest-based debt (a pyramid scheme) and a constant need for more efficient ways of servicing the debt (which requires extraction of resources), and hence technology.

This isn't to downplay the role of the money system in itself... we lived lives of abundance without the need for money for a really long time. The advent of money was an indication of centralization and came well into the journey of civilization. If money marked the separation from land and the beginning of villages and city-states and rulers, usury turbo-charged the deleterious impacts of the money system.

Some would argue that money comes from innovation and human ingenuity. They point to the dot-com billionaire who invented a clever way to connect people or to create music. When we realize that all money-making activity is simply tapping into the giant chipper that constantly turns natural resources into money, as illustrated below by the social critic, Steve Cutts, we'd see human ingenuity and inventiveness as little more than merely a quest for more efficient ways to speed up the process of transformation of natural resources into money. Let's take the example of Google. One of the largest companies in the world by market capitalization, Google makes most of its money through advertising. Advertisers are in turn companies that make money by selling goods and services and hence directly involved in the conversion of natural resources into money. They are willing to give away a part of the money they make to Google in return for help with pushing their product to its users. That's all Google does, in the final analysis. All those PhDs with highly rated skills in Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence, etc. are merely coming up with slightly better ways to push products and services than the ones we already have.



So we have a culture which we call "civilization" whose main activity is the conversion of natural resources into money with the help of technology. It's easy to see how a better bulldozer helps clear a forest faster but a little harder to see how Facebook or Google or Instagram are all nevertheless playing the role of pimps pushing products directly or indirectly - albeit using sophisticated computer magic to speed up the global extraction-manufacture-marketing-sales-consumption cycle. All technology companies have to figure out where and how they are going to tap into this cycle. Those that eventually do are the ones we end up calling "profitable" and "successful".

Where does population come into this picture? Civilization and its economic systems are pyramid schemes. They need more and more people constantly to simply survive. It's either growth or death. There's no such thing as sustainability even as we throw around that word liberally. Newer generations find themselves under increasing pressure to come up with more and more innovative ways to keep the system going, blissfully unaware that it's been a pyramid scheme all along. They don't necessarily see themselves as contributing to the system but simply by making a living, they are unwittingly contributing to the system. In doing so, they leave a much less desirable planet for their offspring than the one they inherited from their own parents. There's a reason why governments all across the world subsidize families and children, even large families. It would seem counter-intuitive that they do this in a world with increasingly scarce resources. But they must do this or face collapse. Hence we see some European countries facing a population peak providing incentives to encourage their citizens to have more children. The State (government) needs to keep the tax dollars flowing. Governments that do regulate population growth risk the prospect of an aging population that needs to be supported by a diminishing tax base, as we now see in the case of China.

Money, technology, civilization, population... they are all interrelated. We have a system that encourages rapid population growth, rapid technological advances and rapid extraction of natural resources (oil, coal, metals, trees, sand, water, etc.) It's the story that this is how it ought to be that's the problem. People today are more or less the same as people 100,000 years when we consider biology. But people today are vastly different from our ancestors when we consider culture, or the stories that we tell ourselves and our children. There's nothing inherently evil or base about our species. Human beings are not flawed. But we are susceptible to propaganda, manipulation and influence and the ruling classes throughout history have taken advantage of their excellent knowledge  of human psychology to design and build ever more sophisticated social systems that work for them at the expense of all else.

We are way overpopulated at our current level of 7.4 Billion humans. People who lose connection to their land and indigenous culture rapidly grow out of proportion and explode in numbers given the resources to do so. This story has repeated all over the planet especially in the last 200 years as more and more tribes and villages began to be dislocated and integrated into mainstream civilization. Once they are cut off from their land and stories that have sustained them for thousands of years and kept them in balance with their local habitat, they are subject to no natural limitations in the artificial confines of towns and cities and they began to increase in numbers. All they need is access to bread in the grocery store and there's been plenty of it available (although not to everyone) to increase the population to current unsustainable levels. It's like a bacterial culture that's taken from its natural habitat where the bacteria lives in balance with other organisms and hence keeps its numbers within limits and suddenly placed in a petri dish full of sugar syrup... free from the interconnections and constraints of its natural habitat, the bacterial colony soon grows until the sugar syrup runs out. That's where we are today in terms of civilization and the resources it needs to survive. We're running out of easily accessible resources. The sugar syrup is almost over. No wonder we see billions of dollars being spent on research aimed at commercializing the extraction of resources from asteroids and other heavenly bodies! Our separation from land and migration to towns and cities is analogous to taking a bacterial culture from its natural setting and dropping it into a petri dish.

If we look at the last 100 years, we'd realize that our sugar syrup has been petroleum. We have been extracting oil from the ground and the deep oceans and converting it into food (through fertilizers, pesticides, farm machinery that runs on gas, and a global food supply chain that uses oil) and converting the food into human biomass. Well, we actually convert a lot of the oil into animal biomass first (factory farmed meat) before turning it into human biomass, but the input remains petroleum and the output the human biomass! Of course, the output also includes much trash, pollution and emissions. But as far as the population explosion of the 20th century is concerned, it would not have been possible without our sugar syrup, petroleum.

The role of yet another institution on population growth - organized religion - cannot be underestimated. For thousands of years, followers of Hinduism have regarded children as gifts from God and even avatars of God. Children are often given names of Gods and Goddesses. Although Hinduism doesn't explicitly say, "go forth and multiply", it's implicit in the culture and the stories that Hindus believe. India is the second most populous country and is soon set to overtake China and there doesn't seem to be a break in the growth curve.

I hope I was able to connect a few more dots with all of that! As bleak as it sounds, it's important to understand where we are and how we got here. Otherwise, we risk working hard on issues that lead us nowhere ultimately. Many an idealistic person has been led astray by incomplete problem definitions by so-called philanthropies and non-profits that are part of the non-profit-industrial complex.

An excellent critical perspective on the major institutions of civilization come from an indigenous Papua New Guinean man who had spent time in the UK and who, in a letter to his tribesmen back home, explains it all from his unique vantage point... "Just Leave Us Alone" In order to get a better understanding of our current situation, it helps to listen to what an outsider has to say. This letter is just one of the many resources indigenous peoples all over the world have given us over the centuries, and which we have conveniently ignored, that point to the unsustainable nature of our civilization, money system, population and the technocracy that powers it all.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Is Technology Always Bad?

I've recently been sharing a presentation with friends and one of the slides in it is this -


What I say in this slide should come as no surprise for long-time readers of this blog. I have argued for a number of years that technology is not what it appears to be on the surface, that it is always open to question and always anti-nature. One of my earliest blog posts exhorts the reader to question technology.

Following the presentation, a friend of mine asked me a question by email:

"Now you've got me thinking if I can make some exceptions to the premise that all technology is anti-nature and therefore bad. I am skeptical of the words always and never. How abut a flashlight that I pump up with my hand or a bicycle powered by my legs. Do you consider those technologies as bad inventions?"

Here is my response to her:

It depends on the perspective we take. From the perspective of modern humans, both the flashlight and bicycle are benign inventions that help us in very practical terms. It is hard to imagine life without them. But from Mother Earth's perspective, from nature's perspective, they are both products of a long journey of separation from nature. By the time we invented the light bulb, the industrial revolution was well underway. The mass produced light bulb wouldn't have been possible without massive centralization of power and resources, mass schooling and all the other trends that have beset civilization, which we now know have been indicators of separation from nature. A modern flashlight requires plastic which is derived from petroleum, so we're really talking about an entire infrastructure that needed to be there to give us the flashlight. We don't get this fuller picture if we look at the flashlight in isolation.

Now, I am not at all arguing that we give up our flashlights and bicycles. My work is not about changing people's behavior but to only examine the current situation and find out how we got here. To the extent that I would like to see people change their behavior, it is only to see them prepare for the coming times. And in this process, I find that all our modern conveniences, even the smallest ones like plumbing and flush toilets, are, in the final analysis, anti-nature because of what it takes to make those at a mass scale. I might sound like a hypocrite when I use the Internet and deride technology at the same time. But that's a logical fallacy called Tu Quoque :) It's like preventing a literature major from criticizing the English language because they are using the very English language to do so.

I realize this argument is a bit philosophical at this point. For me to say a flashlight is anti-nature and that there are no exceptions to "technology is always bad" requires me to define what exactly technology means. Does making fire count as technology? Does using a tool to crack open a nut count as technology? Does language count as technology? My basic understanding of what technology is this - anything that we use to overcome our natural limitations. And it's a gray area even then. If we use a sharp stone to crack open a nut, it could be argued that it's technology because we can't otherwise do it with our nature-given hands. But seeing in the dark is a high degree removed from using a stone to crack a nut, or learning how to speak sentences. And it makes sense that the flashlight, or the light bulb emerged at the tail end of our civilization, a mere 150-200 years ago, Isn't that what a flashlight gives us? An ability to see in the dark? I'm a night owl and I should know :)

For almost 200,000 years, our ancestors lived just as happily, if not more so, without needing to see in the dark, without flashlights. And without bicycles. To me, it's as simple as this - we can have our modern conveniences but we will then have to face extinction sooner or later. It's mathematically and physically impossible to have the former without the latter. It's simply a question of time. Extinction is inevitable when we continue the journey of separation from nature. The system, the societal organization, the political economy and the culture that gives rise to the flashlight also gives rise to the nuclear bomb. It's not possible to have one without the other because underneath both of them is the basic reality of deviant behavior, a lack of respect for nature and other earthlings and a culture that looks down upon tradition and age-old wisdom. This journey of separation has been some 10,000 years in the making, if not longer, and we're in the last phase, it seems. A phase where we are given the means and the resources (thanks to the Internet, libraries, etc.) to take a real long and deep look at just how we got ourselves into such dire existential crises as climate change and nuclear war. When we take this opportunity to empathize with the primordial humans that walked on the Earth long long ago, we'd see that we live in a time warp, an era of make-believe. What an era! And a rather short one at that.

I enjoy spirited debates like this one. Hope you don't take anything here personally. I like making my point passionately :) Thank you for the question and for giving me this chance to elucidate!


There's been plenty of work done by critics of Technology such as Jacques Ellul, Ivan Illich, Lewis Mumford and John Zerzan. These are just a handful of people who have seen Technology in the larger context of how it impacts society and culture as well as where it leads us and the planet ultimately.

More here at the Wikipedia page "Critique of technology".

We are all familiar with Technology's "end points". These are the means by which we interact with the technological infrastructure we have today. The smart phone, for example, is one such end point. A smart phone is a fine example of our modern technological prowess but it hardly causes us to think of the cell phone tower it is communicating with, the vast network of antennas and towers all over the world, and the satellites in orbit and the under-sea fiber optic cables that connect them all up. And all that is only part of the infrastructure that's needed to enable a single voice call. There are many more components (computers, switches, etc.) not to mention the vast and complex electric grid that powers it all. Picking up a smart phone and making a call hardly invokes this set up in our mind. So the smart phone ends up being just one way of interacting with a highly complex global technological infrastructure. The convenience of using a smart phone masks the true impact of such monstrosity of an infrastructure on the sustainability and even viability of life on the planet as we know it.

This is how we go about connecting the dots. Or not!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

An Update on Climate Change

This article from Forbes is a bit alarming!


http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericmack/2016/05/18/we-could-be-living-through-the-worst-case-scenario-right-now/amp/

The long-time champion of Capitalism that it is, Forbes, like any publication, has a duty to inform its readership of what's taking place in the world they live in, a readership that might otherwise rely on so-called human ingenuity and market solutions to solve problems. There are plenty of proposals in the pipeline that aim to mitigate the effects of climate change and manage the current rapidly escalating situation. Some of these techno-fixes are already being deployed. But the rapidity with which the situation is unfolding should be quite interesting to us all, whether we are capitalistic entrepreneurs dreaming up geo-engineering tricks or not.

Let's take a look at two particularly interesting charts.

The first shows global temperature changes since 1850 by year and month.


2016 so far is such an outlier.

Consider the following inferences that can be made by looking at the chart above -
  1. From 1850 to about 1900, temperatures were actually cooler than pre-industrial civilization times, even though, officially, we were well into the era of industrial civilization. Notice the (barely visible) thin horizontal white line at the 0 degree mark on the vertical scale. That line represents what is generally called the baseline. Lines below that represent temperatures below the "average for pre-industrial times". Lines above that represent temperatures above the "average for pre-industrial times". It's normal to expect some lines to fall below and some to fall above the average.
  2. Until about 1930, the lines are much more crowded when compared to after 1930.
  3. The lines become increasingly sparse as we go up in the chart. That means temperatures are increasing at a higher and higher rate, which is the mark of an exponential function.
  4. We can make out which line represents 2015 (it ends at the same temp differential where 2016 begins) and likewise, we can see where 2014 ends (although it's hard to trace most of it in the spaghetti mix) because that's where 2015 begins. What these last three years of data say is quite fascinating - temperature increases are speeding up. Not only are temperatures increasing, but the rate at which they are increasing is in itself growing.
Now, there's the factor of 2016 being an El Nino year and the sudden rapid increase may be attributable to that. The trend we see so far may not continue into the future so we will just have to wait and see. But it's also likely that El Nino simply serves to set off a growth trend that's been in the making for a long time.

The other chart is really just another representation of this same data. It's an animation that shows how temperatures are spiraling out toward the often-stated hypothetical, political target of containing temperature increase to 2 degrees Celcius above baseline.


As before, we can see the increasing rate at which the spiral progresses outward as the years go by. 

Whether we take the abrupt jump of temperatures in 2016 as a sign of the beginning of Abrupt Climate Change is to a certain extent, a matter of opinion. But that's the data we have. Whether we're at the start of a new phase in climate change or not, high temperatures as those we have been seeing this year so far have the potential to set off processes that bring further higher temperatures.

We live in interesting times, to say the least. Let's not make the mistake of assuming that climate change is just an anomaly, a thorn on the otherwise rosy path of progress that civilization has afforded humanity over the last few hundred years. The dawn of industrial civilization, in hindsight, is instead yet another milestone on the long path of separation from nature that humanity has embarked on many thousands of years ago. Some say it began with agriculture, some say it began with the use of tools, or with the invention of language. The longer we go back, the more dramatic our present time would appear. But even if we consider the last 200 years, the changes we're seeing around us are truly monumental. Ocean acidification, Arctic and Antarctic sea ice loss, mass species collapse on land and in the oceans, wildfires that burn hotter and bigger, extreme weather events such as droughts and floods and the slowing of the jet stream are just some of the manifestations of a rapidly changing planet.

If this isn't a cause for concern in itself, what is? Perhaps the near-absence of a discussion of current events in the public discourse?


The Raw Deal

Over the months and years, I have been asked by a few readers to stay on the more positive side as I write new posts on this blog. I pondered this over and have come to a conclusion. What I write about and how I present it will not be influenced by how it lands for my readers. I appreciate the time you take to read and reflect on my writing. If what I write turns you off, please feel free to walk away. We all need to do what keeps us healthy and we all need to stop doing what takes us down.

From my end, I will strive to give you the raw deal, even if I think it will make you uncomfortable. The time to be politically correct is long gone now, if there was ever a good reason for it to begin with. I will not hesitate to tell you what I see is happening in the world around us and give you my observations and interpretations without sugar-coating them.

My next post will be an update on climate change. Abrupt Climate Change is here, it seems.