Archive for the ‘Big Ideas’ Category

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Still Going On About Parenting

July 17, 2010

Ran has a couple of links about parenting at the moment, the first in particular caused me to send a spluttering email his way and I thought I might use is as a basis for a blog post.

I really don’t think the first article is very good. Essentally, it examines the issue of parenting without ever mentioning the context (ie society) that we parent in. It also talks about ‘good’ parents without defining what a ‘good’ parent is. I’ll assume their definition is our society’s usual one (they use the word ‘consistant’ after all) in which case a large number of things a supposedly good parent does (leaving their baby to cry is just one) are actually bad for a child and might explain a few of the issues they are discussing.

Whether you agree with me about this depends a bit on whether you agree that we live in a messed-up society. If you do agree with me then it’s likely that you won’t be surprised that what our society considers to be  normal people are turning out ‘bad’ children.

Scientists may have an opinion on the state of our society but they never let it ‘interfere’ with their work. Yes that’s deliberate sarcasm -  scientists usually aren’t allowed to criticise society because that’s seen as ‘getting political’ or stepping outside their area of expertise. At the very least it’s opening a can of worms that most of them want to steer well clear of and so they are left with the options that the either parents are the cause or that the problem is inherant to the child – which they appear to oscillate between. For more about why scientists, pychiatrists and other professionals voluntarily shackle there minds like this I always reccommend the book Disciplined Minds.

The article completely fails to mention really obvious stuff too, like that children have different personalities and will react differently to the same parents. This fact is readily apparent to every parent with more than one child but is often overlooked by experts when they attempt to come up with their ‘perfect parenting model that will work on every child!’ (Yes, more sarcasm)

Nor does the article talk about the effect of modelling. Criticism of parents is especially tricky in our culture, if you succeed in showing a link between parenting and bad behaviour amongst children (especially without showing a societal link) you’re going to piss off a lot of parents. More insidious though is the unspoken power rule in our culture which states that you’re not allowed to criticise people above you in a hierarchy. I reccommend reading Derrick Jensen, who explains the rules of abusive cultures with great gusto, for more on this subject. These issues help explain why an absurd commment like; “We have racked our brains trying to figure why our son treats us this way” can go completely unchallanged in the article.

Alice Miller, in one of her books, has a case study of a murderous maniac  who liked to slice his vicitms up. His parents (and the parent’s friends) were also quoted making the same sort of comments. Alice Miller then showed exactly what the parents had in fact done to nudge their child in this direction and also tied it in to societal concepts of parenting. I should mention that the way she ties everything to societal concepts of parenting is quite alarming but well worth reading.

I see the dreaded ‘permissive’ word was used as well. The mother was basically accused of being permissive, which apparently is a big thing in the US. The problem I see is that what causes her to be ‘permissive’ is that she loves and has empathy for her children, and consequently doesn’t enjoy punishing them. It’s a credit to her that she has still reatained some empathy and it’s probably the reason that all her children didn’t turn out ‘bad’.

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I’m not sure how I feel about Ran’s next link. The article is discussing the supposed evolutionary causes of  empathy and to be honest I found the whole thing slightly disturbing. It took me a while to figure out why I was reacting this way but I think it’s got something to do with the way the theory of evolution has taken on an kind of religious status to a lot of people.

I sort of get the feeling that the author and scientists involved want to tie the concept of empathy into the theory of evolution in order to give it more validity. Perhaps in a world dominated by market values and the primacy of the ‘selfish actor’ there is some sense in this but the whole thing feels odd to me.

Maybe in the context of evolution theory it’s necessary to show how we have changed from our ancestors but even then they are comparing humans to modern apes (who surely must have evolved away from our common ancestor too). I also note that there are quite large behavioural differences between the various species they mention so I’m even more dubious about this.

All that aside though, I just don’t see the point.  Empathy is very real, and important,  in my life. I can readily observe it  happening all around me – and within me. I don’t need scientific evidence that it is real, nor do I even need to rationalise it’s use because it’s a very essential part of being human. Seriously though, how far have we fallen that we have people who see the necessity in rationalising empathy?

To resolve all this we have to delve into the way we raise our kids (of course) and discuss the issue of whether empathy is learned or an innate characteristic. Again any parent with minimal observation skills, and a child that they show love to, will see empathy shown in very obvious ways. In fact I’ve observed empathy in very little babies as they react to a sibling who is crying  so you know I’m going to go for the innate characteristic option. The problem comes with common child rearing techniques that tend to destroy empathy (did I mention leaving a baby to cry already? What about the problem with excessive praise then?) and create adults with a poor ability to empathise.

It’s no surpirse then, if you’re unware of some important issues regarding child-rearing, that you would conclude that adults with poor empathy skills come about because they weren’t properly taught empathy during childhood. It also then follows that you’ll continue to make mistakes in attempting to address the issue.

Funnily enough I agree with the basic idea espoused in the article; that being raised by lots of adults is good for us, but the way they got there, with all the strange assumptions and blindspots that scientists have, makes me think that our agreement is no more than a happy coincidence. For a full-bodied rant from me about scientists and childhood empathy (amongst other things) I can reccomend my old post;  Stupid Stupid Stupid Scientists (an objective assessment of what they can teach us about raising kids). (Obviously been struggling with an excess of sarcasm for some time now)

To be sure parenting is a complex thing and very hard to do well but if we are unable to step outside of our societal assumptions and examine whether there might be something more to this problem we’re just going to go around in circles.

What I really think is that we should forget all these complications and just focus on trying to love our kids. It’s not easy for some of us because we’ve been trained to focus on all these big ideas but if we can ignore the distractions created by wondering if we’re being consistent enough (consistency is for machines) and just focus on our kids in the here and now we’ll stand a much better chance of turning out loving empathetic adults – and who knows, they may still like us at the end of the process.

I’m not saying it will be easy, we live in a very messed up culture and things will still go wrong – I believe that kids are born with a full capacity to love and show empathy and that our society is very adept at stripping them of that capacity but we need remember that no one ever did any harm by being loving

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The Love Shortage

May 14, 2010

Reading Ran’s comments (May13) about love and the seduction community has prompted the following to come rushing out of my brain:

People often say that if you’re willing to get something that you want, regardless of the cost or consequences to other people, that you are being childish or immature.  While it’s certainly true that lack of concern for others is something we see in children  I’m not so sure that ‘childish’ is the right label to put on it.  I think what we’re seeing is the behaviour of damaged people and that it is just more obvious in children because they lack the skills to disguise it.

I’ve watched my kids when they’re really little (before I’ve had too much influence on their lives and before they’ve learned that the world is not the abundant place that their genetic heritage says it is supposed to be)  and they can be incredibly generous and kind.  I’ve seen them simply give up food they’re eating to another child because they could see the other child was interested. In fact.  I’ve often seen the sorts of displays of empathy that child psychologists say can’t be learned until they have developed a lot further (the children that is, not the child psychologists. It’s possible that child pychologists will never develop that far).

I know a lot of people (who aren’t child pychologists) will agree with me that children do indeed have the ability to empathise from the moment they arrive but will still insist that they can also still get overwhelmed by the obsession with the need to get what they want and that they won’t be able to balance their wants with their empathy until they’re adults.

Whilst I agree that it is observably true that children struggle with this, I would suggest that this is not a child’s natural state.  Whilst we live in a wealthy society we also live in a world of shortages, (often contrived for financial purposes)  and I think this is so pervasive in our culture that children are confronted with it almost from the moment they are born. Whereas the children of the Yequanna (Continuum Concept link) are born into a world of abundance (and have been observed to be universally gentle and helpful little people) our children are born into a world of scarcity.

The most important scarcity is a scarcity of love whereby parents are just too tired and poorly-supported to properly meet the most emotional needs that all children have – and that’s even before they attempt to follow the advice of so-called experts and leave their baby alone to ‘cry it out’ every night.

For a while we can often meet a child’s need for love if we really try but then a second baby comes along and it truly becomes impossible.  I try very hard not to think about the changes in our oldest daughter that gradually occurred after our second child was born. These permanent and apparently irreversible changes result from the fact that my kids just don’t have enough parents (there are two of us in case your wondering).

Of course sibling rivalry can be avoided by only having one child but then parents will later be required to be a permanent playmate – and adults who truly have the energy for long periods of play are few and far between.

My children are so clearly affected by sibling rivalvry they are permanently defended against each other and so scared of the possibility that they will miss out on something that they will fight each other for ownership of an object that had, until that moment, been lying in a corner for months gathering dust.

So yes, I believe that children have to be taught to be ‘childish’ but I also believe that most of us adults are still afflicted with this behaviour which, by conventional definition, we were supposed to automatically grow out of.

I don’t think  that all, or even very many, people learn to balance their desires against the needs of others as they grow into adulthood. Instead I think we just learn to disguise our selfish urges and to cloak them in respectable behaviour and mannerisms and that we are still, in part, ruled by the fact that our needs in childhood were never properly met.

To be ‘fair and balanced’ here, it is equally true that many adults do in fact turn themselves into self-less individuals but we should note firstly, how much effort is required for these individuals to acheive this and secondly, that the ones that are most successful are probably the same ones that came out of childhood with the least scars.

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Just to be clear, I’m not actually trying to prove a direct link between artificial scarcity and the seduction community. Mostly I’m saying that the effects of childhood turn us into people who will get what we want regardless of the effect it has on others and that this is a result of,  a) our empathy being closed down by modern parenting techniques and, b) a scarcity of love leaving us with a permanent feeling that if we see something we want then we better grab it – real quick – and by any means possible – and not let go.

Because our very survival is at stake.

Or, to summarise the summary,  selfish behaviour is not something we grow out of, it’s something we grow into,  and then learn to refine as we mature.

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I’m so right and you’re all wrong etc.

April 27, 2010

Via Dmitry Orlov, Ran has this comment on this blog “that when we map our systems of thought onto reality, we always crash and burn”  and I’m wondering if they haven’t stumbled onto something exceedingly important here. I’ve always had a nagging feeling that I shouldn’t get too carried away with my own theories about the world and have sarcastically called one of the categories on this blog ‘Big Ideas’. It’s a (possibly futile) attempt to stop my ego from leading me astray in regard to just how insightful I think I really am.

I talked about John Holt in my last post and I’ve just been reading a couple of brilliant little books by him; “How Children Fail” & “How Children Learn”. How Children Fail was his first book and is little more than a collection of notes he made while observing children in classrooms. Often no more than two pages long each piece starts with a description of something he had observed in a classroom followed by his thoughts on what might have caused the educational failure. It was a very humble thing for an educator to do, to just sit and observe children without trying to make them do anything and I found it absolutely riveting.

I was very surprised to be this gripped by a book again. It’s been 5 years since I last felt like this about a book (when I read my first anti-civ writing)  and since then I’ve got so overloaded with serious reading that I just can’t take any more – and indeed when I tried to read a 3rd John Holt book, in which he tries to lay out all his theories in a coherent manner, I was immediately turned off.

There’s a lot to be said for the observational style (that John Holt adopted in his first two books) which enables the reader to experience what the writer originally experienced, thereby gifting us the opportunity to draw our own conclusions rather then just relying on his.

I think that (possibly) by chance he was practicing what he was preaching because he says quite clearly in those two books that a major failing of schools is that they attempt to teach using symbols (language) rather than letting children have the real-life experiences that their brains are designed to learn from. This fact – that we can’t use symbols until we’re mastered the real life events they represent – is probably why so many adults I know think that even basic maths* is beyond them.

My hope is that the lessons I’ve learned from John Holt will stick with we far better than if he’d just told me what he thought those lessons should have been. And indeed, the experiences he has passed on to me can now combine with my other past experiences, giving me the chance to reach a whole bunch of conclusions that he never could have imagined possible – such as what’s coming out in the blog posting (I hope).

Other experiences that I’ve had that feed into this for me include recently reading two books on architectural theory, one of which carefully listed each theory in order of category and the other of which simply threw some case studies together and mentioned the theories in the text if they were relevant. Obviously having a mental picture of an entire house was far more useful for retaining information than the categorised system that the (same) author had gone to a lot of trouble to devise.

Then there was yesterday’s experience, after reading this Noam Chomsky  article I perused the comments section which turned out to be dominated by people accusing Chomsky of various crimes most of which were that he didn’t hold to the exact same ideology that the commenter did. The irony of course is that a mainstream person would see no discernable difference between Chomsky’s stated views and those of his attackers but to the attackers those differences in emphasis (of how powerful people use the world to their own ends) were of supreme importance. I left a scathing comment about how the need for ideological purity was destroying our unity and left (In all honesty I should admit that I only read about a fifth of the comments before it all became too much for me).

Why I bring this experience to the table is that I think schools are producing a bunch of people who are adept at symbol manipulation and not much else. They are rewarded for their abilities and encouraged to dwell in an intellectual world. They also learn by implication that their ability to manipulate abstractions means that they are a higher class of citizen and that they are usually always right – and lets face it, once a person becomes proficient at acquiring grades, and so long as they keep away from other life experiences (or devalue their importance), they do keep keep hearing that they are right where it matters most.

If we receive this message all through childhood and in to early adulthood it’s unlikely that we’ll ever lose the feeling of infallibility that most of us have. We then come across a theory of how the world works (e.g. Anarchism, Primitivism, Deep Christian Theology), tinker with it a bit, decide it holds all the answers and attempt to convert everyone to our way of thinking. All the while not noticing that a) while the world is going to hell in a hand basket we’re busy fighting amongst ourselves about minor ideological differences and that b) the real reason for our disagreements have more to do with our own personal issues than anything the abstractions we disagree on

Of course, that’s just my brief theory, it won’t map to the world perfectly either . The problems amongst leftists/activists/primitivists/anarchists etc that I refer to above can also be attributed to issues discussed in the Unabomber Manifesto, ironically enough another theory propounded by someone who thought he had all the answers and therefore the right to bring them to the world’s attention at any cost.

* Not a typo, that’s how we say ‘math’ down here.

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Mis-spent Youth

April 6, 2010

I’ve been reading some of John Holt’s early books on childhood education and something he said has been on my mind this morning. He says that schools attempt to conduct learning though symbols (i.e. spoken or written language) rather than tangible experience, and because of that most children won’t fully understand what they’ve learned – if indeed they are able to understand or learn anything at all.

This is an issue worthy of several blog postings in itself but right now I’m wondering about how it fits into the whole issue of alienation in our society. I always thought that much of the damage done by schools was caused by children being taught to rely on authority to do their thinking for them instead of developing their own judgement. Certainly this must contribute to alienation and disconnection as people stop listening to their own inner voice but thanks to John Holt’s analysis of this kind of learning I can see that a childhood being taught first to manipulate symbols and then being further taught about the world via those symbols (as opposed to the tangible experience we are supposed to have) can only serve to disconnect us further from reality.  Talk about a mis-spent youth

Modern man has disappeared inside his own head says Ursula Le Guin (or he’s disappeared up his own %#&$^ as they’d say around here). Those that become successful at learning via symbols go on to successful careers manipulating them, all the while losing touch with the people around them (especially those on the lower rungs of society that aren’t good at manipulating symbols such as cleaners, labourers, rubbish collectors and their own children). Those that are really successful at manipulating symbols but forget how to operate in the real world go on to be university lecturers and lose touch with reality altogether.

Of course symbols are essential for communicating but the key, according to John Holt, is that we need to learn about things via real experiences and then move on to manipulating their symbols and any theories that may come from them. By rewarding those that learn to manipulate symbols disconnected from reality and giving them great power in our culture……well…. just look around you to see the results of that.

I realise that by saying this I’m probably insulting most of the people who are likely to read this (as well as myself) but really are we intellectuals as smart as we think we are? The people who fail to operate in the world of symbols from an early enough age tend to conclude (well, they get told) that they must be stupid and give up thinking altogether so it’s not like there’s anything much to compare ourselves to.

* Not entirely sure I got the Le Guin quote word perfect there but I’m sure you know what I mean.

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Thrivalism

October 3, 2008

You know I will probably never visit the LATOC discussion board when looking for advice on how to handle the coming upheavel in our way of life and while guns-and-gold are doubtless getting a big look in at the moment, Ran is still dispensing his much calmer advice and generally soothing the troubled waters of those who are prepared to listen. I want to take this direction one step further though and talk about how we’re going to do more than just surivive and for that kind of thinking we need Bill Mollison. Old interviews of Bill are all over the internet and I recommend reading lots of them to pick up on his vibe of ingenuity.

One of the worst paths we can follow at this point is to try to preserve our existing way of life even as it becomes increasingly untenable. Maybe out of habit, but more likely because we don’t know the alternatives, we’ll just struggle on with an ever harder daily grind. I’m pretty sure now however that permaculture has the vision we need to chart a new course – and it doesn’t just come with a new plan for the future but also a new way of thinking that will be especially valuable for a culture that has grown dependant on authority figures to do it’s thinking for it.

One of Bill’s interviews compared permaculture thinking to the marital arts philosophy of Aikido in that it seeks to turn adversity into strength. I have to admit I don’t know much about Aikido that here’s Bill Mollison with just one of a million tales of ingenious inventiveness.

We grow a lot of prawns in Hawaii, [Bill is actually from Australia] and you could grow them in your glass house up in Maine, freshwater prawns, and they eat single-celled algae, so we don’t know how to cultivate those, so we just simply float about 20 ducks to a quarter acre and they do the job of growing the algae. The duck manure is almost immediately colonized by algae and that’s what the prawns eat, the algae. So 25 ducks per quarter acre,100 per acre, and you can produce $60,000 worth of prawns per quarter acre twice a year. Think of that. And that’s just duck shit. Duck’s shit is the basic fuel for that system. Now, what are you going to feed your ducks. Very few ducks enjoy eating much grass. They love Tradescantia and sweet potato but they love snails too, so you can put in lots of water lilies in clumps here and there and in between them you put a lot of horseradish. Snails love living in water lilies but they come out and eat horseradish. And also, if you put a lot of nasturtium in, you get a lot of snails, so if you’re going to grow ducks you gotta grow horseradish, nasturtium, Tradescantia, water lilies and Agapanthus (African lily). You’ll get plenty of ducks which means you’ll have plenty of algae in the water and you can grow prawns, and the prawns haven’t cost you a penny. They’re just a second offshoot of your ducks feeding and enjoying themselves. So the system fuels itself.

That’s from a very long and inspiring interview at Seeds of Change. This next example is from another long interview at Mother Earth News

Here’s an example I like to use: I call it my chicken model. Take four separate elements: a hen coop, a greenhouse, a pond, and a small forest. Now you can have these on your farm . . . and place them wherever you like, in no particular relationship to each other. In that situation each one functions individually, and they all consume energy. But if you make the forest a forage range for the chickens by putting the coop in or near that forest . . . if you attach the greenhouse to the front of the chickens’ shelter . . . and if you set the pond in front of the greenhouse — as illustrated in Permaculture Two — well, then you’ve got a nice system of interrelating functions, the familiar checks and balances.

Just look at all the ways you produce energy in this system: the chickens’ body heat, the direct sunlight that reflects off the pond and hits the greenhouse, the radiation of the trees at the rear, the decomposition of chicken manure, and on and on. If you sit down and sketch this system out, you’ll find that it’s fantastically complex — with thousands of functional interactions — and will run itself . Operating on its own energy, the system automatically switches on and off. As the sun gets high in the sky, the greenhouse absorbs more heat . . . so the chickens get hot and go out, thus removing the source of animal heat. While they’re outside, the birds forage in the forest and leave their manure to enrich the soil. After dark, of course, they’ll go back inside to keep warm . . . taking their body heat with them.

Look at each chicken by itself and the variety of functions it’s performing in this one simple model: In the coop the hen operates as a radiator, an egg producer, and a manurial system. In the forest the bird acts as a self-forager, a tree-disease controller, a fireproofer, a fertilizer producer, and a rake. One can use chickens to do quantities of useful work . . . in fact, I don’t know what you can’t do with chickens, once you get started!

I tend to have the view that there’s no problem that’s insurmountable if I think about the solution for long enough, but Bill Mollison seems to operate on the belief that there’s no problem that can’t be turned into an advantage if you think about it just right – and it’s that kind of attitude that we’re all going to need as we go about recreating our culture (and saving our butts) over the next few years. I think we’ll also need some of Bill’s attitude just to keep our energy levels high in the dispiriting face of the diet of doom most of us follow.

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Emotional Freedom Therapy

July 16, 2008

Having spent a fair amount of time on this blog cataloguing the various ills of civilisation and speculating on the cause and the perpetuation of our collective sickness I was quite excited to discover something that has the potential to quite easily undo some of our internal damage.

The previous post about James De Meo’s theories on the origins of civilisation also mentioned Wilhelm Reich’s theory of body armouring. Essentially a theory of how the trauma of our childhood is stored in the body, Reich and his followers have gone on to find ways to physically release this tension from the body through forms of massage. I had heard about Emotional Freedom Therapy before but I finally got around to investigating it a few months back and it reminded me a bit of armouring because central to it’s operation is the idea that trauma is stored in the body’s electrical system – which in turn effects physical aspects of the body.

Using the same theory of energy meridians that Acupuncturists use Gary Craig, the main promoter and developer of the Therapy claims to be able to relieve emotional trauma (and chronic health issues), easily and painlessly – often in a matter of minutes.

I know, it sounds far too good to be true. At the main EFT website there are plenty of case studies and videos for those who want to read more and there is also a section looking at conventional scientific research into the body’s energy system. As far as I can tell it all seems to stack up but by all means you be the judge.

I have of course tried it and have found that it seems to be successful for me at releiveing head aches and other body aches but that I have had a lot more trouble releasing older and deeper traumas. I think that I have a pretty complex and thorough defence system, when I try to work on any old issues I notice that my breathing gets tighter and it becomes incredibly hard to focus on the issue at hand – my brain seems to be doing it’s utmost to think about anything else. Most likely I need to sit down with an experienced practitioner to find away around this.

One thing that is unusual about it is that when you release a headache it disappears so thoroughly that you feel like you never had it. Unlike when I rub my neck or upper back and can feel the tension being released EFT makes things disappear so thoroughly that it’s like they never existed. I wrote in a previous piece about how I often get breathing difficulties when stressed or tired because my intercostal (between ribs) muscles get too tense. Well the other day I suddenly realised that it hadn’t happened for quite a few weeks and that I must have got rid of it through EFT. (It had come back lately because I had a heavy cold and my breathing was feeling pretty impaired – and it has also come back (lightly) right now while I’m typing which show’s just how much of a psychological issue it is).

Anyway, where I’m going with this is that as well as healing psychological issues that people can easily recall a few people have tried healing issues from very early in life and I’m wondering if using a book like the Continuum Concept as a kind of guide we could look further back and deal with issues from our birth process as well as those developed in the womb where the mother’s potential mixed feelings about her pregnancy can impact heavily on the unborn child.

We can see in our family that our oldest child has clearly inherited a few things from her Mum and I suspect that the 9 months living fully enveloped in the mother’s electrical system may be a way that traumas are sort of ‘built-in’ to every baby. So far I haven’t found anyone else who has made this connection but having read constantly about the difference between civilised and non-civilised people it seems fairly reasonable that something like this is going on.

So from there my speculation has extended to the idea that the complex web of issues that civilisation creates in all of us can theoretically be totally removed from our system – if we were able to work out exactly what to ask the body for. This is all theory though, in practice I still have a long way to go but am intrigued by the possibilities that EFT presents for merely beginning work on my own life.

If anyone reading this has already tried EFT I would love to hear from you, I don’t know anyone personally who has had experience with EFT and even someone on-line would be an advance to reading about complete strangers at the EFT website.

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Nice

June 24, 2008

Dan linked to these excerpts of a book called Waking Up by Charles T Tart. This quote nicely summarises a philosphy that has become more and more important to me over time.

Few of us may be in a position to have a decisive influence on world peace, but cultivation of our own inner resources can create peacefulness and effectiveness in action in ourselves and the people we come in contact with, and this can spread. As we attack those near us less and care for them more, we start to have effects on the kinds of political processes that need enemies for hidden psychological reasons. It is my hope that furthering the creation of inner peace in people will contribute to outer peace.

So being a nice person is a radical act in this world!

The only thing I have to to that add is that attempting to influence world peace or any other issue before we work on ourselves can often be ineffective or even counter productive as our actions are coloured by the need to ‘attack’ those around us.

I saw a great example of this recently. The unschooling list we’re on, which is usually a totally awesome list, started discussing vegetarianism and carbon footprinting. It was very clear from the discussion that the vegetarians and carbon footprinters assumed that they were occupying the moral high ground in these discussions. Leaving aside debate over whether they were right in the first place there were several things I noticed.

The first was the subtle coercive nature of the debate. In fact it wasn’t a debate to start with. No one argued against them until either myself or Karen began that side of the debate and then there was a flurry of responses from people who presumably felt they now had permission to give their ‘incorrect’ point of view.

The other thing that I noticed was that the proponents of these issues seemed to take a semi religious approach to vegetariansim or carbon footprinting. One person told me that angry responses were part of the normal process where people went through an anger stage before they get to the acceptance stage. It’s certainly true but what I didn’t say at the time is that sometimes anger is a stage people go through when someone is trying to lay a guilt trip on them and it usually passes as soon as that person backs off!

Anyway I’m sure most people feel really satisfied after they have told someone off for not being a vegetarian or a carbon foot printer but I’d really like it if they tried a different approach. And as I said at the time I’m not arguing against anyone being a vegetarian or a carbon footprinter – quite the contrary in fact – I encourage anyone who has strong beliefs in these areas to pursue them because what we need more than anything else in this world are people who follow their hearts. All I want is the space to be able to follow my heart too.

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Family Matters

June 21, 2008

Here’s the part of the recent Rigorous Intuition post that I noticed most of all:

So this is my dilemma, and my paralysis. It’s not every day you get to spectate the real-time collapse of a planetary civilization and biosphere. (Or, I suppose I should say, I remember a time when it wasn’t.) But watching this unfold with fascination feels complicit and worse than if I were blithely ignorant, and analyzing it at this seeming late stage futile and ridiculous. What’s important now, what’s more important than ever, are the close-to-home matters: being a good father and husband, and learning how to best cushion the crash of our coddled urban lives.

I think the looming crash is helping people to focus on what is important in life. I imagine that when the matrix completlely loses it’s power a lot more people will come to realise what really matters to them but for the moment it’s nice to come across someone else who thinks that attending to family matters actually rates. Some of Jeff’s readers were confused by this new development but Steven Lagavulin was not one of them:

I blogged over at Deconsumption for several years about the impending “collapse of civilization” (as I saw it and still see it over the long haul). And as you alluded, I found it strangely fascinating, perhaps like a deer in the headlights…and I felt a sense of urgency in understanding what might come so that I could “Be Prepared”. And all that study and observation truly helped, I must say. Over time, I stopped being worried about what was coming down upon us. I began to see it as inevitable, but not something I couldn’t adapt to. So eventually, I became confident enought to embrace some big decisions and started steering my life in a way that was both exciting and interesting to me as well as creating flexibility enough to meet whatever may come.

And at that point I became completely bored with apocalyptic news and thinking. So now, just as so many people are just beginning to tune in, I’ve turned off. I used to feel that if you weren’t getting your news from the internet, you were either ignorant of what is really happening in he world or worse, feeding on the steady diet of distractions and lies that is our MSM. I spent at least a couple hours a day surfing and analysing and trying to comprehend the objective picture. Now somehow, I find I lose patience if I’m online for more than about 20 minutes.

And meanwhile, as you perhaps seem to be experiencing as well, my life just gets better and better. Not because I’ve sunk into denial, but because my time is rapidly filling up with things that really matter to me right now. My family and I are in constant movement, but it’s movement towards something. Things are busy and frustrating but also fun and exciting and worthwhile. And it just keeps getting better and better.

But my point is that, at least for my own experience, all of this came about as the result of taking a full look at the worst. But (unlike Mark McKinney’s character) also knowing when I’d seen enough to inform my decisions and to get on with living.

I don’t know if any of the above is even interesting to anyone here, and I apologize if not. But I’ve spent a good ten years coming to a point where I could write exactly that.

The only danger we face over these next few years–as a full understanding of what we’ve truly sown is being reaped–the only danger is that we may succumb to fear, worry, and the desire to calm ourselves through wilfull denial and ignorance.

Yes, I re-posted the entire comment. Call it a guest posting.

I actually wish Steven had kept writing over at Deconsumption because it’s this stage of an individual’s journey that fascinates me most.

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Doom, Gloom and Ka-boom!

May 23, 2008

A few weeks ago I posted a quote from a Bill Mollison interview that included this paragraph:

I can easily teach people to be gardeners, and from them, once they know how to garden, you’ll get a philosopher. But I could never teach people to be philosophers – and if I did, you could never make a gardener out of them.

And now after bemoaning the diet of doom that we get in the peak oil universe I’ve rediscovered this essay by Toby Hemmenway, a permaculturist and philospher who is a great example of what Bill Mollison was talking about.

Toby has this to say about the most common response to a diet of doom:

One of the most common responses to the Peak Oil panic is, “We’re planning on moving to the country with our friends and producing everything we need.” Let me burst that bubble: Back-to-the-landers have been pursuing this dream for 40 years now, and I don’t know of a single homesteader or community that has achieved it.

Toby managed to inspire a bit of hate mail with this series of essay’s, probably as a result of this weird subconsious desire for renewal that exists from one end of our culture to the other.

I’m not a believer in the Peak Oil “end of the world” scenario, where decreasing oil production somehow mutates into the sudden, permanent shutoff of urban water supplies, and contented suburbanites are transformed overnight into looting gangs. Yes, fossil fuels surely will become much more expensive in the next decades, and scarce soon after. I don’t doubt that several tipping points will be broached along the way, with rapid and unexpected changes cascading through society. But civilization won’t end.

I also recently discovered this commennt heading Ran’s Crashwatch page:

When I started this page four years ago, everyone thought that industrial society would keep thriving forever, and I wanted to balance that with evidence that it’s going to crash. Now everyone thinks it’s going to crash, but I’m shocked at how many blows it has taken and how little has changed in daily life

And that’s with a crash that has a decidely engineered look to it. Perhaps then the environment will give us that ultimate catastrophic opportunity for renewal:

I’m no expert on this topic but I am beginning to wonder if we’re getting the real picture on how the environment will cope with it’s own collapse. I’m not a climate change denier in the technology-is-god sense, but any movement that has a member of the elite (Al Gore) leading the charge should immediately be put under the spotlight as far as I’m concerened -and the fact that a person usually gets censured for making such comments in public just makes me want to ask the questions even more.

My trust in our beliefs about the resilience of the planet took another hit when I read this article about jellyfish. I had been lead to believe that nothing could live in these oceanic dead zones that have begun appearing around the planet, (otherwise why call them ‘dead’ zones?), but then I discovered that jellyfish are thriving in them and fisherman who had previously been struggling to make a living are now ‘making easy money’ catching jellyfish for sale in places like Japan.

Naturally there’s plenty in the article that makes for sober reading but when I read about jellyfish thriving in what is referred to as a dead zone I couldn’t help feeling mislead by the information the environmental movement is giving us. What mis-information like this does is give an underlying message about the planet’s ability to cope with change that, logically, must also be wrong but which is slipped in at an almost subconscious level.

So exactly how much is our cultural gravitation toward doom misleading us? I’m certainly not making any predictions of my own but I am wondering if most of the predictions I’m reading are missing an important perspective – a perspective that can only be gained from outside our cultural beliefs about catastrophic endings.

Nothing is certain but I’m fairly confident that it’s the permaculturists who are the most grounded amongst us and that they are the ones, just as Bill Mollison promised, who have the best perspective on our future.

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UPDATE: This is what happens when you don’t do proper research: I originally intended to merely post a link to remind people about Toby Hemmenway’s old essay but then all these other connections started popping up and so I prdocued the longer posting above. What I had forgotten however is that Toby has already written an essay covering this exact topic – in greater detail and with proper resaearch and stuff – it’s called Origins of Peak Oil Doomerism and is a much more thorough attempt to get to the bottom of the issue.

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Suburbia DOA

May 17, 2008

I see a lot of people gleefully predicting the demise of suburbia – dependant as it is on the car for it’s full functioning, but I wonder where do we think all these people are going to go?

If overseas examples are anything to go by the first thing that happens (think Cuba and the Soviet Union) when food gets scare is that people start growing food on their own property. I saw David Holmgren talk a few years ago and he pointed out that the old style quarter-acre section was large enough to feed an entire family. He regretted the fact that most of these sections have since been cut in half and now have two houses where their used to be one, but we need to recognise in our haste to usher in a new future that this doesn’t make them utterly useless.

It’s highly unlikely that anyone will be 100% food self sufficient even if they have enough space. In reality people will grow a proportion of their food at home and buy or barter for the rest. And if there isn’t enough space within the confines of the property there’s going to be a lot of park and road space available for other uses as soon as the local council sees the writing on the wall. Permaculture has already shown us how to grow food in small places, and how to repair dead soil, al we need now is the motivation and that’ll come soon enough.

I’ve also seen the suburbs bemoaned for their lack of community but this is mostly because of the car. As soon as daily car travel is taken out of the picture and as soon as adults are at home for the day, and most likely their children too, the suburbs will be a different place.

The suburbs feel kind of dead now but they’re not going to die – if anything they’re probably going to undergo a kind of rebirth. People will very quickly go back to relying on their neighbours for company and mutual support, they’ll start working from home and who knows – all that space currently used to shift cars around might be put to a better use. Given the (admittedly unlikely) possibility of a sensible local council we’ll might yet see roads given over to some kind of food forest or other commons type of space with council just focus on maintaining the footpaths on either side. Who knows, we may even have markets and other communal events springing up at old intersections. It’s hardly like old-style zoning rules are going to be any use to us.

And YES, I realise this is an idealistic view I’m presenting here but it’s actually a hell of a lot more useful than a months’ worth of doom-blogging. I mean we’re all going to look pretty stupid post-crash when people start asking “so if you knew this was going to happen why did you do nothing except standing there saying ‘I told you so’.

Which is the effect of a lot of the doom – it reduces us to numb spectators. How often do doom-bloggers wonder aloud about why people don’t follow their advice, all the time unware that it’s the constant stream of doom that’s got us in it’s glare.

And YES I realise there is a lot of planning for the future going on already but as I said I still think there is a lot of staring into the headlights of the oncoming train too; “Yes, I think those are the headlights coming into view now. Yep, it’s definitely them, they’re getting pretty bright now – just like I said they would…

WHAM!

James Howard Kunstler is a great writer but my biggest criticism of him is that a lot of his solutions are aimed at the level of local or central government – which, ironically enough is kind of naïve of him. Government is the instrument of the status quo, it’s job is more of the same – not change for the sake of the little people. Should be pretty obvious really.

What our communites are going to need in the future, are a few voices of reason – a few people in each place who have thought about what the future is going to be like and have latched on to the few things that are going to help the people in their street or suburb get through the times ahead. They certainly aren’t going to be need a bunch of peakniks saying I told you so – although the peakniks are going to need a stable community in their area if they really want to increase their chances of survival.

Timing is crucial too – it’s great to have a few bright ideas but pushing them before their time will just lead to burn out. It’s probably too early even now for most other people but the most important thing to remember is that the last people who are going to get this are the ones who our culture typically looks too for leadership.

Crash-aware people are going to have to provide leadership in creative non-institutional ways by doing things like starting up seed-saver and permaculture groups and generally whispering in the ear of people who are ready to listen that we need to support everyone in the community if we want to feel safe.

People have also got to be careful to drop the coercive, bash-them-over-the-head-with-the-news approach that our culture usually produces and provide what I tend to think is genuine leadership – which is to say creating a vision and a direction and waiting for the support to grow in behind it. (This concept of leadership is probably the major area of failure for activists today – but that’s another blog post).

For me this lesson about what community consists of has come courtesy of a fateful shift of house. In our new ‘suburb’ we’ve got friendly neighbours on both sides and over the road – two of whom we knew before we moved in. There are lots more families down the street, also I have a work-mate 4 doors down and a few other faces I recognise beyond that. It’s a marked contrast from our last place where we lived in the usual sought after situation of isolation from our neighbours and a nice view. We’ve moved to a less sought-after area but have ended up with more of what we actually need – it feels like a good place to be.

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