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Archive for September, 2010

I have no shovel-ready answers about how to definitively dispel despair, in fact I’m not sure I should. Despair provides a goad and an inspiration. (Much of the time even knowing how to pose the right questions about dealing with our unraveling world in a clear and forthright fashion is a struggle.) The inability to be absolutely certain about what actions to take can be an abiding problem. I believe, the answers as to how to cope are at once personal and local; they are rooted in where we are living and will arise from that source. Not to beat too hard the old drum of “Think global, Act Local”, but because those of us who are looking for sanity, justice and ecological health for the entire array of species on the planet do not have a single answer, we almost always wilt and fail against the forces of corporate and military thinking — forces that always have a unified tri-purpose: profit, power and control. But because of our smallness and our sense of scale, we can be more resilient, more flexible, more nimble and more effective in creating long-term vitality. And, to be forthright, it is the righteous and moral way to go.

Our entire nation has been fed and has swallowed, for the most part, hook, line and sinker, the notion of the absolute rightness, a divine rightness in fact, of corporate capitalism and the supremacy of individuality. Though these are, in fact, opposite and opposing intellectual positions, their natural contrariness has been cleverly blended together by manipulating politicians, advertisers and nattering hucksters into a blurred amalgam sold under various labels as the American Dream. This ‘dream’ is first and foremost a product, a commodity. It is a product that requires constant infusions of propaganda in the form of advertising, and the relentless pilfering of our planet’s resources to maintain its hold on the collective mind and pocket book. And it’s not just fossil fuel energy and minerals that are being used up to bolster this house of cards. Vast swaths of tropical forests, entire mountain tops and rich verdant landscapes as well as  all the life that dwells there, are being laid waste to keep us in plastic wrap, I-phones, frozen pizza and SUVs.

This relentless devastation is going on with our complicity. We may not personally see our role in clear-cutting the Amazon Basin, but it is going on nonetheless. Despite the incessant and relentless greenwashing and anthropomorphizing of nature and a few very minor triumphs here and there (starring the Snail Darter, for example), despite lavish and lovely films about ‘nature’, e.g., the “World”, the fact is that we are continuing to trash and poison the planet at an ever-increasing rate. Our surrogates are busy, busy, busy and they have no restraint. Who are these engines of commerce and ‘progress’ who act for us, if not in our name, but with our tacit approval and endorsement? Why all those corporations, like Monsanto, and Cargill, and MacDonald’s and Nestle and Toyota, whose convenient products we buy, and the military, whose wars we don’t really protest, and the government, whose policies that support such violence and destruction. Unfortunately, much, probably most of what we have already perpetrated cannot be undone even if we were to stop right now. As we contemporary Neros fiddle away, spending our time and our dwindling $$$ shopping, all of the damaging practices that keep us in thrall to the ‘American Dream’ continue 24 hours a day seven days a week. To rephrase Barry Goldwater: “extremism in the defense of corporate profits and power is no vice.”

So what can you do?

1-     Become intimate with your food. Learn how to cook. Do whatever you can to get involved directly in gardening and growing at least some of your own food. Avoid giving in to the temptation of prepared meals, those plastic-swaddled specialties that are laced with fructose and nuked in the microwave. Besides your time, robust health is one of your greatest assets. The internet is an almost limitless source of information, but only hands in the soil and juice on the cutting board is going to provide real experience.

2-    Resist the urge to spend any more than you have to. Vote with your $$$. Shun the corporate sirens of convenience whenever you can. Another set of dishes, or another electronic gadget isn’t going to bring you fulfillment, it’s probably going to bring you debt. I realize that this kind of restraint is particularly difficult for most of us.

3-    Spend your time, probably your most valuable resource, on endeavors that bring joy and satisfaction and a feeling of community into your life. All of us are going to need ‘the kindness of strangers’ more than ever in the coming years.

4-    Become a ‘Green Wizard’. Go here for more information: http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/ Make or do something ‘useful’ and practical. Make a bookshelf. Refinish an old piece of furniture. Try carving a spoon from a single piece of wood. The possibilities are infinite.

5-    Consider learning more about ways to cope more effectively or even create a more satisfying lifestyle by looking into ideas like ‘permaculture’ (http://permacultureprinciples.com/), Transition Initiative (http://transitionculture.org/), Co-housing (http://www.cohousing.org/), etc.

6-    Use the internet to inform yourself of what is going on around the planet rather than relying on the big media, FOX, NBC, CBS, etc., for information. Start by learning about ‘peak oil’: http://www.energybulletin.net/.

7-    Stop watching TV altogether. If you can’t bear to throw it out — which is a better idea than giving it away – then find some image or images that you love, maybe some your own photos or clippings from magazines, and use the screen to make a changing montage that reflects your growing independence from the infestation of corporate viruses. Don’t just inoculate yourself with ‘hope’ – we all have come to learn just how shallow that concept can be – DO SOMETHING to free yourself from addiction to the faux promises of company shills.

8-    Get up early to watch the sun rise in a sacred place.

This list, or some variation of it will be repeated and repeated in this blog. Repetition, after all, is one of the principal tools of persuasion. It is the most effective, if least obvious trick of advertising, propaganda, and political campaigns. It’s time those of us in the Resilience Resistance began to explore its potential. It may be a little while before we get it right and manage to find the right tone and the right language, but we’ll keep on trying. Tempus fugit, though.

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September has arrived and Fall is upon us. Around me I see and feel the national drift continuing in politics and the economy. Daily life seems to proceed with a sort of hollow normalcy as kids are herded back to school and coliseums everywhere overflow with giddy gladiators and shouting fans. The unholy screech of politics is pulling its fingernails across the blackboard of our media as a ‘mid-term election’ looms ahead. Meanwhile, though the politicians remain fully employed, for the rest of us unemployment remains high. There will probably be the usual ‘holiday effect’, as our culture nods its collective head toward Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a few lucky souls get to play cashier for a day or two. My guess is the employment up-tick will be slight, though even a mite will be celebrated as a ‘hopeful sign’ that ‘things are turning around’. The system itself is broken; the blind are leading the deluded and disillusioned. The technicians who built this foul system refuse to admit their incompetence and their glaringly obvious inability to fix it. The canker that lurks within me whispers that the prospects for progressive and non-violent change grow dimmer and dimmer. Despite this gloomy busy-ness, and balancing it, at least here in NE, has been a recent run of glorious weather, weather to revel in and savor like truly fine wine. Locally the harvests have been normal, and the apple crop appears to be fulsome. The farm stands are overflowing and the farmers’ markets are bustling.

Still, I cannot keep the sorrow at bay. Usually these days I wake up grieving. I grieve not only for what I have lost personally, but also for what is being lost all around me. These losses are not just financial or social – houses foreclosed, marriages dissolved, jobs out-sourced or down-sized, relationships severed by death, millions of obese and sickly citizens – they embrace the on-going erosion, of the non-human world, the world of other beings and wild places as well. Some of the losses are visible and large-scale – mountaintops are scraped away; monsoon floods devastate Pakistan; a mass of trash the size of Rhode Island composed principally of plastic waste floats in the Pacific; waves of pollution slap up on the shores of waterways around the globe. Some of the losses are smaller scale — another ugly shopping mall goes up, a grid of same old-same old houses is spread across an old farm field, a favorite locally-owned craft shop closes. Some go almost unseen– a vernal pond is filled in and the spring peepers no longer sing, a small grove of trees is cut down and the birds no longer flit among their branches. Some losses are so intimate they are invisible and intangible, but with each one of them your spirit sinks and shrinks a little more as you try to cope. You may not notice it at all, that withering spirit or spark, or you may only notice it as a small twinge of regret at the fleeting shadow-memory of a missed view or an opportunity no longer there or a place for solace erased forever. But the toll is extracted nonetheless. Most of the time I am painfully aware of an angry inner anguish that I try to combat or salve with my version of prayer and meditation, or, the court of last resort ignore by watching a DVD snared from the library or a sticky mystery novel. I also look for places and people who are working for change – a persistent and devoted organic farmer still plugging away at his art and craft after a quarter of a century, a poet whose work reaches for grace’ a potter whose hand caressed shapes inspire thoughts of food and love. I don’t try to put on a smiley face necessarily, but I grope and reach for ‘hope’ or faith or promise.

What is an appropriate metaphor or image for these on-going rhythms of thoughts and feelings? I see the struggle between hope and despair played out every day. It’s the age-old struggle of light and darkness, yin and yang, polarities of positive and negative, each pole attracting and repelling, each helping to define, or at least outline, the other. For now I’ll settle on an image from ballet: the pas de deux. I’ll let it trip across the stage slowly, practicing leaps and tosses, catches and releases, lifts and throws. The pas de deux playing out in my mind and heart is not so very unusual, not unique in fact; this dance plays out in the minds and hearts of millions.

Though I have, by choice mostly though not entirely, set myself to the side of much of what goes on in our culture and in our financial system, I am still very complicit in it and dependent upon it. I still drive a car; I still shop at the supermarkets and I partake of the wonders of the internet. Though diminished and less visible professionally, and even personally, I am still a creature of the Hologram, the Grim and Grinding Vast Machine that is the USA. I have not moved as far as I want to along the edges and into the tree line. I may change my mind about my personal relocation project, but for now, I am drawn to the country, and to the rural, but I am by no means there yet. For now I am a creature mostly of the suburbs, though I make occasional forays into the city. Yet I know I will find my only solace in the soil and among the fields and trees.

My trek stumbles on. Rather than highways I exploring the byways of my interior. I am aware of how much work I need to do to achieve balance and reclaim ownership of my own soul. Sounds heavy doesn’t it? Well, perhaps. But reconfiguring, or recovering my soul/spirit is what it seems this on-going camping trip is really all about. O the incorrigible zen of it all!

My goal is this: I am trying to achieve a state of being that allows me to hold entirely contradictory feelings and ideas in balance at the same time. I don’t want to do this as a conjurer’s trick, but as a genuine skill. So far it seems to me that it’s probably easier to walk on water. I don’t expect to become a dancing Wu-lei master or even a third-rate Jedi knight. Occasional wisdom, and, once in a while, a feeling of genuine comfort and joy in just being me would be sufficient reward. I’ll know I’m beginning to reach that level when I don’t feel the weight of an uncertain future, but see in it instead real opportunities for enlightenment and re-inhabitation of the places all around us. Maybe then I’ll begin to laugh a lot more, much of the time at myself, and cry unashamedly and appropriately. Maybe then, instead of having merely intellectual knowledge I will actually experience the awareness that ecstasy and grief are inseparable and that both of them are necessary conditions of being fully alive. Maybe then I will have cast aside the map and stepped into the actual territory. And may be then I will have come one step closer to at-one-ment.

Now is a good time to recall Robinson Jeffers and his poem, ‘Praise Life’.

This country least, but every inhabited country

Is clotted with human anguish.

Remember that at your feasts.

And this is no new thing but from time out of mind,

No transient thing, but exactly

Coterminous with human life.

Praise life, it deserves praise, but the praise of life

That forgets the pain is a pebble

Rattled in a dry gourd.

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Another in the on-going series of contretemps between HOPE and DESPAIR.

For today’s performance ‘HOPE’ will be appearing by itself. DESPAIR isn’t on this particular program; believe me, we’ll get enough of that as we go on. Today, we are presented with a lively joust between two ardent, articulate men. Each of them are, in their own spheres, emissaries, emblems and embodiments of HOPE. Both of them are trying to achieve the same state of affairs, namely a viable, just and livable future on this beleaguered planet.

On the field over here, in green, we have John Michael Greer, the Archdruid and Master Conserver (http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2010-09-02/green-wizardry-response-rob-hopkins); and over here, in blue, we have Rob Hopkins, Transition Initiative founder and Permaculturalist extraordinaire (http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2010-08-31/why-green-wizards-get-us-nowhere-new). These two stalwart worthies are having another of their public conversations about how to achieve a resilient, healthy, and regenerative life for humans as well as all the other fauna and flora. These spirited, testy, even prickly spats seem to bring out the best in both men, well, to some extent anyway, and we all get to benefit from these civilized confrontations. I don’t know how they each really feel about the whole thing, but, for those of us who are concerned about such squirrelly matters as ‘peak oil’ and ‘global climate change’ as well as economic and financial collapse, these debates are among the most enlightening and brilliant shows available in these often dim times. Too often these days the field of discourse is ceded to malicious and ignorant clowns, like Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

Greer is an avid and persuasive advocate of individual, family and neighborly sufficiency. The cornerstone of his recently launched ‘green wizardry’ project is knowing how to make things, make do, and thrive as much as possible with ‘appropriate’ and locally available technologies. Learning and honing personal skills is Greer’s notion of a first step. It’s an approach that appeals to the mythos and ethos of American rugged individualism. Do it and they will come. More practice than process.

Hopkins is an avid and persuasive advocate of collective and community awareness, planning and action. The principal focus of his Transition Towns Initiative is to bring members of the local community together to discuss their collective future. Energy resources and food, both availability and distribution, and preparing plans to institute more local control is the starting point of his endeavor. It’s a congregational, safety-in-numbers approach that appeals to the communitarian spirit in all of us. Hold a rally and they will come. More process than practice.

Personally I don’t see as many contradictions and obstacles between the two approaches as much as I see the complementary benefits. Efforts are needed on both the home front and the community front if we are going to manage our dicey-looking future with any grace, dignity and health intact.

Even though these endeavors are mostly about HOPE, I am of two minds, as usual. I subscribe to both of their efforts. I have many of the books that the Archdruid suggests as valuable information sources; I even have some interesting, if obscure, tomes he may have overlooked. I’ve actually read many of them and for a few years experimented and implemented some of the practices that were appropriate to my situation. I also have participated in the Transition ‘Training’. It was a valuable, provocative experience that reminded me of the best of the self+collective/help encounter groups of the 70s and 80s. The Transition Training Being gives you a real taste of what it is like to be an integral part and a contributing member of a community. But the ‘training’ may not be what ‘transition’ get-togethers in real life are like; As with any group endeavor, even when people are ostensibly aligned for a common purpose, it can sometimes become more of a frustrating scrum than a satisfying barn raising.

The bottom line for me: I whole-heartedly embrace the Transition Initiative and I am happy to provide not just my moral support, but my physically presence to assist in their efforts to focus my local community’s awareness on our unfolding mega-issues. I will cheerfully help to organize film nights, pot-luck dinners, teach organic gardening and even shill for signing up folks to take the training. But I am also an advocate for real, tangible, visible projects that can be touched and seen, right now! (In this regard, my personal preference is for building community or neighborhood greenhouses, but that is an idea that can be discussed later.) I find too much talk enervating and maddening. My tolerance for extended group discussions and limitless processing has never been high, so lately my patience at attempting to reach anything that can be called an effective ‘group consensus’ evaporates at low temperatures and in a short time. Though I realize that there must be a least minimal standards and guidelines and even some baseline accomplishments to legitimize the Transition movement, like learning ‘figures’ in skating, but I think they should be very careful about becoming too doctrinaire and too rigid in what is acceptable Transition theology in process and practice.

And this is an appropriate time to mention a critique of the Transition movement by Alex Steffen, one of the guiding minds and voices of the ‘World Changing’ endeavor. It’s worth a read. And you can find it here: http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/010672.html. I think many of Steffen’s points are well-taken and well-made. But I also agree with Rob Hopkins that many, if not most, of his comments seem to be aimed at a mythological Transition Initiative rather than the one that actually exists. Like many of us, Steffen is hungry and ambitious for change; he is eager for large-scale action across a highly urbanized US, not just programs that seem to focus on smaller, more local entities like small towns. Nonetheless, he stresses one thing that can apply to the entire collective cadre of individuals and groups involved in the movements toward resilience, localization and greater sufficiency at any scale. He calls for upping the ante on participation. Steffen tries to rally us out of our slumber state. He feels it is vital for us to be “launching a counter-attack on pervasive cynicism and finding fresh ways to call it what it is: cynicism is obedience. The very origins of the word mean “like a dog.” Stripping cynicism of its rebelliousness, making it look as entirely whipped an attitude as it is, is a huge step towards reclaiming the public realm. Indeed, I think we need to deploy our full battery of humorists, satirists and artists on looking at what part of us makes us so ready to accept the idea that all is sham and we’re beaten before we start.” The sentiment and the notion are sound if somewhat awkwardly expressed. Armed and focused artists could be a formidable force indeed.

What I take away from Steffen is this, and it applies equally to ‘green wizardry’ and the Transition Initiative: we must come up with ways of energizing and deploying artists to infiltrate the public sphere at every level and stir folks to action and resistance. Artists are the canaries in the coal mines of this culture. We need their help in setting the house of public discourse aflame with discussion of the future that realistically lies ahead of us, not the rosy, fantasy future that the corporatists and politicians are continually trying to sell us. While I’m not sure that such an arson job is remotely possible, it might help to ignite a debate that needs to happen. So far in this regard, the Transition Initiative has been playing an important, perhaps even the leading, role. But it is time to go beyond the flint and tinder approach; it is time to push beyond mere talk and chatter; it’s time to go beyond the cherished and carefully prepared ‘Energy Descent Action Plans’. Because of its higher profile, Transition, perhaps with the covert, or not, help of a few hearty Green Wizards, needs to become the bully on the block and the coyote in the suburbs. TI, and its helpmates, namely us, should be enlisting artists of every type and every age and every gender to help in re-imagining what lies ahead. For instance, maybe it’s time to envision a sane, steady-state, and smaller, future. I think a few demonstrations with the help of some green wizards could get the ball rolling. Perhaps, an edible public art project complete with banners and placards?! Or even something more incendiary. Any thoughts??? Maybe there are some lessons from Burning Man, which is going on as we speak in the salt flats of Nevada. What do you think?

(Postcard image: Bread and Puppet Theater, Glover, VT)

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