how’s that again?

have been running from required activity to required activity and not paying enough attention to some of the earlier thoughtful posts and comments, so want to go back a thread or two, to a story you all might find relevant to both the consumerism and life style thoughts. To me just naming how we live in terms of words like those implies an external point of view, similar i believe to the comments about the GDP value being greater for the overweight about to be in court smoker fellow than the obviously poverty striken family living within their means… Seems it’s about how we measure things, how we value the things that make up our lives.

The story goes somethng like this:
A successful norteamericano businessman is on a seaside vacation in a rural area of the Central American coast. He is walking along the beach in the morning below the village, and a small boat comes to shore and the three fishermen begin unloading a half dozen good sized tuna into an old rusty truck. The vacationer wanders over to inspect the proceedings, and inquires where they got the fish. “Oh we went out before dawn this morning and caught them just off here.” “Well that’s a good catch and it’s only 10 oclock in the morning. What are you going to do now?” The captain said they were going to take them up to the village, and cut them up to sell. Then we are going to go to the cantina and have some food with our families.”

The vacationer considers the reply for a bit then says “…well you know that if you stayed out longer then you could catch more fish and you would make more money.” “Well senor, that is true but…” “Then you could get a bigger boat and catch even more fish… If you did that then you might even be able to buy another boat or two.” “But senor, why would i want to do that?” “Then you could make even more money, and hire people to run your boats… and then you would have time to spend with your family.”

Getting down to basics

finally heard from an old friend from Puerto Rico more than three weeks after huuricane Maria blasted the islands back to the stone age. She has a good job in the main city of San Juan working for the US Dept of Commerce NOAA Fisheries and the federal building finally got power, and lo and behold telephone, and internet via an old “antique” 3G hotspot. We were in the middle of an all too rare volley of emails when the storm struck. i had called many times over the interim and emailed a few knowing they would stay on the servers until retrieved. Despite all the coverage on the tube of dire straits Graciela seemed happily content. “We have a few bananas and plantains from the remaining trees in the back, some we eat, some we put by, and some we trade with the neighbors for the things they have. It has continued raining often so we have water from the catchment. We are back to the island living that we always had before. No worries. The fishermen are out of luck with lost gear and little fuel but it gives the fish a rest and a chance to recover some…” What more could one want ?

an old friend said that
she wished to have only
a bowl and a spoon

A Dreaming

I was driving home (doesn’t it seem like we are always driving?) and I began to daydream about spending one day without touching any kind of machine.  No cellphone, no refrigerator, no stove, no watch, no washing machine, no radio, no laptop.  Imagine that.  We lived for thousands of years without all these machines.

Even just to imagine a day without machines is a way to notice something, to notice how our everyday lives revolve around machines.  To notice all the moments (like now when I am typing this) when I am touching a machine.

Imagining a day without machines is a way to notice how there is another world on the other side of the bubble that we create around us with our machines.  This is the world that is inhabited by every other being on earth except us humans. A difficult and dangerous world, perhaps, but do we choose right in shutting it out?  Notice how we can barely imagine it anymore, how it frightens us. What to eat?  How to live?

Notice how our culture and civilization pushes us away from that world and towards the world of machines. How it is always pushing and pulling, nudging and “incentivizing” us to abandon and disown and trivialize that world.  How civilization actively undermines and destroys that world by its  economic exploitations — all in the name of keeping the machines running.  How civilization makes places – great buildings and factories –  where the non-machine world is kept out almost entirely.  How it is considered childish and idealistic to even believe that the natural world exists in its own right anymore.

Machines are very useful and help to make us comfortable but are they what give meaning to our lives?  Are they what we really want?

Speaking entirely for myself here, I don’t believe in machines.  They don’t give meaning to my life.  I use them to go along with everyone else and to do certain things but I don’t much care about them.

Why are we driven and herded to act as if we believe in them even when we don’t?

I care about people and animals and plants and the land.

But it seems like a great struggle to remember that and to live like that.

It feels like I have to fight against the tide to affirm that love, to affirm that the natural world even still exists.  It feels like an act of faith and rebellion to just reach out and touch that world of plants animals air water, instead of the world of machines.   Or it is considered quaint and impractical.

Why is it quaint?

Does anybody actually believe in these machines, when the chips are down, when you look at your life and what matters to you?  Do we only believe in them because we are afraid?

What are we so afraid of?

Maybe we should stop being so afraid.  Maybe we need courage.

We need the courage to reach out and touch that other world. To touch it is to believe in it. To believe in it as much (or more) than we believe in the world of machines. To give our time and our intelligence to it. To delight in and draw strength from it.  To believe in – rather than fear – our own humble, vulnerable human-animal selves.

We need the courage to assert the right of that other world of plants and animals to exist and to be sustained.  We need the courage and  confidence to make that other world somewhere where it is possible to live again, where we can choose to live in again.  We need the confidence to be champions of a world that does not define itself by machines, a world that will exist long after the last machine runs down. We need the confidence to remember and keep remembering, despite the subtle and blatant pressures to forget and disown, to fear and despair.

To remember this other, older realm will not make you rich but it will make you strong. You will be part of something older and bigger than the life and death of individual beings.  You will be part of the fabric of all beings. That is a truth to be strong in.  So raise it up in your heart and in your mind: this realm, our humble home, our dirt-poor family.

Maybe we can’t stop driving and burning fossil fuel today or tomorrow.  Maybe we can’t figure out how to do that today or tomorrow.  But if can know that we are home then perhaps we can see what is beautiful right in front of us.  If we know that we are home then we can slow down. If we know that we are home, then we can reach out and take pleasure in the world as it is.  If we know we are home we will not be driven and then maybe we can stop driving.

A future we have yet to imagine

Ever since I read an article by George Monbiot I’ve been thinking about myths, the stories we’ve told since the beginning of time.  Monbiot writes “Stories are the means by which we navigate the world. They allow us to interpret its complex and contradictory signals. We all possess a narrative instinct: an innate disposition to listen for an account of who we are and where we stand. You cannot take away someone’s story without giving them a new one.  It is not enough to challenge an old narrative, however outdated and discredited it may be. Change happens only when you replace one story with another. When we develop the right story, and learn how to tell it, it will infect the minds of people across the political spectrum.”

In every culture, every community, every family, every generation we tell our stories.  The form of telling has changed, from spoken to written, from books to video, to computer and internet.   I was talking to my mother recently about our family history and she said, “Well, you tell a good story!”  I realized in that moment that my stories of our family are different from my mother’s.  The stories of what happened, when and most importantly why have changed as I’ve grown older but they remain a central part of me and who I identify as my ‘self’, as different from my mother and her generation.  And I wondered what stories will my children and grandchildren tell about their past, my present, and issues such as what we did or didn’t do about climate change.

The stories we tell shape our beliefs and actions.  Neoliberals on the left and Libertarians on the right have something in common, the belief that the human individual, if left to his or her own good nature, would create a just and free world.  Authoritarians, both political and religious, have taken the opposite view that humans are basically weak or sinful and without a strong leader or a God, we behave badly.  So what is the truth?  Are humans basically good, or basically bad?  Can we trust our motivation to act in time to address climate change or will we simply be forced to endure the consequences? I think the truth is we are neither one nor the other but capable of both, behaving in different ways as we mature into adulthood.

As a baby we absorb information but have no fixed identity of self, this is why babies are seen as innocent.  As children we develop our identity, our ego, our moment of narcissistic reality “I am someone”, and we become able to act.  As we develop adulthood we move beyond self-centered narcissism and begin to develop social consciousness, relating to others around us.  How far we develop as adults varies.  Some people never move beyond narcissism, clinging to the idea that they are uniquely special and acting only to benefit them selves.  Some people move a little beyond, extending their ego identity as far as their tribe, giving their allegiance to a group identity, and distrusting other groups.  Racial prejudice and bigotry are a norm for such groups of people, still acting to benefit only Us not Them.  Very few people reach the state of maturity which goes beyond human identity seeing the complex connections between all life forms, learning to respect life beyond human form.

The story I believe to be true is that humans need personal contact to evolve.  Living life through social media is stunting our growth as humans because of the absence of direct, immediate personal contact.  We need the presence of a close and loving family, a small group of people that know us well, others that we trust.  Families need a stable home, a place where we are nurtured, where we feel safe.  Home is the place we come to rest, to take sustenance, to rejuvenate.  Homes occupied by families need the continuity of community, the groups of families living near each other and sharing values, resources, a way of living and supporting each other.  As the familiar group enlarges beyond a certain size, beyond the community in which we live, we lose direct personal connection with others. In a community, norms function better than laws because it is the people themselves that enforce socially accepted behaviors. In the larger society laws and government become necessary because individuals no longer act, groups act.  Communities need stable connections to other communities, good ‘politics’ to govern our treatment of others.

We do not really know what life is like for others that live in another state, or another country, unless we visit them.  We need travelers and teachers…people who are part of our group but have knowledge of others.  Through them we come to know a larger family we call humanity.  I think Monbiot is right “We have been induced by politicians, economists and journalists to accept a vicious ideology of extreme competition and individualism that pits us against each other, encourages us to fear and mistrust each other and weakens the social bonds that make our lives worth living.  We have lost our common purpose.”  If dystopia, war and destruction are all we can imagine, then violence may be all we can expect.

The story I believe is that we are all part of this dance called life, each of us having our own way of seeing and being.  Every living creature lives in this dance, dependent upon environmental stability to fulfill its main purpose of birth, growth, reproduction, and death.  Humans are different from animals because we search for meaning in life.  And although we may see life’s purpose as different from that of a plant, an insect, another mammal, at the core we all are part of the same striving to exist.

I think finding our way forward, is seeing the value of each other in community.  We need the stodgy old English teacher that insists we learn the proper rules of writing.  We need the conservative traditionalists that keep faith with the past, so that when we go off track we know how to find our way back.  We need the scientist, explorer, radical innovator looking for new ideas because we won’t solve our problems with the same thinking that got us into this mess.  We need the mystics, writers, poets, and artists to help us imagine a world we ourselves cannot see.  And most important of all, we need to coexist with all of the life around us.  We need to listen to each other’s stories, because someone else, even some other life form, may help us find a way into a future we have yet to imagine.