EVIL

10 12 2017

This is the 29th chapter of Charles Eisenstein’s book, “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.” It’s a long one, so I won’t be reading the whole chapter this month. Please buy the book to support Mr. Eisenstein’s work. Thank you!

When we confront something we regard as “evil,” it poses a threat to the self-preservation of ego. We are so busy preserving our existence in the face of this threat that we cannot see the thing clearly at all.

—Chögyam Trungpa

Sometimes in Q&A sessions or internet comments I am confronted with the accusation that I ignore “the dark side of human nature.” I would like to unpack that statement. What is the dark side of human nature? It certainly means more than “Sometimes people do some pretty awful things,” because obviously if it wasn’t someone’s fault or intention to cause harm, that is not very dark. Besides, anyone who has read my work knows that I am well aware of the horrible things we humans have done to each other and the planet. No, when we speak of the dark side of human nature we are making a dispositionist claim: that we do bad things because there is bad within us. We bear within us evil, malice, selfishness, greed, brutality, cruelty, violence, hate, and callousness.

On the one hand, this is trivially true: all of these are parts of the human experience. Even if circumstances bring them out, they must be there to be brought out in the first place. But if it were only that, then the situationist response would be sufficient: change the circumstances that elicit evil. No easy task, this: these “circumstances” include the whole edifice of our civilization all the way down to its foundational mythology of Separation and Ascent. Yet still, a more beautiful world is still possible in principle…..

…..

Jimi told me he’d think about it. He didn’t do as I suggested, but let me tell you what happened. Later that week Jimi arranged a meeting with the thief. He went accompanied by his friend M., a martial arts expert. The thief brought two of his friends along as well. He said he really wanted the item and didn’t want to pay for it. His two friends started egging him and Jimi on, suggesting that they fight for it. Jimi (who is six-feet-two and has also studied martial arts) said, “Forget it, I’m not going to fight you for this petty material object. You keep it. I don’t want your money.”

The thief was taken aback. Then he said, “You know, that doesn’t feel right. I shouldn’t have taken it like that. Let me give you some money. How about $50? That’s all I can afford.”

Whereas each had held the other in a story of enmity, now there was humanity.

Bruce Cockburn, “The Gospel of Bondage” and “The Gift

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A HOCKEY STICK STORY

12 11 2017

Maybe I’m sentimental, but I still subscribe to Mother Jones Magazine. I first connected with it back in the 70’s, when, like the labor organizer it’s named for, it was a radical voice that both took a clear-eyed look at what is, and laid out a promising, hopeful view of, and path toward, the better future that could be. In the forty years since, the magazine has increasingly become a cheerleader for the mainstream of the Democratic Party, to the point that I think that  if Mother Jones were she still alive, she would be taking legal action against the magazine for sullying her good name. So far, though, every time I’ve felt just about fed up enough to cancel my subscription, they’ve come through with some kind of a must-read-and-share article that has renewed my faith in them.

I’m curious to see what they’ll make of Donna Brazile’s recent tell-all memoir, in which she reveals that the DP really did rig the primaries in exchange for certain financial considerations from the Clinton campaign. Perhaps the lawsuit on those grounds against the DP will be revived. But that’s not what I”m going to focus on tonight. I want to focus, instead, on what I think is the first science fiction story Mother Jones has ever printed. That story is called “You Will Lose Your Job to a Robot.”   It features a hockey stick graph of the rate at which computing power, and thus, automation, is expected to increase.aihockeystick,

The science fiction aspect of this story is not so much the potential advances in computer technology as it is its casual, offhand treatment of climate change, regarding it as a minor inconvenience that will, of course, be managed and dealt with without any serious impact on our Sacred American Way of Life. That’s kind of like confusing spinal meningitis with the flu. Climate change, like spinal meningitis, has its own exponential growth curve. hockeyprojection

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HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM…..

8 10 2017

music: The Band, “Look Out, Cleveland

This is a story about Harvey, Irma, and Maria. What an awesome threesome! A lot of ink, pixels, and hot air has gone into telling their stories, but not much of that has taken a “deep green perspective.” They’re part of a much bigger picture–really, part of a couple of “much bigger pictures,” one nested within the other, like a small shark intent on snapping up a fish, not realizing that he’s about to be snapped up by the jaws of a much larger shark. To explore this hierarchy of hungry sharks, but let’s start with Tropical Storm Harvey.

Twelve years to the day after Katrina flooded New Orleans, America’s forty-sixth largest city, Harvey, a much bigger storm, inundated America’s fourth largest city.

Consider the Houston recipe: Establish a sprawling, extremely toxic chemical industry pretty much at sea level on a low-lying, hurricane-prone shore. Run lots of pipelines full of oil, gas, and other toxic substances from all across the country to this area, making it one of the essential nodes that supports our whole way of life. Allow a large city to grow mixed in with all these chemical plants and pipelines, so that virtually the entire residential area of the city is within smelling distance of a chemical facility. Don’t do zoning. In fact, take an “anything goes” ethic when it comes to environmental safety standards, including a good strong dose of climate science denial.

Put this mixture on a shelf for a few decades and pay attention to other things, while carbon emissions due to that chemical industry raise the temperature of the planet, causing sea level and the intensity of storms to rise.

What could possibly go wrong?

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THE LARGEST AND LEAST POWERFUL GREEN PARTY IN THE WORLD, AND HOW TO EMPOWER IT

24 09 2017

The United States has the largest Green Party in the world, with around a quarter million registered voters, plus thousands more supporters in states like Tennessee that don’t have party registration. In survey after survey, and as demonstrated by Bernie Sanders’ galvanizing effect on the American public, substantial majorities of Americans support Green positions, from universal single-payer health care greenyetto a greater emphasis on alternative energy and a cleaner environment, to local economies and greater community and economic democracy, but you wouldn’t know it to look at election results, where the Green Party rarely even gets into double digits, let alone is a contender, in any election higher than the local level.

As I researched this piece, I discovered that it was easy to find links backing up my statements about public support for health care, alternative energy, a cleaner environment, and stronger local economies, but it seems as if nobody has thought to ask about the radical notion of having more “everyday people” involved in their own governance, let alone the ownership and governance of their workplaces. Both of these have been taken up enthusiastically in places where they have been tried, such as Burlington, Vermont when, and ever since, Bernie was mayor, Jackson, Mississippi today, and the increasing number of worker owned and managed companies around the country. The Democrats will attempt to co-opt Green Party positions on the environment, alternate energy, and the minimum wage, but you can bet they won’t touch economic, workplace, and community democracy. The change from hierarchical ownership and direction by the few to governance by the network of people actually involved in a workplace or community  threatens the corporatist, oligarchic monopoly of the few that currently calls the shots in this country, and thus consideration of such ideas is not welcome in polite society. As Noam Chomsky said,

chomskynarrow

I think that’s a very apt description of what’s going on the US these days: there’s tremendous passion and polarization around scores of issues, while the root cause of all of them is never touched, and keeps throwing up new shoots that we activists hack at until we grow weary. If we are going to put an end to all the many levels of oppression that saturate our society, we need to uproot the oligarchy that is the source of our oppression. It’s not just an oligarchy that’s outside us. All of us have internalized it to some extent, and we each need to win our own our personal psycho-spiritual revolution if the external revolution is going to succeed.

Meanwhile, around the globe, Green Parties are achieving a satisfying level of electoral success in a great many countries, and changing those countries’ priorities for the better in the process. Let’s examine some of those countries, and then look into why it hasn’t happened here, which leads directly to what it will take in order for it to happen here. Read the rest of this entry »





RIGHTEOUSNESS

9 07 2017

Once again, my occasional reading of a chapter from Charles Eisenstein’s 2012 book, “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible,” seems totally appropriate to our current situation. You can read the whole chapter here, and buy it and other works by Eisenstein at that same link.

The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become.

—Goethe

Underneath the common agreement that the problem with the world is evil and the solution to conquer it is an unmet psychological need for self-approval. Two-thirds of our political discourse goes toward meeting our need to be right, to align ourselves with Good. If the man who disagrees with me does so because he is stupid, naive, bamboozled, or wicked, then I must be smart, canny, independent-minded, and good. Positive and negative judgments alike hold oneself as a tacit reference point (lazy means “lazier than I” and responsible means “responsible like me”).

Why do you really visit those websites that get you stirred up and indignant? Whatever reason you give yourself (e.g., to “stay informed”), maybe the real reason is the emotional gratification, the reminder that you are right, smart, in a word, good. You are part of the in-group. If you want even more reassurance you might start an online discussion group or a face-to-face group where you and a bunch of other people get together and talk about how right you are and how awful, incomprehensible, evil, and sick those other people are. Unfortunately, because this gratification is addictive, no amount will be enough. (The real need here is for self-acceptance, and the proxy offered does not and cannot meet the real need.) Soon everyone will want to be even more right—more right than certain others in the group, which will degenerate into infighting and flame wars…….

……Look at the plot of so many Hollywood movies where the resolution of the drama comes with the total defeat of an irredeemable bad guy. From high-concept movies like Avatar to children’s movies like The Lion King or Wreck-It Ralph, the solution to the problem is the same: conquer evil. Significantly, the type of movie that most often has this plotline, besides children’s movies, is “action” movies. No wonder defeating the bad guy so often becomes the unquestioned programmatic assumption behind all kinds of political action. I need not mention that it is also the defining mentality of war. And since the label “evil” is a means of creating an “other,” one might also say it is the defining mentality of our relationship to everything else we have made other: nature, the body, racial minorities, and so on.

More subtly, Western notions of story and plot have a kind of war built in to them as part of the standard three-act or five-act narrative structure, in which a conflict arises and is resolved. Is any other structure possible that isn’t dull, that still qualifies as a plot? Yes. As the blogger “Still Eating Oranges” observes, the East Asian story structure called Kishōtenketsu in Japanese is not based on conflict. But we in the West almost universally experience a story as something in which someone or something must be overcome. This surely colors our worldview, making “evil”—the essence of that which must be overcome—seem quite natural a basis for the stories we construct to understand the world and its problems.

Our political discourse, our media, our scientific paradigms, even our very language predispose us to seeing change as the result of struggle, conflict, and force. To act from a new story, and to build a society upon it, requires a wholesale transformation. Dare we do it? What if I am wrong? Let’s look more deeply into the nature of evil.

music: Jackson Browne, “Black and White

Lisa Gerrard, “Space Weaver

        Susan Shann, “The Final Word

 





THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE IN KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE…

25 06 2017

This report makes extensive use of a paper written by Barbara Bridges and Joel Kennedy, who pulled together most of the basic information and are quoted at great length in it, to the point where it’s hard for me to separate out their contributions from mine. The fairest way to put it is to give them credit as co-authors. Thank you both for your co-operation!

Not long after last month’s broadcast (which you may have heard as a repeat two weeks ago), I found an essay by two Knoxville Green Party members, Barbara Bridges and Joel Kennedy, about the consonance between Knoxville’s “2017 City Council Movement” and the Green Party’s “Ten Key Values.” None of these candidates have been active in The Green Party, but, to me, that doesn’t matter much. The ideas are  FAR more important than the brand.

knoxpeoplepower

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THERE MUST BE SOME KINDA WAY OUT OF HERE…..

12 02 2017

I promised that, this month, I would devote my attention to the question of how to get out of the Republican quicksand our nation has fallen into, and how to set our steps on a saner path that will not lead us back into the swamp of corporate-dominated politics, Republican or Democratic. I  want to start by looking at what happened in another country–Argentina.

I recently had the pleasure of a long, informative conversation with a man who grew up there, during “The Dirty War.” “The Dirty War,” in case you aren’t familiar with it, is the term that is used to describe what happened in Argentina after the military took over the government in 1976. There were guerrilla forces operating in the country, but the military didn’t just move against them. They decided to get rid of everybody who kinda sympathized with the guerrillas’ ideals of a more just and economically equitable society. That included the brother of the man I spoke with. His twenty-year old brother was in the military, but somebody thought he might be a threat, so away he went. Thrown from a helicopter into the ocean? Roasted alive? Or simply shot? His family has never learned his fate.

His disappearance was profoundly unnerving for them. Sometimes the military just “disappeared” someone, and that was it. Sometimes, after one member of a family had been abducted, they would come back for the rest of the family, one at a time, or all at once. There was no way to know. dirtywar03My friend was a teenager at the time, “a long-haired hippie kid,” as he described himself–though you’d never know it to look at him now. So there he was, sixteen years old, growing up in a country where the middle class he was part of was not that different from the US middle class. He was going through all the things an American boy his age would have been going through–girls, grades, and, I suspect, ganja–but he also had to think about whether he was going to be kidnapped and tortured, and how he might respond to that. Fortunately, he never had to find out.”But since then,” he told me, “the kind of things that most people feel scared or worried about just don’t bother me that much.” Read the rest of this entry »








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