March - April, 2006

previous archive

March 2-3. Great manifesto, In a fast society slow emotions become extinct. A thinking mind cannot feel. I don't like all the stuff about the proposed experiments, but this is the kind of raw, don't-cover-your-ass writing that I love, and I wish more writers had the courage for it.

When society switches over from physical work to mental work, the speed of thinking keeps on accelerating and the gaps between thinking go on decreasing. There comes a time when there are almost no gaps. People become incapable of experiencing / tolerating gaps. Emotion ends. Man becomes machine.

March 4-5. "Civilization is natural... Chimps have murderous tribal wars, beetles kill forests, volcanoes cause mass extinction... We're not strong enough to kill the biosphere... The Earth will recover and be here long after we're gone... It's chauvinistic to say biological life is more valuable than rocks... Other species don't mind being killed off -- we just want to save them because of our own selfishness... The universe is a gem of perfect beauty... There are no mistakes... Everything happens for a reason..."

I've been too hard on people who say this shit. I assumed that they were willing collaborators in mass-extinction. Now I think they're people in desperate trouble. Think back to a forest or field that you loved, that was killed and covered with "development." Imagine that all your family and friends are in a house that's on fire, and half of them are dead, and the other half are screaming in the flames. And there doesn't seem to be anything you can do. What do you tell yourself?

What bothers me about all these statements is the pretention of spiritual superiority. I just want someone to admit, "These are not deep truths. These are coping mechanisms in an age of unbearable grief." Another coping mechanism is the idea that this whole plane of reality is an illusion, so we should ignore it and focus on a story that some religion says is the real world. Or the idea that it's too late to stop the mass-extinction, so we should ignore it and focus on our own lives.

There's a whole religion hidden in that word "so." It says: "If you can't do anything about it, do not feel anything about it." Or, "The only value of feeling is to motivate achievment." You are commanded to not feel anything unless your feelings are useful. This is how Bush was broken as a child, by being forbidden to mourn his beloved sister. George Sr. and Barbara went golfing the next day and never mentioned her name again.

Suppose we turn this value system on its head: The only reason to do is to feel. Our accomplishments are transitory and ultimately meaningless, and it doesn't even matter if this world is real or illusory, because our feelings about it have inherent value. The value of feeling is in its intensity, and most of all in its honesty, but not necessarily in its pleasantness. Free and honest pain is preferable to forced happiness.

I wouldn't have figured this out without a comment from Patricia:

We should be looking around at all the damage and pain, and we should be falling to the ground in tears, or screaming, or something! Of course, we can try to extricate ourselves, make our footprints as small as possible, try to give out healing and help, and so on. But even if ALL you can do is simply acknowledge the suffering and mourn the loss, then you owe at least that much to what's being murdered. You owe it to that burning family in the house to WATCH THE FIRE AND CRY, if that's really all you can do!

March 6. Here's a piece by Devin about healing the mind/body split, where he explains the disease of civilization as a slip from a cyclical paradigm with both negative and positive feedback loops ("nature"), into a linear paradigm of positive feedback loops ("progress"). And this different way of thinking is rooted in a mind-body split that was caused by traumatic experience. Basically, we plunge ahead into greed and "progress" and "growth" because we're running from unpleasant feelings about unresolved past traumas.

This morning I was listening to a radio debate about how to replace the 99 Viaduct here in Seattle. It's a double-stacked elevated highway along the waterfront that is old, ugly, and very likely to fall over in the next earthquake. There are three factions, all of which are contriving rational arguments to justify visions chosen for emotional reasons. The WWII-era practical Americans just want to build a new elevated highway. Their emotional position is, "stop whining about the trauma and live with it." The greenies and hippies (including me) want to get rid of the highway completely. Our position is, "we need to heal from the trauma and move back toward the balanced world we came from." And the power elite want to build a very expensive tunnel. Their position is, "bury the trauma, and keep reaching for bigger and better things."

March 6. Red rain may prove life came from outer space. Nothing hew here. From Charles Fort's 1919 book The Book of the Damned, chapter 19:

Tremendous red rain in France, Oct. 16 and 17, 1846; great storm at the time, and red rain supposed to have been colored by matter swept up from this earth's surface, and then precipitated. But in Comptes Rendus, 24-625, the description of this red rain differs from one's impression of red, sandy or muddy water. It is said that this rain was so vividly red and so blood-like that many persons in France were terrified. Two analyses are given. One chemist notes a great quantity of corpuscles -- whether blood-like corpuscles or not -- in the matter. The other chemist sets down organic matter at 35 per cent. It may be that an inter-planetary dragon had been slain somewhere...

March 8. In an email to Matt, about the idea that we're all in the "Matrix," I said:

I think "waking up" from this whole plane of reality is not an absolute good, but a safety mechanism. As long as this world is a good place, there's no reason not to keep hanging out here indefinitely. But when it gets really crappy here, it becomes (relatively) good to escape, and people start talking about "enlightenment" or "higher" realities.

Matt replied:

I think there are probably far more beings, of both positive and negative orientation, trying to get into this plane of reality than trying to get out. Even with shit the way it is. I like the point-of-view of Earth as the ultimate amusement park ride... of physicality as a new, fun expression of spirit rather than as a fallen or lower stage of evolution.

My going theory is that it's an anything goes universe and there is no agenda coming from the essence of the universe. Wanna be at one with everything? Okay. Wanna be disembodied? Okay. Wanna experience life as a group consciousness? Okay. Wanna be individual? No problem.

March 9-11. Report from a reader who has owned a store in Phoenix for almost seven years:

Ever since 9/11/01 I have observed that people have become incrementally more fearful. What I'm seeing now is that the fear has increased drastically since November 2005. How do I measure the increase in fear? Mostly, I measure this by what percentage of women who enter my store are armed with cans of pepper spray, uncapped pens or keys ridiculously wielded in a defensive position -- along with a cell phone out and "on the ready." What the hell is going on?

Two days later, Phoenix gets its first rain since October 18, 2005...

My observation on this drenched day, with average foot traffic in my store, is this: not a single person came in today with pepper spray, uncapped pens, keys wielded as a weapon or the cell phone out "on the ready." I can't even tell you when was the last time I observed this. I'm beginning to wonder, is it all about the water?

I think it's about negative ions. Basically, negatively charged ions in the air make people feel good, and positively charged ions make people feel bad. One thing that produces negative ions is falling water, which explains why we like waterfalls and showers so much. You also find them on beaches and especially after thunderstorms. I suspect that atmospheric ions are connected to "sick building syndrome" and the fact that the political "blue states" are next to water. In your own home you can make negative ions with a fountain or with a special machine, like this one.

March 12-16. Before I finished Fall Down Six Times, I had to ask for reader help on plankton. They are definitely dying, and the best explanation I've seen is in this article, Seas turn to acid as they absorb global pollution: The oceans have absorbed half of human CO2 emissions since the Industrial Revolution, and in the water it becomes carbonic acid, which dissolves the shells of the plankton. What we don't know, and what no scientists are talking about directly, is how far the plankton are going to die, and what it will do to life on land. Matt did a bunch of research and concluded:

Plankton produce about 50% of Earth's oxygen and they also play a role in cloud formation. Over the last 20 years, oceanic plankton has decreased by close to 30%. There are coastlines that have measured a 70% drop in plankton over the last 50 years.

With industry and human demands increasing, in ten years the oceanic plankton will exceed 50% mortality. By that time, the oxygen content of Earth's atmosphere will dip to 75% of its current presence. With deforestation continuing too, the actual number could be lower. In 20 years, accounting for all factors, oxygen could dip to 33% of current levels.

That's a guess, but it's the best guess we've got, so I'm going to accept it as true. Atmospheric oxygen is now (supposedly) at 21%. Can we survive if it drops to 7%? Several readers mention how well humans adapt to thin mountain air, and Dan sends a chart showing that on top of Mt. Everest, there is less than 1% as much air as there is at sea level. And the very best climbers can go up and down Everest with no supplemental oxygen.

But the thin air on top of Everest still has 21% oxygen. Thick air with a reduced percentage of oxygen is a different thing. Until I see research showing otherwise, I'm assuming the body reacts differently to oxygen molecules spread out over more space, than it does to oxygen molecules crowded out by nitrogen molecules. About the latter, there's not much evidence about how quickly, or how far, we can adapt. Chris sends this link to Critical Depletion of Planetary Oxygen Levels, a fascinating but not so credible page speculating that oxygen levels drove the rise and fall of the dinosaurs, and saying this about humans:

By analyzing air bubbles trapped in fossils, scientists have recently proven that the earth's atmosphere used to have 40% oxygen. By comparison, today's air only contains 16% to 19% oxygen... Even more startling, analysis of the air in different parts of the world shows that this number is continuing to decline and many large cities now have oxygen levels as low as 12%. Medical researchers say that if falls below 7% the human race will perish.

This is much more serious than rising ocean levels or big storms. I'm wondering if I'll have to build a greenhouse to get enough oxygen to live past 2020. Patricia comments:

I think you'd be wise to work on that greenhouse -- but you'll need to disguise it somehow, maybe make it look like a big old collapsed barn or something? Greenhouses of any kind will be totally illegal, once Coca-Cola begins selling bottled air!

Another question is: Where do the oxygen atoms go? We don't exactly know! Aric sends this Kevin Kelly chapter about air problems in the biodome, and comments:

In our case the problem is a lack of production of oxygen because forests and phytoplankton are being wiped out. However, oxygen is still used and converted into carbon dioxide by living creatures and by decomposition. The carbon dioxide is stored in soils and oceans (which become acidified), the tissues of living organisms and dead organisms, and in fossil fuel deposits.

April 2. Amazing blog post on the Pirahã, a tribe of very smart, very pleasant people who have no concept of numbers, no words for colors, no art, and no creation myth. Apparently their culture focuses only on immediate experience. It sounds to me like heaven, and it reminds me of a great Camper Van Beethoven line: "There are explanations, that seem to matter less and less each passing day."

April 11. Found out about this book in the permaculture class: Keeping It Living adds to the growing evidence that many "primitive" people are not passive forager-hunters, but advanced gardeners, consciously tending the land to increase fertility and food production.

April 13-15. People who talk on the internet love to say that we should quit talking and do something. But I think talking is important. "Words vs actions?" Words are actions. Language is a powerful kind of action and we need to practice greater awareness of that power. Instead of just thinking about whether our words are true, we need to think about their effects. So I wouldn't write about a Mad Max future even if I believed it, because that language would put people in a mind space of fear and zero-sum conflict. And I wouldn't write about a magical new-age transcendence even if I believed it, because that language would put people in a mind space of passively waiting.

The thing people say that's most frequently condemned as irresponsible is: "I'm looking forward to the crash." But that's not at all irresponsible! To believe so is to believe that wishing for something makes it happen, which is the most naive kind of magical thinking. No words or theories are going to cause, prevent, accelerate, or slow the coming involuntary powerdown. The best I can do with words is help people get their minds in a place to better navigate these interesting times, to see opportunity instead of horror, to see opened doors instead of closed doors.

I think it's helpful to admit you're looking forward to the crash, because that puts out in the open something that a lot of people think in secret. It breaks a taboo that prevents us from seeing opportunity in catastrophe. I think pretty much all crashbloggers, even the most "pessimistic," are craving something, anything, that loosens up this tight, tight world, even if it kills them.

Patricia comments:

Why do we automatically assume that a very chaotic and dangerous -- but also exciting -- possible future with all kinds of weird little groups of humans, some of which focus on competing violently for scarce resources, and NONE of which are subject to large-scale control by anyone, is "Bad"?

Didn't everyone like the Mad Max movies? So why is it not okay to think of that as a potential crash scenario, unless you simultaneously profess how terrible you think it would be: "Of course I would NEVER want to see such a thing..." Even the people on the fucking GUN lovers sites talk like that! Please! I call bullshit!

Obviously what we have now, in many places, is worse! A fast wild dangerous scary life is preferable to some of the more extreme forms of wage-slavery, not to mention the outright slavery that is happening in other nations. What -- we can accept that girls are stolen off the sidewalk in Moldova and sold as sex slaves to twisted old white-man monsters every day, but a possible future where in some places bunches of crazy youngsters ride around the desert on home-made motorcycles shooting at each other over who owns the water hole is somehow worse?

I hereby support all the very most frightening CrashBloggers, and the right for anyone who wants to, to remake parts of the New Earth into Mad Max Land! I personally may not choose to be part of that vision, but I WOULD choose it over some kind of Wal-Mart Company Town! I would choose that over being made to live as ANY kind of drone, even Drones for Peace, or Drones for Permaculture.

So, you know, there! Bring on the THUNDERDOME!!! ARGHHHHH!!!

April 16. Easter retains more of its pagan origins than any other modern holiday, except maybe Halloween. The date is still calculated from the full moon and the spring equinox, and we celebrate its original meaning, fertility, with eggs and images of rabbits.

So it's fitting that this morning I got an email from Aja, who saw my recent link to this DIY abortion page, and writes that women don't have to resort to that. With careful observation of your body, and a thermometer, you can tell with great precision when you ovulate. Aja recommends the book and website Garden of Fertility. And for those of you with more money than time, there's also a machine that can do it for you, the Ladycomp. I should warn you that it doesn't work for all women: I exist because my mom had a supposedly impossible second ovulation several days after her first one.

April 18. Patricia summarizes our situation:

I feel like I woke up in a zoo, and then I started researching about how animals used to not live in zoos at all! And how much better that was! And I also started hearing rumors that the zoo might close down soon and turn us all out onto the streets. And now I'm looking around and realizing that the tigers don't know how to hunt and eat other animals, and the gazelles don't know how to graze on grass or leaves, and we're all so fat and drugged and clueless that we don't even know how to run or climb trees, and so busy doing tricks for the zookeepers that we don't have time to learn how.

People need to try farming, or hunting and fishing, or foraging, or at least learn how to make meals from plain ingredients instead of living on frozen TV dinners. We need to do it NOW, while we still have the comfort and resources of the familiar. Right now your money is still usable for taking classes, or buying tools. Later, by the time things become obvious, it may not be.

The most valuable part of it is realizing that you can do this, you can make these changes -- we still have one of the better animal brains around, when it comes to adaptation and group co-operation. But right now all of our brains are all fogged up with stress and bad food and chemicals and propaganda.

It's just no good showing up on the morning of the big marathon, expecting to buy sneakers and run for the first time since you were five years old.

April 20. Flock-killing planned if bird flu found. Or, the purpose of the bird flu scare is to exterminate autonomously-raised flocks and force us to depend for survival on big agribusiness. This is the same as "terminator" seeds or the massacre of the plains buffalo: Top-down systems are so inefficient and unpleasant that they can only survive by violently destroying all alternatives. And even then they can only survive for a little while. Luckily we're omnivores -- we can just eat stuff other than poultry and eggs until the bird flu and the Empire blow over and the backyard flocks return.

April 22. Patricia observes the Empire falling. (See also this Harper's article about the war inside the CIA.)

Myself and the other govdoc library types have been watching through our "inside" window while this happened at agency after agency, in a steady march that began right after 9/11. Documents disappear, normal government employees get replaced by incompetent creeps at every level, inconvenient information simply ceases to be collected, and is certainly NOT allowed to be public anymore, inconvenient programs and policies get DE-funded. This is across the board, in every fricking arm of the giant government octopus, from the most glamorous to the most mundane.

April 25. Feds plan to detain sick travelers. This article is propaganda on a subtle level. On the surface it says, "Look at this bad thing the government is about to do, and reasonable people are shocked." The deep message is: "Maintain the default assumption that central authorities are wise and good."

Here's the article I'd like to see:

Infectious disease experts and the ACLU showed no surprise Friday about an agreement that would allow US agents to detain anyone who looked sick with bird flu.

"It's silly," said infectious disease specialist Dr. Donald Henderson, "exactly the kind of expensive, repressive, and useless policy that you can see throughout history when a domination system is past its peak and trying to hold onto power."

"Yeah, we've seen this coming for years," said ACLU administrator Barry Steinhardt, "and anyone who hasn't should pull their head out of their ass. It's in the nature of central authority to reach for greater and greater control with less and less competence and efficiency. The next thing we expect is the destruction of independent farms, and mass public 'immunizations' that make people sicker. But they'll both be done so sloppily that smart people can avoid them."

ACLU lawyer Tim Sparapani added, "Obviously, at a time like this, anyone who doesn't look totally normal should stay the hell out of sight for their own safety. We do what we can, but you're responsible for saving your own ass until this thing blows over."

April 28. Lessons on the Centennial of the Great San Francisco Earthquake (alternate link) Apparently, 100 years ago, authorities in San Francisco did exactly the same thing they did last year in New Orleans: stood by and let the disaster happen, covered up the number of deaths, tolerated police looting while stoking hysteria about regular people looting, and used the whole thing to drive poor non-white people out of the city and gentrify their neighborhoods. The author writes:

We failed to learn the lessons of the San Francisco earthquake before Katrina. We must learn the lessons of both now.

Yes, and monkeys must fly out of my butt! Come on. This shit's been happening for thousands of years. If we didn't learn it all the other times, why would we learn it this time? I fear the worst: One million years from now, if humans are not extinct, some disaster will be used by the domination system of the moment to repress people and concentrate power, and everyone will be surprised, as if it was an incomprehensible exception to a million year history of the authorities being helpful.

And then everyone will be surprised when those systems collapse. I remember a Newsweek cover story 25 years ago about America's crumbling infrastructure. The reason nobody does anything about it is not laziness or incompetence -- it's the diminishing returns of Empire. Building railroads and bridges was much cheaper 100 years ago than it is now, because the whole system gets more inefficient as it gets more technologically complex and tightly controlled. The greatest physical artifacts of Western Civilization, the cathedrals of Europe, are almost 1000 years old. Now we've degenerated to matchstick suburbs that will soon be weedy concrete quarries. Then low-tech autonomous people, at maximum efficiency, will build much better systems for nothing -- maybe they'll build pyramids! And then the elite will want to lock in their advantages and feel "secure," so they'll start new domination systems and the whole cycle will go around again.

next archive