Editor’s Note: The Earth wants to live. And she wants us to stop destroying her. It is a simple answer, but one with many complex processes. How do we get there? Shall I leave my attachments with the industrial world and being off-the-grid living, like we were supposed to? Will that help Earth?
Yes, we need to leave this way of life and live more sustainably. But what the Earth needs is more than that. It is not one person who should give up on this industrial way of life, rather it is the entire industrial civilization that should stop existing. This requires a massive cultural shift from this globalized culture to a more localized one. In this article, Katie Singer explores the harms of this globalized system and a need to shift to a more local one. You can find her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Last Fall, I took an online course with the philosopher Bayo Akomolafe to explore creativity and reverence while we collapse. He called the course We Will Dance with Mountains, and I loved it. I loved the warm welcome and libations given by elders at each meeting’s start. I loved discussing juicy questions with people from different continents in the breakout rooms. I loved the phenomenal music, the celebration of differently-abled thinking, the idea of Blackness as a creative way of being. When people shared tears about the 75+-year-old Palestinian-Israeli conflict, I felt humanly connected.
By engaging about 500 mountain dancers from a half dozen continents, the ten-session course displayed technology’s wonders.
I could not delete my awareness that online conferencing starts with a global super-factory that ravages the Earth. It extracts petroleum coke from places like the Tar Sands to smelt quartz gravel for every computer’s silicon transistors. It uses fossil fuels to power smelters and refineries. It takes water from farmers to make transistors electrically conductive. Its copper and nickel mining generates toxic tailings. Its ships (that transport computers’ raw materials to assembly plants and final products to consumers) guzzle ocean-polluting bunker fuel.
Doing anything online requires access networks that consume energy during manufacturing and operation. Wireless ones transmit electro-magnetic radiation 24/7.
More than a decade before AI put data demands on steroids, Greenpeace calculated that if data storage centers were a country, they’d rank fifth in use of energy.
Then, dumpsites (in Africa, in India) fill with dead-and-hazardous computers and batteries. To buy schooling, children scour them for copper wires.
Bayo says, “in order to find your way, you must lose it.”
Call me lost. I want to reduce my digital footprint.
A local dancer volunteered to organize an in-person meeting for New Mexicans. She invited us to consider the question, “What does the land want from me?”
Such a worthwhile question.
It stymied me.
I’ve lived in New Mexico 33 years. When new technologies like wireless Internet access in schools, 5G cell sites on public rights-of-way, smart meters or an 800-acre solar facility with 39 flammable batteries (each 40 feet long), I’ve advocated for professional engineering due diligence to ensure fire safety, traffic safety and reduced impacts to wildlife and public health. I’ve attended more judicial hearings, city council meetings and state public regulatory cases and written more letters to the editor than I can count.
In nearly every case, my efforts have failed. I’ve seen the National Environmental Protection Act disregarded. I’ve seen Section 704 of the 1996 Telecom Act applied. (It prohibits legislators faced with a permit application for transmitting cellular antennas from considering the antennas’ environmental or public health impacts.) Corporate aims have prevailed. New tech has gone up.
What does this land want from me?
The late ecological economist Herman Daly said, “Don’t take from the Earth faster than it can replenish; don’t waste faster than it can absorb.” Alas, it’s not possible to email, watch a video, drive a car, run a fridge—or attend an online conference—and abide by these principles. While we ravage the Earth for unsustainable technologies, we also lose know-how about growing and preserving food, communicating, educating, providing health care, banking and traveling with limited electricity and web access. (Given what solar PVs, industrial wind, batteries and e-vehicles take from the Earth to manufacture, operate and discard, we cannot rightly call them sustainable.)
What does the land want from me?
If I want accurate answers to this question, I need first to know what I take from the land. Because my tools are made with internationally-mined-and-processed materials, I need to know what they demand not just from New Mexico, but also from the Democratic Republic of Congo, from Chile, China, the Tar Sands, the deep sea and the sky.
Once soil or water or living creatures have PFAS in them, for example, the chemicals will stay there forever. Once a child has been buried alive while mining for cobalt, they’re dead. Once corporations mine lithium in an ecosystem that took thousands of years to form, on land with sacred burial grounds, it cannot be restored.
One hundred years ago, Rudolf Steiner observed that because flicking a switch can light a room (and the wiring remains invisible), people would eventually lose the need to think.
Indeed, technologies have outpaced our awareness of how they’re made and how they work. Technologies have outpaced our regulations for safety, environmental health and public health.
Calling for awareness of tech’s consequences—and calling for limits—have become unwelcome.
In the last session of We Will Dance with Mountains, a host invited us to share what we’d not had a chance to discuss. AI put me in a breakout room with another New Mexican. I said that we’ve not discussed how our online conferences ravage the Earth. I said that I don’t know how to share this info creatively or playfully. I want to transition—not toward online living and “renewables” (a marketing term for goods that use fossil fuels, water and plenty of mining for their manufacture and operation and discard)—but toward local food, local health care, local school curricula, local banking, local manufacturing, local community.
I also don’t want to lose my international connections.
Bayo Akomolafe says he’s learning to live “with confusion and make do with partial answers.”
My New Mexican friend aptly called what I know a burden. When he encouraged me to say more, I wrote this piece.
What does the land want from us? Does the Earth want federal agencies to create and monitor regulations that decrease our digital footprint? Does the Earth want users aware of the petroleum coke, wood, nickel, tin, gold, copper and water that every computer requires—or does it want these things invisible?
Does the Earth want us to decrease mining, manufacturing, consumption—and dependence on international corporations? Does it want children to dream that we live in a world with no limits—or to learn how to limit web access?
Editor’s Note: Ecopsychology emerged in early 1990’s as a beacon of hope for biocentrism. Unlike environmental psychology that looks at human psychology in the context of environment, ecopsychology looks at human psychology as part of and intricately connected to the Earth. It is based on the assumption that human mental wellbeing is related to planetary wellbeing. It highlights our interconnection with, not just other humans, but with the Earth and all other nonhumans.
After three decades of the emergence of the field, that hope has nearly diminished. While it has successfully introduced biocentrism to many, it has not been as successful in bringing material changes in the status of the natural world.
This article was originally published by Will Falk in early 2017. It is a call for radicalizing ecopsychology, for emerging ecopsychologists to go beyong changing “one heart at a time” to bringing material changes in the natural world to ensure planetary and human (and nonhuman) wellbeing.
I do not remember the first time I saw my mother’s face, though I know she remembers the first time she saw mine. It was the very beginning of my life, my birth. I do not remember the first time I saw my mother’s face, but, I do remember the first time I saw my mother’s face at what would have been the end of my life after I tried to kill myself.
This is what I’m thinking about as I hold my fifteen-month-old baby nephew Thomas while he falls asleep.
A soft darkness blankets the room. The curtains are tied back on either side of the room’s only window and the night pours in. A wet snow falls with the starlight in a sprinkling of silver and gray. A few nights before full and the moon is strong. Shadows flicker on the floor below the window. A pine whispers outside where the wind brushes powder from her branches.
His head is nestled between my chest and shoulder. I lean back into a wide chair, careful not to let my elbow bump the armrest and jostle Thomas’ little head. Thomas’ eyes are open as he watches the snow fall with me. In the spaces between the clouds, the sky is revealed as a deep blue. The moon’s glow gently pulls the blue down where it settles as the same color in Thomas’ eyes.
The snow sets a contemplative rhythm. As the flakes grow and the snow slows, Thomas’ eyelids become heavier until his eyes no longer stay open. I cannot decide whose rest is more peaceful: Thomas’ or the snow’s. In the stillness, holding Thomas close, I feel two heartbeats. Mine is slower and heavier, while Thomas’ is gentler, quicker. Once in a while, the beats sync together and it feels like a chord plucked far away strikes us gently, runs through us, and echoes on.
Outside, the falling temperature is indicated by fog growing on the corners of the window. Inside, I feel the familiar warmth that grows in my chest whenever I hold Thomas. It’s not just Thomas’ small heat emanating through his pajamas and his favorite blanket into my body.
The warmth’s source is gratitude. Holding Thomas like this, listening to the smallness of his breaths and the gentleness of his heartbeat, I recognize the way Thomas is wholly dependent on those who love him for his life. First, his body was nurtured for nine months in his mother’s body. After his birth, he required his mother’s milk for sustenance. As he grows, he needs his mother, his father, and all those who love him to feed him, to clothe and bathe him, to provide shelter, to attend to any illness he experiences, and to make sure he has hands to fall into now that he climbs everything his strength will allow. Right now, he needs me to provide his nightly bottle, to hold him close and steady as he falls asleep, and then to lay him down in his crib.
Thomas teaches me about my own dependence. The warmth I experience holding Thomas bonds me to him. This connection makes threats to his well-being threats to my own. If he is hurt, I will be hurt, too. Feeling this warmth and understanding the connection forming, I feel I am participating in an ancient emotional ritual. One of the circles of life is completed in this experience. I know, now, what my mother must have felt holding me. The humility in the feeling is staggering.
I wish nothing would ever disturb this little creature asleep in my arms. I wish he could live his whole life laughing like he does when his hands find a new texture they’ve never experienced before. I wish he could live his whole life the way he dances in a style completely lacking self-consciousness anytime music becomes audible. I wish he could live his whole life confident that a loved one will envelop him in a sincere embrace whenever he reaches out for one.
There is horror in my wish. I know no one who has ever loved a child could guarantee the child’s total safety. But, in today’s world where we are poisoning our water, making our air nearly unbreathable, burning our soil at dizzying paces, and irreversibly altering our climate, children born today may find their homes unlivable when they reach my age. In fact, generations of children born in the colonies and sacrifice zones have already found their homes unlivable.
I think back to the worst two days of my life. They weren’t the two days I tried to kill myself. They were the two days after when I sat across from my mother, trying to meet the sky’s dusk blue in her eyes, while I explained to the woman who sacrificed so much to give me life why there was nothing more she could have done to prevent me from trying to take that life.
While I am holding Thomas, I cannot stop the visions of his future from forming. Feeling the love I feel for him right now, I cannot imagine the pain I would feel if he sat across from me, head bent under the invisible weight of despair, as he explained how there was nothing I could have done to stop the major depression he experiences. And in my memories of my mother and visions of Thomas’ potential future, I recognize the truth: Even if we succeed in keeping our children physically safe, in this time of ecological collapse we cannot shield their souls from the psychological effects of the destruction.
We live in a hell where our very experience is being destroyed.
Ecopsychology was supposed to lead us out of this hell. It was going to do this by bringing together ecology and psychology to attack the illusion that we are fundamentally isolated from each other, the natural world, and ourselves. Theodore Roszak cites a 1990 conference held at the Harvard-based Center for Psychology and Social Change entitled “Psychology as if the Whole Earth Mattered” as one of the seminal events in the new ecopsychology movement. The ecopsychologists gathered there summed up one of ecopsychology’s defining goals: “if the self is expanded to include the natural world, behavior leading to destruction of this world will be experienced as self-destruction.”
A few years later, in 1995, the term “ecopsychology” entered the popular lexicon with the publication of a collection of writing by psychologists, deep ecologists, and environmental activists titled, “Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind.” In what would become a foundational text in ecopsychology, Lester R. Brown, author and founder of the Worldwatch Institute and the Earth Policy Institute, provided an introductory piece, “Ecopsychology and the Environmental Revolution: An Environmental Foreword.”
Brown’s excitement was so high, he predicted “a coming environmental revolution” and wrote, “Ecopsychologists…believe it is time for the environmental movement to file… a ‘psychological impact statement’. In practical political terms that means asking: are we being effective? Most obviously, we need to ask that question with respect to our impact on the public, whose hearts and minds we want to win over. The stakes are high and time is short.”
If we use the 1990 conference as a beginning, ecopsychology has had 27 years to teach “Psychology as if the Whole Earth Mattered.” It has had 27 years to answer Brown’s question, “are we being effective?” It has had 27 years to win over the hearts and minds of the public. And, the stakes are only higher, time is only shorter.
Ecopsychology has failed. Ecologically, the diversity of life around the world is worse off with the rate of species extinction only intensifying in recent years. Psychologically, the rate of mental illness is even worse than in the 90s. And, as far as the “hearts and minds of the public”? Well, close to 63 million Americans just elected a climate change denier to the most powerful political position in the world.
Ecopsychology’s failure stems from an unwillingness to carry the material implications of the very insights ecopsychologists have made to these implications’ logical conclusion. These insights can be distilled into a few, potent premises.
I. The human mind originates in its experiences of its environment. In other words, the human mind is experiences of environment.
What do I mean by “environment”? For my purposes, the environment is the sum of all relationships, conscious and unconscious, physical, emotional, and spiritual, creating our lives.
Some of these relationships are as obvious as the sun’s heat, the moon’s pull, and the stars’ mysteries. Some of these relationships need no explanation: the nearness of your lover’s body, the taste of ripe blackberries, the sound of an elk bugle over the next ridgeline at dusk. Some of these relationships are as widely-studied as our dependence on our mothers’ bodies in the earliest stages of our development, as the dominance abusers gain over the abused, and as the influence modern advertising has on our desires. Some of these relationships – like the ones lost with the disappearance of hundreds of species daily, like the disintegration of connections with our ancestors, like the inability to make any sense of our dreams – have been ignored by the dominant culture for far too long.
One of the defining characteristics of ecopsychology, is a rejection of Descartes’ “I think, therefore, I am.” Ecology, recognizing that life is sustained by countless connections between living beings, replaces Descartes’ statement with “We relate, therefore, we are.” James Hillman articulates this rejection as a demonstration of the “the arbitrariness of the cut between ‘me’ and ‘not me’” that has dominated civilized thought for the past 4 centuries.
Out of this rejection comes the necessity for what Anita Burrows calls an “expanded view of self.” Drawing on her clinical experience with children, in her essay “The Ecopsychology of Child Development” Burrows argues, “If we see the child inextricably connected not only to her family, but to all living things and to the earth itself, then our conception of her as an individual, and of the family and social systems in which she finds herself, must expand.”
It is here that we first encounter implications that ecopsychology has proven unwilling to respond to. What do we find when we expand our vision of self to include “all living things and to the earth itself”? We find all living things under attack and the earth threatened with total collapse.
II. Human behavior originates in the human mind. So, human behavior originates in experiences of environment.
The origination of human behavior in the mind is neither new nor controversial. The origination of human behavior in experiences of environment is also largely accepted in mainstream psychology as long as that environment is limited to human social interaction.
Radical psychologist R.D. Laing, whose work brilliantly describes the alienation infecting Western humanity, succinctly explains the situation in his work The Politics of Experience, “Our behavior is a function of our experience. We act according to the way we see things.” Laing illustrates the importance of human relationships in our conception of self, “Men can and do destroy the humanity of other men, and the condition of this possibility is that we are interdependent. We are not self-contained monads producing no effects on each other except our reflections. We are both acted upon, changed for good or ill, by other men; and are agents who act upon others to affect them in different ways.”
Laing, for all his wisdom, examines only a small part of the environment producing the human mind. We can correct his vision and come to a deeper understanding of the human psyche if we accept the definition of “environment” I created above. Expanding Laing’s conception of self, we can re-write his analysis as: Humans can and do destroy the relationships sustaining life, and the condition of this possibility is that we are interdependent on countless connections. The natural world, which includes us, is both acted upon, changed for good or ill, by the totality of these connections. Our environment, whether it is a healthy natural community or an artificial human one, acts upon others to affect them in different ways.
III. Changes in experiences of environment lead to changes in human behavior. Healthy experiences of environment produce healthy behavior. Unhealthy experiences of environment produce unhealthy behavior.
This premise is Paul Shepard’s thesis in Nature and Madness. Beginning with the question, “Why does society persist in destroying its habitat?”, Shepard blames the physical destruction wrought by civilization and the way this destruction influences human ontogeny. A primary strength of Shepard’s analysis is the way he removes human destructiveness from abstractions like greed or evil and places them in concrete processes like biological development. In doing so, he robs those who blame human nature for the destruction of the planet of their excuse for inaction. He also pulls the rug from under ardent liberals who claim we need transformations of human hearts and that the best way to achieve these transformations is through therapy, education, and one-heart-at-a-time crusades.
Shepard blames the knowledge and human organization developed by civilization claiming it “wrenched the ancient social machinery that limited human births” and that “it fostered a new sense of human mastery and the extirpation of non-human life.” This resulted in not just psychopathic individuals, but in psychopathic cultures. Psychopathic cultures produce psychopathic individuals who, in Shepard’s words, heedlessly occupy “all earth habitats,” who physically and chemically “abuse the soil, air, and water,” who cause “the extinction and displacement of wild plants and animals,” and who practice “overcutting and overgrazing of forest and grasslands.”
Healthy human behavior, for Shepard, will only be achieved, then, by a return to the global existence of human hunter-gatherer societies. In doing so, we will return to a way of life in “which our ontogeny has been fitted by natural selection, fostering cooperation, leadership, a calendar of mental growth, and the study of a mysterious and beautiful world where the clues to the meaning of life were embodied in natural things.”
IV. Human behavior is destroying the environment. Destroying the environment produces unhealthy experiences of the environment which, in turn, produce unhealthy human behavior.
I am writing this looking out the glass windows of a coffee shop separating me from the reality of a -8 degrees Fahrenheit temperature in Park City, Utah. I can see the digital numbers on the coffee shop’s thermostat: 73 degrees.
I consider what lets me sit here, in comfort, while ten feet away, on the other side of the window, the air would cause the skin on my knuckles to crack and bleed. The energy required to keep this room warm is produced by burning a combination of natural gas sucked from beneath the earth’s surface where it played an integral role in forming the earth’s skin and coal formed by the decomposing remains of ancient forests ripped from wounds in the land. The combustion of the natural gas and coal produces great heat, but it also produces poisonous fumes that trap the earth’s heat in and melt polar ice caps, disturb rain patterns, contribute to species extinction, and threaten life with total collapse.
The glass, wood, aluminum, and steel that forms the wall between reality and me, and holds the warmth in, also allows me to focus my attention on the artificiality of my computer screen. For most of the morning, I am unaware of the gold flickering with the communion of the winter sun on frozen pine branches. I do not see the crystal purity of the cold blue sky. I cannot rejoice in the magic moment water freezes in mid-air to sparkle in a twisting sheen with the breeze.
I am also ignorant in the warning pain caused by cold. Without the sacrifice of the gas and coal, without the theft of the wood and minerals needed for the glass, maybe Winter’s voice would be too stern to withstand. Maybe, the cold is a command to humans to forsake the heights where the region’s pure waters collect. Maybe, the chill is telling us we are too clumsy, too awkward not to foul the waters that will support all of life here through the spring, summer, and fall.
In short, the destruction that produces my comfort allows my narcissism and encourages my apathy, while I continue to contribute to the destruction.
V. The cycle of violence perpetuates itself over generations and intensifies as unhealthy experiences of environment become the norm for most humans.
Freud asked, “If the development of civilization has such a far-reaching similarity to the development of the individual and if it employs the same methods, may we not be justified in reaching the diagnosis that, under the influence of cultural urges, some civilizations – or some epochs of civilization – possibly the whole of mankind – have become neurotic?”
It is not the “whole of mankind” that has become neurotic because there exist, and always have existed, original peoples who live in balance with their land bases. But, civilization itself, is insane. Derrick Jensen defines civilization as “a culture—that is, a complex of stories, institutions, and artifacts— that both leads to and emerges from the growth of cities, with cities being defined—so as to distinguish them from camps, villages, and so on—as people living more or less permanently in one place in densities high enough to require the routine importation of food and other necessities of life.”
Civilization is insane because the civilized strip their land bases of the physical possibility of life. As civilization spreads, it leaves an ever-widening circle of destruction. The human minds that develop in this circle of destruction, have had their experience destroyed, and carry their destruction with them to destroy more lands. Each successive generation exists on lands more impoverished than the preceding generations experienced. The environmental catastrophe confronting us is the result of this insane cycle.
VI. The environment is finite. Eventually, humans will destroy the possibility of experiences of environment.
The relationships creating our lives can be diminished. Loved ones die, rivers run dry, mountaintops removed, and species lost forever. While this process intensifies, the first thing that happens is the diversity of our relationships is destroyed. To borrow Richard Louv’s phrase, we begin to suffer from “nature-deficit disorder.” As humans proliferate and “heedlessly occupy all earth habitats,” most human relationships become relationships with other humans.
R.D. Laing wrote, “If our experience is destroyed, our behavior will be destructive. If our experience is destroyed, we have lost our own selves.” If we expand Laing’s definition of “experience” to include non-human relationships, then we begin to see that not only is our experience destroyed, but the very possibility of experience is threatened.
The material world makes experience possible. Quite simply, without flesh to compose our bodies and brains, without water to carry nutrients to our bodies and brains, without minerals to facilitate electrical impulses, we cannot experience. As we destroy more topsoil, irreversibly alter the climate, and poison the world’s water supplies, we come ever closer to the moment flesh cannot grow, water is transformed from life-giver to death-bringer, and minerals are all trapped in steel beams rusting where they collapsed under civilization’s gluttonous weight.
VII. We must change human behavior. To change human behavior we must change human experiences of environment.
Medicine tells us that prevention is better than cure. And, eradication of illness is the ultimate prevention. Ecopsychology provides the map for the eradication of the psychopathology currently affecting civilized culture. If we want to prevent this psychopathology from infecting and destroying future generations of human and non-human life, we need to fundamentally alter the sick, disappearing, human-centric environments human minds are currently formed in. We must physically dismantle civilization to give the natural world a chance to heal and truly sustainable human cultures to thrive across the planet once more.
I’ve written several essays, now, making this same point and I’ve received a lot of feedback. Few people disagree with me, but I’ve been very disheartened to learn that many of my readers take my call to dismantle civilization as essentially an internal process. I’ve had writers tell me we need to “re-wild our minds” (as if that is possible without re-wilding the environments producing our minds), we need to grieve planetary and species’ destruction (and while we are grieving more of the planet is destroyed and more species lost which will, I assume, also need to be grieved creating a never-ending cycle of grief), and I’ve even been invited to live in a commune, off-the-grid in South America.
But, civilization is not a mental event. Civilization is a global, physical process that is destroying the planet. While it is producing climate change, ocean acidification, massive deforestation and desertification, there is nowhere to escape.
Unfortunately, too many students of ecopsychology who recognize this, instead of facing the need to physically dismantle the systems causing this collapse, too often retreat to the position that only personal therapy is possible and that the planet can only be saved by curing one mind at a time.
How can James Hillman who has provided so much insight, for example, write: “Psychology, so dedicated to awakening human consciousness, needs to wake itself up to one of the most ancient human truths: we cannot be studied or cured apart from the planet.” And, then, literally in the very next sentence write, “I write this appeal not so much to ‘save the planet’ or to enjoin my fellow therapists to retrain as environmentalists…My concern is also most specifically for psychotherapy…”?
How can Terrance O’Connor, practicing psychologist, narrate a story in which he answers the question “Why should we want mature relationships?” at a conference for divorced people with an outburst that included these statements: “The status quo is that the planet is dying!…healthy relationships are not an esoteric goal. It is a matter of our very survival and the survival of most of life upon this earth” and, then conclude his essay with “What is the responsibility of a therapist on a dying planet? Physician, heal thyself”?
The answer is found in the strength of the very ideology ecopsychology seeks to undermine. Planetary destruction is reduced to an ailment in individual human minds. While ecopsychology wisely recognizes that the human mind is formed by material relationships and that physical threats to these material relationships are physical threats to the human mind, when ecopsychologists concern themselves primarily with psychotherapy they contribute very little to the effort to prevent psychopathology. Ecological psychotherapy, as a practice to heal mentally ill individuals, is merely a band-aid over a gunshot wound.
The natural world does not need more ecotherapists, it needs ecomilitants. It needs strategic, organized resistance to civilization. I say this as someone whose life has been saved by ecotherapy. My life and the lives of those lucky few privileged enough to gain access to ecotherapy are nothing compared to annihilation of life on Earth. If we do not concentrate all our efforts at physically toppling the systems destroying the planet, no amount of therapy is going to save us.
I recall the starlight on Thomas’ peacefully sleeping face. I don’t want my nephew to experience the illnesses causing someone to seek the services of a therapist – ecological or otherwise. I want him to live in a world where the physical richness of his experience guarantees his healthy psychological development. I want him to live in a world that isn’t being destroyed.
Editor’s Note: Technology has created a virtual lifespace for all: a lifespace that gives us calculated doses of dopamine and gets us addicted to it. The following piece urges us to remove ourselves from the technological world that we have unwittingly been entangled into and to place ourselves within the natural, real world.
Praise the Technology!
89% of Americans say they check their phones within the first 10 minutes of waking up.
75% of Americans feel uneasy leaving their phone at home.
75% use their phone on the toilet.
69% have texted someone in the same room as them before.
60% sleep with their phone at night
57% consider themselves “addicted” to their phones
55% say that they have never gone longer than 24 hours without their cell phone.
47% of people say they feel a sense of panic or anxiety when their cell phone battery goes below 20%.
After a Hewlett-Packard BIOS update fried my computer’s motherboard I had four-and-a-half days without a computer while the part was in transit to the neighborhood repair guy I found because of guidance in a dream from a Carolina Wren reminding me to look local; then Internet via cell phone helped find the repair guy.
The night before I had decided to go to Best Buy’s Geek Squad, and later on learned that they typically don’t replace motherboards.
I am not much adept with cell phone internet usage so without the habitual computer checking of email and news-hounding web-searching, I wondered: What is that habit, that urge, that compulsion that has so many people hooked to their gadgets?…hooked as if the gadget is the Oracle of Delphi and everyone doesn’t have a clue what’s going on or what the future will bring UNTIL they beseech the high priestess of technology.
Various online stats indicate that people check their phones anywhere from every three to twelve minutes! Without doing that, what else is there to check, to tune-in to?
How about: the natural world, meaningful symbols, mental exercises, deep listening, dreams, to name but a few.
Perhaps people too-often feel something lacking or the need to feel complete by having interacted with someone, or a message, news article, video, or game. Normal urges yet when obsessively habitual, I venture to say that there is the searching for such a tech moment so as to save one’s self.
But save one’s self from what? Boredom?
Or to riff the old saying attributed to Socrates, the examined life which makes life worth living?
In that case, the gadget becomes a lazy savior, but not an individual savior rather a conveyor of little techno savior moments which while temporarily satisfying, the feeling doesn’t last long so one must check the gadget again for another little savior moment, and again.
Some of the hooks of this religion of technology are: the promises put forth by the advertising merchants of veneer from their pixel pulpits; keeping up with the corporate news sports-style coverage of “perpetual war for perpetual peace,” as historian Charles A. Beard phrased it; an incessant need to be in communication with human beings, at the neglect of the non-human beings.
Little techno savior moments also lean toward mechanical, robotic and unemotional forms of communication, well, except for emojis and exclamation points!!!!!
(wow! he-she-they must really omg like me!!!!!)
Yet here I am scribbling with pen and paper looking forward to my computer’s born-again status so that I may type and share this missive with whomever may happen to read it.
Ay, there’s the rub, the to tech or not to tech rub . . . or how much to tech.
I can’t begin to address the big picture of technology usage as it is the backbone of global and local business transactions, plus personal interfacing, whether you can touch the face or not. So I simply address the consciousness of the usage as I see it playing out in society at large.
Little techno savior seekers move in lockstep with their electronic marching orders of selected, scripted, distorted or outright lies news-feeds; shop till you reach the top of social status clicks; assuage deep-rooted personal insecurities by amassing more ‘likes.’
Yet in the AI world, even the concept of a savior has been depersonalized and reduced to a drive-thru fast-food fleeting moment.
I propose that how we use the gadgets is one starting point for re-evaluation, the how being the consciousness with which we use them and a weighing of what we are not using enough: our feet, our hearts, our minds, dreams, intuitions, hunches, meditations, messages from our so-called neighbor the natural world and how those messages intertwine with the dreaming time that is beyond time, beyond rational thought, beyond click and ye shall find.
The good news is that all that good stuff is readily available inside you and outside your window if you’re willing to work for it, work as hard as a child working in an underground mine in the Congo for cobalt so you can have the facility to send an emoji that a new day is dawning.
And by “work” I don’t mean job for money rather the discipline and receptivity to serving something bigger than your ego, something bigger than appeasing your momentary fancy of a feel-good hook.
Bob Dylan sings in “My Back Pages”:
“In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand
At the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not I’d become my enemy
In the instant that I preach…
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now.”
And so I must dismiss any notion that this scribbling will save anyone, though I would like to think that it may tilt the scale of consciousness so that more people will be able to save themselves.
After four-and-a-half days with minimal gadget use, I am reminded that it is a tool and the manner in which humanity produces and uses such tools will determine their functionality or lack there of, with ever the questions: At what cost to habitats where massive mining occurs; at what cost to the well-being of the workers, too-often slave laborers; at what cost to one’s self and the natural world for the lack of selfless service to that very world?
In his book The Religion of Technology, David F. Noble cites technology as often spurred by a “masculine millenarian mentality,” often exhibited with the military and science frame of mind, along with a sense of religious redemption. Yet this sense of redemption is deceptively foolhardy.
According to J. D. Bernal, quoted in the book:
“The cardinal tendency of progress is the replacement of an indifferent chance environment by a deliberately created one. As time goes on, the acceptance, the appreciation, even the understanding of nature, will be less and less needed. In its place will come the need to determine the desirable form of the humanly controlled universe.” (p. 175)
What this boils down to is if we as a species go the route of playing materialistic God . . . or are willing to play along with and be played by the Earth and the spiritual energies above and within Her.
While perhaps too cute or quaint or unbelievable to some human beings, the likes of little Carolina Wrens can show the way. But such guidance can not be bought rather is the fruit of relationship, as for many years I have put and let stay up undecorated holiday wreaths on my patio, keep them up even when they have dried from scented fresh woods green to brown.
Why? Because the wrens often sleep and, while I can’t scientifically prove it, dream in them.
Mankh (Walter E. Harris III) is a verbiage experiencer, in other words, he’s into etymology, writes about his experiences and to encourage people to learn from direct experiences, not just head knowledge.
He writes, small press publishes, and is the author of 17 books. Mankh travels a holistic mystic Kaballah-rooted pathway staying in touch with Turtle Island and the cycles of the Seasons. His works can be found here. You can also find this article on his blog post.
Ogden: A Tale for the End of Time by Ben G. Price [Editor’s Pick]
It is rare to read something written from a nonhuman perspective without forcing humanlike qualities on them. Ben Price does exactly that in “Ogden: A Tale for the End of Time.” The shift from human’s to troll’s to bear’s to deer’s perspectives seems authentic and genuine. This reflects the author’s own values: of the author being able to view the nonhumans with respect and see the nuances and complexities of their lives, without attributing humanlike qualities to them. It quite fits the author’s profile as well. Ben Price is a pioneer of the Rights of Nature movement – a movement for legal recognition of the rights of natural entities to survive and thrive, a movement that is not possible with a human supremacist attitude.
The lively forests of Huth and Tibbs
Ogden is a magical coming of age story about a troll who is raised by a human family in a society where men secretly meet to plan the genocide of trolls. Unfamiliar with all of this, the family takes care of the troll and attempts to teach him to become more “civilized”, or more man-like. The book is full of multiple themes, reflecting the unfortunate realities of our society – from patriarchy to class division to human supremacy to racism. It has something for all of us who critique one or more aspects of human society. In this review I’ll explore some of these in the context of the different settings presented throughout the novel.
From Drowden Erebus’ bucolic Hapstead Manor to the wild and lively forests of Huth and Tibbs (Ogden’s troll parents) to the un-lively walled town of Irongate to the slum-like settlement of Doltun and Petula, Ben Price jumps from one setting to another without creating an unsettling feeling among the readers. The four settings describe a contrast of social structure, in terms of class divide, racism, human supremacism, patriarchy, colonialism, a contrast that is not just apparent, but, sadly, too familiar to the readers. Taking a different perspective, these four settings are not just four different social structures but a metaphor to different historical times: the wild forests represent the past where we (all creatures including humans) came from; Hapstead Manor the sedentary lifestyle based on agriculture; Irongate as the industrialized cities, ones that the agriculturalists covet; the slums the inevitable byproducts of the cities.
Price puts our modern society in contrast to egalitarian societies
The societal structure inhabited by trolls, like Huth and Tibbs, is based on respect, not only for nature and natural elements, but for fellow conspecifics, for the females of their species and for other species. For one attuned to it, symbols of matriarchy are apparent in Huth and Tibbs’ cave: ancestor worship and Goddess figurines. Consistent with our most reliable knowledge of matriarchal societies, the trolls are also the most egalitarian of the different characters we see.
While the Hapstead Manor is owned by a kind, loving man who treats his women and children and workers well, it is still “owned” by the man of the house. Ultimately, his words are the last, even though Ben Price describes some instances where the wisdom of Drowden’s worker Argis, cook Odelia, wife Dorina or daughter Miranda prove to be superior to Drowden’s judgment. In other words, they have a significant place in the plot.
The same cannot be said for Irongate. Irongate is ruled, apparently and latently, by a group of belligerent entitled men whose sole purpose in life seems to be to increase their wealth and ultimately their power and to protect their supremacy. They are ready to use any means to do so, including silencing, raping or murdering those who don’t comply. That they rationalize their actions with absurd reasoning can be pitied, but not justified.
Finally, the slum-like settlement (Bladicville) where the outcasts live is an inseparable part of the walled town of Irongate. Cities are designed in a way where the land does not support the population, thus the need to import food from villages. At the same time, cities also require jobs risky enough or “low” enough that the residents do not deign to perform, thus a need for a “lower” group of people to do those jobs. That’s how poor quarters or slums are required in a city. This is where the “lower” group of people find their residence. Poverty is not the only thing that classifies them as inferior.
Humans are enslaving trolls
As Americans should know from their own history, in order for slavery to be justified, the slave owners and traders first needed to believe Blacks to be inferior to Whites. Similarly in “Ogden”, there needs to be created a classification where one group of people is considered inferior to the other. This is implied in the historical background of Ogden with the slavery of trolls by humans. Even though the slavery had ended, the hierarchy thus created, of trolls being an inferior group, was still intact. Slum dwellers like Doltun and Petula were ostracized not just because of their poverty, but because they were half trolls and half humans – a group considered inferior based on their genetic association with trolls.
The book resonates with anyone who grieves over the loss of natural world. I would highly recommend it to our readers.
Editor’s Note: In the following piece, Mankh talks about the detachment of technology from the natural world and urges people on the need to be in touch with nature. The promise of these gadgets is freedom but the reality is they’re tyranny. It is good to know that everything that corporations tell you is a lie. Believe the results of their actions and not what they say. Their only goal is to make a profit. We thank the author for offering this piece to us.
“But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’.”
~ Bob Dylan, from “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”
The deception of technology is that its easy accessibility belies both the violence of production and the lack of consciousness of spirit or what East Asians refer to as “chi/qi – vital energy.”
The rapid reach to a global audience via gadgetry has created a plethora of productions – from podcasts to social media platforms – affording anyone with access the ability to project their opinions and viewpoints. This has its democratic positives and is helping to fill the rotten-toothed gaps of corporate media. Yet the instant gratification of social media gadgetry has dulled the respect for deep preparation, maturity, ripening on the vine, and right-wise timing. To my knowledge, East Asian and Indigenous Peoples show the most respect to elder generations.
To follow the epigraph metaphor, “songs” have become a fastfood buffet of opinions and unchecked or manipulated facts. The darker side of the coin is the outright squelching and censoring by the powerless that don’t know how to be, thus they incessantly spew new bits of information into the media/social-media sphere, to which the populace then reacts, re-spewing their karaoke of opinions. This ongoing ping-pong of songs perpetuates a binary of yays/nays, likes/dislikes, you’re right/you’re wrong — all of which is leading to a demise of nuance, and an increase of divisiveness.
The fear is that if you miss a minute, you’ll be out of touch and not up to date with the most current info. You’ll lose the argument, and, as with the Pavlovian repetitiveness of advertising, jeopardize your career.
This is the prevailing hyperactive, narrow-minded wind I notice, as the masses of would-be stars, bombastic pundits, and plastic shaman jockey for position of likes, hits, comments, applause, boos, and OMG will you marry me?! It’s a seemingly endless open mic karaoke, where only a few songs get covered by almost everybody.
Needles in a haystack
At its finest, the gadgetry landscape provides a global community bulletin board. Yet the gadgetscape is detached from land, and, as with all colonial capitalist-based products, the consumers become detached from the violence toward earth, rivers, songbirds, bees, front-line minorities and minors. Two recent books I’ve read give ample examples: Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives and The Rare Metals War: The Dark Side of Clean Energy and Digital Technologies; the gists are: pollution and destruction of natural habitats along with the beings that live there, and too-often slave/torture labor, sometimes ending in death.
Add to that a most recent hotspot in Nevada, Thacker Pass (Peehee Mu’huh), where Lithium Americas Corp. has already destroyed sacred Paiute and Shoshone lands and habitat in an effort to landgrab lithium for electric vehicle batteries for GM. The Natives have recently put up a tipi on the dirt road (created by Lithium Americas Corp.), blocking truck access. What’s happening could be a watershed moment, as other such mining projects are on the charts. And by the way, an immense amount of water is needed to produce the lithium in a drought-ridden area, for faux clean energy. See Protect Thacker Pass & Ox Sam Camp for more:
My daily research efforts to combat the monsters involves a list of news sites, Twitter and FaceBook posts, along with intuitively following the trails of mentions of phrases, people, organizations and such like from which I find needles of truth in a haystack of propaganda (though some would argue whether they are “truths”). And with even a few minutes of research, one can sometimes find out what corporation owns what corporation owns the opinions of what people. Don’t just follow the money, ask to speak to the manager, no, too much hold-time; instead, websearch to find who the head honchos are, for example, website pages “about” “who we are” and Wikipedia business listings.
Once more, with feeling!
At the interpersonal and psychological levels of behavior, except for emoji hearts and faces, exclamation points, ALL CAPS, and select videos/podcasts/radio shows, the use of gadgetry lacks consciousness of spirit, chi/ki, or more colloquially, feelings! En masse, we have been conditioned into becoming one-click shoppers and button-pushers who then overreact if our buttons are pushed, if our opinions are challenged or we didn’t get exactly what we privilege entitlement wanted.
In his 1956 book, The Rape of the Mind: The Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing, Joost A. M. Meerloo, M.D. wrote:
“Increasingly the population has been seduced by the idea of remote control. The arsenal of buttons and gadgets leads us into the magic dream world of omnipotent power. Our technical civilization gives us greater ease, but it is challenge and uneasiness that make for character and strength.”
Where’s the originality? The tried and true? The tried and true originality? Why the incessant need to have a message? Why the need for constant approval? In the documentary film The Social Dilemma, the gadgetry, especially cell-phone, is referred to as a “digital pacifier.” To avoid feelings of loneliness, discomfort and anxiety, people, especially younger generations, have been programmed to reach for the hardware. The difference between today and the TV of my generation is that the gadgets are interactive and beckoning for your attention, even when OFF. A quote from the film: “There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software.”
How many times a day do you reach for the gadgetry?
How many times a day do you gaze at the leaves of a plant, the sky, look within?
In my experience, the art of preparation, maturity, and right-wise timing is nurtured by quiet, by listening, being open to receive, careful study, finding reliable sources (ay, there’s the rub), staying vigilant, learning from mistakes, and being content with off the radar successes.
In his brief almost 14 years, Mattie Stepanek was conscious of what he called his “heartsong” and that everyone has one. “Stepanek suffered from a rare disorder, dystautonomic mitochondrial myopathy” and, sadly, passed away at age 13. He “published seven best-selling books of poetry and peace essays.” (Wikipedia)
While the ripening vine mode is a steady, guiding and reliable energy source, an openness to the immediacy of the present with all its potential and timeless heartspace can intermittently override the evolutionary progression model.
Actually, both modes intertwine. Haiku master Matsuo Bashô expressed it neatly:
at the old pond–
a frog jumps in
sound of water
While maintaining the day-to-day well-being of and caring for the pond (protecting sacred waters and/or your sacred space), be calm, alert and ready for a frog jump and subsequent splash! It could be fun, it could be traumatic, or in- between. Ah, the Mystery.
By aligning our heartsongs and rhythms with the pulses of Earth, the cycles of the seasons, the wheeling of the stars, and those we hold dear, we have a better chance to thwart the untimely knee-jerk behavior of those who seek to destroy the inherent ebbs and flows by enforcing a perpetual boom-time based on violence and numbing distractions. The folly of their efforts and perhaps your participation as consumer is obvious. Yet to hasten the demise of such folly, I suggest that each person must muster the vital energies, know the song, and start singin’!
Editor’s Note: Ever since the beginning of scientific progress, it has been based on control (or domination) of the natural world. It has been based on a nature-hating patriarchal way of viewing the world. That does not mean that there is no other way to fulfill our curiosity. Numerous indigenous peoples and nonhumans have found ways to fulfill their curiosity within a harmonious relationship (as opposed to a dominating relationship) with the natural world.
This article highlights how scientific progress could destroy the world to the point of causing human extinction.
Our present moment is characterised by a growing obsession with the long term. The study of climate change, for example, relies on increasingly long-range simulations. Science’s predictions are no longer merely hypotheses for validation or invalidation but are often grave threats – of growing scope and severity – that must be prevented.
Predicting oncoming peril demands a proactive response. This means that, increasingly, the pursuit of technoscience tends towards not only passively investigating the natural world but also actively intervening in it. In the case of the climate, one thing this has spawned is the proposal of “geoengineering” – the large-scale harnessing of Earth’s natural systems in order to counteract climate change’s deleterious consequences.
Our anticipations of nature’s perils motivate us to attempt to intervene in it and reinvent it for our own purposes and ends. Accordingly, we increasingly reside within a world of our own making, in which the divide between the “natural” and “artificial” is collapsing. We see this from genome editing to pharmaceutical breakthroughs to new materials. And it is at the heart of the idea of the “Anthropocene”, which acknowledges that the whole Earth system is affected – for better or worse – by human activities.
While some of these technologies are rightly considered the pinnacle of progress and civilisation, our pursuit of anticipating and preventing disaster itself generates its own perils. This is, indeed, what got us into our current predicament: industrialisation, which was originally driven by our desire to control nature, has perhaps only made it more uncontrollable in the form of snowballing climate degradation.
Our efforts to predict the world tend to change the world in unpredictable ways. Alongside unlocking radical opportunities such as new medicines and technologies, this poses novel risks for our species – at ever greater scales. It is both a poison and a cure. Though awareness of this dynamic may seem incredibly contemporary, it actually dates surprisingly far back into history.
Comets and collisions
It was back in 1705 that the British scientist Edmond Halley correctly predicted the 1758 return of the comet that now bears his name. This was one of the first times numbers were successfully applied to nature to predict its long-term course. This was the start of science’s conquering of the future.
By the 1830s, another comet – Biela’s comet – became an object of attention when an astronomical authority, John Herschel, hypothesised that it would one day intersect with Earth. Such an encounter would “blot” us “out from the Solar System”, one popular astronomy book sensationally relayed. Edgar Allen Poe even wrote a short story, in 1839, imagining this world-ending collision.
On the other side of the world, in 1827, a Moscow newspaper published a short story envisioning the effects of an impending comet collision on society. Plausible mitigation strategies were discussed. The story conjured up giant machines that would act as planetary “defensive positions” to “repulse” the extraterrestrial missile. The connection between predicting nature and artificially intervening in it was already beginning to be understood.
The Russian Prince
The short story had been written by the eccentric Russian prince, Vladimir Odoevskii. In another story, The Year 4338, written a few years later, he fleshes out his depiction of future human civilisation. The title came from contemporary calculations which predicted Earth’s future collision with Biela’s Comet 2,500 years hence.
Humanity has become a planetary force. Nonetheless, Odoevskii’s vision of this resplendent future (complete with airships, recreational drug use, telepathy, and transport tunnels through the Earth’s mantle) is relayed to us entirely under this impending threat of total extinction. Again, scientists in this advanced future plan to repel the threat of the comet with ballistic defence systems. There is also mention of hemisphere-spanning systems of climate control.
This perfectly demonstrates that it was the discovery of such hazards that first dragged – and continues to drag – our concerns further into the future. Humanity only technologically asserts itself, at increasingly planetary levels, when it realises the risks it faces.
It is no surprise that, in the appending notes to The Year 4338, Odoevskii provides perhaps the very first methodology for a “general science of futurology”. He lays claim to being the first proper, self-conscious futurologist.
In 1799, the German philosopher Johann Fichte anticipated our present megastructure of planetary forecast. He foresaw a time of perfect prediction. Gleefully, he argued that this would domesticate the whole planet, erase wild nature, and even entirely eradicate “hurricanes”, “earthquakes”, and “volcanoes”. What Fichte did not foresee was the fact that the very technology that allows us to predict also itself creates novel and unforeseen risks.
Yet Odoevskii warns of the dangers that come with accelerating modernity. This is a world in which runaway technological progress has caused overpopulation and resource depletion. Nature has become entirely artificial, with non-human species and ecosystems utterly obliterated. Alienated and depressed, the world welcomes a demagogue leader who convinces humanity to wipe themselves out. In one last expression of technological might, civilisation stockpiles all its weapons and proceeds to blow up the entire planet.
Odoevskii thus foreshadows contemporary discussion on “existential risk” and the potential for our technological developments to trigger our own species extinction. Right back in 1844, his vision is gloomy yet shockingly prescient in its acknowledgement that the power required to avert existential catastrophe is also the power requisite to cause it.
Centuries later, now that we have this power, we cannot refuse or reject it – we must wield it responsibly. Let’s hope that Odeovskii’s fiction doesn’t become our reality.