Fingerprints on water

Being asked the question, What do you do to make the world a better place?, or, What do you do to live up to your highest understanding of what is good and real?, the answer is… less.

I live in a small space without walls. There is neither clock nor calendar in there, no TV, no radio receiver, no washing machine, no stove; I own five electrical items only – a solar candle, a light bulb, a camera, a laptop, a tablet – and I am committed to not replace the latter three once they come beyond repair. I’m slowing down, inwardly and outwardly. I don’t own a motorized vehicle; I arranged my life in such a way as to be able to rely on my bicycle or walk for 99 out of 100 days. I stopped traveling for pleasure. I use a dry compost toilet. I wash myself and my laundry in a bucket; my daily water usage is around 30-40 liters max. I don’t eat meat. I don’t smoke, drink, or dope. I don’t phone. I reduced the consumption of music and movies and books and sweets and clothes. I wear my stuff for years and years, first for “proper” dressing, then for casual home use, after for gardening, and finally for rags with which to clean floors and vegetables. I live on little more than one Euro per day. I stopped buying stuff, with the exception of bread and some fruits which are not available from the farm, a toothbrush once in a while, some soap.

drawing by Wilhelm Busch (1832-1908)
The list of material items I have removed from my life goes on for much longer. I don’t want to bore you with it. I also think that this is not the most important part of my story of doing less. Sure, the less I consume the less I pollute. But then again, I’m aware that I’m just one man among billions of others – many of whom consume more than their purse allows them to. I also know Jevons' Paradox, according to which saving resources only results in an overcompensation; somebody else will consume what I left untouched, and perhaps more than that. I am also aware that, compared to a tribal human, I own more things than I probably need. I certainly cannot carry everything at once. I still take flights twice a year, to visit my aging mother. I don't believe in offsetting. I'll just quit it once she's gone. Let’s stay positive saying, there is room for future reduction, to a life like fingerprints on water.

On the plane of the immaterial I am cutting down on many things as well. I don’t protest, campaign, petition. The hectic activity, the anxious frenzy, the omnipresent noise and light and technological stink and the constant advertising and information-pushing begin to cause me nausea. I have downscaled my knowing, reasoning, judging, arguing. That makes it harder to write and talk, but then again, what is there to say that hasn’t already been told by somebody else? And can I really claim I’m right with what I say? Who is that Me which tends to inflate to epic proportions? I haven’t found the needle in my haystack of yet-to-be-discarded items with which to collapse the balloon-like person I think I am, but I sure have fun releasing some of its air through the vent. The smaller it gets the less ugly it becomes. 
Am I "leaving my mark in this world by not leaving a mark when I leave," as a Texan musician put it in the late nineties? I believe I have done too much already to achieve this, and I don’t even know whether it's desirable. Our very existence changes the world, for better or worse. So why don’t we go for the better? My goal is not about reducing everything to zero. It’s rather about chipping away that which is destructive, disturbing, disruptive, delusive; to find the right balance between being and becoming. Like most people in industrial civilization I weigh too heavy on the planet’s capacity to sustain life. That’s why my path leads downward, away from the apex of our culture, towards the foundations of existence.

Owning less goes straight against the paradigm of separation; consuming less is incompatible with the locust culture currently ruling the whole planet; and doing less, to me, is the confession that the complexity of the world is way beyond my understanding. I just don’t know what is good for everybody. I hardly know what is good for me. I’ve got an intuition, and I follow it. I don’t know where this ends but it feels good to trust that feeling, and I do not suffer from less stuff. There is no sacrifice, no loss, no self-denial. It’s rather the opposite – every gadget, every insurance, every untruthful relationship, every idea, every activity that fell away provided space and time for something much more valuable: the essence of it all, the unadulterated sensation of living, the meaning of being alive. Not that I got that to the fullest; as already shared, I still own things, thoughts, personae. Life is becoming more and more interesting though.

Now if you ask me whether I recommend my way to everybody, I say, Of course – not! My path works for my feet. What I (do not) do is a manifestation of my understanding. You need to follow yours. In fact, you have no choice but to do so. If anything you can only choose what you wish to understand. Maybe that’s a suitable point for starting the revolution, and maybe it starts with understanding less.


Consciousness and conscience atrophied (Yurugu series #3)

The Yurugu blog series attempts to uncover some of the myths the dominant culture is based upon. As we have a hard time seeing the things we take for granted the view from outside, through the eyes of a different culture, may help with discovering our biases and enable us to act more consciously.
Marimba Ani, the author of the book "Yurugu: An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior", is not involved in putting up the series and does not necessarily agree to its contents. The series is also not meant to present the book's central thesis, or to agree one-hundred percent with it; rather the blogs are inspired by the deep thoughts Marimba Ani has put forward, and offer some of them for consideration.

[previous article]

With technology, we have developed massive power that can be used for better or for worse. However, our consciousness, and our conscience - what the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire called “conscientisation” - has not kept pace with invention.
This has left us utterly exposed to the blandishments of marketing. Exposed to what might be thought of as “Microsoft security vulnerabilities” within the human psyche.
– (Alastair McIntosh: Extinction Rebellion - a ‘joyous call’, in: The Ecologist, 18.12.2018)
Marimba Ani, from World Afropedia (cc by-nc-sa 3.0)
Shaped by the utterings of my teacher back in 7th grade religious education, something like McIntosh's view has been my conviction until only recently. I'm not quite clear on when the change of perspective happened. I only know when it came to the forefront, with a bang: when I read the above article. Suddenly I thought, this is a damn myth, harping on the idea that, basically, our techno-scientific culture was a natural development, and that the artifacts created and the concepts adopted had no inherent value, and so could be used for better or worse. When we perceive a lack of consciousness and conscience, i.e., spirit and morality, that lack is more or less a result of our focus having been busy with inventing – so they think.

Nothing could be farther from truth.
To be sure, our focus is locked onto the rational perspective; both culturally and individually we are heavily distracted, in a multitude of ways, by a technically mediated reality. But this is by no means a casual effect, or a condition easily remedied by putting more emphasis on “consciousness and conscience;” regardless of what those words mean. Rather, it is the consequence of a decision made long ago: the decision to see the world from a distinct, discrete and separate human point of view. Marimba Ani writes,
Abstract categories of thought, conceptual absolutes, the syntax of universalism become the means by which they are able to achieve the illusion of transcendence. But the culture forecloses on the consequences of faith and love, while inhibiting their precondition; i.e., spirituality. The universe loses its richness as it is transformed into lifeless matter; the supernatural is reduced to the “natural,” which means to them, the merely biological or physical. Consequently time can only be lineal; space, three-dimensional; and material causality, the ultimate reality. In European religious thought the human and the divine are hopelessly split; there is no sacred ground on which they meet. In such a setting, the exaggerated material priorities of the culture are simply a result of the praxis of its participants, of the limiting realities offered by the culture. The resultant materialism further despiritualizes the culture. So the circle is joined; and European culture gives the appearance of being a self-perpetuating system. (Marimba Ani: Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior, 1994, p556f)
Western science and technology, like all of Western civilization, including its philosophy and religion, are incompatible with what Alastair McIntosh summed up under “consciousness and conscience.” If we define our world in rational, material, and utilitarian terms, what is the neglected consciousness part supposed to consist of? The irrational? The immaterial? The useless?
I would very much think so. Rational, material, use-oriented spirituality, friendship, emotion etc are contradictions in terms; I also don't see how they could improve on the unfortunate situation of having overemphasized the mechanistic worldview – especially its scientific and technological manifestations – for five centuries, now amending them with even more rationalized parts of a reality that is fundamentally immaterial. To Marimba Ani, our worldview precludes all of that; she denies that we could achieve a true morality based on European tradition:
A rationalistic ethic, accompanied by an isolating concept of self is, in the context of majority cultural [ie. non-European] philosophies, diametrically opposed to that which is moral, as “morality” – the proper attitude and behavior towards others – is based on love or identification, which necessitates a “joining with other.” This “union” is a spiritual rather than a rationalistic phenomenon and cannot be achieved by an act of “reason” (conceived as abstracted from “emotion”). It is a repudiation of the idea of “objectification.” (Yurugu, p390)
Consequently, what I receive when I point out the dilemma as described above is stonewalling and utter rejection. The “religious,” as the rational minds of our days choose to call every notion immaterial, to them, is a non-negotiable no-go area, and so they continue their search for rational solutions to and technological salvation from the self-inflicted wound of disconnectedness, which we treat with haemostatic agents while continuing to stab ourselves. Our technological gadgets are like the blood money Judas has received for turning his back on the Divine. It didn't end well for him, and it certainly won't for us.

Dr Marimba Ani talking about the Afrikan Worldview and Conceptualization:


How to identify imperialistic thought (Yurugu series #2)

The Yurugu blog series attempts to uncover some of the myths the dominant culture is based upon. As we have a hard time seeing the things we take for granted the view from outside, through the eyes of a different culture, may help with discovering our biases and enable us to act more consciously.
Marimba Ani, the author of the book "Yurugu: An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior", is not involved in putting up the series and does not necessarily agree to its contents. The series is also not meant to present the book's central thesis, or to agree one-hundred percent with it; rather the blogs are inspired by the deep thoughts Marimba Ani has put forward, and offer some of them for consideration.

[previous article]

With all the many groups of people and their many ideas on what it means to live a good life, it has become increasingly harder to tell who are the ones we would like to identify with, help along, and promote in their efforts to make this world a better place. With so many people lying through closed teeth, so many others pretending to be someone they are not, and with yet so many others not understanding the implications of their own words, how can we tell the real deal from fake and delusion?
The answer could be something like this: look out for the imperialist mindset.
Why is this important?
European rationalistic ideology has “created” a particular kind of person who can be expected to behave in certain characteristic ways. If the uniqueness to the culture is not understood, the positive possibilities of other cultures will get lost, and, whether consciously or not, this is a thoroughly Eurocentric objective. For this reason, we assume the particularity of the European form and therefore the need to explain its development, not as the result of some “universal” process, but by understanding its asili [cultural core] – a unique combination of factors that in circular relationship generate the personalities and ideological commitments that form the influencing matrix.
This explanation is all the more compelling since Europeans represent an extreme minority culture. It is the realization that Europe is in fact a culture in which imperial domination of others does indeed become a “comprehensive world-view” that is important. This is unique in the world and the characteristics (themes) of European culture – its “rationalism,” violence, and lack of spirituality – are not merely isolated pathologies; rather these characteristics are linked to each other in a developmental matrix (asili) that is itself “pathological” in the context of human societies.
(Marimba Ani: Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior, 1994, p392)
While the drive for power permeates all of European-based thought, philosophy, and religion its presence, in most people, goes unnoticed by its carriers. In any case, apart from rather rare displays of unmasked power tripping, it hides behind a shroud of idealism, altruism, alleged necessity, or “universal” values such as humanism, humanitarianism, equality, freedom and democracy.

Nevertheless, there are quite a few signs by which the imperialist mindset can be identified in somebody's speech or behaviour, one of which is againstness, which results in kind of a war mentality. When you notice someone pointing their rhetoric against evil politicians and mad scientists, professing to be Anti-this or Anti-that, concluding that a certain group of people or certain circumstances were the cause of all evil and need to be singled out and fought against, exterminated even, you may already be on to recognizing the imperialist mindset's workings.

Saito Musashi-bo Benkei,
the Buddhist warrior monk
But be careful: there is also such a thing as legitimate, productive criticism, a legitimate form of liberating rebellion, and the spirit of the consciousness warrior as described by Joanna Macy and others. Today, I will not go into describing what they are about. Instead, I want to point out in relatively simple terms how to identify the imperialist mindset. Here we go:

1) Differentiation
As a first step, the imperialist mindset is looking for differences in opinion, clothing, preferences, size, religion, or anything else people (and other beings) may differ in. There is no problem with this in itself. People do have different skin colour, accents, opinions, possessions, etc. The imperialist mindset is actually different from every other mindset, and any serious analysis must point this out. Yet people also have many things in common; basically we are the same, or even one. And this is what the imperialist mindset denies when it takes the next three steps, which are almost always veiled in moral statements or rational argument:

2) Separation and Othering
In the second step, the imperialist mindset seeks to separate itself from the 'Other', claiming to not be (like) that, and to overemphasize differences to the degree where differences overshadow any common ground one might have with the 'Other'.

3) Devaluation
In a third step, the imperialist mindset devalues the 'Other', makes it a less-than-human object, seeking not only to compare its own values with those of others, but to devalue and negate the latter. So we could also talk about objectification and dehumanization.

4) Crusading
As the 'Other' has become something bad, a less than human object, there is morally no problem with trying to control, oppress, or extinguish it. The 'Other' can now be fought against by all means available, from ridiculing to verbal character assassination, to torture, to literal slaughtering of its body.

Daniele Ganser. Photo: Ingo Wösner
Daniele Ganser, a Swiss historian and peace researcher, describes the process in three steps only, “Teilen – Abwerten – Töten,” (Divide, Devalue, Kill) when he talks about how governments, with the help of mainstream media, convince us of the necessity of warfare against “terrorists”, “dictators”, and other evil-doers of the day. In short, this is Ancient Rome's two-step programme divide et impera, but I found it important to indicate that its first necessary step is differentiation, that differentiation is also a necessary step for us in evaluating a situation, and that it can have a positive effect when diversity inspires us to create a new synthesis of pathways and views.

Were I to say, To liberate our communities from imperialist rule (the enemy without), and our minds from imperialist thought (the enemy within), we must destroy Elitist agency, you should by now be able to identify such a statement as speaking from an imperialist mindset. This is what we need to become conscious about. What we seek is not elimination, but deep understanding that inspires us to act from a different place. Marimba Ani who could be described as a warrior for decolonization and African self-determination says about that place:
While one functions pragmatically within a profane reality, that “reality” is never thought to be the essence of meaning. In spiritual conceptions there is always a striving for the experience of a deeper reality that joins all being. Learning is the movement from superficial difference to essential sameness (Na'im Akbar). This “sameness” is spirit; beyond and ontologically prior to matter. It is the basis for human value. One's spirituality involves the attempt to live and structure one's life on national, communal, and personal level in accordance with universal spiritual principles. (Yurugu, p368; emphasis mine)
 [next article]


Solving climate change too early could be the worst mistake ever

Just now I read an article on “global dimming” (also known as “aerosol masking effect”) in which the author(s) make a case for a courageous policy towards cleaning the atmosphere despite the warnings that this could trigger a sudden spike in global average temperatures. It gives an overview of the different takes on this topic, and how contradictory data and an apparent paradox – the fact that the pollution of the atmosphere both warms the Earth and cools it by deflecting some of the incoming sunlight – keep us from acting decisively. What's more, it divides us into different factions – sects of Climatology.
NASA illustration by Robert Simmon. Astronaut photograph ISS013-E-8948 
The article also shows how deceptive scientific data can be. Whose data are we believing? Whose interpretation? How can we even know that climate derangement is real when the basics are not clear?

When confronted with the question whether to follow Catholicism (mainstream Scientism), or Protestantism (Denialism), or Satanism (Doomerism), the answer is as simple as obvious: none of them; they are religious confessions, each and every one of them. This is not to diminish the value of sincere research; yet to rely on somebody else's claims of observation is indistinguishable from believing in Bible stories. We can take other people's findings as working hypothesis, but knowledge comes from personal observation and experience, and wisdom and understanding come from yet another place.

And yes, what we are left with, then, is for most part anecdotal; our own stories of what is going on. In my life, I have seen weather patterns both in Germany and in India changing from fairly reliable to erratically malicious, with frost now occurring whenever it likes, with temperature swings of often 15-20°C up and down within days, with Monsoons failing completely and being replaced by long droughts and intermittent rain bombs, or long periods of drizzle where there used to be pointed hot seasons. Perhaps, what I am noticing are just normal fluctuations in climatic or meteorological patterns; or it is anthropogenic climate change; or maybe I am seeing something that only exists in my mind.

That said, why am I still with the Extinction Rebellion movement? Why am I still writing for mitigation of climatic consequences from our culture's life-threatening behaviour?
The answer is: 1) because the general story of climate change matches the observations I have made in my life, 2) because the precautionary principle advises us to not take an existential risk like extinction.

...which leads me to another troubling point -- that climate change is just a symptom of an immeasurably larger issue: the consumption of the world by global industrial civilization. What if we managed to stop the heating of the planet, or the greenhouse gas story was a hoax altogether, fabricated by powerful interests to sell “green” technology, surveillance state, and space exploration? Will we be saved? Will we be happy? Or could there be something worse than hothouse Earth?
NASA map Sept 2008 by Robert Simmon, based on CERES data
As Charles Eisenstein put it, climate change is a story we tell to ourselves. Actually, it's a story within a larger story, and it is that larger story which has me going on: the story of the ecocide, which is embedded in the story of the locust culture, which in turn is embedded in the story of separation.

The longer we keep believing in the separation of “civilized man” from his environment the longer will we keep this omnicidal culture going, and the longer will the ecocide, endless wars, power abuse, and social injustice continue, global warming ravaging the planet or not. It seems little time is left for solving global warming; yet solving it too early – before we have adjusted our minds to a different set of basic assumptions about the nature of our existence – could turn out to be the worst mistake our culture has ever made. It could lead straightly into the total annihilation of all life on Earth by turning it into resources, or by nuclear warfare.

Like with yesterday's article on the endemic imperialism of our culture, what we need to see is that solving any of the problems it created will not do without correcting its underlying thoughts and assumptions. So, regardless of all the criticism Guy McPherson has received for his dire warnings, there is one declaration of his which remains true no matter where we stand, because it points to the heart of the matter:
“Let’s give freely of our time, wisdom, and material possessions. Let’s throw ourselves into humanity and the living planet. Let’s act with compassion and courage. Let’s endow ourselves with dignity. Even if all the data, models, assessments, and forecasts about abrupt climate change are incorrect, even if Earth can support infinite growth on a finite planet with no adverse consequences, I remain unconvinced there is a better way to live.” (Extinction Dialogs, p. 222),
From my understanding, such a mindset, such a behaviour must drive the change we are looking for.


Decolonizing the mind (Yurugu series pt.1)

The Yurugu blog series attempts to uncover some of the myths the dominant culture is based upon. As we have a hard time seeing the things we take for granted the view from outside, through the eyes of a different culture, may help with discovering our biases and enable us to act more consciously.
Marimba Ani, the author of the book "Yurugu: An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior", is not involved in putting up the series and does not necessarily agree to its contents. The series is also not meant to present the book's central thesis, or to agree one-hundred percent with it; rather the blogs are inspired by the deep thoughts Marimba Ani has put forward, and offer some of them for consideration.


In view of the many difficulties the human species faces these days, and looking back at ten thousand years of oppression, social disparity, suffering, warfare, and environmental destruction that fill our history books and news media, what sticks out is the utter inability to tackle any single one of those issues. One should think that, with all that ingenuity we ascribe to the human mind, we'd be able to make things better, overall, and that we would never allow ourselves to step to the very precipice, have a discussion about whether it's there or not, and politely urge each other to go ahead. Yet that is exactly what is going on; and what's more, it happens despite loud warnings. Season's greetings from Katowice.

Another thing that sticks out is that non-European cultures do not join in the activities of Western oppositional movements. There was no Summer of Love in Beijing, no nuclear-disarmament protests in Tunis, no Occupy campaign in Lagos, and, as far as I can see, no Yellow Vests in Rio. Uprisings concerned with environmental issues or social inequality seem to revolve around completely different faces, problems, and ideas. When it comes to “global” and “universal” in terms of humanness, values, needs, or rules, so-called developing countries seem to belong to another universe altogether.

That critical voices from Caucasian-dominated regions of the world, such as Europe, North America, Latin America, or Australia seem to effect change neither in any of their home countries nor in “underdeveloped” nations, is a systemic failure that is rarely noticed, and if so, it is rationalized by tactical or strategic mistakes its proponents had made.

What goes wrong here, though, may be explained in relatively simple terms: the protesters themselves nurse a bias in their mind; they act from assumptions, and they promote notions that are deeply rooted in the very culture they profess to criticize. In the case of European civilization, which is a tremendously aggressive culture with a long history of imperialism towards and colonization of other peoples, we need to literally decolonize our minds before we can hope to make any progress with changing our societies. That, at least, is the motif underlying the following number of blogs which explore European thought and behaviour (whereas by Europe we mean all cultures based on the Babylonian-Greek-Roman-Frankonian-Anglo-American-Globalized industrial civilization, including big towns and cities in all countries the world over).

African nightmare; basic photo: NASA (pd)
In the intentional commune where I live, an international township in India founded on principles of a (Westernized) Indian philosopher, the surrounding local population complains about endemic racism, neo-colonialism, and a general untrustworthiness of the white residents of the township. They, the natives, say they don't feel taken for serious, talks don't happen at eye level, and that they are being cheated and blackmailed on a regular basis. All this happens against the backdrop of cultural exchange, educational, and empowerment programs emanating from that township. Clearly, the self-image of our township's residents and our neighbours' view on us are differing tremendously.

As someone who does his best to translate good intentions into tangible action I feel hurt by the accusation of being a colonizer. In the literal sense – the Latin root means, farmer, settler – indeed, I am a colonist But does that mean I am bringing back imperial rule to India? Originally, I didn't think so.

Looking back at how I have run my life, the things I have believed in, the fights I have picked up, and foremost my basic assumptions back then – well, in short – yes, I need mental decolonization.

In order to criticize one's own culture one has to be able to see it in its totality, which means, one has to take a step back, outside of it's cage walls, to be able to compare its metaphysical foundation and practical implications with those of other cultures. In the very rare cases where decolonization successfully happened without foreign intervention – think of the Gnostics, or Meister Eckhart – it came about by means of mysticism; knowledge emerged from the doorway of not-knowing. As clarity of mind is so completely impaired by our culture's scientific materialism, technological utilitarianism, and unbridled egoism, I don't see this path being pursuable by any number of truth-seekers right now. What I'd rather try here, through a series of articles, is to have sources speak whose view is less biased by European thought than, say, Kant, Skinner, Fresco, or even Mumford. As much as the latter – and others like them – may have contributed to breaking the juggernaut's shell, by fueling the rebelliousness of younger generations, as much did they contribute to the proliferation of certain values which had, and still have, devastating effects both on other cultures and people's world view within our own culture.

Information does not suffice to activate the energies needed for change, but it is a useful if not necessary part of change nontheless; useful maybe for some of us willing to having a look inside, to see the concepts impairing our vision and the emotions suppressed by the mental structure Freud “discovered” (invented).

With all that in mind I'll start with a series of articles based on quotes from a book that philosopher and anthropologist MarimbaAni, otherwise known as professor emeritus of African studies at Hunter College, New York, Dona Richards has written: Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior (1994). Not only does Yurugu provide a refreshingly clear – as well as shocking – insight into the origins, history, philosophy and functioning of today's Europeanized world; it is also a rich source of literature for further studies on African and European cultures. In her introduction, the author writes,
This study of Europe is an intentionally aggressive polemic. It is an assault on the European paradigm; a repudiation of its essence. It is initiated with the intention of contributing to the process of demystification necessary for those of us who would liberate ourselves from European intellectual imperialism. Europe's political domination of Africa and much of the “non-European” world has been accompanied by relentless cultural and psychological rape and by devastating economic exploitation. But what has compelled me to write this book is the conviction that beneath this deadly onslaught lies a stultifying intellectual mystification that prevents Europe's political victims from thinking in a manner that would lead to authentic self-determination. Intellectual decolonization is a prerequisite for the creation of successful political decolonization and cultural reconstruction strategies. (Yurugu, p1)
As we begin to see that decolonization is necessary for our developing a truly life-endorsing culture, the question arises in which ways European civilization does actually shape our reality, and then, using that insight, how to end its spell on our lives. In the coming weeks, we'll explore specific aspects of all that – science, technology, love, art, morals, freedom, and change, among others – and we'll have a look at our culture's innate weaknesses. While for non-European cultures it will be hard to regain their cultural sovereignty, the self-decolonization of their European counterparts – us – will be immensely more demanding, because we have no tradition to support our effort and to fall back into.

Through the study of the asili, the utamawazo and the utamaroho of our culture – concepts Marimba Ani has introduced into modern African cultural anthropology – we will see that nothing less than total dissolution, transformation, or metamorphosis of Western civilization can result from a successful decolonization of the minds of its citizens. Yet it is not our goal to glamorize or even appropriate African traditions, but to learn from their views, and to find related concepts that make sense in the context of our new communities.

The blogs of this series can also not replace the study of the book it is based upon. While reading, keep in mind that this is neither a retelling nor a critique of Yurugu but a search for who we, members of the globalized industrial civilization of the early 21st century, are. Perhaps that can help with actualizing our deeper humanity – the being beneath the cultural mask.

[read next]


Interview: NTHE is, you die from a thought. Essayist

Euroville. A recent essay in the blog “Mach Was!?” caused some disappointment among social media consumers. Under the headline Damn the god-given right to electricity the author, Pax, railed against the assumption that our global industrial civilization could continue to function for an extended amount of time. On Facebook he predicted that there would be “no information-based economy, no further growth, no future tech, no welfare state” unless the survival of other species was secured, and that this required a radical reduction of our lifestyles to become “as simple as to be unimaginable by your average Westerner”.
In an interview he gave ME on Thursday, Pax put more fuel on the fire. During preliminary talks he said, “Near-term human extinction [NTHE] is the outcome of a virus, a parasitic culture called civilization. Just like with any potentially fatal sickness, you can choose to ignore or deny it, yet that doesn’t make it go away. You die. And what’s worse: you die from a thought.”
artist: Banksy, source: Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

ME: Jürgen, tell us a bit about your motives for writing that essay.
Pax: During the last decade, in my search for viable paths into the future, it became more and more clear that certain roads are not an option. Following the Club of Rome, the IPCC, or any number of environmental and scientific research papers, business-as-usual, for example, leads us straight to hell, and any prediction based on this model can realistically not contain imagery of thriving cities, space colonies, mass transportation and all the rest of it. Yet open any major newspaper or read any economist’s predictions and you’ll get exactly that. Even critical magazines like Down to Earth, feature stories which would have been good science fiction tales in the sixties; nowadays, though, it’s just bad journalism, or elitist propaganda even. You get all that “green” gibberish about growing industries under a “renewable energy” paradigm; climate change – a thing of the past, and life can go on as it did before, with a new cell phone generation, the next CPU generation, another vehicle generation. It is time to contradict – loudly! – the idea that this could be an actual option. We try anything like that, the planet will be toast. Or we take another route, and then it’s obvious why this future will never come to pass.
Tangible change, in other words, means a profound reduction of most everything people of the civilized culture believe, do, and produce. Simply put, we are talking about a much simpler lifestyle on the physical level, and nothing less than a revolution on the mental level.
ME: How did people react?
Pax: I was sort of amazed that I received an immediate supportive comment and that the Facebook announcement of my essay has been shared, even, because I already expected that the actual number of hits would be the lowest in two years of writing about collapse of civilization and near-term human extinction as a result of anthropogenic climate change.
ME: Do you have any idea as to why there was so little interest in your essay?
Pax: You can attack civilization, its institutions, the government, people’s meat consumption or their travelling habits, and it’s all fine and well. You can even suggest we are in for near-term human extinction, and they will read it for fun. When you demand the abolishment of money they may already think that you’re a little bit crazy; but hey, it’s a free country. Yet when you tell them that their god-given right to electricity, as I put it provokingly as a headline, is void you have reached the limit of what is acceptable even to those who believe in NTHE. In other words, they would gladly go to hell in a handbasket wittingly (the NTHE believers) or unwittingly (the NTHE deniers); yet the one thing that must not happen before everything collapses on us is the reduction of our lifestyle to anything less than what it is today. It seems ridiculous to them, repulsive even, I guess. The title worked like a photograph of a pile of poop on a book cover, I suppose.
ME: Don’t you think it likely that we simply have arrived at a cyclical low, or that it’s sort of a hickup we’re going through, and that it could be all well and fine someday soon?
Pax: Not with all the crises converging on us at the same time, each of which could spell the end of the global industrial system by itself: from multiple major currencies (Dollar, Euro, Rupee) threatened by collapse, to the decline of cheap fossil energy, to diminishing energy returns on input, to the overheating of the planet, to ocean acidification, to the steep decline in insects, vertebrates, and marine populations – more to the point: the collapse of the biosphere, – chemical poisoning of our food, the loss of arable soil and of forests, the disappearance of potable water, the steep rise in social disparity, dwindling resources like copper, aluminum, wood, sand,… the list goes on and on. As if this wasn’t terrifying enough, it seems that the West is hell bent on kicking off a major war, and we all know where this is likely to end.
The global industrial civilization of our days, in an unbroken line, goes back to the Frankish, the Roman, the Greek, and the Mesopotamian empires. There is an ever clearer signature of violence that accompanies each stage of development, and it all goes back to a core understanding, you could say, a certain thought that is fundamental to our culture. It is the idea of our being separate from the rest of the World, and from each other. First we are looking for differences, then we divide the world along those differences, then we devalue one part as “bad”, and finally we try to control or destroy that part. Apply it to “Human/Non-human”, “Culture/Nature”, “Noble/Common”, “Sick/Healthy”, “Pure/Dirty”, “Civilized/Barbarian”, “Advanced/Primitive”, “Christian/Heathen” – you get the point. As long as there is an “Other” to separate from and fight against we could turn our aggression against that “outside” threat. But what do you do once you have conquered the whole planet? This is the moment where it necessarily breaks down, as we either need to stop the behaviour that our civilization requires for keeping itself propped up, or we turn against ourselves and commit collective suicide. In essence, this culture – and everyone it takes down with it – dies of a wrong assumption: our separation from an “objective” world “out there.” Death by imagination – it’s tragicomical, if you think of it.
ME: So you don’t believe in human ingenuity.
Pax: If I believed in human ingenuity I’d have to blame it for bringing about the predicament we’re currently in. Intelligence and ingenuity, in fact, have nothing to do with it, no matter whether you look at it from a high vantage point, or whether you inspect the situation up close, eg. with regard to how decisions are made on an everyday basis: Some think there is no need to act because they don’t see the urgency of the situation, or they don’t see any situation at all; others think there is no use for action as they believe we’ve passed various tipping points beyond which it’s already too late. Thus, NTHE is more or less a done deal, proven by unwillingness to open our eyes to the reality within and without us. Where are intelligence and ingenuity in there? There is no such thing as human ingenuity, superiority, or intelligence; The brain is an organ with which we think that we think, as the saying goes. We have maneuvered ourselves into a corner from which it will be hard to escape, especially as we either cannot or want not see, in the first place, that we are cornered.
ME: How long will it take to recover from this collapse?
Pax: As opposed to previous collapses, today’s civilization cannot be resurrected once it has fallen. Historic calamities have been regional; civilized life went on elsewhere and the extent of the fall, ie. the loss of organization, knowledge and technology, has been relatively small. The huge majority of people still knew how to plant or gather or hunt food and how to create necessary things manually. Today, we have less than 2% of the population in industrialized areas working in agriculture, and they don’t know what to do without heavy petroleum-fired machinery and chemical applications. The loss of biodiversity, groundwater, and top soil, together with much higher average temperatures and the resulting bad weather, will lead to very bad conditions for food production. This will be a main contributor to population losses in the billions.
As you cannot run a global economy in a depopulated world, no one will be able to ship oil from Arabia to where it’s needed; all the easily-available resources have been mined already, so you cannot create new machinery based on the kind of technology we are used to, and you are not able to maintain the nuclear power plants. It takes twenty to sixty years to decommission any one of those, provided you have sufficient fresh water, electricity, and trained personnel available during that time frame, and we have more than 400 reactors which will go Fukushima if you neglect your duty for one day. Some scientists find it not unlikely that ionizing radiation would strip away Earth’s atmosphere.
Rather than asking, how much time does the recovery from collapse take, the question is, how much time does our species have before it goes extinct from heavy irradiation, chemical pollution, and starvation.
ME: What is your verdict then? How much time do we have?
Pax: Sorry, this is the domain of the gods. Expect lightning to strike any second from now. The 1% are playing war games, and it doesn’t take much for it to become nuclear. It could happen already as we speak. Regarding the other factors playing out my personal guess is somewhen between 2020 and 2023. I’d be surprised if we made it to 2030. Nobody can say for sure, though, be it priest, scientist, or fortune teller.
ME: Is there really nothing that can be done?
Pax: Options are abound. The crux, though, lies in our ability and/or willingness to awaken to the real situation, which means to allow ourselves to feel the pain and the grief for what we have done – still do, – then to let go of everything that promised comfort and familiarity, and to get into action. Yet that is exactly the kind of thing that the thrust of our civilization renders increasingly hard to achieve with every passing minute.
Charles Eisenstein, in his latest book “Climate: A New Perspective,” made some viable proposals for a profound healing of most of our ailments. Or look at Buddhist, Mystic, Non-dualist, or Modern spiritual practices for getting into harmony with the world; or take the lifestyle of so-called primitive tribes whose whole existence is based on being embedded into, rather than separated from and controlling, the world of non-humans. Check the Internet for “Rewilding”. Or look at our predicament from Jungian psychoanalysis, or read what Paul Levy has written in“Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil”.
From understanding what the mentioned groups and persons say, it becomes crystal clear what needs to be done when we are concerned with the state of the world: It requires “a radical revolution of the mind,” as Jiddu Krishnamurti put it, which will result in an equally radical departure from what we call “civilization”.
The drastic reduction of our activities and energy turnover is an absolute must for the survival of our species – and most other species as well, – and time is running out, if it hasn’t done so already. We cannot know for sure. The critical factor here is that it’s not just a matter of action or abstention thereof; this change has to come from deep within, and it must necessarily result in the utter abandonment of our culture’s core, or we’ll achieve exactly nothing.
ME: How do you respond to your critics who say that back-to-the-trees was neither possible nor desirable? Isn’t a simple life, or primitivism, as they hold, a return to barbarianism?
Pax: First of all, I’m not talking about a backward movement, because then I would buy into the civilized rhetoric of progress and ascent. Civilization has not moved the human race forward or upward. It was not an evolutionary logical progress; we have simply stepped out of the large consent of primary peoples who see the Universe as an indivisible living whole, and themselves an integral part of it. So if we choose to apply the word “back,” it would be in the sense of backing out of a dead-end road. Civilization has taught us a lot of things which cannot work; that’s something we might be grateful for – provided we leave enough of our habitat intact to be able to make use of it.
Secondly, equating the culture of non-civilized peoples with barbarianism is based on a false image of those peoples. In fact it is them who, to an overwhelming degree, live by ideals that European moral philosophy only rhetorically adheres to – unity, brotherhood, freedom, equality – and it have been civilized people who consistently acted in barbaric ways towards others. From the tribals’ perspective, we carry a sickness or a demon, as you can read from Professor Jack D. Forbes’ description of the native Americans’ view, “Columbus and Other Cannibals”, for example.
No culture anywhere in the world was hell bent on joining Western civilization. The question why many of them fought to death, to maintain their “primitive” lifestyle, is answered eg. by Professor Marimba Ani’s exhaustive analysis “Yurugu: An African-centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior”. Her work makes unmistakably clear how European civilization – which has developed into today’s dominant global culture – is not an improvement on, but a profound deviation from, the ways of every other culture in the world. It is impoverishing both materially and spiritually, it reigns by delusions, lies, greed and violence, and it denudes life of everything worth living for. Unless you fall for its rhetorical ethics, its attractiveness is zilch.
Thirdly, unless we choose to undergo a voluntary downsizing while following a planned exit strategy a period of barbarianism is very likely to accompany the breakdown of our societies. Clearly, the resulting cruelties would be an outgrowth of the ways civilization works and how civilized people think. As it is not sustainable the remnants of our society would go extinct very quickly.
ME: How do you feel about all that?
Pax: I feel sad about the loss of so much beauty, especially considering that it could have been avoided. Sometimes I carry a sentiment of rage over the utter stupidity of it all, but basically I have accepted the fact that people cannot be spoon-fed with insight, understanding, or empathy, which are requirements for the profound change needed here. My way of dealing with emotions is to study them closely, and to write essays and books about collapse-related issues. Those writings also serve to strengthen the backs of those who have awakened from the civilized delusion, and to inspire them to stand up for their convictions instead of remaining in the culture. That’s what I meant by writing, those who wish to pursue the destructive path of civilization may continue to do so, but they have no right to do so undisturbedly.
ME: Do you have second thoughts sometimes?
Pax: Sure, all the time. What if we did this, what if we tried that, what if we got it all wrong… yet no matter how often I turn the matter left or right, up or down, I end up with the same results. I don’t hear others express similar doubts very often, be it deniers or doomers. Belonging to the fringes of society, being the weird guy is a thing I have become accustomed to early on; so I am very aware of how each person shapes his or her reality according to individual perspective. I might be wrong, and I certainly hope so. Because I know there are dimensions of truth beyond the reality I just described...
ME: ...or final thoughts?
Pax: In the essay it says, “those who...” a lot, and one could come to the idea that I was pointing fingers at others while seeing myself as innocent victim of evil forces. That’s not what I am about, though. I am not throwing stones at others to hurt them; I throw stones into the ponds of people’s souls, I beat at the bush of their over-confident mind, to stir up something that lies dormant there. “Saving the World” cannot be my responsibility, though, nor anybody else’s. Points made in terms of, “if everybody understood,” “if enough people followed,” “if things were different” – they don’t get us anywhere. We cannot force any of those “if’s” into existence. People are what they are, the world is what it is, so activists have to work with what-is, not with imaginations of should-be. In the end, we’re thrown back on ourselves, and this is a great starting point; especially when you understand how closely Self and Reality are intertwined. In this sense: yes, we’re fucked – impregnated with something yet unseen.


Damn the god-given right to electricity

Emissions in 2060, consumption in 2050, share of renewable energy in 2040, standard of living in 2030 -- predictions of the future of industrial capitalist societies that make me want to throw up.
Where do people take their entitlement from, to a certain standard of living, to electricity and internet and free mobility and well-paid jobs, when billions of others never had that and never will? When, instead, they don't have food security or are starving and thirsting even, and when dozens of millions have to leave their homes due to climate change, 1st world resources grabbing, pollution or free trade treaties?
Pietro da Cortona (photo cc by 3.0, wikimedia user Sailko)

Does it occur to anyone of those who talk about “less damage” and “green tech” that they advocate the continuation of everything that they find morally repulsive, like bringing about million-fold misery and death and environmental destruction?
Has it ever occurred to them that you cannot have that kind of lifestyle, green, brown, blue, or otherwise, without creating waste energy (heat), waste products (garbage), waste lands (...), and waste people (the deluded, the poor, the mentally disturbed, the sick, and the dying)?
Has anyone of those who use the term "backwards", or "middle ages", or "stone age", or "back to the tree tops" in the attempt to ridicule people with an healthy attitude to the living world ever met such folks, or inquired into the origins of these false images, or attempted to rid themselves of their addiction to the omnicidal "system" (regardless of what you understand by that)?
Has it occurred to anyone of those who think lowly of human nature, of using our hands to create the items for everyday life, of small numbers, or of caring, loving, sharing folks, that they have been taken for a ride by the very authorities they put their trust into?
Those who wish to pursue the most destructive lifestyle ever invented may continue to do so. It is neither in my power nor in my interest to turn them around. But the time for pampering their sensitivities, for soothing the fears of people who in their ignorance and mental laziness are unwilling to let go of killing the planet by proxy, is over. They have no right whatsoever to being spared any longer the words, the images, the emotions which are relating the true state of our planet.
People who disagree with business as usual may end their silence now, may speak up and may act as if their lives were at stake – because it’s true, and it has been from the very beginning, 10,000 years ago.
Put your picket pin now, or leave it to the planet to drive in hers.


The rebellion against extinction

We had an extraordinary amount of papers and articles coming out within the last twelve months, addressing the severity of the existential threat to the biosphere and humanity as a whole. Think of the Second Warning of Scientists that has been signed by more than 20,000 academics so far, think of Jem Bendell’s work on Deep Adaptation, or David Lauterwasser’s excellent summary titled, The Collapse of Global Civilization Has Begun. Even Germany’s two nationwide public TV channels, ARD and ZDF, for the first time ever, took climate change into account from early August on, when trying to explain the severe drought and other abnormal meteorological events on the evening news.

And let’s not forget that the IPCC’s special report of October eventually began to rattle a larger amount of people, with its dire warning to politicians – though the numbers presented therein haven’t changed much and the window dressing continued to cover the real extent of the climate crisis. That this politico-scientific body spoke up as it did was sort of miraculous in itself, but the public reaction to it begins to amaze me.

Pic by Edward Kimmel, (cc-by-sa-2.0)

Having heard so far only a few lonely voices (which by their conservative provenience felt exciting enough, like Willy Wimmer, vice prez OSCE in the 90s, or Professor Rainer Mausfeld) who considered a public uprising a due and ethical response to politicians’ potentially lethal play with fire, I noticed that the scene has gone haywire just within the last few weeks. In Britain, a new movement called Extinction Rebellion has emerged which announces massive non-violent resistance to the kind of politics that ignore climate change and continue to foster business as usual.

Already they have been running a few minor actions like occupying Greenpeace headquarters. As one of the first major undertakings they plan the disruption of London city, to create political pressure that would lead to a WWII-style mobilization in order to deal with existential threat. The demands include reducing carbon emissions to zero by 2025, reducing consumption, making investments to taking carbon out of the atmosphere, changing transport and introducing regenerative agriculture, restoring ecosystems etc.

These goals are technically feasable and socially achievable. As historical precedence shows, well-targeted civil disobedience performed by a few hundred individuals can quickly escalate into a wide-spread rebellion supported by millions of people. The Extinction Rebellion movement plans to expand to other countries in Spring 2019. Ideally, by then, people in France, Russia, the US, India, Brazil, Australia, China, Korea, and elsewhere would have already found their own courage and started to disrupt the business-as-usual trajectory of governments and corporations like they did in Hambach forest, Germany, or in Standing Rock.

Let’s tell the governments of the world that the time has come for them to act as human beings instead of occupying the planet like aliens from outer space. And let’s advise the same to our neigbours, friends and families, for each of us is contributing immensely to extraction, exploitation, transportation, consumption, and pollution – in other words, to the mass suffering and killing of fellow men and creatures.

People who have followed my blog in the last couple of years know that I do not entertain the hope that we will actually make it through the catastrophic changes awaiting us. However, after having read and co-translated into German Charles Eisenstein’s new book Climate – a new perspective (which is another excellent 2018 publication I’d recommend studying) I actually see a realistic chance that some of the worst consequences of civilization’s joyride can be prevented and the runaway development can be stopped. We also need to shut down those nuclear power plants, stash all radiating material in the Earth’s core or in space, and close all chemically hazardous factories before … well, you know. The time window – if there is one – seems extremely small.

Extinction Rebellion logo
But first of all, the power structures which are in the way of doing so have to be overcome.

While I, personally, see this matter as a no-brainer I do understand that most folks have reservations against stepping out of under the umbrella against bad weather governments are regarded as. Yet, no matter where you politically stand, rebellion is justified when government fails to fulfill its self-acclaimed role as protector of the people. In some countries this is a constitutional right even.

The time has come to do what needs to be done. Today we declare rebellion against extinction.


Getting the goat (4)

Your life is your message
~E. Easwaran


In Churchill's words

“No man is free if he fears death. But the minute you proffer the fear, at that moment you are free.” -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
When people speak of Gandhi and Martin Luther King with great reverence, as role models for successful non-violent resistance, what is often being overlooked is the fact that not only did those resistance leaders apply counter-intuitive methods and not only did they speak with great charisma. What made those protests successful back then was the protesters’ complete determination to their goals, a determination so complete they would go to great length and would take all kinds of personal discomforts and disadvantages on themselves, willing even to go to death for their conviction. The symbols of freedom they created and held up have not just been mere declarations of preference, taste, ideas, or moral indignation. It was the protesters’ perseverance in complete determination to their goals that gave power to those symbols, and only through determination was it that they were able to touch the hearts and minds of their fellow men, and inspired them to support their plea.

The situation today is of similar urgency, yet we don’t see that kind of determination and perseverance much these days. Have we given up the struggle for social and environmental justice because we’re tired? Is it because we don’t believe in our cause any longer? Are we, as a society, as mankind, too fragmented, too deeply lost in identity politics, in selfish strive for personal happiness? Is it that we believe, instead, in a materialistic world view which has all but killed life’s spirit within us? It might be one of those, or, more likely, all of them together. The Gandhis and Luther-Kings of today run by the name of Vandana Shiva, or Arik Ascherman, or Ahed Tamimi, people who did not surrender to injustice, did not get scared into silence by threat of violence, will continue to speak up for what they know is right, and continuously take action in favour of their proclaimed goals. It’s not that their number was small – it isn’t. What is missing, though, is the support on the streets, with the determination to withstand anything it takes to end the evil system which is devouring the world.

As a protest, Standing Rock has been standing out because there was an urgency to it, and an international solidarity rarely seen these days. Standing Rock has also been a complete disaster, not because they’ve been overrun, but because there has been no public outcry, no follow-up activities, no spreading of civil disobedience across the US and other industrialized countries.

In the same way, Occupy and its sympathizers have failed to continually block and boycott the powers they were up against. It’s like the late sixties all over again, like the stone-throwing student protester Joschka Fischer who, thirty years later, as Germany’s first Green Party foreign minister, in breach of international law, sent soldiers to Serbia, into the country’s first war after WW II. This transition from fringe opposition to conformity just happens so much faster now. All of us, we’re back to work; all of us, we’re populating shops and malls and sales, as if our indignation and our lust for something new had been just a passing phase and as if our continued functioning as cogwheels in the Machine didn’t contribute to the very injustices we’ve been pointing out. As if it weren’t our lives that are at stake now. Or aren't they? Is this just me making up worst-case scenarios or is our planet actually getting dismantled right at this moment? And if this is so, would we let ourselves get shepherded to the butcher's block, or would we rather stand up and shout at the top of our lungs, "I shall not surrender! We will never surrender!", just like the people of Palestine do in their seventy-year struggle against Israeli occupation and apartheid policy?

I’m not saying that, “if everyone had joined the protests the problem would have been solved”, for the fact remains that this kind of logic doesn’t work, neither hypothetically nor actually. Still, there lingers the question why, at a time when our survival as individuals, as a community, and as a species stands under immediate threat, our eyes and ears stay closed, our minds stay numb, our mouths stay shut, our hands stay deeply stuffed within our pockets.

Is it because we’ve sold our bodies to the man for a little bit of dough, we’ve sold our minds to the establishment for a little bit of hope, and we’ve sold our spirit to the likes of Adam Smith and Richard Dawkins, for the promise that selfishness will continue to make the world go round?

If you plan on not letting yourself get silently led into the dark, bloody night of the slaughterhouse, your time for making a statement is exactly now, and you better make it a matter of life and death – because that’s what it actually is.