2018-12-03

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.

2018-11-24

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.

2018-10-31

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.

2018-10-27

Getting the goat (4)

Your life is your message
~E. Easwaran

2018-09-14

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.


2018-07-30

A simple life in a complex world - is it impossible?


On this year's (my second) return from the Friesenheim Summer University¹ I feel intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually nourished, yet somehow confused by the findings and non-findings around our topic of discussion: Einfach Leben. This German phrase's meaning depends on how you emphasize the words; there is „einfach leben“, which means, to live simply, and there is „einfach leben“, which means, to simply live. The matter gets further complicated by the fact that the word einfach may express the concepts of easy, simple, basic, straightforward, just, humble, single, common, lowly, or elementary. Depending on situation, topic, pronunciation, and grammar it becomes clear what einfach is supposed to mean.

Yet there is a semantic field where we tend to confuse easy with simple, or the other way round. The German language does have different words for those (easy = leicht, simple = simpel, schlicht), but in our discussion we found that the mixing and equating of those very distinct semantics happens deliberately, for the purpose of stimulating consumption. Whereas, in not-quite ancient times, we had to get some cash and carry it to a vendor ourselves, today we just push a virtual button on a screen and the transaction is done. It's very easy. This kind of simplicity hides the fact that there is an immensely huge and complex machinery involved which makes it possible for the vendor to spare her customer the act of travelling to and meeting her: computers, software, web servers, cables etc all of which require mineral resources and their transportation from around the world, their processing, assembly, running, and maintenance, all of which require factories which in turn need resources, assembly, and maintenance; altogether, it takes millions of people's work for the virtual button on the screen to show and, on click, effect the desired consequences.

The consumer who is clicking said button does not get the service for free. The transaction comes at a price and that means he usually – leaving the 1% aside – has to work for the money he pays for the service. The time spent on wage slavery, on average, far exceeds the time saved by means of technology. It's another aspect overlooked when you believe the companies' assertion that their goods and services simplify your life.

A more general, cultural assumption comes into play: The myth of life getting easier over time, our rise above the struggle for survival, by doing civilized work, and the rise above work, by application of ever more sophisticated technology. Even the most superficial look at wild cultures shows the deception: We work longer hours than ever before, and for most of us the work is enormously energy-sapping, whether we work in an office or a factory. Primitive people's “work” – if we choose to so label their energy spent on survival – takes way less time (between 1 and 3 hours per day, on average), the reward for it is im-mediate, i.e. it is coupled to the efforts they make and can be reaped directly and without delay, and the whole concept of work does not apply to them as, for them, hunting, cooking, gathering, sewing, nomadizing etc. is just as joyful as playing, sharing stories and food, and resting, and is therefore indistinguishable from what we call free time. It's truly easy-going. By living simply, they simply live. Civilized people have to make efforts to achieve that. Downsizing and simplification go against the grain of civilization, so they call forward reactions like disgust, contempt, or, somehow paradoxically, admiration for the courage mustered, the hard work applied and the sacrifices made.

Old woman: pd; fractal: Wolfgang Beyer, cc-by-sa 3.0; collage: pax
But the work and the sacrifice are involved at the start of the endeavour only. When we attempt to “achieve” the simplicity of wild peoples' lives, or the slowness of small town life, or grandma's serenity, or a child's naive playfulness, what changes is not so much the level of technology or the amount of time, money, or muscle power spent, but the mindset that drives this sort of lifestyle. Those who downsize intuitively feel that their physical and/or mental issues are connected to their inhumane, unhuman lifestyle; the downsizing as such may be motivated by the intellectual understanding that greed, insecurity, and all the rest of it lie at the foundation of that lifestyle, but their mind truly changes with the experience of reduced involvement in civilized work. In the end, they perceive their “hard work” and their “sacrifice” not as a loss, but a gain. It doesn't take courage, it doesn't take labour or sacrifice or discomfort; what it takes is a simplification of mind in the first place.

Now what do I mean by that? Do I propose we are dumbing ourselves down, play stupid and fool around with our lives? Certainly not. A simple mind as it comes naturally to an uneducated grandma who wonders what keeps the clouds up there in the sky is also available to the most sophisticated academic who has not forgotten other, non-intellectual human abilities. The balancing of all our abilities and facilities allows for an intuitive understanding of an immensely complex world. A simple mind does not try to reduce the world to one kind of understanding alone, does not reduce the individuality of one phenomenon to a generic class of things, does not reduce the sacred, the mysterious, the unforeseeable to a mathematical set of rules, does not reduce the meaningful to its utility, does not separate the observer from the observed etc. In other words, a simple mind maintains a sense of wonder, an awe for the wild expressions of life, and the relatedness, the interconnectedness, or even interbeing, if not oneness of everything that exists.

While the rational mind believes that the simple mind oversimplifies the facts, it is rational reductionism that takes away essential elements from an unfathomable complexity, to knit up an overly simplistic world model. These two forms of simplicity, simplemindedness and reductionism, while diametrically opposed to each other, are what gets mixed up when we talk unreflectedly. Simplification, of the rational or the intuitive kind, can be a means of facilitating communication about phenomena and concepts. We create generic images, classes, rules, to make sense of what happens around us, and communicate them through symbols (metaphors or words). Over-simplification happens when we take the metaphor, the word, the image, the class, and the rule for truth as such, in other words, if we reduce the complexity of the world to a convenient model, to interact with this model alone, as though the model was the real world.

This is by no means a purely linguistic issue. As a matter of fact, the world we live in today painfully demonstrates the interconnectedness of reality, language, mindset, and human activities. The countless immense, and constantly multiplying and intensifying converging crises of modernity are the outflow of our persistent interaction with mediated truth alone, our models of reality. We have been losing touch with the real world a long time ago. Its mental reduction to numbers leaves out too much which we cannot, or refuse to, measure: the qualitative, the proportionate, the fuzzy, the felt, the invisible, the meaningful, the sacred.

And thus, unable to control it as thoroughly as we thought, in search of the easy way, we destroy the world, tear up the web of life, separate ourselves from “the environment”, turn human communities to shreds, and rupture our own psyche until we get insane. The essence of einfaches Leben, a simple life, lies not in the reduction of the complexity and richness of the world to an impoverished lifestyle which sacrifices the achievements of science and technology, but in the acknowledgment, valuing, and even hallowing of that-which-is, in all its complexity, interconnectedness, and oneness. A simple life means existence in, and being in intimate relation to, the world-as-it-is, rather than the world as we would like it to be. A simple life therefore cannot be a utilitarian means of fighting the destructive machine which propagates an easy life; it is not a move against an unpleasant system. A simple life stands for itself and finds meaning where an easy life at best sees purpose.
Wiley Miller (cc by 2.0)
Being prisoners of the omnivorous machine called civilization we cannot help but start from using simplification (in the sense of downsizing) as a tool to dismantle the megamachine. The book Underminers talks about how to use that tool; and in the process of doing it, working with what we have, we begin to understand what this implies, and our minds begin to simplify intuitively.

[1] Marianne Gronemeyer: Friesenheimer Sommeruniversität

2018-07-26

Macht (kaputt) was (euch kaputt macht) !?


Fertig ist Mach was!?, mein zweites Buch und Nachfolger von Mullai Yelle eigentlich schon seit Anfang dieses Jahres, aber es durfte in den finsteren Gewölben meines Hirns noch ein wenig vor sich hin gären, bis es im Mai 2018 Druckreife erreichte. Die kostenlose Verteilung startet jetzt! Freunde und Bekannte sowie auch Arbeitsgruppen und Bibliotheken können ein Freiexemplar erhalten, aber es gibt auch kostenlose digitale Ausgaben im Download-Bereich dieses Blogs.

Worum geht es im Buch?
In den letzten zehn Jahren beschäftigte ich mich mit den vielen sich zuspitzenden Krisen dieser Welt, die trotz inzwischen globaler politischer wie auch aktivistischer Bemühungen nicht gelöst werden konnten. Oder ist es möglich, dass es gerade unserem eifrigen Schaffen zuzuschreiben ist, wenn die Dinge so stehen, wie sie liegen? Gibt es einen gemeinsamen Nenner?

Wir unternehmen eine Reise, von den Anfängen der Zivilisation bis in die nähere und ferne Zukunft, im Gepäck eine Reihe von Büchern, die ich im Laufe der Dekade ins Deutsche übersetzt habe und die sich genau mit diesem gemeinsamen Nenner auseinandersetzen: Charles Eisenstein, Daniel Quinn, John Michael Greer, Thomas Henry Pope, Carolyn Baker, Guy McPherson, Keith Farnish und (der nicht von mir übersetzte) Derrick Jensen haben mit ihren Werken bahnbrechende Arbeit bei der Analyse unserer Situation und der Schaffung realistischer Visionen für unsere Zukunft geleistet, dabei aber oft nicht die Würdigung erfahren, die ihnen gebührt. Mach Was!? begibt sich daran, dies zu ändern, und natürlich wird auch die Frage gestellt, ob bzw. was getan werden kann.

2018-07-18

The age of benightedness


When Neal Gabler, in his essay published on December 13, 2017 on billmoyers.com, foresaw a second civil war in the US, he used the phrase in a rather metaphorical way. Myself, I was, and I am still, more confident that either the US or its controversial president may not survive this presidential term. But predictions are idle, and so are political analyses. I won’t discuss them here. The reason why I am picking up a topic from politics of the day is the huge public outrage about Donald Trump’s visit to Russia and the alleged meddling of Vladimir Putin in Trump’s election.

Once again, I am not interested in who makes a better case, and if you intend to discuss any of the details with me I’m going to delete your comment as it is wasting my time. As a matter of fact, it is wasting everybody’s time – which is already the core of the matter.

James Gillray: The pinnacle of liberty
Like probably tens of thousands of other people I spent most of yesterday’s day following the news and the screeching, cursing and shouting on Facebook. Since a few months ago I’ve unfollowed most of my “friends” channels and all but two groups; still, the noise was deafening. So much fucking and frigging and bloodying and fooling and idiotizing going on… hell, where is this rage coming from? Unlike many others, I hadn’t invested in one side or the other; it was just immensely amusing to see people losing their minds over something that, had it occurred in “my country”, I would have found it laughable. Actually, “my” government and people took it quite cool when Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA’s wiretapping Frau Merkel’s phone: not much of a public tantrum, no media outcry, no Snowden hearing, no consequences for the perpetrators, no “traitor” shouting at Angie for shrugging it off; just a quick return to realpolitik.

What happened yesterday, July 17 2018, as opposed to back then in Germany’s chancery, is best explained by quoting Derrick Jensen:
Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.
Obviously, the public in the US does not perceive Russia as a legitimate violator, while the public in Germany does so with regard to the US.

The hierarchy is obvious to anybody who would look, and it is thoroughly internalized by those who wouldn’t. Empire, as needs re-emphasizing over and over again, is not just tanks and prisons and government buildings and barbed wire and tributes paid; empire is first and foremost a state of mind. By imagining empire it becomes a force; those who are able to unthink empire are able to take coercion-free decisions. They may get imprisoned or tortured or killed, but one cannot force them into compliance. Therefore Empire’s very existence depends on schools and academia, mass media and think tanks, to hammer-in the one idea which civilization permits: You are a distinct and separate human being who is selfishly competing against other separate beings for survival, and your society is the hierarchical structure that curbs the fight within civil limits.

Believing any of the excretions of these or other civilized institutions is a crime against your own freedom. And this is what transpired from yesterday’s disproportionate reactions to the happy news that we’ve been gifted with another day on which we haven’t been nuked over the petty squibbles of a bunch of governing psychopaths.

So who are the psychopaths, just Trump and Putin? No.
Rulers are psychopaths, politicians are psychopaths, CEO's are psychopaths, military folks are psychopaths, secret agents are psychopaths, leading mainstream journalists are psychopaths, and anybody who wants to take their place is one as well. Indeed, many among us ordinary folks are, too, and even me, I cannot vouch for my own sanity.

Yesterday, people have collectively abdicated their freedom in a footstomping kneewobbling headbanging handwringing religious frenzy of mass surrender to Empire’s hierarchy, and even some who could know better wasted their breath on rationalizing the significance of the Helsinki meeting. May they be forgiven, may I be forgiven for having been amused, may the psychopaths be forgiven as well, for we knew not what we’ve been doing. As far as the rising consciousness on this planet is concerned we missed our moment of glory by some inch or another. What Gabler wrote about the Trump camp some months ago is true for his vociferous opponents as well, as it is applicable to ANY side in ANY mental division:
Through a process of simplification, [the demagogues] purport to tell their followers what happened and who is responsible. In short, they provide cosmology, not for the purpose of enlightenment, but for the opposite — benightedness.
When we define humanity’s nature and place in the Universe as one of Interbeing, what is our natural response to the kind of crises we’ve seen during the Trump administration, or, in fact, since the moment when civilization made time begin? A shootout???

2018-07-15

Frozen in movement

Do you believe in numbers? Do you believe in the power of the collective?
Me, I don't. Not any more.
There is no collective; there never was; certainly not with global industrial, nor with any other civilization, for a civilization, by definition, is based on the story of separation, and the individual becomes the constituent building block of society, just like the atom becomes the constituent particle of matter. A collective in a civilized society is nothing but an illusory container full of particles in Brownian motion, confined by the jar's walls which prevent the mass from moving outside. You may float up, you may sink down, but what does it matter? You don't become one true collective by swimming in the same pool. What's worse, as long as there's no free influx of fresh water it is and it stays a pool full of excretions by the imprisoned particles. It's suffocating eventually.
Immersing oneself in such a social container is an effective way of totally getting the notion – the culture medium – that drives a society or one of its subcultures, and drives it crazy. Up and down you float, left, right and center, until you're sick and tired of the homogenous view and get the yellow blues. Unless you truly believe in the premises that make up the culture medium, that is. Try nation states; try music genres; try street gangs; try corporations, try professional milieus; try academia; try political parties; try activism, for a change (that never comes).
The reason for incest and infighting, for bad breath and dirty deeds, is people's confinement in separate containers, and the reason for exploding on contact with any of the other containers, again, is their long-standing isolation from fresh influx, so that their chemistries have become incompatible.
Let's stop the metaphor here, as long as it's somehow coherent. There are other forces at work as well, I know, and I don't want to play down the benefits to be gained from interactions within a milieu, but in the end it just doesn't satisfy my hunger for truth or community. Those are not to be had in groups produced from separation, within societies split and shattered along the personal interests of its constituent people-particles. The very notion of interest requires the exclusion of differently-interested others and the denial of inconvenient aspects of truth.
img by Piotr Siedlecki (pd)
When you are part of the atmosphere that circumvents the jars you cannot help but get drawn in and spat out somewhere sometimes, or react violently in other places. It's what has to take place, to allow for a minimum of social glue that the incubator, the larger encompassing container, is too rigid to provide. Government and ideology, science and religion are partial themselves; they cannot do the job that each and every single one of the people-particles better did themselves.
There, the metaphor breaks down, just in time for pointing out that the responsibility for making sense of truth, for social coherence, and, last not least, everybody's well-being and happiness cannot be outsourced to the greasy film on top. We better understand that if we try to fight our way out of the jar, each on our own, just like how we've been taught, we are never going to make it. What it takes is true community, a state in which people act from a place which is much stronger than self-interest: love and compassion for the other; in fact, the end of othering our not-quite-so-separate neighbour.
It cannot be done by force; it cannot be done by law; it cannot be done through reasoning; it cannot be done on large scale. International accords and nation states, even cities are too big for this. It has to be done one by one, face to face, right in the place where we are and nowhere else. The fact that I write this on a solitary blog hosted on an (anti-) social platform is kind of hilarious. Yet I got to work from what I have. I'm a writer, I'm an activist, among many other things. I live in a commune (does that make me a communist?), yet community is a state that sometimes has a hard time becoming realized; it's because our minds, over decades, have been brainwashed into competing with each other. We have no other choice but to try again and again, day after day. So do I, in thinking, in living, and in writing about living and thinking. Words are but a medium; more often than not they fail to transport what's meant But if you attempt to live a life both outside and inside the various jars you will know what I refer to. You are the one I am writing for.

2018-07-10

Getting the goat (3)


Speediness is a way
of not relating
to the world.