2019-05-17

What is intelligence?


Regarding the topic of abstraction which was of central importance in the last Yurugu essay I would like to point out today some of its greater ramifications. To be precise, this is about intelligence and the difference between humans and animals.

Discussing the latter – what it supposedly is that makes the human species so special among the world’s species – you will always hear someone say that, “(a) Humans got a bigger brain, (b) which makes them more intelligent, (c) and this is the reason why humans are more successful survivors than any other living being.”

None of these three assertions is true.

The human brain has a volume of 1050-1500 ccm and weighs ~1.3 kg, the sperm whale’s has a volume of up to 8000 ccm and weighs up to 9.5 kg.
The assertion that humans have the best relative brain size is also false; our brain-to-body mass ratio is 1:40; mice or songbirds have a much better ratio. Insects seem best equipped, with brain mass measuring up to one seventh of the total body mass.

Among humans, the Neanderthals had a 25-30% bigger brain than modern sapiens, so brain size doesn’t necessarily help with survival.

Whether humans possess the highest intelligence depends on how you define intelligence, and how you measure it. I would hold that we – ie. civilized man – are not performing well in this category either: From a look at the Wikipedia we learn that there are “many ways” how intelligence has been defined, namely “logic, understanding, self-awareness, learning, emotional knowledge, reasoning, planning, creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving,” most of which belong into the realm of abstract thinking. We’ll come to that in a minute.

Emotional knowledge, also called emotional intelligence or EQ – “the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one's goal(s)” – belongs to a totally different category.
Working with domestic animals, but also through observation of wildlife in India, I perceive animals as being extremely aware of each other’s moods. And while civilized codes of conduct usually expect of us that we suppress the showing, expressing, or reacting to emotions, animals often perfectly mirror, or respond to what the human beings nearby are up to. This is not to be confused with techniques like “Non-violent communication” or “Neuro-Linguistic Programming” (how telling!), by which a person’s needs, or their conscious or subconscious thoughts and emotions may become accessible, and – by civilized mindsets – misused for personal gain.
Like with the loss of much of our potential for sensual perception – we see, hear, taste, smell, and feel way less than our tribal sisters/brothers and ancestors – the loss of EQ results in a reduced ability to react intelligently to challenges.

Regarding the ability to think (abstractly), I came to the following understanding.

  1. If the theory of evolution (or some similar process) holds true, the human capacity to think (abstractly) must be present in other living beings, and certainly among our mammalian ancestry as well. In fact, if you look out for it, you will find it most obviously among corvidae, canidae, felidae, elephantidae, cetaceae and many more.
  2. That animals (or plants) are able to think (abstractly), or to develop consciousness of self, cannot be disproven in general.
  3. So-called “primitive” tribal human cultures often do not apply time measuring, maths, arts, or rational logic, nor do they develop complex societies and languages. Most of the times you will find a lack of most abstract concepts with them, concepts that civilized people completely base their behaviour upon. This does not mean tribal humans were incapable of abstract thinking: Abducted tribal babies raised in civilized societies developed just like any of our children. Thanks to Thomas Wynn (The Evolution of Spatial Competence, 1989) we know that at least a million years ago, our ancestors had an intelligence equalling that of the adult human today.
  4. So (abstract) thinking is a faculty available to a large number of species, it seems, certainly vertebrate species, and the use of abstraction is culturally determined, which means it is a choice made by each creature or culture. Tribal cultures must have deliberately refused to apply most kinds of abstract thinking for two to three million years of the genus homo, and continue to do so – on purpose, according to anthropological records from all over the world.
  5. The use of abstract thinking on the scale that civilizations apply may not be found in non-human species and tribal human cultures because it is counterproductive to the survival of the species / culture... The omnicidal (implicitly suicidal) behaviour of civilized cultures – especially our own, I would say with a side glance to the convergence of existential crises we are witnessing today – is proving this point best. On “falling back into savagery,” as the figure of speech has it, civilized man defaults on his true modus operandi; it is himself who is a real savage, not the tribal humans he continues to dismiss as unintelligent brutes and who declare him a sick person, a madman, because he is destroying himself along with everyone else.
pic: Saksham Choudhary, / pexels

IQ tests check a person’s ability to juggle with symbols, ie. to think abstractly. Despite what the phrase suggests, they do not actually measure intelligence. And neither do book reading, chess playing,  academic careers, or working with computers indicate higher levels of intelligence. 

Intelligence, as Jiddu Krishnamurti, in a public discussion held in Ojai, CA, on April 14, 1977, said, “is the capacity to see the truth that thought is limited. It can only come into being when thought has its right place. When there is no ‘me’, attention is intelligence.” And it is this attention that improves a being’s ability to survive. According to Krishnamurti, it requires an integration of reason and love. Cultures based on love and empathy for other living beings, including “inanimate objects” such as the world as a whole, often times perfectly merge with what civilized people call “environment”. Egocentrism and perceived separation, on the other hand, reduce our perceptions, narrow their processing according to personal interest, twist our understanding through the application of dysfunctional illusory concepts, and thus diminish intelligence.

I don’t know whether you, my dear reader, possess the willingness to consider the nature of intelligence from such a point of view. We may not come to a common understanding of what that thing is, or whether it has any existence outside philosophical pondering at all; so the question which makes up the title of my essay may not have an answer to it. But perhaps we might agree on what intelligence is not. Considering where it has led us it cannot be the kind of abstract thinking which is tearing the world into separate, standardized, measurable, lifeless bits and pieces, reduces them to words and symbols, and assumes that these represent the truth accurately enough to derive predictability of the world’s phenomena.

I also don’t know why or how our ancestors began their path towards civilization – the social manifestation of abstract thinking – but I sure know that it helped us to learn a whole lot about self-deception, violence, disconnection, and virtual reality. If our culture were a book, it’s title might run something like, “Civilization, or, How to Wreck Your Habitat As Fast As Possible.” Mistakes, though, are among the most powerful teachers we have. The things which don’t work can give us valuable hints at what might. Let’s take those ten thousand years of misery as a warning. To end our experiment in abstract, platonic living in favour of the return to an empathic relationship with the world would be the most intelligent decision this culture has ever taken.

2019-05-09

Getting the goat (5)


If you got no time,
pic by J. Bariyanga. source: Pixnio (pd)
time got you.

2019-04-27

“...to predict and control human behavior” (Yurugu series #6)


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 this series of articles on decolonizing the mind from European thought patterns we repeatedly bump into terms like “objectivity.” “rationality,” or “universalism,” all of which have close links with how Western civilization defines science. The question how science participated in yoking non-European peoples and helped with bringing about social disparity, spiritual impoverishment, and biological annihilation, can hardly be avoided. Yet the answer cannot stop with science being the innocent enabler of its own abuse. Science has no existence of its own. It comes into existence through the work of scientists alone. Scientists, though, are human beings who are inseparably embedded in the world by any number of factors – biologically, socially, mentally, economically, etc. So how can we talk of universal validity of research results and unbiased objectivity based on rational thinking, when (European) science so clearly is a product of, and entangled in, (European) culture?
Psychoanalyst and eco-socialist Joel Kovel, for instance, explains how the concept of abstraction influenced the development of European culture and thusly the course of history.
One overriding quality determines what is good and bad within the analyzed world: purity. And within the entire spectrum of reality, one aspect of knowledge fulfills this quality: abstraction. An abstract idea is a purified idea, freed from annoyingly concrete and sensuous particulars. Words themselves are abstractions. The non-sensuous senses, sight and hearing, are the mediators of abstract activity. Smell, taste and touch are concrete, syncretic, incapable of making the fine distinctions necessary to sort out what is abstract from what is sensuous. Abstraction means distance from immediate experience, the substitution of a relatively remote symbol for a given sensuous reality. Sight and hearing are thus those senses which best fulfill the possibility of a remote relationship to the world. Western civilization began its expansion with the discovery of perspective, and the perfection of remote, visually organized abstracted activities – whether in navigation or in the development of firearms that could kill from a distance. (Joel Kovel: White Racism. A psychohistory, 1971, p133, quoted after Marimba Ani)
Joel Kovel; by Thomas Good / NLN [CC BY-SA 4.0]
All this goes to show that philosophy, science, and technology are exactly not ethically neutral, but come with far-reaching implications.
In my blog I have discussed such topics a number of times already. There is no need to repeat all that; so please allow me to refer you to previous articles carrying the label Science & Scientism.
Today we'll focus on an African-centered perspective on this most important tool of European civilization. Marimba Ani, in her seminal book, Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior, obviously cannot avoid this topic. Reviewing European political and philosophical history, she traces some of the relevant values back to Plato, but she also points out that their roots originate much deeper in time than just 2500 years. From her understanding – which I wholeheartedly support – there is a fundamental difference between European and other worldviews:
The African metaphysic, the Native American and Oceanic “majority cultures” (it is safe to generalize here), all presuppose a fundamental unity of reality based on the organic interrelatedness of being; all refuse to objectify nature, and insist on the essential spirituality of a true cosmos. What became known as the “scientific” view was really the European view that assumed a reality precluding psychical or spiritual influences on physical, material being. This view also resulted in the elimination of a true “metaphysical” concept and of an authentic cosmology. (Yurugu, p82)
In other words, worldview translates into behaviour. Societies within the European paradigm fundamentally differ from every other culture, be it Chinese or Indian civilizations before European expansion, be it any of the so-called primitive cultures, most of which have been wiped off the face of the Earth by explorers, conquerors, missionaries, educators, and development aid workers. This historical process developed, naturally, understandably, a situation in which an objective ethnology or anthropology – even if we assume that they were basically possible – has become completely out of reach:
This study was not approached objectively. It is not possible to be objective towards Europe. Certainly the victims of its cultural, political, and economic imperialism are not objective, if they are sane. And Europeans cannot be “objective” about their own cultural history. The question then becomes: What could objectivity possibly mean in terms of human mental attitudes? (Yurugu, p23)
She answers that question comprehensively. Quoting anthropologist Ralph Beals, she points out that,
Ultimately it was hoped to establish a computer-based model that would permit the rapid prediction of various types of outcomes of social change and conflict situations and the assessment of the effectiveness of different action programs in resolving or averting conflicts. (Ralph Beals: The Politics of Social Research, 1969, p197)
concluding herself that,
This, indeed, is what the “advancement of science” means. Its significance is neither noble nor transcendent. Rather it is quite pragmatic, “profane,” and provincial – designed for the sake of prediction and control of revolutionary movements. (Yurugu, p545)

2019-04-13

Imbalance as collective pathology (Yurugu series #5)

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

 
The other day, in a discussion on the derangement of our World, and how to go about changing its ways, my dialogue partner mentioned Ase,
a West African philosophical concept through which the Yoruba of Nigeria conceive the power to make things happen and produce change […] The recognition of the uniqueness and autonomy of the ase of persons and gods is what structures society and its relationship with the other-world” [Wikipedia]
Ase seems to relate to Jung's Daimonic, or Paul Levy's Wetiko, or Rüdiger Lenz' Aggression (a concept which Lenz might have adapted from Fritz Perls, or from the word's Latin original meaning, i.e., to address, to approach), all of which are names for a driving force with both positive and negative, constructive and destructive potentiality. Which side of the force expresses itself in each of us, or in our communities and societies, depends on our emphasis, which in turn depends on how we tend to see the world. In terms of Ase, our culture and its members overemphasize autonomy and individuality, from which we derive our perceived separation. From a Yin-Yang perspective, we are tremendously out of balance; from Marimba Ani's view, we represent Yurugu, the immature male being that has interrupted its own gestation and is forever in search of its missing female aspects. Marimba Ani writes,
What are the characteristics euphemistically associated with this utamaroho [collective personality]? “Spirit of adventure”; “the love of challenge and exploration”; “the conquering mood”; “a certain inventiveness, ingenuity and restlessness”; “ambition”; “love of freedom.” These phrases signify the misinterpretation of an intensely devastating spiritual disease.
Twisted by the ideological demands of the culture into valued characteristics, they are made to seem positive, superior, even healthy. They are, instead, manifestations of a cultural ego in disequilibrium. Created in a spiritless context, the European utamaroho lacks the balance that comes from an informed experience of the whole self. The self that then emerges – defined in disharmony – seeks further to despiritualize its surroundings […] Europe is a cultural statement of Yurugu, the male being, arrogant and immature, who caused his own incompleteness, and so is locked into a perpetually unfulfilled search for the female twin-soul that would make him whole, the part of himself he has denied. (Yurugu., p561)
So I would say, it is not just change that we are looking for, for permanent change is also what our civilization is obsessed with. The change we are talking about is not mechanistic, not utilitarian, not egoistic, all of which represent just one side; it is J. Krishnamurti's 'Real Revolution', and the place it comes from is not the rational mind (alone).

Photo by Fancycrave.com from Pexels
The founders of Extinction Rebellion perhaps do understand what I mean by that; at least it’s what I get from their founding documents and some of the talks. As they don’t push it to the foreground the question remains whether the majority of fellow campaigners are sporting a similar understanding… but one can hope – hope that we’ll be able to change our ways; hope that when we are stopping the raping of Gaia she may unfold her self-healing capacities; hope that there is still opportunity to wind up business in a controlled manner before time is over and the end of civilization is upon us.

Happy Puthandu (14 April, Tamil New Year) to everyone, and happy International Rebellion Day on Monday!

 [next article in the series]

2019-03-31

What is justice?


How do you define justice? What is its measure? How do you fill it with life? How do you bring it about? These questions haunted me for many years. Recently I brought up the justice issue in my book “Mach was!?”, and I also put it before Tom, a dear friend whose ponderings I value highly. Yet I have not been able to come to a satisfying conclusion.

So what is justice?

The suspicion that my questions might be based on invalid hidden assumptions has been with me for quite a while already. In John Michael Greer’s book “Star’s Reach” we read,
"The balance of the world is always exact but it’s never fair. That’s true in politics, in war—" He shrugged, glanced at me. "Anything else you care to name. One person gets the benefit, another pays the price, and there’s no justice to who does which—but the price still gets paid."
Here we go. I read and translated JMG’s novel five years ago. It took that long for the penny to drop.

There is no justice.
by Albrecht Dürer

It is that simple. Justice doesn’t exist because the word has no clear meaning, and the word has no clear meaning because justice doesn’t exist – not even in the sense that a law exists. It rather has the properties of a ‘human being’ or a ‘tree;’ for practical communication purposes we may pretend that there is a generic standard human or a norm tree, separate from all other humans / trees of its kind, and from everything else that exists. The truth is, though, that each being is unique and has neither a clearly defined beginning nor end; it is inextricably interwoven, interconnected, interdependent with the continuum we call ‘Kosmos.’ Similarly, the justice concept develops its usefulness only if one acknowledges its fuzziness: What we perceive as or refer to as just is highly personal, cultural, and circumstantial in nature. It varies from time to time, from case to case, and from place to place.

Justice, as a word, symbolizes an abstract idea that describes an ideal. Being abstract in nature it does not bring any concrete content with it. Whether it is just that a thief’s right hand gets removed, whether it is just he gets sentenced to a fine or whether it is just that he may join a welfare program against poverty is totally up to cultural values. And whether the thief agrees that he is being treated in a just and fair way is completely dependent on what he expects to receive as a reward for his behaviour.

As an idea justice does not possess a physical counterpart – which it also cannot have because as an ideal it refers to a perfection that does not exist in the world of forms and shapes. Justice is about the things that should and shouldn’t be, and it is therefore extremely is-phobic and judgmental. Depending on who defines what justice is, it is not even clear whether it is supposed to be a thing, a condition, a feeling, a perception, or a process: justice is achieved, gets done, feels right, seems justified, or gets established; and it can only occupy its place in a world in which people possess agency. Whether they do, or not, is under dispute, though; mind the philosophical discussion on Determinism. Still the people of our culture believe in their agency, and so we tend to fall into the trap of confusing sanctions for justice, as there seems to exist a need for such a thing.

Having dismantled human-made justice, what could take its place in our lives? For it seems to me that its removal as a factor leaves an ugly wound behind that will fester if it cannot be healed. What is it that makes us construe the kind of ‘justice’ that we could achieve by acts of will? Is the justice concept a manifestation of something deeper? Do we perceive a kind of natural or divine balance, a moral equivalent to the law of gravity?

If so, Karma – the rule of ‘justice,’ a Kosmic mechanism of cause and effect which the Buddhists describe – might be the answer. While we may, to a certain degree, take decisions which change the course of our lives, those lives are also the result of decisions taken at an earlier point in time. As we cannot foresee most of the consequences of our actions, though, willed decisions rarely lead to happiness or harmony, unless we follow ‘right action,’ i.e. action that is guided by compassion. When we learn to accept what life dishes us out we begin to perceive the immensity of a dynamic balance that is truly Kosmic.

Within this balance we feel no need to judge people, do not divide situations into ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ do not label events as ‘just’ or ‘unjust.’ We do not need to prevent anything from happening, nor do we long for punishment, retribution, or vengeance. Compassion, the enactment of ‘justice,’ has us not only feel for, and love other people; it lets us understand that everything that happens does so for a (Karmic) reason and is therefore in perfect harmony with everything that exists. All dichotomies dissolve, and justice becomes the air that we breathe, the element that we live in, the thing that one does not need a word for. Justice is what-is.

2019-03-12

Universalism as power (Yurugu series #4)

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]

Throughout the elaborations of this series it shows that universal values take a problematic position in the matrix of European civilization. We believe that values, such as “freedom,” “equality,” “humanism,” “rationality,” etc., are not just the values of our culture; we claim their universal validity, i.e., other peoples must naturally want them and abide by them.
This expectation plays a role in international relations, when our so-called Western “community of shared values” demands of other governments that they respect the civil rights of citizens. Very few governments squarely rebuke that notion, among them China which holds that her culture functions in different ways. Now China is a nuclear power, a state of more than one billion people which cannot be bullied into submission. Other nations for most part cannot afford open rebellion against “universal” values. They usually resort to paying lip service when they rather tend to disagree.
Think of the United Nations' “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” in 1948: “Of the then 58 members of the United Nations, 48 voted in favor, none against, eight abstained, and two did not vote” [Wikipedia
It's a case study of cultural falsehood in which neither Mao's China (aye vote) nor the Apartheid state of South Africa (abstained) nor the autocratic regime of Carías in Honduras (no vote) dared to disagree. In each of these and all other cases the intent to disregard civil & human rights was clear from before the declaration's coming into effect. Then why did nobody vote “nay”?
As Marimba Ani explained in her introduction to the book Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior,
The secret Europeans discovered early in their history is that culture carries rules for thinking, and that if you could impose your culture on your victims you could limit the creativity of their vision, destroying their ability to act with will and intent and in their own interest. (Yurugu, p1)
Lip service works fine when it comes to adhering “universal ethical values,” as globalized Western civilization is not based on their proclaimed values; those in power heavily rely on them for veiling their true intents from the general population both inside and outside of their immediate sphere of influence.
Within the logic of European humanism one can talk about “morality” that is not reflected in behavior. One is considered to be highly moral if the language that one uses is couched in the syntax of abstraction and of universality; that is, of disinterest. This makes no sense in other cultures where morality is concerned with behavior only and is meaningless unless it is indicative of a behavioral norm. Which is the more “human” – the way of life that dictates respectful behavior or the one that attempts to encourage an “abstract affection for humanity at large,” which has no relationship to behavior and to which the individual cannot relate? (Yurugu, p543)
Well, the answer seems obvious to me. In the same way, I have no doubt about freedom, equality, and brotherhood, as defined by our culture, being just carrots on a stick, meant to give hope in the light of an everlasting enslavement, inequality, and competition which are intrinsic “qualities” of Western civilization from its very beginning.
I know that words like “freedom” do have a deeper meaning, or else they would not have inspired widespread revolutions; yet the values can never come to true actualization under the paradigm of the forked tongue. As the French of the late 18th century acted from the same basic assumptions as the parasitic elite they overthrew it is no wonder their revolution so quickly turned into immense bloodshed, devouring its own children.
Fanon says in his famous testament which we also find quoted within Yurugu:
Frantz Fanon*
Leave this Europe where they are never done talking of Man, yet murder men everywhere they find them, at the corner of every one of their own streets, in all the corners of the globe. For centuries they have stifled almost the whole of humanity in the name of a so-called spiritual experience. Look at them today swaying between atomic and spiritual disintegration […] That same Europe where they never stopped proclaiming that they were only anxious for the welfare of Man: today we know with what suffering humanity has paid for every one of their triumphs of the mind. (Frantz Fanon: The Wretched of the Earth, 1963, p252)
Europe talks... and kills. And while Fanon, like Marima Ani, speaks to people of African origin, the same logic goes for us Europeans (I assume here that most, or all, of my readers are of Caucasian origin, or, like many people of colour today, live by the same basic “universal” values). Our liberation must start with noticing the harmful European asili, the core of the dominant culture, then continue by its wholesale rejection and its replacement by an asili of sanity.
We cannot mobilize for effective resistance to our physical destruction unless we are ideologically liberated. What impedes that liberation is cultural imperialism. European “universalism” and its attendant spurious “humanism” are very dangerous and effective forms of European cultural imperialism.
Universalism, when translated scientifically, becomes objectification. The illusion of objectivity promotes the myth of universalistic commitment, that is, it is a stance that disavows political or group interest. It thereby services group interest more subtly by calling it something other than what it is. We can conclude that this universalism semantically represents European value, is not a universally valid goal and, as an “imperative” serves the interest of European cultural imperialism. (Yurugu, p551)
Real revolution, which Jiddu Krishnamurti so famously coined as a term, is not concerned with people taking to the streets, in the first place; it is a revolution of the mind – not in order to fill it with new contents, but to make different use of human consciousness. Translated into everyday behaviour, we would live in closely interrelated community, rather than talk about community in terms of a collection of individuals (as in, European Community, United Nations, Facebook community etc.), with similar implications for other words like “prosperity,” democracy,” “brotherhood,” “peace,” “love,” and so forth, which, today, are merely hollow shells, shallow concepts being invoked without consequence.

[next article in the series]

* Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), photograph taken by Pacha J. Willka, Wikimedia Commons. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

2019-02-15

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.


2019-02-04

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.


[next article in the series]

Dr Marimba Ani talking about the Afrikan Worldview and Conceptualization:

2019-01-21

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]

P.S., Bébé Vundermann has written a companion article titled, A Yurugu Mirror & the Role of Consciousness Warriors for our Time, which I recommend reading.

2019-01-01

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.