2017-04-21

Cognitive Justice: Science and the Sacred


Let's take a step back and forget about climate change and the planetary catastrophe called global industrial civilization for a moment. Some of the deeper roots of our predicament have been discussed here repeatedly. (see some of the articles under the label 'collapse of civilization') I have also touched into the epistemological dimension of it, what I'd call 'nature of truth and reality'.

Today, I'd like to have my - much more learned - colleagues elaborate on how the dominant worldview, i.e. our most basic assumptions on the nature of truth and reality, not only started the cycle of destruction but perpetuate and aggravate it through a self-reinforcing mechanism called scientific discourse.

This is in no way meant to diminish the epistemological achievements of science (see below, Nagler), or to strike a blow for the deliberate distortion of facts that runs by the name of 'alt-truth'. Yet for us to get a more accurate picture of what is going on we need to be aware that there are actually truths alternate to our own understanding and that those truths are just as valid as what is scientifically believed to be real (see below, Wilber).

Drone magic, by Mike Licht (CC)
Alternatives exist abundantly, yet they initially are - very - hard to discover. The dominant culture is fighting an epistemicidal war against 'the other', a war that is unseen by most because the enemy is not supposed to even exist. Why?

Empire is not merely territory covered, not just populations made into subjects. Empire rules not only through political, economic, and military force but through the very culture that gave birth to Empire. In other words, Empire rules the minds of its subjects, and it does so by defining what they can know -- what is real. This may sound overstated to some, likely most, but the cognitive injustice created by scientific discourse is actually key to the question why social injustice does not spawn the kind of movements that would overthrow Empire. Marx had it wrong because we are not simply victims, we are co-creators of oppression. Awareness has never been enough; it takes an awakening.
The totalitarian exclusion of 'the other' from our view has turned it from a simple alternative into the deadliest enemy of the dominant culture, because once you start seeing it, awakening to it, you can no longer buy into the common dogmas around separateness, competition, materialism, utilitarianism, or scientism.

If you are still with me let's foster cognitive justice now, by exploring an example where it becomes obvious: the relationship between science and the Sacred.

A discourse provides a set of possible statements about a given area, and organizes and gives structure to the manner in which a particular topic, object, process is to be talked about. In that it provides descriptions, rules, permissions and prohibitions of social and individual actions.”
– Günther Kress – Linguistic Processes in Sociocultural Practice, 1988

Epistemology (literally, the logical discourse on knowledge) is the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge. Epistemology studies the nature of knowledge, justification, and the rationality of belief. Much of the debate in epistemology centers on four areas: (1) the philosophical analysis of the nature of knowledge and how it relates to such concepts as truth, belief, and justification, (2) various problems of skepticism, (3) the sources and scope of knowledge and justified belief, and (4) the criteria for knowledge and justification.”
– Wikipedia

“The whole notion of 'discourse' and 'discourse community' is a circular one - the community is defined as those that share certain discourse habits and functions, while skill in the prescribed discourse is a prerequisite for being taken seriously by the discourse community. Hence, academic discourse is thus revealed, from the outset, to be a self-referential self-justificatory practice that determines what may legitimately beconsidered as knowledge.”
– Karen Bennett – Epistemicide! The Tale of a Predatory Discourse. 2007

In this era of increased knowledge the essence of religious phenomena eludes the psychologists, sociologists, linguists, and other specialists because they do not study it as religious. According to Mircea Eliade, they miss the one irreducible element in religious phenomena—the element of the sacred.“
– 1996 introduction to Mircea Eliade's book „Patterns in comparative Religion“ (1958)

The dark side of modern science, and unfortunately it has one, does not arise from science itself, still less from any of the facts of nature. It arises from the impression we allow science to give us: the impression that we are merely biological machines in a meaningless material universe.
Science has every right to confine its attention to the physical, i.e. the outside world. It has no right to say, when it has done so, that it has given us the whole story.”
– Michael N. Nagler – Is there no other way?, 2001

Cognitive injustice, the failure to recognize the different ways of knowing by which people across the globe run their lives and provide meaning to their existence.”
– Boaventura de Sousa Santos – Epistemologies of the South: justice against epistemicide. 2014

Epistemicide: the war on, and the destruction of existing knowledge and the subsequent abortion of the possibility of acquiring new knowledge within a certain system of thought.


The way that a particular culture formulates its knowledge is intricately bound up with the very identity of its people, their way of making sense of the world and the value system that holds that worldview in place. Epistemicide, as the systematic destruction of rival forms of knowledge, is at its worst nothing less than symbolic genocide [...]
There are others […] that view the encroachment of the scientific paradigm as a form of cultural imperialism […] They often experience the rationalization and objectivization of reality as a kind of reductionism that is inadequate to explain the complexities of human experience.”
– Karen Bennett – Epistemicide! The Tale of a Predatory Discourse. 2007


The modern age has forgotten that facts and information, for all their usefulness, are not the same as wisdom—and certainly not the same as the direct experience of Reality. We have lost touch with the intuitive wisdom born of silence and stillness, and we are left stranded in a sea of information that cannot deliver on its promise of ever-increasing happiness and fulfillment.”
– Adyashanti – The way of liberation: a practical guide to spiritual enlightenment, 2012

The Way of Liberation is not a belief system; it is something to be put into practice. In this sense it is entirely practical.”
– Adyashanti – The way of Liberation: a practical guide to spiritual enlightenment, 2012

"When we find those types of statements in Plotinus or Asanga or Garab Dorje or Abhinavigupta or Shankara, rest assured that they are not simply theoretical hunches or metaphysical postulates. Those are direct experimental disclosures issuing directly from te subtle dimension of reality, interpreted according to the backgrounds of those individuals, but issuing from this profound ontological reality, this subtle worldspace.
And if you want to know what these men and women are actually talking about, then you must take up the contemplative practice or injunction or paradigm, and perform the experiment yourself […]
So this experiment will disclose the archetypal data, and then you can help interpret what they mean. And by far the most commonly accepted interpretation is, you are looking at the basic forms and foundations of the entire manifest world. You are looking directly into the face of the Divine."
– Ken Wilber – A brief history of everything, 1996

2017-04-15

The Empire Express, 15 April 2017


Some of the more 'interesting' articles regarding systems in collapse, especially climate, global civilization, food & farming, human consciousness and ecology. I recommend them for either their illustrative information on the state of affairs, or their profound insight into what said information might mean.

Ongoing Assault

Recent news

A long catalogue of crimes committed against the ocean makes sure that the near-term collapse of Indian society due to food crises becomes inevitable.

Exiting the Anthropocene – Roger Boyd, Resilience.org, 20170410
Seems like the Anthropocene is over before it really started. The author writes up a realistic description of the factors that will bring the curtain down. Too bad we cannot read such essays on the front pages of our favourite newspapers and magazines, because,While the evidence that the door to the end of the Anthropocene is opening wide mounts, our society seems unable to grasp the scale and urgency of the danger.”

Is this the start of runaway global warming? – William P. Hall, PhD, Kororoit Inst., 2017,0408
“This essay focuses on observations of what appears to be the start of runaway warming in the Arctic that may have profound effects on global climates over the next few years;”
A fine introduction and comprehensive overview on the climate situation and the outlook for the near-term future.

The end of ice – Dahr Jamail in an interview with Jennifer Hynes, Extinction Radio, 20170405
Independent journalist Dahr Jamail talks about the research for his upcoming book on climate change. Both the state of affairs and his personal outlook on the future are discussed.

What's scarier than the Permian Extinction? – Robert Scribbler, 20170405
Burn all the fossil fuels to find out...”

America's farmers face uncertain future – Tim Radford, Climate News Network, 20170405
Worldwide, scientists have repeatedly warned that climate change driven by human dependence on fossil fuels presents serious problems for farmers: many crops are vulnerable to extremes of heat, and climate change presents a hazard for harvests in Africa, Asia and Europe.
America in particular could face substantial losses, and, at the most basic level, the grasses – almost all the world’s staple foods are provided by the grass family – may not be able to adapt to rapidly changing climates.”

Not to forget Yemen and Nigeria, along with several countries that are standing at the edge. "Ethiopia has learned from previous droughts and took adequate precautions. Yet the scale of the current drought is too great for Ethiopia, and indeed the entire region, to cope with,” says German development minister Gerd Müller.

Extreme heat threat rises for megacities – Tim Radford, Climate News Network, 20170403
If global warming is contained at 1.5°C – the ideal target identified at the 2015 climate summit in Paris − the researchers say the number of megacities, with populations over 10 million, in the danger zone will double from today’s figure [...] Other scientists had already established that if global temperatures rise by 4°C this century − in the notorious business-as-usual scenario in which humans go on burning fossil fuels and depositing ever more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere − then some parts of the globe could become intolerably hot for at least part of the day, and potentially uninhabitable.”

Vital groundwater depleted faster than ever – Alex Kirby, Climate News Network, 20170402
The study’s authors say excessive abstraction of groundwater for irrigation – part of the wider virtual water trade – is leading to rapid depletion of aquifers in key food-producing regions, including north-western India, the North China Plain, central US, and California.”

Despite international efforts to address food insecurity, around 108 million people in the world were severely food insecure in 2016, a dramatic increase compared with 80 million in 2015, according to a new global report on food crises released in Brussels on 31 March 2017 [...]
The dramatic increase reflects the trouble people have in producing and accessing food due to conflict, record-high food prices in local markets and extreme weather conditions such drought and erratic rainfall caused by El Niño.”

Pumped dry: India's accelerating and invisible groundwater crisis – Asit K. Biswas et al., Ecologise, 20170326
India is now facing a water situation that is significantly worse than any that previous generations have had to face. All Indian water bodies within and near population centres are now grossly polluted with organic and hazardous pollutants. Interstate disputes over river waters are becoming increasingly intense and widespread. Not a single Indian city can provide clean water that can be consumed from the tap on a 24×7 basis. Surface water conditions are bad. However, the groundwater situation is even worse.”
This includes natural and anthropogenic pollution, sea-water intrusion, explosive growth of tube-wells, and farmers pumping like there is no tomorrow.
Nearly half of India’s jobs are now in the agricultural sector. If the current trends continue, by 2030 nearly 60% of Indian aquifers will be in a critical condition. This means that some 25% of the agriculture production will be at risk. This would aggravate India’s employment situation.”
Well, let's not worry about jobs. As stated elsewhere, in 2030 there will likely be no one to get laid off. In the meantime, climate change is unfolding, developing from rapidly to abruptly, and the Indian subcontinent, together with the heart of Africa, might evolve into one of the first regions to become uninhabitable for humans.

The Russian-American writer on his new book about our physical and psychological dependence on global infrastructure and hi-tech for daily survival, and about needing to return to pre-fossil-fuel driven lifestyles and technologies. Both book and podcast

Pearls Before Swine

Discoveries of older articles that - obviously - didn't change the world.

Seeing Wetiko: On capitalism, mind viruses, and antidotes for a world in transition – Alnoor Ladha & Martin Kirk, Kosmos, 20160511
This is not an anti-European rant. This is the description of a disease whose vector was determined by deep patterns of history,” it says in the essay. The Wetiko, or Wendigo, is a native American concept of an infectious and self-replicating mindset that acts like a virus. It is responsible for the Western culture's hunger for more, its destructiveness and its denial of it all.  
“This approach of viewing the transmission of ideas as a key determinant of the emergent reality is increasingly validated by various branches of science, including evolutionary theory, quantum physics, cognitive linguistics, and epigenetics.” 
Highly recommended for reading.

False solutions? 3 ways to evaluate grand climate proposals – Jeremy Lent, Patterns of Meaning, 20160322
We need a way to distinguish authentic pathways to a sustainable civilization from false solutions. I suggest three ways to consider any proposal you might come across:
  1. Does it push political power up or down the pyramid?
  2. How does it treat the Earth?
  3. What are its cascading effects?”
'Civilization' and 'sustainable' in one sentence makes me cringe. Apart from that, when we are pursuing right action, these three questions might make sense. The text contains several good points like,
Geoengineering proposals are based on the notion of the earth as a massive piece of machinery to be engineered for human benefit. Not only are these approaches morally repugnant for anyone who sees Nature as having intrinsic worth, they are also fraught with massive risk, since the earth’s systems are in fact not machine-like, but the result of complex, nonlinear relationships that are inherently unpredictable.”
I elaborated on that, not so long ago, in my article Doom-dee-doom.

Only sixty years of farming left if soil degradation continues – Chris Arsenault, Scientific American, 20141205
58 years to go. Plenty of time to make some money and to think of how to create soil in industrial labs...

Cartoon

The train of civilization

"What if we used bio-char instead of coal?"


2017-04-11

Messing with habitat


The founder of our settlement provided a general idea of how the future city was supposed to look like. An architect came up with a few models one of which imitated the shape of a galaxy. Based on that, a layout for the city, the so-called masterplan has been drawn by our town planning group. Population development in the surrounding villages and land speculation are now massively interfering with said plan, but also an increasingly bold environmental movement within our community itself is making the realization of infrastructure according to the masterplan more difficult. Currently under discussion is, imposing a government-approved land use plan through the application of authority, but --
"There's an issue which almost nobody writes about or talks about, and yet it's perhaps more fundamental than any other issue at all, which is soil. Soil is the basis of human civilization. Soil is the basis of human existence. We do not exist without soil. Everything we eat, everything which contributes to our body mass comes from soil. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation we have 60 years of harvest left at current rates of soil loss and degradation. And this is a marginal issue. It doesn't feature in politics, it doesn't feature in debate, it's not on the news. No one is talking about this, yet it's the most fundamental issue of all [...] the biggest bias is the bias against relevance. Those things that are objectively most relevant to our lives are marginalised while trivia is put in their space, is put front and center as the thing we ought to obsess about." -- George Monbiot, author of "How did we get into this mess? Politics, equality, nature" in an interview with Verso

A few days ago I had the privilege of getting a glimpse of the discussion around the NTDA* for our township here. The mail exchange I saw - I hope the authors are going to share it with a wider audience as well - left absolutely no doubt that forcing the masterplan into practice is a pretty bad idea.

Without going into the details of their convincing arguments I would like to point out that our physical bodies require physical habitat for their survival, habitat which allows for the growth of food, collection of water, and regulation of body temperature. Habitat is not the supermarket shelves most of us refer to for food, not the money we possess, not the technology we use, not the good books we read, nor the inspiring ideas and visions we derive from them. Habitat consists of the landbase with its shape, its hydrology, its soil, and its living organisms and their larger cultures and communities (what we call ecosystems). Habitat is what provides us with food, water, oxygen, shelter and literally everything else that is absolutely essential for our survival. The elements herein are not interchangeable, none of them dispensible, and one cannot manipulate any of the variables without affecting the whole habitat. You mess with it -- you don't eat, period.

Much of the future city's area still looks like this.
Our founder centered the city around a banyan tree on top of a hill, and that led to massive reforestation of the local watershed, as the first settlers needed shade urgently. I don't know whether the founder was aware of it -- most pioneers certainly weren't, and the advocates of the masterplan still aren't -- but the new ecosystem came into existence in exactly the right spot for most of our basic needs to get met -- provided we respect what has developed over the last 50 years on this once barren plateau. Tremendous effort by thousands of people contributing countless hours of hard physical work went not only into the re-creation of this forest of several million wooden souls with its diverse fauna; the same is true for many of our farms as well, where committed people enabled natural processes to heal the wounds human 'development' had cut. Thanks to half a century of organic farming some places have built up not just inches but a foot and more of healthy, carbon-rich top soil.

To sacrifice these achievements in order to build paved roads, offices, factories, and houses in their place is not merely disrespecting of the creative energy of humans and non-humans alike -- what kind of spirituality is this supposed to be? -- it is highly destructive when it comes to habitat. As long as we dismiss the information and understandings painfully gained through the history of civilization we better dare not speak of higher consciousness. We cannot impose abstract visions on a real landscape and expect to have a habitat tomorrow. Global environmental degradation forbids us to trade habitat for development any longer without immediately endangering our very existence up here. The city on the hill would become home to the fool on the hill... a dead fool, for that matter.

It is our duty to act according to our best knowledge and our highest consciousness as a species. Knowing what we know about watersheds, climate change, aquifers, ecosystems and their degradation, and so forth, a new vision for our township is urgently needed, a vision that does not speak of imposition of structure -- dead geometrical objects -- upon a living ecosystem with its human and non-human community. What we need is the (re-) enactment of an understanding how to (re-) integrate the human sphere into the community of life. The brackets point out that historical precedence for non-separation does exist.

The galaxy model was never meant to constitute the ultimate word on the settlement's shape. Our founder did not say, Repeat after me. Instead, we have been called to take advantage of new developments and pieces of knowledge as we proceed. We are supposed to work out the functioning of our society as we are walking forward -- on the go, so to speak -- and that certainly includes the physical manifestation of "the city at the service of truth". Barring a direct lie, you cannot strive farther from truth than dwelling in architectural dreams that are denying the significance of habitat and that have no connection with what-is: ground reality, empirical reality, the reality of the land.

2017-04-07

V for Violence

Not so long ago an Ecuadorian told me that he appreciated one thing about the dictatorship that once ruled his home country -- things got done; instead of chaos there was order, instead of dispute there was 'peace'. My grandparents and other members of their generation used to say that not everything had been bad about Hitler's Germany; there had been full employment for everyone, the riots in the streets that were so common during the Weimar time would have stopped, and there had been the Autobahns, of course, of which everybody was proud. This perception overlooks that comfort came at a high price -- the misery and death of thousands, even millions of perceived enemies of the regime. Yes, you could live quite comfortably at that time, have a family, a job, a home while your freedoms were stripped from you and you were lied to at a grand scale which of course you knew and accepted as necessary. Others, though, had to pay for your wellbeing. Full employment came through the remilitarization of the country, in preparation for a war that cost sixty million lives, the highways were built by political prisoners, and the riots went away because they happened only in order to destabilize the state, to pave the way for tyranny.

Germans today say, Thank God we are living in a democracy, we have everything we need, and there hasn't been a war in decades. Now, like then, it is others that pay the price for our wellbeing -- other humans as well as non-humans. Now, like back then, or even more so, the perceived benefits of the regime sugarcoat the tremendous violence and fear that constitute everybody's lives. And now, like in the not-so-good old times, we simply deny the fact that this is so. Every German, back then, helped perpetuate the tyranny through their thoughts and deeds, by just doing their jobs, by obeying immoral orders, by repeating the propaganda in their conversations, by shopping politically correct, by voting for the right guy, and by keeping their mouths shut in the face of injustice, and that has not changed the slightest bit since.
What has changed, though, is the scale at which these things happen -- now globally -- and the lengths at which both governments and subjects go to cover up the violence their comfort is based upon and comes along with. As violence has become omnipresent, this can only succeed through its normalization. Both those who say they cannot see any violence in their environment, and those who have a dislike for their situation but don't know what to do -- listen, read. I got something for you.

made by Banksy
Violence is not just wars and molotov cocktails and truncheons. It is not just the blood and guts and gore you see, either.
Violence is built into the fabric of our daily lives, as structural violence. And even that is not the whole story.
Violence is in the food you eat, not only the obviously murderous meat, but the greens as well which get beaten out of the ground with the help of pesticides and poisonous fertilizers that kill the soil; Daniel Quinn calls it totalitarian agriculture. Yet food violence does not stop there; day by day we ingest up to one hundred thousand different chemicals that 'accidentally' have entered the 'products' and we never get told about it. Those in power think you don't need to know because it's not all that bad. Maybe it ain't, if we ignore the ever rising number of cancer cases. Food violence continues in the notion that you must not eat if you do not pay, or you will go to prison. But who cares after all the violence dished out right from the start.
Violence is in our drinking water, treated with chemicals, often bottled in plastics made of oil. Violence is having to pay for a sip of water.
Violence is in our politics that divides us into left and right and reduces us to fanboys and fangirls of cardboard characters who verbally beat each other up. Politics is the science of dehumanizing the 'other' so they can justify ripping them off, exploiting them, and, in case they resist, killing them in the name of national security.
Violence is in our relationships which for most of us are nothing else but contracts. Give me what I want, then I give you what you want. If you don't agree I'll take it away from you anyway; unless I can't, then just go to hell.
Violence is in the law and its thousands of paragraphs that rule into your life. You don't agree, you go to jail.
Violence is in the constitution that makes you a subject of the state, thus takes away your freedom so it can pretend to generously providing it to you in the first place.
Violence is in the mass media that tell you lies about what is going on in the world and keep you hynotized with manufactured information and entertainment that have no relevance to you.
Violence is in education, the schools you must attend, sitting still for hours that pile up to years, the useless curriculum you must learn while at the same time you don't know how to take a shit outside the million-dollars sewage treatment systems. Violence is the marks you get and the detention you receive. Does getting pressed into a standard mold for the sake of making a good wage slave of you violate your well-being? Hmmm.
Violence is in the books you read which normalize everyday violence and banalize it to pointless stories. The same goes for films and music.
Our whole culture in all its aspects is violent. We are all sick with it.
Violence is the deprivation of the ability to create and repair items by our own hands.
Violence is the right denied to copy and modify pieces of art or technology.
Violence is in the polluted air of our cities.
Make no mistakes, violence is everywhere.
This daily struggle for money, the rat race and the competitive dog-eat-dog life are getting us depressed, enraged, hateful, aggressive, narcissistic, drug-addicted, obsessive, split-minded, and/or we suffer from attention deficit. Who do you turn to for help?
The shrink and the loony bin who tell you that it's your own fault that you are mad, when all you ever wanted was to better adapt to this violently insane society. Come get your detention spell in a sanitarium, with lots of colourful pills that knock you out, kill every coherent thought and make a good student / worker / consumer / tax payer / citizen of you again.
And our hospitals are no better, with their suppression of symptoms and their war against germs, led with chemical weapons that make you sicker than you have ever been before. Medical science is guaranteeing as much.
Violence is in science when it claims there is no other truth than scientific fact, that there is no sacred dimension, no meaning in life, no soul, and that love is just a bunch of chemicals and neurons in your brain. Most scientists claim that they were not responsible for the violent use of the outcome of their research through technology. I don't know if this can be called violence but it sure is a sign of cowardice, and it is outright wrong.
So violence is in technology; the machine guns and bombs, yes, and also the vending machines, the cell phones, and the tv sets which disconnect us from each other and thus destroy our every relationship;
Violence is at your workplace to which you are a human resource only; remember the many times when you wouldn't go to work in the morning, but you did anyway, for fear of getting laid off. Remember the many times when you didn't dare to tell the truth, for the same reason.
Violence is in the economy to which you are a consumer only, and to which the whole world is just a pile of stuff to be extracted for profit. Think of the many jobs that do not get done because there is no money in it, and the many destructive things done just for the sake of profit.
Talking about money, that's violence in the form of paper bills and computer digits, the debt of somebody in a Ponzi scheme who will never be able to pay back and thus will lose everything to the bank.

Last not least, violence is in the state that treats you as a subject and a tax payer.
The German word for violence, Gewalt, is contained in the word for the state's authority, Staatsgewalt, and in the word for checks and balances, Gewaltenteilung. Language establishes a connection between governance and violence and sort of justifies the structural and also the physical brutality from above that runs by the name of 'monopoly of legitimate use of force'. In its German translation, Gewaltmonopol, we have yet another phrase which includes violence. You can't get more explicit about it.

As the state is not a person but simply a supersized group that consists of individuals, it is not far-fetched to say that the violence of the state is an amplification of the violence in all of us. I believe this has ramifications for how to go about it.

2017-04-06

The sound of trumpets

L&R: Many people are striving for a state of being beyond suffering. Would you suggest they better stop seeking?
SH: [sighs] I wouldn't suggest anything to anyone because, what do I know? But for myself, the doing is the suffering. Psychological doing. The trying to change it, to make it better. The activity of always grasping out, that's the suffering, and the real investigation begins when I don't try to change it, but I just ask, what is it? It's the absolute abandonment of improvement. This is a very different way of seeing life. It's a deep curiosity about what life is, not the attempt to make it into something better.
L&R: It sounds like, you are very OK with it. Is that your method?
SH: It's not that I'm OK with it. The neurotic mind is never OK with anything. But if I see that I'm actually the expression of something, [then] for that expression to try to change itself is absurd. That's like the sound of trumpets trying to change the fingers pushing the valves. But we might be very curious who the trumpet player is.
(Erleuchtungskongress 2016, Steven Harrison, interview w Ludmilla & Roland)