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.