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: