We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

There Is No End of History

Samain                                                                           Joe and SeoAh Moon

The moon is a waning crescent. Orion has moved from a position due south of us, when he first rose this year, to a position to the westsouthwest, just beyond Black Mountain toward Evergreen.

Sky, near infrared

Sky, near infrared

This reminds me that planet means wanderer in the original Greek. “Greek astronomers employed the term asteres planetai (ἀστέρες πλανῆται), “wandering stars”,[1][2] to describe those starlike lights in the heavens that moved over the course of the year, in contrast to the asteres aplaneis (ἀστέρες ἀπλανεῖς), the “fixed stars“, which stayed motionless relative to one another.” wiki We know now that even the fixed stars are not fixed, but are in motion relative to each other. Each galaxy moves in relation to the others, our whole solar system is in motion, too.

There is no fixed point. Continents drift, the earth itself wobbles, the moon’s orbit is decaying. In fact, there is no evidence that any of the things contained in the vastness of the universe are permanent. Black holes swallow stars. The eventual-in this case eventual covers a really, really long period-fate of all things, according to the Big Bang theory and its correlate, the expanding universe, is a big cooling, followed by many black holes which suck in and destroy everything. The black holes themselves dissolve due to Hawking radiation. And no thing is left. At least in our universe. Probably. Today’s best understanding suggests something like this as the ultimate end. Of the other, potential universes, the multiverses of string theory, I don’t know.

Space expansionSo what? Death, or at least extinction, is characteristic not only of life, but of the thing in itself, the ding an sich that Kant named the reality beyond our sensory mediation. I suppose this means Ragnarok is the true theological observation about even deity. Nirvana and moksha both promise release from the cycle of death and rebirth. Hmmm. Metaphysically not possible in this universe since the time frames assumed here are infinite. Even heaven. Obliterated. Wings, halos, heavenly choirs. Chilled out in the end.

This leaves us with the compression of time that our human lifespan grants us or forces upon us, depending on your viewpoint. And, it means that all religious speculation is, finally, not about life after death, for we know how that story finishes up, but about living this one life, or these serial lives. Reincarnation is not ruled out by the big bang. Just that it will not, cannot, go on forever.

thrownIt also takes me to Heidegger’s notion of thrownness, that at birth we are deposited into a specific place, with particular parents, in a community in a nation on a continent, in a unique time period, of which we can experience at most 100 years or so, 100 revolutions around the sun. This we know is ours, barring a Trumpian/Kimian nuclear catastrophe or the eruption of one of the world’s super volcanoes or the sudden emergence of a life ending meteor. This life. This brief flash of brilliance that is you.

How shall we live in this, the moment of our existence? This is the question. Many religious and ethical and political and economic systems have arisen as answers. None of them have proved universal, none of them have proved lasting, even in the relatively short historical period. When we peek up over the rim of our fundamental assumptions, we see an anarchic reality, shifting, transforming, its shape guided in part by chance, in part by consciousness.

The world’s religions, in any time, including now, have often suggested that they can peek over that same rim and see order. That they have texts, revelations (the peek), which offer guidance about life as it should conform to that order. Except they conflict. Except we know the physical evidence they see is not ordered at all, at least not in the moral/ethical way they claim, but is, instead, in motion toward dissolution.

taoismTaoism makes the most sense to me in terms of how to live with this understanding. We flow with it, we live on the journey that presents itself to us. Grabbing any tool, political or economic or religious or ethical, and reasoning deductively about what must be is going to result in error, often huge error, at enormous cost in lives.

This is not an argument against religion, or economics, or politics though it may sound like that. It is an argument for humility, for acceptance of our limits, against the hubris of metaphysical certainty. In this view then the teachings of any faith, the hopes of any style of government, the transactional world of any economics, should (and I use this word advisedly) be weighed against their results in the daily life of people and the world that supports them. Bad results equal bad faith, bad governance, bad economy. Good results equal good faith, good governance, good economy. But nothing more than this because even good faith and good governance and good economy has limits. There is no end of history. There is only an ultimate end to everything.

 

Republican Virtues

Samain                                                                        Joe and SeoAh Moon

Citizen Rights & ResponsibilitiesRepublican virtues. Gary Hart referented the founding fathers often in his speech last Sunday night. In particular he used them to emphasize the difference between a democracy and a republic. We inhabit both. In a democracy we focus on our rights. In a republic we focus on duties, responsibilities. Unfortunately, I can’t recall all the republican virtues that Hart enumerated, there were four, but I do remember the thrust of his argument.

The major point was that we tend to focus on the democratic virtue of attending to our rights as citizens, especially those enumerated in the Constitution and, of course, those in the Bill of Rights. This is claiming our privileges as citizens of the United States, but that claim is itself passive. It wants what it is promised and should be given. Of course, there are the struggles over civil rights that has taken very active work by African-Americans, Indians, LGBT folk, women and the parody of struggle over so-called “gun rights” and “property rights”. Though important these are all within the frame of special interest pleading.

Founding-Fathers-320x192Two of the republican virtues about which Gary Hart talked that I do remember:  seeking the common good, not the good of special interests, but the interests of all citizens; fighting corruption, that is corruption as more broadly defined by the founders, that is, government twisted toward the service of special interests.

In the latter case, fighting corruption, Hart cited an astonishing statistic. There were, according to him, 146 to 150 registered lobbyists when he came into the Senate in 1974. (I couldn’t corroborate this number.) and 13,000 today. This last number I did confirm. Corruption, according to the founders, was governing for special interests rather than the common good. A lobbyist, is, by definition, pleading for a special interest, whether the spotted owl, for or against gun control, particular provisions for particular commercial interests, or any of the myriad thousands of other causes.

Not only is this corruption in the broader sense of the founders, but it is corruption in the more narrow sense of using money to influence policy. Why? Because of the millions, even hundreds of millions, of dollars lobbyists pour into congressional campaigns.

Scale-1So, if we’re to take our politics toward an interest in the common good, fighting lobbyists and their outsized role in the determination of legislation (and, an often opaque one, too) is necessary.

Republican virtues require active participation in the politics, large and small, of our nation. This means attendance at school board meetings or county commissioner meetings as well state legislatures and congress. This means paying attention to policy debates and weighing in from time to time. Hart mentioned a class he took in high school called Civics. Studying civics is the inculcation of republican virtues. Is this part of a student’s curriculum these days?

Small r republican virtues are those which require more of us than a passive insistence on rights granted. They involve citizen participation in governing. They involve educating ourselves, in depth, about issues that matter to the nation as a whole.  They involve an active role rather than a passive one.  Other nations, those where we promote democracy, ask, “How can you push this on us when often less than half of potential voters actually vote?” Good question. Voting is a republican virtue.

Populism.image_-425x425_mediumBoth democratic assertion of rights and the republican virtues of citizen engagement are necessary for the health of our nation. Populism, for which Hart offered a shorthand definition, angry citizens, wracked our country in the late nineteenth century and brought Trump to power in this one. But, we managed to contain its spread the last time. How? Richard Hofstadter’s 1956 book, The Age of Reform, recounts the story. Hart recommended reading it. I plan to.

Based on our reaction to the first instance of populist rebellion Hart said he was confident we could weather this current manifestation of it, too. This was the pivotal point of his talk for me, a part where the dismal present got placed into a larger context, one with a historical precedent, and one which we can eventually resolve. Slowly, probably, painfully surely, but still a sort of rebellion from which we can learn, grow and change. I’m ready. Are you?

Yes or No

Fall                                                                       Joe and SeoAh Moon

fear2Fear. Been thinking about it. It explains a lot of the political abyss threatening to swallow our democracy. Friend Tom Crane sent me a collection of articles about the neuroscience of political orientation, material I’d read in different places, but neatly summarized. It got me going.

Fear on the part of the white middle and working classes, fear about their jobs, their children, masculinity, the other taking, taking, taking, terrorists sneaking into our country, the future found their perfect amplifier in Donald Trump and his populist message. But Trump is not the problem. He is a problem, I’ll grant you that, but not the problem. Fear is the problem.

Fear_is_enemy2Meanwhile, my side of the abyss has focused on fear of a changing climate, the oppression of minorities, lgbt folks, the poor. Since liberals are more highly educated and usually wealthier than the white middle and working classes, we are more able to take our eyes off survival and focus on larger, more abstract issues. This feels more righteous because it seems selfless, disinterested when compared to chauvinism and day-to-day economic fears.

In the moment, the one defined by the nature of your real life, however, concerns about shrinking viability as a “race” (yes, it’s a false signifier except for those in the grip of its occult power) and as an individual will always trump (pun intended) concerns that seem far away or downright evil. This is a political reality suggested by Maslow’s hierarchy.

Fear is the killer

Fear is the killer

I’m trying to grasp the fear, to feel it from both sides. Not easy. For either side. This exercise is made more difficult by the apparently different neurological realities of liberals and conservatives. Conservatives have a larger amygdala, making them more inclined to fearful responses, while liberals have more gray matter in the cerebral cortex, making us more able to cope with complexity.

This means, I think, that liberals fears are felt less intensely and drive our politics less powerfully than those of conservatives.  The larger context for those things we fear may be more apparent to us, more capable of diminishing how large they loom in our lives.

fearsWithout going into exactly how it stimulates this thought (too complicated for a blog post) kabbalah sees yes and no as two of three primary pillars of creation. It seems to me that liberals are the yes, we can do that for others, folks. Conservatives are the no, there are limits to what we can do, folks. Another way to name these pillars is possibility and limits. Liberals see possibilities; conservatives understand barriers. Neither, by itself, is adequate.

Yes needs limits. No needs the push of possibility. We need, again, a politics that recognizes the interlaced need for Yes and No. Somehow we have allowed the difference between Yes and No to become absolute. We have allowed difference to become not difference, but a yawning chasm, one crossed only by the flimsiest of bridges. We might fall! We need the dialectical tension of hope and practicality. In fact, kabbalah suggests that not only do we need it; we are it. We are neither yes nor no, but both. Not knowing this is a form of sin, I suppose. In our time it may be the original sin.

 

 

 

I Care

Lughnasa                                                                            Harvest (new) Moon

20170919_170415

Yesterday, after Ruth’s cross country meet, Kate and I drove over to a Vietnamese restaurant we like on Federal Avenue. A Jeep ahead of us had a full size flag flying from a flagpole attached to the back bumper. It read “American Truckers.” When we got closer at a stoplight, I noticed this strange juxtaposition of bucolic pastime and outright hate speech. It was chilling to me that someone would find, purchase, then choose to display on their rear window such a message.  As DJT might say, Sad!

 

How can we remember?

Lughnasa                                                                  Eclipse Moon

Large Wildfires burning now

Large Wildfires burning now

We’re still under the Eclipse moon that brought us totality across the U.S. That same moon has now shone on Harvey, as he devastated the western Caribbean, then Texas, and Irma, as she moves through the eastern Caribbean on her way to landfall in Florida. Meanwhile, Jose, another Category 4 storm is following Irma’s path for now and Katia, a Category 2, is going ashore in the Mexican state of Veracruz. An earthquake 8.1 on the Richter scale struck southern Mexico on the Pacific side shaking much of the nation.

Lost in the darkness of totality, the shaking of Mexico and the powerful winds, rains and storm surge of the hurricanes, at least on national news, are the wildfires rushing through the forests of the West. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 8,081,369 acres had burned in the U.S. from Jan. 1 through Sept. 9. This well exceeds the average from the last ten years for the same time period: 5,558,384 acres. Worryingly, the average number of fires per year over the same Jan thru Sept period is 50,857. The number of fires in 2017 so far is 47,854. Fewer fires and more acreage burned means larger fires with more destructive potential. These are the megafires Michael Kodas has written about in his book of that name, published last week.

Warning today for Irma

Warning for Irma

The Eclipse Moon of 2017, its lunar month, might well change its name to disaster moon. My mind often feels overwhelmed by the magnitude of the catastrophes during the month of the Eclipse Moon. I’m able to notice them as they present themselves, but unable to hold my attention on any but the most recent, most horrific news.

This is a problem because each of these disasters: hurricane, earthquake, wildfire brings devastation to wide swaths of land, over multiple populations, concentrated and rural. The news predicts their coming, at least in the case of wildfires and hurricanes, then sends out pictures and text of their immediate, painful encounter with whatever is in their path. But this season, the wildfire this time has been followed by the hurricane now and the earthquake, then more hurricanes. And the critical phase, the recovery and rebuilding phase, does not begin until the event has finished.

all oneThis means that across North America, in Mexico, the U.S., the Caribbean and Canada we have centers of destruction that have not even begun to pick up the debris and sort through wreckage before the next catastrophe has hit. Millions of people, millions of acres of land, buildings, millions of wild animals are suffering and will continue to suffer. Right now. Which one has priority? How do we marshal our collective resources across so wide a swath of pain?

Perhaps an even better question is, how do hold in our hearts and minds all of these, the burned forests, lost homes and devastated wildlife? The buildings and lives inundated by waters from the Atlantic and Caribbean displaced by wind and rain. The cities and towns and villages gripped by a moving earth. Will we go forward from the month of the disaster moon, watch football, go back to school, prepare our homes for winter and forget about them?

 

American Values

Lughnasa                                                                         Kate’s Moon

Indiana_Klan_percentageThe alt-right and Charlottesville, Virginia. Many said this violence doesn’t represent American values. Horsepuckey, as we used to say.

In Alexandria, Indiana, my hometown, we had full-sheeted KKK folk handing out membership applications near the Curve pizza place. In my era the John Birch society was big, its Get US out of the UN billboards in highly visible evidence. There were also the Minutemen, an early militia movement.

Just north of Alexandria about 20 miles is Marion, Indiana where my father worked for several years. A notorious lynching occurred there in 1930. Strangely, years later in St. Paul, Minnesota I made friends with Clarence Davis whose ancestor was one of those lynched.

I can extend this circle of hate to Elwood, Indiana, 7 miles to the west, which had, in my memory, signs that read, No Niggers In Town After Sundown, taken down only after the 1964 civil rights act.

What’s really unnerving is that this was a microcosm, I know these things because I grew up in this general area. Take other 20 mile diameter circles and lay them down over the rest of Indiana, of Illinois, of Iowa, certainly of the south. You could find similar histories, each with their own marks of this violent and oh so American overbelly.

 

 

The Black Sun

Lughnasa                                                                               Kate’s Moon

PutrefactioA week from today we’ll be on the road in a rented R.V., Ruth and Gabe on board, headed to Driggs, Idaho. It will be Kate’s 73rd birthday.  I wrote a post on Ancientrailsgreatwheel.com about dark ecology and the ecocide. It occurred to me just now that the total eclipse might be the perfect metaphor for it.

As the extinction event occasioned by our rapidly changing climate, both already well underway, slides over the face of our inner sun and blots it out, we will not enter total darkness, but the corona of that black sun will flare in our consciousness, the heavens filled with the stars and galaxies of our inner universe will pop into view. We will have a chance then to consider the majesty of all of which we are a part, often hidden. We will see the world without us and know that it can and will be beautiful, more than we can imagine.

alchemyPerhaps this eclipse on August 21st is an opportunity for us all to merge the outer with the inner, to experience the same fear our long ago ancestors did when they imagined the world might die, the sun might never reappear. It may be a chance to integrate this slow motion catastrophe through which we are living, in which we are implicated, and consider it in a new way.

I’m going to try for that experience. Maybe you will, too.

 

 

 

Hello, darkness

Lughnasa                                                        Kate’s Moon

monolith (1)Dark ecology. I’ll post more about this both here and on AncientrailsGreatwheel.com, but it interests me a lot right now. It’s a contrarian view of the climate crisis, but not in a denier vein. These are folks who accept climate science, but take a pessimists look at the likelihood of change, at least change sufficient to stave off disaster. They don’t see it happening. This could be equated to the final stage of the grief process, acceptance.

monolithI’m not familiar enough now with the movement to comment in depth, but the tone of it strikes a chord in me. Admittedly, it’s a melancholy chord though the more you know about both climate science and the current political will to tackle change, the more that chord may come to dominate the melody of your life. It’s either brave, facing reality in spite of its horror, or defeatist. Maybe it’s both.

Whichever it is, it feels like an important approach to climate change at an emotional level and one I want to better understand. If you want a sense of dark ecology’s direction, take a look at this manifesto on the Dark Mountain website.

Baked In

Lughnasa                                                                      Kate’s Moon

earth first“Earth rapidly is approaching the point where the amount of warming locked in by human pollution exceeds the limits nations set last year at the international climate meeting in Paris, according to government-backed research unveiled Monday.

The planet faces “committed warming” by 2.7 degrees before 2100 if fossil fuels are burned at current rates for another 15 years, the scientists based in Colorado and Germany determined.”   Denver Post 7/31/2017

When I took a serious Climate Change MOOC three years ago, the scientists who taught in the course referred to this committed warming as baked in. It was clear three years ago that the attempt to limit warming to 2 degrees would fail for two reasons. One, that amount is baked in by the amount of CO2 already in the atmosphere. Second, the rate of emissions continues to grow overall, not stabilize or decline.*

dark ecologySo there is not only the Donald to wreak havoc with the future, but the already emitted carbon dioxide and other gases like methane.

Yes, we need to make clear to any who will listen that these are the facts, not the fake news of our current government or self-interested fossil fuel barons. And, yes, we need to work toward as much mitigation of emissions and their effects as we can. But. We also need to face the coming changes as they will be and, even, as they probably will be, worse than we imagine.

This means taking a doubled view into the world with us. The first view sees what we can do now as necessary, as critical, yet realizes the messiness of global politics is not going to push over the line to sensible policy. The second view absorbs the first and sees the future clearly rather than through solar powered/wind energized eyes. It’s going to be bad, probably not too bad for those of us with less than thirty years to go in our remaining lifespan, but for our children and their children? Bad, trending to worse.

beltane2017gorbachevHow can we work now to help them be resilient, proactive in their adaptive strategies? How can we work now to help them develop psychological/spiritual tools for coping with the cultural stresses that are inevitable? We cannot brush away the bad effects by magical thinking. Oh, the world will catch on and act in time. No, it won’t and it hasn’t. We need sober work on how to live with changed weather, increased heat, moving targets for animals and crops in terms of altered seasons, the disruptions of sea level rise, spread of insect borne diseases and the like.

This doubled view, pragmatic when looking at the long run, yet hopeful enough to maintain action in the short term, is critical so that we do what we can now, yet plan realistically for our next generation’s life.

*“The annual growth rate has increased since record keeping began in 1960 from just under 1 ppm in the 1960s to more than 2.4 ppm through the first half of the 2010s. The past two years have set a record for the fastest annual growth rate on record.”  Climate Central.org

Less Angry

Midsommar                                                                 Kate’s Moon

johari windowOn the last night of kabbalah a classmate, Cece, chose for her presentation an exercise involving the Johari window. She had this model (illustration) with blank quadrants for each of us. We filled in 3-6 adjectives in the hidden self quadrant, then passed the paper to our left and others added adjectives in the open self quadrant.

It’s a powerful exercise when done in a safe setting. It was powerful here even though many of us had only the other 5 nights of our kabbalah class as baselines for our observations. The information other people give us about ourselves is key to life in groups, but most of the time the feedback involves glances, body language, or indirect observations. Getting direct information about how others see us can increase intimacy and trust. Not to mention that it’s just interesting.

PEACE DYERToo long introduction to the point. One of the others in the group wrote on my sheet, less angry. There were four people in the class who know me from the mussar class on Thursday afternoon and probably remember my agitation after the 2016 election. I was not and am not a happy U.S. citizen, but something has changed for me. I’m not sure what changed, but I am less angry, though I hadn’t realized it.

I did surprise myself a couple of weekends ago when we were in Glenwood Springs with Lonnie and Stefan. Over lunch they both expressed understandable and referented anger at Trump, at the decline of civility, at the danger facing our democracy. “He meets the definition of a fascist.” Stefan said.

“An election can fix most of what’s being done in Washington right now,” I replied. Stefan had quoted an Italian friend from Florence who said, “We had ours (Berlusconi) and know you have yours.” I agreed with that, going on, “Yes, the nativist and alt-right type movements are strong on the continent, but France just turned them back. And, Hillary won the popular vote here.”

peace“Well, what does that mean?” Lonnie asked, “The system elected Trump.” “The electoral college, yes.” I said, “But more people, some 3 million more, rejected him. He does not have a mandate.”

I think the gridlock and deadlock in D.C. right now reflects that rejection. We are a divided people, yes, but we’ve been divided before. We’re still the strongest economy in the world though by some measures China is catching up. Point is, I was voicing a don’t panic, don’t despair attitude toward our current political mess. I agree with the analysis that Trump is a disaster for our country. There’s no question that he and the Republicans are trying to take us to places as a people that are despicable and mean. True that.

But my anger at all of this has been tempered over the last couple of months. I’m just not as reactive. And I like feeling this way. My analysis has not changed, at least not much. I still view both parties as agents of a rapacious capitalism that creates false gods, false gods on whose altars their worshippers would sacrifice the very lives of our citizens. Just look at the idea of “reforming” Obamacare by gutting Medicaid.  With Medicaid expenditures out of the way, their plan goes, draconian tax cuts for the wealthy won’t break the Federal budget. Evil.

soul-mate-heartI still believe that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. But for me, how to be part of the solution has changed, I think. Long, long ago I realized that my anger toward my father, whether justified or not, was hurting only me. Not him. I set it aside. Somehow the same realization occurred to me about politics and only recently. So, I set that anger aside, too.

Now the question for me is how to be part of the solution. I’ve always had a straight line approach to radical politics. Join up with others, focus on an issue at the root of a social ill and work until something good happens. It’s a strategy that has worked for me over and over since the mid-1960’s. I’m moving in a different direction now.

beautifulThis is in part a third phase change. The angry young radical has aged. I can see the finish line from here and want to make the time before my death as fruitful, loving and creative as I can. Anger interferes. I want to write, to spend time with Kate and Jon and Ruth and Gabe and Joe and Seoah, with friends at Beth Evergreen, friends from Minnesota, Mark and Mary. I want to study Latin, kabbalah, China, art. I want to hike in the mountains, travel this state, see the solar eclipse. Obsessing over the insults to our body politic just doesn’t seem useful to me right now.

spiritual-enlightenment-spiritualityLiving well is a political statement I need to make. Politics, in other words, though crucial to our common life, is not the only component of a life well lived and should not be allowed to interfere with the very goal of politics itself: a decent life for all. In my case I’ve often allowed that interference and right now I’m saying enough. The priority for me, now, is this smaller life, the domestic and semi-public life of family and learning and creativity. Feels calmer, more livable, more age appropriate.

 

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