07 January 2011

The Tyranny of Entitlement - Derrick Jensen

Reposted in full from Orion Magazine, January 2011

'I’m continually stunned by how many seemingly sane people believe you can have infinite economic growth on a finite planet. Perpetual economic growth and its cousin, limitless technological expansion, are beliefs so deeply held by so many in this culture that they often go entirely unquestioned. Even more disturbing is the fact that these beliefs are somehow seen as the ultimate definition of what it is to be human: perpetual economic growth and limitless technological expansion are what we do.

Some of those who believe in perpetual growth are out-and-out nut jobs, like the economist and former White House advisor Julian Simon, who said, “We have in our hands now - actually in our libraries - the technology to feed, clothe, and supply energy to an ever-growing population for the next 7 billion years.” And showing that, when it comes to U.S. economic policies, insanity is never out of season, are yet more nut jobs, like Lawrence Summers, who has served as chief economist at the World Bank, U.S. secretary of the treasury, president of Harvard, and as President Obama’s director of the National Economic Council, and who said, “There are no...limits to the carrying capacity of the earth that are likely to bind at any time in the foreseeable future...The idea that we should put limits on growth because of some natural limit is a profound error.”

Others are a bit more nuanced in their nut-jobbery. They may acknowledge that, yes, physical limits might possibly exist, but they also believe that if you just slap the word sustainable in front of the phrase “economic growth,” then you can still somehow have continued growth on a finite planet, perhaps through so-called “soft” or “service” or “high-tech” economies, or through nifty “green” innovations like a really neat nanotech gizmo that can be woven into your clothes and when you dance it generates enough electricity to power your iPod, ignoring the facts that people still need to eat, that humans have overshot carrying capacity and are systematically destroying the natural world, and that even something as groovy as an iPod requires mining, industrial, and energy infrastructures, all of which are functionally unsustainable.

Alongside the nut jobs, there are an awful lot of people who probably just don’t think about it: they simply absorb the perspective of the newscasters who say, “Economic growth, good; economic stagnation, bad.” And of course if you care more about the economic system than life on the planet, this is true. If, however, you care more about life than the economic system, it is not quite so true, because this economic system must constantly increase production to grow, and what, after all, is production? It is the conversion of the living to the dead, the conversion of living forests into two-by-fours, living rivers into stagnant pools for generating hydroelectricity, living fish into fish sticks, and ultimately all of these into money. And what, then, is gross national product? It is a measure of this conversion of the living to the dead. The more quickly the living world is converted into dead products, the higher the GNP. These simple equations are complicated by the fact that when GNP goes down, people often lose jobs. No wonder the world is getting killed.

Once a people have committed (or enslaved) themselves to a growth economy, they’ve pretty much committed themselves to a perpetual war economy, because in order to maintain this growth, they will have to continue to colonize an ever-wider swath of the planet and exploit its inhabitants. I’m sure you can see the problem this presents on a finite planet. But in the short run, there is good news for those committed to a growth economy (and bad news for everyone else), which is that by converting your landbase into weapons (for example, cutting down trees to build warships), you gain a short-term competitive advantage over those peoples who live sustainably, and you can steal their land and overuse it to fuel your perpetual-growth economy. As for those whose land you’ve stolen, well, you can either massacre these newly conquered peoples, enslave them, or (most often forcibly) assimilate them into your growth economy. Usually it’s some combination of all three. The massacre of the bison, to present just one example, was necessary to destroy the Plains Indians’ traditional way of life and force them to at least somewhat assimilate (and become dependent upon the growth economy instead of the land for their very lives). The bad news for those committed to a growth economy is that it’s essentially a dead-end street: once you’ve overshot your home’s carrying capacity, you have only two choices: keep living beyond the means of the planet until your culture collapses; or proactively elect to give up the benefits you gained from the conquest in order to save your culture.

A perpetual-growth economy is not only insane (and impossible), it is also by its very essence abusive, by which I mean that it’s based on the same conceit as more personal forms of abuse. It is, in fact, the macroeconomic enshrinement of abusive behavior. The guiding principle of abusive behavior is that the abuser refuses to respect or abide by limits or boundaries put up by the victim. As Lundy Bancroft, former codirector of Emerge, the nation’s first therapeutic program for abusive men, writes, “Entitlement is the abuser’s belief that he has a special status and that it provides him with exclusive rights and privileges that do not apply to his partner. The attitudes that drive abuse can largely be summarized by this one word.”

The relevance of this word applies on the larger social scale. Of course humans are a special species to whom a wise and omnipotent God has granted the exclusive rights and privileges of dominion over this planet that is here for us to use. And of course even if you subscribe to the religion of Science instead of Christianity, humans possess special intelligence and abilities that grant us exclusive rights and privileges to work our will on the world that is still here for us to use. Growth economies are essentially unchecked and will push past any boundaries set up by anyone other than the perpetrators: certainly the fact that indigenous cultures already are living on this or that piece of ground has never stopped those in power from expanding their economy; nor is the death of the oceans stopping their exploitation; nor is the heating of the planet stopping the exploitation; nor is the grinding poverty of the dispossessed.

And the truth is, you cannot talk abusers out of their behavior. Perpetrators of domestic violence are among the most intractable of all who commit violence, so intractable, in fact, that in 2000 the United Kingdom removed funding for therapy sessions designed to treat men guilty of domestic violence (putting the money instead into shelters and other means of keeping women safe from their attackers). Lundy Bancroft also says this: “An abuser doesn’t change because he feels guilty or gets sober or finds God. He doesn’t change after seeing the fear in his children’s eyes or feeling them drift away from him. It doesn’t suddenly dawn on him that his partner deserves better treatment. Because of his self-focus, combined with the many rewards he gets from controlling you, an abuser changes only when he feels he has to, so the most important element in creating a context for change in an abuser is placing him in a situation where he has no other choice.”

How do we stop the abusers who perpetrate a perpetual-growth economy? Seeing oiled pelicans and burned sea turtles won’t move them to stop. Nor will hundred-degree days in Moscow. We can’t stop them by making them feel guilty. We can’t stop them by appealing to them to do the right thing. The only way to stop them is to make it so they have no other choice.'

06 January 2011

The Naked Presenter

Anyone who uses (or who has been subjected to BAD Powerpoint presentations, anyone? Anyone?) will love this! 'If Darth Vader did a Powerpoint it would look like this...' LAUGH!!

Sourced from Presentation Zen, 4 January 2011


Credit Card Exorcisms

Credit card exorcisms!! But maybe they are necessary - according to this report, the US now has more shopping malls than high schools...

Sourced from YouTube, 30 December 2010

04 January 2011

Equality and The Good Life

Excerpt from YES! Magazine, 4 March, 2010

'For decades, (British Epidemiologist) Richard Wilkinson has studied why some societies are healthier than others. He found that what the healthiest societies have in common is not that they have more—more income, more education, or more wealth—but that what they have is more equitably shared.

In fact, it turns out that not only disease, but a whole host of social problems ranging from mental illness to drug use are worse in unequal societies. In his latest book, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, co-written with Kate Pickett, Wilkinson details the pernicious effects that inequality has on societies: eroding trust, increasing anxiety and illness, encouraging excessive consumption...

Wilkinson: 'We quote a prison psychiatrist who spent 25 years talking to really violent men, and he says he has yet to see an act of violence which was not caused by people feeling disrespected, humiliated, or like they've lost face. Those are the triggers to violence, and they're more intense in more unequal societies, where status competition is intensified and we're more sensitive about social judgments...

This is about the psychosocial effects of inequality—the impact of living with anxiety about our feelings of superiority or inferiority. It's not the inferior housing that gives you heart disease, it's the stress, the hopelessness, the anxiety, the depression you feel around that...

What we've learned is that the real quality of life for all of us now depends on improving the social environment, and that we have a policy handle on how to do that. It's not that we all need to have more therapy to try and make us nicer people. Income distribution, an issue government or big corporations can do something about, really affects the psychosocial well-being of the whole society. But we can't just rely just on taxes and benefits to increase equality—the next government can undo them all at a stroke. We've got to get this structure of equality much more deeply embedded in our society. I think that means more economic democracy, or workplace democracy, of every kind. We're talking about friendly societies, mutual societies, employee ownership, employee representatives on the board, cooperatives—ways in which business is subjected to democratic influence. The bonus culture was only possible because the people at the top are not answerable to the employees at all...''

Paint, Power & the World We Want

Reposted in full from
YES! Magazine, 12 May 2010

'“That’s public space. Nobody can use it.”

That was one Portland city official’s response when Mark Lakeman and his neighbors first began building unauthorized gathering places in their neighborhood in 1996.

To Lakeman, an urban designer, this seemed like a fundamental misunderstanding of public space. Together with his neighbors, he formed the City Repair Project, a volunteer-run nonprofit that set out to change the way Portlanders think about the places where people come together.

They started by reclaiming their own intersection, and were eventually organizing neighbors, building benches, and painting streets throughout the city. The goal, as City Repair’s motto puts it, was no longer just to preserve public space, but, by recognizing its character and identity, to transform it into Place: “inhabited, known, and loved by its residents.”

At the end of this month, City Repair will host its eighth annual building convergence, a ten-day festival hosting workshops and neighborhood improvement projects around the city. City Repair’s projects now include Depave Portland, which removes unnecessary asphalt to make way for urban gardens, and Upcycle Market, a monthly event where people get together to swap skills and supplies. Groups around the country are trying out City Repair's methods in their own neighborhoods.

And Portland itself? The city now sees public space—and neighborhood building projects—quite differently. Not long after City Repair was founded, the city passed an ordinance allowing neighborhoods to build gathering places in street intersections.

Brooke Jarvis: You called your organization City Repair—in what way are cities broken?

Mark Lakeman: For most of the history of humanity, we lived and worked in the same places, integrated, and everything we did would deepen our relationships to each other. The greatest product of that way of life was our cultural cohesion and our stories—we weren’t isolated the way that we are now.

But our cities and places are no longer ours. We’re not building our own places; we’re not designing them to fit our own needs. Our lives are zoned like we’re a resource to be managed. We're housed here, and then this is where we work in order to pay for the housing we barely get to live in. Mixed use here. Monocultural use here. Parking garage. Maybe a waterfront here. Park. Park. It doesn't add up. None of them are really whole.

So many of our phobias and issues come from separating the pieces of our lives. We’re less connected to the people around us, and we’re less connected to our work: the fruit of our labor goes into a landfill so that someone can buy a boat. It's the stupidest possible vision, and it plays out in terms of the holocaust of our creativity and of our experience of being alive. It's unfathomable how inefficient it is, and how painful.

Putting the public space back where it's supposed to be may not sound like a huge change, but it has a profound effect on the social culture.

I studied design, and for a while I was working on these big corporate design projects. They were very typical—in the cultural atmosphere they created, in the way they would impact the people that would work there. They weren’t inspiring or creative; they didn’t let people come together; they didn’t encourage people to do the work that would make them happy and make their communities better. I wanted to live in a world that was an expression of who we are.

Brooke: You started with a place that most of us don’t really think of as a place at all: the intersection of two streets. Why not change the places people spend time, like homes, parks, or offices?

Mark: Exactly. Why don’t we spend time in intersections? When I discovered I didn’t want to work on those typical design projects, I decided to look for something else: different patterns, a different perspective on what was possible. While I was traveling, I saw, over and over, that people's gathering places occur where their pathways come together and intersect. The idea of the crossroads is really ancient, of course; it pervades indigenous societies. It’s also a fundamental principle of urban design in modern societies, except it’s often obscured and denied. You're trying to control modern people, to keep them moving, not to let them gather like they would in a village.

When I came back from all these village-based cultures, I walked into the neighborhood where I grew up—a Roman-grid neighborhood, very typical in America, with straight, imposed lines but no gathering spaces—and I'm like, "The piazza is not here, where it's supposed to be."

In America, our great archetype is the main street, which is not really a center. It's just a flow. It's a movement corridor, and you have to yell across the street because there isn't a place in the middle. There isn't a social commons that you can attain and occupy.

10 Courageous Things You Can Do to Build Community

Putting the public space back where it's supposed to be may not sound like a huge change, but it has a profound effect on the social culture. Everybody needs it even though they don't know it's missing. I knew that from visiting other societies where it was present, where there is cohesion and vitality and integrated families and community structures. We know that Americans are more lonely and isolated than ever before, but we don’t realize that the absence of cohesion in American communities is totally related to the absence of places where people can actually build that.

Brooke: But if you can’t redesign the whole neighborhood, what do you do to change an intersection built for cars into a place where people can build community?

Mark: At our first project, the neighbors who lived around the intersection came out on the weekend, painted a design in the street, built all these structures around the corners—a bench, a lending library, a 24-hour tea stand, a children’s playhouse, a kiosk for sharing neighborhood information—and turned it into an interactive social space. And boom!

That was years ago. Share-It Square—that’s what we call it—is one of my favorite projects because I live right there, I get to see its evolution. Since then people have built saunas, put in gardens, helped each other paint their houses. Americans move every four to seven years, and that period of time is visibly lengthening right around that intersection because people want to live there. Families are clustering around it, having kids or bringing their kids, so there are more children—and more shared childcare, and more adults interacting with kids on the street.

Sometimes people living there disagree about what they want to do, and they wonder if that's imperfect. I think it's beautiful. People are learning about each other, and working things out. Sometimes it's a bunch of steps forward and a few steps back, and every step back is OK. It's like you're just setting foot a little bit more solidly before you take another step forward. It's wonderful.

Brooke: Did the city, and other authorities, feel the same way?

Mark: At first, everybody was telling us that we had broken the law, but once they saw what we’d actually done, they wanted to figure out how to do it again. The mayor saw it, and she's like, "You need to tell me what you've done, because I can see that it's good, but I don't understand.” The city had established all of these goals for livability and sustainability and walkability and safer streets and safer kids, but getting there was another story. You can't achieve those goals unless you do what we did. All the solutions to all those goals can only be generated by people right where they live, finally having power together.

The power of what we do is we start with the idea and the belief that we can make it happen.

There’s so much we need to change, but I really don’t think it's going to be all that hard. We just need to say, "There's nowhere to sit around here? Well, we need to create some places to sit. People aren't talking? Then we need gathering places." You look at the problem of a particular place and you address it. People start to get excited; the void starts to get filled. The projects are small, but they keep coming as revelations.

Brooke: So what did you say to the mayor? What had you done that was different from what the city did, trying to accomplish the same goals?

Mark: The city has a different method. People generate goals for their neighborhoods, which go into reports and onto shelves. And they sit there long enough that people forget about them. But the needs are still unmet, so they fundraise and they meet and they generate new goals—and those go into a report on another shelf.

The power of what we do is we start with the idea and the belief that we can make it happen. If it has a social basis, if your primary goal is to build networks and relationships, then you attract all the other forms of capital that begin with the social. That's the magic. That's the key.

After everything you see on TV or in politics, you would think that asking a group of Americans to sit down and work out something like this would be difficult. But it's not. People sit down for a potluck, and maybe that very evening they start talking about what they want to do. This year, we're going to reach a total of over 200 major sites and almost 300 little projects that have been built.

Brooke: Do you have any favorites, among the projects you’ve worked with?

Mark: Some of them are really simple things. Like, there's this wonderful intersection that has a painting of an oak tree, in honor of a tree that used to stand there. Everyone called it Ruth’s tree after their neighbor, who had planted it when she was a little girl. When she was in her 90s, she died. Shortly after, the tree fell over into the intersection. So the community comes out and paints this huge effigy of the tree, right there.

Then there’s the T-Horse, which is a mobile tea house—it travels around to different neighborhoods in Portland, and wherever it goes people gather to drink tea, or play Frisbee, or whatever. It’s a vehicle with enormous wings, so it really entices people out.

The Memorial Lighthouse is also beautiful. It's a solar-powered pillar of cob that glows at night, decorated with bicycle wheels and mosaic stained glass. It was built in memorial to a bicyclist who was killed there, by a truck. His mother and friends would bring flowers and gifts and leave them in the place where he died, and his mother would come and mourn him, just sitting there on the sidewalk. Finally the neighbors asked if one of the corners of the intersection—a corner of a person's yard—could be turned into a memorial to him and a place for his mother to sit. So this beautiful celebration of his life was created. He was a bicycle activist, so there's a strong bike theme.

And every one of them is as dear as that. When that one was built, a lot of us realized that up to that point there had not been one public memorial to any of the people we lived with in our community—they were all to dead presidents or wealthy people. So that one project not only turned a tragedy into a permanent celebration of someone’s life, it helped uncover all of these issues about inequity and political power. I don't know of one project that hasn't done that.

Brooke: As neighborhoods come up with their own projects, what is City Repair’s role?

Mark: It’s really upending the model I was taught—to be the author of someone else's project, the designer. What we do now is take calls for help. These days we convene dozens of neighborhoods at once—there are maybe three dozen projects happening around Portland right now. Our main role is facilitation, taking people through dialogues about fundraising or outreach or ecological design, teaching skills that communities can use on their own.

The focus that we have them constantly keeping in mind is that they're not building stuff. They're building relationships. How they treat each other is the most important thing, and what it looks like doesn't matter at all.

Brooke: It seems kind of telling that even when people recognize what’s missing and have great ideas about ways to fix it, we still feel powerless enough that we reach out to groups like City Repair for help. Why do you think we need that catalyst?

Mark: I think it’s a confidence issue. We hear so often in the media that we’re inadequate: Americans only have 15-second attention spans, or are more polarized than ever, or this is how often we hurt or kill each other. We see this as portraits of who we are and we believe that we’re not capable of working together. After what we’ve done with City Repair, I totally know that it can be very different.

But it’s not surprising that some people need a little bit of help to confirm their suspicions that we're good, or that we can be. Just to feel good about being human needs a little confirmation.

The same is true for our sense of our own power. It's always felt so absurd to read in the paper, "Here's something wrong, here's something wrong, here's something wrong"—and know we all feel helpless to do anything about it because we have to get back to work. That's the work. Every American neighborhood is characterized by this absurdity: There are children being victimized or there's domestic violence, but at the beginning of the day we get ourselves all ready and we go off to do something that we often don't even respect or enjoy. And at the end of the day we haven't addressed these bleeding concerns in our communities.

When did we stop believing we had a say in our own reality? What if someone asked you at the start of your life, "Where will your power reside? Will it be in you or someone else?" Given that choice, everyone would say, “Me.” And what would you do with that power? "Wow, I would help the world," is what a whole lot of people would say. If that were how we answered that fundamental question, our world would be so different. The beautiful thing happening now is that dozens and dozens and dozens of people saying, "Yes, I have my power," and then creating these physical expressions of what it actually looks like.'

The Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture

Excerpt from YES! Magazine, 1 February 2010

'Long before we could pronounce Betty Friedan’s last name, Americans from my generation felt her impact. Many of us born in the mid-1970s learned from our parents and our teachers that women no longer needed to stay home, that there were professional opportunities awaiting us. In my own school experience, homemaking, like farming, gained a reputation as a vocation for the scholastically impaired. Those of us with academic promise learned that we could do whatever we put our minds to, whether it was conquering the world or saving the world. I was personally interested in saving the world. That path eventually led me to conclude that homemaking would play a major role toward achieving that goal....

The Origins of Homemaking: A Vocation for Both Sexes

Housewives and husbands were free people, who owned their own homes and lived off their land.

Upon further investigation, I learned that the household did not become the “woman’s sphere” until the Industrial Revolution. A search for the origin of the word housewife traces it back to the thirteenth century, as the feudal period was coming to an end in Europe and the first signs of a middle class were popping up. Historian Ruth Schwartz Cowan explains that housewives were wedded to husbands, whose name came from hus, an old spelling of house, and bonded. Husbands were bonded to houses, rather than to lords. Housewives and husbands were free people, who owned their own homes and lived off their land. While there was a division of labor among the sexes in these early households, there was also an equal distribution of domestic work. Once the Industrial Revolution happened, however, things changed. Men left the household to work for wages, which were then used to purchase goods and services that they were no longer home to provide. Indeed, the men were the first to lose their domestic skills as successive generations forgot how to butcher the family hog, how to sew leather, how to chop firewood.

As the Industrial Revolution forged on and crossed the ocean to America, men and women eventually stopped working together to provide for their household sustenance. They developed their separate spheres—man in the factory, woman in the home. The more a man worked outside the home, the more the household would have to buy in order to have needs met. Soon the factories were able to fabricate products to supplant the housewives’ duties as well. The housewife’s primary function ultimately became chauffeur and consumer. The household was no longer a unit of production. It was a unit of consumption.

Housewife’s Syndrome

The effect on the American housewife was devastating. In 1963, Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, documenting for the first time “the problem that has no name,” Housewife’s Syndrome, where American girls grew up fantasizing about finding their husbands, buying their dream homes and appliances, popping out babies, and living happily ever after. In truth, pointed out Friedan, happily-ever-after never came. Countless women suffered from depression and nervous breakdowns as they faced the endless meaningless tasks of shopping and driving children hither and yon. They never had opportunities to fulfill their highest potential, to challenge themselves, to feel as though they were truly contributing to society beyond wielding the credit card to keep the consumer culture humming. Friedan’s book sent women to work in droves. And corporate America seized upon a golden opportunity to secure a cheaper workforce and offer countless products to use up their paychecks.

The household was no longer a unit of production. It was a unit of consumption.

Before long, the second family income was no longer an option. In the minds of many, it was a necessity. Homemaking, like eating organic foods, seemed a luxury to be enjoyed only by those wives whose husbands garnered substantial earnings, enabling them to drive their children to school rather than put them on a bus, enroll them in endless enrichment activities, oversee their educational careers, and prepare them for entry into elite colleges in order to win a leg-up in a competitive workforce. At the other extreme, homemaking was seen as the realm of the ultra-religious, where women accepted the role of Biblical “Help Meets” to their husbands. They cooked, cleaned, toiled, served and remained silent and powerless. My husband and I fell into neither category, and I suspected there were more like us....

Meet the Radical Homemakers

I was right. I received hundreds of letters from rural, suburban, and city folks alike. Some ascribed to specific religious faiths, others did not. As long as the home showed no signs of domination or oppression, I was interested in learning more about them. I selected twenty households from my pile, plotted them on a map across the United States, and set about visiting each of them to see what homemaking could look like when men and women shared both power and responsibility. Curious to see if Radical Homemaking was a venture suited to more than just women in married couples, I visited with single parents, stay-at-home dads, widows, and divorcées. I spent time in families with and without children.

A glance into America’s past suggests that homemaking could play a big part in addressing the ecological, economic and social crises of our present time. Homemakers have played a powerful role during several critical periods in our nation’s history. By making use of locally available resources, they made the boycotts leading up to the American Revolution possible. They played a critical role in the foundational civic education required to launch a young democratic nation. They were driving forces behind both the abolition and suffrage movements.

Homemakers today could have a similar influence. The Radical Homemakers I interviewed had chosen to make family, community, social justice, and the health of the planet the governing principles of their lives. They rejected any form of labor or the expenditure of any resource that did not honor these tenets. For about 5,000 years, our culture has been hostage to a form of organization by domination that fails to honor our living systems, under which “he who holds the gold makes the rules.” By contrast, the Radical Homemakers are using life skills and relationships as replacements for gold, on the premise that he or she who doesn’t need the gold can change the rules. The greater one’s domestic skills, be they to plant a garden, grow tomatoes on an apartment balcony, mend a shirt, repair an appliance, provide one’s own entertainment, cook and preserve a local harvest, or care for children and loved ones, the less dependent one is on the gold.

By virtue of these skills, the Radical Homemakers I interviewed were building a great bridge from our existing extractive economy—where corporate wealth has been regarded as the foundation of economic health, where mining our Earth’s resources and exploiting our international neighbors have been acceptable costs of doing business—to a life serving economy, where the goal is, in the words of David Korten, to generate a living for all, rather than a killing for a few; where our resources are sustained, our waters are kept clean, our air pure, and families and can lead meaningful lives. In situations where one person was still required to work out of the home in the conventional extractive economy, homemakers were able to redirect the family’s financial, social and temporal resources toward building the life-serving economy. In most cases, however, the homemakers’ skills were so considerable that, while members of the household might hold jobs (more often than not they ran their own businesses), the financial needs of the family were so small that no one in the family was forced to accept any employment that did not honor the four tenets of family, community, social justice and ecological sustainability...

Rethinking the Impossible

The Radical Homemakers were skilled at the mental exercise of rethinking the “givens” of our society and coming to the following conclusions: nobody (who matters) cares what (or if) you drive; housing does not have to cost more than a single moderate income can afford (and can even cost less); it is okay to accept help from family and friends, to let go of the perceived ideal of independence and strive instead for interdependence; health can be achieved without making monthly payments to an insurance company; child care is not a fixed cost; education can be acquired for free; and retirement is possible, regardless of income.

Each home was the center for social change, the starting point from which a better life would ripple out for everyone.

As for domestic skills, the range of talents held by these households was as varied as the day is long. Many kept gardens, but not all. Some gardened on city rooftops, some on country acres, some in suburban yards. Some were wizards at car and appliance repairs. Others could sew. Some could build and fix houses; some kept livestock. Others crafted furniture, played music, or wrote. All could cook. (Really well, as my waistline will attest.) None of them could do everything. No one was completely self-sufficient, an independent island separate from the rest of the world. Thus the universal skills that they all possessed were far more complex than simply knowing how to can green beans or build a root cellar. In order to make it as homemakers, these people had to be wizards at nurturing relationships and working with family and community. They needed an intimate understanding of the life-serving economy, where a paycheck is not always exchanged for all services rendered. They needed to be their own teachers—to pursue their educations throughout life, forever learning new ways to do more, create more, give more.

In addition, the happiest among them were successful at setting realistic expectations for themselves. They did not live in impeccably clean houses on manicured estates. They saw their homes as living systems and accepted the flux, flow, dirt, and chaos that are a natural part of that. They were masters at redefining pleasure not as something that should be bought in the consumer marketplace, but as something that could be created, no matter how much or how little money they had in their pockets. And above all, they were fearless. They did not let themselves be bullied by the conventional ideals regarding money, status, or material possessions. These families did not see their homes as a refuge from the world. Rather, each home was the center for social change, the starting point from which a better life would ripple out for everyone.

Home is where the great change will begin. It is not where it ends. Once we feel sufficiently proficient with our domestic skills, few of us will be content to simply practice them to the end of our days. Many of us will strive for more, to bring more beauty to the world, to bring about greater social change, to make life better for our neighbors, to contribute our creative powers to the building of a new, brighter, more sustainable, and happier future. That is precisely the great work we should all be tackling. If we start by focusing our energies on our domestic lives, we will do more than reduce our ecological impact and help create a living for all. We will craft a safe, nurturing place from which this great creative work can happen.'

Bearing Witness: Chris Jordan on Art, Grief, and Transformation

Check out Chris's amazing work at www.chrisjordan.com

Reposted in full from YES! Magazine, 14 April 2010

'Photographer Chris Jordan is used to working on the large scale. His most famous works try to capture the sheer scope of American consumer culture: discarded circuit boards spread out like a city, teetering stacks of crushed cars, two million plastic bottles (the number Americans use every five minutes) compiled in a single photograph.

But with his most recent project, Jordan is narrowing his focus. Last fall, he led a team of artists to Midway Atoll, a tiny, remote island in the middle of the Pacific where throw-away culture is having a major impact: albatross chicks are dying by the thousands, choking or starving after trying to eat small chunks of plastic carried to the island by the North Pacific Gyre (also called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch). The result is a relentless series of photographs of decomposing birds with bright, colorful plastic where their stomachs used to be.

For Jordan, opening himself up to the horror of what’s happening on Midway—all the while recognizing that it’s “just one of the tragedies that’s happening in our world”—was painful and intensely demoralizing. But, together with the writer Terry Tempest Williams, he’s now planning to return several more times to further immerse himself in the island’s hard truths—and to discover whether transformation can be found on the other side of grief.

Brooke Jarvis: Some might expect that, having seen one photo of an albatross killed by unknowingly eating plastic, you’ve seen them all. But it really does get sadder the more you see. What was it like to actually be there?

Chris Jordan: The experience of being out on Midway, for me, was mostly an experience of pure shock. Despite my efforts to allow myself to feel the tragedy that I was witnessing out there, I was working so much that it was difficult to be really present. It took a couple of months for the experience to really hit me on an emotional level. The way it happened for me, it was a kind of descent into something that looked a lot like hopelessness.

I’ve realized that the metaphor that I carried with me when I went to Midway was that Dante's Inferno scenario—you walk through the fire, and you come out the other side with renewed energy or perspective. What actually happened, though, is that I felt like I walked through the fire and then just burned up in it.

For example, I thought that after returning from Midway, I would much more rigorously eliminate my consumption of plastic. What actually happened was a feeling like, “No matter what I do, this problem is not going to be affected.” So I kind of let go—for a while there, I didn't even care if I used single-use disposable plastics. The problem was just so huge and overwhelming that I didn't feel like I could make any difference one way or another. It's taken me a lot of work to begin to have more of a perspective on that issue for myself personally.

Brooke: What has that work consisted of?

Chris: Right now I’m trying to focus on being more present, on trying to experience what's happening right now, on letting go of the future and circling the wagons in the present moment. For me, that means focusing on who I am and what my values are; working out how to connect with others and how to live with integrity; and keeping right on doing my work.

Brooke: When you went to Midway, you assembled a team of artists. Not, say, an artist and a biologist and an anthropologist. Why?

Chris: One of the fundamental problems of our world, underlying a lot of the disasters that are happening, is that we’re disconnected from what we feel. I think it would be fair to say that American culture is the culture that is most detached from its feelings of any culture in the world. We've become separated from nature and urbanized in this weird, new, overwhelming way—and the only way many of us have found to cope is to disconnect from the anxiety and the fear.

The nature of the information that we have to deal with compounds that disconnection even further. We converse daily in numbers of millions and billions as if we understand them. When I say we use 210 billion plastic bottles in the United States every year, I assume that I understand what that number means, and whoever is listening assumes they do, too. In fact it's totally incomprehensible. There are all these sociological studies that demonstrate vividly that the human mind cannot comprehend numbers higher than a few thousand. There are all these phenomena around the world, whether it's the 1.2 billion people in the world who lack access to safe drinking water or the 10 million tons of plastic that are swirling around in the Pacific Ocean. We can't see those phenomena, and the only information we have available to try to relate to them is in the form of numbers we absolutely cannot comprehend. It’s no wonder that we can’t relate to our global culture on any kind of feeling level.

That's where I think art comes in, and why I think it's so important right now, because feeling is the kingdom of art. I've gotten to meet lots of scientists who are uniformly wringing their hands in frustration at their inability to convey to the public any sense of the extreme urgency they feel about the issues that they're studying. The underlying phenomena are profoundly important, and yet the information we're receiving is fundamentally dry and incomprehensible. Art can act as a mediator between science and the public, translating what science can tell us into a visual language that we can understand, that allows for personal connection and feeling. My hope for all my work, and especially my Midway work, is to make the global personal.

Brooke: Your series Running the Numbers: An American Self Portrait dealt with the same problem: trying to literally, visually represent those vast numbers we can’t conceptualize. Now, it seems you’re saying that the best way to relate isn’t to try to show the whole problem at once, but to ask how we can understand a huge problem by looking at one very small, but more emotional, part of it.

Chris: I was looking at these huge global issues and trying to figure out a way to make them personal. To some extent, with the Running the Numbers series, I had to let go of the personal a little bit. If I were to critique it myself, there's a kind of conceptual coldness to that work. It felt like a sacrifice I had to make to be able to address those giant issues, but I wanted to figure out a way to get out of the conceptual and into something that's more about direct feeling.

You know, just an infinitesimally tiny percentage of all the plastic that's in the Pacific Ocean ends up inside the stomachs of dead baby birds on Midway Island. But where else is there? That’s what’s so hard about these mass cultural issues—there’s nowhere you can see the full impact of the problem. We try to relate to these issues through the neocortex, the intellectual part of our mind that analyzes numbers, but that’s not the part of our mind that feels things. I wanted to really feel the Pacific Garbage Patch. There's no way that I know of other than going to Midway.

Brooke: Earlier, you used the word “witness” to describe your role on Midway. Is bearing witness a useful way to think about your work?

I talk a lot about despair and shame and hopelessness. People come up to me and say they feel such a relief to talk about those emotions.

Chris: Yes—in fact, I spent time recently with the writer Terry Tempest Williams, who talked to me quite a bit about the value of bearing witness. It means more than just going there and seeing something. There's a kind of holding that happens, and a making of meaning. I stand in awe of how fearless she is to go all the way into grief and pain. I told her about my hope of going all the way into the horror and grief of what’s happening on Midway as a way of trying to come out the other side. And she said, "There is no coming out the other side. You just learn to live with the grief."

What I realize now, after talking to Terry, is that I need to go back there. The project is just not finished—there’s more to uncover, more to witness.

Brooke: In what way?

Chris: Well, when we were there we never saw a live albatross on the island. The birds are born in the spring and die through the summer, but decompose so quickly due to the heat, rain, and insects that by November or December there’s nothing left but piles of plastic. So we went in September, which happens to be the time of the year when all the albatross are out at sea.

Terry's going to go with me when I return there in June, and again in the fall, and possibly also for the winter solstice. By June the albatross will all be close to adults—almost a million of them. There will already by thousands of dead birds on the ground, and we’ll see more dying.

I’ve been told that we’ll actually see toothbrushes going down throats and chicks whose body cavities are filled all the way up to their necks with plastic—their parents try to feed them one more piece of plastic, one more cigarette lighter or magic marker, and the baby chokes to death. It's a long process of the babies just kind of flapping around, making an awful gagging sound, and then crashing into the ground and expiring. There’s a huge abundance of life and an overwhelming noise, day and night—and at the same time there’s death all around.

Brooke: And that emotional experience is very different from an intellectual one.

Chris: It’s the only way we really believe what’s happening, or how wrong it is. Even in the green movement, there's a tremendous amount of denial about how bad things are. I constantly hear the message, "We're just about to save the world. There’s going to be a giant transformation. It's just around the corner."

But there's a dark side that we aren't facing. Until we do, I don't think we're going to make any progress. You know what it's kind of like? The alcoholic who says, "I can stop whenever I want. It's going to be tomorrow. Please pass the vodka bottle." Until we start acknowledging the scope of our problem and face what we actually feel, the conversation can’t change.

Brooke: How can giving up on denial change the conversation?

Chris: I don't know. I don’t think we can know. It seems to me that that's a portal we have to step through. We have to let go of what's on the other side, and go through.

That’s the intention for my Midway work. I'm allowing myself to fully experience the horror of just one of the tragedies that's happening in our world. I'm letting go of how that's going to affect me.

How do we face our grief and despair without getting lost in them?

When I do my public talks, I talk a lot about despair and shame and hopelessness. People come up to me and say they feel such a relief to talk about those emotions. We’re all feeling lost and disempowered and like some things are fundamentally wrong. And yet people are pretending things are fine: The economic bailout's going to get us right back where we were a few years ago and we're going to keep right on with the party. But I think we all know that isn't going to happen.

I believe that we need to allow ourselves to feel grief deeply. Anger and rage and shame—those are surface feelings. Grief is deep. Grief and love might be the two deepest human emotions. When we allow ourselves to really grieve, it's a transformational experience.

People I've known who have gone through the long slow death of a loved one from cancer, who have fully grieved and fully said goodbye and fully experienced the process, have come out of that experience transformed. They know more deeply who they are and what their priorities are. The Dalai Lama is not the only person in the world who has access to that kind of wisdom. We all do, but it gets clouded and fogged over by our daily rush and the messages we keep getting from our consumer culture, that material things will bring us happiness. We're all so involved in this headlong rush to a more materially luxurious lifestyle that we forget who we are and what really matters. We so badly need to reconnect with that right now.

If the conversation is going to turn in the direction of collective cultural wisdom, I believe we need to grieve first.'

7 Billion - National Geographic Magazine

...although the perpetual use of non-Western faces to illustrate population is not telling the whole story...if those of us in high-consuming nations wish to keep consuming at the rate we do, perhaps it is we who are over-populated?

Sourced from YouTube, 27 December 2010

The Value of Sleep

Great talk by Arianna Huffington! Interesting connection between leadership, lack of sleep and one-upmanship of sleep deprivation...

Sourced from TED, January 2011

'In this short talk, Arianna Huffington shares a small idea that can awaken much bigger ones: the power of a good night's sleep. Instead of bragging about our sleep deficits, she urges us to shut our eyes and see the big picture: We can sleep our way to increased productivity and happiness - and smarter decision-making.'

02 January 2011

The Empathic Civilization

Sourced from YES! Magazine, 4 November 2010

See related posts The Empathic Civilisation and The Empathic Civilisation: From Geopolitics to Biosphere Politics

'Jeremy Rifkin, economist and founder of The Foundation on Economic Trends, believes it is possible to expand the reach of our empathy to the entire human race, and beyond. He cites new research showing that humans are soft-wired with mirror neurons that cause us to empathize with one another. This emotion has evolved over time: What began as a feeling reserved for those of the same family has expanded to those of the same tribe, to religion, to nation.'