Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Ten Years!

Ten years ago on this date, I posted my first piece on this blog. To celebrate and to see how much I have changed in ten years, I want to examine everything that I wrote there and look at it in relation to how I am now.

First, it was the summer solstice; this year the solstice is tomorrow. It happens. I decided to go for the calendar date rather than the event to publish this.  Does that make me a bad pagan?

I said I wanted to change the world as a teenager and still did when I wrote that post. And now I still want social change. (The natural world works fine, as long as we work with it.  It’s society that needs to change.) But I wouldn't say I want to change society. I would say I want to be part of changing this society. It's definitely a group effort.

I am still influenced by all the identities I’ve been, and there is still a little of the teen in me (even at nearly sixty-seven), but I no longer identify as a revolutionary (partly for the reasons I outlined in my last post, and partly because, having studied history, I think revolutionaries seldom change more than the people in power).  As horribly new agey as it sounds, I’m more of an ‘evolutionary’ these days, a slow change person. I also don't think of myself as much of a theorist these days either. As to what I am politically, I’m probably mostly a communist anarchist or egalitarian communitarian or whatever the current equivalent is. I want sharing and equality and community.

And these days, I neither do co-counseling nor meditation. I sometimes do empathy sessions.   I am most influenced by Compassionate Communication (aka NVC) and permaculture, and live in a tiny income-sharing community in Queens, NY.  I suspect I couldn't imagine living in New York City ten years ago, but here I am. At least I’m finally doing the kind of community that I have wanted for a long time. I just wish I had more people to do it with.

I wouldn't change a thing in that next paragraph. “Any change… has to be built from the ground up and it has to be a cooperative, community effort.” Yes. Absolutely.

I am still filled with plenty of ideas. (I’m currently writing a fantasy novel and working on it every night.) And I am still looking for people. I am dragging myself out the door to the Ranch, to the urban farm in the neighborhood, to the composting operation in the city.  And I am trying to find the balance between doing too much and doing too little. These days I have faith that if I can keep going and can be patient long enough, I will find the right folks.

The rest of the post talks about what I wanted to do with the blog. Here’s what I want to do now. Recently I’ve been posting once a week. Now I want to take a break.

I’ve done ten years of posting and four hundred and sixty-one posts (including this one). I am not done. I still want to write about mushrooms (as opposed to simply fungi) and human physiology (hormones and kidneys and bones and blood) and whatever else that comes along which I think would be useful, and I think I want to reach five hundred posts.  But it’s summer and I want to do things. There will more later.

I ended my first post with a quote from the Dalai Lama, “My religion is kindness.”  In my last bunch of bleak posts, I’ve said again and again, the one thing we can do is be kind. Yes, I would say my religion is kindness. Kindness and compassion and love.

I used to have a word or phrase of the day and a hero of the day. My word of the day was ‘Relocalization’ and I still think it's a good one.  My hero was Audre Lorde and she is still a hero of mine. And so I will end with a quote from her.

Quote of the Day: “...I do think that we have been taught to think, to codify information in certain old ways, to learn, to understand in certain ways.  The possible shapes of what has not been before exist only in that back place, where we keep those unnamed, untamed longings for something different and beyond what is now called possible, and to which our understanding can only build roads...” - Audre Lorde

Monday, June 18, 2018

Social Change is Slow

I sometimes joke that the reason why I like cleaning things so much, is that I’ve been involved with both mental health work and social change for most of my life, and improvement in both cases takes decades. With cleaning, you can see changes quickly. It gives me fairly instant gratification.

Since blog is dedicated to social change, I want to talk about, not only how slow social change is, but why it is so slow.

I want to start with an example where social change seemed fairly rapid, but wasn't.  I’m talking about the campaign for same sex marriage.

Although I remember much of this, I refreshed my memory with the Wikipedia article on the history of same sex marriage in the United States.

By 2007, at least twenty-one states had bans on same-sex marriage and it was legal only in one state: Massachusetts.  At that point it seemed like more and more states were writing ordinances against it. It looked hopeless. The tide seemed against same sex marriage.

In 2008, even though the California Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage, voters overturned the decision and two more states passed bans on it. Only tiny Connecticut legalized it.

In 2009, it was legalized in Vermont, New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia, and almost in Maine. In 2011, it was legalized in New York. In 2012, Maine, Maryland, and Washington state legalized it. In 2013, California, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, Hawaii, and Illinois followed suit. Suddenly, there was momentum.

In 2014, it became legal in fifteen more states due to various court decisions. There were court decisions that upheld marriage bans that year as well, but change was clearly happening.

On June 26, 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled that all states were required to issue licenses to same sex couples.  

That seems like fairly rapid change, until you realize that activists had been pushing for same sex marriage since the 1970s.  What changed in the twenty first century? Mostly, the issue of ‘gay rights’ had been before the public so long, that young people didn't understand why same sex couples weren't allowed to marry. One thing I noticed at the time was that President Obama came out in favor of same sex marriage before the Supreme Court decision, but after a poll was published where, for the first time, a majority of Americans approved of same sex marriage.

Max Planck said that science advances one funeral at a time (or something like that).  So does social change.  And where a campaign can take decades, systemic social change (transforming a whole society, which is what I am calling Social Alchemy), takes even longer.  I once was a revolutionary, but as I have studied history, I’ve learned that isn't the way it works.

The Soviet Union is an example of how not to do communism. Don't foist it on millions of people from the top down.  I think Twin Oaks is an example of communism done right. It is small, voluntary, and built from the ground up. A basic permaculture principle is “Use small and slow solutions.” There's a good reason for that.

I am not a big fan of Karl Marx, but I think he gets a bad rap.  He would not have approved of the Soviet Union. That was Lenin’s doing.  And, surprisingly, he even had good things to say about capitalism. He definitely thought it was an improvement on feudalism, which preceded it.

And if we want to get beyond capitalism, and replace it, it's probably useful to look at how capitalism replaced feudalism.

There are several different views on the rise of capitalism, but what they have in common is that it was a gradual process that happened over centuries. Adam Smith didn't start capitalism, he merely documented its rise.

And for that reason, I think it will take decades, or more likely centuries to replace it. Of course, the question is, whether it will wipe us out (see my most recent posts) before it can be transformed. And my answer, again, is I don't know. But I do know that it can't be rushed.

It's a sexist quote, but it sums up the dilemma. Warren Buffett said, “You can't produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.”  And you can't produce a new society overnight by any means that won't result in something worse.

Quote of the Day: “We are beginning to understand that the world is always being made fresh and never finished; that activism can be the journey rather than the arrival…” - Grace Lee Boggs

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Population Paradox

So here’s a problem.  It goes like this: Suppose you believe we need to reduce the size of the population.  You may decide not have any children, or you may only have one or, at the most, two. If you have children, you teach them what you believe, and hopefully they have less children as well.

Now, suppose you don't believe that the population needs to be reduced.  Suppose you believe that it should grow, and you also believe in large families.  So you have a lot of children and your children have a lot of children.

The result is that there are less and less people who believe in reducing the population size and more and more who don't.   This is the population paradox. It says that zero growth people will tend over the generations to wipe themselves out. Even though I think that reducing the population is necessary, it's going to be tricky.

It doesn't take into account our  ability to persuade people and change minds, but it does make me think of the Shakers who died out because they believed in celibacy.  And, I think that there is an unfortunate truth to it.

I do believe that we are in population overshoot, so this paradox worries me, but I have no idea what to do about it. I have written about simple things that people can do about population growth, but I wasn't aware of this paradox at the time. Now that I am, the one thing I can think to do about it is to put it out so other people can think about it.

I want to be clear. Like all my recent posts, I’m not saying that we are doomed, but I am saying that we’ve got a problem, and these days I have become very skeptical about our ability to change it.

So I advise that we hope for the best and prepare for the worst, because what else can we do?

Quote of the Day: “When it comes to the population explosion, there are two questions on the table.  One, is our population growth going to kill us all? And two, is there any ethical way to prevent that from happening?” - Annalee Newitz

Monday, June 4, 2018

Honey, We Fried the Planet

The guy that I know who goes on and on about mass extinction is not far from the truth.

Ten years ago, when I started this blog, I was very into the idea of ‘peak oil’.  A lot of people were talking about it.  We were also very aware of climate change, but thought that peak oil would hit before any real damage could happen.

I still believe in peak oil, in the sense that there is only a finite amount of oil in the earth and much of it will be out of reach, since it would take more energy to extract than it would give.  So it's been a kind of race between peak oil and climate change. Unfortunately, right now, climate change is winning.

I think a big part of this is our desperation to keep living the lifestyle that we’ve been living for as long as we can. Peak oil folks didn't see how desperate we would get. (The Petrocrats would use the word ‘ingenious’.)  Shale oil, fracking, and oil from the tar sands, along with deep offshore drilling, have certainly bought our lifestyle more time, but they are incredibly dirty ways to get oil, causing lots of pollution. Looking at the figures now, it seems like we still have plenty of available oil, in fact, more than enough to destroy the planet with.

Yes, it would be very possible to live differently and be able to sustain the world, but it seems increasingly unlikely that enough people will choose this path in time to make a difference.

I won't repeat all the awful facts. You can read the news on climate change and see where it's going. You can march and protest and chain yourself to oil tankers and live incredibly sustainable lives and even (but please don't) shoot politicians and CEOs, but unless you can get the majority of people to change their ways, I'm not sure that it will be enough.

Further, I am skeptical and worried about the urgency people approach this with. One of the things I say often is that it was urgency that got us into this mess, and I don't think urgency will get us out of it.

Are we doomed? My optimist says no, my pessimist says yes, and honestly I don't know. (As the saying goes, it's hard to make predictions, especially about the future.)

What I do know is that things are going to get worse, and the first and most important thing that I can think of to do, is to be nice to everyone. Yes, this is another version of being kind.  If we are doomed, think of it as palliative care, and if we get a chance to build a better future, I hope that kindness and compassion will be at the foundation of it.

In the meantime, whatever the future brings, we still have to get through today and tomorrow and spending your time fretting about might or even will happen simply saps your time and  energy that would be better used in getting something done now.

I realize that writing about the destruction of the world and then going on to other subjects feels a little like the newscaster reporting a horrible massacre and then saying, “And in other news…”, but it’s what we need to do in order to do something with our lives.

And, I am not saying that you shouldn't do anything. I am just saying you should do what you think is right, because you think it's the right thing to do, and maybe it will make a difference, but there are no guarantees.

Quote of the Day:  “There are those who are trying to set fire to the world,
We are in danger.
There is time only to work slowly,
There is no time not to love.” - Deena Metzger