Sunday, December 13, 2009

Brave New World

So we come at last to the “New Earth” that “New Earth Times” refers to – a planet without polar caps, without rainforests, with drowned cities and once-rich agricultural lands now barren. Future visitors, if any, will ask themselves what kind of terrible plague visited this planet?

Last week I made a couple of blog posts as an intellectual exercise. Assuming the worst-case scenario (which is where things are now headed), what will be the consequences, and what kind of issues are raised? Many subjects in our culture are candy-coated or not talked about at all. I’m attempting with these essays to at least start talking about some taboo subjects a little bit. Hopefully these essays will serve as a starting place for discussion:



I don’t have the statistics at hand, but I would suppose that most Americans can barely pay their mortgage every month. How many options do those people really have? Can they honestly be called “free?” (This, by the way, is one reason why I dropped out and went back to the land way back when – I saw the bogus nature of American “freedom,” and opted out.) (These days, I’m just a slave to my bees.)

Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend. He said what we need are more “great conversations.” The people who are capable of doing so, he says, should be having significant conversations about who we are, what we’re doing, where we’re going. Fundamental stuff. I call this “ends and means.” Others might call it “meta.” I tend to get caught up in other peoples’ enthusiasms because I like to play, but when I get off by myself and start to process what happened, I tend to see things differently. In this case, I see “great conversations” as being a side issue. The main issue for us all is that we’re all terminally enmeshed within a dying civilization.

In short, we (as a civilization and as individuals) are paralyzed, and can only do what we already do. We are trapped by inertia; our pre-existing programming trumps all. The conversationalists have great conversations, the builders build, the TV watchers watch TV, the financiers scam, and so forth. We will continue our pre-programmed behavior until civilization as we know it implodes.

Creative solutions are closed to us, and the reason is obvious: because there are no solutions. We’re on the fast track to oblivion, though I think the process will take about 200 years to play itself out. (Let’s check back on Christmas Day 2209 and see if I’m right.)

It’s tempting to think that our human eloquence counts for something. We like to imagine that a great book, or a great speech, can change the world. Unfortunately for that point of view, events have been out of control all along, and we deceive ourselves (since we like to think highly of ourselves) that our words and thoughts carry more significance than they really do. We like to think of the physical universe as being the inert stage upon which we humans -- in all our power and glory -- impose our drama. But as usual, we overestimate ourselves. Hmm, who was it who called our human drama “sound and fury, signifying nothing?”

We are ruled by nihilists, who in the words of my friend have a philosophy that can be summed up in two words: “Me. Now.” They control almost all the wealth, own the news media and government, and have successfully indoctrinated the masses into a state of passive compliance. Our planetary life support system has, in my opinion, already passed the tipping point.

For years, I considered myself a virus, trying to infect people with the truth. When programming the mass mind, you can speak only in grunts; any verbal message is bonus. In my case, the two-word message was: “Earth, Good.” There were many of us spreading this message, and still are. We tried our best, but we were unable to impose a narrative that would enable us to save the biosphere as we knew it. Nevertheless, I’m inspired that young people are protesting for the Earth at Copenhagen and other venues. Because this is their fight now. We Boomers did what we could, but our time is passed. These days what we have to offer is money, and whatever perspective we’re capable of. We’ve certainly become experts in what doesn’t work.

My guiding principle has always been anti-nihilist. Summing up my philosophy, I come up with five words. This is a rather long message for the mass mind to assimilate, but it’s as succinct as I can make it: “Existence is its own reward.” In other words, life has a fundamental value to be discovered only through the living of it. In other words, Carlos Casteneda’s “Path with Heart.” Talking or thinking about it merely points the way to the lived reality of existence itself. “Pointing at the Moon,” as the mystics say.

To the nihilists in control of our planet, existence has no fundamental value. To them, the only value of existence is to exploit it for personal gain. “Me. Now. More.” is their philosophy. It’s unfortunate that the nihilistic philosophy has become so dominant at the expense of everything else. It’s impossible to ignore the overwhelming reality of destruction we have all helped to create. We – nihilists or not -- are all complicit, including us self-professed Earth-lovers.

As a scientist, I have always assumed that my personal little life will end when I die. In other words, I won’t know it when I die, because this little speck of consciousness that “I” call “me” is temporary. Let’s summarize this with a little story: The wave is temporary, but the ocean is eternal. “Fat lot of good that does me!” says the wave.

Plenty of people, not just scientists, believe as I do. Yet we’re not encouraged to share our disbelief in an afterlife. The mass conversation is dominated by people convinced they’re going to heaven when they die, or that their personality will persist in the ether somehow. If indeed humans are suffering from a mass delusion in fancying themselves immortal, that helps to explain a lot of human behavior. That, and fear of death. (Why should eternal beings, if they are really eternal, fear death?) (Another essay lurks in the wings.)

The point I’m leading up to is this: Life has a particular poignancy for people who believe that life is temporary. We are forced into the humility of: We. Just. Don’t. Know. But even though life seems to be temporary to us, it still has inherent value: Existence is its own reward, afterall. As far as I can tell, most people of my persuasion don’t particularly fear death: When the time comes to die, we will welcome it. (What choice do we really have?) We will become The Grateful Dead. And if, after I die, I wake up somewhere else, I’ll exclaim, “Well imagine that! Now what?”

These insights about death, which seem true enough to me (at least right now), seem applicable to the impending death of the biosphere. To be sure, even with the worst-case scenario, the Earth will persist as an inert hunk of dead rock and poisonous water; only the thin film of life will be missing. So when people say “The Earth won’t die; we humans are incapable of killing the Earth,” I just shrug.

Like I always say, everything in the physical universe is temporary. This includes ourselves, our planet, the stars, galaxies, even the fundamental particles themselves. Knowing this adds a certain perspective on our present situation.

I am reminded of Jesus’ saying in Matt. 6:19-20 – “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Of course, now we have to decipher what Jesus really meant when he used the word “heaven.” This is fodder for another essay. Suffice it to say that he was evidently pointing the way to something else. As usual in this context, words fail. Even the term “something else” is inaccurate. Because it’s not “something,” and it’s not “else.” It’s not really an “it.” This seems like a good place to stop, don’t you think?



A friend told me that she found my first essay “bleak.” This is understandable, because one thing I’m trying to articulate here is what I call the “nullity” of existence. By “nullity,” I mean that existence has no meaning or purpose that we humans are capable of understanding. We have to discover our meaning and purpose -- if any -- by living it. (I say “if any” because nothing is guaranteed. This might seem bleak, but also means that infinite possibilities are open to us.) At any rate, rather than “bleak” I would prefer to use the word “austere” in the sense of “simple and unadorned.” There’s no need for bells and whistles; it’s all right here, for free, right now.

We all grew up in, and still live within, a mega-culture from which vast universes of creativity have been strangulated. It’s a dying civilization, and it’s destroying our planet as it dies. It also has inflicted severe damage on the souls of most of Earth’s human inhabitants. One primary mechanism for social control, and source of soul-damage, has always been religion -- pre-packaged and not necessarily accurate “explanations” of reality, along with the codes of behavior imposed upon the believers. Most humans remain locked within the indoctrination patterns they received as children; only a relatively small percentage of us have managed to escape the shackles imposed upon us. Personally, I’m still escaping – this will obviously be a lifelong jailbreak.

The Copenhagen climate conference is a big item in today’s news. The big question: will humanity rise to the occasion? The conventional answer is always: “Yes, we will manage to overcome all obstacles; we will manage to prevail over our own limitations; we will triumph over human nature itself, and solve the problems we have created. Somehow.”

We humans sure do love our magical thinking, don’t we?

I’m glad I gave up my writing career back in 2000 or so, because not having a career, and not caring about it, gives me the freedom to, as Castaneda’s Don Juan said, “act just for the hell of it.” So I have the freedom to speak the truth as I see it, without caring about the consequences or lack thereof. It seems transparently obvious to me that humanity WON’T rise to the occasion, because humanity CAN’T rise to the occasion. And I’m really sorry about that. I take no pleasure in saying that. I’m a mammal loyalist. I enjoy the animal pleasures of life. I love the Earth and all it has to offer. I appreciate this incomprehensible reality with its joys and sorrows. But enough is enough. We have really screwed the pooch big-time. The piper will now be paid. And that’s the truth as I see it.

Now, I can’t say stuff like that and expect to have a writing career. Such talk is simply not taken seriously by the “serious” gatekeepers who have inserted themselves into the public discourse. Fortunately, we now have the internet, where all sorts of marginal information flourishes. The truth has a compelling power all its own. So, “just for the hell of it” I speak my truth, and lo and behold, a certain small percentage of readers find it compelling. (Because it’s the truth, after all.)

And that’s all I’m doing with these little essays – putting out a little truth, and people either respond to it, or not.

Like this whole “death” business. We live within a culture where the large majority of people are absolutely convinced that they are going to heaven when they die. How can they possibly know this? Personally, I’ll just have to wait and see, because I really don’t know, and I don’t believe the people who try to tell me otherwise. Christians and New Agers who believe in immortality aren’t shy about spreading their opinions, so I’m just adding a little balance here. I articulate the truth as I see it, and a certain percentage of people will respond favorably to it. All I’m doing is breaking, in my small way, the stranglehold of conventional thinking. And God knows our entire planet is being destroyed by conventional thinking.

The same thing holds true for science. Science is just a technique – make accurate observations, and draw logical conclusions from these observations – yet the scientists themselves, for the most part, live within a world of conventional belief patterns. “Science in service to the Empire.” For example, where is shamanism within their worldview? If scientists reject shamanism out of hand, rather than considering it just another phenomenon to be investigated, then they have an artificially limited worldview. As a scientist, I’m interested in everything. That’s why I’ve always been intrigued by the outer limits of human behavior – people who do weird stuff. Because that’s where we find out what the parameters really are.

Getting back to death: as I get older I find that I can’t ignore it as easily as I did when I was younger. It’s becoming my constant companion. Like Don Juan said, death is sitting right here on my left shoulder all the time. I think that the death of our species, and the death of our planet, are our own personal death writ large. Insights about our own personal death are applicable to the larger reality. Is life better than death? Is yin better than yang?

Sometimes I feel like a reality pioneer. Very few of us have internalized that the human species isn’t going to pull out of this tailspin. A larger percentage realize that our human personalities aren’t immortal. Some of us realize that space/time reality, the domain of traditional science, is temporary -- which is to say, doomed. But doom need not imply gloom. Why should it? Dance on our own graves, why not? We’ve been doing it all along anyhow.

Many insights can flow out of these realizations. It will be easy to freak out once our civilization breaks down, and some basic truth might help us to cope better. I like the ending of Gary Snyder’s “Four Changes,” written in 1969:

“[We need] to go beyond the idea of ‘man's survival’ or ‘the survival of the biosphere’ and to draw our strength from the realization that at the heart of things is some kind of serene and ecstatic process which is actually beyond qualities and beyond birth-and-death. ‘No need to survive!’ ‘In the fires that destroy the universe at the end of the kalpa, what survives?’ – ‘The iron tree blooms in the void!’ Knowing that nothing need be done, is where we begin to move from.”



If I really believe human discourse is the mere yammering of overblown apes, and if I believe that there are no “solutions” to our planetary predicament, then why do I even bother to talk about all this? Because speaking the complete unvarnished truth is the only way I can fully express my intellectual capacity, such as it is. (Irony is always helpful in contexts like this.)

Editing out inconvenient truths and replacing them with faux “positivity” – as is done in mass culture -- is the sure path to intellectual triviality. With the miracle of global mass communications, humans are communicating more than ever before, and becoming more trivial by the year. If we deny the truth about our existence, then we’re only capable of spouting bullshit. Modern discourse has been fatally contaminated by the feel-good, happy-go-lucky, can-do, so-called “optimism” which is at the core of our ongoing human delusion: “Don’t worry, be happy! It’s all about us, and besides, we’re immortal!”

What I’m saying is: Maybe it’s time for us to grow up. Just because we can. Not because this will enable us to change any outcomes, but just so we can express more of who we really are. Just for the hell of it.