Category Archives: Animism/Shamanism

A Spirited Campus

Hello again everyone!

I do hope you have all enjoyed my recent writings. I put a lot of time and effort into them, and they may serve as springboards to later discussions. If you did not like them, well then rejoice in the fact that I want to move on! There have been other projects stirring around in my head, and I have been wanting to devout some time to those ideas.

What kind of ideas? I am sure this is what you are wondering (or maybe about lunch?), so I want to briefly introduce you to what I want to talk about for the near future. I’ve been thinking about stories, especially spiritual stories. These are the kinds of stories that circle around us, and in many ways give structure to our lives. At the same time, they are informed by our own experiences and history.

Those are what I want to talk about for the next few posts. I have always been fascinated by folklore and mythology. In a way, folklore is the spiritual stories of everyday folks. Mythology, at least most Indo-European mythologies, tend to focus more on gods, kings, and heroes. Basically, people that have some status or standing in society. People that aren’t peasant farmers, for the most part. Or mill workers, miners, or other everyday working folk. Hey, that’s why it’s called folklore.

In no small way, this is how we encounter the spirits each and every day; in whatever ways they present themselves. Maybe it is the story of the spirit we met in the woods, or the spirit in the lake? Or, as with what I want to talk about today, the spirits we meet on campus.

Back in October my wife and I attended my alma mater, Michigan State University, for their annual event Apparitions and Archaeology. In short, this event is collaboration between the Campus Archaeology Program, and the MSU Paranormal Society. It gave me a lot to think about, and I want to tell you about that now. So, without further ado, I present some of the spirits of MSU.

Introduction

As way of a short introduction, I want to present some of the history of MSU. Surely, more can be found here. 

(Fancy Map Image, from our tour)

MSU was founded in 1855, as the first agricultural college in the US, and a pioneer land grant college. The first buildings on the campus were primarily built by students, from local as well as imported materials. Few of these original buildings still stand, as most either fell over or burnt down. (Built by students, mostly heated by wood fires and steam boilers.)

The tour included several stops at historic sites around campus, and so it was a fun kind of scavenger hunt. I do not have the space to detail all the locations, so I encourage you to visit the links provided at the bottom of this post. But before I get there, I want to talk briefly about how I will be framing this discussion.

The intersection of archaeology and animism is a fascinating way to look at the spirits on MSU. Not only are the spirits themselves possessed of agency, but they are also a very real part of the memory of the land. Each of the sites have very real material remains buried beneath the ground, as part of the earth memory. Like human memories, these are fragmented and incomplete. But at the same time, they speak to us. The past speaks, through archaeology, and through the folklore that lives on to this day.

The Spirits of MSU, are the spirits of a place, as well as the memories of the land. They are as much science as they are folklore. So let’s look a little closer, shall we?

Beaumont Tower/College Hall

(Picture Today/Southeast corner of Beaumont Tower, 1928. Photo courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections. )

Prior to Beaumont Tower, College Hall, the first building on campus, was located at this spot. It was erected in 1856 and was the first structure in America that was dedicated to the instruction of scientific agriculture.

The tower itself was constructed where the northeast corner of College Hall once stood. Some of the foundation walls for the original building still exist underneath the sidewalks.” – CAP

I’ve decided to use quotes from the Campus Archaeology blog, because it gives you a brief history, and frees me up to talk about other aspects of this site. I was part of the Campus Archaeology program back in 2011. Part of College Hall collapsed in 1918, and if memory serves, part of its construction actually involved a stump under one of the load bearing walls. The early students didn’t have stump grinders, and really made due with what they had. That is at least part of the reason it came down.

But more than this, Campus Archaeology excavated part of the site around Beaumont Tower, and found numerous artifacts from College Hall, the very memory of the building that once stood. The foundations were still there, as well as cinder pathways. A blueprint of a memory, the spectre of a building that has long passed. The bones of a now buried construct.

Folklore tells of couples in 19th century dress walking around the tower, holding hands. Also, several sightings have been reported of a man with coattails in a stovepipe hat wandering around the Tower.

You see, the land below our feet is the ultimate complex system, which can have memories. It keeps the remains of old buildings like memories. And those buildings, may well keep some memories of the people that once inhabited the area. The spirits of people are remembered, and what is remembered lives.

Saint’s Rest

(Students outside Saints’ Rest ca. 1857. Image from MSU Archives. )

Just like college hall, Saint’s Rest was one of the earliest buildings on campus. It was originally built in 1857. Like so many other buildings, it was not long for this world, burning to the ground in 1876.

Campus Archaeology got to investigate part of the site, and made numerous discoveries. In addition to foundations and the basement, the team also uncovered a privy. That is, an outhouse, which was a source for a wealth of artifacts.

Why? Because if you drop something into an outhouse, very few people I know are likely to go after it. Which lead the CAP team to the discovery of Mabel, a porcelain doll that is believed to possess an ominous spirit. She is said to throw things from time to time.

(Mabel)

Besides Mabel, the MSU Paranormal Society has recorded several other incidents in the area;

For years, students dressed in 19th-century clothing have been seen wandering through the area east of the MSU Museum—where Saints’ Rest once stood. Another ghostly figure wearing overalls and work boots has been spotted, suggesting the spirit of a maintenance worker lingers nearby.” – Spartan Spirits

The ghosts of a remembered past, still looking for what was lost? Or something to fix?

Mary Mayo Hall

(Image from here)

The most infamous story is that of Mary Mayo herself, who can be seen wandering the hallways and playing the piano in the “Red Room,” rumored to have been used for satanic rituals and where a young woman may have died. The entire floor is now closed, but unexplained lights and figures often are seen through the windows of the 4th floor.” – Spartan Spirits

Mayo Mary Hall, unlike College Hall and Saints’ Rest, is one of the buildings that is still standing on campus today. Mary Mayo herself was a strong advocate for a women’s curriculum, and the women’s dormitory that bears her names was originally constructed in 1931.

Excavations in the area uncovered lots of early construction material, such as wooden plumbing and locally made bricks from the clay of the Red Cedar river.

Closing Thoughts

I’ve only touched upon some of the sites found on our tour through campus, and again I encourage you to visit some of the websites below for other pictures and additional information.

In closing, I spent most of the tour thinking about the intersection of folklore, archaeology, and animism. You see, there are many unseen agencies in our environment. Some of these are right below our feet, the actual physical memories of things that once were. Artifacts, old building materials, porcelain dolls that mysteriously have fallen into privies. These are the very real ghosts of our past, memories of the earth beneath us.

Yet, animism, says that the world is full of persons, many of which are other-than-human. Stories that have gained meaning over time, folk tales that may contain actual truth, or even the agencies of fanciful tales spun for the sake of an eager audience.

In my animism, those stories have a power all their own, their own special kind of agency. Whether they are spirits of the unseen, spirits of the spoken word, they have power. Power to shape our reality, to make us think about what once was. A story is the spirit of a memory, the spirit of a place.

Because reality is more than just what we can touch and feel, sometimes it is far less corporeal. Sometimes it is the memories of a place, and how we relate to those stories.

Thanks for reading!

Further Readings/Sources

Spartan Spirits

https://msu.edu/spartan-spirits/?fbclid=IwAR1fTxUBdRfgw-RrxF2RB84pVbSJlEj99jDHXDF_f2YXeqUopPNkwOSavyI#home

Campus Archaeology

http://campusarch.msu.edu/?p=6728&fbclid=IwAR1RxEoifv6_Xj2SXv6lgVn6XC8Y9MklK7gwJFR7gUHKRd4LyL5zGljWl1Y

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Climate Change & Animism

“There should be no shortage of motivation. Solving climate change presents humanity with the opportunity to save civilization from collapse and create aspects of what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called “the beloved community.” The work would endow our lives with some of the oldest and most numinous aspirations of humankind: leading a good life; treating our neighbors well; imbuing our short existence with timeless ideas like grace, dignity, respect, tolerance and love. The climate struggle embodies the essence of what it means to be human, which is that we strive for the divine.” – From Here

(Artist Nick Pederson)

Hello again folks!

I have a lot of projects in the pipeline for this coming winter. I’m going to be switching gears soon and going to start writing fiction again. No long novels or anything, but short stories. There are some things I want to flesh out in my Liminal Worlds universe, but they aren’t suitable for novel length stories. So there will be lots of little ones, and I may well share some of them here. I’m also going to be doing some spiritual writings, mythos and folklore type stuff, and I may share some of that here too. So there are some much less serious writings coming your way!

But all that aside for now, I want to talk a bit about that big IPCC report that came out a couple of weeks ago. As I am sure all of you are aware, environmental issues are high on my radar. So is doing everything we can to create a more sustainable world, for both humans and non-humans.

In fact, human rights and ecological issues are central my understanding of animism. In short, both humans and non-human (which is, nature) have the right to exist with dignity and respect. Which means, if we are going to build a better future, then all the peoples of the planet need to be included in that future.

The original report is here.

I’ve read the report all the way through now (it’s like 700 pages), and so the fatalism and nihilism in the headlines was a bit unnerving. The Guardian was fairly benign by saying We Have 12 Years to Limit Climate Catastrophe.  Others, were way more problematic, as NPR said Climate Report Warns of Extreme Weather, Displacement of Millions without Action. 

But, having read the report, I can say that the news is a little more optimistic than problematic headlines let on. Even digging into the articles themselves, we find some reasons for optimism.

First off, we have twelve years, until 2040, to mitigate the worst climate change has to offer. I have said before we probably have a decade or two, and that is pretty consistent with the scientific literature (of which the IPCC scientists reviewed some 6,000 articles.) In short, we’re not done yet. But it is also noteworthy, that I said mitigate. The climate is changing, that cannot be denied. We cannot stop that process, but we can cushion the landing. And we still have time to do that. That’s important.

In fact, in many ways, the next twelve years or so, will determine “how bad” climate change is going to be. How bad will storms, droughts, and fires be? How high will the sea rise? How many will be displaced; thousands, million, billions? We are making those choices right now. If you want a great illustration of what that looks like, may I recommend this articleIt has a great visualization of the differences between 1.5 degree Celsius and two degrees. (Which is central to the IPCC report, that 1.5 degrees helps to mitigate a lot of the bad things.)

We have twelve years, but what do we need to do? Well basically, we need to reduce emissions by 40-50% by 2030, and be near net zero by 2050. Sounds easy right?

Well, it won’t be. It will be an unprecedented challenge, and there is no guarantee we are going to pull this off. It is an existential crisis, of the kind we are deciding if we have a future on this planet at all. We are literally making the choices between sustainability, slow die offs, and extinction.

What Can We Do?

In short, we need to decarbonize, and fast. There are a lot of solutions, many of which can be found in Drawdown and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The report itself highlight four major areas; cities, energy, industry, and land use. The image below lays out each of the pathways, and some major factors on what we have to do for each.

(From the IPCC report.)

As I hope you can see, each of the pathways involves major decarbonization, but also major expansions in renewable energy (70 – 80% total primary energy), and zeroing out fossil fuels. So what can you do? One of our most impactful scenarios is in renewable energy, but also land us and our food system.

Find ways to organize, first and foremost. There may well be already be groups in your area doing the work. Maybe they are installing solar panels, investing in windfarms, or crowdsourcing urban gardens. Every little bit helps. Find a way to make your own life more energy efficient, that will help too.

Maybe you don’t have a group near you. Do you have 20 friends? Make your own group! Figure out what your own sphere of influence needs, and find a way to make it happen. Maybe that means helping a friend put a garden in, or fundraising to invest in a renewable energy project. We have a lot of options, and there is a lot we can do in groups.

But we also have to admit that individual actions will not be enough. They are good, but not enough. We need collective action, so the more work we do as communities, networks, cities, and nations, the better. But, I think that the bulk of this work needs to come from the bottom up, grass roots style.  If you are like me, and live in the US, there are serious doubts in the Federal government will help in this work at all… And that is going to have an effect, definitely.

Still, it is also important to remember that almost 90 cities in the US have already committed to 100% renewable energy, as well as the states of California and Hawaii. This is something we can do at the local and regional level, with great global impacts. It would be super great to have the Fed onboard too, but most of this work we have to do ourselves.

Our communities, and our cities, and states can take the lead on this. We need all the resources and help we can get. As Gandalf said, it is the everyday deeds of everyday folks that keep the darkness at bay. Those every day people are you and me.

Thanks for reading!

  • If you want more information, my recent post exploring more aspects of this is here.

Towards an Animistic World

Hello again folks!

This is going to be the last post in my most recent series. We have come to the end, at least for the time being. It is time for me to move on to other projects, which you will certainly get to read about here!

This has been a big project, but the question becomes what does it leave us with? In no small words, we are definiately now in a time of transition, where all of our choices matter. We are up against the existential challenge of climate change, and up against a system that seems hell bent on making things so much worse for the sake of a buck. Not only do things need to change, but they have to. We have a few choices open to us, but it is vital we make the right ones, right now.

I have heard some call this a bottleneck, a transition, even an evolutionary precipice. The planet is warming, and a big part of that is our creation of a global energy intensive civilization. That part wasn’t entirely our fault, and might be a bottleneck any energy intensive civilization has to go through. However, doing nothing about it is our choice, and that choice may well be between decline, sustainability, and extinction. Without serious work on our part right now, we could go the way of the Dodo. That is truly an evolutionary precipice, and we are now finding out if we, as Homo sapiens, have what it takes to navigate this crucial time.

But that’s been the point of this whole series. What tools do we have at our disposal? What would it take to create a more sustainable, networked, democraticand planetary civilization?

Well, after all my explorations throughout this series, I can start to shape for you a vision of what that future might look like. The work I have done here is a synthesis of a lot of different sources, in order to create a vision, a speculation, of what our future could be. I can create a time line now, as a kind of road map. I probably will get it wrong in the long run, but it’s a start. After all, civilization is hardly the work of one man.

Near Future; 2020-2030’s

I think that the next couple of decades are going to be vital to mitigation. We have a lot of work to do across the board. This includes heavy deployment of renewable energy, creating sustainable cities, and creating democratic networks to share resources and work together. We also need to work towards the elimination of fossil fuels in our transportation and energy mix.

One of the big tools at our disposal are the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. These are expansive goals that allow us to reduce global carbon emissions, as well as create a more just and sustainable world. They cover everything from universal contraception coverage to universal healthcare, to renewable energy, and conservation of land and water resources.

But in a way, the SDGs are not enough, and do not go far enough. Those targets should definitely be met by the 2030s, but there is an aspect of the SDGs that is very “business as usual”. In that the SDGs do not tackle one of the biggest obstacles to creating a sustainable world; capitalism.

We will have to undermine and rebuild our current way of doing business. I don’t think this means we have to get rid of markets, trade, or industry. However, we definitely need to redistribute resources and wealth, and move towards more democratic and cooperative forms of economics. The Nordic Model of social democracy would be a good start for sure, but that’s still capitalism. We can go even further, and build networks of worker and community owned cooperatives. Over a billion people already belong to at least one co-op, so we are off to good start.

Our future could look more like this

The fact is, we are going to have to work together to face the challenges ahead. Competition might have some perks, sure, but if we have to build wind turbines, community resilience, and shelter climate refugees… It is better that we do these things together.

Mid Century; 2030-2050’s

While the SDGs have the 2030’s as their timeline, Drawdown bases it predictions on mid century. Drawdown gives us 100 solutions to combat climate change. Those solutions are everything from renewable energy, to forest conservation, to food systems, to women’s and indigenous peoples rights. We should deploy them to the greatest extent we can by 2050. Drawdown gives us three major trajectories;

Plausible Scenario: the case in which solutions on the Drawdown list are adopted at a realistically vigorous rate over the time period under investigation, adjusting for estimated economic and population growth.

Drawdown Scenario: the case in which the adoption of solutions is optimized to achieve drawdown by 2050.

Optimum Scenario: the case in which solutions achieve their maximum potential, fully replacing conventional technologies and practices within a limited, competitive market.

Drawdown is the point where our carbon emissions actually start to decrease. Being the optimist, I say shoot for the Optimum scenario. But even if we don’t make that, plausible solutions are better than none at all.

Aside from Drawdown, we also need to recreate our political, social, and economic systems. Technology alone will never be enough without other changes. Also, individual actions are necessary, but not sufficient without systemic and cultural change as well. A change in spirit, of who we are as a species.

Because the truth of the matter is, that our current systems cannot do what we need them to do. There is a good possibility that Nations will become less relevant. Our system of Nations is likely one of the least efficient ways to manage a planet, and that networks of cities, regions, and other organizations might be able to do this better.

The US system especially is ungovernable, and hierarchy overall is likely to breakdown and give rise to more networked and distributed means of governance. Ideally, these are cooperative and democratic networks, that give us the flexibility we need to adapt to a changing climate and world.

Renewable energy, Drawdown, SDGs, all give us means to create a less hierarchical, distributed and cooperative world. Local and regional powers can take the lead, and eventually build a new global system and planetary civilization.

Late Century; 2050’s – 2100

Alright, at this point I have to state that I will be in my mid 60’s by 2050, so anything too much beyond that is in all likelihood beyond my lifetime. But it will be in the lifetime of the next generation, and the one after that. It is definitely important to think beyond ourselves, and at least a couple of generations down the road.

Provided we have done what we must, and lain the foundations for a sustainable future, mitigated climate change as best we are able, and not blown ourselves up, the coming century could be really exciting for the future of our species.

It bears repeating that we are in a very crucial time right now. How that future looks depends on what we do right now. We don’t know the future. Whether we succeed or fail through the coming transition all hinges on what we do (and don’t do) in the next decade or two. But provided we manage to get through all that, we could be looking at a fully networked, democratic, and planetary civilization.

A world where there is fusion power, space elevators, and our growth as a space faring civilization. I find that really exciting, even if I won’t see it. To me, that is the foundation of a a truly animistic world.

An Animistic Vision

Because in all honesty, that is what we are facing right now. Not only an ecological crisis, but a spiritual one as well. My vision, my ideas for the future, are animistic at the core. As I’ve said so many times, my animism is a worldview as much a spiritual practice. It is how I relate to the world, to other humans, to nature, to civilization, and the planet.

The world I envision takes on the aspects of mutually beneficial relationships, of sharing, cooperation, and reciprocity. Democratic and cooperative economics are the outflow of this, as well as renewable energy and sustainability. We need to do the best we can for all peoples on Earth, human or non-human.

My vision is a world powered by wind turbines and solar panels; with little shrines to the Sun and winds at their base. Tiny little spirit houses at the entrances to great forests and mighty trees. Cities that look and function more like real jungles, not concrete ones. A world where worker-owned shops build our star ships. Small little altars could sit on those control panels, while astronauts pray that the Void doesn’t eat them.

The interaction of Science and Story, Matter and Meaning. That is my animistic world.

Thanks for reading!


Towards a Democratic World

*Not talking about the political party here, but actual democracy.

“Do you believe in democracy and self-rule as the fundamental values that government ought to encourage?…

Very well. If democracy and self-rule are the fundamentals, then why should people give up these rights when they enter their workplace? In politics, we fight like tigers for freedom, for the right to elect our leaders, for freedom of movement, choice of residence, choice of what work to pursue – control of our lives, in short. ” -Blue Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Hello again folks!

This is another post in my ongoing series, as there is certainly more that needs exploring. It should come as no surprise to anyone that reads this blog that I am a leftist. Yup, I am well to the left of the political center, as I think cooperative and ecological economic and social systems would probably be a lot better than what we have now.

More specifically, in terms of the political spectrum, I am probably best described as a democratic ecosocialist, with strong left-libertarian tendencies. I’m not quite an anarchist, but there is a great deal of overlap there. In terms of US politics, I am some sort of a combination between the Democratic Socialist of America, and the Green Party.

(Probably, Mostly, Me)

Overall, I’m probably a center-leftist (give or take), which makes me pretty boring as far as leftists go. Still, I think it is important that we break that all down a little bit more. My political views are reinforced and informed by how I understand animism. As I’ve said so many time before, my animism is the basic worldview that the world is full of people (human and non-human), and that life is lived in relation to others.

This comes with a strong commitment to human and ecological rights, and the inherent worth and dignity of all beings on this planet. It follows that any civilization and its social, political, cultural, and economic systems should be as equitable, sustainable, democratic, and just as possible. Humanity civilizations should be ecologically sustainable, and be self-regulated and self-organized. In short, civilization should look more like an ecosystem, and be integrated seamlessly into the environment.

In other words, I have red (socialist), green (ecological), and blue (democratic, labor) in the mix. That is why I want to talk about Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy today. I saw a lot of the world I want to build in those pages. But first, let’s explore some of the components in this world.

Democratic Socialism (Red/Blue)

Democratic socialism is a political philosophy that advocates political democracy alongside social ownership of the means of production with an emphasis on self-management and democratic management of economic institutions within a market socialist, participatory or decentralized planned economy. Democratic socialists hold that capitalism is inherently incompatible with what they hold to be the democratic values of liberty, equality and solidarity; and that these ideals can only be achieved through the realization of a socialist society.” (Wikipedia, Democratic Socialism)

This is a good part of my basic philosophy. I think capitalism as a economic system is exploitative of workers and the environment, and mostly just concentrates wealth (and political power) in fewer and fewer hands. Capitalism is one big factor in the rise of oligarchy and plutocracy in the US.

I have made no secret of my like of Nordic Model. It goes a long ways towards what a democratic socialism might look like, but it falls short. That is because the Nordic Model is social democracy, not democratic socialism. Social democracy is still capitalism. Suffice to say, I think it is a good start, but doesn’t go far enough. Another point along the transition, but not the end of the journey.

I would like to see it go farther, with greater democratic control given over to workplaces and community owned organizations. I would like to see much less State power, and a greater number of worker and community owned cooperatives. The Nordic Model has a lot of good points with egalitarianism, and ecological sustainability. But more needs to be done.

Ecosocialism (Green/Red)

Eco-socialism is an ideology merging aspects of socialism with that of green politics, ecology and alter-globalization… Eco-socialists generally believe that the expansion of the capitalist system is the cause of social exclusion, poverty, war and environmental degradation through globalization and imperialism, under the supervision of repressive states and transnational structures.

Eco-socialists advocate dismantling capitalism, focusing on common ownership of the means of production by freely associated producers, and restoring the commons.” (Wikipedia, Ecosocialism)

I think that capitalism is as exploitative of environments. It extracts natural resources for profit, and leaves barren and polluted wastelands in its wake. We can do better than that, and while there will still be a need for resources, there are far better ways to manage those resources in a sustainable way.

Alter-globalization is an important aspect here. I’m not opposed to global economic integration, but it MUST be done with a respect to human dignity, labor rights, environmental protection, and indigenous cultures. It is quite contrary to the neoliberal globalization we see in the world right now. It’s capitalism, stupid.

Along the lines of democratic socialism, I support the creation of worker and community owned spaces, and a more sustainable economic system.

Green Politics (Green/Blue)

Green politics is a political ideology that aims to create an ecologically sustainable society rooted in environmentalism, nonviolence, social justice and grassroots democracy.” (Wikipedia, Green Politics)

Democracy, sustainability, equality, solidarity. There is not much I can harp on here except the “non-violent” part. On the whole, I’m no warrior. Violent or militant actions aren’t really my cup of tea. I’m more of a builder than anything. That said, I think these things may have limited strategic uses.

However, that doesn’t mean being passive in the face of oppressive systems. Protest, direct action, and civil disobedience are all tactics for fighting unjust and exploitative systems.

Libertarian-socialism/Libertarian-Municipalism (Red/Green/Blue)

Libertarian socialists advocate for decentralized structures based on direct democracy and federal or confederal associations such as libertarian municipalism, citizens’ assemblies, trade unions, and workers’ councils.” (Wikipedia, Libertarian-Socialism)

Okay, so I don’t really like using the word “libertarian” anything due to how this idea has taken form in US political circles. To explain briefly, there are two versions of this idea, left-libertarianism, and right-libertarianism. While there is some amount of overlap between both schools of thought, as both of don’t really like centralized regulation/the State. The difference of course is one argues for cooperative economic systems, the other for unregulated and non-State capitalism.

With my general disdain for capitalism, I am a left-libertarian, in that I don’t think the Nation-State is necessary, especially versions that are far away and centralized. I like bottom up, democratic and decentralized solutions to problems. Not only is the Nation-State, and I’ve discussed in my End of Nations post, it’s probably not the best way to govern a planet. 

Short version, on the whole, I prefer distributed, networked, and democratic systems over centralized ones. Cities are the real heart of our civilizations, and I think a global network of cities might be a better global system than the Nation-State.

Mars Trilogy

You are probably wondering how all of this relates to Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy. You would be right to ask that question, as I have spent a lot more time talking about political ideology than I have about the fiction books in question. Robinson is generally considered to be and ecosocialist, and many of the ideas I have discussed translate directly into his books.

The short version being, that the fiction can serve as a vision of what the reality might look like. The Mars Trilogy, as it’s name implies, follows the stories of colonists and terraformers of Mars as they build a new society over about a century.

As the society of Mars develops, they run into all kinds of social and political problems. There are the nativist Reds, that want to keep the planet as natural as possible. They are in many ways opposed by the Greens, that want to terraform the planet. The first couple of books cover this struggle, and even result in the first aspects of a democratic and decentralized Martian society.

There is even multiple attempts at a global constitution, which finally culminates in the final book. By the time we reach Blue Mars, a kind of libertarian ecosocialism has taken root, and is embodied in the constitution of Mars. The entire organization of the planet is a kind of global-localism, in which there is both a global government, as well as the rights of individual cities. In short, there are no Nation-States. Mars is an experiment in Democratic Ecosocialism.

Because, on top of democratic structures of government (based on the constitutions of Earth, especially the Swiss), there are the rights of nature and the ecocourts. Here is an excerpt from KSR’s own site on the structure of the Martian government;

The Martian government was created following the Second Martian Revolution which insured Mars’s independence from Terra’s rule. Its form was established in the Martian constitution created in the Pavonis Mons Congress in 2128.

The global government was a confederation led by a seven-member executive council (inspired by the Swiss system), which was elected by two legislative branches:

  • the duma, consisting of drafted citizens
  • the senate, consisting of elected representatives from every town

Legislature was mostly left to towns. The judicial branch presented three courts:

  • a criminal court
  • a constitutional court (including an economic commission for eco-economics)
  • an environmental court (including a land commission for no private property), the Global Environmental Court (GEC):”

I could go on and on of course, as this has become one of my favorite book series. But for the sake of brevity, I want to leave this topic to talk even more broadly. When this is considered along with my first Synthesis of my recent work, a vision of the future starts to form.

It is a vision only, a speculation if you want to frame it that way. All the same, it gives me something to work towards. It gives us something to work towards, if you are of a similar mind as me. We could build an animistic, democratic, and ecosocialistic world.

The Mars trilogy gives us an idea of what that could look like, though of course such a world would vary in the details. Still, I think it is possible. We could build a world that is ecological and sustainable. We could build a world that is democratic, and not built on capitalism. Nation-States may not be the best way to govern a planet, and they will be less relevant in the future. Whether through collapse or deliberate integration, I think the future will be post-national.

We are already seeing what that might look like, and it is up to all of us to work towards a common vision of a global-localism. Think globally, act locally; in a very real way.

Our future awaits.

Thanks for reading!


We’re Not Doomed, Yet

Or at very least, why I think we still have other alternatives open to us, as a species, and as a planet.

There has been no shortage of bad news recently, and some of it certainly has a “the sky is falling” dystopian feel to it. One recent example in the pagan sphere is this article over at Gods & Radicals. I’m not saying that articles such as this one are wrong in whole, but that they are part of a trend.

A trend towards pessimism, nihilism, and fatalism when facing the future challenges that are before us. Not just in some future, but also in the here and now. We are already facing the onset of climate change, and it is an open question whether or not we can do enough to mitigate that.

It’s true, we need to be realistic. We can’t be naive about the challenges we face. They may be catastrophic, or even existential in scope. Still, I think there are reasons to hope, and on the whole I don’t think this the end of the world as we know it. It might be the end of this current system, sure, but it also the birthing of another. I think we are in a time of transition, and whether we succeed or fail is up to us.

I’ve written more about this recently, especially here and here

Multiple Options

“We can make the Anthropocene into a new era for both our civilization and the Earth. In the end, our story is not yet written. We stand at a crossroads, under the light of the stars, ready to join them or ready to fail. The choice will be our own.” – Light of the Stars

The point is, I don’t think the future is set in stone. We won’t know the future until it has become the present, and that means that multiple possible futures are still open to us. Not just dystopian apocashitstorms, but some that could be a little more optimistic. We are at a unique bottleneck in our history, where our actions right now are determine whether we navigate towards ruin or towards something sustainable.

(From Adam Frank’s The Light of the Stars)

All our choices matter right now. Will we fall into a long descent scenario like scenario A, or something more sustainable like scenario B? Or, are extinction events like C and D what await us, whether we switch to renewable sources or not? We are figuring that out right now.

End of an Era, but probably not civilization

 “Widespread, rapid, and fundamental transformations will likely be required to reduce the risk of crossing the threshold and locking in the Hothouse Earth pathway; these include changes in behavior, technology and innovation, governance, and values.”  – Source

I write about these topics a lot; from renewable energy, to the social, economic, cultural, and political actions we need to change in order to have any chance of navigating the future. That’s the point though, we can still mitigate the worst of this. Our window is closing, and fast. We are certainly on a deadline.

That said, I think a whole lot of people are aware of that, and working towards something better. Billions of people, in many countries across the world. I point to a lot of ideas in my writing, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Project Drawdown, or The Solutions Project. None of these solutions are perfect, and we need to throw that idea right out the window. There is no such thing as a perfect solution, and there is no free lunch. There are “lower impact” ideas, but each has its own advantages and drawbacks. It is possible we will make compromises all along the way.

Renewable energy can be intermittent, and is less efficient than fossil fuels. I’d still rather deploy it as much as we can than go without. It means we might have to work with less energy, or at least work harder for the same amount. I’d rather not have to rely on nuclear to keep the lights on, but it’s probably still a lower carbon (and expensive) option than coal plants.

Most of the sources cited above run on 2030 or 2050 timelines, and that is generally what I think of as our “window.” The question is “how bad”, and the sooner we act, the “less” bad the future looks. If we can’t get our shit together as a species by 2050, I’d say we’re going to be in a lot of trouble. There are a lot of ways to do that, and in many ways that work is already being done.

There are a lot of ways that we could mitigate the worst of what the future has to offer, but it’s huge Work. It means everything from rebuilding our energy infrastructures to changing our cultural values, methods of governance, and economic systems. Can we accomplish this work in the next couple of decades? That remains to be seen.

While I do think the American Empire is on the downslide, I don’t think our civilization (as a global system) is on the extinction curve. I’ve talked more about what that looks like here.

The cities of Athens and Argos have been continually inhabited for almost 7000 years. That said, they didn’t have capitalism, and it’s drive to burn up the planet for the sake of profit.

It’s capitalism, stupid 

“Yet embedded within the paper is a finding that’s just as stunning: that none of this is inevitable, and one of the main barriers between us and a stable planet — one that isn’t actively hostile to human civilization over the long term — is our economic system.” – Source

Capitalism and neoliberalism are one of the big factors in our current unsustainable world. As the article sourced above points out, we can trace inequality, climate change, and mass extinctions to our economic systems and our reliance on fossils fuels. If we are going to have any chance of building a sustainable civilization, capitalism and fossil fuels have to go. We need a new energy and economic system. You can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet. Period

There is a great post on that here and the associated paper here.

In a way, I’m talking about a revolution in values, relationships, and the structure of our entire civilization. This is the end of an era, and one type of civilization is giving way to another. The old capitalistic world built on fossil fuels is on it’s way out.

That’s where I think the real risk comes in. We could just get stuck with a dying type of civilization, and never transition to another. We could succumb to the same habits that brought us here, and as Einstein said, that is a special kind of insanity. We can’t keep doing the same old thing and expect different results.

We may well be at an evolutionary precipice, with the survival of our species on the line. Our future depends on transitioning to new forms of energy, economics, and society as a whole. A revolution, of sorts.

A Transition

That sounds pretty good. In just a couple of centuries, we are going to become a true Type 1 cosmic civilization. The problem, of course, is that we may never get there. Our project of civilization has a bottleneck to navigate right now, and our progress through it is anything but assured.” – Michio Kaku

What does that all look like? Well, like I have already said, this is already happening in a multitude of ways. 193 countries signed onto the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and more work is certainly needed there. The Paris Climate Accords has 195 signatories (maybe without the US thanks to current government). China is well ahead of it’s 2020 climate goals. Sweden is ahead of the curve too.

California, the fifth largest economy in the world, is ready to commit to 100% renewable energy. Over 70 cities and the state of Hawaii have committed to 100% renewable energy too.  The Dutch are working towards banning gasoline and diesel cars, as well as building a renewably powered train system. Norway and France are phasing out oil fueled transport too.

The long and short of it is, we are already in that transition. There are reasons to hope, to be sure. There is also still a lot of work to be done, and also a real chance of failure. In a way, the technical solutions are the easy part. Building alternatives to capitalism, changing our values and culture, ending the grip of oil on our societies, those are the hard parts. Still, I think we have to continue the work. It will take more than my lifetime, and I won’t see the end of this. That will be my children, and their children…

But I think it still has to happen, and that is is happening. I for one, and not ready to give up on that work just yet.

It is now easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.

— Fredric Jameson

Thanks for reading!


A Forest Through the Trees

(World Tree Image from Here)

Hello again folks!

I hope you all have been doing well. I have been pretty busy lately, but this is a post that has been playing around in my mind for some time. In case my recent blogs have not been any indication, I’m kind of obsessed with looking at my animistic path through the lens of systems theory, and especially complex systems.

This method to me is all about seeing the relations between all things. It’s about how I as a human relate to the environment around me, as well as the systems of civilization I move through each and every day. How does these various systems interact and relate, and in what ways do we relate to those systems? Whether technological, cultural, or ecological, this is a question that is at the heart of the animistic path I practice.

I have been reading back through some books and older thoughts of mine. As I read them, I was struck with how I could now look at them through a new lens. I’ve never made any secret of the fact that my path is inspired by a lot of different sources; some ancestral, some modern, some fictional… ecetera ecetera. My path is really kind of my own synthesis of ideas, but it is best described as mostly animistic and shamanic. These are the best concepts I have for what I do, even though both are problematic in their own ways. I’m not going into that here either. I’m sure I’ve touched on it before.

The World Tree

What really struck me though was the idea of the World Tree, or shaman’s tree. This is a common symbol in the cosmology of a three-tiered world, that is common in shamanistic ideologies. There is the upper world, which is equated with the sky. The middle world, which is where we as humans dwell, the land. And the underworld, which is the underground, the water, and the world below us. Each culture that uses this idea has nuances of course, but I want to talk about how I use it in my own practice.

Trees have been a big part of my life forever. I spent my formative years in the woods; exploring, hiking, climbing, later hunting. There actually was a time I wanted to go into forestry as a profession, but alas I was blocked by higher math. Still, the imagery is still deeply set in my personality. And so the World Tree, as a concept, is something I revisit regularly.

The branches of the World Tree (such as Yggdrasil of Nordic myth), reach into the sky, and into the upper world. The trunk of the World Tree is in the middle world, and connects all three to the land. The roots go deep into the underworld, into water, and beneath the earth. As such for me, there are rough correspondences between sky/land/water, and upper/middle/lower respectively.

In addition, there is also a rough correspondence between the kinds of being that dwell in each world, and how they relate to myself. The upper world is generally, the realm of the “bigger” and/or “greater.” In Norse myth (and others), this is the realm of the gods. The middle world is the realm of the humans, and many others too. The underworld, is generally the realm of the dead and the ancestors.

There are also other useful correspondences when relating to nature. The upper world is the world above our head, of tree branches, but of birds and stars too. Of wind and clouds, and cosmic things. All the way up. The middle world is the world all around us, deer, animals, and plants that dwell on the land. The earth and the soil. And the lower world is the water, of fish and other marine life. Of water, lakes, rivers, and oceans.

But something else struck me as I was rereading through those materials. An aspect that I hadn’t seen before, and that has been rather interesting to explore. Systems theory also allows for a similar breakdown, that allows me to go even deeper into the idea of the World Tree.

System theories can talk about systems at all kinds of different scales. For example, a mesosystem is a mid-level scale system. A microsystem is a small scale system, and a marcosystem is a large scale one.

I bet you’re clever enough to see already where I am going with this. System theory allows me to look at the World Tree at different orders of magnitude, and explore the relationship there.

Upper World – Macrosystems – Sky

These are systems at the largest possible scales, and this allows me to relate myself to things so much bigger than myself in a very enmeshed kind of way. A way that connects me to human communities, cities, ecosystems, and eventually the planet, the stars, and the whole of the Cosmos. It is the systems that are “bigger” than myself, and that exceed the complexity and scale of my limited human existence.

This is where the World Tree meets the Cosmic Web, the Forest of all World Trees, and All Possible Worlds.

Middle World – Mesosystems – Land

These systems are the ones that relate to the world on approximately the same scale I do. The world between the mountain and the ant. These are the systems at a human scale, which is my immediate surroundings. My relationship to myself, and other people on an individual to individual level. It also includes individual critters, rocks, and plants too.

This is where I meet the Tree in the Forest, or the Deer on the Path.

Lower World – Microsystems – Water

Falling downs order of magnitude, this is where I relate to the things that are “deeper” or “beneath.” This is the scale of those that are dead and breaking down, and everything from the ant on down. It is the systems that make up my body, organs, cells, atoms. It is my DNA, and the very real connections to my past. This is my deep ancestry, that goes from humanity, to the origin of life on this planet. To the land and the planet itself as ancestor, and the very first particles that formed from the Big Bang.

The Place of Deep Roots, and Long Memories.

The Forest through the Trees

In a weird way, if you follow through the roots and branches of this idea, you kind of end up where you started. There is a circular and cyclical nature to all of this. If you go down deep into the roots, you end up at the quantum level, and the very beginning of our Universe as we know it. If you go up through the branches to a high enough scale, you are talking about our Cosmos as a whole… Which started at the Big Bang.

In that way, the concept of the World Tree, and the Cosmic Web are two closely related concepts. The World Tree is the metaphoric personal, and how I relate to the other scales of existence. The Cosmic Web is the forest full of World Trees, and the weblike network of roots and branches. Strangely, that idea starts to a look a lot like the cosmic web of our known universe.

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complex_system

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systems_theory

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_tree


Towards Synthesis, Part 1

(Image from here.)

Hello folks,

Over the past few posts, I have set up some ideas that really need to be strung together. I know it has been a lot, and there is still more to cover. There is at least one more post that will come out in the near future, probably more, but for the moment I wanted to stop here and start bringing this all together. This is always a work in process, so all I can do this time around is start to point the way.

There have been several threads that have woven through the previous posts, and now I want to start tying those together. What is the end goal of all of this? It is an exercise in speculation, on just what the future might look like. It’s as much speculation as it is a vision. It could be very wrong, sure, but it could also help to point the way. With a vision, a plan, we can start setting goals. Like all speculation, it might be fruitless, but it gives me some idea of what to work towards.

I want to take a stab at it. How do I think the future might look? How would that future relate to my values and ideals? How, ultimately, might we create a world that is a bit better and more sustainable than we have now?

Let’s dig more deeply into that. First, let’s recap each of the posts so far.

Michio Kaku

“The transition between our current Type 0 civilization and a future Type 1 is perhaps the greatest transition in history. It will determine whether we will continue to thrive and flourish, or perish due to our own folly.” Michio Kaku, Physics of the Future.

The first post I wrote in this series concerned Michio Kaku’s book The Physics of the Future. In the book, he presented his version of the future. It was a progressive version; that with science and technology we could move towards a very Star Trek-esque future. We could move out to into the solar system, and continue to thrive as a species.

Kaku thinks we will move from a Type 0 to a Type 1 civilization on the Kardashev scale in the next century or two. A Type 1 is a truly planetary civilization, built on science, multiculturalism, pluralism, and greater global intregration. Nation-States will be less relevant, because they will likely give way to larger unions such as the US or the EU.

He also points out, like the quote above, that we are in a very crucial transition right now. We may succeed, or we may fail. Whether we survive or perish, that power is in our hands right now.

Y. Bar-Yam

“Like it or not, our societies may already be undergoing this transition. We cannot yet imagine there are no countries (Nations). But recognising that they were temporary solutions to specific historical situations can only help us manage a transition to whatever we need next. Whether or not our nations endure, the structures through which we govern our affairs are due for a change. Time to start imagining.” End of Nations

In the next post, Y. Bar-Yam put forward several important ideas that are important to focus on here. First, Bar-Yam also thinks that Nation-States will become less relevant, but perhaps not in the same way that Kaku does.

Bar-Yam thinks that the hierarchies that were built up during the Industrial Revolution will start to break down, and that includes Nation-States. As we move from a hierarchical social system, through a hybrid system, and towards a networked world… Nation-States won’t be as relevant.

Between Kaku and Bar-Yam, we have two clear paths that the future might take. On one hand, Nation-States may deliberately and intentionally integrate into more networked arrangements. On the other, Nation-States and other forms of hierarchy may break down and collapse, freeing up the opportunity for new systems of organization.

We are already in that transition, and again, how that plays out is up to us.

Adam Frank

As children of the Earth, we are also children of the stars…. Through the light of the stars, through what they teach us about other worlds and the possibilities of other civilizations, we can learn what path through adolescence we must take. And in that way, we can reach our maturity. We can reach our full promise and possibility.

We can make the Anthropocene into a new era for both our civilization and the Earth. In the end, our story is not yet written. We stand at a crossroads, under the light of the stars, ready to join them or ready to fail. The choice will be our own.” – Light of the Stars

You can find a lot of detail in my post about Adam Frank’s The Light of the Stars. It is a wonderful book that covers a lot of territory, and I have done my best to lay out the parts that were really great.

Frank takes some of the ideas in Kaku’s work, and goes a step farther with them. He ties together energy use on the Kardashev Scale, and the idea that any energy intensive civilization will trigger a Climate Change type process. As an emerging planetary civilization, of course our energy use has affected the planet. That is to be expected.

However, in agreement with Kaku and Bar-Yam, Frank thinks too that we are in a very crucial transition in our cosmic journey from adolescence to maturity. We have to deal with the crises that is Climate Change, and part of that is integrating our civilization as another part of the planet. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and regardless what we do, we will have an impact on the planet.

We may never reach a Type 1 civilization, but as Frank rightly points out, we are making those decisions right now. We need to enter into a cooperative relationship with our planets biosphere, and become just another part of Earth’s evolutionary processes. The planet is waking up, and now we need to bring it a vision and a plan.

According to Frank, a Class 5 planet is a truly awakened world.

Towards the Future

So, we cannot bring the world to heel. Instead, we must bring it a plan. Our project of civilization must become a way for the planet to think, to decide, and to guide its own future. Thus, we must become the agent by which the Earth wakes up to itself….

Science has given us a new perspective, a new vision, and a new story to help us find a way forward as we face the challenge of the Anthropocene. But this can only happen if we listen carefully and truly make this new story our own.

It is time to grow up.”

With all this in mind, it’s time to weave it all together. What does the tapestry laid out by these three authors look like? What does “growing up” really entail?

First, I would say that a networked, Type 1, Class 5 planet are all different versions of the same thing. A grown up planetary civilization would be networked, integrated, and sustainable. It will have most of the energy of a Type 1 civilization at it’s disposal, and it would utilize this energy in a sustainable way that had minimum impacts on the environment.

It would be a Class 5 awakened world, where human civilization becomes the agency of the planet. We can bring the Earth a plan, a plan that is cooperative and sustainable. We can live in balance with the biosphere, as well as build a sustainable civilization. We can reach for the stars, and still respect the earth.

That civilization would be post-national, either through deliberate integration and networking, or through building alternatives as old systems collapse. One way or the other (the the former is more preferable), we would have a truly global civilization built on networks of cities, regional governments, and other organizations.

This civilization would be scientific, multicultural, tolerant, and pluralistic. It would also be democratic, equitable, and sustainable. It would be cooperative and networked. It would respect human rights as well as ecological ones. It would be high energy and high tech, but in a way that doesn’t destroy the planet.

In no small sense, it would be an animistic world. A world and a civilization where humans and non-humans can thrive in ecological balance. All our relatives would be part of the same planetary system, and the Earth would be one big cybernetic organism.

A Type 1, Networked, Class 5 planet would be the awakening of a Cybernetic Gaia.

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

Towards a Planetary Civilization

Towards a Networked World

Towards a Sustainable World

End of Nations