Category Archives: Environment/Ecology

The Spirit, Networks, and Emergence Part 2

(My neck of the woods, from space. NASA composite image)

Hello again folks!

When I originally wrote this post, I didn’t expect this to have a second part, nor did I expect it to warrant a response; especially a three part one. As such, I give a hat tip to my friend Sarenth over at his blog, and his response from the first article I used in my original piece here.

I wanted to address a few of the points he raised, and add on a lot more to the original piece. There would appear a lot more to say on this matter. First off I will start with a couple of points, as a response to Sarenth. This is to clarify my own position, more than it is to argue with his.

Overall, Sarenth is very critical of the ideas of the first article, and the ideas within. That is within his right to be so, and you are welcome to check out his thoughts for yourself. For the record of this series, neurology, science, specific definitions of the soul, and transhumanism are outside the content of this series.  That is not what I am here to talk about, as this series is more philosophy than anything. But there is one point I do wish to address. Sarenth says;

“Certainly, if we consider the the soul “as the sum total of your neurocognitive essence, your very specific brain signature, the unique neuronal connections, synapses, and flow of neurotransmitters that makes you you?” then my hugr,my munr (memory) and possibly my lich, my body, would be all that I am.  It denies the other parts of the Northern Tradition and Heathen Soul Matrix.  

This boils down the soul itself to a purely materialist concept, dispensing entirely with the numenous.  It may make the concept of the soul more palatable to ‘modern’ people, but it is poor theology.  It is like saying “All I am is my cells.”  While strictly true in a physical, materialist sense, it belies the creativity with which I write, the life I lead.  “What of my mind and my individual will?” for example, is a concept poorly explained in such a system.  If indeed we have any notion that we are other than living in a mechanical, purely material universe, then this notion ignores our will, and the mind itself.  If the concept of the soul merely boils down to “You being you is merely the result of your genetics, and the way your brain is formed and wired”, then it not only neuters the understanding of the soul, it outright destroys it.”

I do want to make clear, that in no way am I personally suggesting that the sum-total of our material bodies is all that we are. Nor is redefining what “soul” means of any real interest to me (with the exception being the immortal part.) All I am is not my cells, or my material and energy cycles. That is nearly precisely the opposite of what I want to talk about here.

In fact, per the original NPR article, what I really want to frame is this quote here from Gleiser;

“Just as we have unique fingerprints, our brains, their “connectome,” are also unique. Surely, all brains are made of the same stuff, but wired in very individual ways. Recall that our brains are plastic, and mold themselves according to environmental and emotional inputs — the stories of our lives. To this, we must add our bodies and their relation to our brains. For the mind is embodied, the self not an isolated property of what’s inside your cranium but an emergent property of your whole mind-body integration as mapped through the complex highways of nerves interlocking all of you” 

The real point I want to make is not the brain, or its neurology; but of emergent properties. The mind, all that we think and feel, emerges from the connections in our brains. The (human) soul, as I currently like to think of it, is an emergent property of the sum total of the connections between the cells and material in our bodies. Trillions and trillions and trillions of connections of matter, energy,  and complex systems interacting.

As I imagine the soul, it is what emerges when all those connections are considered. Like trillions of little “spiritual filaments” connecting everything in our mind and body, and which is greater than our individual material selves. I envision it like a really complex mesh of trillions of little glowing filaments it a more or less human shape. That is my essence, my spirit, my soul. Without those connections, all I am would cease to be. (Which is more or less what happens at death, but now is not the time.)

All in all, drawing from Sarenth’s post, Soul Matrix is a great word for this. A complex network from which something else develops. Meshing, Matrix, Network, Wiring; all of which I will use to describe the emergent property I currently think of as the soul.

As far as terms like Hugr and Munr are concerned, they can be used as a “spiritual shorthand.” Frankly, smaller numbers of “parts” are a lot easier to communicate than “a matrix of a trillion trillion light filaments.” Both have their place, I think.

However, moving beyond the individual, we are connected to pretty much everything else on this planet. Some of these connections are tangible, like matter relationships with our food. Some are not nearly as tangible, like the words we exchange with one another. When we extend these connections, these “filaments” beyond ourselves; things start to get really interesting.

As I have said before, I am a big fan of the concept of emergent properties. As you network and connect a greater number of parts, synergies start to happen. Synergy here is defined as “the creation of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts”, and not as some bad corporate propaganda. Two oxygen atoms connect with a hydrogen, and water happens; which has characteristics of neither. You get enough water together with other molecules and some self-replicating proteins, single celled life happens. When evolution experiments with enough arrangements of different forms of life over the long flow of time; humans happen.

In short, the sum is greater than the sum of the parts. At each new level of organization, new properties emerge that are not predicated by the lower levels. This has fascinating implications from an animistic point of view, which is all about creating relationships.

Enough plants, animals, rocks and rivers together and you get an ecosystem. You get enough humans together together and you get a society. When you experiment with enough societies, you get more complex and larger forms of networked humans.

(Note, both evolution and social development are non-linear processes. There are failures, successes, stops and starts.)

Yet, what happens when you get a “critical mass” of human societies networked with other systems on a planetary scale? Something interesting may be emerging indeed… Here I turned to an article from the BBC;

“In Ancient Greek mythology, the Earth Goddess Gaia had nine titan sons, who attempted to control not just the Earth, but the entire Universe. I’d like to introduce another. It’s a new creature who emerged only in recent decades. But it’s a creature who is already as influential over life on the planet as the phytoplankton or forests that regulate global temperature, the weather and the air we breathe.

That new creature is us, or more precisely, what humanity is becoming. The entirety of our species, Homo sapiens, is evolving into a superorganism; I’ll call this new life force Homo omnis, or ‘Homni’.

We have now become the dominant force shaping our planet. Some say that because of our actions we have entered a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene, or the age of man. Homni is a product of this age, a product of human industrialisation, population expansion, globalisation and the revolution in communications technology, and he is immensely powerful.”

The idea of the superorganism is an old one, and here it is used more as an analogy than as a literal truth. Herbert Spencer was one of the first to propose the idea in the social theory. Here is a excerpt from Wikipedia;

“Spencer explored the holistic nature of society as a social organism… For Spencer, the super-organic was an emergent property of interacting organisms, that is, human beings. ”     

Still, the idea has gone through many thinkers, and many different variations. When thinking about an increasingly networked world, the superorganism becomes an interesting analogy. If the whole is greater than the sum of the parts; we might want to think about looking a lot harder at the parts we each play. Such a worldview would favor greater collaboration, greater integration and networking, and a life centered approach. The whole of it all would be one part humanity, one part technology, and one part ecology.

We would need to look at the world through a much more holistic lens.

I give the last word here to the BBC;

“And here lies an interesting paradox. Humans may have evolved through a process of natural selection – essentially outcompeting rivals to death – but as palaeontologist Tim Flannery says, this has led not to a “dog-eat-dog world”, but to a cooperative society. He believes we are in the process of forming an interdependent global society with a set of shared beliefs – a “civilisation of ideas” – that will transform Earth into a more equitable and ecologically curated planet. It’s an optimistic view of Homni, based on the fact that most people want to get on with each other and look after their neighbourhood environment. Whether, or to what degree, Flannery’s altruistic view of humanity bears out is the big question.”

 Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

BBC – Superorganism

Collective Intelligence

Superorganism

The Technium

The Hobbesian


The Spirit, Networks, and Emergence

Hello again folks, hope you are all doing well!

Today I want to talk some about some recent pieces that I have read recently. The two pieces in question are really fascinating to think about in the context of an animistic practice.

Both of these pieces come from NPR’s 13.7 Cosmos and Culture blog. If you are not familiar with it, I would highly recommend checking it out. There are some great writers over there.

The first piece is by Marcelo Gleiser, and is entitled Is Neuroscience Rediscovering the Soul? To frame this discussion, I start out with a quote from the article;

“The idea that neuroscience is rediscovering the soul is, to most scientists and philosophers, nothing short of outrageous. Of course it is not.

But the widespread, adverse, knee-jerk attitude presupposes the old-fashioned definition of the soul — the ethereal, immaterial entity that somehow encapsulates your essence. Surely, this kind of supernatural mumbo-jumbo has no place in modern science. And I agree. The Cartesian separation of body and soul, the res extensa (matter stuff) vs. res cogitans (mind stuff) has long been discarded as untenable in a strictly materialistic description of natural phenomena.”

I have to admit, I had the same kind of reaction when I first read the title. The world really is a fantastic mix of matter and energy, but these things are interchangeably and so far science has not found what might be called a “spirit particle” or anything of the sort. From what we know of this world, everything is pretty much matter or energy.

Still, as an animist there is definitely a spiritual component to all the work that I do. I do think I have a spirit, a life essence, a life force; if you will. But I don’t think that my spirit is at all separate from my body. In some cosmologies, the spirit is not one piece, but a whole collection of different “spirits” in one body.

I take a similar view; but on a much more biological scale. My body is the collective of countless numbers of individual cells, individual spiritual persons. Together, they make something much greater than the sum of the parts. (We will come back to this later in this piece.) Yet there is something in there, a sum collective of all my energies and processes that is distinctly me. My body and my spirit are so deeply integrated and networked, that it’s not always clear where one ends and the other begins.

Gleiser says it this way;

“But what if we revisit the definition of soul, abandoning its canonical meaning as the “spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal” for something more modern? What if we consider your soul as the sum total of your neurocognitive essence, your very specific brain signature, the unique neuronal connections, synapses, and flow of neurotransmitters that makes you you?

Just as we have unique fingerprints, our brains, their “connectome,” are also unique. Surely, all brains are made of the same stuff, but wired in very individual ways. Recall that our brains are plastic, and mold themselves according to environmental and emotional inputs — the stories of our lives. To this, we must add our bodies and their relation to our brains. For the mind is embodied, the self not an isolated property of what’s inside your cranium but an emergent property of your whole mind-body integration as mapped through the complex highways of nerves interlocking all of you.”

Reading that made my skin crawl in a rather wonderful way. I especially love the bit where he says “For the mind is embodied, the self not an isolated property of what’s inside your cranium, but an emergent property of your whole mind-body integration…”

Remember that part about emergent properties and integration, we will be coming back to that.

The thing I refer to as my “self” is really more of a collective of individuals than a single being. All the trillions of cells in my brain and body working in conjunction across masses of networks. That is my body as well as my soul. The Norse concept of hugr, a form of the spiritual “self” is a rather nice fit here. The hugr is considered to be the sum total of the mental life of an individual, and that is exactly what I think Gleiser is talking about.

Our stories, our environment, and our own makeup interacting and coming up with this thing we might call the spirit. That is just wonderful in so many ways.

Before I harp too much on that, I want to turn to the other article that I read recently. It is by David Haskell, and is titled Life is the Network, not the Self.

In talking about a maple leaf, Haskell says;

“By eavesdropping on chemical conversations within the leaf, biologists have learned that the life processes of a plant — growing, moving nutrients, fighting disease, and coping with drought — are all networked tasks, emerging from physical and chemical connections among diverse cells. These leaf networks are dynamic. “

I told you we would come back to emergent properties and networked integration. When we consider our own bodies, we see huge networked complexes working together in both conflict and cooperation. Bacteria in our guts are working to help us digest our food, networked neurons are working to process the information from our senses, our heart muscles are working in a constant beat to keep the blood, nutrients and oxygen moving through our bodies.

As Haskell points out, this kind of integration expands well beyond the individual human, but to maple trees, ecosystems, and the entire biosphere of the planet. Every collective being on this planet is networked, and from that networking new and fascinating forms emerge. Over the long course of evolution, individual cells have been experimenting with different collective networks, and that has given rise to every single living thing on this planet.

As Haskell says;

“Living networks are ancient, perhaps as old as life itself. Models and lab experiments on the chemical origin of life show that interacting networks of molecules beat self-replicating molecules in a Darwinian struggle. Many of the first fossilized cells of life on Earth lived in integrated bacterial stacks called stromatolites. Today, all major ecosystems — forests, coral reefs, grasslands, ocean plankton — are built on conversations between interdependent partners. Cut these conversations and the ecosystems fall apart. The first artificial cells also have a networked character. When scientists organize chemical reactions into arrays of tiny, interconnected compartments, life-like properties emerge: cycles of protein production, gradients of signaling chemicals, and the ability to maintain a steady internal state. Without the network, the homogeneous chemical soup lacks any tang of life.

The fundamental unit of biology is therefore not the “self,” but the network. A maple tree is a plurality, its individuality a temporary manifestation of relationship.”

If we consider the soul to be the sum total of all these connections, in our bodies and with our environment, something rather fascinating and terrifying starts to emerge. As I have explained many times before, animism is concerned with life living in relationships with each other.

Consider our relationships well beyond ourselves. Think about the sum total of all of our technology and the natural world around us. Take a look at our cities from space and ask yourself, what is emerging from our relationships with other beings on this planet?

[Credit: NASA/Suomi NPP VIIRS/Miguel Román/Joshua Stevens]

Thanks for reading!

References/Sources;

http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2017/04/05/522738015/is-neuroscience-rediscovering-the-soul

http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2017/04/04/522011396/the-key-to-life-is-the-network


Animism and Relationships

I just want you all to know that you all are amazing! My hits on this site have been pretty steady, even though I haven’t been posting nearly as much as I would like lately. I have been really busy on other projects… In addition to a full time job, it is really taxing on my time. I have to pick and choose what I am going to devote my time and energy to, and sadly this blog has been low on the priority list.

At the same time, I really didn’t want to put this on hiatus while I worked on other projects. Still, I didn’t want to be putting out crap here (which tends to happen when my head is in something else), because I value myself as a writer of decent content. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; being a novelist and a blogger is really hard sometimes. Usually, I have to pick between one or the other. Either I am putting out good writing for a novel, OR I am putting out good writing for this blog. When I try to juggle both at the same time, the quality of each suffers. It’s all about time and energy management.

But all the same, THANK YOU, all of you, for consistently reading even when I am being neglectful. It really means a lot to me.

Now, into what I hope will be good blog.

I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, thinking about humanity, our civiliations, and its relationship to the environment. In many ways, that is one of the cornerstones of my animism; how we live in relation to one another. “One another” can mean other humans, or non-humans. Relations is a big wide sounding concept, and it is the thing that binds us all together.

The idea for this blog struck me while I was playing games one night. It should come as no surprise that I like to play games in my downtime. I especially like creative games, because it helps to keep the juices flowing without all that mucking about with “productivity.” It lets me wind down, and imagine all at the same time.

An idea struck me late last night when thinking about a couple of games I like to play; namely Starmade and Minecraft. While neither of these are perfect models, they can be used as interesting teaching tools.

For example, Minecraft is a rough model of a pre-industrial society. Most of the work is done by hand (survival mode), and is done mostly by human and animal power. It is a relatively low energy model.

minecraft-windows-10-edition-03-700x373

(We got pigs. We got farms.)

Starmade by contrast is an industrial model. Most extraction and production is done with powered equipment and industrial scale factories. It allows not only faster extraction, but also a significantly larger building scale.

This has both pros and cons. Minecraft has a much slower building rate, and generally a slower extraction rate. Starmade’s build system allows for much larger works on a much faster time scale. However, the extraction rate is also proportionally higher. It is possible in Starmade to build extraction equipment that mines entire planets.

Neither of these games have any real consequences for environmental exploitation. Unlike the real world.

At least in the vanilla versions of these games, there is no consequences in Minecraft if I level an entire forest to build a house. Hell, I could even burn the forest down without any intent of using the resources at all. It has no effect on the breathability of the atmosphere, or generally doesn’t result in the extinction of entire ecosystems. (A few pigs might die, but that might be the worst of it.)

In Starmade, as I mentioned before, you can mine an entire planet, a continent the size of North America if you wanted, and IT HAS NO CONSEQUENCES.

maxresdefault

(That is a mining ship. We aren’t even messing around anymore…)

That is not at all true in the real world, because everything is interconnected. If we treated forests as badly as I sometimes do in Minecraft, there wouldn’t be any trees left. Let’s not even talk about destroying entire worlds, because we only have one at the moment.

But we also have to face facts here. We still need resources, even if our civilization stopped growing today. We would still need timber to maintain homes, still need metal and concrete to maintain our infrastructure. Unless every single human on this planet dies (and no I’m not okay with this), we are still going to require resources to build and maintain everything we do. That is why sustainability is so important, and that is why we need to take a good hard look at our relationships with the environment.

download

(Is this really what we want?)

In Minecraft, even trees can be replanted. Hell, they even grow at a crazy unrealistic rate. In the real world, can you guess how long the forest in the above picture would take in the picture to come back? Decades at least, centuries even.

Now, I want to say that I really do love playing these games.

But we also need to be realistic about these things. For example, let’s talk about efficiency for a moment. We live in an industrial economy, and that means we can do wonderful things like mass produce solar panels, wind turbines, and even rockets to the moon. We couldn’t do these things in a Minecraft style pre-industrial world.

But with that efficiency comes a cost. To keep up with an industrial production rate, we need an industrial extraction rate too. In Starmade I can make ridiculous large factories designed to build large ships such as Krom (not my ship by the way) above. However, those factories may also require me to WASTE ENTIRE PLANETS to keep up with their resource demands.

That is just not sustainable, especially in real life we one have the Earth. One little blue and green planet.

strip_coal_mining

(Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment.)

To circle back to the beginning of this piece; animism is all about relationships. Between humans, and between humans and the environment. It is the relationship between us and our technology, us and our civilization, and the entirety of the planet. These relationships have consequences, and we need to be honest about that. What do our relationships say about us?

What will our relationships look like in the future?

greencity_final polluted-chinese-city_opt1

(right: by Nick Pedersen left: a city in China.)

Thanks for reading!


Updates 2/15/17

“Have I awakened
Deep inside some madman’s dream?
This is not my country
This is not what I believe
Have I awakened
Deep inside some madman’s dream?
I can barely recognize
The place this used to be”

Assemblage 23 – Madman’s Dream

Good evening folks!

Well, it is evening here anyways. I cannot speak to whatever part of the world you may be reading this from. I just wanted to post a (hopefully) quick update blog, so you all can stay in the loop and read about all the exciting things I am working on.

Plus I needed another filler post here as I work to get another post with a little more substance ready…

So here I am, letting you know I haven’t forgotten about you all.

Okay, so here are some updates;

  1. I am coming up on the halfway mark on another manuscript. That’s approximately 35 -40k words for those of you playing the home game. I am working away on a cyberpunk/cybershaman type novel, and I have to say it has really been fun to write so far. I get to play with some pretty interesting topics; such as spirituality, sustainability, and how all that relates to technology. I also really enjoy speculating about what the world might look like in the not-so-distant future.
  2. I have announced it on Facebook, but I will relay that here as well. I have been accepted to write for Paganbloggers.com. Currently I expect that to start moving sometime in March, and I am really excited about this new opportunity. In addition, they are running an Indiegogo to help fund this new site for pagans, by pagans. You can check that out here!
  3. I have finished up editing the fifth book in the Elder Blood Saga. The final book in the series!  I will be getting the artwork for that started in the near future.
  4. I continue to do my best to grow and expand the shop! Have you checked out The White Wolf yet? The link is over there —> It is the home for my writing, crafting, and other work.
  5. Currently, I plan to start a 2+ year shamanic intensive in March. It seems to be the next step in my spiritual journey, and I am anxious/excited to take that next step.

I think that pretty much covers what is going on with me. There is certainly a lot going on in the world, and I’ve been doing my best to keep up with it all. I post a fair bit about many things over on my personal Facebook; not limited to science, spirituality, politics, the environment.. You know a lot of the things I talk about here.

I don’t want to go into that all too deeply here, especially the political bit. Primarily, this is not a political blog. I will delve into that from time to time of course, as it intersects with a lot of what I do talk about here. I think I could even make a fair argument that politics is part of the whole Anthropology thing, as it is concerned with humans; and politics is part of how humans govern one another. There is certainly a case to be made there, as well as topics such as building a sustainable civilization, religious freedoms, and the environment. Plus add the fact that I am sci-fi writer, so on occasion, politics does come up.

There is a lot to say on that front to be sure. The first month or so of the new administration in the US has been… overwhelming. I have been trying my best to keep up, but it seems like every hour something new is breaking. It is also fair to say that many of the things that are coming out of Washington trouble me deeply, and run contrary to many of my views. It just creates this baseline anxiety for me. I’m worried for myself, and my friends and family. Many of them fall into the “marginal” categories, and their rights will be the first to be questioned.

Needless to say, I am part of the resistance. I’m not a Democrat or a Republican, and I have serious questions for both parties. Another Republican in charge wouldn’t have bothered me as much as #45. I never thought I’d wish for Bush Jr back. But truly, the administration of #45 scares me.

But, I am both an optimist and a realist. I am an optimist because I believe that humans have so much potential. I am a realist because I realize the amount of work that it will take to get there. That is why I am trying to stay positive about all this, and inspiring and hopeful as I can. This does not means I don’t think the days ahead aren’t dark.

However #45 is a reaction to 8 years of Obama, and vI like to think that the counterreaction to this administration will be fierce; and the further it tries to push things, the more fierce that counterreaction will be. I also think we will have the opportunity to build a better world on the far side. A more global, interconnected, and sustainable world.

I like this Positive Reframe a fair bit.

But that doesn’t mean there is a lot of hard work ahead of us, and I won’t lie to you and say that work will be all unicorns and rainbows either. People are going to suffer under #45, good people. My people, and I will stand with them.

If you feel called to resist, do so. I will stand for our environment, for science, for my spirituality, and for minorities of all stripes. I don’t know at the current time how far this will go, but I will stand by my values all the same.

Here is a piece I like from Scientific American about resisting.

I particularly like this bit;

“His writings, which have been translated into dozens of languages and are available on the internet, describe a wide variety of tactics: worker strikes, student strikes, mass petitions, underground newspapers, skywriting, display of flags and banners, boycotts of goods, boycotts of sporting events, refusal to pay rent, withdrawal of bank savings, fasts, mock trials, occupation of government buildings, marches, motorcades, teach-ins, pray-ins, ostracism of collaborators, publication of names of collaborators, seeking imprisonment, formation of parallel government and mass disrobing.

Many of Sharp’s methods involve mockery, which the !Kung and other hunter-gatherer groups also employ against the swell-headed.”

Yes, I realize not all these actions are legal. It will be up to each and everyone of us to decide where our “Sacred Cows” are, and what we are willing to risk.

That said, by all means protest. March, rally, strike if you have to. Take a tip from the Natives at Standing Rock, and pray as well as protest. Write, make memes, share reputable news sources, learn the facts, make memes… Do whatever calls to you, and do it.

And hopefully the next world awaits…

 “Build me a future,
Splendid and graceful.
Make it better by design.
Perfected strategies, applied technologies.
A brighter future for a darker age.”

Vnv Nation – Streamline

 


End of Nations? Part 1

There was an article I came across some time ago by NewScientist that really struck a cord with me. As a science fiction writer, I spend a great deal of time doing though experiments and engaging in creative speculation. To put this another way, I wonder a great deal of the future looks like.

In some respect, trying to predict the future is really a futile endeavor. To make predictions about the future, often we resort to historical analogy or the extrapolation of current trends. There are big problems with both of these approaches, which makes me question how useful they really are. For historical analogy, the big problem is historical particularity. At no time in history did our civilization look exactly like it does today, we have industry, computers, and a far bit of other things that don’t have precedents in things like the Roman Empire or Ancient Egypt. That means, after a point, historical analogies fail.

The problem with extrapolation of current trends is the inherent assumption that current trends will continue. For example, I could speculate that our hunger for oil will destroy the planet. There is plenty of good sci-fi out there that does just that. The problem of course arises, when we assume our habit of oil consumption will continue. It may, or it may not. I cannot say for sure.

As another example, I could write a story about a prosperous and brighter future, based on the current trends in science and the gains we have made in environmental protection. That assumes these trends will continue. In real life, we may just get an administration that destroys all those glimmers of hope. Not only does that make the future a lot dimmer, but it also breaks my future predictions.

At the same time, I find creative speculation to be a lot of fun, if not all that productive. No, it is unlikely that I can make sound predictions about the future (though some author’s certainly have been real close), I find the process behind it to be a lot of fun. In other words, it is really fun to imagine what the future might look like.

As such, when I came across End of Nations: Is there an Alternative to Countries? Over at NewScientist, it got my imaginative circuits firing. I hope you indulge me while I talk a little about the article.

Begins with this little number;

Nation states cause some of our biggest problems, from civil war to climate inaction. Science suggests there are better ways to run a planet “

The world is a pretty complex place these days, and the major players on the world state are in fact nation-states. As the article points out, there are about 193 of them these days. However, it was not always that way. In fact, the idea of a nation-state is actually fairly new on a relative time scale. Civilization as we think about it, mostly centered on cities, has been around at least 10,000 years. Nation-states have generally only been around for the last 500. A lot of people have started to wonder if nation-states are the best way to organize our world and confront the challenges ahead.

Yet there is a growing feeling among economists, political scientists and even national governments that the nation state is not necessarily the best scale on which to run our affairs. We must manage vital matters like food supply and climate on a global scale, yet national agendas repeatedly trump the global good. At a smaller scale, city and regional administrations often seem to serve people better than national governments.

How, then, should we organise ourselves? Is the nation state a natural, inevitable institution? Or is it a dangerous anachronism in a globalised world?”

At this point, the article asks us to imagine what another way of organization. But before we can approach that question, the article launches into a little bit of the history behind nation-states. It details how the nation-state is really a recent invention, and that this method of structuring our societies didn’t really exist before circa the 18th century.

The article rightly points out that for a long span of human history, we did not organize ourselves in this way;

That goes back to the anthropology, and psychology, of humanity’s earliest politics. We started as wandering, extended families, then formed larger bands of hunter-gatherers, and then, around 10,000 years ago, settled in farming villages. Such alliances had adaptive advantages, as people cooperated to feed and defend themselves.”

Yet, there were limits to what people could do as roaming bands, or even larger organizations such as villages. According to the article, Robin Dunbar suggests that an individual person can keep track of their relationship’s with about 150 people or so. That means, say in a world of 7 billion some odd people, individually most of us are going to be able to have decent social relationships with a very small number of people. Call it your “inner circle” if you like.

But, aside from cooperation for food supplies, there was also another important reason for a lot of friends.

But there was one important reason to have more friends than that: war. “In small-scale societies, between 10 and 60 per cent of male deaths are attributable to warfare,” says Peter Turchin of the University of Connecticut at Storrs. More allies meant a higher chance of survival.”

As long as there has been humans, there have been human deaths because of violence. I really wish I could feed the quint romance that there was some mythical “peaceful” time in our past, but there wasn’t. Some societies and tribes were more peaceful than others, sure, but as long as we have been around we can point to evidence of violence. But there is another thing that needs to be said here. Humans are also social by nature, our best chances of survival are when we work together, not when we are alone. So we found ways to organize ourselves, and these larger alliances helped us to survive. This in turn, gave rise to hierarchies.

How did they get past Dunbar’s number? Humanity’s universal answer was the invention of hierarchy. Several villages allied themselves under a chief; several chiefdoms banded together under a higher chief. To grow, these alliances added more villages, and if necessary more layers of hierarchy.

Larger hierarchies not only won more wars but also fed more people through economies of scale, which enabled technical and social innovations such as irrigation, food storage, record-keeping and a unifying religion. Cities, kingdoms and empires followed.”

As I have already pointed out, this was hardly a linear process. The transition from hunter-gatherers to empires and monarchies was an up-down-and all around process. Cities rose and fell, empires did the same. What was the reason for this? There are several factors involved to be sure, but one of the keep points, as pointed out in the article, was that most pre-industrial societies were relatively not all that complex.

One key point is that agrarian societies required little actual governing. Nine people in 10 were peasants who had to farm or starve, so were largely self-organising. Government intervened to take its cut, enforce basic criminal law and keep the peace within its undisputed territories. Otherwise its main role was to fight to keep those territories, or acquire more. “

As such, even the largest empires such as Rome, didn’t have to do very much in terms of governing. The individual communities did most of that themselves, though Rome itself provided the organizing structure behind the society, which granted them with a fairly consistent supply of manpower and food production. Back to the article to expand on this point.

Such loose control, says Bar-Yam, meant pre-modern political units were only capable of scaling up a few simple actions such as growing food, fighting battles, collecting tribute and keeping order. Some, like the Roman Empire, did this on a very large scale. But complexity – the different actions society could collectively perform – was relatively low.

We are getting towards what I think is the real heart of the matter. In the case of most pre-industrial societies, the relative complexity was pretty low. The article here defines complexity as the “different actions a society could preform”, and as has already been pointed out, most of these activities were either food production, war or keeping order. But then the question that follows is why was that relative complexity so low?

We will explore that question more in the next part of this series.

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References:

NewScientist – “The End of Nations”

https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22329850-600-end-of-nations-is-there-an-alternative-to-countries/


Reflections and Meditations on 2016 Part 2

 

2016 sure has been a crazy year, on more than just a spiritual level. There have been a couple of events that I have been tracking through various sources. The first was the protest at Standing Rock, and at other locations as well.

It has been really inspiring to me that the Native Peoples are fighting for their rights for clean water and against big oil. I gave everything I could, and I will be watching and hoping that this creates enough ripples to move the world in a new direction. I think we need to move pass the days when we build our civilization on the backs of the dead, in both a literal (the oppression of others) and metaphoric (oil being made from long decayed matter). I also think that our First Nations (this is Canadian term, but I like it) might be on the front lines of that change.

They have certainly put their bodies on the line in more ways than I could. They have endured dog attacks, very serious injuries from “non-lethal” weapons, and even getting sprayed with water in below freezing temperatures. That is oppression at it’s worst.

Because more than anything, I think that Standing Rock really is a lot bigger than just a single pipeline. This is an issue for all people; human or not. It is about a clean environment, clean water, clean air, and clean land. It is about challenging capitalism, and about resisting the status quo which reduces our environment to resources to be exploited for profit. It also challenges the narrative that we ourselves are simply resources to be exploited in the same way. It challenges the “oil narrative”, and shows us there is an alternative to our way of living.

In short, we need to leave the fossil fuels in the ground, and keep building a new energy future.

I think we already have a decent start, but there is so much more to be done. Which brings me to the most recent election. It has left me with a great deal of anxiety and trepidation. The president-elect a “majority” of American’s picked for this country is not a good choice. He is in no way qualified nor has the capacity to lead this country. All throughout the campaign I have listened to hateful, racist, xenophobic, and just straight up bigoted rhetoric come out of his mouth. What is worse, is that it empowered people with those beliefs to act on them. The incidents of hate-motivated crime are up, especially in my home state. Many of my friends and loved ones have expressed their terror, that the rights that have gained recently might be stripped away again. Women, LGBT+ folks, people of color, Muslims, minorities of all stripes.

I have been watching his picks for his cabinet, and there is nothing there to redeem the next administration in my eyes. The former executive of an Alt-Right publication, and anti-EPA guy to lead the EPA, a CEO of Exxon-Mobile to be the secretary of State. Far from “draining the swamp”, instead he has openly embraced a team of people that represent everything I stand against. Big Money, Big Oil; overall a bunch of rich, elite oligarchs.

We have moved passed the democracy, and into the oligarchy. We probably passed that mile-marker some time ago at break-neck speed.

None of this gives me a lot of optimism for the next four years. I think we are going to see a lot of hard won battles eroded. The rights of minorities to be sure. I also suspect a new and stronger push for “domestic energy” which is going to be Big Oil bulldozing over every kind of environmental regulation. It is horrifying to watch any gains we have made at risk. I have made pretty clear that I think social democracy is a great goal to shoot towards. With the incoming gaggle of oligarchs, we have missed that mark by a great deal, and probably set those goals back many years.

I am still processing all of that. Each day seems to get a little worse. I honestly wonder how dark the days ahead are going to be. But I want to leave this topic for the time being.

Still, I tend to take the long view of things. I think this is a side effect of being a student or archaeology.

I have heard several people say this is how the American Empire dies. Some part of me is inclined to agree with them. Do I think our civilization is doomed? No, I’m not ready to accept that line of thought just yet. Nor am I the kind of person that thinks we need to tear down everything we have built to begin again. To employ a cliché, I don’t think we need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Honestly, I don’t know what the future looks like. We can speculate, we can model, we can guess; but that is all it is at the end of the day. Still, I can say with some certainty what I would like the future to look like. It gives me hope, and it gives me goals to work for. This year has been very enlightening for me in terms of my political views. I have seen a clear distinction between the things I can’t stand for (Trump), and the things I do support (Sanders).

So what does that world look like? I’ll tell you a few bits for sure, as I have been working my way through Bernie Sander’s book Our Revolution. I will use that here as a talking point.

“Over a hundred years ago, workers in this country took to the streets to fight for a forty hour work week. Marching under huge banners, they told the world they were human beings, not beasts of burden. They wanted time with their families, time for education, time for culture…

Today work is all we are supposed to do. If you get sick, you go to work it you may lose your job. If your kid is in the hospital, you go to work. If your father is dying, you go to work. If you have a baby, you are back on the job in two to three weeks because you don’t have paid leave…” pg 211.

We need to seriously rethink how we do work in this country, that is one of my big thoughts for this election cycle. Allowing for are variability and nuance, I think we as a country work way too much. In addition, as the quote above points out, we really don’t have any real choice in the manner. “Full time” is defined at 40+ a week. I have worked a lot of jobs, and each job has it’s different demands to be sure. As does each persons personal life. I am talking about a work-life balance here, and this country has swung far into the realm of “all work, no life” on that scale.

What makes it worse is that our minimum wage is hardly a living wage, and benefits are really a patchwork. Generally speaking, we are not guaranteed any paid time off whatsoever. Not vacation time, not sick time, not parental time, none of it. We are probably the only industrial western nation that does not allow for these things. Certainly when compared with the Nordic social democracies, we are well behind the curve in this regard. Just a few things I would like to see;

  • A living wage
  • Guaranteed paid vacation, sick, and paternal time off
  • Having “full time” be less than 40 hours per week (variable based on the job) for a better work/life balance
  • A general improvement of worker’s rights, including but not limited to: increase in union membership, more profit sharing and worker owned businesses.
  • Also, a general redistribution of wealth. On the whole, we worker’s see an ever smaller share of the wealth we help produce. I would like to see this change, not only at the business level, but at the greater social level as well. I will come back to this later.
  • I am also watching Universal Basic Income with a great deal of interest

But as college because less affordable, and as working families take on increasing amounts of debt, higher education may actually be increasing social and economic inequality, rather than alleviating it. Making higher education universally will not only create a better-educated society, it will allow us to be a more just society…

Not everyone wants to go to college, and not everyone needs to go to college. This country needs a large supply of carpenters, plumbers, welders, bricklayers, iron workers, mechanics, and many other professions that pay workers, especially those with unions, good wages for doing very important, skilled work. As part of a new approach to higher education and vocational training, we must provide those students with the education and training they need, regardless of the incomes of their families.”

Bernie Sanders – Our Revolution pg 343, 354

This is a large problem in our society, the lack of access to college and vocational training. Many of my generation are strapped with enormous student debt, which will limit our financial outlook for a good part of our lives. It may delay us in making larger purchases such as homes and automobiles.

But that isn’t the half of it. In our capitalist society, too often we focus on the economic benefits of higher education instead of the social ones. I do think a better educated public will help solve a lot of the issues we are facing. But it is not a silver bullet, and the work goes well beyond that.

In addition, not everyone needs or wants to go to college. The other part of this is better access to skilled trades and vocational training. Overall, between the two of them; we would have a more skilled, better educated, and I think more just society. Education in all its forms is a public good, and we all benefit from it.

That is why think;

-We need universal access to higher education, as well as skilled trades training. We are one of the few nations that does not provide these services to our citizens.

“I have, for as far back as I can remember, always believed that health care is a right of all people, not a privilege. Health care is a basic human need. We all get born, we all get sick or have accidents, we all need care and die at the end of our lives. Everyone needs health care. Every should have health care.

It has never made sense to me that the quality of care a person receives – indeed, whether that person receives any care – should be dependent upon the job they have or the wealth of their family. It has never made sense to me that Americans should be forced into bankruptcy because of a serious illness. It never made sense to me that some people will live and some people will die because of their health insurance status.”

Bernie Sanders – Our Revolution pg 318

Universal healthcare is also high on my list. This is the thing that everyone needs, and everyone will use. It is once again a public good that we as a society should provide for everyone. Really, there is not much I can add to this quote, except some personal anecdotes. For several years my wife and I were without health insurance, and there wasn’t a day that went by that I wasn’t anxious about one of us getting hurt or sick. It would have been the end of us financially.

I have pretty good insurance from my employer now, but in my opinion that doesn’t go far enough. Health care should not be a privilege people get from having a decent job. It disproportionately hurts people that are underemployed, or in poverty. Why should we live in a society where only those who are decently employed enjoy healthcare? No, it should be the right of all people, not a privilege that favors the wealthy.

“…there is no issue more important, in my mind, than combating climate change and transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels and into energy efficiency and sustainable energy…

… affordable electric vehicles and recharging stations, more efficient solar panels, advanced battery systems to store wind and solar energy, and innovative controls to seamlessly integrate renewables into our power grid will require cutting edge research… The US can and must dedicate our engineering know-how to a clean energy revolution, in our universities, in our national energy labs, and in the businesses and communities all across the country.”

Bernie Sanders – Our Revolution pgs 251 – 253

This is a huge set of issues for me. The environment is something very near and dear to me, and we need to be doing a better job in conservation, preservation, and sustainability. I have said this in many other cases, so I don’t want to go into too deep here.

But the long and short of it is, we need to get away from fossil fuels as quickly and possible and rebuild our energy infrastructure to be as sustainable and clean as possible. Once our energy infrastructure is done, we need to continue to work to transition our transportation sector to electric as well. These things are vital to combating climate change, as well as vital to our future as a whole.

 

But that is enough of the politics for now.

As always, thanks for reading!


Klaus

First, I want to say hello to all the new readers that follow this blog. Hello, and thanks for reading! I have surpassed 900 followers recently, and that makes me very happy. Welcome aboard!

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Volume 1 Artwork (The artwork is amazing!)

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The cover of the volume I picked up.

I have written a fair deal on this blog about storytelling. It should not come as a surprise to anyone that I am fascinated by the process as well as the actual art of it. I mean, I am a fiction writer after all. It seems like a prerequisite to be a writer that first; you must be a voracious consumer of stories in whatever form. Whether novels, comics, movies, and/or games, you have to go through a lot of stories.

At a certain point, at least if you are anything like me, you have a whole set of ideas floating around in your head just waiting to to be stitched together. Your own stories start to percolate and mature, and the writing begins.

But this post isn’t about writing, but about one particular story. Every so often a story comes along that just really kicks you in both the heart and the head. Something you identify with strongly, and that relates so strongly to the world you live it that it leaves you reeling. This is a post about one such story, which happens to be in graphic novel form.

However, I want to say a few things before I get to that; because hopefully it will explain a little of why this story hit me so hard. It is also no secret that I am still in processing mode with the recent election and other events in the world; such as Standing Rock. There has been a lot of questioning for me in the recent days.

I was a strong Sanders supporter. Even though I am young, I have never had a candidate speak to my values and ideals as closely as he did. I remember thinking to myself, that was the kind of revolution I can get behind. One that shakes up both our culture and our society, one that refocuses all these things in the direction of social democracy. I could support something like that.

Yet, I have to face facts. That is not the way things went with this election. If I may be a little biased for a second, I think we elected a straight up tyrant. Several people have called him a fascist. I say if the boot fits…

I have also said that if his campaign is any indicator, a lot of people are going to be in harm’s way. Hell, at least one person I highly respect has already been attacked in Trump’s name.

All of this has left me with more questions than answers. Questions about the Democrats, questions about the media, questions about America in general.

Which brings to mind all the stories that have really inspired me. Stories like Star Wars, in which rebels fight against an evil ruler and Empire.

Which brings me to the story I wanted to talk about today. It is a graphic novel called Klaus, by Grant Morrison and Dan Mora. At the basic level, this is a reinvented and retelling of Santa Claus, but done in a beautiful and imaginative way that is filled with shamanism and Viking-ness.

It is the story of Klaus, who is a man of the wild, a hunter. He comes into a town to sell his furs, and comes to realize the Baron of the town is an evil man. Klaus is assaulted outside a tavern, basically for being an outsider. He also sees the town guards assault a small child, and he learns that Baron has taken all the toys and joy generally out of the town.

So Klaus is sent from the village, bleeding and battered. The guards make a sport of it, and chase after him. He is shot with at least one arrow, and left for dead. The guards corner him and come in for the kill. That is when we first meet his companion, Lilli, a great white wolf, who makes short work of the guards.

Later on in the story, we learn that the Baron has made a deal with the Krampus. He oppresses the people of the village, works them day and night in a coal mine, where the Krampus is buried. You know, basic deal with the devil stuff.

Shamanism, Viking-ness, white wolves, a fight against an oppressive tyrant and an evil demon, found in a coal (fossil fuel) mine?

It is not my place to tell you the whole story, but it struck me right in the heart strings. There are enough parallels between Klaus, his wolf companion, the world as well as myself that it certainly made an impression.

I have written many times before how I have two spirit companions that are Arctic Wolves, white as the new fallen snow (Well, the male does actually have darker spots). I am also a hunter and outdoorsman myself, and work with Skaði, who also is commonly pictured with a great white wolf.

Did I ever say that naming my shop The White Wolf was no coincidence?

What is even funnier, is that my current Dnd character started (I say started because there have been both hair color and sex changes recently..) as basically the character in the book, except a little older and with white hair. A ranger/shaman hybrid with a wolf companion.

Side note: No, I do not base my Dnd characters on some idealized version of myself… Okay maybe I do. Maybe I see a lot of myself in Klaus, though he is significantly more beefcake than I will ever be. Alas.

In addition, Klaus is in fact a Germanic shortform of my name, Nicholas. Nicholas is a Greek name that means “victory of the people”. This fact is actually pointed out in the book, as Klaus continues his transition from wild man to hero of the people, and eventually Santa Claus himself.

I don’t really think I really need to harp on that point any more. But I did want to circle back to the original point of this post. The strange influence stories have on our reality, and how they teach lessons in the most unexpected ways.

I hope it is clear why this story resonated so strongly with me, and there are certainly some lessons here about the current state of the world.

In the story, one of the chief “bad guys” comes from a coal mine. I think there is some important lessons there about our use of fossil fuels, as well as the ongoing situation at Standing Rock. I think we should be resisting “the creature in the coal mine”, given how toxic fossil fuels are for our world. I think we as a society should do everything in our power to resist the Black Snake, and at the same time build a more environmentally friendly and sustainable future.

I think there are important lessons here as well when it comes to oppressive governments and tyrants. The hero in the story fights with sword and magic to be sure (because comic book hero), but also with the support of the people. In a way, he leads a people’s revolt against both a tyrannical government as well as the beast in the coal mine.

To be fair, he is Santa Claus at the end of the day.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Here is a link to this book on Amazon for reference. There are single issues, but the volume I got is seven in all.

Naturally, I would say support your local comic book store.

Apparently, this has been published this month. Per Amazon’s date, it had been out 4 days when I picked it up. 🙂

https://www.amazon.com/Klaus-Grant-Morrison/dp/1608869032