Category Archives: Philosophy

Space Engineers

This looks like a good place for adventure. (Me, playing Space Engineers)

Hello again everyone!

This is kind of a ‘just for fun” post, but something I think is important to talk about all the same. It should come as no surprise to anyone here that aside from being a fiction writer, I’m also a gamer. I like games, and I make no apologies for that. Oregon Trail, Super Mario Brothers, SimCity, Minecraft… All of it. I have been gaming for a long time (and this includes tabletop). Games aren’t real life, but it has always struck me how informative games can be when it comes to thinking about real life. There are important lessons to be learned from games.

Games are designed to simulate some aspects of real life, and so can help us think about all sorts of issues. I really like sandbox, exploration, and building games; so games like Starmade, Minecraft, and Simcity have a lot to teach us about building, crafting, and even urban design and energy policy. It’s the last I really want to focus on today, through the lens of a game called Space Engineers.

I really enjoy Space Engineers, because it is a game built around creativity and exploration, using technology inspired by the real world, in a near future scenario. We see a lot of energy technology that we have at our disposal right now, such as wind turbines, solar panels, hydrogen engines, and even nuclear reactors. There are no fossil fuels in the game, so it is a really useful lens for thinking about energy policy, and the current state of our energy systems.

Michigan

As games and fiction are can be useful for imaging the future, I want to take you on a bit of thought experiment today. We are going to use my home state of Michigan as an example, with Space Engineers as a lens on our energy policy. So here is our current energy mix for electricity generation;

(From here and here.)

Alright, so we can from the chart above that Michigan has four main electrical power sources; coal, nuclear, natural gas, and renewable energy (wind, solar, and hydro; primarily.) By contrast, Space Engineers uses all clean sources (though not necessarily renewable) sources of power as I have already pointed out. So can we use Space Engineers to rebuild Michigan’s energy system? Release the army of engineers!

They took the scenic route in their solar/hydrogen powered vehicle.

According to the recent IPCC report, we have to drastically reduce our usage of fossil fuels, and they need to be zero by about 2050 if we are going to have any chance to mitigate climate change. So on the above pie chart, that means that coal and natural gas have to go, so we will start there.

Coal & Natural Gas

Coal and natural gas in Michigan make up about 63% of our total electrical energy supply. As such, well over half our energy system comes from fossil fuels, and would have to be phased out by 2050. Coal is definitely the worst of the two offenders, as natural gas is slightly ‘cleaner’, but in the long run it should go too.

Starting with coal then, and utilizing our full army of Space Engineers, we have to replace 37% of our energy sources. The most obvious sources (leaving nuclear aside for now) are renewable energy, especially wind and solar. Michigan has tremendous wind and solar resources, so our limited factor is energy storage more than production capacity. However, with increasing efficient battery technology, and local Michigan pumped hydro storage, our engineers have no problem replacing coal with renewable energy by 2050.

Which brings our renewable energy percentage up to 45%. Drawdown lists on-shore wind, solar farms, and rooftop solar in the top ten solutions to combat climate change. I don’t see 45% as an unreasonable number, as it may be technically possible to run Michigan on 100% renewables.

Unleash the wind and solar! (Yes, I’m flying. Big whoop.)

The next kicker in our energy mix is natural gas. Like coal, natural gas energy is a form of combustion. Basically, burning a fuel to turn a turbine, which creates electrical energy. There are a lot of variations and methods of this, so I’m not going to go into the technical details all that much. Natural gas is still a fossil fuel, produced primarily from oil wells. And while it is ‘cleaner’ than coal, it still produces quite a bit of carbon. Methane is it’s chief component, which is carbon with four hydrogen atoms. So how do we get natural gas out of the mix?

Well, our engineers are good at what they do, so we could just expand more renewables and bring our mix up to 71% renewable. That is possible too, and again the IPCC report says 70-80% renewable energy is about where we’d need to be. So that is one option. We will call that scenario one.

But our Space Engineers also give us another option. One of the big sources of energy in the game is hydrogen; which is used for everything from jetpacks, to rocket engines, to hydrogen engines. So this gives us another option, the hydrogen economy. By using clean renewable energy (as opposed to current techniques), for electrolysis, we could produce abundant amounts of hydrogen from water. If we built up the infrastructure for safe transport and storage of hydrogen gas  (which is quite volatile), we could use hydrogen in everything from transportation to gas turbines. In short, it may be pretty easy to convert natural gas power plants to use hydrogen. If we use pure oxygen in addition to the hydrogen, the only waste would be water vapor. So 26% of our energy could also come from hydrogen plants. We will call that scenario two.

Now this is only a hypothetical situation, as there are several aspects of hydrogen and renewable energy that aren’t quite there yet. The only way to make hydrogen viable would be clean, renewable primary energy. That isn’t the case, as we still are mostly using coal and natural gas. Also, the infrastructure isn’t in place yet, though it is growing.

Nuclear

Moving on, the next big energy source in Space Engineers are nuclear reactors. I have used these in the game for a lot of different applications, from factory power to starship reactors. There are some things in the game that require quite a bit of power, and nuclear works nicely for this. In addition, in the real world Michigan gets 30% of it’s energy from nuclear power plants. We have three plants in total.

Drawdown ranks nuclear as #20 on it’s list. This power source has the potential to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, but it comes with a whole bunch of risks and drawbacks. Drawdown lists nuclear as a regrets solution, and has this to say on the topic;

“At Project Drawdown, we consider nuclear a regrets solution. It has potential to avoid emissions, but there are many reasons for concern: deadly meltdowns, tritium releases, abandoned uranium mines, mine-tailings pollution, radioactive waste, illicit plutonium trafficking, and thefts of missile material, among them.”

However, Drawdown goes to say that plausibly; “we assume its share of global electricity generation will grow to 13.6 percent by 2030, but slowly decline to 12 percent by 2050. ” It is important to note that this is global generation, and regional generation can vary a bit. For example, right now global energy production from nuclear is about 11%, whereas Michigan’s percentage is 29%.

With nuclear being both and option in the game, and in real life Michigan, I am going to assume our engineers use the resources we have, and upgrade them to newer, safer reactors. Maybe they even deploy some of those generation IV reactors we hear so much about? (Most reactors in existence are second generation, built in the 70-80’s)

The Scenarios 

Alright, so our army of engineers have scoured the state of Michigan, and made huge improvements and refinements to our energy system. They also changed out our transportation system, which works mostly now on electricity and/or hydrogen. So where does all this leave us in our game inspired fantasy? With two unique scenarios for a possible sustainable energy future.

Scenario 1: 29% nuclear, 71% renewable.

Scenario 2: 29% nuclear, 45% renewable, 26% hydrogen

I like scenario 1 a little better, because it makes a few less assumptions and relies more on technology we know to work today. The hydrogen economy is a little more of a stretch, because there are a lot of technical details and infrastructure that just doesn’t exist right now. But this imagined scenario is 2050, so our wonderful engineers may have worked that out. It is also technically possible, that the grant us a third scenario that eliminates the nuclear.

Scenario 3: 100% renewable energy, or 100% hydrogen/renewable.

Could the last be possible? I think so, and our engineers are a brilliant sort. It would be the ideal scenario for sure, but engineers are also very pragmatic. That leaves nuclear an open question.

Even though Space Engineers is a game, again, I think it is a great tool to help us think about the future. A future where space travel is real, and our civilization is sustainable. So I leave you with this thought and image. A ship powered by hydrogen and electric thrusters, with energy supplied by a mix of solar, hydrogen and nuclear.

It’s my ship, and thanks for reading!


Random Book Recommendations!

Hello again folks!

I just wanted to drop by quickly and say a few words. First of all, thank you all for reading this blog. There have been an above average number of reads this year, and I am really grateful for that. Thank you for sharing this journey with me,

That said, I keep seeing the above meme circulating around social media. It frames our existence in terms of four pretty well known dystopian novels. I think this speaks deeply to the times we live in, but also speaks to the power that narratives have in our lives. That we can see our own troublesome reality in rather depressing stories says a lot. It means we are living in times of fear, and that we need to be on guard for things like authoritarian governments, misinformation, and the erosion of women’s rights, and the separation of church and state.

Yet, it also speaks volumes to the power of narratives to shape our outlook on the world. Consider Christianity and the Bible, a book that has undeniably shaped the West and our history in the US. There has been no shortage of dystopian stories, and this is a product of living in uncertain times.

However, it also shapes our perspective on the present as well as the future. Narratives are inspired by our experiences, and they simultaneously shape those experiences. What I am trying to say is, we need to be careful that a grim present doesn’t limit us to a grim future. Just because we can see ourselves reflected in the four stories in the meme above… Well, this should not be the measure by which we shape the future. We have other options, and so I give a short list of some great books that have a little more positive view, even if they are far from perfect.

Fiction

The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson

What can I say about this one that I haven’t said already? This is a great series that involves the terraforming of Mars, and all the scientific, cultural, religious, and political aspects that go along with that. It had a huge impact on me and helped shaped by views of democratic socialism, science, and where we are going as a species.

New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson

It should go without saying that I am huge Kim Stanley Robinson fan, and this book has been one of my favorites. New York 2140 is a great story about the city of New York in the aftermath of rising seas. Yet, life goes on, and the people start to come up with new ways of living in a drowned city. If you want a great fictional introduction about climate change, capitalism, and what a post-capitalist society might look like… This book is for you.

Gardens and Glass – Solarpunk Summers, edited by Sarena Ulibari

I’m an unashamed solarpunk, and this is a great introduction to the genre! Inside are all kinds of short stories that show what a world changed by climate change might look like. But instead of grim and dull, these stories are bright, scientific, and full of promise. Yes, the climate crisis is real, but another world is still possible. That world may just be in these pages.

Non-Fiction

Drawdown, edited by Paul Hawken

There is a lot we can do to mitigate the worst of the climate crisis, and the best of those solutions are within this book. From solar farms, to wind turbines, to the rights of women and indigenous peoples; those solutions are ranked within Drawdown. It’s a great starting place for what we all can do right now, with the technology and methods we have available to us.

Physics of the Future, by Michio Kaku

I love this book for a lot of reasons, even if I don’t fully agree with every point. (And this is true no matter the book.) That said, this book is a great overview of the science and technology that will be available to us in the near future, and paints a fairly progressive and optimistic view of what that could look like. It’s a great compliment to the other books already on this list.

Light of the Stars, by Adam Frank

Last, but definitely not least, this has been one of my favorite recent reads. In a way, this book is a love letter to Carl Sagan. But more than that, it highlights all the scientific knowledge that informs how we might face climate change as a planet and as a civilization. It lays out what we learned from other planets about climate, ideas like the Gaia Hypothesis, and Drake’s Equation. It’s a wide ranging book, and very enlightening to where we stand now as a species, as a planet, and what our future might be. And no, not all hope is lost.

We still have numerous possible futures open to us, even though the present is full of troubles. But we can let present troubles define our possible futures. That is still up to us.

Thanks for reading!


A Green New Deal

(From Wikipedia)

Hello again folks,

If the title wasn’t a dead give away, today I want to talk about the prospect of a Green New Deal. I have made no secret on this blog that climate change, renewable energy, and various forms of democratic eco-socialism are kind of my bag. I spend a ridiculous amount of time writing and researching these topics, and am an unashamed solarpunk, and animist. I believe firmly that a kind of sustainable civilization is possible, and is something we should actively work towards.

As such, now a Green New Deal is a mainstream topic. I’m excited to see this, and I am curious to see how this might pan out. I have my reservations as well of course, as I worry that some things might not make it into the Democratic version that should really be there. There has already been a fair bit of criticism not only what made it in, but what has been left out as well.

Yet, if the 2018 IPCC report is clear about anything, it is clear about the fact that we have to work hard and move fast to have a chance to mitigate and adapt to climate change. We have a window, but a small one that is closing fast. Add in the fact that the changes we have to make are unprecedented, and this can seem like an impossible task. But I haven’t given up, and neither should you. We are going to need people willing to roll up their sleeves, and do the hard and messy work. Even if we fail in the end, I’d rather shoot for the stars and miss.

The IPCC report is clear also that we have to reduce emissions by half by 2030 (12 years), and drastically decommission fossils fuels, such as coal and oil. We have have to drastically build up renewable energy, and other solutions to lower our carbon impact. That is where any kind of Green New Deal comes in, as a set of policy goals to help steer the US down the path laid out by the IPCC , and the Paris Accords.

There was an article by The Intercept recently that I absolutely love, because it starts out with a story that seems like it might be science fiction. But that’s the point science fiction, to imagine the future, and the Intercept’s article paints a vision of the future inspired by a Green New Deal. Go read it, if you have the time.

Me, I will only highlight one small section;

On Friday, Ocasio-Cortez and her collaborators gathered outside the Capitol to talk about the increasingly popular program. “The push for a Green New Deal is about more than just natural resources and jobs,” said Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. “It’s about our most precious commodity: people, families, children, our future. It’s about moving to 100 percent renewable energy and the elimination of greenhouse gases. It’s about ensuring that our coastal communities have the resources and tools to build sustainable infrastructure that will counteract rising sea levels, beat back untenable natural disasters, and mitigate the effects of extreme temperature.”

I like that these ideas are being discussed in public, and there are a lot of ways this could pan out. The point I think is that we have to think BIG to tackle this crisis, and we have to be able imagine what the next world looks like, so that we can make goals and plans, and get to work meeting those goals. That is what Kim Stanley Robinson points out in his article here

“Imagine a remade world founded upon health and prosperity. Imagine transportation of every kind propelled by clean energy—electric cars and scooters, for sure, but also container ships pulled by kite sails, then battery powered when navigating close to port. Imagine every lightbulb and internet download powered by the sun and the wind. Imagine engineers and technicians and heavy-equipment operators finding meaningful work building out a global clean energy infrastructure. All these technologies are off-the-shelf and shovel-ready; the only thing we haven’t invented yet is the economics to pay for them.” – KSR

But any kind of Green New Deal has to be more encompassing than just the technological, as tackling climate change effectively will involve making large scale changes to our cultural, social, and economic systems. I have been very clear about my support for the 100 Drawdown solutions. Any kind of Green New Deal would range from job guarantees, to universal healthcare and education, to dismantling fossil fuels, building renewable energy and low carbon infrastructure, and also finding a workable alternative to capitalism.

Because, in order to tackle climate change, we have to tackle our underlying cultural beliefs and social systems. Several papers such as the Hothouse Paper , and a report to the UN make very clear that the US economic system, that is capitalism, has to change. We cannot continue focus on infinite growth on a finite planet. It is quite literally killing our planet as well as ourselves.

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and people should come before profits.

A Green New Deal

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the Green New Deal, what they are proposing, and what they are not. It’s true that there are all kinds of things I would love to see in a Green New Deal. Universal education and healthcare, less working hours, livable wages, renewable energy, the end of fossils fuels, greater distribution of wealth… I could go on and on, and I’ll admit, the story The Intercept spins is not a bad one. Hurray for cooperative economics!

Yet, we have to be pragmatic here, and not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. In order to meet any of the benchmarks laid out by the IPCC, we need resources, and a lot of them. While the Green New Deal won’t be an end all be all, it could be an important first step to unlocking much needed financial and material resources. We also need to keep in mind this in only an outline, not any kind of final draft legislation. As such, here is what NPR states is in the Green New Deal, with a link to the full document;

“Among the most prominent, the deal calls for “meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.” The ultimate goal is to stop using fossil fuels entirely…. as well as to transition away from nuclear energy.”

Yes! Renewable energy is high on my priority list, so that is a good proposal. If 100% renewable is technical feasible, we should do that. That means huge investment in time and labor into building that infrastructure, and supporting grid and energy storage systems. Federal legislation will certainly help that cause. It’s very clear from the IPCC report and others that ending fossil fuels and developing renewable energy are important steps forward.

Yet, there is also the fossil fuel and nuclear questions that linger here. I don’t know at the current time that 100% percent renewable energy is possible. It’s a lofty goal, and it’s a world I’d love to see. That said, I would like more details on how fast fossil fuels are phased out, and what, if any, role nuclear should play. Nuclear has a lot of baggage, and most functioning reactors today are from the 70’s and 80’s. We should be cautious there.

* “upgrading all existing buildings” in the country for energy efficiency;

Alright, that’s necessary and good. Reduction of energy demand will go a long ways towards reducing our footprint. Buildings will also need retrofitting for both mitigation and adaption to changing conditions. No problems there.

* working with farmers “to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions … as much as is technologically feasible” (while supporting family farms and promoting “universal access to healthy food”);

Another set of good points. In order to mitigate the worst of climate change, our food systems are in for a full overhaul. Localization, permaculture and organic farming, regenerative agriculture… There is a long list of ideas here, and many will have to be adopted. I can’t give space to them all, but it’s a good start.

“Overhauling transportation systems” to reduce emissions — including expanding electric car manufacturing, building “charging stations everywhere,” and expanding high-speed rail to “a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary”;

Transportation accounts for over half of our oil usage across the world. As such, investment in clean and electric transportation is also a must. Electric personal cars, sure, but also public buses and high speed rail. The US lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to high speed rail, and this too is an important part of the puzzle.

A guaranteed job “with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations and retirement security” for every American;

The amount of work we are talking about is immense, and there will be plenty of opportunities for laborers to roll up their sleeves and get the work done. Living wages, and benefits need to go along with that. I for one think that we should create a system of support more like that in Europe and especially the Nordic countries. The US is poor at providing proper welfare, healthcare, and parental and child care to it’s citizens. There is certainly a lot of room for improvement here.

What is Left Out?

It’s true that a Green New Deal is not a new idea. The NPR article above has plenty of links to the history of the concept. Another big advocate of a Green New Deal is the US Green Party. I am sympathetic to many of their views, so I want to give them some space as a point of comparison.

The Green Party  New Deal is quite a bit more ambitious with their goals, and spells them out more plainly then the Democratic Party proposal. They are much more upfront about ending fossil fuels and making the energy transition as aggressive as possible.

They also give space to the same economic promises, such as the creations of new jobs and the scale of the work that needs to be done. That is all well and good, and as long as there are workers I will support their rights for a livable wage, and equitable working conditions. Yet, there are aspects to the GP platform that just don’t show up much in the Democratic Green New Deal proposal.

Enact energy democracy based on public, community and worker ownership of our energy system. Treat energy as a human right….

The Green New Deal is not only a major step towards ending unemployment for good, but also a tool to fight the corporate takeover of our democracy and exploitation of the poor and people of color. Our transition to 100% clean energy will be based on community, worker and public ownership and democratic control of our energy system, rather than maximizing profits for energy corporations, banks and hedge funds.“ – Green Party

Those ideas tend to circle around the problems of capitalism, and cooperative/democratic economic structures. I’ve made it quite clear throughout this piece, and throughout my own work, that I believe fully that capitalism is in fact part of the problem. The Greens address this problem a bit, whereas the Democratic proposal leaves this entirely by the wayside.

The assumption made is that the basis of our economic system need not be challenged, and that if we just we ‘develop’ more stuff, all will be well, and we can even have that golden ‘economic growth’ thing. This is part of the problem, and is where I diverge from otherwise good ideas such as the Green New Deal, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and yes, even Drawdown. (Paul Hawken is a well known eco-capitalist.)

We cannot build a truly sustainable civilization by just giving a capitalism a green coat of paint. That’s stopping short in my opinion, even if the other ideas are good ones. A train headed towards a cliff will still careen off the edge whether it is Red, Blue, or even Green. That’s why climate change is a lot bigger than technical solutions, and needs scalable support and resources to mitigate it. Capitalism has to be tackled as part of those solutions.

It’s also fair to ask if that is even possible, just like it is fair to question whether something like a Green New Deal will ever be a political reality. I wish I could say for certain the answer is “yes” in both cases. But I can’t, not for certain anyways.

But I can tell you I think it is possible. The changes that need to be made are monumental, and there is a definitely a chance that we could fail. Yet, the window of opportunity is still open, though it is closing fast. We still have time to act, and we need to go big or put our home planet at serious risk. I think we can do it, and we have a moral obligation to try. A Green New Deal could be a part of that, even if it not the ideal destination. At very least, it’s a start.

I firmly believe it is time we get building Another World. It is Possible, if we want it.

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

https://www.drawdown.org

https://theintercept.com/2018/12/05/green-new-deal-proposal-impacts/

https://bios.fi/bios-governance_of_economic_transition.pdf

https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/43pek3/scientists-warn-the-un-of-capitalisms-imminent-demise

https://www.ipcc.ch/

https://www.pnas.org/content/115/33/8252

https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/

https://www.npr.org/2019/02/07/691997301/rep-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-releases-green-new-deal-outline

https://www.gp.org/green_new_deal

https://abeautifulresistance.org/site/2019/2/9/new-deal-who-dis

https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2019-1-january-february/feature/there-no-planet-b-kim-stanley-robinson


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!


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


Complex Gods & Spirits

Gods are not separate disembodied ideals, but are instead the emergent agencies from the vast networks of ancient entanglements within which we are embedded…” – Mathieu Thiem, from “Interanimism”

(Image from Here)

Hello again folks!

I am working on a lot of different facets of a deeper dive into my animism right now. I apologize if it seems like I am all over the place, but I swear there will be a cohesion to all of this when I am done. My recent manuscript on animism has really got me thinking, and I want to dive deeper into all of complexity and nuance of how I understand animism. Who knows, it all may be the foundation of another book. *shifty eyes*

So, let’s jump right in it today. Some time ago, I wrote about all the various social and scientific theories I bring into my animism. Systems theory, complex systems, cybernetics, actor-network theory, and agential realism. There is a lot there if you care to (re)visit it.

But today, I want to dive a little deeper into how all that informs my animistic views of the world, and especially gods and spirits. My animism is built on relationships among persons. This can be be human persons, as well as non-human persons. My worldview is more than big enough for the beings we call spirits as well as gods.

You see, my animism is a complex one that allows me to look at ecological systems in the same way I look at civilizations and technological systems. It allows for a nuanced, systemic, and holistic view that covers ever aspect of the human and non-human beings on this planet, and off into the great Cosmos. Yes, it even allows me to contemplate those beings we might call gods.

It starts with the idea that the world is made up of complex systems. These systems make up our own bodies, with atoms in molecules, molecules in cells, cells in organs, and eventually the emergence that is ourselves. Emergence is a real foundation to my understanding of gods and spirits. The idea being that once you get enough “parts” in a network, new properties and characteristics emerge. We are more than the sum of our cells, more than our DNA, and the gods are more than just stories on a page.

They are emergent agencies that result from complex systems. Now, those systems can take a variety of forms, ecological as well as cultural. I will be exploring that all more in a moment, but for now there is a few other things I want to set up before we dive deeper.

There are complex systems around us all the time, from cities, to the human brain, and to the universe as a whole. Our cells are nested within our bodies, and we as human beings emerge from the relationships of trillions of cells. In the same way, are we the “cells” of the gods and spirits. To put this another way, we are the “components” that make up their complex systems. We are the cells in their collective agencies.

Now agency is a pretty simple concept, as it is the capacity of an actor to to act in a given environment. Atoms are agents, cells are agents, we are agents, and the gods are transpersonal agents. We are the cells in their multicellular being.

On top of this, complex systems (such as planets, cities, gods), have a form of what we might call a memory. Like an archaeologist digging into the layers of the Earth, the history of past civilizations are recorded in the memory of the planet. Layer by layer, we can see the story of what is remembered. The same is true in our own bodies, as our DNA contains layers and layers, some from our deep mammalian past, and deeper into the origin of life on this planet. If you dig even deeper, the elements in our DNA connects us to the very beginnings of the universe. That is what a complex memory looks like. Just as importantly, it gives us a sense of time. Systems can contain the history of past arrangements, a past, a present, and eventually a future.

If it is not clearly spelled out, this can happen at a variety of levels, and scales of being. That is why I think the basic concept behind orders of magnitude is a useful way to organize my thoughts on this.

Orders of Magnitude

(Order of Magnitude Image from here. It’s a huge and oblong image, please click on it.)

The image above is a big one, with a lot going on. This is a scale that considers the Order of Magnitude of the whole universe. In short, it is looking at reality from different levels of scale, grouped in powers of ten based on size. At the 1 meter scale we find a human being, in this case a small one. That is because this is the “center point” for this scale, one meter, or about 3 1/3 feet.

In orders of magnitude above and below humanity, we increase or decrease in scale. If we jump up a power of ten, we get to the 10 meter scale, which here is represented by a dinosaur. If we jump down by a power of ten, we arrive at the 10mm scale, or about the size of a human fingerprint.

This scale is useful because it allows us to consider the entire cosmos at a variety of different scales, from the quantum to the cosmic. I just finished reading a book called The Zoomable Universe, that explores everything we know through different orders of magnitude. It has been fascinating to think about this through an animistic lens, and how I understand where I stand in relation to everything else.

For example, we can consider gods on a very similar type of scale. I think of gods as emergences, arising out of complex systems of relationships. Some of these are solidly grounded in ecological (non-human) systems, and some are grounded in cultural (human) systems. It is useful to think of the ecological and the cultural as two points on a spectrum, and not as a dichotomy. Here, we can set up a whole range of god-like beings, from mountains to those like Odin, and anything in between. There is plenty of room for overlap here, or human – non-human combined systems. Gods in this way, can fall anywhere on the spectrum. More “wild” cultural gods like Skadi might fall somewhere in the middle or towards the ecological ends, where gods of civilization would be skewed more cultural. In this case, let’s use a god like Odin, who as chief of the Norse gods, is a pretty fair canidate for a “cultural” god. He embodies many aspects of Old Norse culture.

Why is this useful? Because on the whole it is all about the scale of a given system of relationship. Gods are generally considered as beings that are “greater” than ourselves, greater in scale and scope. That is where Orders of Magnitude become useful. Gods exist on “higher” scale than humanity, just like we as humans exist on a greater scale then the cells in our body. That is the principle of emergence, in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

So, if we jump up from humanity to the 10 meter scale, do we find gods here? This is the dinosaur level, and it might certainly be fair to consider dinosaurs as a type of gods. They are very dragon-esque, yes? That kind of scale comes with a certain kind of power.

At the same time, in a 10 meter space you can only fit a handful of (adult) humans. Maybe five to ten at the most, if they get cozy. Assuming around two meters of space per human, +/-. Yet, what might those ten humans do now that they have gotten cozy? Might they develop shared ideas and beliefs, common stories, and maybe even some sense of a small community? This is what a lot of pagans might consider a group spirit, which is fair to call a culture, even if a small one.

But what emerges from that tiny culture? Is the agential emergence of networked relationships of ten humans enough to make a god? Maybe, in the sense of egregores, a tiny one. The god of ten people in a complex system. A god at the scale of ten meters. Perhaps here, we can see the beginnings of what we would call apotheosis, in which a god is born. Obviously there is more complicated facets here, but let’s keep thing simple for now.

Cultural Gods & Spirits

(Social Network, from Wikipedia. Maybe our hypothetical village?)

Let’s go even bigger than that though. Let’s jump up another level, to the 1 kilometer level. How many humans can we fit in this kind of space? Well, if we figure two meters per adult human, we could probably fit up to five hundred people in this space. On the scale, this appears as the size of a meteor crater. Now, let’s assume a little bit less than five hundred people, so they have some space for things like houses and that kind of thing. So let’s halve the amount, and run with about 250 human people. A tribe shall we say?

Part of the reason I am using 250 is because this is the upper limit of Dunbar’s Number, which is the suggested cognitive limit of the number of stable relations a given human can maintain. In our little tribe, we are going to assume everyone knows everyone, and they get along reasonably well without being to factioned, and share a common set of beliefs and cultural ideas. They are, for our purposes, a fairly unified whole. Might be unrealistic, but stay with me.

Alright, so these people share a common culture; they have songs, stories, and dances. Shared works of art, and a common and language. They are also a pretty tight-knit community, and so they share meals together and sit around the fire at night weaving stories together. They also share rituals and ceremonies, and through all this they weave together the spirit of the village.

Or, shall we say a communal god at the scale of a kilometer? The god thus is the emergence of a complex series of networked relationships among the people of the village. Over time, this god changes and grows, and develops a history and set of stories associated with the people and their ancestors.

In even more time, those people continue to multiply and go on adventures to conquer new lands, or maybe even to convert people to the worship (and relational maintenance) of their god. In this way, we can scale this idea even further, to kingdoms, empires, and even nation-states. Yeah, I would suggest that things like cities as well as nations have collective spirits we might call gods.

Things like capitalism and socialism have communal god-spirits* of relationship too. The complex concepts might be considered incorporeal spirit-gods in their own right, as such ideas certainly have influence in our times.

Christianity for instance, has a billion people within it’s sphere. What kind of scale does God the Father, and Christ the son exist at in this context? It’s something certainly worth considering, and translates into a real social and cultural force. But that is well beyond the scope of this post. Let’s move on shall we?

Ecological Gods & Spirits

 

(Eco-cultural Island, my own design. Gods may be represented by the large colored circles. The small colored circles represent smaller scale beings in a network. Individual groves, water spirits, villages, that kind of thing.)

(Green = forest, Red = village, Blue = Water, Brown = Mountain. Notice the overlaps.)

As we jump up in scale, we come to the size of about 100km, or if we are following the scale about the size of a decent island. It is at this point that we have to consider all I have said in a wider animistic context. In previous sections, I talked about small groups of people, as well as a small village, but I confined myself to just human relationships.

As such, in an animistic worldview, I have left out a very important facet of the world; namely non-human persons. In the context of our small village, I have neglected the fact that these people are also in constant relationships with their environment; with the non-human and other-than-human world. They need food from the fields, timber from the forests, and waters from the river.

This expands greatly their web of relationships, and with the non-human persons of nature; plants, animals, rocks, waters, and air. These too, must be considered in an animistic context, because they are beings, spirits, and agencies in their own right. These persons, are also part of the same complex system and relational networks as the humans.

So while the god of the village is firmly planted in the cultural realm of the humans, the shaman of the village knows that other gods dwell just beyond the village as well. The shaman takes a deep trek into the woods, and here he finds the forest god. It emerges, just as the village god, from the complex networks of the forest. But this time, these are not human networks, but the complex ecosystem of fungi, bacteria, sun, air, water, trees, plants, and animals. This forest god, the shaman knows, is the god of an ecology.

Now, that may be an oversimplification on my part, but it sets up an example of the idea I have already discussed. That is, that some gods and spirits are the agencies of complex ecological systems and may well be distinct from cultural gods. Of course, there can be huge amounts of overlap. The idea of complex systems and animism more generally, is that we are connected to everything. At no point are ecological and cultural systems fully separated.

The reason I mention this is because it goes a long way towards explaining what in common parlance is often called Genius loci, or a spirit of place. Spirits are not necessarily dependent on the presence of humans to exist. They can be firmly grounded in ecosystems, whether or not humans are even in the area. Here we could further our distinction (as well as overlap) between ecological, and cultural god-spirits.

The collective, communal spirit of the tribe that lives on The Island is primarily a cultural god. It is the complex of human story telling, and human history. However, such a cultural god with also have strong overlaps with the ecology of The Island, and that too would become part of the spirit-system. Thereby we can see an enmeshed system at different scales, of human, ecological, and finally Island. At the scale of the Island, the Island spirit would thus include both the ecological as well as the cultural god-spirits at smaller scales. The whole, simply, is greater than the sum of the parts.

Global Gods & Spirits

Which means we can jump up another level, to the scale of 10,000 KM, which encompasses the scale of much of the planet. Here we are at the scale where all the ecological and cultural god-spirits start to blur together. While we can clearly see these beings at the scale of the village and even a bit at The Island, at the Planetary scale all ecological and cultural systems become part of the same whole. Which makes the Spirit of the Earth** something quite different in scale and scope.

It is fair I think to consider most pagan gods as cultural beings, and ones relatively small in scope. For example, when you consider that there are maybe a million or so pagans on the planet, and the Christian and Islamic gods alone can count a billion each towards their practice. Well, there is a noticeable difference in scale between Allah and Odin, if we consider worshippers as part of a given gods being/body/system. In this way, we are all part of the body of a god. We are all part of the complex community and system of worshippers that help to define those beings.

This is not to say that gods are “just” their worshippers, as they are greater than the sum of the parts. But just like in our own bodies, the parts matter, and contribute to the whole. That means, for say Odin, the complex mass of humans are part of that relationship. All the history, lore, UPG, SPG, and modern practices go into the “body” of Odin. The same is true of Christ and his Father.

In fact, with all the various traditions histories and (sometimes) conflicting narratives, we could ask the honest question of whether all Christs or Odins are the same, or if they are different beings with divergent systems? I mean, I have said before that I don’t think Comic Book Loki, MCU Hiddleston Loki, and Norse God Loki aren’t the same being, even if they share parts of a history and a name. Could there be a Baptist Christ, a Methodist Christ, and a Catholic Christ?

I don’t know, and that is well outside the scope of this piece. Less I get off on a tangent, I intend to stay on point. That point is, that Christ is probably bigger than Odin, as a measure of relative complexity and scale. At least when considered on human components of their being. Ecological non-human components would take a whole other essay.

But, in terms of collective complexity, the Planet exceeds them all, and indeed also contains them all within the complexity of the whole. Earth, as a god-spirit, is in this way “bigger” than all of our human gods, and bigger too than the forests, rivers, and oceans, that make it up. It is, in no small way, a whole organism.

Cosmic Gods & Spirits

But the scalability of complex systems does not end here. We can take it all the way up to the Cosmos as a whole. Such a being, made up of all cultures, all planets, all stars, and perhaps more than one universe, is similar in many ways to Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker. Such a being would be so far beyond my comprehension, I don’t even care to speculate. Perhaps a Cosmic Spirit, Great Spirit, Star Maker, might warrant the label of capital “G” God, and certainly there are those that would argue that point. Me, I don’t know.

Because after a certain level of complexity, it is beyond our cognitive capacities as individual humans to comprehend. I cannot fully understand the complex system that is my local city, much less that of the entire planet, and certainly not that of the entire cosmos. As much as I might try (and I will), I don’t have the faculties. It would take a being far greater than myself to be able to understand that kind of Cosmic Complexity. Maybe nothing short of a Cosmic spirit can understand such a thing.

I know this was a long one, and I applaud you for grinding through it. As I said at the beginning, this is part of a larger somewhat related series of posts, that is going to range from future worlds, to animism, to left-of-center politics. I’m working towards a synthesis of my animistic beliefs, and the future I would like to live in.

Thanks for reading!

Notes:

*I have used god and spirit somewhat interchangeably through this whole piece. That is because I view gods as basically “big spirits”, or spiritual beings at a higher level of complexity than humanity. Spirits, when I use the term, tends to refer to those at an approximately equal or “lower” scale of complexity. Gods are “greater”, spirits and ancestors are “equal to/less than”. It’s a matter of relative scale for me. IE, the spirit of an island I will probably call “god”. An individual oak tree, probably “spirit.”

** I personally prefer not to gender the planet, though it is often common for pagans and others to refer to the planet as “Mother Earth” “Gaia” or “Terra”. Even the name of Earth is actually a Anglo-germanic name for a goddess. I have trouble relating these concepts to the planet as a whole, because it is bigger and more complex than human genders, and includes countless species that don’t confine to these norms. Where I do use pronouns for the planet, I tend towards “they/them” because it is a complex pronoun that can speak of the planet in a singular way, a plural way, and a neutral way.

Sources/References;

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/09/07/a-cybernetic-animism/

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Actor%E2%80%93network_theory

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

https://wovensong.com/2017/05/23/interanimism-on-the-mutual-inspiration-of-a-dreaming-earth/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/the-spirit-networks-and-emergence/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/the-spirit-networks-and-emergence-part-2/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/05/30/the-spirit-networks-and-emergence-part-3/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agency_(philosophy)

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar%27s_number

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


2017 In Review and Time for Hiatus

Hello there folks!

2017 has been a pretty insane year, on all kinds of levels. I have been really busy, but it often feels like I am not getting anywhere. Plus the political circus has been a constant source of stress and anxiety for me and my family. I am not going to lie to you, it has been a pretty rough year.

I also have a lot to do in the near future, so with this post this blog is on indefinate hiatus. It will probably be a few months at least. Just as a short list, these are the things I will be working on in the new year (and also why I can’t juggle this blog right now.)

  1. I will be working a new novel towards publication. I am hoping to start up a Gofundme or something in the new year to help cover some of the costs. I want to get cover art done, but also some character and setting art. I really want to round out the world I have created, but that has costs associated with it. I hope some of my readers here might be willing to contribute to that campaign.
  2. I will be writing a full manuscript on animism, using many of my posts here as the raw material. I have been writing on animism and related topics for 6 years now, and there is plenty of material I have compiled. Plus there is a lot of new stuff I am working on, so I will need time to compile and create new material.
  3. I will still be posted over at Pagan Bloggers in case you miss me that much
  4. I will also be cross-posting material from here to Pagan Bloggers, and vis versa. There will be a swapping of material to help fill the gaps while I am away.

There is a lot of blogs I want to work on here too, as I continue to develop my own work. I want to add to my “Shaping a Living World” project, as there is a more I want to write about there. I also want to continue to work on my “Walking with the Ancestors/Spirits” projects, as those unexpectedly moved to the back burner over the last year. I want to come back to those. There is a lot more ground to cover there.

With all that in mind, let’s see how what I did manage to get done this year. I have been doing classwork in shamanism with a mentor, and that is a 2 year commitment. That said, a lot of great material has come out of that. It has led to shifts in my cosmology, which I talked about here.

The shifts in cosmology have led me to explore questions on ethics,  and our relationships with our ancestors, and the natural world

It also culminated in a great experience with a Forest Spirit.

I’ve done a lot of work here too, in the process of my ever changing and deepening understanding of animism. My animism asks me to be engaged in the world, and question how and why I relate to other beings. It asks me to search for meaning, and build connections. It asks me about how I relate to the world, and my place in it.

It asks me about to wonder if Nations are the best way to run a planet facing global problems such as rising inequality and ecological crises.

Animism makes me look at the world and question the effects of our relationships to the environment.

But it also lets me explore how I relate to myself.

Afterall, animism is a worldview, and affects how I look at the world and my place in it. Animism makes me wonder about the nature of the “soul” and the relationships of animism and science.

I have explored some basic theoretical lenses in which to view animism as well as science, and have found the two to be very complimentary.

There has been a lot of new material I have been exposed to as well, such as Interanimism and Tracking as a way of knowing. It has opened me up to all kinds of new thinking on animism, and it has been great to ponder. Plus it has helped me to understand that animism is a worldview as well as a way of knowing the world. Just like science is a system of knowing, so too is animism.

By far my biggest projects this year has been my Shaping a Living World project. It has taken up a great deal of my time and energy, and alas has been met with mixed reviews. As a whole, it draws inspiration from the UN Sustainable Development Goals, social democracy, and Project Drawdown.

I think that a lot got lost in translation with that project. Several readers got caught up in the fact that it was based on UN ideology, which is apparently very “globalist” and “bad” somehow. I will be the first to admit that the UN is far from perfect, but I think what gets ignored is the fact that environmental and humanitarian issues are global issues.

These are things that need to be addressed at all level, local, national, and global. I think the UN has set out a good set of goals to address that; in both the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the Paris Climate Accords (which the US has announced it planned to pull out of, much to my dismay.) Over 190 countries signed on to the SDG’s and the Climate Accords, and that gives me hope. The fact is that to address the problems that face us, we need everyone to do their part. Whether that is individuals, cities, private entities, nations, or entities like the UN; we need everybody. I don’t see any way around that, and thus we need practical and workable solutions. The UN has set out a decent roadmap, as have the Nordic countries, and Project Drawdown is one of the most comprehensive plans I have seen to fight climate change. We need more ideas like that.

I’m always open to other alternatives.

At the widest possible scale, that series is about how my animism relates to the world. Animism is the idea that the world is full of persons (some of which are not human) and that life is lived in relation to others.

As such, my animism intersects strongly with humanitarian as well as environmental rights. It says that people matter, that humans matter, that environments matter, that life matters, and that this spinning blue ball in space is our home and it all MATTERS.

I have come to the conclusion that an animistic worldview (however you frame that) has the power to change the world, and it is important that we consider that. Our current worldview could certainly use a change.

My animism asks me to do what I can for humanitarian issues, whether that is fighting poverty, combating hunger, or fighting bigotry and racismThese are all important components of my animism, as well as my personal code of values and morality. I think it is an insult to our dignity and common humanity that we fail to do more on these issues.

I believe in a world where the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (thanks Spock), and that it is a tragedy that people go without decent healthcare (Looking at you United States), and a quality education. More than this, we need to be doing better in the realm of civil rights, especially in regards to gender equality for women as well as LGBT+ people.

On top of being humanistic, my animism comes with a concern for all life on this planet. It informs my environmentalism and my passion for conservation. The lives of non-human persons (plants, animals… ect) matter too, and humans are hardly the only species on this planet. We depend on healthy ecosystems for our very survival, and so we must do everything we can to create a sustainable and environmental world. That means increasing our investments and development of renewable energy, and creating sustainable cities that have less of an impact on the environment. There will certainly be a lot more to write about this in the new year.

These are all things we can do, and there is certainly much more work to be done. It starts with us as individuals, but individual actions alone are not enough. We will need every level of society involved, and with that I do think it is possible to see a better world. It may even be possible to see it in my lifetime.

I will return when I have gotten some of my projects off the table. Until then, you all behave yourselves alright?

Thanks for reading.


A Cybernetic Animism

“Animists are people who recognise that the world is full of people, only some of whom are human, and that life is always lived in relationships with others.” – Graham Harvey

(From Metascientist, which might be an interesting read in context.)

I like to explore my animistic ideals and beliefs through a lot of different perspectives and different philosophical lenses. I enjoy the intellectual exercise of it all, and it also provides a lot of new insights that I may have not considered before. Sometimes, it is important that we look at things from a different perspective. We might just see something in a a new way.

As such, I give you this presentation of some of the theoretical underpinnings I am exploring in relation to my animism.

In many ways, this piece is an expansion of what I wrote over at Pagan BloggersI think I hit on a few things there that I wanted to explore in more depth, and bring you all along for the ride.

Recently I have been exploring my animism through a much more systemic and holistic lenses; through topics such as cybernetics, systems theory, and actor-network theory. Most of these things deal with our relationships to humans and non-humans in a much more networked and systemic way. It has been really fascinating for me, and it has really reinforced the central animistic idea that we are part of our world; and not separate from it. So let’s start with what I said over at my other blog;

Agency is at its simplest the capacity to act. This is also the simplest definition of what it means to be an actor, a participant in an action or process. This is what I am talking about when I refer to spirits and persons; actors in the world. Beings with their own desires and agendas.

Now agency can run the gamut from a relatively simple actions, such as a bacterium, to the much more complex beings such as you and I. When we talk of spirits, we are talking about active agents in an environment. The world becomes a much more interesting place when we consider that it is full of actors. That means whatever we do, we are in a social environment, and not an inert one.”

The cosmos is absolutely full of active agents in relation to each other. The simplest forms of matter that we can see have their own elements of agency. The fundamental aspect of chemistry is that atoms and molecules often act in predictable ways when interacting with others. You can get water predicably from two hydrogen and one oxygen atom. Water is vital to all life on Earth. But we will come back to that.

Matter builds up, and enters into increasingly more complex systems and networks; and after billions of years of trial and error; I am here now to tell you about these things. But, in order to think about these things in systemic and holistic ways let’s first talk about systems.

Systems theory or systems science is the interdisciplinary study of systems. A system is an entity with interrelated and interdependent parts; it is defined by its boundaries and it is more than the sum of its parts (subsystem). Changing one part of the system affects other parts and the whole system, with predictable patterns of behavior. ” (Wikipedia)

There is a lot to digest here, but the really important part in that a system is basically a network; a whole comprised of numerous of interrelated “parts”. A system is often bounded in some way, though boundary here can be a fuzzy terms. Some boundaries are physical, some theoretical, some metaphysical. Some are open, some are closed. Some boundaries might be hard lines, and others more like fuzzy, porous, and nebulous clouds.

(From Wikipedia Commons)

While some systems are relatively (or theoretically) simple, some are very complex;

A complex system is a system composed of many components which may interact with each other. In many cases it is useful to represent such a system as a network where the nodes represent the components and the links their interactions. Examples of complex systems are Earth’s global climate, organisms, the human brain, social and economic organizations (like cities), an ecosystem, a living cell, and ultimately the entire universe.” (Wikipedia

Systems, especially complex ones, can be modeled in terms of networks. This will become very important here in a moment, but it is important here to dwell on the raw scope of this. The entire Cosmos is really one just big complex system, and this can be really difficult to comprehend. That would just make us a tiny network, on a tiny planet, in a vastly huge universe. That is definitely a little mind bending.

But many of these complex systems as wholes are greater than the sum of their parts. The characteristics of the human brain are not predicated on simply understanding the connections among neurons. The things we might call consciousness, self-awareness, and even the soul, those are not evident if we study just the parts of the brain. They are emergences, which brings us to the concept emergence.

In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence is a phenomenon whereby larger entities arise through interactions among smaller or simpler entities such that the larger entities exhibit properties the smaller/simpler entities do not exhibit.

Emergence is central in theories of integrative levels and of complex systems. For instance, the phenomenon of life as studied in biology is an emergent property of chemistry, and psychological phenomena emerge from the neurobiological phenomena of living things.” (Wikipedia)

Emergence is a really important aspect of complex systems, because it changes the nature of things. The idea that a certain level of integration, new properties and characteristics arise that are not predicted by the components. Cellular life is not predicated on simple physics alone, but if you get enough molecules, in the right integration, life emerges. If chemistry is an emergence of physics, and biology an emergence from chemistry…

Yeesh, it might just be turtles all the way down.

I hope you can see where I am going with this. As stated above, complex systems are more than the sum of their parts. I as a being am more than physics, more than just biology; I am a small part of the cosmos having a human experience.

But more than that, it asks us to think a lot bigger than the human scale. Emergence asks us to ask questions about our place in greater ecosystems, our place in our societies, and our place on the planet. It asks us to witness and engage with climate change, and recognize our being as part of a much greater whole.

It asks us to consider cities are more than just humans and concrete. It asks us to consider the possibility that cities might be something we might call superorganic. As beings of a type in their own right, in which we are just cells in a body.

Which brings me to a great article from NPR;

…But if you want to consider the problem from its most general point of view, then you might want to think about civilizations purely as a network.

A network is nothing more than a group of objects (called nodes) and the links between them. Everyone is familiar with social networks — your friends and their friends and their friends, and so on. The bigger a network is the more complex it becomes, with links blossoming into a rich, dense, spider web of connections between the nodes.

Any population of intelligent creatures on any planet would, by definition, form a network…. So the question then becomes: What exactly does it take to transform a bunch of intelligent social organisms, with more rudimentary forms of interaction, into something more complex and rich — like a city with its highly ordered interactions?” (NPR)

We are a population of intelligent creatures living on a planet, and we are networked in fascinating ways. The advent of the Internet has absolutely revolutionized how we relate to one another, how we network, as well as the raw potentials of those networks. In short, it has connected us to every other human on this planet in ways that we could have never imagined. It allows us to see one another, communicate instantaneously, share stores and information. Yeah, it also lets us be shitty human beings anomalously…

The crucial question the author asked in the article is; could civilization as we know it be an emergence of a complex system of networked humans?

I think it is certainly a possibility, and one well worth exploring.

However, I don’t want to get side tracked too much here, as there is so much more I want to talk about. The question about civilizations bring up an important point that isn’t necessarily spelled out when we just consider systems. The point that complex systems are also social systems; full of actors relating to one another in various ways. Which brings us to Actor-Network Theory.

Actor–network theory (ANT) is a theoretical and methodological approach to social theory where everything in the social and natural worlds exist in constantly shifting networks of relationship.

The fundamental aim of ANT is to explore how networks are built or assembled and maintained to achieve a specific objective. Although it is best known for its controversial insistence on the capacity of nonhumans to act or participate in systems or networks or both…“ (Wikipedia)

This fits in neatly with my Harverian (is that a thing? I’m using it) view of animism that is kind of mind blowing.

Actors in networks in constantly shifting relationships…

The world is full of persons (some of which are non-human), and life is lived in relation to one another.

Spiritual persons in a world full of other spiritual persons…

How exactly I frame it is kind of up to me. It is a way in which to look at ourselves, our cities, our technology, as just elements in larger and more complex systems (such as ecosystems, global systems.) But more than that, its also can include the stories and narratives we tell each other; our worldviews and beliefs.

…it (ANT) can more technically be described as a “material-semiotic” method. This means that it maps relations that are simultaneously material (between things) and semiotic (between concepts). It assumes that many relations are both material and semiotic.” (Wikipedia)

Added onto the top of that is my layer of “mythic” narratives, that I have kind of cobbled together from the various sources. Folklore, ancestry, mythology, my own experience of the world…

In my personal cosmology, non-humans are definitely considered to be active “people” in the social environment. This includes technological people as well, such as automobiles, and smartphones, and robots too.

But it seriously makes me wonder… All the time our technology is getting “smarter” and more connected. Vehicles newer than my own are much more intelligent, and they can network and interact in ways that they never could before.

Connectivity and integration is accelerating quickly in our time. Those emergences, those “greater spirits”; of cities, of ecosystems, of the techno-organic networks we are building. With AI research progressing everyday, and bots and “synthetic persons” constantly trolling us on the internet; the technological realm is hardly exempt from having its own actors.

It makes me wonder a lot. What just might be emerging? Maybe that is the sci-fi buff in me.

Which is a great segway into animism through the lens of cybernetics.

Now we have to keep in mind that the study of cybernetics is really complex, but inevitably when people think about it, they think of cyborgs. Of some kind of fusion of human and machine, or some other such form. This is in fact partially true, but also partially misleading. In truth, cybernetics can be applied to any system that happens to be regulated in some way. In short;

Cybernetics is a transdisciplinary approach for exploring regulatory systems—their structures, constraints, and possibilities. “ (Wikipedia)

But cybernetics is more than that too, and includes a whole range of elements that range from the human, to the animal, to the machine. Cybernetics is a wide view, and can used to study systems such as social and ecosystems, but also biological as well as technological systems and how these all interact. It is an approach with multiple meanings, such as;

“The study of systems and processes that interact with themselves and produce themselves from themselves.”—Louis Kauffman, President of the American Society for Cybernetics” (Wikipedia)

In this way, it sounds almost biological. And, when combined with other ideas I have presented here, it gives us one more tool in which to explore animism and animistic systems. It gives us a form of cybernetic animism;

Concepts studied by cyberneticists include, but are not limited to: learning, cognition, adaptation, social control, emergence, convergence, communication, efficiency, efficacy, and connectivity. “ (Wikipedia)

We have already talked about emergence, and relationships between people, communication, social systems… All of this and more is included in how I view animism and how it asks us to contemplate our relations with ourselves, our environment, and our technology.

Technology, and our relationship to it is something that we need to consider.

Some time ago, I picked up Kevin Kelly’s book “What Technology Wants.” Overall, I thought it was a great read and a good reflection on our relationship on technology. This is not to say it was without it faults, but I won’t go into those critiques here.

That being said, I think his idea of the “Technium”; a kind of egregoric whole of human-tech relations, has a lot of value here. It intersects with many things that are of interest to animism; such as the idea of the superorganic;

When Kevin Kelly looked up the definition of “superorganism” on Wikipedia, he found this: “A collection of agents which can act in concert to produce phenomena governed by the collective.”…. “ (Technium Unbound)

I feel that is self sufficient, but there is a few points that I think deserve emphasis. Collective agents and superorganisms is in many ways what I have been talking about all through this piece. In many ways I consider ecosystems, cities, civilizations, and the planet as a whole as a kind of superorganism.

The technological numbers keep powering up and connecting with each other. Their aggregate is becoming formidable, rich with emergent behavior, and yet it is still so new to us that it remains unnamed and scarcely considered.” (Technium Unbound)

This is what I was talking about in my last section; how quickly things are “coming online.” Our smart technologies are getting smarter all the time, we are networking and connecting to the world around us in ways we never have before. We are already tackling questions about the nature and limits of Artificial Intellegences, and whether or not the machines are going to kill us all…

Okay, that last bit might be a little hyperbolic.

All the same, Kline is on point if you ask me. These kind of connections are rich in emergences. But this is all new territory for us as a species, so there are still plenty of questions to ask.

It reminds me of this scene from the recent I, Robot movie.

Or this from the video game franchise Mass Effect.

(Legion, from Mass Effect)

Which brings us back to Kline’s quote;

The Technium may best be considered a new organism with which we are symbiotic, as we are symbiotic with the aggregate of Earth’s life, sometimes called “Gaia.”… They are not replacing each other but building on each other, and the meta-organism of their combining is so far nameless. Kelly shrugged, “Call it ‘Holos.’ “ (Technium Unbound)

It is really strange to think about all this in those kind of terms. When you consider the whole of the planet from a holistic view it includes the human, the natural, and the technological. It reinforces the idea that our role on the planet is related and intergrated into everything else around us. At no point are we divorced from that.

It really makes me wonder what that cybernetic Gaia, this meta-organic Holos might look like…

Maybe my particular form of animism gives me some tool in which to explore that question.

Thanks for reading! (I know it was a long one!)

 

Additional Resources;

The Digital-Industrial Revolution (TED Radio Hour)– Covers a lot of topics that I discussed here. Machine intelligence, AI, automation, human-machine interaction.

Hard Wired (TED Radio Hour)This covers some really cool topics, and the segment with Moshe Syzf is really relevant to the topics here.

Start with the Animals and the World will Appear, By LupaA great article by Lupa, exploring some of the more systemic aspects to her own practice. Also a great example of how to look at “all this” in a much more holistic and systemic way.

Agential Realism – A theory by Karren Barrad; deserves a knowing hat tip here. This piece was already too long to include this.

 

Sources/References;

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complex_systems#Networks

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Actor%E2%80%93network_theory

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

http://paganbloggers.com/wolftracks/2017/08/21/natural-relations/

http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2017/05/16/528564246/how-do-you-make-a-civilization

http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/545024014/hardwired?showDate=2017-08-25

http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/522858434/the-digital-industrial-revolution?showDate=2017-04-21

http://longnow.org/seminars/02014/nov/12/technium-unbound/


Shaping a Living World: Part 10

“Racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism & Islamophobia are poisoning our societies. We must stand up against them. Every time. Everywhere.”
— United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.

Hello again folks! You will notice that I skipped a few parts to this piece. This is because I think it is pertinent to talk about these issues now, as opposed to waiting until later.

Why talk about this now? The answer is short and simple; Charlottesville. If you are not familiar with what happened there (you live under a rock?) I suggest using the fine power that is Google. I will not be going into a detailed analysis of the events that took place. The specifics of this particular case are beyond the scopes of this piece, but it does give me a good opportunity to talk about the issues raised by the event.

In case I have been in any way vague or unclear on this blog; I condemn bigotry in all its forms. My animism says that the world is full of people, and that those people deserve dignity and respect. All people.

As the quote I used above; I condemn racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and Islamaphobia. I also condemn discrimination in all its forms, whether directed towards People of Color, Native American Peoples, or the LGBT+ community. I stand with these peoples in their struggles for equality and against oppression.

In the event that is unclear in any way, let me put it this way. Fuck Nazis and all they stand for. This world has no place for white nationalists, white supremacists, or any other form of bigotry. I happen to think that these ideologies are toxic, a poison to our minds and spirits. We need to fight them anywhere and everywhere we can; we need to inoculate ourselves, and do everything in our power to prevent these social toxins from spreading.

“We hold it as an inviolable principle that racism must be opposed by all the means that humanity has at its disposal. Wherever it occurs it has the potential to result in a systematic and comprehensive denial of human rights to those who are discriminated against.” – Nelson Mandela, in an address to the UN.

Charlottesville throws that in stark relief, and we must do everything we can to stand against these ideas. Such ideas are responsible for the countless injuries, and the death of Heather Heyer when a car plowed into a group of counter-protesters. In recent memory, too many lives have already been claimed by toxic ideologies. We literally buried millions in the last World War to tell Nazi fucks to go to hell.

Yet, it must be admitted that this is a really complicated set of issues. There is no single, simple answer to any of this, and it must be considered at best a work in progress. There is no way I have the space or the time to detail all of that nuance here.

With that in mind, let’s talk about the Sustainable Development Goals.

Sustainable Development Goals;

It should be noted that Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities, is broadly focused on everything from income inequalities to social inequalities. As I feel I have covered my thoughts on income inequalities in other posts, and with Charlottesville as our focus, we are going to be putting those aside. For purposes of this blog, I will focus more on the social aspects of this goal. Here are three specifics goals that address these issues;

“By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status

Ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome, including by eliminating discriminatory laws, policies and practices and promoting appropriate legislation, policies and action in this regard

Adopt policies, especially fiscal, wage and social protection policies, and progressively achieve greater equality.”- UN Sustainable Development Goals

The first goal in my mind is nothing short of the liberation and empowerment of minority populations, and anyone that is subject to discrimination. People of Color, Women, Native Americans, Immigrants, LGBT+ folks, Muslims, all of them. Inclusion is a big deal, because these populations have historical and in many way intentionally been left “out”, of politics, of the economy, and in our society.

I really like how the second goal above addresses both opportunity as well as outcome, because this is a significant distinction to be made. It is not enough that minority and marginalized populations have equal opportunities, as in that the have “access” to things such as good schools and good healthcare. Equality in outcome literally means if they have the opportunity for something, then they have the ability to make it happen.

In addition, the second goal also speaks to the need to eliminate discriminatory laws and policies. I don’t want to mince words here; the US is absolutely steeped and was even founded on such ideas as white supremacy. Women were at one time not given the right to vote, nor African-Americans. We can still see these policies at work in our city planning, in our politics, and even in our rhetoric. We need to destroy those old policies, and put in place better ones. That is a long discussion that needs to happen.

With all that in mind, I think it can be stated that in many ways events such as what happened in Charlottesville are uniquely US problems. Many other countries tackle these issues differently than we do, and some in ways that make it nearly impossible for something like Charlottesville to happen. In other parts of the world, the “Unite the Right” protestors would have been arrested long before they had the chance to rally.

As exploring the Nordic countries, and wider Europe in general, is a part of this series; let’s now turn to explore some of those policies.

Social Democracy

The first thing we need to do is talk about hate speech, because many countries in the world make a distinction between free speech, and hate speech;

Hate speech is speech which attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability, or gender… “ – Wikipedia “Hate Speech”

So let’s look a little closer at how the Nordic countries treat this issue, with Denmark up first;

Denmark prohibits hate speech, and defines it as publicly making statements by which a group is threatened (trues), insulted (forhånes) or degraded (nedværdiges) due to race, skin colour, national or ethnic origin, faith or sexual orientation.” – Wikipedia “Hate Speech”

Or more specifically in Denmark;

Whoever publicly, or with intention to disseminating in a larger circle makes statements or other pronouncement, by which a group of persons is threatened, derided or degraded because of their race, colour of skin, national or ethnic background, faith or sexual orientation, will be punished by fine or imprisonment for up to 2 years. Sec. 2. When meting out the punishment it shall be considered an especially aggravating circumstance, if the count has the character of propaganda.”

— § 266b of the Danish penal code

That’s right, you either get fined or go to prison in Denmark for the kind of thing we saw in Charlottesville. What about Norway?

Norway prohibits hate speech, and defines it as publicly making statements that threaten or ridicule someone or that incite hatred, persecution or contempt for someone due to their skin colour, ethnic origin, homosexual orientation, religion or philosophy of life. At the same time, the Norwegian Constitution guarantees the right to free speech, and there has been an ongoing public and judicial debate over where the right balance between the ban against hate speech and the right to free speech lies.” Wikipedia “Hate Speech”

Norway’s response is a little more nuanced than that of Denmark, but has very strong protections and a straightforward definition of what distinguishes hate speech from free speech. However, because Norway seeks to strike a balance, whether or not something qualifies is usually left up to the courts.

However, the alt-right pukes in Charlottesville would definitely fall under hate speech in Norway. On to Sweden;

Sweden prohibits hate speech, and defines it as publicly making statements that threaten or express disrespect for an ethnic group or similar group regarding their race, skin colour, national or ethnic origin, faith, or sexual orientation. The crime does not prohibit a pertinent and responsible debate (en saklig och vederhäftig diskussion), nor statements made in a completely private sphere. There are constitutional restrictions pertaining to which acts are criminalized, as well limits set by the European Convention on Human Rights. The crime is called “Hets mot folkgrupp” in Swedish which directly translated can be translated to Incitement (of hatred/violence) towards population groups.” Wikipedia “Hate Speech”

Sweden’s law is pretty nuanced as well, and is also governed by the ECHR and the Swedish constitution. As such, this is the kind of thing that, like Norway, is often decided in the courts. However, because the Swedes make a particular distinction for “incitement” I think that showing up with helmets, shields, and in the presence of heavily armed militia constitutes incitement in the case of Charlottesville.

Generally, this series has been limited to the Nordic countries. But since we are talking about literal fucking Nazis (no hyperbole), perhaps it’s fair to bring Germany into the conversation as well.

In Germany, Volksverhetzung (“incitement of popular hatred”) is a punishable offense under Section 130 of the Strafgesetzbuch(Germany’s criminal code) and can lead to up to five years imprisonment. Section 130 makes it a crime to publicly incite hatred against parts of the population or to call for violent or arbitrary measures against them or to insult, maliciously slur or defame them in a manner violating their (constitutionally protected) human dignity.”

As with the examples above; incitement counts, violence counts, as well as insults against human dignity. Germany isn’t even playing around here folks, with up to five years in prison for the kind of shit we saw in Charlottesville.

Plus it might get you punched and then arrested

But America is different folks, and in this case I am not sure “different” is such a great thing. It is written into our very constitution;

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” First Amendment of US Constitution.

Now, I’m generally a big support of free speech and the first amendment. I think we should be free to write and talk about most ideas and topics. But like Norway, I also think there is a balance to this. I think there is a limit to the kinds of speech we tolerate. You are familiar with the paradox of tolerance correct?

“Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. “ – Karl Popper

This is the kind of crisis we face. Do we tolerate open threats of genocide in our streets? Do we tolerate literal fucking Nazis, and let them get away with it?

Speaking legally, the answer is yes. Because of the First Amendment, we cannot enact any laws at any level to tease out the nuance on this kind of thing. The USA does not make the distinction between hate speech and free speech; the direct result is events like Charlottesville. This is one of the few countries in the world this kind of toxin can fester.

There is no legal recourse, unless another law is broken in the process. Such as assault, or murder… Oh wait… (And in the case of many assaults, the police failed to act.)

In short;

Effectively, the Supreme Court unanimously reaffirms that there is no ‘hate speech’ exception to the First Amendment.” – Washington Post

So where does that leave us? If you ask my opinion, it is time we have a real serious talk about what hate speech means in this country. However, as our hands are tied on the legislative side of things; we are left with cultural, social and spiritual avenues of fighting this social disease. In the words of the UN Secretary-General…

We fight it everytime. Everywhere.

Thanks for reading!

P.S. As this goal and topic is primarily focused on social issues (as opposed to environmental ones); there was really nothing from Drawdown to be included here.

Sources/References;

http://www.un.org/en/letsfightracism/

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

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/06/19/supreme-court-unanimously-reaffirms-there-is-no-hate-speech-exception-to-the-first-amendment/?utm_term=.34b6d2ab2ef1

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/08/13/an-american-tourist-gave-the-nazi-salute-in-germany-so-a-stranger-beat-him-up-police-say/?utm_term=.f9f8aa9a10c1

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

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


Tracking as a Way of Knowing: A Commentary

Tracking as a way of Knowing: A Commentary

There has been quite the flood of great material coming out lately, and to be frank I am having a hard time keeping up. Maybe I shouldn’t put the expectation upon myself that I will ever keep up, but at the same time it doesn’t really stress me out all that much. It is more exciting for me than stressful, knowing other people are exploring things along similar lines that I am.

Or at least, I am becoming more aware of that fact.

In addition, it doesn’t help when I feel like I have been dog piled with my own writing projects. As an advanced warning, this blog may go on (semi) hiatus in the near future. There is a longer project starting to poke on prod at me. I may decide to give that project my full attention, but that is up in the air at the moment.

Things have been pretty chaotic in my own life, and I don’t feel like I have had much time to breathe. In addition, the world on the whole has seemed pretty chaotic too. It has all left me feeling overwhelmed and anxious. I’m dealing with that the best I can, and life goes on.

As such, I bring my commentary on a piece I came across lately, called “Tracking as a Way of Knowing” by Sophia Sinopoulous-Lloyd. This particular piece really spoke to both my spirituality, and my practical on the ground skills as a hunter. This is kind of a long commentary, which isn’t usually my habit. Some people just won’t read longer pieces, or don’t have the time to do so. For that, I apologize, but I didn’t want to break this up either.

As such, we start here with this quote from the author;

“One of the central themes in permaculture (as in ecology) is that living beings—both plant and animal—build alliances with each other and form natural communities characterized by certain highly efficient cycles of energy. Part of this efficiency owes to the fact that the structure of ecosystems is the opposite of mechanistic. Everything has multiple functions, and there is no such thing as waste. Naturalist knowledge not predicated on a neoclassical production-oriented view of the environment is critical to the skillful practice of permaculture farming. To this end, tracking seemed to promise a way of beginning to build relationships that lead beyond the boundaries of the homestead and private property, into the wild…”

There are several aspects of this quote that also apply to an animistic worldview. The most obvious of which is that living beings build alliances with each other and form natural communities. This is a foundational part of my own animism; being primarily concerned with people living in relationship with each other. In addition, I love the parallels between my spiritual practice and the patterns of natural ecosystems.

That is part of the reason I am animist to begin with. It runs parallel in many ways to many scientific disciplines, not least among them ecology. To me at least, the natural environment is a social environment, in which many non-human agents are in constant connection with each other, and forming self-organized networks and systems. These systems, whether they are deciduous forests, or wetlands, or watersheds, they tend to be self-organizing, self-regulating, and self-governing. I think there is a great deal to learn about society by studying natural systems.

More than that, as opposed to many mechanical production methods, as the author points out, almost nothing is wasted in an integrated natural ecosystem. Unlike many of our human productions methods, that run linearly from extraction —> production —> consumption —-> waste, natural systems tend to have a higher degree of multilinear networks that continuously cycle material as well as energy.

Lastly in the above quote, the author introduces the practice of tracking as a way to build relationships with the natural world. I cannot agree more, and my own experience tracking has highlighted a lot of the points the author makes. There will be more on that in a moment, but first we have to ask what is tracking? Here the author picks up the thread;

“Tracking is an umbrella term for discerning an animal’s endeavors from the marks it has left on the landscape. Its subdivisions include things like clear print identification, gait and track pattern analysis, trailing (where you follow a particular animal’s tracks to find out other things about it), and identifying other signs of behavior, like feeding or territorial marking. Tracking is not limited to uncovering the past of animals though. We can use the rings on an old tree stump to diagnose an ancient forest fire or a particularly hard winter, and we can examine the topography of the forest floor to discern the effects of a century-old ice storm. Such things leave their own sorts of tracks. Our ancestors didn’t only track things on the earth—they tracked the skies too, charting movement of constellations, the paths of planets, and the phases of the moon, giving us the basis for our understanding of time. “

There is so much more to tracking that simply following animals. There is a lot of knowledge and practical experience that goes into being able to do it well. It is so much bigger than the individual tracks themselves.

I was learning forestry from a very young age, rather or not I realized it at the time. My childhood home was heated with firewood in the winter. This means that I spent a lot of time learning from my dad not only how to cut and move wood, but also basic understandings of forests. How to identify trees, as yes how to read their rings. I have seen first hand evidence of burns, rot, disease, seasons that were wet, seasons that were dry and so on. You began to realize on a holistic scale, that you are part of an unfolding story. The trees, the animals, the plants, all it is part of a story that you are smack in the middle of.

You also realize, as the author points out, that your ancestors understood this too. When I hunt, when I track, when I spend time in the woods it brings me a little closer to their stories. I become entangled in the webs around me, in the unfolding story of the land, sea and sky.

As the author points out, this also included the stars and planets, the Cosmos on a much wider level. Tracking in this way becomes a means of connecting with the past, being in the present, and looking to the future.

That is what my animism is all about, building those connections across time and space. It is learning the stories that bind us to the past, telling the stories in the present, and wondering about the stories of the future. The telling of these stories shapes reality around us, and shapes our position in those stories. Tracking is just another way of learning a story, of what has gone before.

“Hunting especially in a survival situation requires a basic familiarity with tracking. Since then though I’ve put in dirt-time in service of a less particular goal: a glimpse of the unique and specific creatures that live around me. Getting familiar with my non-human neighbors is driven by an open-ended desire for relationship. My wish to track now doesn’t feel so different from my impulse to connect with the spirit-world. After all, the all-but-forgotten root of religion is in part the multifaceted need to relate to something both deeply “Other” and also deeply, invisibly, woven into our lives. The necessity of securing food and resources and the communion with the invisible and holy are not by definition distinct endeavors. In much of human history they have been complementary— they’ve even required each other. The first spirituality had to have been practical.”

As I have mentioned before on this blog, hunting is not something I just do as a practical endeavor. It is deeply interwoven with my spiritual practice, and I love that the author brings up this point; that the first spirituality had to have been practical. It had to work, and there was not a clear seperation between the mundane and the sacred.

Hunting is so much more than wanting to fill the freezer. It is how I connect with the spirits of nature around me, it is how I connect with my ancestors and the Huntress I work with. Hunting and tracking is kind of like following in the footsteps of the sacred, that also has the very practical aspect of putting food on the table (on occasion). It is a deeply connective and affirming practice that weaves me into the Greater around me.

It is, as the author states, a communion between past, present, and future.

It is more than that as well, because it also connects you with the greater cycles of life and death, of nature itself around you. I have followed the game trails, tracked my prey through the great mixed-Oak forests of my homeland, and I learned their habits, learned their stories, and in some cases even gave them names. After all this, after taking part as two dancers in the story of life, that is when I had to decide whether or not to take a life I had come to love.

This is something deeply spiritual, and hard for me to put into words. It is one of those deeper Mysteries of my practice that has to be experienced to really understand. In addition, the moment you decide to release that arrow (I’m a bowhunter), that is when the real work begins.

Suddenly, you are connected to the realms of the Dead. With your ancestors, who stand behind you, and with the ancestors of the prey, who stand before you. All will hold you accountable for what you have done, and that in my experience is where the real work begins. I am accountable for what I have done, and obliged to do everything I can to smooth the transition of Dead to the keeping of their ancestors, which return them into the cycle of life and death. I have to calm the confused spirits, and treat the remains with respect. I have to answer to Ancestors of the slain, and return their fallen kin to their keeping.

These webs go deep, and suffice to say that I am still trying to navigate my way through those entanglements.

To take a brief tangent, it is a common perception among non-hunters that hunters are just barbaric ruthless killers. I’m sympathetic enough to agree with that perception in some cases. By my own standards, and the deep animistic way I approach hunting, some hunters do qualify as barbaric under my view. When you frame hunting as a sport, as a game, as a means to rack up points in the “top predator game”, in my opinion you have missed the point.

Life and death is not a sport. Treating it that way has a noted lack of respect, and denies the deep spiritual practice that our ancestors knew some well. In some way, I think all hunters experience a little bit of that, but the degrees of difference between spirituality and sport are wide enough to float an armada through.

That break, that sundering is an important point in and of itself.

Which brings us back to the article;

“For some, following the tracks left behind by a game animal and courting the divine by following a trail of psycho-spiritual signs exist along the same spectrum of activity, both characterized by a sort of sympathetic allurement. Keeney comments later on how this practical spirituality has been largely lost on the modern world: “As we broke the bonds of relationship and interdependency with one another and disrupted our ecological matrix, our link to the divine mysteries became all but lost.” “

From the first time the “animism” as a concept entered our lexicon, it has been littered with this kind of ideology. Animism as a form of indigenous spirituality was immediately categorized as something “primitive” people did, and not something that had any place in “civilized” society. The entire concept is littered with the relics of imperialism, colonialism, and Eurocentrism.

But the ideology goes back even farther than that, at least as far back as biblical times if not further. The idea that mankind, and our “civilization” is somehow separate and dominant to all others. We have tried our best to sever our connection to nature, as “moderns”, and in the process we have sundered away connections that once defined us.

It is so important we rebuild those bridges, and see ourselves once again as part of nature, as part of a wider natural community. It is imperative think, if we are every going to heal those disrupted matrixes that were once so essential to our lives.

Returning again to the article;

“Tracks glow darkly in the snow like icons, triggering some ancient seeker in us, an invisible string pulling us forward. I often hear an astonished “I could do this for hours!” exclaimed by folks from a wide range of backgrounds who are just learning basic wildlife tracking techniques—confirming that it is far more than just the master trackers among us who are tugged by such strings. The metaphor of the invisible string is well known in some old tracking traditions. Keeney quotes a Bushman hunter explaining the metaphysics of spiritual ropes or strings in the context of tracking:

The ancestors and God can attach a rope to you. When that happens, they are able to pull you to where you need to go; that’s the secret behind our ability to track. A Bushman hunter feels something tapping on his arm when it is time to hunt. It is the ancestors pulling a rope that is attached to our arms. The other end is attached to the animal. We simply follow the pulling of the rope, and it takes us to a kudu, giraffe, eland, warthog, or gemsbok.”

There is an important metaphor here that made me want to jump out of my seat and go “yes!”. The metaphysics that I have talked about so many times here, the ideas of strings or “filaments” that connected everything in the Cosmos.

It is not unusual for me to call up my gods, ancestors and spirits when I hunt. It is really strange to think about how deep of a connection I am building in that moment, when I am tracking. I am creating bridges with the ancestors, the gods, and with the animal I am tracking. I am building relationships and connecting with the past in a deep and profound way, a spiritual way that is like going headfirst underwater. The world changes, and your perception shifts. It’s trance work, in a way, reading the trails and learning their stories…

As the article points out, tracking is way more than just following the physical prints;

“Tracking, it turns out, is nothing less than an epistemology: an ecological way of knowing, a green hermeneutics. It is not just a way of seeing “how things are connected,” it is a discipline that redefines and expands what connection and relationship even is. As such it seems to have something to add to nearly every realm of experience and knowledge—an interdisciplinary skill to the core. It blurs modern distinctions between art and science, because it is at once a contemplative practice and also an empirical and quantitative study. It blurs our distinctions between fact and myth because though it is a deterministic study in physical cause and effect, it inevitably lends itself to forming personal relationships with spectral creatures, telling stories about them, and dreaming dreams about them. Eventually, beings are “known” through their tracks, and archetypes emerge. These archetypes have great value to an ecosystem as ways of mapping the world so that a near infinite number of facts can be codified and passed on to future generations. Tracking is unequivocally poetry and it is also unequivocally ecology—at least as long as we humans are involved—and both dimensions are necessary, two halves of a whole. Tracking always leaves room for Mystery with a capital M—it’s impossible for it not to. Whereas in their most dogmatic guises religion protects Mystery sometimes too fiercely, and science perhaps does not defer to it enough, tracking stands innocuously in the middle as the symbiosis of mystery and knowledge.”

Tracking, as with hunting more generally, is a kind of Mystery that is hard to clearly articulate. It is a liminal practice, where art & science, the mythic & the mundane start to mix and swirl in a many unexpected ways. It is a space where stories are told, and where stories are heard. It is in that un-time, in that un-space that the forest and the world around you becomes alive. You are part of that story, apart of that liminal unfolding as you follow the paths that have been led for you.

Hunting in general has greatly influenced my spiritual practice for this very reason. Being in the woods has, being in that liminal place, that is where the real work can happen. We have tried too hard as “modern” people to seperate our “society” from the “natural”. We cut ourselves off from the sacred when we did that, and we lost a whole part of ourselves in the process. We failed to understand that we are part of that great natural community, and the moment we started to separate ourselves from that, it was like cutting away our senses and our limbs.

We are blind and floating in an empty world.

Returning to the article now;

“Ecologist Dennis Martinez points out that unlike the “biocentric” Euro-American model of conservation and land management, a model that can be drawn from Indigenous methods of land management is what he calls “kincentric”; it neither idolizes nor alienates humans, but cherishes and enshrines the alliances among and between humans, animals, plants, and the earth.”

This is both timely and curious that this idea would resurface here. I am working my way through a shamanic intensive, and I am currently in the classwork on Totemism. Now, as I have said before “totem” isn’t a concept I use much at all in my own practice, partly because it doesn’t feel relevant, and partly because I am wary of cultural appropriation. “Totem” is a corrupted version of an Ojibwa word, and I am frankly just not comfortable using it.

That said, in a grand sense the idea behind Totemism is of one’s “kinship group,” that is the close community of human and non-human nature with which we are surrounded. That is what we are talking about here, the realization that nature is part of ourselves, part of our community, and even part of our “kinship group.”

As I have said on this blog many times, we are related to every thing on this planet in some measure. As such building those relationships and alliances is vitally important not only to our spiritual lives, but also to the future of this planet. Reintegrating ourselves within and as part of nature is a vital change in spirit that is required to fully build a sustainable civilization.

If you want to think of it in a very wide sense, the Cosmos is our distant ancestor, the planet Earth is too. My home state of Michigan is an ancestor too in a very real sense. I was born here, the minerals and soil are in my bones. The plants and animals are part of my flesh, and the Great Waters that surround this state are part of my greater community, they are part of my spirit too.

We need to be giving back and being good members of that community.

I’m going to give the last words to the article;

“The words conservation and ecology, as we use them in the Western sense, don’t exactly fit what Indian people did or do with the land. It was their livelihood, which depended on reciprocity. Thus, the trees were not seen just as trees, they were also seen as relatives. The trees are relatives and other species are relatives and they watched you all the time.

In this view, feelings of solidarity, love, and belonging that traverse the boundaries of species and beyond are not luxuries or overly sentimentalized notions; they are functions of ecological interdependency and are integral to survival. Seeing as the majority of beings on our planet (as well as the rest of the universe) are non-human, we can expect a limited view of reality if we aren’t welcoming efforts to soulfully relate to them. Let us see beyond the jaded (and polarizing) caricature of the nature-hippie who escapes from civilization to the forest. If the intention is not to leave but to enter, not to hide but to belong, relationship with the non-human brings back deep value to human community and enriches culture. This is loud and clear in nature-based spiritualities, but it is also buried in our most dearly held stories…”

It is time to tell those stories once more.

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

http://writtenriver.com/tracking-as-a-way-of-knowing/