Seeking to Empower Humanity with the Perspective to Manifest Evolutionary Change Everywhere

In the last few decades, it has become increasingly clear that humanity is facing a crisis of unprecedented proportions. The problems that stand in the way are not of economical or technological nature. The deepest sources of the global crisis lie inside the human personality and reflect the level of consciousness evolution of our species.

- Dr. Stanislav Grof

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Shamanism, Materialism and Paradigm "Warfare" Pt. 1

Happy January 27th everyone. Not that we need a reason to celebrate, but I'm sure everyone can think of a reason as good as another to be happy.

So, as you may have gathered already - I am taking a very No Fear approach to the topics discussed here. You may sometimes wonder how certain topics relate to end-state sustainability, but rest assured that there is a form of method to my madness. Trying to evolve the human condition forward sufficiently to exist in a state of equilibrium with the planet's ecology requires more than just a tame discussion of technology, science and economics.

The last post regarding politics, specifically political convergences - or at least the birth of a new political paradigm in the United States - is one of those areas that is simply unavoidable in order to have a complete discussion. This post delves even deeper down the rabbit hole into the area of human psychology, culture and *gasp!* spirituality.

So brace yourselves. You've been warned.

Now, part of the inspiration for the topic and title of this post is a workshop I attended this past weekend, concerning basic shamanic practices (provided by the Foundation for Shamanic Studies). It was a "hands-on" affair, which I found particularly rewarding and insightful. And while I am a trained Anthropologist, my approach was participant first and foremost, with "observer" a distant second. Having had some time to reflect and be somewhat more systematic in my consideration of my experience, I wanted to reflect a little on the experience and its relation to human progress towards end-state sustainability.

I will confess that one of the first things I was inspired to do was write a six page rebuttal of the Anthropological community's smirking condescension towards non-modern cultural practices and their proponents. Particularly because taking part in shamanic practices certainly sheds more light on most pre-modern cultural belief systems and human myth than the years of study and research that I've done. But that is far outside the bounds of what I want to focus on here.

The real crux of this post comes down to human paradigms - that is to say, the intellectual and psychological filters that our cultures bestow upon us due to our presence in them. Its clearly been said to death that our post-modern Westernized Globalized culture is highly materialistic. And it should be pointed out that materialism is not inherently vile - from a reasoned perspective Western materialism has directly contributed to the techological and scientific acheivement that we currently have. Furthermore, Western culture's focus on materialism diverted its attention from the contentious issues revolving around religion that nearly destroyed Europe (and still threaten world peace, I might add).

BUT (there's always a "but"), materialism in its current form has become as destructive as the other paradigms it has been trying to displace. Everything else aside (socially, spiritually, politically, etc.), our current obsession with stuff and acquiring more of it has A) bankrupted us financially, and B) is destroying the ability of the planet's ecosystems to support us.

I don't know about you, but being broke and dead is not my idea of a winning solution.

The other easy lay up is the parallel quest in Western civilization to reject materialism. And this is not merely the provence of New Age ideas, this goes back through the many groups and ideas (many some derivative of Christian), past Jesus, and at least all the way to Plato. Unfortunately for this view, rejecting the material world does not make it go away. It has this amazing quality of tenaciousness that has proven to be quite nettlesome for many thinkers and social reformers.

And of course, regarding problems A) and B) above, there are many people in this country who reject materialism (at least in speech) and use this as rational to not care about problems A) and B) (particularly B). If you believe that God has tells you to be "in this world, but not of it", that makes it much harder to sell you on the idea of changing your life ways in order to do something good for that world.

It may not be strange to therefore imagine that perhaps the solution to the problem is a Kantian synthesis of these two paradigms? Which sounds great - until you have to sit down and reason out how that actually would work.

Because it would seem to me that we have some sort of dysfunctional synthesis already. We are surrounded by stuff - are bombarded by stuff, and are practically drowning in it, yet at the same time we shovel it out into the trash about as fast as we bring it into our lives. Its incongruous to believe that would love a thing if we make it deliberately in order to get rid of it. Disposability is a characteristic of a thing that you want to get out of your life.

But more ludicrous is that we make things that are disposable, yet are incompatible with the ecosystems from which we've extracted them. So we take value out of Nature, screw with it, ruin it, use it and then dump it back into Nature where it makes a bigger mess of things.

This isn't just unsustainable - this is pathological.

If this paradigm of thinking were a patient, and I was the psychiatrist - my diagnosis would be an obsessive-compulsive disorder driven by a fear resulting in self-destructive tendencies. Its like we're trying to save ourselves from the material world by destroying it before it corrupts us - ensuring our own demise in the process.

So again, not a healthy synthesis.

In Part 2, I'll talk about my ideas for "a cure".

Sunday, January 10, 2010


I'm going to go straight for the jugular today.

Let's talk about how the Green/Progressive movement and the Libertarian/Tea Party are born from the same pool of American cultural ferment.

Still with me? You may need to read that one again to make sure you caught what I wrote.

Yes, I did write what I meant. And I do so because the time has come to explain why these movements are far less divergent than contemporary political consensus believes - and how the convergence of these two forces will have significant implications for the political and cultural fabric of the country.

Before you dismiss me out of hand, take a moment to consider these two movements AS THEY ARE. The Libertarian movement, which is seeing a recapitulation within the broader Tea Party movement, and the Green movement, which is being increasingly incorporated into the more mainstream Progressive movement, are born out of a disillusionment with certain fundamental assumptions and points of consensus by the national culture about the whole sphere of shared life - economic, political, cultural. While both of the modern movements can trace their current incarnations to the tumult of the culture wars of the 60's and 70's - they represent a bifurcation in focus on the most pressing issues of concern (the Greens the environment on a global level, and the Libertarians the Constitution and the Federal system), as well as a significant contrast in the ideological lenses each uses to judge the world.

But there is much more there that is shared than is not - and it is a quirk of the lingering hatreds of the post-Vietnam era that have prevented these shared visions from becoming clearer. Both advocate for localized, democratic, transparent, lawfully-ordered society. Both embrace the ideals of personal responsibility and economic self-sufficiency. Both reject American militarism and empire-building. And they both are skeptical of modern American society, which they tend to view as dominated by corrupt, counter-productive government agencies in league with over-privileged corporate interests that preclude the effective exercise of the democratic process.

But these correlations have not been sufficient to overcome the points of dissonance between these two movements. The Libertarian/Tea Party generally rejects concerns about climate change and other global problems as part of a "globalist conspiracy", and highly undervalues the environmental crises that are pivotal to the concerns of Greens/Progressives. While the Greens tend to fear Libertarians as reactionary anarchists who reject collective action and seek to undermine the cause of social justice. Worse, there is a fundamental disconnect between the social values of Progressives and Tea Partiers that tends to rapidly hijack any sensible dialogue between the two groups. While social issues (gays, drugs, abortion, etc.) tend to be less of an issue between "true" Greens and "true" Libertarians, they represent minorities in the mainstream movements that have built up around them.

Should Libertarians change their perspectives on the dangers of ecological collapse, and Greens moderate their advocacy for centralized decision-making - we could very well see a significant convergence that would significantly challenge the status quo, both politically AND socially. And what may ironically spur the potential for such a turn of events is President Obama.

Having generated a significant surge in poltical participation by Progressives during his presidential campaign, his ascencion to the Oval Office essentially gave birth to the Tea Party movement. His Presidency has, by and large, managed to please no one but the mainstream political consensus seen as the crux of the problem by both movements. While he certainly has slowed or deferred the reckoning of the American Empire (due to its overreach and near-bankruptcy), there is no hard evidence of any significant structural reforms that change the status quo.

Obama is representative of what the American mainstream considers the best about itself: a meritocratic, color-blind, ethical, thoughtful, world traveling, patriotic almnus of Harvard Law. If the best of the best of the status quo is incapable of leveraging the reforms needed to pull the country out of its slow death spiral - who else can do the job?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

2010, Welcome to the Future

As it has been said, many times, many ways - Happy New Year. Out with the old, and in with the new. Out with the 00's, and in with the teens. So let's start the year off correctly - by taking stock of society's position so that we can understand the actions we need to take in the coming year.

Bad news first. To be blunt, things are not good. We lack global consensus that there are even eco-climate crises, let alone their severity or the necessary responses - as Copenhagen clearly proved. There is a growing and increasingly organized backlash against definitive action in the US, and a sense of paralysis globally. There is also a spreading belief that the environmental movement is being "hijacked" by large corporate interests - either by manipulating policy to suit their industry, or by greenwashing their products and services.

2010 is not going to be an easy period for those who value the survival of the human species, or the planet's ecology.

Now the good news. There is finally a definite recognition by the major economic actors (specifically the US and China) that the issues we face are global and require a coordinated global response. The weak and limited "agreement on principles" that did come out of Copenhagen presages the potential for something much more significant. Despite the disappointment we can rightfully feel about the proceedings, it must be said that there was a world before Copenhagen, and now there is a world after it. The battle now is not that there is action (there will be, even if the courts and the EPA ram it through the US's economy), but how much, how fast, how transparent (will China allow 3rd party audits?) - and who calls the shots (civil society, lobbyists, bureaucrats, corporations, all of the above?).

The growth of the quasi-libertarian/populist conservative assault on the Green movement in the US, while a significant concern, does prove the proverb "first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win". It shows that the efforts of the last 40 years have reached a point of saturation in the national consciousness sufficient to panic those with the greatest entrenched belief in the status quo. It tells me that we've reached a society-wide tipping point, that if followed through upon properly, will unleash the radical transformative change we need so desperately to save ourselves and the planet. And that realization scares the hell out of the people who consider themselves on the other side of argument.

The "hijacking" of the environmental movement is an interesting conundrum, that is truly only appreciable through one's economic/political filter. The one consensus issue is greenwashing - which is a huge problem and needs to be fought tooth and nail by any reasonable individual. There is nothing more certain to dilute and undermine all efforts by our economy to embrace sustainability than in the deliberate misleading of consumers regarding a product or service's environmental impact.

Unfortunately, the rest of the debate is not so neat. I myself embrace and support any efforts made by any organization for or not for profit to become more sustainable. I also think its naive to imagine that corporations will be passive actors in the Green movement. Considering how heavily companies rely upon the planet's ecology to meet societal demands, their realization of their own vested interest in preserving natural capital and ecosystem services will naturally lead them to taking on a great role in the ongoing dialogue. And, to be truly politically neutral, the fact that such large economic actors who had previously been broadly opposed to environmental responsibility are now taking steps to move towards sustainability is nothing less than a resounding success for our civilization.

But, I am not blind to the market pressures that can lead companies to seek to monopolize or restrict access to necessary resources. Corporate involvement in the broader Green movement can not be mistaken for unerring altruism, just as it would be a mistake to cyncically dismiss it as greed-driven grab for power. We, as stakeholders in the planet, must be diligent in our vigilance over the planet's ecosystems and access thereto. We must hold corporations to the same standards that we hold all citizens - no more, no less.