Saturday, September 23, 2023

#266 / The Nickle Pickle

 
 
The Wall Street Journal tells us that the world is in a "nickle pickle." Here's how the problem was presented in an article by Jon Emont, published in the June 5, 2023, edition of the paper: 

To make batteries for EVs, companies need to mine and refine large amounts of nickel. The process of getting the mineral out of the ground and turning it into battery-ready substances, though, is particularly environmentally unfriendly. Reaching the nickel means cutting down swaths of rainforest. Refining it is a carbon-intensive process that involves extreme heat and high pressure, producing waste slurry that’s hard to dispose of.

The nickel issue reflects a larger contradiction within the EV industry: Though electric vehicles are designed to be less damaging to the environment in the long term than conventional cars, the process of building them carries substantial environmental harm.

The challenge is playing out across Indonesia’s mineral-rich islands, by far the world’s largest source of nickel. These deposits aren’t deep underground but lie close to the surface, under stretches of overlapping forests. Getting to the nickel is easy and inexpensive, but only after the forests are cleared (see the picture, above).
 
This "nickle pickle," it seems to me, is just one example of a more general problem. In response to the environmental crises that have been caused by human activity (and global warming is certainly the example that comes more forcefully to mind, though it is not the only example, by any means), we are trying to find ways to continue doing what we're doing, but without adding to the specific problem that we have identified. In the case of the "nickle pickle," the problem is the release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, because of the massive emissions produced by gasoline-burning vehicles. 

Solution? Let's make our vehicles electric. We can keep everything the same, but without burning the hydrocarbon fuels. 

Looks like there's a problem with this strategy!

Here's what I suggest. Let's really change what we're doing (by doing less)!
 

 
Image Credit:
https://www.wsj.com/articles/electric-vehicles-batteries-nickel-pickle-indonesia-9152b1f

 

Friday, September 22, 2023

#265 / Duh!

 

I have reproduced, above, one of those "inspirational quotes" that I find popping into my email inbox from time to time. In this case, as you can tell from my headline, I think that the sentiment that Mr. Twain expresses is rather obvious. Like... Duh!

If we want to change the future, we need to change what we are doing right now. That is pretty obvious. At least, that seems pretty obvious to me. In fact, isn't there some sort of analogy between what Twain is telling us and one of those "Laws" that Newton outlined? Newton's "Laws" all relate to the "Natural World," of course, not our "Human World," but the short answer is, "Yes." 

Newton is generally credited with having stated three "Laws" related to "motion." Law #1 (relating to "inertia") is formulated as outlined below

Newton’s laws of motion relate an object’s motion to the forces acting on it. In the first law, an object will not change its motion unless a force acts on it.

What happens in the "World of Nature," which is the arena in which Newton's Laws operate, is different, oftentimes, from what happens in the "Human World" that we create, since "our" laws are not confined by necessity. Still, the principle that Newton stated as to the motion of objects in the physical world is also a principle that applies when we consider human affairs. If we want to change what's happening, so as to change the future, we need to take some sort of action "in the present." That is what Twain is telling us.

Like I say: "Duh!" Surely, this is no big surprise to anyone. 

Yet.... as obvious as Twain's maxim is, let us admit that we oftentimes don't act as though we actually believe that this is a requirement of the world we most directly inhabit. We act, all too often, as though we really think that something new (and better) might occur if we just wait around for it. 

I am suggesting that while Twain's observation is one of those, "Duh!" type truths, we do not, either individually or collectively, pay enough attention to it - at least not to the extent that we change our behavior so as to change our future. 

If this is admitted, then I don't feel bad about trying to raise to prominence what Twain has to tell us. 

Things are in motion. They are bad and getting worse. Let's list global warming, economic inequality, and environmental degradation as examples (you could pick some other ones, too). 

Do we want the future to be different from what we can reliably predict the future is going to be like, as we review what's happening now?

If the answer to that question is "Yes," then we need to do something different. 

Right now!

Duh!

Thursday, September 21, 2023

#264 / Eisenstein's Film

   

Maybe Charles Eisenstein (who is pictured above) should be called "New Age." I am not really sure. Those not familiar with Eisenstein can click the links to get some background. Here is what the website, "Ions" has to say about him. I guess they want to use the label "counter-cultural."

Charles Eisenstein
Speaker, Counter-Cultural Intellectual, Author
Charles Eisenstein is a public speaker, counter-cultural intellectual, and the author of several books including The Ascent of Humanity, Sacred Economics, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible, and Climate: A New Story.
His on-line writings have generated a vast following; he speaks frequently at conferences and other events, and gives numerous interviews on radio and podcasts.
Eisenstein graduated from Yale University in 1989 with a degree in Mathematics and Philosophy, and spent the next ten years as a Chinese-English translator.

 
I have signed up to get periodic bulletins from Eisenstein, who promises "essays on civilization. myth, politics, [and] ecology." He currently has over 68,000 subscribers, and you can sign up for free. Eisenstein, incidentally, is now officially part of the presidential campaign team for Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. 
 
In late June, I got a rather disturbing bulletin from Eisenstein (or, at least, I found it disturbing). His bulletin linked to what Eisenstein described as "the first film that I have written and directed myself." As he told those who got his email, "it's only three minutes long." Here it is: 


As anyone who has read many of my blog postings knows, I want to be sure that we all appreciate the difference between being an "observer" and being an "actor." 

Observers look at the world and describe it. Actors change the world.

Eisenstein's film is his "observation" about the nature of our existence. Presenting this "observation" within a "New Age" or "Counter-Cultural" framework, as Eisenstein's film does, has the effect, I fear, of amplifying the "is" fallacy. This is the fallacy that suggests that an accurate and powerful observation of what "is," is a statement about the essential "reality" of what the observation describes. 

In fact, the world we most immediately inhabit, the "Human World," the "Political World," is a world that we have created ourselves, and that world is a world we can change. In our human world, what "is" is not inevitable, and does not, by any means, define or delimit reality. Thus, any compelling presentation about our reality (like Eisenstein's film) needs to be careful about what message it will send. Unless our ability to do something new, and different, is clear, a compelling presentation about what is "happening" may be disempowering (whether that is intended, or not).

Eisenstein calls his first film, "The Fall," and as depicted in the video, "The Fall" is sending all that is good and pure, and even "holy," into a "black hole" of hatred, violence, and despair. Actually, in the way Eisenstein understands his film, the good and the pure are being sent into Hell (for a redemptive purpose, of course, with our world to be "reborn" in the end). 
 
Eisenstein says that he intends this message to "help you stay sane in a crazy world." 

Wouldn't that be nice!  Ojal√°!

But that's not the way I read this film. I read the film as Eisenstein's presentation of his description of "reality," and the "reality" he presents says that we're all going to Hell. Eisenstein's film, in other words, helps advance the "doom loop" perspective.

If my reading is correct, we should "not be enticed" into such a "doom loop" brand of thinking - not any more than we should let ourselves be enticed, the way I see it, by the campaign of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., which has a similar "downbeat" vision of where we find ourselves today.
 

https://noetic.org/profile/charles-eisenstein/

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

#263 / Streets Without Buses?



I am from Santa Cruz, California, and I really love our "picture buses," one of which you can see above. The buses feature the outstanding and award-winning photography of Frans Lanting. "Whale Buses," for instance, are now zooming around our local streets, urging us to protect whales "One Ride At A Time." There are some other "picture buses," too, celebrating other aspects of our natural world. 

Frans and his partner, Christine Eckstrom, allied with The National Geographic Society, have been helping us to see the wonders of the natural world through their many years of superlative photography and video. Their recent book, Bay of Life, celebrates the environment of the Monterey Bay Area. There is now a "Bay of Life Project," in fact, which accounts for those "picture buses." The Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County will gladly accept your donations!

Much as I love the "picture buses," the most common observation that I hear about buses in general is that there isn't anyone, really, riding them! This observation, regretably, is pretty much on target; it's accurate. A friend of mind, who has served on the Santa Cruz County Transportation Commission for many years, has always told me that our local transit agency is basically delivering "social services," not "transportation services." The system is really aimed at providing transportation to those lower income persons who can't afford a car. Again, there is some truth to that!

Couldn't we, I have long thought, get more for our money by trying out a different approach? One of my blog postings, back in November 2021, called for "Streets Without Cars." I advanced a specific proposal for a new way of providing transportation services, to help reduce, or even eliminate, the traffic congestion that is so horrendous in my local community. 

My proposal would remove from our streets and highways many of those greenhouse gas-spewing cars that clog them now. Traffic congestion is a big problem for almost everyone, and the Santa Cruz County Transportation Commission is trying to combat traffic congestion through highway widening projects. This is, in fact, a self-defeating strategy, because widened highways actually "induce demand" for more automobile trips, and so make the problem worse. 

My proposed solution was to create a public, demand-responsive approach (like Uber or Lyft), so those who needed to get around our local community would end up "sharing" automobile trips. If you'd like to see what I said about that proposal, you should click this "Streets Without Cars" link.

I was surprised to read - in the Sunday, September 17, 2023, edition of my local newspaper, The Santa Cruz Sentinel - that this idea is actually being tried out in Wilson, North Carolina. The article was titled, "What if public transit was like Uber? A small city ended bus service to find out." 

Probably, unless you are a Sentinel subscriber (whose ever-increasing subscription prices are driving long-time subscribers, like me, to terminate their subscriptions), you'll be blocked when you click the link. Thus, I am providing the following "screenshot" image of the story, which I think should expand if you click on it. You can also get essentially the same story, online, from another newspaper, by clicking right here


In our case, here in Santa Cruz, we'd still need buses. LOTS of buses, in fact, because our "City On A Hill" (the UCSC campus) is a major destination for students who either don't own a car or who couldn't afford to park a car on campus. A transit hub, or hubs, could provide direct, express service to the campus. Other trips would utilize the "ride sharing" strategy now being tried out in North Carolina. Financing the system would be one major issue; the newspaper article doesn't really outline that aspect of the system, but there are definitely solutions. 

The big question? Are we willing to share?

I'd like to think so. 

Let's save the whales (and ourselves) "One [Shared] Ride At A Time."


Tuesday, September 19, 2023

#262 / Has The Founders' Remedy Been Forsaken?

 

Back in early August, The Wall Street Journal published an article by Jeffrey Rosen that made this claim: "The Founders Anticipated The Threat of Trump." 

Since the charges against our former president are "unprecedented," I imagine that many Americans would not, really, think that Trump's actions were the kind of actions that the so-called "Founding Fathers" anticipated - and that the "Founding Fathers" hoped they could defend against by the way they wrote our Constitution. 

Rosen is "an American lawyer who served as the acting United States attorney general from December 2020 to January 2021 and as the United States deputy attorney general from 2019 to 2020." Rosen, in other words, was a member of the Trump Administration during the period in which, allegedly, our former president was seeking to overturn the 2020 presidential election. During his time as the acting Attorney General, Rosen refused to advance the former president's unsupported claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent.

It seems significant to me that Rosen, as a former member of the Trump Administration, has made clear that he thinks that Trump's actions, as outined in the indictment against him brought by a Grand Jury impaneled in the District of Columbia, raise issues that the Constitution anticipated. Rosen's analysis, in other words, considering the source, seems to suggest that our former president might well be "guilty as charged." 

Here is what Rosen claims in his August 5-6 article in The Wall Street Journal

The allegations in the indictment of Donald Trump for conspiring to overturn the election of 2020 represent the American Founders’ nightmare. A key concern of James Madison and Alexander Hamilton was that demagogues would incite mobs and factions to defy the rule of law, overturn free and fair elections and undermine American democracy. “The only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion,” Alexander Hamilton wrote in 1790. “When a man unprincipled in private life, desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper…is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity,” Hamilton warned, “he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.’”

The Founders designed a constitutional system to prevent demagogues from sowing confusion and mob violence in precisely this way. The vast extent of the country, Madison said, would make it hard for local factions to coordinate any kind of mass mobilization. The horizontal separation of powers among the three branches of government would ensure that the House impeached and the Senate convicted corrupt presidents. The vertical division of powers between the states and the federal government would ensure that local officials ensured election integrity (emphasis added).

It is comforting - if we choose to look at it that way - that it took so long (almost 250 years) for the nation to have to deal with a demagogue who would "incite mobs and factions to defy the rule of law, overturn free and fair elections and undermine American democracy." Looking at what Rosen says, in the excerpt from his article that I have copied above, I am most interested in what Rosen identifies at the "remedy" for the concerns about what a demagogue might do. 

In essence, Rosen says, the division of power among the separate branches of the federal government is one layer of protection. The second layer of protection is the independent governmental powers of the states (and their local governmental subdivisions).

In fact, what Rosen says, in the excerpt of his article that I have quoted, is exactly what Hannah Arendt contends in her wonderful book, On Revolution. The multiplication of many different sources of political power, and the division of power within our governments, so that the executive, legislative, and judicial branches all "check and balance" each other, is the reason that it has taken so long for the long-feared demogogue to appear. 

For those who accept my argument that we live in a "Political World," and that, therefore, we need to become engaged in government, ourselves, if we want to maintain our system of "self-government," it makes lots of sense for each one of us to engage ourselves in governmental actions at the "local" level, the level of government that is closest to us.

If we care about the future of the Republic, in other words, we ought to be personally engaged in who gets elected to our local City Council, or Board of Supervisors (and to our State Legislature, too, of course). We ought to become personally engaged in the governmental decisions that are made by those governmental bodies. You don't need to run for president, or Congress, to help preserve democracy. Get engaged locally!

Are you, perhaps, already "engaged locally"?

Most of us are not - or not enough! Let's just hope that events during the upcoming year don't demonstrate that the Founders' Remedy has been forsaken.


Monday, September 18, 2023

#261 / A Monument To Elite Self-Satisfaction?

 

The phrase I am using as a headline is a phrase used by New York Times opinion columnist David Brooks in his column published on August 4, 2023, "What if We're the Bad Guys Here?

What the heck is David Brooks talking about? Brooks uses my headline phrase to describe the "story" that so-called "anti-Trumpers" have told themselves about what is going on in our country today. Specifically, Brooks is trying to explain something that seems puzzling to many; namely, why there is such strong and enduring political support for our much-indicted and greatly-flawed former president. 
 
Brooks strongly suggests that one of the phrases that I, personally, use quite frequently ("We're all in this together") does not, in fact, accurately describe our contemporary situation at all. I gather Brooks thinks that it might have described our nation once ( and that it ought to describe our nation), but Brooks suggests those whom he calls the "educated class" have now taken all the best spots at the banquet table, and those who are lucky enough to have qualified don't show much concern, if any concern at all, for those who have been left out. What if we (the "educated class") are the "bad guys?"

Those who have been left out, Brooks would say, consider the "educated class," and those members of that class who count as "anti-Trumpers," to be massively and wrongly self-satisfied. Thus, those who have been left out are going to stick with someone whom they believe has stuck up for them - none other than that much-indicted and greatly-flawed former president:

This story begins in the 1960s, when high school grads had to go off to fight in Vietnam but the children of the educated class got college deferments. It continues in the 1970s, when the authorities imposed busing on working-class areas in Boston but not on the upscale communities like Wellesley where they themselves lived.

The ideal that "we’re all in this together" was replaced with the reality that the educated class lives in a world up here and everybody else is forced into a world down there. Members of our class are always publicly speaking out for the marginalized, but somehow we always end up building systems that serve ourselves.

The most important of those systems is the modern meritocracy. We built an entire social order that sorts and excludes people on the basis of the quality that we possess most: academic achievement. Highly educated parents go to elite schools, marry each other, work at high-paying professional jobs and pour enormous resources into our children, who get into the same elite schools, marry each other and pass their exclusive class privileges down from generation to generation.

Brooks doesn't say it, specifically, but I will. Those in the "meritocracy," and those political candidates whom they support, end up thinking that at least half of those who didn't all get the benefits they did are nothing other than a "basket of deplorables." Yes, I am pointing at you, Hillary Clinton!



I do think that saying "we're all in this together" is to say something that is true. We really are "all in this together." Hillary Clinton seems to know it, too. Just consider her 2016 campaign slogan. That's it, shown right above: "Stronger Together." Again, that is absolutely true!

Our political challenge, it seems to me, is to take this truth - that "we are in this together" - and make that truth "real." Operationally real. As Brooks accurately says, it's not operationally real in today's United States.

You can sing a song, if that helps (one of my past blog postings gave out the lyrics), but when we start "making friends," which I have advised is an imperative, we must do so not only for the joy of it, but as a bulwark about the bad times about to descend upon us. We need, quite clearly, to find some friends across the division lines that now define our politics. If we are part of that "meritocracy" that David Brooks is talking about, then we need friends who aren't. Same thing going the other direction. 

We are, truly, "all in this together," and that means we need to expand our friendship circles. 

Once we do? Well, then we had better help our friends!

I am quite serious in saying that this would not only be a "nice thing," or a "nice idea." I am saying that this is what must happen for our nation to survive. 

Big challenges are coming. 

Let's start finding those friends right now!


Sunday, September 17, 2023

#260 / Find Some Friends



I mentioned Octavia Butler's novel, Parable of the Sower, in a blog posting I published back in August. At the time I wrote that earlier comment, I had not yet read Butler's book. Now, I have, and I found Butler's novel to be incredibly powerful. Parable of the Sower is the story of how a young woman brings together a group of people to survive (and perhaps, ultimately, to prosper) in a world characterized by widespread social and economic breakdown, occasioned by the impacts of global warming. 

One reason that Butler's novel is so powerful is because it is so "real." While Butler published Parable of the Sower in 1993, the story she tells begins in 2024. We are right on track!

I couldn't help but remember Parable of the Sower as I read those blog postings from Tom Engelhardt and Pauline Schneider that I wrote about yesterday. We are heading, it seems to me, into a world not unlike the world that Butler depicts. 

After providing a description of what's coming - what is actually already here, in so many ways - Schneider provides a list of actions she thinks we should take. I believe, as we think about making our own lists, and thinking about how to make the real and radical changes that are called for, that what Octavia Butler shows us in her story should be considered good guidance. 

Before we even begin to make the real and radical changes that are truly necessary, we each need to find some friends. I mean that, literally.* 

Each one of us needs to find some friends. We're going to need them!

 
____________________________
*The Hannah Arendt Center is hosting an examination of friendship and politics at its annual conference this year, on October 12th and 13th. Click this link for information.

Image Credit:

Saturday, September 16, 2023

#259 / What Do We Need To Do Now?

 

I don't really know too much about Pauline P. Schneider. If you click the link to her name, and read about her, you will then know exactly as much as I know. Though I don't really know her, I received a posting she made on her Substack blog about a month or so ago. I thought it was worth passing along. Schneider's blog posting is also where I got the image I am using above. The blog posting that captured my attention was titled, "When Nations Drown/Burn."

On the very same day I read Schneider's blog posting, I got a bulletin from Tom Engelhardt, who was writing on the same topic, in "TomDispatch." Both Schneider and Engelhardt were focusing on global warming. Engelhardt put it this way: 

Hey, who knows? It could be the Gulf Stream collapsing or the planet eternally breaking heat records. But whatever the specifics, we're living it right now, not in the next century, the next decade, or even next year. You couldn't miss it -- at least so you might think -- if you were living in the sweltering Southwest; especially in broiling, record-setting Phoenix with 30 straight days of temperatures above 110 degrees Fahrenheit; or in flaming Greece or western China on the day the temperature hit 126 degrees Fahrenheit or sweltering, blazing Algeria when the temperature reached an almost unimaginable 135 (yes, 135!) degrees Fahrenheit; not to speak of broiling Canada with its more than 1,000 fires now burning (a figure that still seems to be rising by the week) and its 29 million acres already flamed out; and don't forget Italy's 1,400 fires; or Florida's hot-tub-style seawater, which recently hit an unheard-of 101-plus degrees Fahrenheit. And though I'm still writing this as the month is ending, July is more or less guaranteed to set the record for the hottest month in history. And don't assume that "record" will stand for long, either. 
Who even remembers that this June was the hottest since records have been kept or that July 6th was the hottest day in recorded history (and July 3rd through 6th, the hottest four days ever)? And don't be surprised if 2023 ends up setting a record for the hottest year or assume that such a record will last long on a planet where the previous eight years were the warmest ever. And if I'm already boring you, then one thing is guaranteed: you're going to be bored out of your mind in the years to come.

Englehardt provides a link to a New York Times' article, in making his claim that temperatures in Algeria reached 135 degrees Fahrenheit during July. Schneider doesn't provide any link, but her blog posting claims that temperatures reached 154 degrees Fahrenheit in Iran. 

What Schneider does propose (that Englehardt doesn't) is a list of specific ideas of what we should do about the kind of catastrophic temperatures that are now being experienced, almost everywhere, on Planet Earth. Here is Schneider's list, copied from her blog: 

What to do? 
1. Birth control, sterilization, and abortion should be free and readily available globally. Yes, even in Texas. 
2. ALL Nations should decommission nuclear power plants immediately. They cannot be operated safely in a normal climate, even less so in a smouldering climate. 
3. All militaries and their weapons of mass destruction should be immediately repurposed and decommissioned as well. Same reason as for nuke plants above. 
4. The IPCC scientists should be publicly horsewhipped for minimizing the climate crisis since Reagan (Ronnie Raygun). Even though that was the purpose of their creation-to minimize the crisis, & defuse any positive climate activism. Thank you Heartland Institute for helping to murder the planet. Kevin Hester explains that in detail. https://kevinhester.live/2021/09/06/its-time-to-acknowledge-the-spectacular-success-of-the-ipcc/
5. Any and all pseudo “Green” and “sustainable” energies should be called out for their lies and misinformation. Electric cars, solar and wind, hydroelectric, nuclear, are all NOT green, nor sustainable. They all require MASSIVE amounts of fossil fuels, mining, transportation, and a secure grid-tied infrastructure. Few nations have that, and the US especially lacks a secure infrastructure of any kind. Thanks Heartland Institute for helping to ruin our infrastructure with your greed-based, inhumane policies. 
6. Finally, as we (most of us) recognize the existential crisis we are facing, billionaires should be banned from speaking, or having any public presence, or holding public office. There should be no billionaires to begin with, that is an obscenity of capitalism and has led to the destruction of our only home. They are welcome to leave and go to Mars. Today is good. 
7. Societal changes: 
All humans must be treated with dignity and compassion as we begin to exit this existence. This is simple. Basic needs met for all: housing, food, medical care, safety. We MUST end the houseless/homeless crisis in the US. We MUST provide universal healthcare for all. We MUST ensure our poorest have a basic living income. We MUST have sane gun control in the US (like other nations do) to ensure safe neighborhoods, schools, parks, and shopping areas.
oooOOOooo

There are some problems with Schneider's list of recommended actions (particularly if you believe that individuals should continue to enjoy the kind of constitutional rights about which Schneider seems little concerned). 

That said..... I think this is what Schneider is trying to convey: (1) We need to take immediate and effective action to stop contributing to the processes that have driven and are still driving the catastrophic global warming that both Schneider and Engelhardt describe; (2) We need to take immediate and effective action to mitigate and reverse those processes, to the greatest degree we possibly can; and (3) We need to take immediate and effective action to make radical, real changes to how we conduct our lives and structure our economy and society. 

Anyone disagree that we need to do those things? If not, if we are all in agreement that we need to take the kind of immediate and effective actions outlined in the preceding paragraph, I would like to suggest that we focus on those two words, "radical" and "real." 

Making radical and real changes in how we do everything. That is what we need to do now!


Friday, September 15, 2023

#258 / An Intimacy Problem?


 
Faith Hill, a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, thinks that "discomfort with intimacy seems to be on the rise." Isabel Fattal, a senior editor at the magazine, suggests in her article, "America's Intimacy Problem," that this is the reason that "people seem to be losing trust in one another." My bet is that these editors are on to something - and after reading their commentaries, my thoughts flew to politics.

When people no longer trust one another, our politics is bound to suffer. Fattal notes, in her discussion, that "recent research and anecdotal evidence suggest that Americans are growing more wary not only of 'hypothetical, nameless Americans,' but of their own colleagues, neighbors, friends, partners, and parents."
 
Is there an antidote?
 
Well, you won't find any antidote in your Facebook feed, or in those "Tweets" that flock your way on the one-time Twitter. Real, direct, and personal engagement with other people who, along with you, are trying to achieve a particular political objective - from nuclear disarmament and world peace, to reducing fossil fuel use by your employer, to the installation of a protected bike lane on a well-traveled street in a local community - is actually the best way to get beyond distrust and suspicion. 
 
You may remember that Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights Movement, had the audacity to proclaim that participation in that struggle was, in and of itself, a way to build "the beloved community." The commentary that Zeynep Tufekci makes about the Civil Rights Movement, in the TED Talk video I am linking right here, is also a worthwhile observation on how the right kind of political involvement can build a powerful and enduring community.
 
I am inclined to believe that Martin Luther King, Jr. was on to something. How about we give his example another try?
 
 
Image Credit:
https://www.theatlantic.com/newsletters/archive/2023/04/americas-intimacy-problem/673907/


Thursday, September 14, 2023

#257 / Viral Moments

 

I have already commented on what I denominated the "DeSantis Doctrine," and have objected to the proposal, by presidential candidate Ron DeSantis (pictured), that United States Border Patrol officers should simply kill those who are seeking asylum in the United States, should these immigrants push past border barriers in their efforts to reach U.S. soil.

Naturally, I was pleased when the Washington Post published an opinion editorial that pretty much agreed with me. The Post's editorial was headlined as follows: "DeSantis’s ugly descent into ‘invasion’ hysteria can’t go unanswered." I think that you can slide past the paywall, to read the whole column, if you are willing to provide an email address, so click that link, and give it a try!

As is so often the case, it was a particular phrase in Greg Sargent's opinion piece that caught my attention, and that has resulted in this blog posting. Here's the comment, from Sargent's column, that stimulated this current reflection: 

Viral moments are the coin of the realm in today’s politics, and this topic delivers. Earlier this year, when Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) repeatedly (and accurately) accused Republicans of trafficking in great replacement theory, they spluttered with outrage, leading to widespread media coverage. Taking on GOP “invasion” mania entails making a number of points. One is that as official conduct goes, it’s profoundly deranged to use such terms to describe human beings who are fleeing humanitarian horrors and just want to contribute to our productive economic system (emphasis added).
 
As Sargent notes, getting some comment or proposal to "go viral" on the internet is a highly-desired outcome. In order to cause that to occur, ever more outrageous comments are often effective. The Post's  commentary focused on DeSantis's use of the word "invasion," pointing out how inappropriate this characterization is. My objection went more directly to DeSantis's suggestion that those seeking to enter the United States should simply be shot and killed. 

At any rate, here's my thought, prompted by the quote above: In the way we most typically use the word "viral," the word indicates infectious agents that are both a symptom and a cause of disease. I truly hadn't made the connection before, but this article stimulated the thought. Any political effort bent on making ideas, or comments, or political proposals "go viral" are symptoms of a political pathology. They're sick!

Think about it. Do you ever have happy thoughts when you hear that some idea that you support has "gone viral"? Maybe you shouldn't be so happy. In general (and certainly in politics), that can't be a good thing!

When political tacticians suggest that attempting to initiate a disease reaction is a worthy political objective  (knowing that making our comments ever more outrageous is the way to get that reaction), something is wrong!
 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/06/30/desantis-invasion-great-replacement-maga-border/
 

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

#256 / Those Seven Dirty Words

 

A few months ago, an article in The New York Times reminded us that there are "Seven Dirty Words" that you can NEVER say on television.  
 
The Times' story, which was published on May 1, 2023, didn't actually list those words. I had to track down various George Carlin YouTube videos - one of which is linked above, at the top of this blog posting.  Even watching those videos wasn't quite enough for me to be able to list those definitive seven words. Carlin spun through his list so quickly that I wasn't sure that I was properly accounting for the "Magnificent Seven," to allude to a movie that doesn't, actually, have anything to do with dirty words. 
 
In the videos I watched, Carlin outlines a lot more than seven words - and he does so at high velocity, as already noted. This makes it difficult to pick out the Carlin-developed list of the always-prohibited seven. Wikipedia, though, which is usually pretty reliable, does list the seven words, and here they are, with no punches pulled: 
 
  • Shit
  • Piss
  • Fuck
  • Cunt
  • Cocksucker
  • Motherfucker
  • Tits
The gravamen of The Times' news story is that recent efforts to protect children online is likely to remake the Internet for adults, too. Uninhibited expression could be curtailed. Watch the video, and check out what Carlin has to say. I think he makes a pretty good pitch for "free speech." 

In a humorous way, of course!
 
 
Image Credit:
https://youtu.be/6ulTgP6fjfA
 

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

#255 / Liology

 
 

According to the "Liology Institute," liology is "the practice of experiencing life in an integrated, embodied and connected manner." That approach to understanding what our life is really all about is the theme of a recent essay by Jeremy Lent. "Liology" is also the name of Jeremy Lent's newsletter. You can sign up for free. 

I have mentioned Lent previously, most specifically by commenting on his book, The Patterning Instinct. My earlier blog posting is titled, "WEIRD." 
 
I am still advocating that the residents of my home town try to "Keep Santa Cruz Weird," which at one time was the proud slogan by which many in the local community navigated. I regret to say that those who prize what has made Santa Cruz exceptional may be losing the battle, as wealth inequality insinuates itself ever more deeply into this local community, and as those with average and below average incomes are ever more rapidly displaced. The new high-rise apartment towers that are the community's response to our housing problems are not helping. In fact, they are making the problem worse.

That, however, is a topic for another time. I began writing today's blog posting because of Jeremy Lent's recent newsletter about artificial intelligence. If you click right here, you should be directed to the newsletter that prompted today's blog posting. If you click this link, you will be able to read the essay that Lent advertised in the newsletter. The article is titled, "To Counter AI Risk, We Must Develop an Integrated Intelligence." I recommend that you click both links, and do the readings!
 
Here is Lent's own invitation to read his essay on artificial intelligence:

Many critiques have already been written about the dangerously disruptive potential of advanced AI on a world fraying at the seams: the risk of deep fakes and automated bots polarizing society even further; personalized AI assistants exploiting people for profit and exacerbating the epidemic of social isolation; and greater centralization of power to a few mega-corporations, to name but a few of the primary issues.

But even beyond these serious concerns, prominent AI experts are warning that an advanced artificial general intelligence is likely to represent a grave threat, not just to human civilization, but to the very existence of humanity and the continuation of life on Earth.

In my piece, I argue that to counter that existential risk, and potentially redirect our civilization’s trajectory away from its burgeoning metacrisis, we need a more integrated understanding of the nature of human intelligence and the fundamental requirements for human flourishing.


Lent takes seriously the thought that artificial intelligence is, in fact, a threat to the continuing existence of the human race. He bases this concern on what he calls an "alignment problem," which is defined by the fact that the expectations and desires of "artificial intelligence" may not properly "align" with the expectations and desires of human beings. 

According to Lent, the "alignment problem," with respect to artificial intelligence, is that artificial intelligence is based upon, and aligned with, a false understanding of who we, as human beings, really are. The machine intelligence that powers AI systems is totally "analytical" (and, of course, humans do have a lot of "analytical intelligence'). Real human intelligence, though, says Lent, is "integrative," not "analytical." We are intimately woven together with the entire Creation, and "integrative" intelligence," like "Liology," assists us in navigating the actual world, not the fictive world of our own analysis.

As I say, I recommend that you read Lent's newsletter and essay. And.... for local residents in Santa Cruz, California, I recommend that we continue our efforts to "Keep Santa Cruz Weird."


 
 
Image Credits:
(1) - http://www.liology.org/what-is-liology.html
(2) - Gary A. Patton personal photo

Monday, September 11, 2023

#254 / Let's (Not) Hear It For Narcissism



Stephen Kessler, Santa Cruz poet and pundit, who writes columns for the Santa Cruz Sentinel, is now preaching the benefits of "self-indulgence," "self-enrichment," and "narcissism." Kessler's commentary on September 9, 2023, was titled, "Self-enrichment is an antidote to despair." 

"Let's hear it for narcissism," Kessler advises.

I am not at all sure that clicking that link, above, will get you past the paywall maintained by the Sentinel, so I am providing the full text of Kessler's column at the end of this blog posting. Here's a brief excerpt that will give you a pretty good idea of what Kessler is getting at: 

There is [a] kind of conduct that in my experience can give one the strength to carry on in turbulent atmospheric conditions; even to thrive in the most discouraging historic circumstances, as now. I’m thinking of self-enrichment — not financial but let’s call it cultural or intellectual or experiential self-development as both a means of flowering and of fortitude, and as an end in itself.

There is, of course, some truth in what Kessler is saying. Focusing on what will enrich us, individually, can help us insulate ourselves from the "coming months and years of extreme weather, endless wars, economic turmoil, legal drama, political chaos, social agitation and psychic pain" that Kessler is predicting. 

However, I think that Kessler's prescription is wrong. Kessler is telling us his idea of how best to "flower," individually, in a world that is going to hell. I think we need to change the world, and we can't do that individually.

The premise of Kessler's advice is that we live in this world as individuals. And.... there is some truth in that, which is why there is some truth in what Kessler is saying. 

However.... we are not only a collection of individuals. We are also, and very importantly, together in this life, and Kessler's formula ignores that - and thus misses what will really provide us with the fortitude to live on, and to "flower," as we confront the sometimes very grim realities that Kessler lists. 

To build our fortitude and to "flower" we need to stop looking into the mirror of our own, individual lives, and get together in activities of mutual support and collective action. I advise "talking to strangers," making friends," "sharing our wealth," and taking political action to confront the daunting challenges that are posed to us all, collectively. As Hannah Arendt tells us in her wonderful book, On Revolution, we prosper and flourish when we help create the "public happiness" that is an accompanying sign of revolutionary change. You can read yesterday's blog posting for a discussion of Arendt's views on friendship, if you'd like to start learning what she says about that topic.

I think it is pretty clear that we do need "revolutionary" change. In other words, we need to recognize that the daunting realities listed out by Kessler are both real and unacceptable, and that we need to change them. To do that, we will need collective action - political action! Trying to find our best path to individual "self-enrichment" is not the way to solve our primary problems.

To make the kind of changes that are needed to overcome the daunting challenges we face will require "all hands on deck." We won't succeed if all we care about is our own individual ability to "prosper and flourish." 

Remember the Musketeers? Their watchword was, "One For All, and All For One." 

That is genuine wisdom.

Radical individualism - that "self-enrichment" and "narcissism" preached by Kessler - is a capitulation to despair, not an escape from it. 


oooOOOooo


COMMENTARY

Self-enrichment is an antidote to despair

By Stephen Kessler

 

Kindness, generosity, altruism, good works and volunteering never go out of style. Selfishness, belligerence, ruthlessness, vanity and corruption have unfortunately proved through the centuries to be endemic to the human condition (in Western civilization at least). The quest for self-improvement — spiritual, physical, professional, athletic, artistic — is a perennial theme of personal growth. The instinct to seek better conditions is what drives migrants to pursue the prospect of new lives in countries far from home. All these human traits and behaviors are evident almost everywhere at all times.

 

There is another kind of conduct that in my experience can give one the strength to carry on in turbulent atmospheric conditions; even to thrive in the most discouraging historic circumstances, as now. I’m thinking of self-enrichment — not financial but let’s call it cultural or intellectual or experiential self-development as both a means of flowering and of fortitude, and as an end in itself.

 

Self-indulgence gets a bad rap. We indulge ourselves when we commit ourselves to doing what we love. We lose ourselves in the act of engagement, and with luck the result is something useful or beautiful whose existence improves things in some small way. But it is in the process that we are enriched by our absolute engagement with the task, whether writing a poem or drafting a business plan, composing a symphony or designing a home, building a cabinet or cooking dinner. We are learning as we go; we are building experience and sharpening our skills; we are finding pleasure by solving problems. This is the kind of self-indulgence that benefits more than ourselves.

 

And let’s hear it for narcissism, whose original meaning has been perverted in its appropriation by clinicians to describe a certain kind of personality disorder, and in its contamination by sociopathic individuals who give it a bad name with their bad behavior. I’ve written before of the myth of Narcissus, a beautiful youth whose arrogance is softened by the sight of his own reflection. Although he drowns mistaking himself for another — which is also a parable of the hazards of infatuation — he is saved from a lifetime of meanness and is immortalized as a flower. Today’s pathological narcissists are unable to see themselves in the other, or can see themselves only in the reflection of others’ admiration. They never soften into empathy and can only be gratified at others’ expense.

 

When I think about what we’re in for in the coming months and years of extreme weather, endless wars, economic turmoil, legal drama, political chaos, social agitation and psychic pain, and wonder what I can do about it, the best thing I can think of is to live as if every minute counts as a chance to do something of value and to appreciate each moment of grace I’m afforded, or can create. In my line of work that has mostly involved using my practice as a reader and writer to enrich myself with tradition and try to transmit that richness in some form that may be of use to others — you, for example — either by revealing something you never thought of before in quite that way or raising uncomfortable questions that cause you to rethink your assumptions or simply providing a bit of interesting entertainment, as I can’t solve anyone else’s problems, change public policy or change the world.

 

Self-enrichment, for me (and it’s obviously different for different individuals), has come in the form of studying and writing about some artist or author, or gardening, or indulging myself in the pleasures of live music or in conversation with accomplished people from whom I can learn something new. The inspiration I feel, or strength I gain, or delight I take in and from such experience makes me feel less bad about the bad news in the media and gives me the courage to continue without illusions but with an affirmative sense of the present moment and the promise of the possible.