Reflections on society, politics and nature XIV

 

Continued from previous posts…. These posts are collections of brief notes on society, politics, and nature.

Lawns as a symptom of an eco-alienated culture. Lawns. Why lawns? Is it so we can pretend we are relatively well-off landowners a couple of centuries ago in Britain? (Even if we are not aware that’s where it began.) Is it because our neighbors do it? Is it because our infrastructure is set up to support lawns and not the alternatives? Is it because the alternatives seem more difficult?

It’s probably all of those. To me, the lawn is a nutshell representation of our eco-alienated culture. It’s sterile. It requires (often noisy) machines to maintain. It’s mostly not used. It’s there because others do it, it’s expected of us, and our society makes it easy to have one.

The alternatives make so much more sense. A food garden with low-maintenance berry bushes and fruit trees. A wildflower garden. A natural garden with native vegetation. Or perhaps a beautiful, alive, abundant garden that includes sections all of these.

Lawns are monocultures and inhospitable to insects and other animals. They are part of the reason insects are dying out. And instead, we have the option of creating alive, abundant, thriving sanctuaries for life.

What does it take to create this change? It requires a change in attitudes and culture. It requires an infrastructure that supports abundant gardens – for instance, local government support, classes, media information, incentives, and perhaps most importantly easy access to plants, seeds, information, and practical help. And it requires a few of us to set a good example before it catches on and becomes common on a wider scale. (I have little doubt it will.)

August 9, 2019

Why is it stressful to be a parent? I hear a lot more complaints about being a parent in the US compared to Norway. And there are some simple reasons for that. In Norway, each parent gets several months of paid parental leave, families get money each month to pay for clothing and food for the children, kindergarten, and school is free, and so on. There are a lot of structural supports in place. People in the US talk a lot about the importance of families, but in action, Norway is far ahead.

Similarly, throughout human evolution and history, we see that children were raised by the community and not just by the parents. From an evolutionary and historical perspective, we can say that we are not meant to raise children primarily or only in nuclear families. We need a community. That’s one reason I have always been drawn to co-housing communities, ecovillages, and similar ways of living.

Star Trek & a vision of the future. I love Star Trek and especially the earlier series (TOS, TNG, DS9, Voyager) where Roddenberry’s vision was more intact. As others have pointed out, it’s essential to have desirable visions of the future in our culture and popular culture. It reminds us of what’s possible and what we want to work towards. It gives us a hope that humanity can outgrow it’s childhood diseases (poverty, bigotry, organized violence, anthropocentrism, short-term, and local thinking) and reach some form of maturity (deeper democracy, global governance, life-centered views and policies, big picture and long term thinking). Of course, it may not happen, and if it happens it will come with its own problems, but it’s essential that we have these visions, share them, and work to implement what we can here and now.

Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. […] If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.

Gene Roddenberry

August 17, 2019

Colorful and shiny. Why do we get addicted to the internet? It’s partly to avoid our (uncomfortable, painful) experience, as with any addiction. It’s partly because of intermittent reinforcement. And it’s also something as simple as colors and moving pictures.

I am at the cabin, my only internet connection is through my cell phone, and data is expensive in Norway. So I chose to disable images when I browse the internet. (I go to the cabin to connect with nature and a simpler life, so that’s another reason.)

This not only reduces my data use but makes me aware of how important color and images are for drawing me back to the internet. I find it far less interesting to go on the internet without color, images, and moving images. And that’s why disabling color and images is one of the recommendations if we want to reduce our internet use.

August 23, 2019

Arguing about toll roads. It’s an even more surreal experience than normal to read about Norwegian politics these days. They argue about toll roads. This issue just about caused the conservative coalition government to fall apart.

Who argues about such a minor issue when the world’s ecosystems – our life support system – is unraveling faster than ever and right in front of our eyes. (Toll roads are one tiny answer to that problem, especially when the money goes to support public transportation, but still…).

Spoiler alert? I don’t mind knowing the rough outlines of a story in advance of watching our reading it. I am not interested in a story mainly to see how it ends, because I know the ending is made up anyway. I am interested in the characters, how they interact and evolve, the symbolism (taking it as a dream), the world that is created, the atmosphere, the language, and so on.

For me, knowing a bit about the story in advance often adds to the enjoyment since I can focus more on the elements that really interests me.

Brexit. I am still fascinated with Brexit. It’s an entertaining disaster. And it also points to themes that are more universal and important than Brexit itself.

For instance, it shows how increased inequality and marginalizing groups of people leads to frustration, resentment, and pain which, in turn, makes people susceptible to simple solutions that involve scapegoating. We see it in the US with Trump, and in England with Brexit. (Not all who support Trump or Brexit are marginalized, of course. And some whites who support Trump fear being marginalized in the future.)

It’s also fascinating to see leading British politicians repeatedly saying what’s clearly false, and many people apparently believing it. I guess it’s partly because there is no good solution to Brexit, and it allows them to later blame the EU for the disaster. Boris Johnson is a good example when he first said he would renegotiate the deal (when EU was very clear that wouldn’t happen) and now says they will leave with no deal and they won’t need to pay the EU what they owe them (which the EU obviously won’t allow).

And it is sad and fascinating how some regular pro-Brexiters seem to think that leaving the EU will solve their problems and perhaps make Britain stronger. If anything, it will worsen the situation for regular people and weaken and possibly break up Britain.

Who can, in all seriousness, think that one country can negotiate better trade deals than a coalition of 28 countries? And why would Britain be stronger when Brexit can lead to Britain breaking up? (Scotland leaving Britain and reunification of Ireland.)

I assume the real reason some politicians support Brexit is exactly what they say the reason is. They want to create a neo-liberal free-trade haven unimpeded by pesky EU regulations protecting people and nature. And that benefits the few already very wealthy and definitely not society as a whole.

Why is the fish slapping dance funny? Why is Monty Python’s fish slapping dance funny? In A Life On Screen: Michael Palin, John Cleese said nobody really knows. That’s obviously true. And dissecting humor takes the fun out of it. But the psychology of humor is interesting and does tell us something about us.

So why is it funny? It’s partly because it’s incongruous. We see two men in uniform, who we expect to be serious and stern, perform a silly dance. And we see one daintily slapping the other with two small fish, and the other slapping, in turn, with a huge fish.

I suspect it’s also funny because it helps us see through hierarchy and power. It shows us two in uniform, who we are taught to defer to, obey, and perhaps fear, act in a very silly way. It helps us see that hierarchy and uniforms are made up, and it only works of we accept and play that game.

That’s one reason Monty Python was seen as subversive and perhaps also so widely loved. They give us a peek behind the curtain, disguised as silliness and nonsense.

August 28, 2019

Trolling liberals. Trump is clearly enjoying trolling liberal with his words and actions. We need to recognize it, point it out, and focus on the real issues. (If we buy into it and get exasperated and worked up, we are giving him and his supporters exactly what they want.)

Confusing the opponents. Along similar lines, one of Trump’s main strategies is to confuse and disorient his opponents, and it seems that Boris Johnson is using a similar strategy. Again, it’s important to call it out, not fall for it, and focus on what’s actually happening and the issues.

These strategies only work if we fall for them.

White privilege. Although it’s a fashionable term, I find it useful. What it describes is widespread and frequently invisible to white people (like me).

A couple of days ago, I talked with a someone who just had seen Black Panther and spoke about it with subtle snark (comments about their strange English, that it’s weird they would rewrite history to create an imagined African hi-tech superpower, and so on). That’s white privilege, spoken by someone who speaks mainstream English and is from a country that has never experienced imperialism and colonialism.

Personally, I love the movie for its music, cool clothes, wrestling with ethical questions, and because it shows an alternate version of history. One where an African country escapes imperialism and has the freedom to develop a strong culture. It’s also a reminder that this is not only an alternate history since Africa has a long history of impressive civilizations.

Of course, the movie is still Eurocentric. What’s presented as admirable about Wakanda is based on European and North-American standards (advanced technology and science, strong people and independence, modern humanitarianism).

Stories with a (good) heart. I like just about any type of stories, and especially if they have a heart and a good heart. If they are heartfelt and come from an essentially kind place. They can be gritty, tragic, and scary, and still have a good heart.

A current example is Stranger Things. It’s funny, unashamedly nostalgic, slightly violent, there is genuine humanity in the main characters and how they care about each other, and the storytelling is coming from a kind heart. In that sense, it’s wholesome even if people die and the world is at risk.

September 1, 2019

Moving towards or away from war. It seems that many of the lessons from WW2 has already been forgotten, or perhaps they were never learned by some. When I look at policies and how we arrive at them, I have some criteria. I look at whether they benefit those who have the least (historically or currently marginalized groups) or those who cannot speak up for themselves (children, future generations, non-human species). I look at whether they seem to support life in the big picture. I look at whether they support and strengthen democracy. And I look at whether they support peace or may move us towards war.

Currently, with both Trump and Brexit, we see a language and policies that arguably move the dial closer to war. A language of scapegoating, simplistic solutions, and false information. Words and policies that seem aimed at creating divisions and setting groups up against each other.

Have we already forgotten the horrors of war? Do we think it cannot happen again? Are we willing to risk it all for short-term political gain? Or so we can temporarily feel better about ourselves by blaming someone else in words and policies?

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