Reflections on society, politics and nature XV

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

Spending time nature. This is something many have written about so I’ll just say a few words. Since I was little, I have spent time at a family cabin on a lake in the forest outside of Oslo. (The area is on track to become a national park.)

The cabin is without running water and electricity (apart from a small solar panel to charge phones and iPads). We get the water from the lake, the firewood from the forest, cook food with gas we bring with us, and heat the cabin with one of two fireplaces.

When I go there, I notice it takes a few days to “land” and that continues to deepen the longer I stay. There is a sense of gradually becoming part of the place and nature.

When I am there, I inevitably become very aware of resource use. I need to plan what food to bring and for how many days. I tend to eat fresh foods first and then, after a week or so, have more of the lasting foods to eat. I notice the effects of the different foods on my body.

During the summer, even when the temperature gets over 30 degrees Celcius, there is never a problem with the heat. If I get hot in the sun or from physical activity, I cool off in the lake. And the cabin stays cool due to the breeze, open doors and windows, and the shade from the trees.

Early and late summer – when they days are warm and the nights cool – I warm the cabin during the day by opening doors and windows, and trap it during the night.

The rest of the year, when I need to heat the indoor space, I separate the cabin into heat zones. I mostly spend time in the new living room, and use the fireplace there since it’s a good heat sink (the stones and brick stores heat and gradually releases it even after the fire is out). I close off the room and allow the other parts of the cabin to stay cooler. The kitchen warms up from cooking. (On early cold mornings, I sometimes eat and read in the kitchen since it’s warmer.)

When I go to get firewood, I typically take the rowboat and go to one of the three or four places where I know there are beaver-houses. There, close to the lake, I find birch trees felled by the beavers. They do the initial work, eat the bark and leaves, and I take the trunks they are done with, bring them back to the cabin, and cut them up for firewood. It feels like a nice partnership with the beavers, although they don’t get that much out of it.

I also notice what they say about firewood warming three times: When I collect the wood. When I cut and split it. And when I burn it.

In early and late summer, I tend to go to bed when it gets dark and wake up when the sun comes up. This changes other times of year since the sun is up 18 hours a day during the summer and only six in the winter.

In the summer, I enjoy swimming in the lake. Sometimes, I put on snorkeling gear so I get to see what’s under the surface.

I notice the direction of the wind and the types of weather the wind brings from different directions. I notice how it’s often still in the morning and evening, and windier during the day. When I row across the lake and it’s windy, I often take the slightly longer path through a group of islands since its more sheltered.

I am grateful when I see butterflies, insects, birds, and other creatures. They and I share the space for a while. We are neighbors. (This awe, gratitude, and sense of fellowship is heightened by my awareness of the loss of insect, bird, and animal life in the area and the world in general.)

I wash from top to bottom each day, either in the lake or using hot water in the kitchen. After a few days without showering, I notice that my skin doesn’t feel dry anymore. It retains the natural oils.

By being there, I gradually and effortlessly feel more and more as part of nature. My days are simple and mostly focused on basics such as food, heat, water, and sleep. And I become very aware of resources in many different ways. All around, it’s healing and – to the extent I allow it to work on me – transformative.

September 2, 2019

They were all racist back then. I listened to a Judge John Hodgman podcast, and while I like the hosts and usually agree with them, I was surprised when they excused someone’s racism (in the 1920s, 30s, 40s) by saying “they were all racist back then, and he wasn’t as bad as some”.

It’s good to understand someone in the context of their own time and culture. But it’s not an excuse for small-mindedness and bigotry.

They were not all racist. Even if racism was part of mainstream white culture, some were not racist. Some spoke up about it. Some refused to join that mindset.

It’s the same today. Although some views and behaviors are common in the mainstream, some of us have different views and make different choices. Some don’t eat meat. Some want non-humans to have stronger and better-enforced rights. (And not just the right to be better treated while caged up, waiting to be eaten.) Some realize that to transform into a sustainable civilization, we need deep and thorough systemic changes. Some of us want to give future generations a voice (by proxy) in policymaking at all levels of governance. Some of us want stronger world governance, as long it is one that emphasizes deep democracy, human rights, sustainability, reduction of the gap between wealthy and poor, and a long view on the consequences of our policies and actions.

September 6, 2019

Election turnout and weather. I knew that conservative parties get more votes on rainy days. In my naivete, I thought conservative voters were hardier and less likely to be discouraged by rain (although it didn’t quite make sense). The reality may be quite different.

According to Norwegian research, fewer people vote on sunny days, and conservative voters are more likely to enjoy the weather instead of voting! The difference is one percentage point so it applies to only a few conservative voters, but it can be enough to determine the outcome of an election.

I wonder if these few conservative voters are more individualistic and want to enjoy the day rather than doing their civic duty (privilege)? And a few more liberal or progressive voters value the collective good over their own short-term enjoyment?

How we talk about statistics. The voting-weather connection reminds me of the importance of how we talk about statistics. Reporters and even academics may say “conservative voters are more likely to vote when it rains”. But that’s not true. A few conservative voters are more likely to vote in the rain (instead of being outside enjoying the sun). That’s accurate. Most conservative voters are not affected by the weather.

It makes a big difference. The first way of talking about it makes it sound as if we are making a generalization about a whole group of people. The more accurate way makes it clear that it applies to just a small subset of that group. It’s more honest. More clear. And brings it down to earth.

September 8, 2019

Boris Johnson is failing? The media seem to like the story of Boris Johnson failing after losing four of four votes in the parliament and several ministers quitting. The headlines say things like “Terrible week for Johnson”, “Another defeat for Johnson”, and “Johnson fails”.

I am not so sure. I think he may be getting exactly what he wants. An opportunity to get rid of moderate conservatives from parliament and his government. Strong support from pro-Brexit voters. Casting himself as a martyr. In short, setting himself up to win an election, getting rid of opposition within the party, and implementing a series of very scary policies.

Brexit delusions. The whole Brexit process has been rife with delusions from day one. Or perhaps deliberate misleading. The most recent is Johnson pretending he can get another Brexit deal when the EU has been clear for months it’s not going to happen. A very basic one is the delusion that Britain is better outside of the EU. And perhaps the most basic one seems to be some sort of delusion of British grandeur. Britain is small in the world, and yet some pro-Brexiters talk and assume a position as if it’s a superpower. Sorry to burst your bubble, but that was a long time ago.

Sustainability and hypocrisy? The Green Party in Norway is (finally!) gaining momentum, and I see that mainstream media has gone into a new phase. They have moved on from ignoring and ridiculing to more frequently attacking. (Of course, some articles are neutral or even favorable.)

Mainstream media seem especially concerned about what they see as hypocrisy. The Green Party is Oslo is part of a local government that cuts down some city trees. Some Green Party people travel by air. And so on. And it becomes big headlines in the news as if it’s shocking, terrible, and scandalous. Is it really? A set of more sustainable policies doesn’t preclude cutting down some trees if that’s necessary for some reason. The Oslo government isn’t run by the Green Party, it’s just one of several in a coalition. And we all live within a system that’s fundamentally unsustainable (based on principles that don’t take into account limited natural resources and our dependence on these), so we all inevitably participate in unsustainable activities. That’s not the issue. The issue is to move society in the direction of being more sustainable, regenerative, and thriving.

Of course, it is important to live from authenticity, and that does mean to shift our individual lives as much as is feasible, possible, and practical. But it’s far more important to change the system. And to admit that, and be honest about our inevitable participation in an unsustainable system, is part of authenticity.

I am personally deeply committed to sustainability, and it means I’ll support quite radical policies and systemic changes. It also means I am aware of the impact that my life has on Earth and I do make an effort to reduce my ecological footprint. But I sometimes fly. I sometimes drive in a car. I sometimes buy synthetic clothes. I sometimes buy non-organic food (especially in Norway where it’s still difficult to get everything organic). It doesn’t mean I am not committed to sustainability. It means I, like everyone else, live within a system that’s inherently unsustainable. I cannot fully remove myself from it. And I don’t even want to. I want to participate, in my small way, in shifting the system as a whole.

Why do some take delight in small-minded attacks on Green politicians? I assume some is fear of change. Probably misconceptions about what a green shift means. And perhaps a nagging voice telling the person that they should be doing more, and they don’t (a sense of inferiority). Maybe they feel judged (they judge themselves), and react to that by attacking. (I am obviously not talking about legit criticism and disagreement on policies here, that’s essential to democracy and making good decisions.)

September 10, 2019

Protest voting? The Green Party did very well in the election in Norway yesterday, and both of the two traditionally largest parties less so (although they are still the two largest). I see that political commentators call it protest voting. That may be true in some ways. But I see Green policies as the inescapable future and I suspect many do.

You could call it a protest. An inherent protest against business as usual. But it’s more coming to our senses.

What will save the world? It’s not really politics or spirituality. It’s feedback mechanisms. It’s the world telling people what’s needed. Making it obvious, inescapable, near, and personal until people notice and respond. The response may well be political, spiritual, or a change in our priorities and how we live our lives, but the mechanism is often the feedback built into the world.

When I say “save the world” it’s meant in a broad sense. It means anything in our world that needs change and saving, including people (usually the ones with the fewest resources), ecosystems, future generations, and ultimately our civilization. (Earth as a living system will, most likely, survive and keep going for a good while longer.)

This doesn’t mean that we can sit back and let the world run its course. (Although if we do, that’s OK.) It means to respond. And it means to highlight and sometimes mimic the world’s feedback so we all notice.

September 12, 2019

Gluten? These days, it’s fashionable to think we are gluten-intolerant. For myself, I notice I do better without much wheat in my diet, but gluten-free wheat doesn’t seem to help me. So I wonder if wheat intolerance is sometimes mistaken for gluten intolerance, perhaps because it’s a fashionable term. I also do much better without yeast in my diet, so that could be a component for others as well.

September 15, 2019

Good old boys club. This is well known but I’ll mention a few words about it. In the US and Britain, they have a good old boys club mentality to politics and political leaders. They can get away with just about anything – including serious war crimes – because there is an attitude that they are allowed to get away with just about anything. They should get away with just about anything. The justice system mostly stands by watching without interfering. Nobody is above the law. If small crimes are taken seriously by society, why should big crimes – like war crimes (Blair, GW Bush) – be ignored?

On the same topic, why let politicians get away with repeated and obvious lies when these lies harm the nation? (Trump, Johnson, many Brexiteers.)

There is an argument that if they are held accountable, it will impede their ability to be effective leaders. But they should only be effective leaders within the rules of the system and within the law. I also understand the argument that if they are held accountable, political opponents can use the system with frivolous lawsuits and so on. As I see it, that’s far preferable to what we are seeing now, and there are things in place to prevent frivolous lawsuits.

September 16, 2019

To-do lists. This is something I thought was quite common but apparently is not. I have two (or three) to-do lists. One is the big to-do list with everything I can think of, organized by urgency and importance. And the other is the one or two things I plan to do today. At the end of the day, I often go to the big to-do list and transfer one or two things to the short list for the next day.

It helps me reduce stress in two ways. First, I don’t have to remember anything since it’s all in the big list. Second, I don’t feel overwhelmed (so easily) since my list for today is very short. If I do the one or two things on it, and I want to do more, I just pick one from the big list.

CFS strategies. I have, by necessity, developed strategies to function better with chronic fatigue (CFS). The dual to-do list above is one example. Another is wait with what’s less urgent until I have a better day and more energy. Prioritize and be more comfortable saying “no” to what’s less urgent or less important. Have food available at all times and have several smaller meals rather than a few large. Have chocolate and coca-cola as emergency food when I notice I am about to crash (and it has gone far enough so other foods are not enough).

September 17, 2019

Suspending parliament. I don’t usually write about isolated current topics, but this one is important because it highlights larger themes. Boris Johnson recently suspended parliament so they wouldn’t interfere with his version of Brexit. And the supreme court is currently evaluating whether this is legal.

Whether or not it’s considered legal, it’s clear that he lied about his reasons for suspending the parliament (for as long as he did). And it’s also clear that it’s very unhealthy for a democracy to have a system where the government can suspend parliament indefinitely. If the supreme court rules it’s legal, and the law doesn’t change, the government could legally suspend parliament for months or even years.

Of course, the current system is based on assumptions of fair play and adherence to fundamental democratic values, but in the age of Trump and Johnson, those assumptions are no longer valid.

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