Reflections on society, politics and nature XVIII

Continued from previous posts…. These posts are collections of brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include a few short personal notes as well.

Greed? I keep seeing people talking about “greed” as the cause of the problems today. (I even heard it from a professor in biology with interest in sustainability!) I have never quite understood it because people act according to the system they are in, and our current system rewards behavior that’s unintentionally harmful for the Earth, humanity, and future generations.

Why does it reward that type of clearly harmful behavior? Not because the people who created it were “bad” people but because they lived in a world where they didn’t have to take ecological realities into account. They lived in a world with relatively few people and relatively simple technology, so limits – to natural resources and nature’s capacity to deal with vaste – was not an issue apart from in some cases and very locally.

What’s the solution? To create a system – in all areas of society and culture – that takes ecological realities into account. A system where what’s easy and attractive is also what benefits society, Earth, and future generations. It’s fully possible to create this type of system. It won’t be perfect, but it’s something we can work on and refine as our situation changes and as we better understand how to live with Earth with our populations numbers and more powerful technology.

How do we get there? Perhaps through a small group of people realizing what needs to change and how (already happening), implementing examples (as many do), and then larger numbers of people supporting implementing it at a larger scale. There will be a backlash from those immeshed in our current system, as we see today with Trump and others. And it may well be that it will get worse before it gets better. Many may need the crisis close enough to home before they support the change needed.

The US obsession with the individual. I just watched the new Terminator movie and enjoyed it a lot. It had a good story and I loved the characters and the self-referencing humor (mostly from Schwarzenegger).

There was one thing that slightly brought me out of the Terminator-world. Why is a single person so important for the resistance? Typically, when the leader of a resistance is removed other come in and takes their place. I understand that some are more skilled and/or charismatic than others, but it seems that there is always someone who steps in and fills the gap.

It’s part of the slightly weird US obsession with the individual. We see it in the superhero stories (although it’s more common for them to team up now which is a nice change). And more disturbingly, we see it in the idea that anyone can succeed in the US if they only work hard enough. Anyone can escape poverty if they only want and work for it. That’s obviously not true. The system tends to keep those born into wealth wealthy (just look at Trump) and those born into poverty poor. This “upward mobility” idea tends to keep people from looking at the system, wanting to change the system, and actively working for changing the system.

Also, why can’t the machines send a lot of terminators back to make sure the job is done? I guess there is an answer within the Terminator-world I don’t remember or was never aware of.

December 3, 2019

Power-over vs. power-with. In a conversation, someone said that many or most of the problems in the world today comes from patriarchy. I partly agree but for me it’s much broader. Many or most of the problems come from power-over rather than power with. Power over nature. Power over women. Power over non-whites. Power over the poor. Power over animals. Power over our own body. And so on. It’s all part of the same mindset and orientation towards ourselves and the world. And it doesn’t work anymore. The problems created by it are too big and too global.

We cannot anymore use a power-over mindset the way we have. It damages the Earth, society, and ourselves too much.

December 5, 2019

Egypt and the afterlife. I read everything I could by Jung in my teens and early twenties. Somewhere – I don’t remember where – he mentions that he noticed that his clients often developed a fascination with old Egypt and old Egyptian mythology as they grew older and closer to the end of life. It’s perhaps natural that we wonder – explicitly or less consciously – about afterlife when we reach that age, and old Egypt is a prime example of a culture fascinated with the afterlife. I see this in my own parents. When I was little, they had little to no Egyptian things or imagery in the house and now – as they are closer to the end – that’s very different.

December 9, 2019

Sustainability as a financial opportunity. Some still (!) like to portray sustainability as a cost rather than as an enormous financial opportunity. I have never quite understood it, although I do understand that industries that has to make major changes – like the petroleum industry – benefits from that particular narrative. For the rest of society, sustainability is a once-in-several-centuries opportunity for the development of new industries and businesses. If we want it and allow it to be, sustainability can bring an economic boom and flowering. And that’s already happening to some extent.

December 12, 2019

The English language vs empire.

The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.

James D. Nicoll

I sometimes see people suggest that there is something inherent in the English language that makes it more easily absorb element from other languages.

It seems pretty obvious that the real reason is history. The English language had many different early influences. Since England became an empire, it absorbed elements from the languages of the empire. And that’s continuing since the British and US empires made English one of the current world languages.

It’s perhaps more accurate to say that English speaking empires have pursued other peoples and countries down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new riches, and in the process inevitably absorbed some of their language elements as well.

December 13, 2019

Voting counter to own interests. In countries where some politicians are especially shameless and blatantly lie to the public – and where big money interests and associated media outlets are able to effectively mislead parts of the public – it’s not uncommon to see people voting against their own interests. In my mind, that’s what happened with the last US election and the recent UK election.

In the US, people voted for Trump who clearly is only in it for himself and perhaps a few very wealthy buddies and large corporations. He support policies that explicitly and blatantly harm people, nature, and future generations. And he was only able to win through his and segments of the media’s (Fox News etc.) blatant misleading of the public.

The same happened in the UK election yesterday. The conservatives – who, lead by Johnson, wants to do away with regulations protecting people and nature and create a haven for large corporations – won by a large margin. Why? Again, in my mind, because he and his supporters blatantly mislead the public.

It’s impressive how some who primarily have the short term and narrow interests of a tiny segment of the population in mind (the already very wealthy) are able to mislead the public to think that’s their interests as well. And I guess people get what they deserve since it’s not difficult to get more educated on these issues. The information is readily available.

Of course, in the bigger picture this is life exploring itself in these ways too. It’s not inherently wrong. People are allowed to do things that goes against their own interests. (Even if it also harms others.)

Star Wars. This is not a very important topic in the big picture, but Star Wars has been (and I hope it’s not just in the past tense) important in my life. I loved and love the initial trilogy and looked very much forward to the recent trilogy. The first movie was OK and set up some interesting possibilities for the next two. At the same time, I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see the original trio together, and the movie as a whole felt a bit empty and soulless to me – as most of the movies of JJ Abrams’ do.

The second was disappointing to me. It didn’t follow up on potentially very interesting plot lines from the first and it felt like the main purpose of the movie was to subvert the expectations of the public. It’s, of course, fine to subvert expectations when it happens in a well written story and with well written characters, but in this case it seemed that the primary intention was to subvert expectations at the cost of a good story that felt coherent with the established Star Wars universe.

Together, the two first movies seem disjointed and left a lot of questions unanswered. It’s difficult to imagine the final movie bringing it all together in a satisfying way.

The main problem seems to be a lack of an overarching story for the final trilogy. It’s similar to an improvisation where one person sets up the premise and the second takes it off in a different and disconnected direction. You would think they would make sure the overarching story was in place, solid, and satisfying before even starting making the first movie. It’s difficult to understand why they didn’t, and it seems they suffered from a lack of vision and good leadership.

Star Wars & Toxic Fan Culture. I have noticed that some Disney people and journalists talk about “toxic fan culture”. I don’t see it that way. I only see fans who wished for a good ending to the Skywalker saga and were – understandably – disappointed. If you buy a product and are dissatisfied, you are of course allowed to speak your mind and even do so in public.

When Disney and media talks about “toxic fan culture”, they use an ad-hominem attack on a segment of the audience instead of acknowledging that perhaps there were some real problems with The Last Jedi. It didn’t follow up on many of the storylines from the previous movie. It seemed more concerned with “subverting expectations” than creating a good story that fits in the universe and the overall series of movies. It makes the two first movies in the last trilogy seem disjointed. Rei didn’t go through a hero’s journey (youthful folly, mistakes, doubt, learning, growing) or any character development at all. Kylo Ren wasn’t much of an adversary. Luke acted in a way that seemed very out of character, and at the very least was not set up or explained properly. There was not a clear and relatively simple archetypal story – which is one of the main reasons the initial trilogy worked so well. At least in my experience, there was little or no opportunity to feel sympathy with or care about anyone in the movie. (In the initial trilogy, we got to know a small band of people. We saw them failing and struggling. We saw their care for each other. And all of that and more made us – the audience – care about them and what happened to them.)

The Last Jedi felt disjointed in many ways. It felt disjointed from the previous movie. It felt disjointed from the established Star Wars universe. Last Jedi Luke felt disjointed from the Luke we know from the previous movies. Rei’s flawlessness (which makes her unrelatable and uninteresting) isn’t explained. There is no clear adversary. (Snoke was killed early on.) And it’s difficult to understand how the last movie can tie together all the loose threads without feeling rushed and trying too hard to tie up loose ends. (Like the last season of Game of Thrones).

Overall, it feels like Ryan Johnson largely disregarded – or even had contempt for – the previous movie, whomever was going to make the final movie, and perhaps even the fans. The “subverting expectations” approach is fine if it’s a standalone movie. But if it’s part of a series, it has to fit into the overall series, the established universe, and the larger story. It can – and should – expand on it. It can come with surprises – to the characters and perhaps the audience. But it has to feel like it’s an organic part of the larger whole. It has a responsibility to the whole.

Star Wars – my initial hope for the last Skywalker trilogy: What was my hope for the final Star Wars / Skywalker trilogy? Here are some things that come to mind.

A relatively simple story (with complexity woven in). An archetypal story that feels epic. (Because that’s Star Wars in my mind). A clear, overarching story in place before they made any of the movies. A reunion (for us) with the main characters from the initial trilogy. An adventure for the three (four, five) main characters from the initial trilogy. Introducing some new characters that goes through an interesting character development (making mistakes, going through doubt, learning, growing – hero’s journey etc.). New characters that I learn to care about. (I cared about the new characters in Rouge One relatively quickly, but am unable to care about the new characters in the new trilogy – whatever happens to them is fine to me at this point.) Surprises for the characters. (In the Last Jedi, it felt like the surprises were meant for the audience and not primarily for the characters, which made it feel contrived and too meta.) A significant and meaningful sacrifice by some or all of the main characters. Since it’s the last part of the Skywalker saga, I also hoped for a return of Anakin Skywalker as a force ghost and him playing a perhaps small but pivotal role.

In short, a story that feels like Star Wars and feels like an organic part of the Star Wars universe. A story arc that makes the final trilogy feel coherent, and that makes the larger story of all nine movies feel coherent. A story that expands the Star Wars universe. A story that feels like it’s worth telling, that’s a vital addition to the previous six movies. (And not just three movies that feels like they were put together primarily to finish the nine movies and make money.) A story of friendship between the original characters. A story of friendship between the new characters. A story of how they make mistakes, doubt themselves, learn, and grow. A story that makes me care for them. A story of a significant and meaningful sacrifice. A story that’s archetypal and speaks to something deep and essential in all of us. And since it’s the end of the Skywalker saga, Anakin Skywalker has to come back and play a (small but) pivotal role in one way or another.

It may sound like a tall order but it’s definitely possible. Rouge One did it to a large extent. And several of the most interesting fan theories did it.

Star Wars: Critics & The Last Jedi. I have a feeling that the critics of the Last Jedi reviewed it mostly as a standalone movie. If it was a standalone movie, I too would say it’s pretty good and enjoyable. But as a part of a series of nine movies and set in an established universe, it failed significantly and in many ways. It failed to feel like an organic part of the universe. It failed to feel like an organic part of an overarching story told in nine parts.

I wonder if this explains why the critics seemed to mostly like it, and the audience – and especially long-time Star Wars fans – mostly didn’t. The critics reviewed it as a standalone movie, and as a standalone movie it’s pretty good and has no major flaws. The audience saw it as part of a much larger story and in that context it has many significant flaws. (The most obvious is that it didn’t follow up on many or most plot threads set up by the previous movie, and it makes it very difficult for the following movie to tie it all together without feeling rushed or contrived.)

Star Wars expanded universe. The main flaw – and downfall – of the new Star Wars trilogy is that it was not planned out in advance. And perhaps the main missed opportunity is that they didn’t take some of the best plots and storylines from forty years of Star Wars expanded universe stories. They know that the fans love these stories, and they know which ones were especially loved, so why not use these are the kernel or starting point for the new trilogy?

It seems almost unbelievable that the new trilogy wasn’t planned out in advance. And it seems equally baffling that they didn’t use what they already have – and what they knew the fans love – when they created the final trilogy of the Skywalker saga.

Who likes the last Star Wars trilogy? Obviously, some like the last trilogy. Why do they like it? I imagine it’s more casual fans less invested in the story and characters, and perhaps less familiar with the Star Wars universe. I imagine it’s people who like to revisit the world of Star Wars. And I imagine it’s people caught up in the excitement of the movies as they watch them and don’t think about it too much afterwards. And that’s completely fine and good. Nobody needs to be invested in it or think about it very much.

For us a bit more invested in the story and characters, for whom the world is not quite enough, and who think a bit more about the stories and how they fit into the overarching Skywalker saga, the recent trilogy may be more disappointing.

Can’t please Star Wars fans? Some say it’s difficult or impossible to please Star Wars fans. I disagree. Rogue One and the Mandolorian TV series show that people like Star Wars stories when they are good and when they feel like Star Wars. It’s not impossible at all to please Star Wars fans. Just make good stories that feel like they belong to the Star Wars universe.

December 13, 2019


Nostalgia is a toxic impulse

– John Hodgman on Instagram and several other places

Perhaps some forms of nostalgia are less helpful – if we think everything was better in the past, get caught up in it, and wish to recreate it in a literal sense. But to me, nostalgia can also be beautiful and healing. It can help us come to term with our past. It can help us reconnect with – perhaps – an aliveness and passion we experienced in the past (or imagine we experienced!). Nostalgia is a projection, and as any projection, it can be used in a conscious, intentional, and very helpful way.

Planting trees to reduce climate crisis? I see it’s popular to plant trees to reduce the severity of the climate crisis. It’s not a bad thing to do, but it’s at best a very small piece of the solution and – in itself – won’t help that much. What we need is to preserve existing ecosystems (ideally as much as possible in their natural and diverse state) and change our own systems (economic etc.) dramatically so they align with ecological realities.

December 14, 2019

A letter from the future.

Sometimes, it’s helpful to put ourselves in the (imagined) role of someone else. It can be our ancestors supporting us in our life. It can be another person or animal or ecosystem alive today. And it can be one of our descendants. The letter below is from an imagined descendant, and it’s meant to help me see myself and my life in a different perspective. (It’s definitely not meant as a prediction!)

A letter from a future young person to us, her ancestors:

A lot has changed since you were alive at the turn of the century (1980s-2020s). Many of you realized what was going on, and yet you were stuck in your old mindsets and systems. It was what you knew and lived inside of, and it limited what you were able to do. You were also limited by the old system – and those identifying with it – actively fighting back. There was some misinformation misleading and confusing the situation for some of you. And yet, the seeds of much of what came to fruition were there.

Now, at the end of the (21st) century, we can look back and see things more clearly. Your economic system was created in the 1800s and assumed unlimited natural resources, a smaller number of people, and limited technological abilities. When your numbers and technological abilities grew, some of you started realizing that the major assumption your system was based on – unlimited natural resources and ability to absorb “waste” – was wrong. It was not only wrong but dangerously wrong. It created the ecological crisis you started to experience and that snowballed further into the century.

Initially, there was the usual denial, slowness in responding, and focus on piecemeal solutions that were not really solutions (recycling, reuse etc.). The situation got progressively and – in many areas – exponentially worse, and more and more people were impacted and experienced the crisis first hand. We still are far from recovered from what happened and there are still many challenges, including related to human migration away from the areas most severely hit by the numerous ecological crises.

As the situation grew more critical, and more people realized that a more thorough change was needed, there was more awareness of the importance and necessity of a systems change. All of how we organize ourselves as a society – locally and globally – needed to change. And more people started exploring, implementing, and advocating for a new system – in economy, production, transportation and more – that takes ecological realities into account. A system that plays with the natural ecosystems.

A system that’s set up so that what’s easy and attractive to do – for individuals, groups, and corporations – is also what’s supports and enriches the Earth’s ecosystems and future generations.

Today, this view seems obvious. We know it’s possible and that it benefits all of us. To you, it seems that many were not aware of the need of systems changes, and that some of those who were saw this as utopian. It’s natural, perhaps, since you only knew what you had.

Of course, not all of humanity got onboard with this, at least not right away. Some countries and groups of people led the way. Other countries and groups resisted with all their might. Although everyone is on board with the basic of this more ecologically sane view today, we still have more regressive and more progressive groups. I assume it will always be like that.

How does it look in the more progressive areas and for the more progressive groups?

We actively explore, implement, and advocate for new solutions and ways of looking at ourselves as part of natural systems. We don’t have all the answers and a lot more needs to change, although the basics of a more sustainable civilization is in place. We know that we will always need to explore these solutions and views. Everything changes and we need to adapt, and ideally be ahead of what’s minimally required of us.

We are working on systems of all types that enrich ecosystems more deeply and naturally. These systems are practical, social, and philosophical, and local, regional, and even global.

We continue to explore how valuing all life can be more deeply reflected in our systems and how we live our lives. For you, valuing life seems to have been more of a personal stance or a luxury. We know it’s essential for our well being and survival. Without its guidance, we won’t find our way to a society that’s more deeply ecologically aligned and enriching.

Without the guidance of valuing all life, we won’t find a way to survive.

The change has been dramatic, and we are still in the middle of it. We are still in the infancy as a more ecologically informed and sane civilization. And there is much left to work on. For instance, it’s obvious that social justice – and a more egalitarian society where there is less gap between the wealthy and less wealthy – is essential for an ecological civilization. But we haven’t achieved this yet. Some regions are further along and some severely lagging behind (as I think it was when you lived).

This is partly due to the social impact of the different ecological crises (some lost the little they had, including their home and country), and it’s partly due to some finding ways to be minimally sustainable while staying wealthy and preventing others from going out of poverty. The money interests are strong today – as they were in your days.

We still have many regional differences, and sometimes strong regional differences. But we are less invested in the country states than you were. In order to address our very real global survival issues, we realized we needed to take global solutions seriously. We now have stronger global governance relating to these issues – ranging from human rights and nature’s rights to regenerative solutions. And we also have more regional and local governance. The country states play less of a role. If the trend continues, they may even cease to be important or even exist in the future.

There is a lot more I can write to you about. For instance, although many still belong to traditional religions, Earth-centered spirituality is more common now than it was in your time. Some belong to traditional religions and include Earth-centered spirituality, and some are outside of traditional religions and have Earth-centered spirituality as their main focus. For some, it’s informal, and some belong to groups who come together to perform rituals and Earth-centered practices.

As I mentioned, more people – by necessity – understand that we are part of the living systems of the Earth. Earth is what we are an expression and part of. And this, naturally, becomes part of our spirituality.

In general, fewer people belong to traditional religions and spirituality is something more are interested in. There has been a lot of research on spiritual practices from many different traditions so spiritual practices are more mainstream, respected, and secularized versions are used much more commonly in hospitals, workplaces, and schools. (I think all of this started in your time.) There has also been more research on what you called “paranormal” – near death experiences, ESP and so on – and much of this is now more commonly and generally accepted and informs our worldview.

Continued some days later:

Although much has changed for the better, there is a lot of work left – especially when it comes to creating a more egalitarian society with less of a gap between the wealthy and the less wealthy.

Also, there has been a lot of disasters in the ecological crisis we have gone through and are still in. Many people have had to move away from their homes – because of rising sea levels, flooding, desertification, unlivable heat, and more. We have had mass migrations and all the major problems that comes with it. We have had epidemics. We have seen a major loss of species and ecosystems. Many people have died as a direct and indirect consequence of the ecological crisis. We are not living in an utopia by any means.

December 22, 2019

Talking about solstice. I have celebrated solstice in different ways since my twenties – sometimes in a more structured way with rituals, fire, and more. There are two general ways of talking about this.

One is to make it down-to-earth and accessible to most people. For instance, solstice is an opportunity to find gratitude for Earth and the sun – making our life possible. It’s a time we can meet with family and friend and celebrate our participation in this amazing life. And it’s also an excellent opportunity to set intentions for the next six months or year.

Another way is to say more or less the same – at least the practical information – and use a language that’s perhaps accessible to fewer people. For instance, we can talk about how the planetary energies during solstice makes our intentions more powerful and so on.

I have no idea if the second way of talking about it is accurate or not. I have no way to verify it for myself. That’s why the first way of talking about it makes more sense to me. It conveys the same practical information, and does so in a more pragmatic and grounded way.

Consumption & population. The sustainability equation has two factors: how we live our lives and how many we are. In the past, we humans could get away with more since our population was much smaller. Our impact was mostly local. And it seems obvious that continued population increase will create major problems even if we learn to live in a far more sustainable – and regenerative – way. For one, there is a limit to how much food we can produce without continuing to take and use land that other species (also) need.

I am surprised when I continue to see articles – including from sources I normally agree with – emphasizing that our challenge is consumption and not population. Why are they so eager to make this point? What is the problem in talking about strategies to reduce our population numbers? Especially when we know that one of the most effective ways to reduce – or eliminate – population increase is to give women education and help people out of poverty?

I am also surprised they emphasize just one side of the equation when addressing both sides makes it even more clear how sustainability and social justice goes hand-in-hand.

Enid Blyton. I used to read some Enid Blyton books as a child and remember I enjoyed them. When I looked at the beginning of one of her books again (Circus of Adventure), I was first struck by the gender and ethnic stereotypes and apparent xenophobia. That’s partly explained by the time they were written, although probably has more to do with an author who didn’t question the stereotypes of her society. What struck me more was that cruelty – by the main characters towards a foreign boy – was used as entertainment. If it had been questioned and presented as inhumane and unethical (or perhaps as a reaction to trauma), that’s one thing. But the cruelty was presented as normal and amusing.

December 23, 2019

Fear-mongering in spiritual teachings. When I was more into Tibetan Buddhism (in my teens and early twenties), I suspected some teachers engaged in fear-mongering as a teaching strategy. They talked about things none of the audience could check out for themselves, and seemed to want to use fear as a motivation for practice. This may have worked in old Tibet but I don’t see it work very well in our modern world.

It makes much more sense to talk about what’s tangible, real, and what people can check out for themselves. The reality we are living and can check out for ourselves provides plenty of motivation for healing and awakening when we take a closer look at it.

Brexit and a return to a European union. From the beginning of the Brexit discussion, it’s been likely – at least in my mind – that if Britain leaves the EU, it’s temporary. There are too many obvious benefits from being a member of the EU for Britain to stay away for very long.

Of course, things may change. Who knows what will happen in the meantime – with EU, Britain, and the world, and whatever happens may change the equation.

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