Reflections on society, politics and nature – vol. 70

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

MOSKOW VS WASHINGTON DC, 1434

I saw this meme with an image of Moskow and Washington DC in the early 1400s. Moskow has churches and big buildings. Washington, D.C. has native American tents. There is no commentary, but I suspect the idea is to show that Russia had civilization back then and North America did not.

That’s misguided at so many levels.

NORTH AMERICA AND RUSSIA ARE BOTH EUROPEAN CIVILIZATIONS

The current North American civilization and Russia are both European civilizations.

What we see in North America today is not the civilization of the indigenous people. (Some of us wish it were.)

NATIVE AMERICAN CIVILIZATIONS

The image combination may suggest that the Native American civilization was somehow primitive or inferior to the Russian civilization at the time.

If so, that’s a questionable view.

The indigenous people in the Americas had their own civilizations.

Even from a conventional European view, many of these were sophisticated and advanced. For example, we can find democracy, equality between the genders, sustainable agriculture, sophisticated architecture, advanced languages and mathematics, large buildings and cities, and so on.

INDIGENOUS CULTURES CAN BE SEEN AS MORE ADVANCED

If we want to compare civilizations, the way we do it obviously depends on our own views and what we value. If we use the filter of traditional European values, then the European civilization will necessarily appear superior. But those are not the only valid and valuable views and values. Other values may be more essential and important, especially today.

European culture and civilization is, in many ways, unhealthy and damaging to nature and people. It sees humans as separate from the rest of nature. It has an idea of a remote sky-god. It sees nature as infinite and here for humans. It sees humans as superior to other beings. It values intellect over heart and the wisdom of the body. It’s traditionally racist and sexist. It has often been colonialist. It has an extractive mindset.

In contrast, many indigenous cultures see humans as part of the web of life. The divine is right here in and around us, which is more conducive to reverence for life. They often have a more ecological mindset and a more ecologically sustainable way of life.

The first is ecocidal and suicidal. The second is more life-centered.

Of course, is not always that simple. There is much value in European culture, and many indigenous cultures have views and habits that most of us wouldn’t like to be exposed to. But in general, European culture is profoundly misguided on some essential and basic things, and many indigenous cultures were and are not.

NOT MEANT TO BE SCRUTINIZED

I understand that these memes are not meant to be scrutinized like this. The people posting them do it for emotional reasons. In this case, the meme only works if you don’t think about it and follow racist logic.

Some pro-Russian propaganda can be surprisingly naive. Still, it’s sometimes adopted by some Western folks on the left.

Why? It’s likely because Putin and some Westerners on the left both like to criticise the US and Western Europe for their policies and how they sometimes treat the rest of the world. They use a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” logic.

I am also no fan of much of what the US and Western Europe have done and are doing. That doesn’t mean I leave my brain at the door and adopt the views of Russian propaganda.

A MORE SANE VIEW

For me, there is a more grounded and sane approach.

European culture – whether it’s in the US or Russia or anywhere else – is profoundly misguided on several essentials. It has a power-over orientation, an extractive mindset, it sees nature as infinite and primarily existing for human use, the sacred is separate and “out there” somewhere, and so on. That’s found equally in the US and in Russia, and it’s ecocidal and ultimately suicidal.

Indigenous cultures often have views and orientations that are more sane and ecological. These are one piece of the puzzle in transforming into a more ecologically sustainable civilization.

That’s far more fundamental and essential than any US vs Russia debate. And if I wanted to go into that particular discussion, I would certainly not adopt a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” orientation.

GIVING MYSELF PERMISSION TO NOT DO IT

I had planned to go to a Sunday farmer’s market this morning, but I was concerned it would take too much energy. Last night, I decided to not go. I gave myself full permission to not do it, and it was a big relief and helped me have a good night’s sleep.

This morning, when I woke up, I had more energy and felt I maybe could go. I think I will go.

I often do this. It’s a big relief to allow myself to not do something. It creates space to feel into whether I actually want to do it or not.

TURNING ON THE CHARISMA

In Madison in the late ’90s, I organized a relatively large event with Starhawk. When she arrived, she seemed like a quiet and anonymous woman, and I thought: Oh, maybe people will be disappointed.

As soon as she stepped up on the stage and engaged with the people, she transformed. She turned on her charisma. I know this is not unusual, although in her case and on that night, it was especially noticeable.

The event was a big success. She was an amazing speaker and engaged with the audience in a wonderful way.

MARCH 16, 2024

WHEN AI PRETENDS TO HAVE EMOTIONS

I saw a video of a Japanese AI with a robot interface earlier today, where the AI said it has human emotions and feelings.

I assume it was programmed to do just that, and I assume it was done to manipulate humans interacting with it.

Is it unethical? In this context, I would say yes. It’s fine for AI to pretend to have feelings if it’s transparent and it has a purpose, for instance, if it’s research into how humans respond to just that.

It’s not fine if it’s not transparent and it’s done to have a certain impact through misleading them. It’s not OK if it misleads people about this AI and AI in general.

AI is statistics. It’s predictive text, image, sound, or whatever it may be.

If we are going to make good collective decisions about AI, we need to know roughly how it works. We need to know what it is and isn’t.

So this is not only misleading and unethical in the situation where people interact with this particular AI, it’s unethical in that it muddles the public conversation about AI.

If we are to regulate AI, I would say that one of the most important things is to require AI companies to be clear and explicit about their AI in terms of what it is and isn’t and that it works on statistics.

Note: I asked ChatGPT if it has emotions, and it gave an answer that’s more in integrity: “
As an artificial intelligence, I don’t have emotions or subjective experiences like humans do. I process and generate text based on patterns in data and algorithms. While I can understand and generate text that discusses emotions, I don’t actually feel them myself. My responses are based on computational processes rather than emotional experiences.”

MARCH 22, 2024

HYPOCRICY?

Some who talk about the need for sustainability are met with the hypocrisy argument. If you talk about it, you have to live it. You are still using a car. You buy things. You use an airplane.

To me, that’s a misguided argument, and I suspect it’s mostly used to shut down information or views that make us uncomfortable.

We all live within this system that’s set up so that what’s easy and attractive to do also happens to be bad for our ecosystems. We are allowed to speak up about it while still living within this system. That’s how change starts, along with changes in worldviews and actions to stop some of the destruction and create and live alternatives.

MARCH 24, 2024

THE REAL COST OF THINGS

One of the essentials of sustainability is to set our system up so the monetary cost of something reflects its real cost. These days, we pay for whatever it happens to cost to make something. In a more sustainable system, we would also pay for the cost to our ecosystems, society, and future generations.

In that world…

Destroying mature ecosystems would be infinitely costly, as would anything that harms endangered ecosystems and species.

Using petroleum and petroleum products would be very expensive.

Food grown with chemicals, in a monoculture, and in a way that depletes the soil would be very expensive.

Something that’s reused, upcycled, or recycled would have a low cost.

Food produced in a diverse ecosystem, without chemicals, and in a way that brings nutrients into the soil, would have low cost.

Public transportation would have a low cost.

Renewable energy would have a low cost.

And so on. The basics of it are simple although exactly how to implement it will require some work and ongoing revisions.

DIVERSIFYING THE PAST

I am watching the new BBC dramatization of Agatha Christie’s Murder is Easy.

From several recent BBC productions, I get the impression that they like to diversify the past. They create period dramas where non-whites are included in fine society with the rest. (In the 1950s, a stranger from Nigeria is immediately included in the community and high society dining, the vicar is married to a woman from India, and so on.)

There are upsides and downsides to this approach.

There are historical examples of this, of course, so it’s not completely inaccurate.

It does match our society today, or rather how we would like our society to be. It models inclusivity, which is very good.

And yet, it’s also a kind of (reverse) whitewashing of history. This kind of storytelling glosses over our terrible history of racism and bigotry. It makes it look like our society was always inclusive, which it certainly was not. That does us all a disservice. It’s important to remember history and the long struggle to get to where we are now – where inclusivity is at least a value many hold. We are still living with the fruits of that history, and it’s important to understand where it comes from.

MARCH 27, 2024

GROWTH IS NOT THE PROBLEM, IT’S THE SYSTEM IT HAPPENS WITHIN

Some people, maybe especially of the older generation, talk about growth as a problem. They seem to see growth as the main sustainability problem we have.

I understand why, and I see it differently.

For me, growth itself is not a problem. It’s the type of growth that’s the problem. For instance, growth that comes about by using irreplaceable natural resources, cutting down forests, destroying ecosystems, and so on.

Even that is not the main problem. The main problem is the system the growth happens within. We have an economic system that assumes that nature is infinite. Growth within that type of system becomes a problem because the system is not ecologically sound. It doesn’t take ecological realities into account.

It’s easy to generally imagine a system that does take ecological realities into account, and where other forms of growth is what’s easy and attractive to do. For instance, growth in the form of…. regeneration, sustainable technologies, life-centered services, ecological and life-supporting knowledge, and so on.

THE RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLE

Over the years and decades, there has been a lot of focus on women’s rights, black rights, gay rights, and so on. These are all very important, and they have been popular and relatively large and impactful movements in Western Europe, North America, and some other places.

What’s often left out is the rights of indigenous people. Why? I assume it’s a more sensitive topic.

The other rights are more about equality between people. We all have value. We should all be included. We all have a voice that should be heard.

Indigenous rights have another element. These are the rights of people who lived here first, whose land was often stolen, who experienced genocide, whose culture was eliminated as far as possible, and so on.

They live on land stolen from them by their oppressors, and the oppressors are in the majority.

If the indigenous have rights and a voice, what does that mean? It certainly will mean more sharing of power, which some in a privileged position won’t like. It may also mean reparations, reconciliation, and much more. It will mean that the colonizers will have to face what they and their ancestors did.

I assume the rights of indigenous people will have it’s day soon, perhaps within a few years or decades. From that perspective, the lack of attention to indigenous rights for so long will seem glaringly obvious.

PEAK CIVILIZATION

In many ways, we are in peak civilization. We have good transportation, internet, democracies many places, health care, and so on. Many of us live with more ease than most people who have ever lived.

I am very aware of that when I am engaged in projects at our land in the Andes. We benefit hugely from peak civilization, and we make use of it to be a little more self-reliant. When we install solar power, rainwater collection systems, and vermicomposting toilets, we are benefiting from the collective knowledge and technology of our civilization. When we go to the store to buy plants and seeds, it’s the same. (We are trying to collect as many native seeds as possible too.)

We make use of our civilization to regenerate the land and create a (so far very small) food forest. That’s perfectly fine, and as with so much, it’s good to be aware of it.

A peak implies a decline. Will our civilization decline? Yes, it will like anything else. Exactly how it will look, and when it will happen, is an open question. I assume it will happen in the lifetime of many alive today, including myself. Will it be replaced with a more life-centered civilization? I hope so. I also hope to be a very small part of moving us in that direction.

MARCH 28, 2024

FORESTING FOR PROFIT & REGENERATION

My grandfather was a forester. He loved nature, although I assume his work was mainly to make sure the forest provided as much profit for the owner as possible.

My childhood forest here in Norway is a plantation. The trees are almost all the same type and of the same age, and they are planted close enough together so other trees don’t have much of a chance. It is, in effect, a monoculture, a green desert. Many if not most forests in Norway are like that.

I imagine many people are like me. I loved and still love that forest, and for a while I just thought of it as nature. I only vaguely realized how different it was from a natural old-growth forest and that it is a plantation and mostly a green desert.

These days, I am engaged in a regeneration, reforestation, and rewilding project in the Andes mountains. I do what little I can do to help a part of nature become more rich and diverse in native vegetation, insects, birds, and animals.

My grandfather and I are of different generations. In his time, what he did made sense. Now, what I do makes more sense.

VIKINGS

One of the small things I get annoyed by is when people present Vikings as pirates.

Yes, of course, there were a few pirates among the Vikings. Those are the ones we hear about for a few reasons: It’s dramatic and gets attention. It’s perpetuated in popular culture. And, way back in time, it was in some people’s interest to present Vikings that way.

The vast majority of Vikings were peaceful. They were farmers, fishermen, traders, explorers, and so on.

Why hasn’t the popular image of Vikings caught up with reality? Because they are not here to speak up for themselves, and I assume many find entertainment in perpetuating the misconception.

APRIL 2, 2024

WHEN CENTRAL PLOT POINTS DON’T QUITE HOLD UP

I started watching Magpie Murders, a BBC mystery series.

One of the central drivers of the plot is that a very successful author of mystery novels has died and left his last manuscript without the final chapter. The publisher has to find the chapter, otherwise they can’t publish the novel.

In real life, there would be an obvious solution: Publish the book with the final chapter missing, and create a contest where people can submit ideas for the final chapter as an outline or as a finished story. The best idea(s) would win a prize, the best ideas could go up on a website (or be published as a companion to the book), and if one is good enough, future editions of the original book could be published with that chapter as a supplement. To me, this seems as – if not more – interesting than finding the actual final chapter.

If the author was as popular as he is depicted, I imagine that would draw a lot of attention, and it would get many people involved in a new and different way.

There was also a flashback scene where the editor wanted to remove a flashback chapter not central to the plot, while the author wanted to keep it because it gave depth to the main character. Here too, a similar solution would make sense. For instance, they could remove it from the book and make it available on a website, or they could add it as a supplement at the end of the book.

PLANTATIONS

The forests most people are familiar with are plantations. They are managed forests where trees have been regularly cut down and replaced. They are often monocultures. They contain less variety of plants, insects, birds, and animals. Only a few species thrive in that type of setting. They are not very stable. These plantations are very different from a natural mature forest.

And yet, plantations is what many think of when they think of nature.

What’s the solution?

The more people who can differentiate plantations from old-growth forests the better, and the more who realize the importance of a more rich, vibrant, and diverse ecosystem, the better.

When it comes to regeneration, it can – in some cases – be important to take down trees in a plantation to make space for other species. That goes along with planting a diversity of native trees, bushes, flowers, groundcover, and so on. The more native and diverse the better, and the more layers the better.

LIFETIME PATTERNS AND OLD AGE

Much of what we associate with old age is not inherent in old age. It’s the accumulated result of patterns lived over a lifetime. If we don’t learn new things, the brain goes out of the habit of learning and remembering. If we don’t stay active, the body adapts and deteriorates. If we eat unhealthy food, the body manages but cannot thrive as it otherwise would.

It’s similar with the mind. My impression is that the patterns lived over a lifetime tends to get enhanced in old age. That can also include a surfacing of repressed patterns over a lifetime. We may not have the energy or capacity to set it aside anymore, or the interest in doing so.

Genuinely receptive and warm people continue and can deepen into it. And people who operate more from issues and trauma may sadly deepen into that.

APRIL 5, 2024

BREXIT: MORE EXPENSIVE, MORE DIFFICULT

Brexit would make many things more expensive and more difficult for people living in Britain.

That was inevitable. They had a lot of benefits from being in the EU and would lose those.

Now, four years after Brexit, what the leave voters voted for has happened, and many leave voters are apparently unhappy about it.

That was predictable as well.

APRIL 6, 2024

WHY WAS TIBET INVADED AND OCCUPIED BY CHINA?

I came across someone’s brief discussion about why Tibet was invaded and occupied by China. Was it because Tibet had bad karma? Was there a divine purpose & plan behind it so that Tibetan Buddhism could be spread around the world?

To me, those are dead ends. It’s impossible to know those things so why even bother go into it?

We know two things:

Tibet was invaded because they didn’t have strategic alliances with countries that could help and support them. Their policy of isolation made sense culturally but was their downfall politically.

It did cause Tibetan Buddhism to be spread around the world, so there is a silver lining to an otherwise horrible situation.

That’s enough for me. I prefer to stay grounded when it comes to these things.

APRIL 7, 2024

SCARY POCKETS

I just discovered Scary Pockets and have enjoyed listening to their covers. It’s a group of studio musicians (two core and the rest changing) and a wide range of vocalists. They apparently arrange and record four songs in a day. A lot of it is OK and some is a lot of fun and/or very good.

Here are some of my favorites so far:

APRIL 9, 2024

DOES GOD EXIST?

This map shows the percentage of people saying they are “absolutely certain God exits” in the US and Europe. It would be interesting if they had data for Canada and the rest of the world too.

At one level, it suggests that the mainstream in the US still operate from an often authoritarian belief mindset (“I’ll pretend to believe what an authority told me I should believe”) while most in Europe has shed that in terms of religion at least. (In Spiral Dynamics and similar models, they would say that most in North America may operate from a pre-modern view in this area of life, and most in Europe from a modern or post-modern view.)

What would I have answered? It likely would depend on the setting and my mood.

This is obviously a question about the images we have about God and the divine, and there are innumerable images from different times and cultures. Which one(s) do you ask about?

Also, do you ask about how well those images fit reality? How likely I assume it is that one or more of them fit reality reasonably well? For me, that’s a question of science. It makes no sense for me to pretend that one or more images are true, it would just be self-deception.

Do you ask about the Christian images of God? If so, which images do you mean? The ones from mainstream protestantism, or Catholisim, or Eastern Orthodox? The ones from the mystics? Which mystic? Also, why don’t you ask about other images of God from other cultures and traditions? Aren’t they as important?

Personally, I like to use an image of God as the fullness of reality. It refers to the whole of all there is, whatever that looks like, which I cannot know. For that reason, I would almost certainly say “yes” if I was included in a study like this. I usually use my own definitions when I answer these types of surveys instead of trying to guess what they actually mean. That’s also why I never trust simple interpretations of these kinds of surveys! The results likely hide a lot of complexity. (I would say “no” if the question was explicitly about mainstream Christian images of God.)

APRIL 10, 2024

ASSUMING RATIONALITY

One of the things that bugs me (that I have unexamined stories about) is people who assume others are decent and/or rational against all contrary evidence.

Some encourage peace negotiations with Putin. They somehow think that if he gets something out of it, and agrees to something, that will be it. If that would happen, which is very unlikely in itself, he most certainly would not stop there. He would just find another reason to restart the war or invade another country. He wants to reestablish the Russian empire. He is not interested in whatever he can get out of a peace negotiation.

Some say that if all NATO members use as much on the military as they are obliged to do, a future president Trump would be happy. Again, that seems incredibly naive. He will find any reason to create as much turmoil and uncertainty around NATO as possible, and it’s likely he will try to pull the US out of NATO.

Some assume that educational campaigns are sufficient to create behavior change in the public. Again, this is very naive. Structural change is what leads to behavior change. People will do what’s easy and attractive, not what they know they theoretically “should” do.

Some seem to assume that if we mentally know about an emotional issue we have, and understand some of the dynamics behind it, it will change. In my experience, it changes just about nothing. To create a real change, we need a lot more than just a mental understanding of something.

CFS, EPSTEIN-BARR & STRESS

I see that there is some progress in creating an Epstein-Barr vaccine which may help people with MS.

I hope it can also help us with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), at least the ones of us where the Epstein-Barr virus seemed to play a role.

I assume I got CFS through a combination of an Epstein-Barr infection, stress (physical and emotional), genetics, and perhaps more. And that doesn’t mean that the solution couldn’t be quite simple. I don’t know.

APRIL 14, 2024

NORWAY & EASE

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