Animal communication

I have been fascinated by animal communication since my early teens, and maybe before. I remember Carl Sagan writing about dolphin communication in one of his books, and I have always thought that if we arrive at a better way to communicate with animals, our relationships with them would change as well. Hopefully, for the good of them and us.

HUNGER FOR WORDS

A few years ago, I discovered Hunger for Words through an online article, and I immediately thought that this was one of the breakthroughs I had been hoping to see.

Hunger for Words is a project created by a speech therapist. In 2018, she got a dog (Stella) and wanted to see if some of the methods she used with children would also work with Stella.

Specifically, she started using buttons that each represented a word or simple phrase and taught the meaning to Stella.

I started my experiment with just a few recordable buttons that Stella could push to say, “outside,” “play,” and “water,” and the same language facilitation strategies I use with children.  Since introducing those first words, Stella has progressed far beyond what I ever thought could be possible. Now, Stella uses a homemade communication device to say more than 45 words (and counting!), combine up to 5 words together to create unique phrases, ask and answer questions, express her thoughts and feelings, make observations, participate in short conversations, and connect with us every single day. 

CLOSE RELATIVES & SHARED ANCESTORS

It’s amazing to watch videos of Stella and other animals using these buttons to communicate. They are creative in how they put sentences together in a way that demonstrates a real understanding of language.

And why would be surprised? Dogs and cats are mammals like us. We are cousins. We share most of our ancestors. They may not naturally have words, but they do communicate clearly. And through this method, they can learn to communicate with words so we can more easily understand them.

THE EFFECTS OF IMPROVED COMMUNICATION

As this becomes more common and commonly known in our culture, what effects may it have?

I hope it will help us recognize non-human species as sentient beings like us with emotions, wishes, needs, hopes, and fears like us. They wish the same as we do, which is to be free from suffering and have a good life.

And that, in turn, may shift how we treat our fellow beings. They are like us. More than us versus them we are all “us”. So why not treat them as we would have wanted to be treated in their situation?

Why not give them a voice, even beyond this type of communication? Why not assign people to speak up for non-human beings in places where we make decisions that impact them? (Government, courts, board rooms, and so on.)

Why not give them stronger legal rights and ways to enforce these rights?

SHARED INTERESTS

Some may assume that this is not in our interest. After all, don’t we sometimes need to use non-human species for our own good? To take their land so we can grow food or build houses? Keep them captive for our entertainment? Keep them imprisoned so we can eat them?

It may look that way from a short-term and narrow-interest perspective.

And yet, from a bigger perspective, it looks very different.

Here, we see that we share interests.

We are embedded in the ecosystems of this planet. We are all parts of this living evolving system we call Earth. We share fate. We are all dependent on a healthy, diverse, and thriving ecosystem and planet.

And by giving non-human beings a metaphorical and literal voice, we not only take care of their interests but our shared interests. We take care of our own long-term interests.

This is essential not only for them but for us.

GIVING A VOICE TO THE VOICELESS

This is not by any means idealism. This is realism.

For our own survival, we need to give a voice to those who do not have one in our society. We need to give a voice to non-human species, ecosystems, and future generations. And that voice needs to be backed up by laws and the legal system to have a real impact.

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Why do most scientists and psychologists ignore our nature?

To me, there is something that seems clear, both from direct noticing and logic.

And that is what we are to ourselves, and what the world is to us. It’s our own nature, and the nature of the world as it appears to us.

WHAT I AM IN MY OWN NOTICING

In one sense, I am a human being in the world. That’s not wrong, and it’s an assumption that helps this human self orient and function in the world.

And yet, in my own direct noticing, it is what I most fundamentally am?

When I look, I find I am something else.

I find I am more fundamentally capacity for any and all experience. I am what allows and takes the form of any and all of my experiences. I am what allows and takes the form of what happens in all of my sense fields, in sight, sound, sensation, smell, taste, and the mental field. (And any other sense fields we can differentiate out through our mental overlays.)

I am what the world, to me, happens within and as.

I am the oneness the world, to me happens within and as.

We can call this different things. For instance, consciousness.

And that brings us to the logic side of this.

WHAT I AM LOGICALLY

In our culture, most say that “we have consciousness” as if it’s a kind of appendix we happen to have. There is an assumption here that we are primarily a physical object and this physical object somehow has consciousness as it happens to have arms, legs, and physical organs.

This is a third-person view, and it doesn’t really matter in this context how accurate it is.

The more interesting question for me is: What are we to ourselves, in our own immediate experience?

Logically, if we “have” consciousness, we have to BE consciousness. There is nothing outside of consciousness somehow experiencing consciousness. What experiences and has the idea of consciousness is consciousness itself. Not anything outside of it.

Any experience happens within and as consciousness. It’s consciousness taking the form of that experience.

So to us, the world happens within and as consciousness.

The world, and any experience, happens within and as what we are.

We ARE consciousness and the world and any content of experience happens within and as consciousness, within and as what we are.

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF WHAT WE ARE

Both direct noticing and (this particular) logic arrives at the same answer for what we are to ourselves, and it also arrives at the same answer for the characteristics of what we are.

What are some of the characteristics of what we are to ourselves?

What are some of the characteristics of consciousness?

To me, what I am has no beginning or end in space. It also has no beginning or end in time. Any experience of space and time happens within and as what I am.

To me, I am one. I am the oneness the world happens within and as. I am what my field of experience, which my mental field differentiates in many different ways, happens within and as.

To me, I am the world and the world is me. The world happens within and as what I am.

To me, the world happens within and as consciousness. It’s like a dream in that way.

To me, any and all content of experience comes and goes. And this includes any ideas of what I may be within the content of experience (this human self) and what these ideas refer to. In some cases, I may not take myself to be this particular human self, for instance in a dream, and what I more fundamentally am is still here. What any and all experiences happens within and as is still here. (Including shifting ideas of what I am as an object in the world.)

When what I am notices itself, I find that my nature is what can be called love. It’s a love that’s not dependent on shifting states or emotions. It’s the love of the left hand removing a splinter from the right. And this love is often obscured by separation consciousness, by dynamics and patterns created from when I took myself most fundamentally as a separate object in the world.

IS THIS WHAT I “REALLY” AM?

So is this what I really am?

Yes, it is. It’s what I am in my own direct noticing.

Outside of that, I don’t know. I don’t know what my nature more fundamentally happens to be from some kind of outside third-person view. And that’s also less important, at least in my daily life.

WHY DON’T WE ALWAYS NOTICE?

If this is so obvious both in terms of noticing and logic, why don’t we always notice or take this into account?

Most likely, because we live in a culture and world where most don’t. When we grow up, we do as others do. We learn to take on and operate from separation consciousness. And that can be very convincing, at least until we start examining our assumptions – about what we are and what the world is to us – a little more closely.

IS IT IMPORTANT?

Yes and no. We humans obviously get by without noticing or examining our nature.

And yet, when the oneness we are notices itself, keeps noticing itself, and explores how to live from this noticing, it can be profoundly transforming.

It can be profoundly transforming for our perception, sense of fundamental identity, life in the world, and our human psychology.

WHY DO MANY OVERLOOK OR DENY THIS?

If this is so obvious, both in terms of noticing and logic, why do so many ignore or deny this?

Most people are not so interested in the question of what they more fundamentally are in their own immediate experience. That’s fine. They get by anyway. They have more immediate concerns to focus on and take care of.

And yet, for some people, this is their job. For scientists and especially psychologists, this is essential to their job and (I assume) interests.

So why don’t more of them explore this? Why don’t more of them take it seriously?

I am not sure.

The essential answer may be the same as above: We live in a world where we are trained in separation consciousness from we are born. It becomes the norm, so we don’t even consider questioning it. And if we do, we feel we are somehow transgressing and entering dangerous waters so we don’t take it very far or speak about it.

To elaborate a bit:

Exploring these things is a kind of taboo in our culture, especially in academic circles. It goes against our shared worldview. It goes against standard norms. (Although all of that is changing.)

Our western culture, and especially our scientific culture, value the more “objective” third-person view over first-person explorations. Again, this has been different in the past and will very likely be different in the future.

If you work as a scientist in academia or as a psychologist, you typically cannot stray too far from the mainstream. As a scientist, you risk losing (or not getting) funding. You even risk losing your job if you get too weird. And as a psychologist, you risk losing your license. (In Norway, psychologists have lost their license for exploring the possibility of past lives in therapy sessions, even if these explorations obviously deal with projections and don’t say whether or not the past lives were real or not.)

In short, cultures are systems and systems want to stay mostly stable. There are many mechanisms operating to preserve some kind of stability. There are many incentives to not explore this, and not so many opportunities or invitations to do so. (Which, again, is fortunately changing.)

At a more personal level, many people may not have the curiosity or passion for exploring this. They are happy exploring other things, and that’s fine. Not everyone needs to explore these things.

WILL THIS CHANGE?

Will this change?

It is already changing. More and more people, including in science and psychology, are interested in a more transpersonal approach and understanding.

I envision a future where the third-person and first-person approaches exist side-by-side and even hand-in-hand, including in science and psychology.

It will be a far more rich exploration of our human experience, and one that reflects a little more of the bigger picture.

ACKNOWLEDGING THE VALIDITY OF WHAT MYSTICS DESCRIBE

If or when this shift happens, something else will happen as well.

And that is an acknowledgment – in science and our culture – of the validity in what mystics across times and cultures have described.

If we look at the essence of what mystics describe, it’s exactly this.

We are consciousness, and the world to us is consciousness.

We are the oneness the world, to us, happens within and as.

Image: Created by me and Midjourney (AI image)

Why do I love animals? Why do I love nature?

I recently watched the last season of His Dark Materials, and find I have as much and often more empathy with the dæmons as I do with their human counterpart. (The dæmons are animals representing an aspect of the people, their inner self, anima/animus, or something similar.)

Why do I love animals? Why do I love nature? Why is it sometimes easier to find love for a non-human being than for some fellow humans?

There are many answers and they all (literally) come out of one.

Here are some that come to mind:

MISTREATED

Non-human beings are often mistreated by humans. I tend to side with the underdogs, and in this relationship, non-human beings are almost always the underdogs. I have a natural empathy with non-human beings for that reason. (I know this particular dynamic is rooted in my own history and experiences.)

INNOCENCE & DIFFERENT HISTORY

The natural world has everything from cooperation and care to fights and mercilessness.

At the same time, we see an innocence there. For all their savvy and specific skills, knowledge, and experience, many of them generally function cognitively at the level of human children or babies.

Most non-human species must have mental representations and use them as we do, to orient and function in the world. And yet, it seems they are much less likely to elaborate on and believe these imaginations. They use them in a more simple and direct way.

For many of us, it’s easier to find love for animals. They are simpler. In some ways, they are innocent like children. For that reason, we don’t experience the same friction with them as we do with humans. We don’t experience the clashes of hangups and worldviews we experience with humans. And most of us have been more hurt by humans than non-human beings, we have a different history with them.

For all of these reasons, it’s often easier to find love for non-human beings. And especially the ones we know personally and live with.

MIRROR

Animals mirror me in several different ways. I see myself in them.

They mirror my animal nature. They mirror how I am with a simpler mental field. They mirror how I am minus my more complicated – and complicating – human mental field with elaborate ideas, beliefs, identifications, etc.

And the different animals mirror different parts of me as well. Whatever story I have about any type of animal, I can turn it to myself and find specific and genuine examples of how, where, and when it’s true.

And since I wish to have – and have – some love and care for these parts of me, I have the same towards the beings mirroring these sides of me.

WE ARE CLOSELY RELATED

All Earth life is closely related. We are all, literally, part of the same family. We share ancestors. We are cousins. We are far more similar than we are different. We share far more than what’s unique and different.

We are “we” far more than we are “us” and “them”. And we all know this in our cells and bones and our mind when we subtract our complicated human mental field. Any ideas of separation come from our ideas, not from reality.

PART OF THE SAME SYSTEM

We are all part of the same living and evolving system we call Earth or Gaia.

We are subsystems in larger living systems.

We are subsystems in the larger systems we call the Earth and the universe and all of existence.

We are all expressions of the same larger living wholes.

We are part of the same metaphorical body we call life, Earth, the universe, and existence.

And that’s not just metaphorical or poetry or wishful thinking. It’s what current science tells us.

As Carl Sagan said, we are all the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are existence bringing itself into consciousness.

We are all the Earth, the universe, and existence expressing, experiencing, and exploring itself temporarily and locally as us.

EXPRESSIONS OF THE DIVINE

We can call existence and reality God, Spirit, or the divine.

Here, we can say that we are all expressions of God, Spirit, or the divine.

We are all the divine expressing, experiencing, and exploring itself temporarily and locally as us.

We are all the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the divine.

We are the divine bringing itself into consciousness through and as us.

PART OF THE ONENESS I AM

There is also another oneness here, and one that’s far more immediate.

In one sense, I am this human being in the world.

Ehen I look in my own first-person experience, I find I am more fundamentally something else. I find I am capacity for the world as it appears to me. I find that the world, to me, happens within and as what I am.

I am the oneness the world, to me, happens within and as.

To me, everything – including any being – is part of the oneness I am.

And to the extent I allow this to sink and infuse and transform my human self, this gives birth to a natural love that’s not dependent on feelings or states. It’s the love of the left hand removing a splinter from the right.

WORDS AND LANGUAGE

I use the word “animal” here since that’s the terminology most people use these days.

In reality, we are all animals. We are all living beings.

There is no reason to create a hard and imagined boundary between us and the rest of Earth life.

We are all closely related. We are all in the same boat. We are all embedded in the same larger living systems. We are all expressions of the evolution of the universe. We are all expressions of existence. We are all the Earth, the universe, and existence expressing, experiencing, and exploring itself through and as us.

When I hear the word “animal” I am reminded of the old Greeks who used a similar mind-created division. They called any non-Greeks barbarians. I assume future generations may see our current human-animal distinction as equally quaint and old-fashioned.

Today, there is a growing awareness of all the many ways racism and sexism is expressed in society and our language. In the future, I assume there will be a similar awareness of how our anthropocentrism is expressed in our language and society, and a movement to change it.

CULTURE & OUR ECOLOGICAL CRISIS

How we see humans versus the rest of life is obviously dependent on our culture.

In some traditional cultures, all life is seen as related and part of the same whole.

The irony is that in our culture, that’s the view of science. Science tells us all life is closely related and part of the same living evolving systems. And yet, most people operate on an outdated and misguided idea of the basic separation of humans from all other life. We operate on misconceptions while we know better.

Why? I assume it’s not just because of tradition and habit. It’s also convenient. It allows us to keep using and abusing non-human beings and nature in general.

And that brings us to saw over the branch we are sitting on. It’s out of alignment with reality, and operating on ideas out of alignment with reality has consequences. In this case, the consequence is the destruction of the living systems we are fully embedded in and dependent on.

NOISE

I’ll add one topic that’s been on my mind since my early teens.

I have personally never liked noise or loud music. I love silence and natural sounds, and less human-created sounds (apart from some music).

And, as far as I can tell from research and personal observations, it seems I share that with most non-human beings.

So why do some humans apparently love noise and loud sounds and music?

I don’t know but I assume it has to do with our noisy and complex mental field and what happens when we take certain (painful) ideas as reality. (Taking any idea as reality is painful in itself, no matter what the idea tells us.) Perhaps the outer noise masks the inner noise, at least for a while? Perhaps it’s a strategy to distract ourselves from our own discomfort and pain?

Perhaps it’s a sign we haven’t found peace with our own experience, as it is? A sign of war with our experience?

In our culture, we act as if we are at war with nature, and we act as if we are at war with our own experience. The two are closely related. They depend on each other. And they may break down together.

FINDING PEACE WITH OURSELVES & PEACE WITH NATURE

In most cases, if we find peace with our experience, we tend to find a deeper love for nature. And finding a deeper love for nature tends to be reflected in finding more peace with our experience.

Of course, both take work. And even if we find this peace, and wish to live in a more peaceful relationship with life in general, we are still living within a social and economic system that is inherently destructive. It was created at a time when we didn’t need to take the limits of nature into account. And now – with increasing human numbers and more efficient technology – it’s obviously destructive to life.

We can personally experience peace with life, but our life is not peaceful to life as long our collective human system is as it is.

It takes personal intention, skill, and work to find peace with our experience.

It will take a similar collective intention, skill, and work to find real peace in our relationship with nature – and transform our collective life so it takes ecological realities into account.

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Nicolette Sowder: May we raise children who love the unloved things

May we raise children who love the unloved things

May we raise children who love the unloved things-the dandelion, the worms and spiderlings.

Children who sense the rose needs the thorn

& run into rainswept days the same way they turn towards sun…

And when they’re grown & someone has to speak for those who have no voice

may they draw upon that wilder bond, those days of tending tender things

and be the ones.

– Nicolette Sowder, May we raise children who love the unloved things

Nicolette Sowder is the creator of Wilder Child and Wildschooling.

And yes, I love this poem.

I love anyone who loves the unloved things.

I love finding love for the unloved things in nature, in people, and in myself.

FINDING LOVE FOR MY OWN EXPERIENCE

For instance, it seems that any part of me that experiences stress, unease, discomfort, and so on, and goes into reactivity, does so because it’s unseen, unfelt, and unloved. Meeting it with love makes all the difference. I can meet it as I would like to be met when I feel that way. (When I identify with those parts of me.)

And to really meet it with love, I can do a bit more. I can dialog with it, listen to it, hear what it has to say, and see how I can shift my relationship with it to be more helpful. I can also find what’s more true than its familiar stressful stories, and help it find it for itself. And we can both notice that my nature is the same as its nature. We share nature. (AKA consciousness, we are both consciousness, we are the same, it happens within an as what I am.)

FINDING LOVE FOR THE UNLOVED

Finding love for the unloved – in people, nature, and ourselves – is crucial for our own well-being.

It’s crucial for creating a society that works better for everyone and especially those less fortunate.

And it’s crucial for the survival of our species and civilization. We are now facing the consequences of not doing this, and not speaking up for those without a voice, and life is showing us that our own survival depends on it.

Life is giving us a masterclass in finding love for the unloved and giving a voice to the voiceless.

It’s up to us if we realize what this class is about, and whether we learn and change and transform as needed.

Why rewilding?

Why am I embarking on a rewilding project for our land in the Andes mountains?

There are many answers to that question.

WHAT DO I MEAN BY REWILDING?

First, what do I mean by rewilding?

I am perhaps using a more loose definition than some others. For me, and in this case, rewilding means supporting the land in becoming more diverse and vibrant and a good habitat for a range of life from microbes to insects to birds to reptiles and mammals.

It won’t be the way it was before humans came here, or before Europeans came. That’s not possible. But we can use native plants to help the ecosystem recover and become more vibrant and thriving.

Rewilding for me means what the word implies. It means helping the ecosystem become more wild again, even if it will by necessity look different from how it has ever been before. It won’t be a copy of how it was, but it may rhyme.

WHY REWILDING?

And then, why rewilding? What’s the reason for it? Isn’t it better to make use of the land for food production or housing? Doesn’t it make more sense to sell parts of the land to make money on it?

Here are some of the answers that come up for me.

MOVED TO DO IT

The most honest answer is that I find myself moved to do it. Life moves to do it through and as me.

Beyond that, I don’t really know. I can have reasons and elaborate on those reasons, but I don’t really know.

MEANINGFUL

At a more personal level, I can say it feels meaningful. If this is a project for the rest of my life – and hopefully far beyond, continued by others – then that would make me happy and I would feel my life had meaning in a very specific way.

On a day-to-day basis, it gives my attention and energy direction. It’s a project I can put energy and time into as things move in that direction, and I can give it a breather when that feels more right. It’s a project with its own pulse and life and without a particular timeline.

EXPRESSION OF MY NATURE AND REALITY

It’s an expression of my nature and reality.

I am an expression of this living evolving system we call Earth, just like anything else here is. I am this global and local living system supporting itself.

INTERCONNECTIONS AND SHARED FATE

From a more conventional perspective, I also know that my life as a human being is intimately connected with the rest of this living system.

Although Earth will continue without me and humans in general, we also share fate to some extent.

My health and well-being and the health and well-being of society and our civilization is intimately connected with the health and well-being of our local, regional, and global ecosystems.

It’s in my own interest, and the interest of all of humanity, to take care of our ecosystems and do what we can to help them recover and become more diverse and thriving.

LOVE FOR NATURE AND HUMANS

I love nature, and I have loved nature since very early childhood. I do it because I love nature. I love to see nature in a more healthy and vibrant state. It makes me happy.

I do it because I care about humans and the future of humanity. I love our amazing – and sometimes terrible – civilization and it would be a shame if it ends now. (Although if that happens, that’s OK too. Earth or the Universe doesn’t need humans, although we do bring something unique and beautiful to it.)

THE MANY BEINGS HERE

There are millions of beings on this land. This is their home. Many of them are born, live their lives, and die here. This is all they will know. This place is their life.

If I, as one person, can help millions of current and future beings have a good life here, I would love to do it. I cannot imagine anything more beautiful and amazing.

Each of these beings are their own world. They are their own cosmos. From the smallest microbes and up to the mammals here. What a privilege to support these worlds to have a life here.

I do it for their sake. It’s easy to imagine myself in their situation, and how much I would want someone like me to protect them and their habitat.

NEEDED IN THE WORLD TODAY

Biodiversity loss is one of the major issues in the world today. It’s one of the massive crises we are in the middle of, and one that’s tied in with the more popular climate change and equally if not more important.

If I can play a (very) small part in this global effort to protect our diversity, then what I am doing here is more than worth it.

Just by living in our current economic system, my life inevitably has a harmful effect on life. So this is my small part in making up for it.

LEARNING

I love learning and especially about sustainability and nature, and this is an amazing opportunity to learn.

We will hire two local experts to guide and help us with our rewilding project, and I am looking forward to learning as much as I can as we move forward with this project.

I also look forward to sharing it here and perhaps on social media and/or a dedicated website.

A MODEL

If what I am doing here can be a small local model, then that’s icing on the cake.

If it only inspires one person to do something else, that makes it more than worth it.

We sorely need these models today, in all aspects of society.

MULTIPLE REASONS

So although I most honestly don’t know the answer to this “why”, I can also find a lot of reasons.

Each one of these alone would make it worth it.

I am not doing this because I am especially noble. I certainly am not. I do it because I love it.

And I know there will be times I’ll be frustrated, fed up, tired, and want to give it all a break. I have already experienced that. (For instance, when workers cut down large areas of pioneer species allowing invasive grass to take over and did so after we explicitly told them not to.)

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Loss of biodiversity – Norway & the Andes

Many talk about climate change these days, although the global biodiversity loss we are experiencing is as – and likely more – serious.

NORWAY

I grew up in Ski, a village outside of Oslo, Norway. Growing up in the 80s, I remember that the garden was full of life. There were butterflies everywhere, grasshoppers, beetles, and all sorts of insects. A badger family lived next door. There were frequent hedgehog visits. We saw swallows flying around and eating insects. At night, there were bats. If we kept doors or windows open at night, the house would get lots of moths and moths inside.

In the last decade or so, these are all gone. I don’t see butterflies. There are no grasshoppers. I don’t see beetles. The swallows are gone. There are no bats at night. If we keep the windows or doors open, nothing comes inside.

It’s easy to think that this is because this village is more built up and the general area is more built up. That’s true to some extent, but it still has the same mix of rural and suburban. And the same has happened at the cabin which is in the woods outside of Oslo. This is an area that’s scheduled to become a national park, and here too, there is a noticeable loss of biodiversity and life.

A few decades ago, we have several swallow families nesting at the cabin each year. Last year, there were none. I don’t see bats anymore. I see some butterflies, but fewer than before. I don’t see all the insects that used to come inside when we kept the windows and doors open at night.

THE ANDES

I am now in Cañon del Chicamocha in the Andes mountains. The insect and animal life here reminds me of how it was in Norway two or three decades ago. And that makes me worried. Will the same happen here? The loss of biodiversity has been going on here too for centuries, and will most of what’s left be gone too in a while?

CAUSES

Why is it happening? The simple answer is that we – our culture and civilization – don’t prioritize biodiversity and life. We don’t value it quite enough. We have created a system that treats ecosystems as an unlimited resource for us and as having an unlimited capacity to absorb our waste and toxins. We see ourselves as somehow separate from the natural world and the Earth.

The more immediate answer may be a combination of many things: Loss of nature. Use of toxins in agriculture and homes. More manicured gardens and fewer flowers. Loss of key species. And I am sure much that doesn’t come to mind right now or I don’t know about.

We are currently in the middle of a mostly quiet and very serious ecological crisis, and we will all be impacted by it – likely far more than we imagine.

SOLUTIONS & WOLDVIEWS

What’s the solution? We can all do our small part in terms of not using toxins, replacing a manicured garden and lawn with a more natural and wild one, encouraging plants and flowers that support a diversity of insects and wildlife, raising awareness on this crucial topic, and voting for politicians who take it seriously (only a few politicians and political parties do).

Collectively, we need to change our economic and social systems. We need a deep transformation so our human systems take ecological realities into account. In our current public discourse, the vast majority of solutions are piecemeal and far from sufficient. ‘

CULTURE CHANGE

And we need to realize, in a more profound and visceral way, that our ecosystems are fragile when impacted by our civilization, and that our health, well-being, and civilization are dependent on the health and well-being of our local, regional, and global ecosystems. It’s all one living system. It’s all us.

“Us” is not only our family or local community or nation or humanity. It’s all of life. It’s Earth as a whole.

It’s existence as a whole.

That’s the mindset that will support a more sustainable civilization.

And the more viscerally we get it, the more it will naturally color our individual and collective life.

THE SHIFT

This shift in worldview and culture is crucial, and it’s not something that will happen through wishful thinking or shoulds.

We can explore it in our own life and deepen into it. We can make it available to others. We can help others explore it. We can also include it in the education of children.

And, most likely, it’s a shift that will happen because it has to happen. Life and nature will show us that we cannot continue as before, that a major shift is needed, and that’s how many will find it and perhaps how we’ll collectively find it.

The upside is that this ecological mindset is more aligned with reality so what’s needed is to shift our views to be more aligned with how it already is. The downside is that a worldview of separation has been ingrained in our culture and individual mindsets for centuries and millennia. Systems typically don’t change dramatically unless there is a big disturbance. And the upside is that life will show us when we operate on worldviews out of alignment with reality, even if the wake-up call can be harsh and difficult.

John Seed: I am part of the rainforest protecting myself

I am part of the rainforest protecting itself

– John Seed

It may seem altruistic to protect nature. For me, it’s self-preservation.

ASSUMPTION OF A DIVIDE

If I see a strong divide between me and nature, then nature can easily be seen primarily as a source of resources, a place to put waste, and a place to occasionally enjoy. If I do something to protect nature, it’s altruistic and often a bit peripheral. It’s a nice thing to do but not terribly important.

INTERCONNECTEDNESS OF ALL LIFE

If I realize the interconnectedness of all life, then I recognize – in a more visceral way – that my own well-being and my own life is utterly and intrinsically dependent on the health and existence of the larger ecosystems and this living planet I am part of. Here, protecting nature becomes self-preservation. I am dependent on the health and vibrancy of nature locally, regionally, and globally.

I AM NATURE PROTECTING ITSELF

I can also go one step further and recognize that I am nature protecting itself. I am a part of this living evolving system protecting itself. I am a separate self, and more fundamentally I am a temporary and local expression of this larger living and evolving system. I am a temporary and local expression of the living and evolving Earth. I am a temporary and local expression of the evolving universe and all of existence.

GETTING IT MORE VISCERALLY

Getting this more viscerally is a big and important shift. It brings us more in alignment with reality. It gives grounding. It’s nourishing. It makes us less dependent on the more temporary surface experiences and situations.

SYSTEM CHANGE

And, of course, it doesn’t mean I am or need to be “perfect” in terms of my own life. I am also a child of my culture. I am also embedded in our social and cultural systems.

As all of us, I live in an economic and social system that rests on the assumption that humans are somehow separate from nature, that the resources of nature are limitless, and that the ability of nature to absorb waste is equally limitless. We live in a human-created social system where what’s easy and attractive to do is also, in most cases, destructive to nature.

And we have another option. We can create an economic and social system that take our ecological realities into account, and where what’s easy and attractive to do – for individuals and businesses – supports life and our ecosystems. It’s possible. We can do it. We even know quite a bit about how to do it.

And yet, it does require a profound transformation of our whole civilization – our worldview, philosophy, economics, energy sources, production, transportation, education, and everything else. And that requires a deep collective motivation. Will we find it? Perhaps. But likely not until we are much further into our current ecological crisis. (Which is a socal crisis since all of our human systems are embedded within our ecological systems.)

Joanna Macy: If the world is to be healed through human efforts, I am convinced it will be by… people whose love for this life is even greater than their fear

If the world is to be healed through human efforts, I am convinced it will be by ordinary people, people whose love for this life is even greater than their fear.

– Joanna Macy

That’s what creates any change. When our love is greater than our fear. When we realize that continuing will be more painful than making a change.

Wolfwalkers & our relationship with the wild in nature and ourselves

I loved this movie in many different ways. And as any good story that deals with primal archetypes and archetypal dynamics, it can be interpreted at many different levels.

It can be seen as a metaphor for how humans treat each other, including how the English have treated the Irish. It can be seen as a more literal story about how humans treat nature and the wild. And it can be seen as a mirror for dynamics in ourselves, and how we civilize ourselves at the expense of the primal aliveness in ourselves.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF HUMAN RELATIONSHIP WITH THE WILD

It’s easy to imagine a history of the human relationship with the wild, and it will – by necessity – be somewhat speculative when it comes to the early history.

Before agriculture and civilization as we think of it, people lived in nature, with nature, and from nature. They may have had more of a partnership relationship with nature and the wild, and they likely respected nature out of necessity. They had a more nature-oriented spirituality. They didn’t have much property so they didn’t have much hierarchy. They may have had a more matriarchal culture. The inevitable damage to nature was limited since their numbers were small and their technology simple, and they also moved if they needed to which limited their impact on the areas they were in.

With agriculture, this all changed. We could accumulate wealth. We had more division of labor, tasks, and skills. We developed a hierarchy. The ones higher up in the hierarchy developed a wish to control others and the general population. We got culture as we know it. We got more removed sky-God religions. We got a more patriarchal culture.

We lived in tamed landscapes or towns and cities. With agriculture, we depended more on tamed nature. We lived more distanced from the wild. We depend much less on the wild. The wild became “other” to us. For those higher up in the hierarchy, it became in their interest to also tame the population.

We learned to tame nature and ourselves, and find this comforting and the wild scary and unsettling and perhaps even evil.

Our human relationship with the wild shifted. We went from living in and from the wild to becoming distanced from it and viewing it often as something scary and suspicious. We learned that taming ourselves and nature was safer.

WHAT DOES TAMING OURSELVES MEAN?

We know what it means to tame nature. It means to make the wild into agricultural land, towns, and cities. Replace wild forests with planted forests. To kill any animals – typically large predators – we see as competitors or any danger to ourselves. And so on.

But what does it mean that we tame ourselves?

In one sense, it just means that we learn to live with others and in civilization. We learn to express our feelings with words instead of through actions that may harm others. We learn to cooperate. We learn to take others into consideration when we make our choices and live our life. This is natural for us since we are a social species and it doesn’t necessarily come at much or any cost. 

In another sense, it can mean that we tame ourselves at the cost of our aliveness, sense of connection and meaning, and authenticity. This happens when we take taming ourselves in a slightly misguided way. We may deny our emotions or needs, wishes, and desires instead of acknowledging or expressing these and finding ways to get our needs met. We may disconnect ourselves from our body and nature and feel disconnected, ungrounded, and aimless. All of this tends to come as a consequence of believing painful beliefs and identities and perceiving and living as if they are true. And these painful beliefs and identities tend to come from our culture or subculture. They are passed on and shared by many if not most humans in our culture, and some may be common across cultures – especially in our modern world.

HOW DO WE REWILD OURSELVES?

Rewilding nature is a popular topic these days, and very much needed for the health of nature and ourselves and our culture.

But how do we rewild ourselves?

There are several approaches, and what works best is probably a combination of the ones that resonate the most with us – and that may change over time.

We can connect with nature through spending time in nature, gardening, spending time with non-human species, learning about nature, spending time in the wilderness, learning to survive in the wilderness, spending time at a bonfire, looking at the stars, and so on.

We can connect with our body by walking barefoot, receiving bodywork, doing different forms of yoga, learning to recognize and take seriously the signals from our body, and so on.

We can engage in nature-centered spirituality and rituals, including the Practices to Reconnect from Joanna Macy.

We can shift our worldview from one of separation to connection and oneness, for instance through deep ecology, the epic of evolution, the universe story, ecospirituality, system views, integral models (AQAL), and so on.

We can engage in actions on behalf of other species, the Earth, and future generations. These may be small and “invisible” everyday actions or more visible in the world. These may be actions to stop damage, change our culture, or envision and implement life-centered alternatives.

We can learn to notice and acknowledge our emotions and wishes, needs, and desires. We can find ways to express this and meet our needs in a kind way. We can find a more authentic way to live that’s kind to ourselves and others.

We can identify fears we have of rewilding ourselves.  What’s the worst that could happen?  What does my culture tell me could happen? What do I find when I examine these stories? What’s more true for me? How is it to meet and be with the fear and allow it as it is? How is it to find love for it? 

We can find healing for any emotional issues that create a sense of separation and lack of connection, aliveness, groundedness, and meaning.

We can identify and investigate the views and beliefs that create a sense of separation – with ourselves, others, nature, and the universe as a whole. We can identify beliefs passed on through our culture. We can find them in ourselves and inquire into them and find more freedom from them and what’s more true and honest for us.

We can connect with and taste the wholeness we are at a human level, through a combination of meditation, body-centered practices, emotional healing, and more.

We can explore what we more fundamentally are in our own first-person experience. At one level, we are a human being in the world. And what do I find when I explore what I am in my own first-person experience? I may find I more fundamentally are capacity for the world as it appears to me. And what the world – this human self, the wider world, and anything else – happens within and as. I may find myself as the oneness this human self and the wider world happen within and as.

This is not only for the benefit of ourselves. It benefits our culture. It may help our species survive. And it will likely benefit other species, this living planet, and future generations.

Note: This article itself is an example of rewilding ourselves. I saw the movie three or four weeks ago, made a few notes, and allowed it to rest. Today, I was moved to write the article and it came out easily and naturally, without much if any effort.

When I saw the movie, I noticed I wasn’t ready to write the final article. I knew that pushing it would be uncomfortable and likely wouldn’t give a good result. So I allowed it to rest and digest on its own, and I waited for it to come to fruition in me and move me to write it.

I planted the seed, waited, and it sprouted in its own time in the form of this article.

Read More

Perceiving from within our biases and what’s familiar to us

One of the reasons I enjoy watching old movies is to see how our culture changes over time.

I watched an episode of MASH earlier today, and the change from then to now was pretty obvious. The episode was from the last season, so it was more heartfelt and touched on more serious issues, but it was still a child of its time.

With a few exceptions, MASH is written and seen from the white male perspective. Women, Koreans, and others all play more peripheral supporting roles.

If it was made today, it would likely focus a lot more on the lives and perspectives of women and Koreans, and that would make it far more rich, textured, and nuanced. It would open up story possibilities far beyond what they were able to do with their original and more narrow perspective.

It’s always this way. We are a child of our culture and times. We don’t see what we don’t see. We have our biases and expectations and what we are familiar with, and we are not familiar with what’s outside of that. In ten and twenty and a hundred years, we are the ones who are obviously stuck within too narrow views.

It’s not a bad thing. It’s natural and ultimately innocent. (Although it does have consequences for ourselves and others.) It’s inevitable. It creates a container for exploring life in a certain way. It sets the stage of explorations at the boundaries of what’s familiar to us. And it gives something new to each generation.

It’s an example of the universe, life, and existence expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways.

Sustainability and the changes we knew we had to make

For several decades, we have known that our basic systems – economic, production, water, energy, transportation, and so on – were unsustainable. They did not take ecological realities into account, and just by living normal lives within these systems, we are destroying ecosystems and what we depend on for our own lives.

This is not controversial. It’s obvious. Even without climate change, we would have to make profound and thorough changes to these systems.

So why didn’t we? Why didn’t we in the 50s? Or 70s? Or 90s?

Why has it taken so long for people to wake up to the self-made ecological crisis we are in?

The main answer is probably that most people, and especially those in wealthier countries, didn’t notice it in their own life. (Along with thoughts that we have time and can wait, automatic dismissal of this information because it was uncomfortable and didn’t fit people’s identity, and so on.)

Now, people are starting to notice it in their own life. So now, there is at least some mainstream discussion of this, although many still pretend the answers lie in what others need to do, or in making smaller changes within the existing systems.

That’s obviously not going to work. Our systems are what created this situation, so it’s our systems that need to change.

How much worse does it need to get before more people start to acknowledge this? And much worse, beyond that, does it need to be before enough people find the will to make the necessary changes?

We don’t lack technology. We don’t lack knowledge. We don’t lack practical solutions. What we currently lack is (a) mainstream acknowledgment of the real problem, and (b) collective willingness to make the actual changes.

Sustainability and hypocrisy?

People are sometimes called hypocrites because they advocate for sustainability while they travel with airplanes and do other things we know are not good for the planet.

I don’t see it that way.

We all live and function within systems unintentionally rigged to destroy Earth and our civilizations. These systems do not take ecological realities into account because they didn’t need to when they were developed in the early modern era. Now, with more advanced technology and far more people, they are unintentionally destructive and need to be thoroughly revised to take ecological realities into account.

They need to be redesigned so what’s easy and attractive to do, for us individually and collectively, is what’s beneficial for the Earth and future generations. And that’s very possible to do, if there is the will to do it.

So I wouldn’t call anyone a hypocrite for advocating sustainability while flying in jet planes or doing other obviously destructive things. It’s inevitable since we live within the systems we do.

For nearly all of us, living a normal life is inherently ecologically destructive because of the systems we live within. And these systems were created by us and can be changed by us.

Every being is a world

How do we see other beings?

Do we see them as subjects – as living beings like ourselves with their own experiences, wishes, and so on? Do we see them as having the same basic wishes as ourselves? Do we see that they are a world, just as we are?

Do we see them as objects – as a thing that influences our life in a certain way? That helps or hinders us or is neutral? Do we choose to not pay attention to their inner life? Do we assume they have little or no inherent value?

In our daily life, it’s often a combination. We see other beings both as a subject with their own inner life and an object influencing (or not) our own life. And where we put them on the subject-object scale depends on several factors, including how familiar we are with their inner life and how similar we imagine they are to us.

WE PLACE BEINGS ON AN IMAGINED SUBJECT-OBJECT SPECTRUM

Where one the imagined subject-object scale do we put different beings?

We naturally tend to put ourselves at the extreme of the subject end of the scale since we are familiar with and always reminded of our own experiences. We are familiar with our own wants, needs, thoughts, and feelings.

The same goes for our loved ones, our partner, family, friends, and friends from other species. We put these reasonably far out on the subject end since we are somewhat familiar with, and daily reminded of, their interior life.

We tend to put the ones in “our” group over on the subjective side. We relate to their interior life since they are similar to us.

And we place many other beings over on the object side of the scale. These tend to be the ones we are less familiar with and where we are not so frequently reminded of their interior life. Among humans, it may include people we see as other, or people who live in another culture or far away. We also tend to put ecosystems and non-human species on this side of the scale. And, among non-human species, it seems that smaller ones tend to go further over on the object side.

It includes the beings living in ecosystems we eradicate, the spiders we squash, and animals we cage to eat. We are less familiar with and less frequently reminded of their interior life, so we see them more as objects.

WHY THIS SUBJECT-OBJECT SPECTRUM?

Why do we, at least in our western culture, tend to operate from this imagined subject-object scale?

There is an obvious evolutionary and practical reason. It allows us to care for those close to us, and use other beings for our own survival. It has had a survival advantage for our ancestors, and it’s convenient for us today.

THE CONSEQUENCES OF PLACING BEINGS ON THE OBJECT SIDE

What are some of the consequences of placing beings on the object end of the scale?

It obviously has dramatic consequences for the welfare of the beings we place there. It allows us to cage them, keep them in inhumane conditions, eat them, eradicate their habitats, eradicate whole species and ecosystems, and so on.

It also has dramatic consequences for ourselves, in several different ways.

It’s an important factor in our current massive ecological crisis which impacts us all. It’s what allows the systems and actions which has led to this ecological crisis. And it has already led to a loss of human lives, it will impact the quality of life for all of us, and it even threatens our survival.

We treat others as we treat ourselves. If we see and treat other beings as objects, it means we do the same – to some extent – with ourselves and parts of ourselves.

HOW WOULD IT BE IF WE REMINDED OURSELVES OF THE INNER LIFE OF ALL BEINGS?

How would it be to remind ourselves of the subjectivity of all beings? That all beings have an inner world? That they are a world to themselves, just as we are? That they too want a good life free of suffering? That they too want to survive?

How would my life have to change? How would I live my life, reminding myself of the interiority of other beings?

Does even contemplating this feel overwhelming? Scary? Does it feel like too much?

How would it be if we do this, and find peace with it?

How would this be for my own life?

How would it be for us collectively? It wouldn’t mean that we would completely stop modifying parts of nature to suit ourselves (all beings do that). It wouldn’t mean we would stop having non-human species as our companions. And it wouldn’t necessarily mean we would completely stop eating other animals.

But it would mean that we would take their needs and wants, and their interior life, more into consideration. It would mean treating them with more respect. It would mean realizing that we are in debt to nature and do more to pay back that debt.

This is primarily for each of us to explore for ourselves. And it is also interesting to imagine how a culture where this is common practice would look. We don’t have to look too far, since many traditional cultures around the world did and still do this, at least to some extent.

THE IMPULSE TO WRITE THIS ARTICLE

I listened to a podcast I typically enjoy (Judge John Hodgman), and was surprised when it turned out that most of the creators of the podcast were happy to kill spiders in their homes. How can you, when you know that they serve an important function and are no harm at all to humans? How can you, when you know they want to have a good life and survive, just as we do? How can you, when you know they are a world to themselves? How can you, when it’s so easy to allow them to have their life parallel to ours? Personally, I am honored to share a house with spiders.

Of course, the answer is likely just the topic of this article. If you see them as subjects, it’s natural to allow them to have their life. And seeing them as objects, even if that’s not aligned with reality, allows us to squash them without a second thought.

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David Grinspoon: If you really want a Star Trek future

If you really want a Star Trek future, it’s not just going to space in cool machines. It’s building a society w respect for all life, sentient & otherwise, applying science wisely, & pursuing principles of justice, fairness & reason. Let’s build that and ride it to the stars.

– David Grinspoon on Twitter

Yes, I couldn’t agree more. Science fiction is not only about holding up a mirror for ourselves and our society today, it’s also about showing us different ways we can organize ourselves as a society. And Star Trek is showing us a future that’s appealing to many, and also doable if we collectively decide that’s the direction we want to move. (Perhaps through seeing that the alternatives don’t work so well.)

Michelle Bender: The changes in the legal system deeply affect the psyche

The changes in the legal system deeply affect the psyche. If the law says I’m in relationship with the ocean and the river then it won’t be long before people start behaving as if we are interconnected with the other life forms on the planet.

– Michelle Bender in Should rivers have the same rights as people? The Guardian

Talking with other species and giving them a voice

There is a recent trend I love, and that is communicating with non-human species using buttons. It’s mostly cats and dogs so far, but I imagine we can communicate with a much wider range of species using buttons and a variety of electronic pads and other devices.

This particular method comes from teaching language to children with autism, and it seems to work amazingly well for inter-species communication.

Why do I love it? Because it helps us see other species as thinking and feeling, and with needs and wants much as our own. We are not so different. What’s universal and shared is far more than what’s different.

And this, in turn, can shift how we relate to other species in general. It can lead to a relationship characterized more by respect, kindeness, and taking the wants and needs of these species more into account.

Other species have not had much of a voice in our culture. Now, they literally have a voice, and what we are seeing so far is just the beginning.

My hope is that non-human species, ecosystems, and also future generations, are given far more of a voice in our culture and society. Partly literally through this type of communication. And partly more metaphorically by giving them rights and a real voice in our legal and political system.

A FEW RESOURCES

How Stella Learned to Talk – a book by Christina hunger

Hunger for Words – website for Stella, the original button-talking dog

Billy Speaks – a cat on YouTube

What About Bunny – a dog on YouTube

The right side of history & the need for deep systemic changes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EIFDSb7tWc&list=WL&index=8

This is perhaps obvious, but worth mentioning.

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

The early suffragettes were ignored, ridiculed, attacked, and then won. At least, they won women the right to vote, even if the overall process of equality between the sexes is still ongoing.

WHAT ARE WE IGNORING, RIDICULING, OR ATTACKING TODAY?

So what are people ignoring, ridiculing, or attacking today?

The most obvious is people like Greta Thunberg. She is admired by many, but she also belittled, ridiculed, and attacked by people who don’t see or care about the big picture, and don’t want our civilization to shift and become more ecologically sustainable.

She is smart, her message is sober and grounded in reality (listen to the scientists), and she is getting attention, so of course she will be ridiculed and attacked.

We also see that the very real need for thorough systemic changes is ignored by the media, politicians, many scientists, and most people in general. In order to survive, we need our systems – economic, production, energy, transportation, and so on – to be aligned with ecological realities. It seems obvious, but it requires deep and profound changes in almost all areas of our lives, so most people seem to prefer to ignore it. They pretend this need is not here. They engage in the fantasy that small changes here and there will be sufficient.

It’s likely that as this need for profound systemic changes gains more traction, as it will, then this too will be ridiculed and attacked, until it’s eventually implemented.

What else is ignored, ridiculed, or attacked by the mainstream?

The rights of ecosystems and non-human species are largely ignored, with a few exceptions. There are some laws in place, although many of these are anthropocentric in nature and we use anthropocentric arguments to gain support.

As the idea of the rights of nature gains traction and we see more real-life examples, this too will be ridiculed and attacked. To the extent ecosystems and non-human species get legal rights and real political and legal representation, it will be seen as threatening to some, and they will use this familiar strategy to try to sideline it.

These are some of the large issues that involve Earth as a whole and all life.

There are also some smaller issues. For instance, ESP, reincarnation, and UFOs have been ignored and ridiculed for a while now by mainstream media, science, and much of the general public. As there is more solid research into these phenomena, and to the extent we find that there is something to these phenomena, it’s likely that this too will become more accepted and move into the mainstream.

WHY DO WE IGNORE, RIDICULE, AND ATTACK?

Why do we ignore, ridicule, and attack these ideas and social movements?

It’s easy to ignore. We may not know what’s happening. We may see it as insignificant. We may not think it will amount to anything.

We may ridicule for a few different reasons. It may be an intentional strategy to belittle, shame, and sideline an idea or movement. If we ridicule it, we don’t have to address the substance of the issue, and we may hope that others will hesitate in agreeing and joining.

It can also be a more unconscious reaction. We see something that’s unfamiliar and fringe, so ridiculing it makes us feel more normal and mainstream. The ideas may threaten our own familiar views and habits, and ridiculing allows us to not take a closer look.

The reason we may attack these movements is similar. Some feel that their interests or identities are threatened by the movement, and they see that they are gaining traction, so they attack it.

It’s good to be aware of these dynamics. If we are part of a social change movement, it helps us predict these responses, deal with them, and not be discouraged by it. If we are prone to react in these ways – ignoring, ridiculing, and attacking – it may give us pause and find another way to deal with it.

SOME CAVEATS

When we talk about these topics, it’s good to take a look at some underlying assumptions that may color how we see and approach them.

For a while, we had an idea of inevitable social progress in our culture, and it’s clearly not that simple.

Our ideas about what constitutes “progress” differ between people, eras, and cultures. And no long-term historical trend continues indefinitely.

Also, some social movements are ignored, ridiculed, attacked, and then accepted, and they are not exactly what we want to see if we value human rights, democracy, social justice, sustainability, and so on. The Nazi movement in the 1920s and ’30s Germany one example.

When we talk about the right side of history, we usually mean according to how we see it today. Suffragettes and abolitionists were on the right side of history since we today have voting rights for both sexes, we have abolished slavery, and both conform to our current values. So although I sometimes use the phrase myself, I am also aware it’s a slippery concept.

Mia Werger: When our fight for the future is finally over, our communities will still be here – it will be a beautiful place to start

The world may be crumbling, but I am part of a generation—a community—that gets to tackle that problem. We get to take what we’ve been given, and design it in a completely new way. When our fight for the future is finally over, our communities will still be here. It will be a beautiful place to start.

– Mia Werger in How the Climate Change Generation Is Redefining Community in Yes! Magazine

My vision is of a world where we have passer through our current ecological-social bottleneck, and where our communities are stronger for it, at least in some regions of the world.

Reflections on society, politics and nature XXVII

Continued from previous posts…. These posts are collections of brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

THE UPSIDE OF TRUMP

When Trump was elected, there were demonstrations in many cities in the US.

I never saw Trump’s election as “wrong”. How could it be? He was nominated through the usual process. He was elected in the usual way. It’s a democracy. Enough people wanted him as their president to get him elected.

He is a symptom as well as a problem. On one level, he is a symptom of racism, bigotry, people who feel their white privilege is threatened, and so on. On another level, he is a symptom of much deeper systemic problems.

He is a symptom of fear and despair among people who feel powerless because they feel their voice is not heard. He is a symptom of the fear and despair of people who don’t have the basics in life to help them feel more secure and safe, including universal healthcare and good social safety nets. He is a symptom of collective trauma created by a system that prioritizes profit – often for the few – over the well-being of the many. He is a symptom of news media that prioritizes profit and entertainment over social responsibility (most mainstream media). He is a symptom of news media that prioritizes political agenda and polarization over reality and what’s good for the country as a whole (Fox News). He is a symptom of a political system that allows the interest of big money take priority over the interest of the people. He is a symptom of a system where many are kept in ignorance of what’s really going on. He is a symptom of a system where kids don’t learn (enough) media literacy, critical thinking, and how to identify and address the deeper systemic problems. He is a symptom of a system where those in power are not interested in or able to address the deeper systemic problems.

Even more than this, he is a symptom of collective cultural trauma. He is a symptom of a culture that lives from power-over rather than power-with.

The upside of the Trump presidency – for all its horrors and damage – is that it highlights these deeper and more systemic problems. These were there before he was elected and will be there after he was gone.

With a more “normal” president, many can pretend that these deeper problems are not there. But we can’t do that so easily with Trump.

Cornell West recently described the US a failed social experiment. Trump is a symptom of this failed social experiment.

JUNE 6, 2020

POLICE BRUTALITY

In response to the demonstrations in the US these days against systemic racism and police brutality, the police has often responded with more racism and senseless brutality. It only shows how common it is and how certain the police officers are that there will not be consequences.

This Twitter feed has – as of this writing – more than 260 examples of police brutality and violence, mostly against peaceful protesters.

This is not only a serious problem within the police culture in the US. It’s a problem coming from militarization of the police. It’s a problem with the higher-ups in the system allowing this to happen. It’s a problem with politicians allowing it to happen. It’s a problem with voters electing politicians allowing it to happen. It’s a problem with the media allowing it to happen. It’s a problem that comes from centuries of racism and structural racism. It’s a problem that comes from a country built on colonization, theft, genocide, and slavery. It’s a problem that comes from a country that continues what it was built on and never really acknowledged it or deal with it.

Most of all, it’s a problem that comes from collective trauma. Abuse leads to abuse. Abused people abuse. Hurt people hurt.

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Ursula Le Guin: You must go somewhere else, you must have another goal

To oppose something is to maintain it. … You must go somewhere else; you must have another goal; then you walk a different road

– Ursula Le Guin

This is true in ourselves and in the world.

Sometimes, it is important to oppose something in order to avoid harm. These are what Joanna Macy call holding actions. But in general, if all we do is opposing something, it tends to be maintained and even grow stronger.

It’s important to create, envision, and live what we want to see more of – in our own life and in the world.

And it’s also important to question our more deeply held assumptions and find another way of looking at ourselves and the world that’s more aligned with reality and more life centered.

It also helps to understand where the problems come from and how they are created. In our world, it’s often systemic problems, world views, and trauma. And behind that, fear. In ourselves, it’s often the same.

The banality of evil and our ecological crisis

As Hannah Arendt pointed out, in Nazi Germany, most of the atrocities were committed by good family men who followed orders. They just did what was expected of them. And they didn’t take responsibility to change or pull out of the situation.

The same is the case today in our era of ecological destruction. Most of the destruction is done by people just doing what’s expected of them – and that includes me and probably you.

In Nazi Germany, they lived within a Nazi system requiring them to imprison, torture, or kill large numbers of people.

In our society today, we live within a social and economic system that doesn’t take ecological realities into account. A normal life within this system “requires” us to live in a way that’s ecologically destructive.

The banality of evil doesn’t just apply to Nazi Germany. It applies to us today.

So what can we do about it?

To me, it’s important to realize that this is a problem with the system we live within. It’s not only or mainly about “evil” corporations or politicians or any other specific people. Our social and economic system was created in the 1700s and 1800s, at a time where natural resources and the ability of nature of absorb the waste of civilization seemed unlimited. This system doesn’t take ecological realities into account because it didn’t have to.

When we live within this system today, with a much higher population and more effective technologies, it’s predictable that it will have harmful ecological consequences – to the extent that our civilization is at risk.

This is about all of us. We all live within this system whether we like it or not. (Apart from a very few who have radically departed from it by choice or for other reasons.)

So it’s up to all of us to educate ourselves about the real problem – our current system and what the alternatives are, speak up about it, support the alternatives, and vote at elections and with our money to nudge changes in the right direction.

We need to create a new system where what’s easy and attractive to do – for individuals and businesses – is what’s sound ecologically and takes future generations into account. And that’s very possible if we – collectively – decide to do it.

And it starts with you and me. Even small steps in this direction matter a lot.

Beyond ecology and 1800s structures: Power-over mindset

I intentionally focused on the ecological crisis and economic structures from the last two or three hundred years in what I wrote above, just to keep it simple. But that’s a bit misleading since the cultural roots of the ecological crisis goes back much further and those roots are connected to other social issues.

The ecological crisis does come from recent(ish) economic and social structures.

But it also comes from a power-over mindset that came with agriculture and has been prominent in the European and other civilizations. And this power-over mindset not only has harmed nature but women, children, animals, those who fall outside of the mainstream, and really all of us.

When we operate from a power-over mindset, we harm a lot of people, animals, and nature around us. And we also harm ourselves. We apply the same power-over mindset to ourselves – to our body, to parts of ourselves, and to ourselves as a whole. We all suffer from it.

This is part of the banality of evil. It’s the banality of evil we all live from and suffer from when we operate from a power-over mindset. And just about all of us in western culture, and in many other agrarian cultures around the world, live with and partially from this power-over mindset.

Stephen Porges: If you want to improve the world

If you want to improve the world, start by making people feel safer.

– Stephen Porges

What happens when we feel unsafe? We go into survival mode and tend to think mostly about ourselves or a small circle of family and friends. It may fuel us vs. them thinking, blame, radicalism, and even violence.

What happens when people feel safer? In general, we relax, can function better, and have a larger circle of concern. It tends to encourage we-thinking and a bigger picture view.

What are some things that will help people feel safer?

What can we do at a social level? A good start may be universal healthcare. Good social safety nets. Trauma informed teachers, doctors, and parents. Reduced economic inequality. Reduced poverty.

And what can we do as individuals, for ourselves? A good start is to explore how to be a safe place for the parts of us that don’t feel safe. Give love to the parts of us that feel unloved or unlovable. Listen to the parts that has not been listened to. Be there for the parts we have run away from.

Reflections on society, politics and nature XXVI

Continued from previous posts…. These posts are collections of brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

Gritty wholesomeness

I was very skeptical when I first started watching Outlander but I have come to love it. I love it mainly for its gritty wholesomeness.

It shows flawed yet fundamentally caring and healthy people dealing with a series of raw and gritty challenges. And there is something wholesome in the best way in that. It reminds us of those sides of ourselves.

In that sense, it’s a bit like The Little House on the Prairie for grown-ups, and especially season four and five since they are set in North America.

I also like that it shows modern people in a time that was far more tribal and eye-for-eye, and how they adapt and learn to survive in that situation. They needed to find their warrior as we all sometimes do.

Click READ MORE to see more entries.

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Reflections on society, politics and nature XXV

Continued from previous posts…. These posts are collections of brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

Who is it for?

I watched Won’t You Be My Neighbor, a 2018 documentary about Mr. Rogers. A few times during the interviews, the question came up of whether his TV show had an impact on society as a whole and if it was worth it. He even seemed to have that question when he was asked to say something after 911.

To me, that’s the wrong question. For me, the question is: Does it have an impact on one person? And perhaps several people? That, in itself, makes it worth it. And that’s how society as a whole change, even if it’s just a little. Changed individuals changes society. And, who knows, his show may have impacted several of the people who later came – or will come – in the position to make larger changes.

That’s how I see this website as well. I write mostly for my own sake and that’s enough. And if just one person gets something out of something here, that’s icing on the cake. That too, in itself, would make it worth it.

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Nature spirituality in a oneness context

Nature spirituality is seeing – or experiencing – nature as divine. As an expression of the divine. The creation of the divine. Or as the divine.

This can be more of a thought or feeling. It can be a sense or intuition. Or it can be a direct and unmistakable experience and perception.

It can happen as a phase of the awakening process. Or it can happen within a more clear awakening.

It can happen outside or inside of traditional forms of religion or spirituality. Either way, it borrows language and ideas from the culture and tradition(s) we are familiar with.

A more nature oriented spirituality is perhaps especially important today since it helps us find love for and a wish to care for nature and Earth.

Some who are into nature spirituality may see humans as special and somehow apart from the rest of nature. Others see humans as an intrinsic part of the Earth community and all of nature as “us”.

Nature spirituality may focus on untouched nature or any nature. Or it can include humans and human culture and civilization. These too are – in a very real sense – nature and an expression of this living planet and of divinity. (Culture and civilization currently have an ecologically unsustainable form but that doesn’t make it less of an expression of Earth and divinity. It just happens to take this form right now and it can change.)

How does nature spirituality look in a oneness context?

It tends to happen as part of a more general awakening process, as I have hinted at above.

It can happen within separation consciousness with some glimmers of oneness. These glimmers can come as a sense or intuition of nature as the divine or an expression of the divine, and there can be an early sense or glimpses of oneness.

It can also happen within a more clear perception of oneness. Here, there is a recognition that all is the divine and nature is one expression of the divine. And one we chose to honor and emphasize, either from personal inclination or because we realize it’s important as part of the culture change we need in order to survive as a species.

Whether it plays out within mainly separation consciousness or oneness depends on the usual factors in awakening. For instance, a sense or glimmers of oneness and a gradual “thinning of the veils” and wearing out of identifications.

Since I have written several articles about the awakening process in general, I won’t go into it here.

How can we cultivate or open up for nature spirituality?

Several things may put us on a nature spirituality path. It may be an experience or glimpse of the divinity of nature. It may be a deep love for nature, perhaps from childhood experiences. It may be something we read or heard that sparked something in us.

We can cultivate it by being in nature. By finding a community of others exploring nature spirituality. By engaging in rituals and practices like the practices to reconnect by Joanna Macy. By investigating any beliefs and identities standing between where we are and a deeper connection with nature. By exploring and inviting in awakening in general.

My personal experience

After writing this, I realize I can add a few words about my own experience to put some flesh on the bones.

When I was little, I loved nature. My parents took me on many outings to fish, pick berries, hike, and ski. We spent many weekends and vacations at the cabin in the mountains or near Oslo. I often played and explored in nature, in the forest, and by and in lakes. When people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I often said zoologist.

In late childhood, perhaps around twelve years of age, I was mesmerized by Cosmos by Carl Sagan and would walk outside, look at the stars, know that I was starstuff looking at the stars and the universe locally bringing itself into consciousness, and feel a strong belonging to all of nature and the universe. Around the same time, I slept under the stars in the mountains in Norway and had a profound – and life changing – experience of belonging to the universe as a whole.

The spiritual opening happened in my mid-teens and this was an awakening to oneness. It happened when I walked along a gravel road under a dark starry sky with a strong wind blowing through the sky. It was as if the vastness of the universe – the infinitely deep darkness, the stars, and the big wind – opened up something in me. All was revealed as God, as consciousness, as Spirit, and nothing was not this. It was Spirit waking up to itself locally and through and as this human form. During this time – for the next many years – there was a profound sense of the divine as all there is – the stars, the wind, nature, humans, and human culture.

Eventually, all of this normalized. Now, all matter and nature and anything else is clearly consciousness – or the divine. There is an inherent sense of awe in it. But there are no bells and whistles. It’s familiar. It is, in a sense, ordinary. Something extraordinary and ordinary at the same time.

For the sake of transparency: During this time, I could see there were some identifications left and a slight sense of “I”. At the same time, I knew these didn’t point to anything ultimately true or real and I largely saw through it and saw it for what it was.

A confession

As I started writing this I got lost in describing the different elements of nature spirituality and more or less forgot about the oneness context. My brain is working less well today, probably as part of the usual brain fog and fluctuations that comes with chronic fatigue. I decided to just leave this article as is. Perhaps there is something of value in it anyway.

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Reflections on society, politics and nature XXIII

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.

Climate crisis renaissance

Are we in for a new renaissance? A climate crisis response renaissance? I wouldn’t be surprised, and we are already seeing the beginnings of it.

We already have the solutions. What we need is the collective will. And, as the current pandemic shows us, we have the ability to collectively turn around quickly when it’s (collectively) clear that we have to.

The only question is when it will happen and how much ecological destruction has to happen before we reach that point.

Note: It’s obviously a much wider ecological crisis and the climate crisis is just one part of it. But it seems to be the one that gets people’s attention.

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Notes on a pandemic

NOTE: What we collectively think we know about the pandemic is changing all the time, and I am not a doctor or epidemiologist (although I did study it while in university). So what I have written about here is likely outdated when you read it and it’s not expert advice. They are just some reflections from my side.

The initial notes are on the top and the newer ones at the bottom. I chose to keep all to show changing views over time as the pandemic progressed.

Click READ MORE to see all the notes.

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Dreams reflecting our ecological crisis: Boiled pigs

I am in a restaurant with friends. They are boiling two live pigs in hot oil to be eaten by some of the guests. I am horrified and shocked but nobody else seems to understand what I am reacting to. They see it as completely normal to boil pigs alive and then eat them.

– from Alejita’s dream a couple of nights ago

Since this dream is not my own (it’s from my beloved), and most dreams have a personal and a collective aspect, I’ll focus on the collective side here.

When I was told the dream, my first thought was that many today probably have dreams like this, and perhaps especially young people.

It reflects a growing awareness of how we treat nature, how cruel and damaging it is, and how it impacts ourselves – psychologically and our ability to thrive and survive.

These dreams shake us. They help wake us up to how we treat and relate to nature and ourselves as nature. They help us recognize our cultural power-over attitude towards nature, women, children, animals, and our own bodies and ourselves as animals.

We are in the middle of a global ecological crisis. We have created it ourselves, mainly through a too-often unexamined power-over attitude. It shakes us, including through these types of dreams. And we need to be shaken. We need to examine ourselves and how we see ourselves in relation to nature. We need to transform how we see ourselves and nature and how we organize ourselves within the larger ecological systems and this living planet as a whole.

At a personal level, these dreams may cause us to be more conscious of our behaviors in general. They may also be a small piece in transforming our worldview. They may change how we vote and what policies we support. And collectively – if we are lucky – these type of dreams help move us towards a more ecologically sound and wise civilization.

I am very curious about how many have these types of dreams these days – of cruelty to animals and nature and of ecological devastation. I imagine they are more common than we realize. It would be very interesting to collect some of them to get a sense of how our minds are processing the situation we are in and also as a historical record.

One of my own ecological-crisis dreams is recorded in this article.

As an aside, how do I see the situation we are in and how it was created? An early significant shift was transition to agriculture and the possibility of accumulating wealth and creating social hierarchy. With it came a power-over attitude towards nature, other human beings (especially women and children and those lower on the hierarchy), and ourselves.

On top of that, we created our current economic and social system (in the 1700s and 1800s) at a time where we didn’t need to take ecological realities into account. We are still using and living within that outdated system even thought our situation now is very different – we are far more people and our technology is far more powerful.

And that – agriculture, power-over, and an outdated economic and social system – explains the crisis we currently find ourselves in. The crisis is feedback. And how we respond to that feedback determines our own future and fate and whether and how we will survive.

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Reflections on society, politics and nature XVI

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.

Climate crisis is irrelevant….sort of. Since I first heard about climate change in my teens, I have had the same view on it as I do now. We have to change into a sustainable culture and society anyway, we have to do it soon, and we have to do it for innumerable reasons.

Climate change is just one reason so we don’t need to get too caught up in discussions of whether it’s happening (which it obviously is) and whether it’s human-made (which it obviously is). Focusing too much on those questions is a distraction. And that’s obviously why some – especially the petroleum industry – want to have that discussion. They want to sow just enough confusion, doubt, and strife to derail – or at least delay – action.

There are innumerable reasons why we need to transform our culture and society. Some have to do with what any sane person and society would want to avoid: toxins in our water, air, soil, and bodies; illnesses because of those toxins; death of insects and all the animals and plants dependent on insects; loss of ecosystems; loss of species; and so on. Some have to do with what we want: a society and culture that’s life-centered; that thrives; that recognizes that a society that’s ecologically sustainable, that is more socially just and inclusive, that takes care of those with the least, and where there is less gap between the rich and poor, is a society that’s better for all of us.

And there is really just one reason: We live in a system that doesn’t take ecological and physical realities into account and didn’t need to when it was created. And now – with a dramatically increased population and more powerful technology – we do need to.

In that sense, climate change is irrelevant. We have to make the same changes anyway and for a lot of other reasons. In another sense, climate change – or climate crisis – is important because it’s getting a lot of attention and it does show us that it’s urgent.

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Mother Earth: not just a metaphor

When you hear the words Mother Earth, what does it mean to you? A poetic metaphor? A reminder to recycle? Something a tree-hugger would say?

Or does it mean something more? Perhaps it’s literally true?

We are born from Earth. We are sustained by Earth. All we know is Earth. We are, in a very real and literal sense, Earth. We are a local and temporary expression of this living system we call Earth – amazing and beautiful far beyond what we can even begin to understand.

Our human culture and everything part of it is Earth. That too is a local and temporary expression of Earth. We and all we know and all we are and all we have created grew out of and is part of this amazing, beautiful, living, evolving system we call Earth.

Earth is not other. It’s not something to take care of as we take care of a possession. It’s what we are. When we care for Earth we care of ourselves.

This is the most obvious thing in the world. And yet, it’s not. And the only reason it’s not is that we live within a culture, a mindset, and a worldview that says we are separate. Earth is a commodity. Earth provides resources for our civilization. Earth provides space for our waste. Earth can be owned and used for our pleasure.

And we forget that we are part of this amazing living system. We are part of the evolution of Earth. We are born from and sustained by Earth. We are the local expression of Earth. We are Earth. We are the ones who can speak for Earth. Protect Earth as ourselves. Cherish Earth as ourselves. Love Earth as ourselves.

We need a profound transformation into a more sustainable and life-centered culture, and this shift in perception is part of it. It’s a change in how we see ourselves and Earth. We never were separate individuals wandering around in an environment. We are local expressions of Earth.

Life 101: How we think about the world (philosophy of science)

There are some essential Life 101 topics. Things that are fundamental to being human and can serve us for a lifetime.

One of these is learning how to think about the world, also known – when more formalized – as philosophy of science.

It’s something we all can explore for ourselves. And, as I see it, it’s a bit shocking it’s not included in a more systematic way at all levels of formal education – adapted to each age level and made fun, relevant, and with the ordinariness of it emphasized.

It’s what we already know, this is just a way to bring more awareness into it and investigate it more consciously.

Here are some ideas of what could be included in formal education.

When it comes to exploring the world, there is the basic approach of observation, hypothesis, testing, revising, testing by others, etc. And how each step is influenced by our underlying assumptions and worldviews. What are some examples of how we use these steps, often without thinking about it, in our own life? What are some examples in our history? What do we find if we apply this approach to an area of our own life?

Equally or more important is how we more broadly think about the world and our understanding of it.

We don’t know anything for certain. This goes for us as humanity, as a culture, and in our own life. Our statements or assumptions are practical guidelines for orienting and functioning in the world. They are questions. They are not the final word. What is an example of an assumption we made – about the world, ourselves, others, a situation – that we were convinced was true, and then it turned out it was not? What are some examples from history and science?

Our understanding of specific things in life changes over time. Our collective understanding changes, and our personal understanding changes. Over time, all of it may change. What are some examples of you seeing something a certain way, and then change your view? What are some examples from history?

Our worldview and most basic assumptions about the world change over time. What are some examples of worldviews changing over time? What are some examples of different worldviews from different cultures? What are the most basic assumptions about the world in our culture? Could these change in the future?

There are other understandings and other worldviews that may fit our experience (data) equally well as the ones we are familiar with, and some may even fit them better.

Our worldview and most basic assumptions about ourselves and the world is the water we swim in. It’s hard for us to notice these. And if we do, it’s often hard for us to question them. What are some basic assumptions we – in our society and culture – have about the world? What are some examples of assumptions that we usually wouldn’t even think of questioning? Are there taboos around questioning some of them?

Our background colors our understandings, values, and worldview. Our background – – as a species, culture, and individual – color what we see as important, what we see as right and wrong, and our assumptions about the world and ourselves. What are some examples of how our background influences how we see something? What are some examples of cultural differences? Imagine an intelligent species very different from us (bird, reptilian, fish, etc.). How would their perceptions, inclinations, and perhaps values differ from ours?

What is cognitive bias? What are the most typical cognitive biases? Take one and see how it plays a role in your own life. Is there a time you realized you made a wrong assumption because of bias? Which cognitive biases do we most see in our society? How can I be more aware of these? How can I counteract them? What may happen if I don’t notice or question my biases? And what are the benefits of noticing and questioning them?

How do we discuss well? Do we go into a conversation with the intention to learn from the other? Or do we just want to keep our initial ideas unchanged? (If so, what’s behind it?) What is the outcome of one and the other? Roleplay both and see how each one feels.

What are some common logical fallacies? What are some examples of logical fallacies in public discourse? And in our own life? How can we notice and counteract them in ourselves? How can we – with kindness and effectively – point it out when someone else uses a logical fallacy? When is it appropriate to do so?

This ties into trauma education since traumas often influence our perception, ideas about the world, and how we hold onto them (often for dear life when traumas are involved).

It would be a fun challenge to adapt this to each age level, and also develop (potentially) engaging, fun, and illuminating exercises and activities for each of the areas listed above. (And other areas I inevitably have left out.) Of course, it’s even better when the kids/teens develop this on their own.

And it is important to show that this is a fundamental part of being human. It’s something we already know and apply, at least to some extent. This is just a more organized exploration and application of it.

I personally learned some of these in school. Some on my own in my teens through reading books about science (especially the Fritjof Capra books). And some at university. (Philosophy of science courses are mandatory at universities in Norway, although why not at earlier levels?)

I am a bit surprised that this is not a more integral part of education at all levels. It’s useful in all areas of life and throughout life. Essential for nurturing a more well-functioning society. And today, with the internet echo-chambers, it’s more important than ever.

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Documentary: Fusion

Can We Make a Star on Earth? is another great BBC Horizon documentary, this one hosted by the always excellent Brian Cox.

This segment is especially interesting, highlighting our need to use our current petroleum-based energy to develop new energy sources, including fusion. If we don’t speed up our efforts dramatically, it will be too late before we know it. If we apply a great deal of human and energy resources now, we can create a smoother transition for ourselves.

This is also a reminder of why the global warming debate is a sidetrack. First, because there is universal agreement among climate scientists that (a) significant climate change is happening and (b) it is caused by human activity. (The ones sowing the seeds of confusion are not climatologists, and the campaign to create confusion is fueled by the petroleum industry, taking a cue from the tobacco industry.)

More importantly, fossil fuel is running out and we need to put a great deal into the transition right now. We can’t afford to wait, partly since we need the current petroleum resources to fuel the transition, and partly because we don’t know how much oil is left. We have to act on the worst case scenario. The consequences of making a timing mistake are too great.

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