Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Case of Runaway Arrogance

Keith Olbermann expressed some confusion today about the seemingly pathological lapse of judgment on the part of President George, specifically regarding a few points of institutional behavior that seem to defy intuition and common sense (I think what he meant was the guy's defeating his own self-interest). I'll list the ones that Keith noted, and will add a few that came to my attention as well:

* Arresting Cindy Sheehan on a laughably ridiculous technicality (she was sitting outside the White House instead of marching, which is what her demonstration permit stipulated that she'd be doing).
* Keeping Mike Brown on the payroll and hiring him back on with FEMA as a "consultant" to help the beleaguered agency figure out what it did wrong in allowing a city to be washed off the map and over a thousand of its inhabitants to be killed.
* Having his official mouthpiece, Scott McLellan, to declare the President's support for Tom DeLay after the latter's indictment for illegal campaign activities using corporate contributions: “Congressman DeLay is a good ally, a leader who we have worked closely with to get things done for the American people.”
* Speaking openly today about "the gains we have made" in Iraq (and then not naming a single one), while also warning of a likely increase in violence and killing among the insurgents (i.e., more U.S. deaths), as the vote on the so-called Constitution of Iraq approaches.
* Talking yesterday of the need for the military to take the lead in the management of future natural disasters. The Crawford Flash didn't bother to tell us where this military presence would come from, given that our military is already stretched beyond its limits in Iraq and Afghanistan. Canadian mercenaries, perhaps? Not a bad idea: rescue teams from Vancouver were on the scene in New Orleans before our own National Guard or FEMA got there.

So you can now easily perceive the cause of Mr. Olbermann's puzzlement. Why are these people in the Bush Administration saying and doing these things that would appear to further undermine an already damaged image in the realm of the public trust? Is it that they're stupid and incompetent?

The "stupid and incompetent" theory is very amusing, and it does earn some support when you consider the ancillary or residual figures in the Bush empire; but for the core of this operation, it doesn't hold an ounce of water. These people are very smart—intellectually, that is—and they know perfectly well what they're doing. They've proven their mettle in this respect, time and again.

But still, Olbermann's point is well taken: the Bushies' recent behavior seems anomalous, to put it mildly. This is exactly where you need the insight of a psychiatrist. Or, failing that, of a fellow like me, who has spent a fair amount of his adult lifetime studying psychiatric disorders.

In the DSM-IV (the current version of the American Psychiatric Association's 900-page manual of mental disorders), there is an entry for "Delusional Disorder," which seems to fit the bill. This diagnostic entity describes a situation where a person is operating under strange beliefs that do not specifically impair normal socio-cultural functioning—that is, you can't say the person is schizophrenic or psychotic (think of Nixon in the latter regard); only that he is acting very strangely under certain conditions or where certain sensitive topics are touched upon.

I'd like to take this definition a bit further and discuss the institutional profile of such a pathology. For what we are dealing with now, with the Bush Administration, is an institutionally-ingrained arrogance that has been successful in the past, in terms of advancing goals (getting elected President twice and winning a majority in Congress) and furthering a corporate agenda (enriching arms dealers, oil companies, domestic and world banks, and miscellaneous ultra-wealthy individuals). But now, the head of the snake whose tail the Bushies have ridden for five years has now made the circuit back to the riders.
Arrogance has a way of doing this—coming back to destroy you after you've climbed to a seemingly unassailable position through the use of its omnidirectionally destructive power. The problem, of course (as many psychiatrists who treat delusional patients will readily tell you), is that it is very difficult to retreat from arrogance, from a cult of inner and outer aggression. Not impossible—just very difficult.

Aside from the fact that arrogance is the fuel that has driven a cult like the Bush Administration to such repeated outer success, there is what Freud called the "repetition compulsion." Arrogance doesn't see a path of retreat or remorse, because it has never taken one—it doesn't know how to truly admit an error (grievous or otherwise) or a poorly-formed alliance. No: it has to "stay the course" (how many times have we heard that over the past three years?); it must insist that it is "making progress" when every objective indicator (that is, reality) reveals the length and breadth of the delusion. Arrogance simply doesn't know how to turn back, retreat, and make amends. And so, it inevitably begins to destroy itself as its delusory substance is increasingly made plain to anyone who encounters it (even the mass media). This is the way the delusion of arrogance works: it is a Penelope's loom of the psyche, repetetively and inexorably undoing what it has created. Those of us who care about how it all turns out cannot afford to watch lazily and enjoy the show, as entertaining or amusing as it may sometimes be. We have to insist that this snake of arrogance be stretched out in the public eye, its adherents removed from their thrones, and that the stolen, demonic energy that is arrogance be firmly dispersed from the consciousness of a free people.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Root of Evil is Not Money

Have I mentioned this before? I've had it with being painted as a tree-hugging, sprout-eating, juice-chugging liberal freak who hates America, just because I prefer to look within myself for an intelligence that surpasses intellect. Maybe if we paid more attention to that broader intelligence, which draws energy from our whole being rather than just a bundle of neurons in our forebrains, we'd be able to ask the penetrating questions that could usurp the arrogance of authority, destroy the thrones of monarchy and theocracy, and kill the demons of Power that breed the Bushes and Osamas of our world.

But for now, in this culture, I will have to live with that stigma of being a twisted lump of New Age frill on the lunatic fringe. And what is it that gives the self-improvement / self-development community such an ugly rep? Well, let's start with these jerks: The Learning Annex.

For amid its courses in Kabbalah, Talking to Your Angel Guides, Chinese Medicine for Dummies, Magic for Beginners, How to Flirt, and How to Break into Hollywood, we have this: the Trump course in real estate. The bait is simple: "we're making millionaires—are you ready?" Here's more:

"How much money do you want to make? Whether it's $5k, $50k, or $5 million, real estate is your answer! Real estate provides the highest returns, the greatest values and the least risk...We've put together an incredible line-up including every type of real estate expert imaginable. In just 2 days, they'll teach you what they know, and what you need to know to build a powerful income producing real estate portfolio."

In short, The Learning Annex is offering an orgy of venal opportunism—thereby promoting the same kind of me-first-and-fuck-everybody-else mindset that brought the Tyco boys to a bitter fate today. This is not self-improvement or self-development; it is self-engorgement. It is the stuff that belongs in the realm of late-night infomercial TV. But look who else is buying into the Learning Annex lust-club of the pursuit of excess: Shakti Gawain ("Creative Visualization and Developing Intuition"); Joan Stewart ("Establish Yourself as an Instant Expert"); Masaru Emoto ("The Hidden Messages in Water").

There's a reason that we're naming names here, and it has to do with the overall goal of self-development teaching, in the hands of people who care. Self-development is about furthering the whole that is around you by uncovering and nurturing the whole within you. We have failed as a society only because we have failed as individuals—failed to value all of who we are. You are more than your forebrain, your bank balance, your social standing, the make and model of your car or the size of either your house or your penis (or breasts). Much more. In fact, when self-development is practiced with dedication and vision—that is, with professionalism and self-respect—then a beneficent cycle is set into motion, from the emanations of a single and ordinary vessel of consciousness (and you thought "cycles" only came in the "vicious" variety).

There is another problem with the Trumpification of the self in this pedagogy of the grab: it is, most likely, false. That is, deluded and misleading. Indeed, Paul Krugman has already pointed out evidence that the housing bubble is starting to lose air, and that there may be an exodus from the real estate rush in a matter of months. History supports his suspicion, as does common sense: wherever there is mania, there will soon be despair. Wherever there is a stampede, there will be tomorrow nothing but desolation.

One defining mark of a culture in decline is to be found in the confusion of cause and effect. We imagine that money—wealth—will bring us freedom. Indeed, this is part of The Learning Annex's shill for its orgy of real estate pedantry: "imagine having the extra money to do the things that you truly enjoy."

This is ass-backwards. The truth is, freedom will bring you money—that is, abundance. Because freedom is not about doing what you crave; it is about doing what you love. Freedom is not indulgence; it is the fulfillment of the self through responsible and effortless action. Joseph Campbell, in his justly-famous interviews with Bill Moyers, called it "following your bliss." It is not merely discovering what gets you ahead or what gets you rich—it isn't even pursuing what would do the most good in the eyes of your culture. It is revealing what you do best; what takes you out of the narrow realm of pursuit, accumulation, and servitude, and into the open realm of the regenerative self making a continually transforming connection with its destiny. From that incipient point of discovery comes all the bounty of material rewards that flows in a perfectly balanced measure to one whose life is sung to the lyric of Nature.

I can't prove it to you, and I am not a believer in the cult of the testimonial, or anything else of the evangelical strain. You can prove it to yourself, however, without the assistance of marketing slogans or faith-based appeals. A good starting point in relation to our topic is to examine yourself and some of the beliefs that you are carrying like a leaden sack within you. They run the gamut from "Money is the root of all evil" to "Money ain't everything—it's the only thing." As we do in the training and nurturance of personality—elevating and obsessing over the cerebral cortex, our intellectual side, at the expense of feeling, intuition, and humility; so we do in our material lives—blindly pursuing wealth at the expense of living. It puts an implosive pressure on the object of the obsession, be it a higher IQ or a greater store of assets and possessions. Nothing can withstand that kind of burden; thus we find that the very thing we most intensely desire so often retreats, the more we chase it, the more we worship its glory.

Anything placed at the inner distance of idolatry is sure to become inaccessible: this is the problem of institutional religion in a nutshell. When God is out-there, up-there, high and powerful and infinitely distant, then It is not in-here, in this moment. The same goes for abundance: when money is transmuted into the realm of the superlative: the bane (or goal) of existence, the root of (or deliverance from) evil, the camel before the eye of the needle (or the beatific eye at the top of the pyramid); then it too is removed from lived experience, into a separate and foreign space within consciousness.

Let freedom be the spiracle of your life, the organic and flourishing center of your being; and abundance will follow you. But pursue wealth in its Trumpian imagery, and you will collapse under the same delusion as Halliburton, Bechtel, Enron, Worldcom, and the 6k shower curtain men of Tyco. If you read this blog regularly, you probably want to see a world where greed and economic aggression are muted or even dispersed in government and business. In that case, the best advice I can give is what Gandhi told us once before: be the change you wish to see in the world.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Malignant Indifference

Last Thursday night we saw and heard what this Bush administration is truly all about: a man with the blood of hundreds reeking in his nostrils, surrounded by the devastation caused by his own malignant indifference, proposing to bury his criminal negligence beneath a mountain of lucre. It is vile.

He promises to "rebuild this great city." But even he, the most powerful man in the world, and with a personal earpiece connected to the Holiest of Holies, cannot resurrect the dead. Nor can he turn back time and start over again; and he certainly lacks the insight to perceive his own incompetence and hollow incapacity to meet a terrible moment with great and natural leadership. He also lacks the ability to truly admit wrongdoing and accept the cost of his grievous and irremediable error. In short, he can't lead, doesn't even follow very well, and he won't get out of the way.

The rest of us will have to insist on his doing that, with the impetus of the Constitution. Meanwhile, we have to attend to the lessons of these events, these horrible losses to humanity and Nature. We owe it to the hundreds who have needlessly died; to the hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—who have suffered and will suffer; that some great sea-change of insight and activism will grow from this mud of ignorance and sloth, and lead us toward a more democractic nation with a more responsive and responsible government.

We must rigorously question authority—question its most hallowed presumptions and most rigid projections made upon our minds and souls. It is a task that much wiser people than I—Arundhati Roy, Noam Chomsky, and Bill Moyers come to mind—have urged upon us. For example, in 1977, Chomsky wrote about the insidious dangers of propaganda within a democratic state, in the wake of the end of the lost war in Vietnam; his message still resonates in this very moment:

Here we have a marvelous illustration of the functioning of propaganda in a democracy. A totalitarian state simply enunciates official doctrine—clearly, explicitly. Internally, one can think what one likes, but one can only express opposition at one's peril. In a democratic system of propaganda no one is punished (in theory) for objecting to official dogma. In fact, dissidence is encouraged. What this system attempts to do is to fix the limits of possible thought: supporters of official doctrine at one end, and the the other...But we discover that all share certain tacit assumptions, and that it is these assumptions that are really crucial. No doubt a propaganda system is more effective when its doctrines are insinuated rather than asserted, when it sets the bounds for possible thought rather than simply imposing a clear and easily identifiable doctrine that one must parrot—or suffer the consequences. The more vigorous the debate, the more effectively the basic doctrines of the propaganda system, tacitly assumed on all sides, are instilled. Hence the elaborate pretense that the press is a critical dissenting force—maybe even too critical for the health of democracy—when in fact it is almost entirely subservient to the basic principles of the ideological system: in this case, the principle of the United States to serve as global judge and executioner. It is quite a marvelous system of indoctrination.*

Fairly eerie stuff, considering it was written nearly 30 years ago. Perhaps it reminds us of the resemblance between the administration currently in power and the one that Chomsky was recalling in these remarks—that of Nixon and his criminal cronies. Both of these nests of power were conceived in the complacency of aggression; perpetuated amid the spin of falsehood and the obsession with appearances; and ultimately undone by those very same inner forces of egomaniacal deceit, arrogance, and faith in the invinciblity of money, a program of lies, and the depredations of power.

As Barack Obama pointed out last week, the people of New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast were abandoned by this nation's leaders long before a President decided to continue a vacation of bicyle riding and golfing rather than looking into the management of an impending catastrophe in a corner of his realm populated largely by the same destitute masses who had been driven into the depths of poverty by his own administration's policies of malignant neglect. Throwing money in their direction now may cause Barbara Bush to pursue further Marie Antionette-musings on the good fortune of indigents who are dumped by a violent Nature onto the golden doorstep of Power. It will also further enrich corporations and their contractors—many of the same which have profited from the excesses of the Iraqi occupation. But will it restore life to the innumerable people who had been left to a living death by the same imperial forces that now pretend to resurrect them?

Maybe there is no other practical response now; maybe with all that has happened, there is no other recourse but to spend what is necessary to heal the appearances of this disaster. But if that's where we leave it, then the suffering, the death, the poverty, and the negligent homicide of this administration will continue—in another place, at another time, amid other tragedies of man and Nature.

While the story of the Katrina disaster has been told through the images, sound bites, and printed columns of our mass media (and, it must be said, with considerably more truth and courage than we have been accustomed to getting from them), hundreds more have been killed and maimed in Iraq—a continuing carnage of inconceivable horror and human waste. At the same time, more lies, hypocrisy, and posturing have been wrought within the United Nations (see Nicholas Kristof's excellent op-ed on this in the Times); while the suppression of evidence on Karl Rove's crimes and the imperialistic designs revealed in the Downing Street Memo continues in Congress.

All of us must make the effort to expand our awareness of all these crimes of negligence and deceit, so that this nation's leaders are forced by the will of a free and conscious people to dispel the insanity of arrogance and deception that has brought us to this shameful and agonizing moment in American history.

Thursday, September 8, 2005

Nature: Do We Belong?

We have already dealt with the question, "Is Nature cruel?" Perhaps now is a good time to ask a related but perhaps even more critical question (in terms of our future survival on this planet): "do we belong?" That is, are we a part of Nature, or are we Her separate and unequal Master?

I have written about this very question, and the possible consequences of our arriving at what I suspect is the wrong answer to it, in my book. Further along, I'll present another quote from the discussion of Nature in that chapter, but first I want to present a couple of links that will provide some very topical context to this question.

The first comes from a New York Times editorial published last week and written by Mark Fischetti, a contributing editor to Scientific American. He had written an article in Sci-Am some four years ago in which he presented validated and compelling scientific evidence of the cataclysm to come in America's Gulf Coast, with a plan on how we might avert disaster. In that piece, he had recommended that we adopt a model based on successes in the Netherlands to protect ourselves from natural disaster by working with the forces of Nature. Fischetti reminds us, "The conceit that we can control the natural world is what made New Orleans vulnerable."

Fischetti's piece is worth reading primarily as a reminder that, as Einstein repeatedly urged us during his lifetime, humility is the energy from which true insight upon the world and the universe blooms. When a scientist begins from the perspective of humility—that is, the realization that we are not the Masters of the Universe, but rather unique components of a vast natural diversity—then the scientist's work becomes a synergy of knowledge and feeling, otherwise known as wisdom. Needless to say, this is the condition under which the greatest and most enduring scientific insights are realized, from which the most beneficial and practical advances arise. In short, when in humility we honor our place within the cosmic whole, then the benevolent purpose of science is advanced in its work, and the forced division of knowledge and spirit dissolves.

So here's the excerpt from my new book:

Most of us in this culture have been trained to believe that our animal nature is a part of our “lower nature,” our “baser self,” to which is ascribed all our evil, taboo, primitive, and ungodlike impulses, such as deviousness, violence (“bestiality”), and sexuality. This, again, is the ideological divorce that I referred to earlier: could it be that many of the more familiar (and manifestly painful) divorces of our lives are somehow related to this divorcing of ourselves and Nature? From our earliest childhood, most of us are subjected to this form of conditioning, until it becomes so deeply and insidiously programmed into us that it seems a part of our nature! As we grow up, we learn to make compromises with our animal nature-to tame it, train it, and channel it into socially-acceptable forms of expression and indulgence. This is the compromise that is embodied in all the dominant religious ideologies of the West, in many of our codes of governmental law, and in much of our science, such as the Freudian canon of psychology.

Perhaps there is also an evolutionary lesson contained in these circumstances surrounding the tsunami disaster: we are being called back to a living relationship of equivalence with Nature and her creatures. Evolution is not the linear, survival-of-the-fittest, exclusionary movement from primitive-to-civilized that has often been drilled into us. No: evolution is probably more accurately conceived in that more transformative of geometric shapes, the circle . It winds through overlapping arcs and ripples of growth, none of which can be identified as definitive or superior.

Could it be that we humans are on one such arc of transformation, wherein the limitations of intellect-in-isolation are coming to be generally realized-a period of return to a broader perspective on ourselves and our planetary neighbors? For several millennia, we have pushed our forebrains naked and alone out onto the stage of life, in an ever-increasing isolation of aggrandizement and distortion, only to discover-on a deeply visceral, maybe even a genetic basis-that we can't truly survive or endure this way. Are we in the midst of an evolutionary ripple that is taking us, through the developmental shocks of crisis and tragedy, into a more intimate and equivalent relationship with Nature-with the animals and plants, rocks and soil of our world-that will lead us back from the delusion of the monarchy of intellect, toward the complete and regenerative experience of ourselves as individual threads in the eternal fabric of Being?

I do not know the answers to those questions, yet I feel deeply that if we can recover a sense of our animal nature, of our equal and living relationship with Nature, then we are very likely to find the humility that will lead us toward a renewal in all the other relationships of our lives. Such a movement of “personal evolution” will lead us out of the estrangement and inner divorce that so often poison our relationships with co-workers, spouses, lovers, and perhaps most crucial of them all, our children. I also feel that if only some of us can take that developmental step in the recovery of a feeling-awareness of our animal nature, then it will in turn contribute toward a transformation in our social structures that may help in the preservation of our planetary Home.

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Arabian Horses Safe

This just in...all Arabian show horses that had been stranded in the city of New Orleans have been successfully rescued. You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie.

I just wanted it to be a matter of record that we do report the feel-good events of our times here at Daily Rev. And as we all heave a great sigh of relief at this welcome news (just as the horses must have relaxed once Brownie got fired from the job of attending to their care); let us consider a very meaningful and important topic, which this nation will inevitably have to face in the coming months.

For once the impeachment hearings have been concluded, and the White House has been successfully cleared of the pestilence currently (well, occasionally) infesting its western wing, we will have to make a choice as to who is optimally qualified to heal this nation and set our course back to a forward-looking path.

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

The Incompetence of Tyranny

A theme that is often overlooked by both historians and newspeople is that of the fundamental incompetence of tyrants, such as those currently in power in Washington. Yet from Nero and Caligula, all the way to the various Communist emperors of the 20th century and the Saddams and Bushes of the 21st, the defining mark of tyranny—its solipsistic arrogance—has made for bumbling, stupid, destructive, and inevitably self-destructive, government.

Industrial age and contemporary corporations bear the same mark: the incompetence that derives from the petty self-absorption of imperialists. Their obsession with the veneer of self-imagery and the drab array of the superficial creates a myopia that increasingly blinds itself, until there is only vision for what is no longer there. Thus, tyrants will always miss the sickening effects of their depredations, until some event or combination of events so disrupts the tower of ashes upon which their power rests, that even they will be forced to take notice.

For George W. Bush, the moment has come. To borrow a metaphor from a wonderful parable on tyranny by Dr. Seuss, -, the little fellow at the bottom—after years of patient support and groaning oppression—has burped.

And the rest of us are ready to throw up. It doesn't matter what color state you're from anymore, or what animal's silhouette appears on your voter registration card, or who you voted for last year, two years ago, or in 2000. None of that makes a difference anymore: as I indicated -, America is not as divided as the pundits recently thought. Mack the turtle, having suffered for some five years the forced division, oppression, haughty contempt, and arrogant duplicity of its so-called leaders, has burped. And now it's time for a little Constitutional Maalox—Article II, Section 4 style. Even the media are starting to catch on; but we will have to lead the way for them, as long accustomed as they have been to serving as the slavish mouthpiece for tyranny. Let us once again show the world, and ourselves, how a free people flexes its muscles—in a Daily Revolution upon tyrants and their reptilian blindness.

Mr. Terence McKenna rejoins us now with a few thoughts on recent events. As you read, notice that Terry has independently arrived at the same insight that the sage New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, expressed (Terry e-mailed me his piece the day before the Krugman column appeared).

Hurricane Katrina has reduced New Orleans to third world squalor, and coastal Mississippi is not far behind. The disaster is so widespread that Alabama, which was also hard hit, has gotten almost no news coverage.

What amuses me, though, is to find out that after all of the rhetoric about the free market as a problem solver, everyone is expecting the Federal Government to solve this crisis. Not just Democrats, but everyone. Of course they are right, the free market has no useful role here (except to make gasoline prices spike) but all the same, despite years of saying we want smaller government, here we are asking for a big helping of federal aid.

Yet the Bush administration (which, after all hates and fears effective government) has not been equal to the task. The under funded levies failed. And FEMA, which was supposed to have contingency plans for every possible disaster also failed. It has taken four days to rescue people stranded in New Orleans - how is that possible. And what about the information age? In an era where people are accustomed to getting news on cable TV and the internet, those in need have been reduced to bull horns and rumor.

The President remains an embarrassment. He finally toured the disaster area today (Friday). But there is nothing he can do that will take away what is a big shiner. This failure will become part of his legacy.

But let's go back to the private sector - the free market. The free market is not of much use now. Nor for that matter are tax cuts. What is needed now are firm decisions and cash. And cash equals tax revenue. But after a series of aggressive tax cuts, the taxes that will rescue us are coming not from corporations or the wealthy but from the likes of regular folks - middle class wage earners.

It is clear that the only institution capable of managing during a major disaster is government - and a government made up of well staffed agencies that stand at the ready for every contingency. However weak the current government is (crippled by budget cuts, and stifled by anti government Bush appointees) nonetheless, the recovery will be driven and funded by government. Highways, local roads and all manner of damaged infrastructure will be rebuilt. We also need to rethink our approach to flood control. Over the past 40 years, environmentalists have warned us that rivers should not be contained, but be allowed to flood - that development along rivers (and along the seashore) needs to be controlled. Perhaps now we will listen - though for Bush to do so would alienate his Republican base. Still, don't look to the free market for wise decisions. Given an opportunity to control the agenda, it would build on any and all available land - and to hell with the consequences.
And what about the poor souls who were trapped in New Orleans. The free market doesn't give a tinker's damn about them. I would hazard a guess that their lot has not improved much despite the improved GDP. And if you asked them, I bet they'd rather have a job in manufacturing than the benefit of cheap goods from China (that we traded manufacturing jobs for).

In an earlier era (the 40's, 50's and 60's) we looked to government to solve everything. We were wrong, but now we've come to an entirely different conclusion, that societies function best with very limited government. That turns out to be wrong too. Now that time has come to move back to the reasonable middle.

—Terence McKenna

Friday, September 2, 2005

It's Another Accountability Moment

If you have your eyes and your mind open—not wide, but just ajar, let's say—the reports and images coming out of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans in particular are enough to make you weep openly, not caring who sees or what they think. And again, given just the smallest opening of awareness, the realization of the government arrogance, corruption, and ignorance that helped make this desperate moment in American history, is enough to make you vomit copiously.

Perhaps you can begin by reading William Rivers Pitt's Truthout piece, which puts the entire horror into a nutshell of awful accountability. Then go to TO's environment page and find out how the Bushies have been intimidating climate scientists who have unwelcome news about the probable causes of the increasing pace and destructiveness of natural disasters, and you'll see how pervasive the decadence of this putrid government we have in Washington really has become.

Science has been forcefully shackled and pushed into a dusty closet of religious propaganda; reason has been dressed in the stone garments of an ideology of shrill deceit; and plain human feeling has been suppressed in favor of an icy emotional rigidity that murders, enslaves, and oppresses human beings while praising God and glorifying His presidential priests of earthly Power.

It is time for a global, resounding, world-wide renaissance. Let us continue to each do what we can for those who suffer, and work toward a better day, a clearer future, a fairer and more responsive government.

Thursday, September 1, 2005

"Nature is so Cruel"

Someone said it to me today, and I would bet you've been hearing it too the past couple of days, just as we all heard and read it time and again last December: "Nature is so cruel."

It's a vapid statement that is intended more to gloss than to explain, but we have to deal with it nonetheless if we are to learn anything constructive and life-furthering from the tragedies of our lives and times. The one thing we can't afford is to stare at it in a kind of My-Pet-Goat vacancy, like my friend in the picture here.

I've written on this theme before, and in my book as well. Then, it was the tsunami disaster of 2004. The same urgency for action, healing, and reflection applies to this situation as to that other. As for action: if you can give money, then help the ARC do its best to bring relief to those affected. If you have a skill or a resource to offer, then let your heart guide you in that. I happen to be a counselor, so I've volunteered to provide free counseling for those affected.

As I write now, the last vestiges of Katrina are arriving here in the Northeast. The air is pasty with humidity, and there will no doubt be a storm or two—nothing more. So here we have time to reflect a little: this is part of the healing experience that will help us all through this. Because when we don't stop to ask questions of events like these; when we don't pause to learn, such things tend to recur, leaving us just as weakly-prepared as for the last one.

So one good question to ask is of that statement, "Nature is so cruel." Is it true? Well, to judge by appearances, it sure can be: last year in Asia, over a quarter of a million people died from the tsunami. Today, the Governor of Louisiana is estimating that the toll will run into the thousands once the bodies have been found and counted. Texas Two-Iron himself decided to abbreviate his five-week vacation by two days, and contributed the following expert assessment: "We are dealing with one of the worst natural disasters in our nation's history." (Meanwhile, unnamed city officials in Biloxi and New Orleans were asking, "um...where's the National Guard when we need it?").*

I'm always amazed by the fact that the "Nature is so cruel" judgment usually comes from folks who are devoutly religious. When you ask them why a benevolent God would create and administer a world of "cruel Nature," you will get blank looks and then maybe something like, "well, God's ways are unknowable, we can't pretend to know His ways..." But He and His nature-agents are cruel nonetheless.

I can't tell you any more than the next fellow what Cosmic meaning there might be to such an event, any more than I can tell you exactly why, in the most prosperous country in the history of civilization, the poverty rate went up last year, to more than 12 per cent.

But I can tell you that Nature is not cruel. Even humans are not, by nature, cruel. Evil is not about something we are, but something we have done—a critical mistake in judgment or perspective about our place within the universe. And frankly, a lot of our trouble with Nature in particular comes down to poor planning and bad management. Take a look at this statement from nearly four years ago, which reviews the Federal Emergency Management Agency's assessment of the likelihood of a disaster like the one we've witnessed in the South:

The New Orleans hurricane scenario may be the deadliest of all. In the face of an approaching storm, scientists say, the city's less-than-adequate evacuation routes would strand 250,000 people or more, and probably kill one of 10 left behind as the city drowned under 20 feet of water. Thousands of refugees could land in Houston.

Well, we don't know the exact death toll yet, but we do know that much of the city is under 20 feet of water; that over 200,000 people were stranded; and we also know that many of the refugees are being bused to Houston as we speak. Science, when it is well done, can be more eerily prophetic than any Moses or Muhammed or Nostradamus that you can cite.

So, what did those scientists get for their prescience? The blind eye and deaf ear of a government that didn't give a damn. Oh, and FEMA's budget got cut, too. (I'm not placing all the blame on the Bushies, because state and local governments also ignored the warnings).

This is not a time for assigning blame, anyway: there will be plenty of time and louder voices than mine to do all that later. We can do what we can, each of us, to help; we can also pray for those affected by the hurricane. But if you're going to ask god for its help in healing the human damage done, wouldn't it make sense to begin by trusting that the universe is not "cruel"? Just a thought.

Meanwhile, ask questions of yourself and of your beliefs about the meaning of an event like this. To help you get started, here's a selection from my book, which deals directly with the kind of self-examination that may apply to a situation like this.

How strange and anomalous is our relationship with Nature! We strip and rape our planetary Home, mindlessly subjugating and destroying its creatures, materials, and resources; and we continue our depredations even in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence to the effect that we are relentlessly digging our own graves. How can this be? Is it mere stupidity or selfishness on the part of corporate and governmental leaders? This may be part of it, but I suspect that the source of the problem goes beyond simple ignorance or greed. Again, it is not the fault of individual people, but rather a problem with the beliefs that people often carry, below the level of conscious awareness. This brings us to the really weird aspect of our relationship with Nature-our assumption of Her limitless abundance, Nature's unending capacity to serve our species as the bottomless Well of power and provision-no matter what we do to or take from Her.

The essential assumption underlying this strange relationship we have with Nature involves division or splitting: we are not one with, but instead apart from, Nature. The relationship is, again, hierarchical-one between a Master and an obedient Servant: Nature must bow in servitude to the technologies and demands of humankind, because since we are separate, we assume that one of us has got to be in control. Thus, we are able to allow Nature a mysterious Power, different from our own, even as we continue our subjugation of Her creatures and resources. We persist with this ideology of division even to the definition of our own human nature. Our Power is intelligent, calculated, and masterful; Nature's Power is wild, uncontrolled, and void of intelligence except that which we as humans force Her to adopt through the technologies of progress. Our nature is human; the nature of animals is “bestial.” Though some scientific theories may posit a remote and primordial animal origin of humanity, we presume that we are far beyond that now, if it was ever so-therefore, we are increasingly separated from that animal origin, that animal nature; and we assume that this is a very good thing indeed.

This is the cultural framework, the architecture of belief that informs and supports our relationship with Nature. It is evident in the behavior of corporations, governments, our mass media, and even many of our sciences. The costs of this ideological splitting of Humankind and Nature are becoming more and more painfully apparent to many in our world, even if some of our leaders of business, church, and state choose to remain in denial.


*The National Guard, by the way, is in Baghdad, of course—fighting a useless war at a time when its homeland desperately needs its help and protection.